The Government and some local
Councils (note: I do not include the Police here) would like us
to think so.
They would also like us to believe exceeding the
speed limit to be as bad a habit as drinking and driving, and will
use any argument to push their point.
And let us not be fooled, they are winning.
Let us examine the arguments:
- Speeding is
dangerous. The faster you go the more likely you are to have an
The current driving test (Theory) has a question on this: "what
percentage of accidents are caused by excessive speed?" The
answer, I understand, is 30%.
But let us look at that statistic again.
That means 70% of accidents are not caused by excessive
So what does cause them?
The one who pulls out without looking or indicating.
The one in the tweed hat with his wife in the back who drives along
the crown of the road.
The one who sits in the overtaking lane doing precisely 69.9mph
("it's the Law and if it's good enough for me it's good enough
The tailgating artics.
The bewildered old ladies, wondering how they got on to the Wiltshire
section of the M4, and how they're ever going to get off again.
The big issue is that it's very hard to find and
get these people off the road.
Accidents occur when they meet alert, well-trained, well-informed
drivers in powerful cars who are driving at a safe speed for the
road, but not for their antics.
It is the conjunction of the fast and the idiotic that causes accidents.
To reduce accidents (who could argue with that, a worthy cause)
you have to reduce one or the other. The minority is the speeder,
so it's the line of least resistance.
- Speeding uses
more fuel. It's environmentally unfriendly
This is true.
However, a speeding BMW uses about half the fuel of a non-speeding
Toyota Landcruiser, so logically we should ban Landcruisers and
Range Rovers first. And taken to it's logical conclusion, the speed
limits should be 40-45mph everywhere, as that is the speed where
cars are most fuel-efficient.
That means the motorways, all towns (you should remove all impediments
to people attaining and retaining 45mph, like traffic-lights, pedestrian
crossings, schools, narrow roads, parked cars to prevent fuel-guzzling
traffic-jams), and especially around schools (so out will go those
zebra crossings, zigzag lines and everything). Councils love to
restrict speed, because it prevents them from having to mend roads
and build expensive new ones, so they can use the money they asked
us for originally to build and maintain the roads on other "pet"
projects like twinning and new municipal sculptures.
And that is the key: the Councils support this errant nonsense because
it suits their priorities.
- We're using
too much fossil fuels, we should use our cars less
Actually, we don't use our cars that much. The average car does
12,000 miles a year, which is pretty low. It just looks like a lot
because we are all squashed in to the South East.
Outside the South East, Britain is relatively uncongested, and where
Councils have resisted the lure of the speed camera, good driving
is still to be had.
Our fuel use is low compared to the Americans (but then, who's isn't?),
and the big global pollution problems are going to be caused by
mass-market motoring in China and India: we're a bit-player on the
saw the film “The other Sister”, and it caused me to
ponder on the nature of sanity. If you haven’t seen it, it’s
about a girl with learning difficulties who comes of age and meets
a similar boy, and their travails.
When growing up, we measure ourselves against other
children that we meet at school and in other social settings. Some
of those, inevitably, will have, to a greater or lesser degree,
what we now call quaintly “learning difficulties”. We
look inwards and ask ourselves: are we mad? And if we are would
we be the last to know? Is the world just humouring us and laughing
at us behind our backs? In 1974 Brian
Protheroe released Pinball containing the line
and they say that you never know when you’re insane…
which (quite apart from the fact that it was a minor hit, a fantastic
track with a great sax solo and from a superb album) sums up how
we all feel about ourselves.
The greatest fear of my childhood was to be locked
up in a Home and labelled “mad” (these things really
happened in the monochrome ‘60s) and I could well imagine
the Kafkaesque desperation of trying to persuade an uncaring world
I was sane. I’ve always had a vivid imagination and this led
to the suggestion, at a very young age, of a visit to the child
psychologist. Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed, and I now choose
to believe there is nothing wrong with me mentally, but this conclusion
was only reached after many years of self-examination. I still have
a vivid imagination, but like most I subsume it beneath the minutiae
of making a living and raising a family. I chuckle at my wilder
urges: perhaps I have mild Tourettes’. Doubtless a long (and
expensive) session with a psychotherapist would uncover all sorts
of unsavoury goodies, but the point is I can sympathise with failures
of reality and mental dysfunction.
