If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Saturday, 31 October 2009

XT progress

The new exhaust headers arrived this week, despite the postal strikes (thank you, Porcel Farce). They are very shiny.

I have now been trying to get the old, rusty headers out of the cylinder head for nearly two weeks, on and off. I took the head off and had a go doing it on the workbench. First molegrips, then a hammer and chisel, then an angle grinder, then all of the above in combination. Finally, all of the above, plus a lot of heat from a propane torch.

Nada.

It had got to the point where I was afraid of doing some expensive damage, so I took it at a man who can, who got them out (with some difficulty, it must be admitted) and charged me £40. Having seen what he had to do (use of welding gear, slide hammer and heavy-duty extractors), it was worth it. I now have the cylinder head home (and in one piece), and the new headers have been test-fitted. Yes!!!

Thank you, Lamo's Motorcycles of Llandissilio.

Now, all I have to do (famous last words) is to put it all back together. Watch this space ...

Lyrics flowchart

Apologies for lack of posts over the last few days. There's been work, and there's been stuff, and I've had a bad back and sitting at the computer has been painful. But it's Saturday, the shopping is done, and the weekend has started.

I love this (click for bigger):



H/t Obnoxio.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

We're counting on you, President Klaus

Prsident Klaus of the Czech Republic is still standing firm against signing the Lisbon Treaty. Once he signs, it's law, and the chances of the British people ever getting a say in how they are governed ever again are slim indeed.

The Taxpayers' Alliance are hosting an online petition to urge President Klaus to stand firm.

Here it is.

If you don't like the sound of President Blair, you know what to do.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

The Golfball Potato Crisp

Clive James on man-made global warning. Nail, head.

Whether or not you believe that the earth might have been getting warmer lately, if you are sceptical about whether mankind is the cause of it, the scepticism can be enough to get you called a denialist.

It's a nasty word to be called, denialist, because it calls up the spectacle of a fanatic denying the Holocaust. In my homeland, Australia, there are some prominent intellectuals who are quite ready to say that any sceptic about man-made global warming is doing even worse than denying the Holocaust, because this time the whole of the human race stands to be obliterated.

Really they should know better, because the two events are not remotely comparable. The Holocaust actually happened. The destruction of the earth by man-made global warming hasn't happened yet, and there are plenty of highly qualified scientists ready to say that the whole idea is a case of too many of their colleagues relying on models provided by the same computers that can't even predict what will happen to the weather next week.

In fact the number of scientists who voice scepticism has lately been increasing. But there were always some, and that's the only thing I know about the subject. I know next to nothing about climate science. All I know is that many of the commentators in newspapers who are busy predicting catastrophe don't know much about it either, because they keep saying that the science is settled and it isn't.

BBC iPlayer here, or a transcript of the whole thing here.

Good stuff.

H/t to Counting Cats in Zanzibar.

Engine Pr0n

Just thought I would include a couple of photos of the work-in-progress that is the XT and its rusty appendages ...

First, with the cam cover removed ...




And second with the head off, revealing a nice dirty piston.



Golly, that is a big one, as it were. It's bigger than the last piston I looked in the face, which was on my 2.25 petrol Land Rover. And I thought they were big. The engine I fettled before that was a Rover 3.5 V8 in my trialler, and they were tiny in comparison.

On the advice of a complete stranger (and Internet acquaintance, this time), I will need a lot of heat to shift the rusty bits, so I have taken out the valves and set the workshop out ready for a session of heat'n'hammer later this week. I will also lap the valves in, as there is evidence that they aren't sealing too well, and therefore harming the compression. I haven't lapped valves for a long time. Should be fun.

Thank you, Mr Pirsig

Fresh from a night's sleep, I approached the recalcitrant bolt again. In three seconds, I had the answer. The bolt was set down in a well, which prevented me getting the Allen key into the socket far enough. The only (very limited) angle where I could get the key in fully was blocked by the frame. So, looking at the situation from a different angle, it was the frame that was the problem, not the well. And when I looked at the frame to see what, exactly, was stopping the Allen key swinging, I found it was a thin metal strip with formed a guide to the horn wires. I bent it out of the way, and undid the bolt.

Obvious when you think about it. Not obvious at all when you are feeling 'stuck'. Although daylight and fresh head might have helped, I suppose.

The cylinder head is held on by six bolts. Yes, it is six - I checked with the manual. Five are easy to get at, but the sixth isn't. It's tucked away, underneath the front of the engine, and again the frame is stopping any kind of tool access. I may have to lift the engine a couple of inches to get at it.

One step forward, two steps back. So what's new?

UPDATE:

Six, no, seven bolts [1]. There was a useless little Allen bolt tucked away and apparently serving no purpose, but this time I spotted it immediately and gave it what for. The sixth bolt came out without a problem, strangely.

The cylinder head is now off. It all needs a good decoke, but it all seems OK in there. I am now abandoning the subtle tools in favour of a hammer and cold chisel to get the rusty exhaust headers out. Wish me luck.

[1] Nobody expects, ect.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Great cartoon

Picked up from another blog, and I can't remember which - sorry! Worth sharing, though.

Stuckness

Writing the previous post reminded me of a passage in ZAMM (link below) on 'stuckness'. It's one that stuck (heh) in my mind for a long time after I first read the book. I've found the whole passage and I'm going to copy it here. If you don't like philosophy, or mechanical things, or non-traditional approaches to problems, look away now. Your loss.

The passage starts with a hypothetical situation - you are trying to get a screw out of a side-cover and it won't turn. In your haste, you have applied too much force and have torn out the slot, so that your screwdriver will no longer work. (Anyone who has worked on Japanese bikes up to about 1990 will remember the engine screws made of pressed milk-bottle tops that they used to use.) So now you are stuck. In Pirsig's words:

Normally screws are so cheap and small and simple you think of them as unimportant. But now, as your Quality awareness becomes stronger, you realize that this one, individual, particular screw is neither cheap nor small nor unimportant. Right now this screw is worth exactly the selling price of the whole motorcycle, because the motorcycle is actually valueless until you get the screw out. With this reevaluation of the screw comes a willingness to expand your knowledge of it.

He continues:

You're stuck. Stopped. Terminated. It's absolutely stopped you from fixing the motorcycle.

This isn't a rare scene in science or technology. This is the commonest scene of all. Just plain stuck ...

This book is no good to you now. Neither is scientific reason. You don't need any scientific experiments to find out what's wrong. It's obvious what's wrong. What you need is a hypothesis for how you are going to get that slotless screw out of there and scientific method doesn't provide any of these hypotheses. It operates only after they're around.

This is the zero moment of consciousness. Stuck. No answer. Honked. Kaput. It's a miserable experience emotionally. You're losing time. You're incompetent. You don't know what you are doing. You should be ashamed of yourself. You should take the machine to a real mechanic who knows how to figure these things out.

It's normal at this point for the fear-anger syndrome to take over and make you want to hammer on that side plate with a chisel, to pound it off with a sledge if necessary. You think about it, and the more you think about it the more you're inclined to take the whole machine to a high bridge and drop it off. It's just outrageous that a tiny little slot of a screw can defeat you so totally.

What you're up against is the great unknown, the void of all Western thought. You need some ideas, some hypotheses. Traditional scientific method, unfortunately, has never quite gotten around to say exactly where to pick up more of these hypotheses. Traditional scientific method has always been, at the very best, 20-20 hindsight. It's what you think you know, but it can't tell you where you ought to go, unless where you ought to go is a continuation of where you were going in the past. Creativity, originality, inventiveness, intuition, imagination - "unstuckness" in other words - are completely outside its domain ...

