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

- George Washington

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Taking Sides 2

Further to my earlier post concerning the anti-gay posters in Tower Hamlets -

It's not often I find myself agreeing with Johann Hari, but he has a piece here which talks some sense about the 'tolerance' we are expected to show to the mediaeval beliefs of certain religious groups:
Here’s a few portents from the East End that we have chosen to ignore. In May 2008, a 15 year old Muslim girl tells her teacher she thinks she might be gay, and the Muslim teacher in a state-funded comprehensive tells her “there are no gays round here” and she will “burn in hell” if she ever acts on it. (I know because she emailed me, suicidal and begging for help). In September 2008, a young gay man called Oliver Hemsley, is walking home from the gay pub the George and Dragon when a gang of young Muslims stabs him eight times, in the back, in the lungs, and in his spinal column. In January 2010, when the thug who did it is convicted, a gang of thirty Muslims storms the George and Dragon in revenge and violently attacks everybody there. All through, it was normal to see young men handing out leaflets outside the Whitechapel Ideas Store saying gays are “evil.” Most people accept them politely.
...
These are not isolated incidents. East London has seen the highest increase in homophobic attacks anywhere in Britain. Everybody knows why, and nobody wants to say it. It is because East London has the highest Muslim population in Britain, and we have allowed a fanatically intolerant attitude towards gay people to incubate there, in the name of “tolerance”. The most detailed opinion survey of British Muslims was carried out by Gallup, who correctly predicted the result of the last general election. In their extensive polling, they found literally no British Muslims who would say homosexuality is “morally acceptable.” Every one of the Muslims they polled objected to it. Even more worryingly, younger Muslims had more stridently anti-gay views than older Muslims. These attitudes have consequences – and they are worst of all for gay Muslims, who have to live a sham half-life of lies, or be shunned by their families.

No, Muslims are not the only homophobes among us. But the gap between them and the rest is startling. It’s zero percent of British Muslims vs. 58 percent of other Brits who say we are “acceptable.”
He loses me later on when he talks about making it a "legal requirement, tightly policed" for schools to teach certain attitudes to homosexuality. I'm none too comfortable with the idea of forcing specific views on anyone, expecially children, but when he says
No school should be a “faith school”, inspired by medieval holy books that demand death for gay people
I can't disagree.

Two Cheers

Via JuliaM, this story:
A woman has been jailed for lying that she had been abducted and raped after becoming worried her husband would find out about a one night stand.

Nicola Osborne said she had been put into a car and raped in a public toilet in July, which led to the arrest of the man she had consensual sex with.
Two reasons to be cheerful with this one:

Firstly
Osborne, 32, of Portsmouth, was jailed for 18 months after earlier admitting perverting the course of justice.
And secondly
The man, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, was arrested and detained for 12 hours.
Julia has highlighted many of these cases in recent months, giving the lie to the usual claim that false claims of rape are "very rare". Usually, the woman is let off with a caution or a community sentence, and the man is named, shamed and then later told he has been cleared, and to go away and not make a fuss.

While being cleared by a court is the end of the matter from a legal point of view, the man's life could be shattered by such a false claim. Apart from the fact that a lot of people will think 'no smoke without fire', there is the small matter of your indiscretions (even if legal) becoming a matter of public knowledge. Which of us could really stand having all our bad decisions plastered across the front page of the Daily Mail? For most men, the public humiliation of having your sex life discussed in open court and reported in the press would be devastating, even if it were officially determined that no crime had been committed.

So two cheers here: for the decision to send the woman to prison for the very serious offence of perverting the course of justice; and for the court's decision not to name the man involved.

I'm not diminishing the crime of rape, which is unspeakably nasty and is rightfully regarded as one of the worst crimes in common law. But when women use the cry of 'rape' to cover a drunken liaison which they later regret, it diminishes the crime in everyone's eyes, and the real victims are those women who are raped, and who find that people doubt them because ... well, "she probably didn't want her husband to find out".

Scottoiler update (tech post)



General reader, look away now: technical diatribe follows.

Back in November, I posted about fitting a Scottoiler to the Bonneville. I ended with
I shall check the state of the chain and the amount of oil flung onto the number plate and rear wheel for the next few days of riding, to make sure the delivery is enough but not excessive.
Of course, this remark coincided with the start of one of the coldest spells I can remember, and I hardly used the bike for the next few weeks. Ice is one of the few things that will put me back on four wheels - I don't bounce as well as I used to. So I never checked the installation properly and adjusted the flow rate. When I came to do so, I found that the oiler was not delivering oil at all. Not a drop. There's a fair amount of oil dripping about after you have done the installation, and I had mistaken this for 'almost right' and thought no more about it.