Look very carefully at what society thinks sanity
is. The commonly held opinion is that it’s the acceptance
of the social niceties necessary to ensure society grinds along
together; the “Social Norm” (knives and forks, “please”
and “thank you”, not urinating on the Tube, etc). Within
that there is a wide range of acceptable activities, but the unstated
rules are always there and never examined.
Rules that, in the light of recent medical advances,
need some re-appraisal.
So what is wrong with incest? Provided genetic material is not shared
to create inbred offspring, would society necessarily collapse if
brother were allowed sex with sister (or brother?).
Sexual activity by children or with children is at the same state
of social acceptability as homosexuality between young men was a
century ago: society’s current exquisitely hardened stance
against it will inevitably be followed by an acceptance within the
next century. That’s not to say I condone it, but I can see
the markers, and newspaper headlines like “14 year olds demand
fertility treatment from the NHS” are merely symptomatic of
the unstated fact that the younger generation are having sex earlier
If we expose our genitals in public we are arrested. Why?
Why do we need to wear clothes indoors in our centrally heated houses?
Why does society still value lifelong monogamy when polygamy comes
more naturally to 50% of the population?
Why the big outcry about GM foods and crops? It’s like trying
to put the lid on electrical research a century ago
And why, oh why, do natives of hot countries insist on wearing black?
The current debate is on “pro-life”
(fortunately not the big political issue in the UK it is in the
US) and Eugenics. If we know a child will be handicapped to the
point where they will be a drain upon society, why allow them to
be born? To be a little more controversial, if we knew they would
not be very bright/have dark skin/be homosexual/have a tendency
towards obesity/have a predilection for criminal activity/[insert
your prejudice here] should society allow them to be born? The Nazis
gave eugenics a bad name (that may be the understatement of the
last century) but maybe we should be weeding the gene pool?
There is a saying concerning acceptable activity:
“it’s a wide table but a long drop”. So you can
get away with an awful lot but reach the hard edge and it’s
a long way to fall. Most of us have much to lose by being labelled
“mental” and all of us will have had to make that choice
at some point, whether we can consciously recall it or not.
The only time I have ever seen this explored by
Hollywood, in what was a very brave effort, was in “Girl,
interrupted”, where the heroine, played by Winona Ryder, ultimately
has to choose whether to remain within society’s boundaries
of acceptable behaviour, or stay within the institution. But the
point here is that she realises she has the choice.
As late as the 1960s, in rural Catholic Ireland,
women who fell foul of the law were routinely sent to the Magdalene
laundries, labelled as “mad”, when they merely had the
misfortune to be pregnant by their Parish priests or uncles. They
didn’t have the choice.
Anyway, “The Other Sister” is a brave
stab at handling learning difficulties and mental disability, a
subject like racism and physical disability, routinely ignored by
Hollywood. You could see the casting director and scriptwriter struggling
to portray the hero and heroine as “almost normal” and
not too disabled for the audience to think “she should be
in a Home”.
Trying to make the film a comedy was a mistake: we felt we shouldn’t
be laughing at the hero and heroine and realistically they were
a little too squeaky clean. There were holes in the plot you could
drive a coach and horses through (like how did her father have that
nice Merc and that beautiful San Francisco house, and still be able
to get home early enough to pick his daughter up from school?),
and Diane Keaton was desperately miscast. But that would be to belittle
the film and Juliette Lewis’ amazing acting (for a while I
wasn’t sure it was acting). Hollywood makes too few controversial
films like this, films that make you think, and challenge your beliefs.
the turn of the 21st Century humanity was beginning, with the help
of global communications, to develop a sense of unity: a realisation
that causes in one part of the globe led to effects in other parts.
The first real effect of this has been the CFC ban to mend the ozone
layer above the South Pole. Over the next few years, expect to see
more global actions of this kind.
The first challenge for this Century is to end
our dependence on CO2-emitting power sources (fossil fuels) to power
our economies, without destroying those economies. The technology
(solar, wind and nuclear fusion power) is around the corner; the
challenge is getting from here to there. Fuel cells to create hydrogen
from electricity, and to recombine that hydrogen with oxygen to
generate power, are the answer to storage for motive power (the
current vogue for Public Transport as an environment-improving device
is short-sighted nonsense), oil tankers can move hydrogen between
continents, we now just need gargantuam solar/wind-powered generating
stations to bring the cost per KwH down to below oil. Unfortunately
for the road-building community, just as this drives the economics
back towards private motoring, we will begin to realise it's more
effective to fly, computer-aided flying will become as endemic as
private cars and we will have no need for roads.