Let's consider a reevaluation of the situation in which we assume that the stuckness now occurring, the zero of consciousness, isn't the worst of all possible situations, but the best possible situation you could be in. After all, it's exactly this stuckness that Zen Buddhists go to so much trouble to induce; through koans, deep breathing, sitting still and the like. Your mind is empty, you have a "hollow-flexible" attitude of "beginner's mind." You're right at the front end of the train of knowledge, at the track of reality itself. Consider, for a change, that this is a moment to be not feared but cultivated. If your mind is truly, profoundly stuck, then you may be much better off than when it was loaded full of ideas.

The solution to the problem often at first seems unimportant or undesirable, but the state of stuckness allows it, in time, to assume its true importance. It seemed small because your previous rigid evaluation which led to the stuckness made it small. But now consider the fact that no matter how hard you try to hang on to it, this stuckness is bound to disappear. Your mind will naturally and freely move toward a solution. Unless you are a real master at staying stuck you can't prevent this. The fear of stuckness is needless because the longer you stay stuck the more you see the Quality-reality that gets you unstuck every time. What's really been getting you stuck is the running from the stuckness through the cars of your train of knowledge looking for a solution that is out in front of the train.

Stuckness shouldn't be avoided. It's the psychic predecessor of all real understanding. An egoless acceptance of stuckness is a key to an understanding of Quality, in mechanical work as in other endeavors. It's this understanding of Quality as revealed by stuckness which so often makes self-taught mechanics so superior to institute-trained men who have learned how to handle everything except a new situation.

Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Chapter 24

XT progress, of sorts

I am very thankful for the kind CWU and their convenient postal strikes. After all, if the post was working, I would have my new exhausts by now, and I would be fretting that I didn't have time to fit them. But I can relax, safe in the knowledge that they ain't coming any time soon, and I can get on with all the other stuff in my own time.

I posted earlier that I needed to take off the cylinder head to get the remains of the old headers out. After my shopping expedition this morning, I needed to do something positive, so I set to it. The airbox and the carbs came off with a bit of a struggle, but they came off. And then I set to taking off the bit that covers the top of the cylinder head - what, on a car, you would call the rocker cover. Well, that bit is held on by a number of long bolts. I found and took out 13 of them, and the damn thing wouldn't shift. I got to the point of gently trying to lift it away with a crowbar, which is very risky, but no deal. Just a fraction of a millimetre of movement. Robert M Pirsig (in ZAMM) refers to the state of 'stuckness', where a mechanical issue stops you dead and won't let you continue. How you get around the feeling of rage and impotence is a philospohical issue, not a mechanical one. I recognised in myself the feeling of 'stuckness' and went and had a cup of tea.

When I went back outside, I realised that maybe I hadn't located all the bolts. I visualised the shape of the cover, and the stresses of holding it down, and thought about where the bolts ought to be. Then I looked under a cover and there, hiding in a little pool of dark oil, was another bolt. Aha! Pirsig was right - my new, calmer mental state had allowed me to see the solution more clearly. So I took that out, too. 14 bolts, not 13. Try again.

No deal. Zilch. Nada.

OK, I said to the bike, you want to play rough? I went for the biggest weapon in the armoury of the backyard bodger. The workshop manual. And then I saw that there were 15 bolts shown in the diagram that I should have looked at much earlier. This bolt had by now a mythical status, as it appeared to be completely invisible. I found it located in a well right at the top of the engine, completely hidden by the bike's upper frame. I tried to undo it, but failed. Because it is in a well, my ordinary Allen key isn't long enough to reach fully into the socket in the bolt-head, and therefore I risk rounding out the hole if I try too hard. On the other hand, the frame rail means there isn't enough room to deploy the obvious alternative, a ratchet handle with an Allen bit in the end.

By now it was getting dark, so I cleared everything away and retired to the house, where a curry was being made and wonderful smells were developing. If I had carried on, I am sure I would have done more harm than good, such as damage the last bolt enough so that the whole engine would have to come out. No thanks.

Tomorrow, it will be daylight again, and I will have had a whole evening and night for Mr Pirsig's calm rationality to pervade my heated brain.

It's only a sodding bolt, after all. It can't be that difficult, can it?

Internet friends

Strange thing, the Internet (does it deserve that official-looking capital any longer?). For the first time in human history, it is possible to have as many friends that you have not met, as those you have. It's a while since I was a regular in any pub, with my own place at the bar and my own tankard on a hook above the pumps. And yet there are half a dozen places on the Internet where I have a similar experience - a crowd of like-minded people, exchanging gossip and advice, discussing things that seem important at the time, joshing each other and occasionally falling out. 'My Father's House has many mansions', and my Internet pub has many virtual bars, each with a distinct clientele, where I can go, at my choice, to discuss politics, or motorbikes (a different bar for each, and some for all makes), or anything else that takes my fancy.

And in one or two of those places, I have made what I regard to be good friends - people I like and trust, and yet whom I have never met. One of those was the guy in Denmark who invited me over. The first time I actually spoke to him or saw him in the flesh was at 10 pm, in the dark in the middle of the Danish countryside, after a thousand-mile thrash across Europe. I thought afterwards that this was a bit of a gamble - after all, what if he turns out to be a complete twat? But it all turned out very well - he was a great guy, as was his wife (not a guy, but you know what I mean), and so were all his Danish friends.

Another was a chap I met through a game we both played for a while. We got on so well, we kept on emailing each other, and after a year or so of this I had an invitation to his birthday party on the other side of the country. Again, a long way to go on spec; again, I had a great time and I was very glad I went. Curiously, this chap knows more about the real 'me' that anyone else, apart from my wife and a couple of very old friends that I have known since University. I find it very easy to make acquaintances, but very hard to make real friends, and this guy is one of the real friends, despite my having spoken with him face-to-face for less than a couple of hours.

A third would be a guy I know through a bike forum that we both frequent. He's posted comments here once or twice, and I have come to like his approach to things, and appreciate his intelligence. I've never met him, although I feel I know him as least as well as someone I have a beer with every week or so. When I was considering doing a round-Britain ride, he quickly offered me a meal and a bed for the night when I was passing through his locality, despite the risk that I might be a serial killer or a world-class bore (I am neither, but working on it.)

He had a bad experience this week. He took his bike in for a service, and was given a loan bike by the dealer. The loan bike had a £2000 excess on the insurance. He was going to the post office to post a parcel on the loan bike when a car pulled out in front of him. He only touched the brakes, but the roads were greasy, and the bike went down at about 50 mph. He's got to repair the bike, replace all his protective gear, and then pay for the service on top of all that. And he's torn this and bruised that and scraped the other.

Bummer, as they used to say.

On the positive side, he's flipped the coin (as we all do now and again) and it's come up heads. He's alive, not seriously hurt, and the damage is mainly to his pride and his bank balance. He's got his head screwed on the right way, and he won't be blaming anyone but himself for the accident. He'll put it down to experience, and will be a fractionally better rider as a result.

It's a tricky time of year to be riding. Round here, the leaves have fallen and are wet and slippery on the country roads that I inhabit. The light is getting poor, the sun is low in the sky both early and late, and there is often a lot of spray to make visibility difficult. Riding through Winter is easy, compared to the liminal, transitional state that is Autumn.

I wish him a speedy recovery from his injuries, and I hope he manages to find the two or three grand that it is going to cost him, all in all, without too much pain. If I were the dealer, I think I would let him off the cost of the service, just out of sympathy.

Good luck, mate. I'm thinking about you, even though haven't a clue what you look like, or how old you are.

That's the Internet for you.