The other day, I took it off to see if I could find the problem and, if I could sort it out, to mount it on the XT, which is what I should have done in the first place with winter approaching.

The Scottoiler principle is very simple: a cylinder full of oil, a valve that is actuated by engine vacuum, and a tube and nozzle to deliver the oil to the chain. The cylinder (hereinafter referred to by its proper title, the Reservoir Metering Valve, or RMV) is a rather sophisticated device, however, as we shall see. I disconnected the delivery tube from the RMV and the oil drained out of the tube, so that ruled out any blockages on the way to the chain. I took the RMV off the bike and disconnected the vacuum pipe. By sucking on the vacuum pipe I could activate the valve (you can see it popping up and down and hear the click) but nothing would come out. Hah. Faulty or blocked RMV.

At this point I phoned the lads in Milngavie for advice. I spoke to Mark, and described what I had done. He suspected that the filter (in the bottom of the RMV, didn't know about that) was blocked, and advised flooding the RMV with a solvent like WD-40 to clear any contamination. Failing that, he said, you can try dismantling it, but very few people get it back together successfully. (He was right.)

I did as instructed, drained the oil out (surprisingly difficult) and half-filled the RMV with WD-40. A lot of sloshing about (for which my early training on the maracas came in very handy) and WD-40 started to appear from the nozzle at the bottom, but only a drop or two. In the end, I felt I was 'getting nowhere', and took the top off the RMV.

Here's the difficulty: the RMV is moulded plastic and not designed to be dismantled. Taking the top off involved prying with a thin screwdriver and a lot of swearing, and inevitably damaged the little pips and plastic flanges that hold it all together. However, it came apart and I found the filter. Taking the filter out meant destroying the plastic bit that held it, but by now I didn't care. The filter is a little cylinder of porous plastic, and it seemed to be fine. But I put it all back together without the filter, and - SHAZZAM - it worked. Half-filled with oil and with a good suck on the vacuum tube, and a steady drip-drip of oil came out of the nozzle. Then it started to rain and it got dark, so I retreated to the house.

Yesterday I fitted it to the XT. I had enough bits left over in my 'Scottoiler Box' to get it on there without purchasing anything extra (they give you enough in the kit to mount the device to almost any bike in the known universe, so there are a lot of redundant parts in the box). I filled it with oil and gave the vacuum pipe a suck to do one final check that it was working and - nothing. Try as I might, I could not get the valve to actuate. I was sucking fresh air and could not get a vacuum in the tube. Something I had done (a bit of rough handling, perhaps) between taking it out of the box and getting it mounted had shifted something inside, and the valve no longer worked. I fitted the vacuum tube to the carb stub and started the engine. The valve at the top was fluttering up and down, showing that the intake vacuum was getting to the RMV, but not enough to open the valve. A final check by lifting the valve with a thin screwdriver showed that it was working fine otherwise, but I can't see myself riding along holding a screwdriver down below my left leg for long.

I took the top off (rather more easily now!) and tried to re-seat it, but it didn't improve things, so I admitted defeat. I called Mark again, and we agreed that it was probably dead.

Some good news, however: for existing customers, Scottoil will supply a new RMV at a greatly reduced price, post free and guaranteed for two years. So I decided to bit the bullet and get a new one. In fact, I persuaded Mark that I ought to have two. After all, I have all the kit already installed on the Bonnie, and an extra RMV will mean that I have one on each bike for no extra effort. In effect, for less than the price of a new Scottoiler kit from a shop, I will have two working oilers, one for each bike.

This wasn't the wonderful freebie that it looked when I first got it*, but in the end I will have the result I wanted - fully automatic chain lubrication for both bikes. In a place as wet as Wales, and without a centre stand between them, that's highly desirable.

I have to say that I am very pleased with the support offered by Scottoiler. There's a phone number on the website, and it takes you straight through to the people who know the product, and who seem genuinely to want to help.

Scottoiler join Orange in my list of Companies Whose Customer Service Treats You Like A Human Being.

* Richard's First Law of Anything: if a thing looks too good to be true, it probably is**.
** Richard's Corollary to the First Law: There Is Always A Catch.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

I blame that Gadaffi chap



As I was leaving for work yesterday evening, I noticed the central heating boiler had locked out. On inspection, no oil in the tank. I left Anna with a pile of logs and a roaring woodstove and made a mental note to order more today.

When I got up at lunchtime, she had already ordered 1000 litres. Good thing she did. The delivery arrived this afternoon as I was washing the XT down. The driver told me that I was wise to order when I did, as the price had risen by 5p per litre since the morning. A quick calculation shows that, by being prompt, Anna just saved us £49. She ordered 1000, but there was room for more, so I asked the driver to put in as much as he could. We ended up with 1266 litres (in a 1250 litre tank, durr), so it is to be hoped that we don't have to do that again very soon.

