Archive for June 8th, 2008

And for the third year in a row, his opponent in the final was Roger Federer. Nadal had won their three previous Roland Garros encounters. This time, he absolutely destroyed him. Of course Fed cooperated, especially in the first and third sets, by playing some of the worst tennis I’ve ever seen from him. Here’s an excerpt from a poignant report in the Times.

Many expert judges, with Bjorn Borg paramount, could not have been more wrong. Plenty of others had their worst fears confirmed. The signs previously were ominous and Rafael Nadal produced probably the most emphatic performance of his tennis career to grind the morale of Roger Federer so deep into the clay of Roland Garros that it might never recover.

For Nadal it was a display of sheer brilliance. We all knew he was a character with determination and a purpose that few players in the history of the game could match and here was consummate proof with a 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 drubbing of a player many would have loved to declare the greatest player the world has ever known. Such claims need a little reassessment once the Parisian dust has finally settled but one unofficial title now seems to have been settled; this 22 year-old wonder from Majorca is now almost undeniably the finest ever on clay.

Watching this total destruction of a player totally revered by his peers and fans alike was a strange experience. On one hand there was the knowledge that you were witnessing something very special, the like of which has not been seen on Court Philippe Chatrier for many years. Yet there was also an element of sadness because it seemed almost wrong to be staring at the normally so imperious Federer being pummelled to embarrassing levels of defeat in the way he has done to so many others over the years.

Nadal seemed to share the very same point of view. When Federer’s final forehand went long and a fourth successive French Open title was secured, he did not fall to his knees and roll triumphantly in the dirt as he has done on previous victorious moments. Instead he quietly raised his hands to the heavens and quickly advanced to the net where he would commiserate with the opponent he had left totally devastated.

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One of the greatest formative experiences of my life preceded Harry Potter, though it informed much of what I subsequently wrote in those books. This revelation came in the form of one of my earliest day jobs. Though I was sloping off to write stories during my lunch hours, I paid the rent in my early 20s by working in the research department at Amnesty International’s headquarters in London.

There in my little office I read hastily scribbled letters smuggled out of totalitarian regimes by men and women who were risking imprisonment to inform the outside world of what was happening to them. I saw photographs of those who had disappeared without trace, sent to Amnesty by their desperate families and friends. I read the testimony of torture victims and saw pictures of their injuries. I opened handwritten, eye-witness accounts of summary trials and executions, of kidnappings and rapes.

Many of my co-workers were ex-political prisoners, people who had been displaced from their homes, or fled into exile, because they had the temerity to think independently of their government. Visitors to our office included those who had come to give information, or to try and find out what had happened to those they had been forced to leave behind.

I shall never forget the African torture victim, a young man no older than I was at the time, who had become mentally ill after all he had endured in his homeland. He trembled uncontrollably as he spoke into a video camera about the brutality inflicted upon him. He was a foot taller than I was, and seemed as fragile as a child. I was given the job of escorting him to the Underground Station afterwards, and this man whose life had been shattered by cruelty took my hand with exquisite courtesy, and wished me future happiness.

And as long as I live I shall remember walking along an empty corridor and suddenly hearing, from behind a closed door, a scream of pain and horror such as I have never heard since. The door opened, and the researcher poked out her head and told me to run and make a hot drink for the young man sitting with her. She had just given him the news that in retaliation for his own outspokenness against his country’s regime, his mother had been seized and executed.

Every day of my working week in my early 20s I was reminded how incredibly fortunate I was, to live in a country with a democratically elected government, where legal representation and a public trial were the rights of everyone.


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The American Civil Liberties Asoociation has, over the years, done a lot of commendable work in defence of freedom. Particularly praiseworthy is its consistent defence of the First Amendment. It has frequently extended legal help to protect those whose free speech rights have been threatened. It has fought for the separation of the church and the state and argued for the  decriminalization of drugs. For all that, it deserves our plaudits.

Unfortunately, the ACLU has been firmly opposed to other, equally fundamental, areas of freedom. It’s legal apparatus has ben used to file anti-discrimination claims against private clubs. The ACLU does not seem to recognize the fact that the so called ‘positive rights’ that it champions — for instance the ‘right’ of this woman to gain admittance into a social club — come only at the expense of the liberty of purely private organizations to operate in any way they wish. It is ironic that an organization that believes people should be allowed to say whatever they want does not believe that people should have the freedom to associate with whoever they want.

The ACLU has over 500,000 members and it has been influential in the evolution of constitutional law. Unfortunately, despite its name, it is not a libertarian organization and its influence has quite occasionally been used to curtail individual liberty. That is a sad truth. 

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Robin Hanson debunks the notion that speculators and manipulators are responsible for rising gas prices.

Eugene Volokh debunks the oft-made claim that free speech laws in the US do not, somehow, apply to ‘hate speech’.

Jim Lindgren debunks internet rumours about Michelle Obama.

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