Depressing

I've just been out to do the weekly shop. I was up too late to do my favourite trick: in the shops by 8.30 am and home by ten, no crowds, tills all to myself, no hassle in the car park, no traffic jams getting out again. I was in Morrison's by 11 am, which meant I hit the peak Saturday morning rush.

And how depressing that was.

Cocky young men with beer bellies, proudly strutting around wearing the latest sportswear, and older men with straggly, greying hair sticking out from under baseball caps, wearing grey, stained jogging pants and battered trainers. Women with dark roots and grown-out frizzy perms, dressed either as Soviet peasants in a cold snap or as ready for a beach stroll in Marbella - neither appropriate for a cool, windy morning in West Wales. Either wrapped in dowdy overcoats or exposing way too much flesh (with 'tasteful' tattoos, naturally) with pole-dancing clothing offset by rolls of flab in all the wrong places.

I blame Jane Fonda. From the very first 'feel the burn' fitness craze, everyone has rushed to wear sports clothing. It's as if putting on a track suit from JJB Sports makes you suddenly part of the fitness revolution - whether you are a fit 20-year-old or a lardy 50-year-old grandmother. At least leg-warmers have had their day, but the ubiquity of the trainers, jogging pants and (round here) Wales Rugby shirts (on both men and women) makes the unfit look paradoxically less fit than if they wore a shirt and tie.

And above everything, a sad, defeated look about everyone. Sour mouths that turn down at the corners, an air of resignation, a look of utter poverty - both material and spiritual. Standing in the queue for the checkout, I was reminded of photographs of food queues in 1960s Russia. No-one was smiling. Surliness was the mood of the day.

Looking around, it was obvious that the vast majority of Brits dress for cheapness, not looks or quality. Baggy, formless jeans; shapeless hooded tops; grubby cheap baseball caps; and greasy, unstyled hair, dirty fingernails and, everywhere, the tattoos. Everything from the bargain bin. And this was Saturday morning. In the middle of the week, you might say that the shoppers were more likely to be pensioners or the unemployed, where economic necessity could be an explanation. But today, it was all about families, working people who were spending their hard-earned cash on the weekly shop.

What made it even more depressing was the occasional person who had made an effort. A woman in a smart coat, with good hair and decent shoes; a middle-aged man in a crisp dark shirt and a stylish waistcoat - these people stood out, drew the eye, as they were so unusual, like those photographs where everything is monochrome apart from one brightly-coloured feature like a sail.

In a similar supermarket in France, the reverse would be true. Sure, there would be the scruffy and grubby, the style-free and the couldn't-care. But the majority of shoppers, regardless of wealth or status, would be well-presented and clean, with clothes with a little class, and accessories with a hint of panache, as if it mattered that we gave the best impression in front of others.

Perhaps we just don't care what other people think any more. We've been told so often that we have our rights, that others are not allowed to criticise, that everyone is equally valuable and worthy, that we don't even bother to make the effort to make the best of ourselves. I know we are in a recession, and that money is tight for everyone, but this has been going on for years.

Today, I feel depressed about my country. I think we have lost it, whatever 'it' was. What can be done to make our country keen again, and happy and positive, and active, and optimistic? I'm not sure I know; in fact, I haven't a clue.

Friday, 23 October 2009

What we had long suspected

This needs to be widely known.

The huge increases in migrants over the last decade were partly due to a politically motivated attempt by ministers to radically change the country and "rub the Right's nose in diversity", according to Andrew Neather, a former adviser to Tony Blair, Jack Straw and David Blunkett.

He said Labour's relaxation of controls was a deliberate plan to "open up the UK to mass migration" but that ministers were nervous and reluctant to discuss such a move publicly for fear it would alienate its "core working class vote".

"I remember coming away from some discussions with the clear sense that the policy was intended – even if this wasn't its main purpose – to rub the Right's nose in diversity and render their arguments out of date."

The "deliberate policy", from late 2000 until "at least February last year", when the new points based system was introduced, was to open up the UK to mass migration, he said.

"Part by accident, part by design, the Government had created its longed-for immigration boom.

"But ministers wouldn't talk about it. In part they probably realised the conservatism of their core voters: while ministers might have been passionately in favour of a more diverse society, it wasn't necessarily a debate they wanted to have in working men's clubs in Sheffield or Sunderland."

And look where their deceit has got them. Millions of disaffected and apathetic working-class voters, and the BNP on a roll.

"Rubbing the Right's nose in diversity."

What a bunch of malevolent, vindictive, irresponsible, shallow, contemptible, utter, utter bastards. I reckon this is close to treason.

Watch the BBC lead with this in tomorrow's headlines.

Not.

Positively the last ...

... post on the Nick Griffin affair. Cleverly done and made Oi larf it did.


QT last night

Baroness Warsi had the commonsense quote of the evening, in my view:

... Baroness Warsi said politicians had a responsibility to take on the BNP on the issue of immigration: "Many people who vote for the BNP are not racist and therefore what we have to do is go out and say to these people as mainstream political parties we are prepared to listen."

And she is titled as Shadow Communities Minister, which conjures up all sorts of Gothic images.

And I think she's quite a QT, as well.






:)

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Nick Griffin and Fascism

I've been watching the slow-motion car crash that is the lead-in to tonight's Question Time on the BBC. For once, I think the BBC have got it exactly right, and I applaud them for their stance in the face of some hypocritical, but very loud and nasty, criticism.

The BNP are a legal party, with representatives elected through due process by the British electorate. It is not, therefore, up to the BBC to refuse them a fair hearing on the grounds that some people don't like what they have to say. So the BBC are absolutely correct to allow Nasty Nick his place on QT.

As others have pointed out, it is up to governments to proscribe organisations, not broadcasters. (I wouldn't necessarily agree with that either, but at least it would be democratic.)

Let me make perfectly clear that I do not support the BNP, and would never vote for them if they ever fielded a candidate in my constituency. I do not support their Old Labour economics, which are reminiscent of Eric Heffer and Arthur Scargill on mind-altering drugs. I do not support their racist membership policy, and nor do I wish to see the all-white Britain that they have publicly campaigned for. Anyone who judges another person solely by the colour of their skin is stupid. Having heard some of them speak on TV after the Euro elections, I don't believe that they have the depth or intelligence to be meaningful or worthy representatives of the people. I am not impressed by the gangs of besuited skinheads that they seem to surround themselves with at every appearance. So I am in no way a BNP supporter, and would like to see them defeated and voted out of the small number of positions of power that they hold.

But ... I am an even greater believer in democracy and freedom of speech. Never mind that old 'defend to the death your right to say it' stuff. Freedom of speech is the only way that we, as a nation, can debate the things we want to debate, make decisions that we want to be the right ones, and discern poisonous hatred from genuine freedom of opinion.

So, I think the decision to allow Griffin to appear on QT is the right one. I have a belief in the innate tolerance and good sense of the British people - of all colours. I believe that the simple act of allowing the BNP onto a mainstream TV programme will not suddenly have half the population voting for racism. I believe that we are still one of the least racist nations on Earth, and that if people hear the views of Griffin from his own mouth, challenged by some stiff debate from the other panellists, they will reject what they hear.

So why does the BNP attract the support (growing all the time, apparently) that they do? It is because, mixed in with all the nasty stuff, some of their public utterances strike a chord in the public mind, especially amongst the white working classes that Labour used to see as its core vote. They are calling for an end to uncontrolled immigration. They are saying that the British identity is being eroded. They are saying we don't want multiculturalism. They are saying we want our country back - from the workshy, from the scroungers, from their bien-pensant left-wing rulers, and from the people who come here from other countries with no other purpose but to milk our generous benefits system. The fact is that there are a large number - a very large number - who agree with this, and not only in the traditional working classes.