The next challenge is to stop throwing non bio-degradable
waste in to holes in the ground. The packaging industry has to be
reshaped entirely to recycle all packaging in an economic fashion,
motor cars/aeroplanes and computers need to be utterly recyclable.
This takes much will from both Private and Public sectors.
The biggest challenge for this Century is the combined
one of birth control in developing countries and giving the populations
of those developing countries a standard of living equal to the
1st World without wrecking the planet. Without the first the second
cannot happen. The Catholic Church will be instrumental in this,
as they have been instrumental in preventing it. Perhaps if a Pope
younger than retirement age was voted in (quite how "God's
representative to the world" can be decided by vote is a vision
worthy of Monty Python), perhaps it would restore a little credibility?
The most mind-boggling challenge is to realise
that the Earth is inevitably going to be damaged by humanity's impact
and so the only possible long-term future for humankind, to avoid
meteor collisions, over population and environmental collapse is
by expanding in to space. We must cease to be single planet-dwellers
and become explorers, ubiquitous in the galaxy and cockroach-like
in our ability to succeed against all setbacks. Ultimately, that
is our only possible future and if we fail to grasp it this Century
we may never have the resources to out-develop the above bottlenecks.
Our final challenge as a species is to overcome
our own xeonophobia: we have enough trouble co-existing with homo
sapiens of a different colour and religion (or even the same religion
but a slightly different strand!), imagine what we will be like
when we (inevitably) meet real, slimy, aliens. We must, at all costs,
avoid going to war with them out of our own xenophobia, or we will
be wiped out.
long-term effects of 11th September 2001 can only be that America
will develop alternative sources of energy to fuel it's own economy
to defend itself. What America does today, Europe and the Far East
Once the major economies of the world are powered
by solar/wind/wave power, oil will become less economically important
(whilst still being a valuable raw material for plastics and lubricants
it will not be the driving force it currently is). This will dry
up the huge amounts of money flowing in to the Middle East and being
used to buy arms and turn down the political heat considerably in
places like Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
However, it will also reduce America's interest
in keeping non-Jewish Arab nations friendly, so inevitably Israel's
influence will expand as it's neighbours suffer from the twin influences
of less money and less American interest. Israel's more dynamic
and less corrupt economy will inevitably, perhaps by war but more
likely by economics, come to dominate the Middle East. Culture follows
economy, so Islam will decline in favour of Judaism. Within 100
years, Islam in the Middle East could cease to exist. And historians
will look back and trace the decline to Mohammed Atta.
goal is to power my house and my car entirely from renewable energy,
and thus to free myself from paying onerous and unnecessary taxes.
Anything less is pointless.
(an excellent company) will sell you books on using solar power
to reduce your energy costs. All these books start with a paragraph
saying something like "first reduce your energy consumption
by increasing the efficiency of the insulation in your home"
before telling you, in great detail exactly how to do that. Well,
I may be dim here, but if I did all that extra insulation, I wouldn't
need the solar power in the first place!
Solar Century purports to be able to pay for your
electricity by covering your roof in solar panels (a good idea,
provided the Government doesn't tax it to death at birth.....).
But here are the "real world" sums. You, too, can do yours
The average 4-person family (that's us) uses 2000KwHrs @ 7.5p per
KwHr per quarter, for which we pay £150 per quarter or £600
per year. And we have gas heating.
Solar panels for our roof to generate 25% of our electrical requirements
will cost £25,000, so a Solar Century installation will take 167
years to pay for itself.
I can't see Mr and Mrs Average going for that.
The system needs to be 1/10th of the asking price and 4 times as
powerful to be commercially viable at the household level.
The subtext here (and I note that Solar Century is getting good
publicity at present) is that we will have to pay a lot more for
our energy per KwH in order to save the environment. About 4 times
I wrote to Solar Century challenging them to tell me where these
figures were in error but they chose to ignore me.
I remain convinced they are either a) a laundering operation for
organised crime, because they aren't going to make a profit, or
b) a clever way to divert a Government grant of some sort in to
the MD's pocket. Time will tell.....
the end of the 19th Century there was a move afoot to drastically
cut science funding on the grounds that everything had been explained:
science no longer had a purpose, it was claimed.
It was, of course, entirely true from the Victorians' perspective;
there were only a few very small questions that they were
sure could easily be mopped up, such as "why do those rocks
in the Australian desert glow in the dark?", "why does
my father have blue eyes but I have brown eyes?", "why
does this bit of sand sometimes conduct electricity and sometimes
not?"and "what happens if we strap a firework to one of
those glider-things Otto Lilienthal has been playing with?".
