Monday, 25 January 2010

Al Stewart rides again

Although I have a good collection of Al Stewart albums already, in November I acquired two more, A piece of yesterday (double-CD compilation, 2006) and Sparks of ancient light (new material, 2008).

I'm pleased with both. I had most of the songs on the compilation already, but it's the best result of remastering I've heard so far: the improvement in sound quality is really worthwhile, even through iTunes and mid-fi loudspeakers.

I now discover belatedly that there's a five-CD compilation called Just yesterday that maybe I should have chosen, had I known about it.

Sparks of ancient light is a minor album that won't convert anyone into an Al Stewart fan, but if you like him already this is superior to some of his other later albums (Down in the cellar is also worth trying). It's a pleasant and lively album on which he sounds younger than 62. As usual, the songs mostly have historical themes; there's even one about Hanno the Navigator.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Death of a dupe

Akmal Shaikh was executed in China in December after being caught entering the country with 4 kg of heroin in 2007. It seems that he was tricked into carrying the heroin and may not even have known it was in his luggage.

Drug smuggling (even if intentional) isn't a violent crime and I don't support the death penalty for it. But the interesting thing to me about this case is that most of the outcry about it from other countries (the UK in particular) was that Shaikh should have been let off on grounds of mental illness.

Eh? Surely the rationale for executing someone is that he's a danger to other people, and you can permanently nullify the danger by executing him.

Does mental illness make a dangerous person less dangerous? I don't think so. Why, then, is it relevant? Surely, any court considering execution should be trying to determine how dangerous is the accused, not how sane he is.

In this case, Shaikh seems to have been stupid, but probably not sufficiently dangerous to be worth executing. (I've read that he had a previous conviction for sexual harassment, so he wasn't harmless.)