Labour are to blame for this. At one time, the traditional working-class voter could be sure that Labour would promote his or her interests and fight their corner - whether it was against the evil factory-owning classes or the Johnny foreigners. But New Labour, by embracing political correctness, managerialism and the global left-liberal mindset, have abandoned them. First the traditional British voter found that no-one was speaking for him or her. Then they were told that they were wrong for feeling the way they do. By their own people. No wonder they are turning to the BNP. Many are no doubt holding their noses as they do so, but they are voting these people into power, and it will only get worse.

Labour can turn it around. They can drop all the Nanny State stuff. They can play a tight game on immigration. They can empower the Police to catch criminals, rather than shuffle paper and targets. They can return discipline to schools. They can take some effective action against yob culture. They can insist that people integrate, rather than segregate. They can start playing fair with people, so that someone who publicly advocates murder is not treated differently if he is of one religion rather than another. They can start allowing people to have their own opinions on social issues, even if they are old-fashioned. They can start talking as if they were proud to be British, rather than ashamed. The BNP vote would vanish like dew on a sunny morning. And the Conservatives would have a real problem.

I can remember all this 'no-platform' stuff from my University days in the 70s. "No Platform For Racists!" All it meant was that visiting speakers were people who agreed with the President of the Students' Union. Not exactly the cut and thrust of sparkling public debate, in which the ideas, ideals and ideologies of the next generation were forged. Just yet more boring lefties saying how everything was Thatcher's fault.

Guys - no-platforming doesn't work. It makes debate dull and predictable, and it gives the other side of the argument the veneer of mystery and the glamour of the forbidden. It makes those who advocate it feel warm inside, but all its other effects are undesirable.

Now the UAF lot, who are organising all these protests, want to keep certain points of view off the state media, and silence certain politicians whose views they disagree with. They say they are against fascism, and yet every fascist movement in history has started by stifling dissent and demonising those it didn't like.

How many times have I told you? Don't (smack) hit (smack) your sister !

The BNP should be defeated - at the ballot box, by people who have heard what the BNP stands for, have seen them debate their policies, and don't like what they see. There is no other way.

UPDATE:

Well, no riots, no murder 'n' mayhem, only some pretty strong chairpersonning from the Dimble and what appeared to be an audience composed entirely of Guardian readers.

Scores on the doors:

Bonnie Greer: 3/10, good humoured, drawly but mainly irrelevant
Chris Huhne: 5/10, loud and shrill, still blaming the 'two main parties' for everything
Baroness Warsi: 9/10, the star of the show, for me - clear, coherent, sensible, sincere
Jack Straw: 3/10, Labour politician, evasive and sly, almost lost it in several places
Nick Griffin: 1/10, sweaty, trembling, nervous smirks and giggles, like a dog in a Korean restaurant.

The main thing was that the others didn't gang up on Griffin (well, not much) and therefore make him look like an underdog or martyr. He was not convincing, and seemed overawed by the occasion. Even the most rabid white-power fanatic couldn't look on his performance tonight and say "here is the man to lead Britian into the future". He shook, he twitched, he twisted and turned and denied he had ever said it. And even when he did get going on the things he wanted to say, he failed to light the fires. The bit where he appeared to say that he had said racist things only to bring the Ku Klux Klan on board and make them more moderate was a hoot.

Griffin, 0
BBC, 2
Democracy, 10.

Grammar ...

Gordon Brown on the Royal Mail strike:

"This strike will be self-defeating if all it means is that less people use the Royal Mail," Gordon Brown said.

It's FEWER, Gordon. FEWER.

If you can count them, it's 'fewer'. If you can't, it's 'less'.

Fewer raindrops; less rain.
Less wine; fewer bottles.

It's easy.




Idiot.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

The Love Police

These guys crack me up. It's like a re-run of the 60s, with better-looking hippies.

Thanks to Old Holborn.



And part 2 ...



Magic stuff.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Ressi-zum

A truly shocking story from today's Times:

Cultural history will be made tonight in a college town in southern Virginia when a lissome 22-year-old student in a tiara hosts a car show and singing contest modelled on American Idol. Nikole Churchill will look good, and on the evidence of the past few days will handle the microphone with aplomb.

However, she will have to be ready for hecklers. She is the first non-white Homecoming Queen in her university’s history and not everyone is happy that she won the title. Her victory this month triggered a beauty pageant walkout and veiled accusations of racism from the aggrieved new Miss Hampton University. She also wrote a long public letter to President Obama, saying: “I feel as though you could relate to my situation.”

Hampton University, at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, is one of more than 80 historically white colleges in the US whose student populations are only gradually coming to reflect the diversity they exist to promote, largely because non-whites have been slow to apply to them.

Ms Churchill was hardly known to the university’s main student body until she made the shortlist of ten contestants for a title that involves a year of public duties. A panel of five judges named her the winner after a two-hour pageant in which she spoke of the importance of mentoring girls on self-esteem and “body image”, and performed a Hawaiian hula in a pink-and-white swimsuit.

The other nine contestants were white. Two of them wore scowls rather than smiles for the traditional portraits of winner and runners-up and as the pictures were being taken, several dozen spectators walked out of the university’s main auditorium. The following day Ms Churchill was heckled at a college football game and a previous Miss Hampton University said she was “very shocked” there was a black winner. “We’ve never had one before,” Patrece Parson said.

Ms Churchill, whose father is from London, was sufficiently offended to write to President Obama, whose mother settled in Hawaii. “I am sad to say that my crowning was not widely accepted . . . the true reason for the disapproval was because of the colour of my skin. I am not European-American.”

You can guess what I have done here. Here's the original if you can't.

Frank and Phobias

I usually like Frank Furedi, who seems to talk a lot of common sense for a sociologist. I particularly liked this piece, on the use of the term 'phobia' to describe anything we don't like. I've always been irritated by terms like 'homophobia' and 'Islamophobia', and this article explains why, much better than I could.

I will leave it to you to go and read, which I recommend. I will just post this quotation, which I think gets to the nub of the issue.

In today’s phobic imagination, it seems people are not allowed to have negative or hostile views of other people’s lifestyles or cultures. The term phobia implies that if you dislike a certain lifestyle then you must be an irrational bigot. In such circumstances, criticising a way of life or a religion becomes an act akin to sacrilege. Free speech and open debate are regarded as luxuries in a world where giving offence is seen as an unpardonable sin.

Fattism

Or fat-ism, as the Beeb calls it.

Attacking someone for being fat should be a hate crime, campaigners say. They want so-called "fat-ism" to be made illegal on the same grounds as race, age and religious discrimination.

Where is this 'hate crime' thing going to end? I was once told that employers tend to discriminate against men with beards when recruiting, which would explain some jobs that I narrowly failed to get, despite being the outstanding candidate (I had a 'full set' for many years, and yes, I am joking). So how soon can I claim that I was denied a job through 'beardism'?

Let me be clear: I am against unfair discrimination. To judge someone because of something they can't help, and which has no bearing on the situation, is wrong. To refuse a man a job because (and only because) he is black; or to turn an older woman down for a job because of her age; these are wrong and, more, they are wasteful and stupid. We can't help the colour of our skin, or the age we are, or our sexuality. You could even argue that the religion we follow is somehow programmed into us and not something we have genuine choice over.