The answers, of course, would shape the next Century and beyond.
Lest we be tempted to believe there is no more to discover.........
At the time of the railway pioneers a certain Dr
Dionysius Lardner claimed, very publicly, that the human body would
be unable to withstand the stresses of travelling at any speed above
30mph. And many people believed him.
I'd love to bring him forward in time and take him up for some aerobatics
in an F-16. Wheeeee.........
So you know,
in the UK we pay 619% petrol tax. So if you're from any other country,
think yourself lucky. It's criminal.
Since I left college in 1985 I've kept a chart of what Tax and NI
I pay as a percentage of my gross salary. It makes an interesting
graph, up from about 26% in 1985 to 34% in 2001. Don't tell me taxes
haven't risen. They have.
Now I'm self-employed, I have spent a lot of time ensuring that
I know, and have put in to action, every possible legal Tax avoidance
scheme I can. This has reduced my Tax & NI burden to between
10% and 15%, a lot closer to where it should be. Remember, if you're
PAYE, you're a sitting duck.....
If we must have a 40% band (and I fail to be convinced of the basic
argument for progressive taxation rates), it should start well above
what the average professional person earns, say at £100,000 or even
are the only country in Europe to take the EC seriously, which is
sad because we would be far better served by being the 51st State
of the advantages.....
of the disadvantages.....
|A stable currency
||Guns (well, we are an island, as a US
state we would have the right to legislate against arms ownership
as we do now, and anyway our ludicrously over-restrictive gun
laws haven't stopped the IRA/Jill Dando's killer etc etc)
|A huge internal market with few internal
||Abortion as a political issue (difficult
to whip up much ire over here about that, really)
||The 65 mph speed limit (Montana refuses
to set an upper limit, we could follow their example. Most Californians
also drive at about 85mph, like they do here)
|A more entrepreneurial spirit
||Having to deal with Europe as an outsider
(well, we do that now)
|They all speak English (well, after
||DRL (Daylight Running Lights) (sorry,
I do believe that one is a bit daft!)
|A Freedom of Information Act that works
(the Act being pushed reluctantly through the UK parliament
has been utterly emasculated by the Security Services)
||No £ (well, we can't paddle our
canoe for ever....)
|Petrol at ¼ the price we pay
|No more contributions to Brussels for
|Less Government intervention
|A freer labour market
|A stable, sensible attitude towards
use of the motor car
It's not music, it's people talking over someone else's backing
why? Surely, people have better things to do with their lives? Like
watching paint dry? The best thing FIFA ever did was to give the
Germans (nice people, actually, despite the UK press propaganda
about their inability to laugh at themselves, and the white towelling
socks and mullet haircuts they still favour) Euro 2006 or whatever.
do paid-in cheques still take 3 days to clear incoming to your account
whereas on debit card outgoing payments the money goes out the same
day? We have electronic reconciliation now, you know. We're not
in the Bob Cratchett high-stools and ink-pens dark ages any more.
This 3 days is technically Theft by the clearing banks whilst they
put the funds on deposit and make interest from them, but somehow
they manage to get away with it, and so we get "Free"
banking. Ha ha.
Banks are free to make money on the difference between what they
charge in interest on loans and what they pay out in interest on
balances. Come on, Richard Branson (or First-E) - let's have a current
account with same-day credit of deposits. This is just the sort
of cosy cartel the Monopolies and Mergers Commission should be investigating.
hunting is so cruel (whilst I agree with killing foxes, they aren't
cute and cuddly, they are murderous and callous, we do have things
called guns and night sights in this century, you know, we don't
have to use 16th Century methods), why canít animal rights protesters
fight for real animal rights?
Like the rights of all caged animals. Rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters,
snakes and so on should be released or put down.
Caging animals is horrendous.
The only thing more barbaric is fishing and putting them back. Fish
can feel pain. By all means fish for the pot, but donít let fish
suffer with barbed hook wounds in their mouths.
But of course, the whole anti-hunting thing is not about hunting;
it's about Labour sticking it to the Landed gentry in the countryside
in retaliation for Margaret Thatcher sticking it to the Unions in
the early-80s. Grow up, you lot. The Landed gentry have been taxed
out of existence, the people who do the hunting now are Insurance
Brokers and marketing experts who happen to enjoy horse riding and
live in the country. What a nonsense.
