Across Continents

Ken's Blog

Low point

December 9th, 2011

Brawley claimed to be the largest town below sea level. I doubted this. My money would be on Turpan – pronounced Turvan – in the deserts of Western China. I’d felt especially confident on this point. I’d stopped there the previous year. I’d arrived at dusk. Another strip town. Less fast food outlets than some. Set in Imperial Valley, a strip of artificially irrigated greenery amongst otherwise inhospitable desert. A short ride over from my previous stop at Ocotillo. Past ramshackle trailers, some I thought abandoned, others probably not. Hard to tell. A State Prison. Brief stop in Seeley, an old man rummaging in the bins for discarded cans.

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Waiting for Jim

December 9th, 2011

Ken waits for host Jim to arrive. With the cat with no name..

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Sunset in Imperial Valley

December 9th, 2011

Imperial Valley, Southern California. Ken does like his sunsets..

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Plaster City

December 9th, 2011

Plaster City, Southern California. Highlights. The State Prison. Errr. Yep. That’s it..

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Make no mistake

December 8th, 2011

I’d been careful to obscure my own opinion, at least on the most contentious aspects. Instead open questions. And a few suggestions. Surely, I’d asserted, Corrections was part punishment part rehabilitation. A sliding scale, for the individual to decide where he or she set the balance. The inference of long sentences – the likes of twenty five to life – and the death penalty – being a strong bias towards retribution rather than a reintroduction into society.

Presumably, I’d added, that whatever the justification, however well-founded it might or might not be, those supporting State Executions accepted mistakes would be made. Innocents will die. An inevitable consequence. There is, after all, an extensive criminal appeals process. Self-evident recognition that juries, judges and lawyers do get it wrong. Both at trial and when challenging the outcome. And, for my own part, I said smiling, I’d never rated posthumous pardons.

Further adding Capital cases do not suddenly make for a perfect process. Juries are no less fallible. And it is a process. An adversarial one. Winning and losing rather than a search for the truth. I’d made it clear that this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Maybe just the best we had. It was just important to see it for what it was, to realise its limitations, its scope for error. And the appeals process is also just that. Another process. With its own flaws and limitations.

But if he’d expected me to assert the argument that the death penalty doesn’t deter, he was to be disappointed. There’s bodies of evidence to support this assertion, but I was disinclined to offer it because it was a spurious point. Hard to argue State Executions are essentially anything other than retribution.

I’d eventually drawn our conversation to a close on what I thought might be a less contentious note. Jury nullification. Whereby members of the jury set aside the evidence, the Prosecution’s arguments and assertions, directions from the Judge. Instead substituting determinations that they believe are instinctively the right ones. If you happen to agree with the outcome of their deliberations you’d call it common sense. If not, misguided amateurism.

Explaining that I rather liked the idea of jury nullification as a protection against ill-conceived or even malicious prosecutions. True, it wasn’t unknown in the English legal system. I touched briefly on the Clive Ponting case. But, unlike the US, the law precluded jury members discussing the deliberations with others. Even bona fide academic studies into the operation of juries were prohibited. So we’d never really know how prevalent nullification was in the UK.

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On the edge of the Yuha desert

December 8th, 2011

Ken is trapped by wind. This time no mini-donuts. Rather, the meteorological stuff. Spending the day in the especially small town of Ocotillo. On the edge of the Yuha desert.

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Points of interest

December 8th, 2011

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In the small dusty town of Ocotillo, edge of Yuha Desert, Southern California. Emphasis on small…

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Contemplations in Ocotillo

December 8th, 2011

Little sign of the gusting gale force winds abating, I’d headed for breakfast in Ocotillo’s only cafe. The alternative, a 24/7 gas station on the other side of the Interstate, I’d decided to save for dinner. Sandwiches. But first a stack of pancakes with scrambled eggs, maple syrup and bacon. The latter crispy almost beyond recognition, the eggs oily and lumpy. I wasn’t quite sure if two pancakes actually constituted a stack, but each was the size of a dinner plate.

I assumed I’d a second night in Ocotillo, for unless the wind dropped fairly promptly, I’d loose the light before I’d be able to reach Brawley, my next stop. And I’d had quite enough of riding in the dark. For a while at least. My mug of coffee refilled by my server, I’d pondered the map. Still five days riding to Phoenix, with no realistic scope to shorten this. Limited daylight.

Progress east through the mountains inland from San Diego had been much slower than I’d anticipated. Strong winds compounding the situation. Two days lost. I’d allowed a margin for getting into Phoenix to ensure I’d reach the city before my parents flew in. And had now used it up. Unavoidable. I consoled myself with the thought that a section I’d planned to ride over weekend would now be completed during the week. Far less traffic, I’d been advised. Besides, I’d hardly a choice in the matter.

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Next morning in Ocotillo

December 8th, 2011

After something of a night to remember on the Interstate, Ken’s in a reflective mood in the small town of Ocotillo

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Night to remember

December 7th, 2011

Within the hour the wind had strengthened considerably. The noise clearly audible above the sound of the television. Chilling. Yet the air wasn’t noticeably cold. Cool perhaps. But hardly penetrating. Its greatest menace its unrelenting buffeting. Compounded by darkness.

I’d reached the small dusty town of Ocotillo a short time earlier. Found a small motel. Just four rooms and a collection of tired trailers. Mine was simply furnished. Painted breeze block walls. An electric heater. Small armchair, a split in the cushion. Stained carpet. Curtains drawn to help keep the penetrating wind out.

But none of this really mattered. I was indoors. Finally. Bringing to a close a night truly to remember. At sunset I’d decided to ride for Ocotillo. Twelve miles on the shoulder of the Interstate highway east from San Diego but downhill all the way. Reckoned I could make the descent before it was properly dark. Not an attractive prospect but the least worst choice. The alternative wild camping in the bush close to the heavily patrolled Mexican border.

A few miles onto the Interstate hit by gusting gale force winds. Brought to an abrupt stop. Unable to ride, struggling to keep the bike upright whilst gingerly rolling her down the grade. Trucks and cars charging past down the slope. Uncomfortably close. By now quite dark, the wind lending an unsettling, eerie dimension. The only glimmer of compensation my bright rear red light, reflective jacket, pannier panels and a generous shoulder.

I’d have accepted any offer of a lift to get me out of there. But nobody stopped. Ten miles or so Ocotillo, maybe a little less. Nasmith’s Rule. Two and a half miles per hour. Four hours. Gone six so feasible I’d reach the town by ten pushing the trusty steed. Worse case scenario, hopeful the wind would ease as I descended. For now grateful the wind was buffeting rather than chilling. And it wasn’t raining. Below the lights of traffic weaving down the steep slope. Others struggling with the climb on the largely parallel uphill carriageway.

Sometimes the gusts would ease. Only to return a few hundred yards later, their ferocity undiminished. I knew to be cautious. Similar experience in China’s Gobi desert. But conditions did eventually improve, albeit slowly. Freewheeling short sections perched on a single pedal, poised to dismount if hit by sudden strong winds.

Eventually back in the saddle, the lights of what I presumed to be Ocotillo almost touchable, finding I couldn’t pedal. Stopping once more on the shoulder to discover my chain had slipped off the chainring. Five minutes to fix. Head torch on. Release rear wheel quick release to free the chain and refit to the sprockets. Steady and stoic for I knew the night would soon be over. And it’d taken my mind right off hemorrhoids. Never fun on a leather saddle.

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