But how can anyone claim that being fat is something that is nothing to do with them? The vast majority of fatties are large because they eat more energy than they expend through exercise. Unless they can show that someone held them down and forced all those 'donuts' [1] into their mouths, then they have only one person to blame - themselves. If other people don't like what they see, that is up to them - to call that discrimination on a par with all the wicked and shameful things that have happened in the name of racial discrimination is a travesty.

Protesters want the UK to follow San Francisco, where a law bans "fat-ism" in housing and employment and stops doctors pressing patients to slim down. Sondra Solway, a San Francisco lawyer, said: "The San Francisco ordinance says you may want to mention weight to the patient but if the patient says they do not want to talk about that then you are asked to respect those wishes."

Yes, they are so sensitive that even doctors aren't allowed to give out health advice in case the fatty gets upset.

What fatties need to understand is this: Fat Is Unattractive.

Need proof?



Need more?



And it's unhealthy too. Did you ever see an animal in the wild that couldn't see its own feet without a periscope?

All fat people (unless you are genuinely one of the 1% with 'glandular problems', and you probably aren't) have the solution in their hands. Eat less. Eat good food. Exercise more.

It's no-one else's fault. If people make fun of you, or don't want to sleep with you, or don't want to give you a job, that is their choice. And it is your choice to do something about it. (Ever thought about what all that fat is saying about you? "I am greedy and lazy and have difficulty controlling my self-indulgent urges." It's a far from ideal job-seeking strategy.)

Mark my words - today they are asking for an end to people refusing them jobs because of their 'size issues'. Tomorrow it will be a criminal offence (no, a 'hate crime') to laugh at them, even privately. And next, you will have to present a list of conquests to a Local Authority Inspector to prove that you are not discriminatory in your choice of bed partners. Finding fat unattractive will be the new thoughtcrime. That's if they get their way.

This bit is priceless:

Kathryn Szrodecki, who campaigns on behalf of overweight people, said that in the UK fat people were stared at, pointed at, talked about and attacked. She said: "I have been discriminated against - I am a YMCA qualified fitness instructor, but I have gone for jobs and been laughed off the premises."

I bet.



Editor's note: I am far from slim myself, but I have never blamed anyone else for that, nor expected them to alter their personal preferences to protect my sensibilities. Just sayin'


[1] Yeugh.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

The Right To Strike

No such thing.

Everyone has a right to 'withdraw their labour', meaning that if they do not like the way they are treated or the amount they are paid at work, no-one can force them to work against their will. To do otherwise would be barbaric. Slavery, even.

'Striking' is not quite the same thing. To 'strike' is to stop working as a way of coercing your employer in to improving your conditions, hours or pay, after which you will return to your job as if nothing has happened.

Now, I support anyone's right to withdraw their labour. It is a fundamental human right. If you think your pay is too low, or your boss wants too much from you, or the conditions are poor, then leave. Hand in your cards, tell your boss what you think of him, and go. But don't expect your job still to be there tomorrow or next week, if you change your mind.

It all comes down to the law of contract. If I come to work for you, then we will sign a contract of employment. I will agree to work so many hours for you, doing certain activities, and you will pay me a certain amount of money in exchange. The law is already biased in favour of the worker here, as the worker may renounce the contract at any time and leave, whereas the employer must have certain grounds, and have been through certain procedures, before he or she can renounce the employer's side of the contract.

If, however, you breach your side of the bargain - by walking out and refusing to work - then the contract is terminated. That's how contract law works. If I don't fulfil my side of the bargain, then you are under no obligation to fulfil yours. If the employee stops working without good reason, then the employment contract is ended, and the employer is under no obligation to the employee from that moment on.

If I enter an agreement with a car company to lease one of their cars, the contract would state that I agree to pay them (say) £100 a month, and in return they will allow me the use of a car under certain agreed conditons. If I then stop paying the £100, the company has every right to call on me and take the car back. If I said that the car wasn't big enough, or fast enough, or that £100 was too much, and that I demanded the right to have a car at a lower rate or I wouldn't pay anything at all, I would be laughed out of court. That's a contract - an agreement, freely entered into by two parties. If you don't like the car, or the size of the repayments, then don't sign the contract. If you decide later that you don't like the contract, hand the car back and look for something else.

Some of you may remember the 1970s, if you are old and doddery enough. In the 70s, workers could go on strike, and demand full pay for the period of the strike as part of their conditions for returning to work. In the print industry, some compositors demanded (and got) payment for work they didn't do: the company had brought in new technology which made their roles redundant, but the workers felt that, as this was not their fault, they should not be made to suffer. They stayed on the payroll, on full pay, playing poker and reading the racing pages. Thanks to two people named Shah and Murdoch, this cosy and immoral game was ended, and it is to the great credit of Mrs Thatcher that she created the climate where such actions could be taken.

Essentially, what the postal workers are demanding is:
  • the right not to work (which, as I have said above, is a fundamental human right)
  • the right for the employer not to do anything to make their action less effective (which is the subject of the astonishing quotation below)
  • the right to return to work afterwards without any consequences.
Employing extra people to do the work of staff who are on strike is illegal under employment law.

The right not to work needs a little clarification. Everyone has a right to withdraw their labour. They do not have the right to expect me to support them if they are not earning anything as a consequence. In other words, if they have paid into their union fund and can receive union strike pay, that's fine. If they expect to sign on to the dole because they are not working, that's not fine. If they expect their employer to welcome them back with open arms as if nothing has happened, that's not fine either. If someone is dishonest enough wilfully to break a written contract in the expectation that the other party can be coerced thereby into changing the contract conditions, then I wouldn't want to employ them anyway - and the law should not force me to.

I have never gone on strike. If I feel that I am not being paid enough (or rather that I am not being paid what I am worth), then I have always felt free to leave my job and look for one that will reward my talents better. If my employer asks me to do something in my work that I am not comfortable with, then I feel free to leave and find a job that sits easily with my conscience.

We are all, at the end of the day, sellers of our own talents. The market for this should be as free as possible. Anything else, as history has shown time and again, leads to injustice, inefficiency and - as always under a Labour government - economic disaster.

Going Postal

I like our postman. He's a nice chap. The postman before him was a treasure, and the whole village threw him a party when he retired. In general, I think the Post Office is a natural monopoly and performs a valuable service in all kinds of ways.

But this makes me mad.

The Communication Workers Union has described Royal Mail's decision to hire up to 30,000 temporary workers as "a stupid move".

Hang on. You are threatening to strike and take all your members out, and when the management take steps to keep the service going in your absence they are "stupid"? (Or is it 'stupid' as in: "that was a verrrrry foolish thing to do, Mr Bond"?)

And then I read this:

Employing extra people to do the work of staff who are on strike is illegal under employment law.

Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat? In what possible parallel universe is that fair or reasonable? The workers have the right to walk out, break their employment contracts, and still have a job waiting for them when they deign to return to work. But the employer, faced with customers who expect a service, and who will go elsewhere if they don't get it, is not allowed to take reasonable steps to ensure continuity. That seems to me to be entirely against any notion of natural justice.

Lord Myners, and Adam Crozier, and you, and I, and the dog, and the neighbour's dog, all understand one thing very well: We live in an age of developing technology. If people can't send letters, they will send emails. If people can't send Christmas cards, they will send e-cards. If people can't post parcels, they will use UPS, or DHL, or FedEx, or City Link, or whatever. And a substantial proportion of those won't come back to Royal Mail, or PorcelFarce, or whatever. They will be gone for good.

The CWU need to realise that they are in a declining market, and that they need all the help they can get to survive in the modern communications environment. Striking will only hasten the end.

Billy Hayes reminds me very much of Arthur Scargill: a man who is prepared to put all his members on the dole for the sake of a socialist principle. A working-class hero is something to be.