22 years of analogue photography (and 22,000 negatives) using an
Olympus OM-10 and a subsequent succession of OM-2's, I made the
transition to digital photography.
As the price of sensible-quality (at least 5.2MPixels of non-interpolated
CCD) digital cameras with real (non fixed-focus) lenses descended
in to the realistic (sub-$1,000) arena I began the (sometimes painful)
transition to providing a workable, high-quality digital workflow.
Starting with an Epson Perfection SCSI flat-bed scanner to scan
existing prints and MS Photo Editor to edit (ugh...) I upgraded
to a Canon FS2700 negative scanner, Canon software and JASC Paint
Shop Pro (a little better), then again to a Canon FS4000 4000-dpi
negative/slide scanner, Hamrick Vuescan and PhotoShop 6.0 (acceptable
quality but a steep learning curve...) and finally to a Canoscan
8800F and Photoshop CS2. I burn the TIFs to DVD and produce index
prints, so I have at least some hard drive space left. I print to
an Epson R1800 on Epson premium Glossy photo paper and use a Spyder
2 to colour balance the screen and printer using .icm profiles.
It's changed the way I view my existing photographs:
negatives that were previously unusable can be recropped, rotated,
colour-adjusted, reduced to black and white, and otherwise manipulated
in PhotoShop. Wires, posts, signs, errant fingers, drunken angles
can be removed. The digital darkroom is a wonderful place, but cannot
pull detail from a badly under-exposed original; it's not a miracle
It's changed the way I take photographs - if a composition is perfect
apart from an errant telegraph pole, pedestrian or overhead cable
I can still take the shot, safe in the knowledge that I can remove
the blemish later.
In the summer of 2002 the first affordable true
5.2MP digital camera arrived in the form of the Sony DSC-F717 and
I made the final transition. The Olympuses were retired (and sold
well). 18 months later I upgraded to an 8MP Sony DSC-F828 and swapped
to using the RAW file format for greater flexibility, then 3 years
later to a DSLR: the Sony A-100. From this I can conclude:
|You can accurately assess the exposure
of the picture you are about to take before pressing the shutter
|You can see the exposure histogram before
and after shutter release
||Large (8GB) memory cards are still unnecessarily
|You get 1,275 8MPixel images on a 4Gb
CompactFlash and a 1Gb Memory Stick before reloading. Compare
that with 38 on a 35mm roll
||No split-prism focusing (but then auto-focus
should remove that need)
|You can view the images you've just
taken and remove unworthy images on-site
||The camera runs out of memory after only a
few motorwind shots
|Auto-bracketing using RAW files then
combining differently exposed results
||Printing is no cheaper than analogue
minilabs because the printer manufacturers charge extortionate
amounts for the cartridges and decent paper
|You can take as many pictures as you
like and they are all "free" until you print them
|No more battles with Airport Security
over X-raying exposed or unexposed films
|No more buying expensive film in out-of-the-way
places because you've run out
|Using an iPod photo adapter you can easily
copy all of the pictures on your memory cards to your iPod,
then clear the cards for more shootng. A 60Gb iPod will store
tens of thousands of photos and a load of music as well!
|Many photo stores even in out of the way places
will now copy memory card contents to CD-R for you
|The ability to edit and improve pictures in
Adobe Photoshop without getting your hands dirty
the pictures better?
Now I can view scans of my 35mm negatives side-by-side with my digital
exposures it has highlighted imperfections in exposure, film quality,
photo-processing and lenses. My decision from the start always to
use low-speed Kodak or Fuji stock has been vindicated, but the change
to 200ASA film from the standard 100ASA in 1998 I now regret: despite
advances in film chemistry since 1981, the quality of the pictures
is still not as good as the 100ASA examples.
I have greater control over the finished image, both on the screen
and in printed form.
In terms of raw pixels, the early digital images will not withstand
as much enlargement as their 60Mb 4000dpi analogue counterparts,
however they are sharper and have better shadow detail. I regard
a true, non-interpolated 5.2MPixel image as the absolute bare minimum
quality acceptable to come anywhere near a 35mm print for the average
5"x7" or 10"x8" print. Of course, for web site
use, we must whittle the resulting 2Mb JPG down a little!
Later images using the F828 and the A-100 are much better. The extra
pixels allow almost unlimited enlargement. The largest I go is full-frame
A4 for the walls but I could go A3 or even A2.