One step forward ...

I got the studs for the new exhaust yesterday. The headers are not in stock at M&P, so I will have to wait another few days. However, thought I would use a dry Sunday [1] to do a bit of preparation. In my innocence, I thought I might be able to take off the old exhaust, and fit the new studs, then refit the old exhaust for commuting purposes next week. Then, when the new headers arrive, it would be the work of a moment to just ... pop them on.

Not so fast, cowboy.

This is what it looked like after I had taken off the silencer can. I think you'll agree it looks pretty. Pretty awful.



The old studs (or at least the three that were unbroken) came out without a struggle. I expected to take off the nuts and then have to wangle the studs out afterwards, but in fact the nuts were so badly siezed onto the studs that the whole lot came out in one. So far, so good.

Unfortunately, the headers appear to have been welded in place. Not literally, but there is something seriously solid holding them in there. There is not a shred of movement in them, no matter how much force you apply. This meant (because of the way the headers fit around the frame) that I couldn't wiggle them away from the bike to get a bit of purchase as I levered them free. Out came Mr Angle Grinder (you can see that I had by this time get the bit between my teeth and forgotten about getting to work next week) and I cut the headers in two. The single part of the pipe then came away, and the left hand header almost fell off in my hand. Not in a good way - it was so rusty that a bit of wiggle broke it in two. I suspect that this is where the air leak that was causing all the backfiring was. The boss is still in the cylinder head, dammit.




So one side has nothing to get hold of, and the other has a few inches of rusty and rather too flexible pipe. The headers have a large boss on the top end, and this is firmly siezed into the cylinder head on both sides. I have tried chiselling them out, but to no avail. With my luck, the chisel will slip and I will chip the cooling fins. Broken cooling fins are a sure sign that a bike had been badly bodged in its past, and I really don't want to do that. Access for large and aggressive hitting instruments, as you can see from the photo, is very poor. It looks as though I will have to take the cylinder head off and take it to the workbench.

Bugger.

And in other good news, the heat shield on the bit of the exhaust that runs by your foot is not budging either. It's held on by two screws, but I have tried everything to shift them, fruitlessly. Big screwdriver, impact driver, impact driver and vice, heat + impact driver and vice, nothing. I will have to drill them out and find new ones. I need to do this to remount the shield on the new headers, but also because I want to give it a lick of black engine paint before I do. It should look good on the new stainless pipes.



Oh, and one of the brackets on the silencer can has broken off. Mechanics-wise, not a great day.

[1] Not in that sense. I have just broached a new bottle of 10-year-old Talisker, and very nice it is too.

Unbelievable

Just seen this on The Times website.

THE attorney-general, Baroness Scotland, has sparked anger among colleagues by insisting on the use of a chauffeur-driven Jaguar — a privilege usually reserved for a handful of senior cabinet ministers.

WTF? This is the woman who has just been fined £5000 for breaking her own law, before dismissing it as a 'technicality'. She's the Government's chief lawyer, and in any normal country she would have stepped down quietly when she was found out, expressed regret, and that would have been it.

But no - she is now demanding a chauffeur-driven Jaguar because (I assume) the Rover she gets with the job isn't good enough.

A source close to the attorney-general said last week that she had been expected by officials to inherit the car of her predecessor, Lord Goldsmith, who had the use of a more modest Rover 75.

“However, she insisted she wanted a Jaguar,” said the source. “Paul Jenkins was very upset about it. There was a heated discussion, but in the end he just said that they may as well give it to her.”

I am utterly astonished. Not just at the sheer neck of the woman, who should be grateful she isn't going to prison for her 'technical' offence, as you can be sure a nasty old private-sector employer would be. But also at the grasping materialistic greediness of it all. It's all to do with rank, apparently. She isn't in the cabinet (who get Jaguars automatically with their position), but she is of cabinet rank. She is entitled to a Jag. How this is any more attractive than Dwayyne Buttocks, Assistant Sales Manager, Eastern Region, wanting an upgrade to his company motor from a 318 to a 325 so he can look more important, is a mystery to me. It's a pathetic wankfest when junior managers do it, and it's doubly pathetic when the Attorney-General is doing it. They are doing everything they can to force us onto public transport in the name of Green Ishoos, while themselves bickering over who gets the most polluting car. It's like Animal Farm all over again. It's a bloody car, for God's sake. It's not important or interesting. And I thought seeking meaningless prestige was something the Labour Party were dead against.

Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, said the government was spending more on ministerial cars than on monitoring air pollution. “Ministers should have to justify why they have a car at all. This is all rather tacky and redolent of the fag-end of the government where some ministers are more interested in status and baubles and what they can get for themselves rather than serving the country.”

Quite.

What do we have to do to be rid of these grubby parasites?

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Not In Stock

Following on from the last post, I have had an email from those nice people at M&P Accessories. Apparently, the exhaust headers that they said they had in stock are not in stock at all, not even slightly in stock, and I will have to wait another couple of weeks for them to order them in.

Blamn and Dast. I was looking forward to doing that bit of work this weekend, and no longer having to arrive at work like a small, parti-coloured Panzer division (ka-boom, pop-pop, ka-bang, ect ect). They'll have to put up with me for a while longer.

And it gives me a few more days to decide what to do with the studs.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Success

In a previous post, I mentioned that I had tried to loosen off the exhaust clamps on the XT to see if I could cure an annoying backfire that has developed. I tried the first nut, and it sheared the stud. Well, I have been applying penetrating oil to the three remaining studs every night for the past week, and tonight I tried to loosen them off.

All three turned, after an initial resistance, just like they were put on yesterday. That's a good result, as I was anticipating having a right old battle with all four, trying to get the amputated stumps out of the cylinder head. Now I only have to battle with one.

Three cheers for Three-In-One High Performance Penetrant Spray!

I have a set of nice Motad stainless steel headers on order. I just need to order a new stud to replace the broken one, and I am good to go. The rusty old exhaust headers are the only truly scruffy thing about the bike; the rest of it, while far from showroom-shiny, looks well-used rather than neglected, so the new headers should make a big difference to the overall appearance.

Jobsworth Central, West Wales Division

Last week, I went up to the Uni in the car. It seemed sensible: no idea of the dress code, so played safe and wore a suit, and charging through unfamiliar traffic with the Satnav is easier in the car. But I told myself that, as a regular thing, I would be going on the bike. Quicker, better through the city traffic, and also the chance for a bit of longer blast than the usual 20 minutes to work. So today I went on the Honda.

Bad move.

Last week, I was told by A (the tutor who has engaged me to do the lecturing, and who seems to be nominally in charge of me) that I should park in the main car park, and that he would warn the people who run it that I would be arriving - on a motorbike. I turned up in the car, and was allowed to park, no problem. I was told that I would have a proper permit the following week. I even spoke to someone in Security, who promised that he would do one straight away and have it waiting for me behind the Reception desk. Well, that didn't happen. But worse than that, I arrived at the barrier to be told that they don't allow bikes to park in the main car park. I would have to park in a different area, some distance away up the hill. It was a case of "we don't allow bikes here", no room for argument, no compromises, and bloody rude with it. However, time was ticking on, and I needed to do some photocopying before the lecture, so I complied, thinking it would be quicker.

I did a fairly neat U-turn in front of a queue of impatient motorists, and went to the other car park as I was told. There was no sign of any bikes, so I plonked the Pan in a fairly discreet corner and began to get my kit out. Then another official came out of his little hut and said "you can't park here!" I told him that this was exactly where his colleague had told me to park. He sighed, as if I was a rather dim 5-year-old, and pointed to a gap between two buildings. "That's where the bikes are." I had seen the gap, but decided that it was far too narrow to get the Pan through with its built-in panniers and generally lardy proportions. Another brief contretemps followed, in which I was again the loser. So I squeezed the bike between the concrete walls to find the "motorcycle park" - a steeply-sloping pathway about 8 feet wide, covered in moss and very damp.

The Pan weighs about 300kg fully-fuelled, but it's well-balanced, and the only time I get nervous about dropping it is if the surface is slippery and my feet might slip away when I hold it upright. Petrol station forecourts slick with diesel are a particular hazard. This 'parking area' looked pretty bad. But I managed to squeeze it between two student bikes (cheap learner 125s, held together with cheap insulating tape, that's how I knew - the XT is held together with proper gaffer tape and wire) and kept it upright. So far, so good.

I walked back to the main block, where I was due to be lecturing in about 5 minutes, and went into the Gents' to change. I had brought my jacket in an overnight bag, and left this on the floor next to the waterproofs which I had hung on a coat-hook on the wall. I thought it might be a courtesy to let the Security guys know, just in case someone took offence at an anonymous bag left in a toilet. You'd think I had told him I had left a genuine bomb. "No, no, no, no, no! You can't leave that in there! It's security!" I was sent to gather it all up, and was taken to a cupboard near Reception, where the door was ceremonially unlocked and I was allowed to store my stuff. Then we had to make special arrangements for Reception to meet me there after my lecture was finished, in order that I could retrieve them.

Put simply, I was not made to feel in any way welcome. And there was no permit for me. I will have to wait another week, until 'Bob' comes back from his annual leave for that.

I have decided that the bike is more trouble than it is worth for this particular gig. I will be turning up in future in a nice boring car, fully dressed, and fitting in with everyone preconceptions of what normal people do for transport. A few years ago, I would have made a point of rocking up on the bike every week, and going through the same rigmarole, just to be awkward, but I am getting a bit old for that.

A chance to listen to a few CDs on a Monday morning, I think. Oh, and it's autumn, and the Mundaneo has a heater.

Visiting Lecturer - at a University, cor blimey

Blogging has been light-to-non-existent over the weekend, for which I apologise. Work was pretty manic last week, and then this weekend I have been busy. Not just the usual, shopping, cutting the grass, concreting the kitchen floor, usual stuff, but Lesson Preparation.

I have been asked to fill in as a Visiting Lecturer at a nearby University. Someone was due to deliver a course for them in the new term, but let them down at the last minute, and my name was mentioned by an ex-colleague (to whom I owe a large drink) and I was bustled in to plug the gap. It's only two hours a week, and for 15 weeks total, but it fits in well with my free day from my usual employer, and it's a foot in the door to get back into the teaching/training/lecturing that is what I do best. Just a thought: I'm paid for two hours. The hourly rate is £40, so that's £80 a session. Sounds good. Take off the income tax, and that's about £60. The Uni don't pay travel costs, and petrol is about £15. So that's £45. The Uni is 60 miles away, and I am away from home for 5½ hours; also, I must have done at least another 5½ hours preparing for the lecture. Divide by the number of hours I am spending on it, and that's £4.09 per hour. It's not worth it financially, in all honesty. But if it gets my toe in the door, and leads to more work of this kind, it will be. Even a bit of recent teaching/lecturing experience on the old CV will be an advantage.

Havng been a 'teacher' for many years, I always felt that those who could style themselves 'lecturer' were just a tiny bit further up the pecking order than humble 'teachers'. And proper 'University lecturers' were higher still. Well, now I can technically call myself a University lecturer. I might be part-time and temporary. The University in question might be a recently-upgraded Technical Institute. But it is a University. And I am lecturing there. I wonder if I should start calling myself 'Professor' when I am booking a table in a restaurant?

I started last week, and the whole thing went reasonably well. The students were OK with me, the rest of the staff seem fairly human, and I am looking forward to the rest of the 'semester', as I am learning to call it.

Today's catalogue of irritations will be the subject of a separate post.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Something for the weekend, Sir

Courtesy of B3ta, a couple of YouTube vids that amuse, and that I thought I might share.

First off is something I need. Very easy to do, and I wonder why I never thought of it before:



Second is just brilliant.



Good old VW.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Can it be true?




This Conservative conference has been better than the other two by a country mile, which isn't saying much. But Osborne looks as though he is going to try to win the election by being honest with the electors. This is either foolhardy in the extreme, or a dazzling piece of political judgement - depending, I suppose, on who wins the election. I admire him for it. There is obviously some harsh medicine due to the British patient before he (or she) can begin to be cured, and if he lays it all out now, and the Tories are voted in on the strength of it, then Cameron will be playing a tough game with a reasonable hand.

Even better, rumour has it that speed cameras are going to be curtailed:

... which inspired Theresa Villiers to announce the effective end of speed cameras this week; the Tories won’t fund any more fixed speed cameras and councils will have to demonstrate that they are effective in cutting accidents before they are allowed to use them. The Tories are hoping that vehicle activated signs, which tell people what speed they are driving and are more effective at cutting accidents than speed cameras, will become the default on British roads.

The Times confirms it:

This (rogue clampers) clampdown would be extended to speed cameras, she (Theresa Villiers) said, promising to expose them to “real democratic control". She said: “That means publishing the information that's now kept secret on each speed camera's record on safety and on fines, so local communities can judge for themselves whether a camera should stay or whether it should go.”

I'm a fairly law-abiding bloke, but I break the speed limit almost every time I go out of the house. So, of course, do you, and so do about 95% of the British population. As a consequence, I - who was brought up to respect the law in all its forms, to be polite to and support the Police, and to be a Good Citizen in every way - have been busted a total of four times in 38 years of riding and driving. Four court appearances (or pathetic letters pleading mitigation), four fines, and four sets of points on my licence. I have no criminal record. That, and two parking tickets, are my only transgressions in five-and-a-bit decades on this planet.

It may surprise you to know this, but I am in favour of 20 mph zones and I think speed cameras, especially fully-automatic ones that need no human input, prosecute 100% of transgressions, and win all their cases, are a Good Thing. Yes, really. A speed camera is a devastatingly effective device for cutting the speed at which motorists travel and, used in the right place, can enhance everyone's safety to a large degree.

You will notice that I said "in the right place". That, of course, is the point. If the Government (or the local authority) declared that certain residential streets, and all areas within say 200m of a school or hospital, were to be 20 mph zones, enforced by speed cameras that never slept, and that caught 100% of offenders, I would be fully in support of that. Likewise, if cameras enforced red traffic lights, I would be in favour. People who speed where children play, or who jump red lights, are categorically a danger to everyone.

The point is that I, and I am sure millions like me, don't mind doing as we are told if we can see that there is a good reason. When, however, as is so often the case these days, there appears to be no reason for them or, even worse, that the cameras seem set to trap people who are doing nothing dangerous, then the credibility of the cameras, the speed limit system, and the law itself are all diminished.

Like the one I saw on the M4 between Bath and Reading a year or two ago. Two miles of road works, with an entirely reasonable 50 mph limit, enforced by cameras. Then the road works ended and the carriageway was free of cones, workmen and all signage. Visually, you could not see any trace of road works, and most would have assumed that the speed limit had ended. No signs to confirm or deny that. So most people gradually put their foot down and got back to a decent speed. The speed limit ended about a mile further on, with big national limit signs on either side of the road. And, just in front of the signs - a camera van. I bet they caught thousands that day. The artificial lengthening of the speed limit zone, and the positioning of the camera just within the limit, suggested to me that this was a deliberate attempt to catch as many otherwise law-abiding motorists as they could. To me, that is not just unfair, it's unwise. How many people had their respect for the law just a little bit reduced on that day? I did.

It's not as if they work at their stated purpose - reducing accidents. Indeed, there is an argument that they are worse than useless, and actually kill people. The figures for Killed and Seriously Injured (KSI) since the early 1990s (when speed cameras began to be introduced) have virtually flatlined, whereas they were in a steady decline for the previous 40 years.

I know that you can point to camera sites and show a reduction in accidents at that spot following the siting of a camera, but that is often just a statistical artefact. Look up 'regression to the mean' to see why.

If the Tories can reduce the number of cameras, and make authorities (who have done very nicely out of them) to justify the ones they keep, this can only be a good thing - for safety, for motorists' sanity, and ultimately for respect for the law. Those vehicle-activated signs (which remind the speeder beforehand, rather than punish him after the event) work much better for me and, apparently, for everyone else, as they are more effective at controlling speed than the best Gatso. Speed cameras have, for me, become a symbol of the arbitrary and harsh justice meted out to the otherwise harmless 'ordinary people' of Britain, that has become a characteristic of Labour's period of government. If the Tories can promise to do something sensible about it, they've got my vote.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

A measure of hope



I was on the shopping run at the weekend, and I treated myself, as I mentioned in a previous post. It just fell in the trolley, honest.

I now have a bottle of The Balvenie Signature. It will not be opened until election night.

I can't wait.

Pop pop phut

phut, ga-rooooon, phut phut pop pop ka-BANG ka-pop phut ka-BANG BANG, ne-aaaar ka-phut.

That's me arriving at work.

Gotta get them thar exhaust thingies fixed, soonest.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Thanks, but no thanks

I received an email today, from 'David'. It began like this:

Hey Blogger - My name is David,

I have been searching the Internet for blogs that fit our criteria. Yours does. I wanted to invite you to become a paid blogger at Blog Distributor. (Please understand that I do not send this invitation to every blogger I come across.)

Hmm. I feel special already.

Roughly 25% of bloggers are now being paid to write postings on their blogs, that are linked to websites. The value here is that, when a blog posting is linked to a website, that website will get higher rankings in the search engines, such as Google and Yahoo. You can write anything you think about the website, positive or negative.

Well, that seems fair enough. And there's a link, which tells you more.

  1. We will pay you to write blog postings on your blog and link them to our clients' websites.
  2. The more popular your blog is, the more money you can make. But all blogs have value in our system.
  3. You fill out our Sign Up form, describing your blog.
  4. Clients register their needs with us.
  5. Blog Distributor will match client jobs with bloggers. If you're a match, we'll email you with details about the new job.
  6. You can accept or pass on any new job and you have 24 hours to make that decision. As soon as you accept, you have another 24 hours from that time to create your posting and let us know about it.
  7. You will not be writing reviews of products. You will be writing in general about the business of the client. (We'll send you the information that you need to knowledgeably write the posting.)
  8. We'll check your posting to make sure that it meets our standards.
  9. We'll send you the linking information to link your posting to the client's website.
  10. We'll check that your posting is live on your blog and linked to the right website page.
  11. You get paid every month.

OK, I get it. You tell me to write about a certain website, to boost its page rankings. If lots of people read my postings, I get paid. If I know diddly-squat about the product, you will give me an idiot's guide so that I sound convincing.

Well, I write stuff here because it interests me, and for no other reason. I have a job, and don't need to make money out of my blog. I don't have many readers (Hi, Mum!) but, without getting all precious about journalistic integrity and all that, I would think that they would expect what they read here to be honest and genuine. How long do I think they would stick around if they got a whiff of commerciality about what they read? Not very long.

Folks, if you ever read a posting here saying that I have just been to a wonderful website which is so good, and so cool, and anyway I have always loved Campbell's Cream Of Chicken Soup, and I just thought I would share it with you guys, cos you're almost family to me, and ... and ...

Understand that I have gone to the dark side, delete me, and never come near my blog again.

I am about to write 'David' a very rude message. It will end with 'off'.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Says it all, really

I have a permanent rant going on inside my head, but it rarely translates well to the written word. Some of us have a talent for that, so I am going to refer you straight to this. I particularly liked the concluding paragraph:

You can stick your CCTV, Police State, wheelie bin Stasi, DNA, WMD, "Social Cohesion", benefits for all, guilty until proved innocent, don't do that it's illegal now, can't say that, ID cards for all, where are you going, what have you been saying/doing/reading, can't photograph that, how very dare you, golliwog banning, we know where you live, we're watching you Soviet Utopia up your arses. Sideways.

I'm going to follow the advice of one of his commenters and lay down a bottle of something very special (a 10-year-old Glenmorangie sounds good) and then book holiday from work for the day following, when we learn of the date of the election.

Then I am going to sit with the TV right through the night, and when it finally becomes clear that the nightmare of the last 12 years is over, I am going to crack that bottle and get slowly, happily and tearfully hammered.

I can hardly wait.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Oh bother

I was complaining in a previous post about the Yamahaha backfiring on a closed throttle. The first thing to suspect here is a leak in the exhaust somewhere, allowing oxygen in to mix with unburnt fuel and create a minor explosion. As the exhaust headers are rusty and ready for the bin, I suspected a pinhole in one of them. Today, as an experiment, I bought some exhaust bandage and wrapped them tightly (cheaper than a new exhaust by a factor of about 20). Sadly, it has made no difference. I then wondered if the exhaust gaskets had started leaking, so I tried to undo the bolts that hold the exhaust clamps on, to get in there and have a look (and slap them up with a bit of exhaust paste if necessary). I have planned to get some stainless steel headers in any case - the headers are awful, and the stainless ones look fab, as well as being everlasting - so I would have to take these clamps off at some point.

The first one turned with that bending-toffee feeling that should have warned me. The next thing, I have the bolt, and part of the stud, in my hand, and the rest of the stud still firmly in the cylinder head.

Bollocks.



Assuming the rest will be equally rusted in place and weakened, I'm not going to try the others. It looks like the cylinder head will have to come off, so that I can use the appliance of science (i.e. a workbench, some heat, and some serious toolery) to get the other three to comply with my wishes. I might as well order the new headers and do it all at once.

As I said, bollocks. That means the XT will be off the road for at least a week, and I will be commuting on the Pan, which is not the ideal tool, in the same way that a 747 is not the ideal tool for gliding lessons.

However, the Pan sailed through its MoT this morning with just an advisory on the front fork seals, so it's not been all bad today.

Still, bollocks.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Please, say it isn't so ...

This ...

One of Tony Blair’s most fervent supporters could hardly contain his enthusiasm at the prospect of the former Prime Minister becoming the first president of the European Union. “Imagine what it would be like,” he said. “Tony arriving at the UN in New York or negotiating with the Chinese in Beijing. Who else would stop the traffic like he would?”

So Britain's celebrity-mad ex-Prime Minister, war-criminal, liar and hypocrite, is likely to become the unelected head of a federation that no-one asked us if we wanted to be part of?

And he's not going to be dragged off to The Hague to answer for the deaths of 100,000+ Iraqis, 179 British soldiers, and David Kelly?

I despair. I really, really despair. If there is one reason to de-ratify the Lisbon Treaty, this is it.

Sublime Slowhand

Saw this on another blog this week. I've been a fan of Eric Clapton since the John Mayall and Cream days, way back when. He always seemed to 'get' the blues better than any other white musician. And he still does. Here he is, ripping into Otis Rush's 1957 classic Groanin' the Blues.

The boy's still got it.

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