At well over £700 for the fill, we won't be able to, for one thing.

Batten down the hatches, folks. If Libya goes up in flames, this is only the start.

Archaeology News

From the always good and occasionally brilliant Daily Mash:

Archeologists uncover ancient responsible drinking posters

Professor Henry Brubaker, of the Institute for Studies, said: "It seems that even before written language was born, mankind had developed a keen sense of ruining somebody else's fun.

"I imagine that at the same moment the first primitive human created fire with his trembling hands, some hairy-knuckled prick sat next to him was whining on about his asthma and telling him to put it out.

"Living in the middle of an ice age with an average life expectancy of 28, it's hard to imagine how our ancestors found any joy in life to suck out but I think the fact we've yet to find any ashtrays on the dig proves that they managed it."
Marvellous. Read on ...

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Apropos of nothing in particular ...



Does anyone else remember Rare Bird and their 1969 song "Sympathy"?

It hardly featured in the UK playlists, but in continental Europe it was a very popular single and was played everywhere. In that year, I went for a trip to Lugano in Northern Italy with some friends, and you couldn't get away from it. Every café, every bar, every restaurant seemed to have it on a continuous loop. I was getting on for the ripe old age of 16, and the lyrics struck me as very profound (perhaps I matured late). I can remember them word-for-word today, and hear Steve Gould's powerful voice belting them out over a rather plodding but relentless descending bass line and power chords from the dual keyboards that were Rare Bird's trademark.

Now when you climb into your bed tonight
And when you lock and bolt the door
Just think of those out in the cold and dark
'cause there's not enough love to go round

And sympathy is what we need my friend
And sympathy is what we need
And sympathy is what we need my friend
'cause there's not enough love to go round

Now half the world hates the other half
And half the world has all the food
And half the world lies down and quietly starves
'cause there's not enough love to go round

And sympathy is what we need my friend
And sympathy is what we need
And sympathy is what we need my friend
'cause there's not enough love to go round.

In retrospect, the theme is pretty much Good King Wenceslas without the redemptive pine logs hither, but it was good at the time.

Not sure about the chick on the cover, though. She looks double-jointed.

UPDATE:

Thanks to commenter RFB, here's the video. I was at work when I posted, and Youtube is blocked there, so I didn't bother looking. But now I have. Pity we don't see more of the chicks at the end ...


Taking Sides




There has been a spate of nasty anti-gay posters put up in Tower Hamlets lately, declaring that area a 'gay-free zone' and threatening 'severe punishment'. Not the BNP, or ignorant skinheads, or beer-swilling football supporters - these are the work of the acolytes of the Religion of Peace.

I haven't much time for the 'gay lobby', to be honest. I don't mind what they do, or how they do it; I just wish they would shut up about it. I don't go waving my heterosexuality around in public, and I don't really appreciate it when people wave their alternative sexuality about and say I ought to 'celebrate' their version. I will tolerate it, and that should be enough. I won't beat anyone up over it, I won't denounce you because of it, and I won't even make stupid jokes about it in the workplace because, honestly, I would hate to think that I offended you and made you feel bad through my own crass ignorance. I won't think you are a bad person, and I genuinely won't dislike you. It's not something I share, so I won't be encouraging it or 'celebrating' it, but neither will I be campaigning against it or calling for your execution. Let's just live and let live, eh?

My attitude to homosexuality is predicated upon one simple thought: there isn't enough love in the world as it is, and anything that increases the love in the world, even if I can't share its form of expression, is a good thing. As long as you are happy, and not hurting anyone else, then I am delighted for you. Really.

And that is why, in the face of posters like these, I say - dress me in a rainbow scarf, give me my own diversity outreach co-ordinator and a subscription to the Pink Paper, and sit me next to this guy:


And let's stamp this evil shit out.

The poster campaign has been going on for weeks, and there have been no arrests. The posters are put up by adherents of the Religion of Peace. You 'do the math', as they say.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Census Questions

For England can be found here, and for Wales here. As far as I can see, the only difference is in the order of nationalities in Q15, where Welsh comes first on the Welsh version, and vice versa on the English, and Q17 on facility with the Welsh language, which is 'intentionally blank' on the English version. I understand the Scots have their own version, but I couldn't find this on the ONS website.

Some of the questions, in fact many of them, seem quite legitimate, and I have no problem about answering them. My name, date of birth, and occupation seem inocuous enough, and a few basic facts about my house are hardly something I need to keep private. My real problem is where the questions seem to have a concealed agenda, and seem to relate to social engineering and political issues, rather than simple hard population data collection. Why on earth, for example, do they need to know if my house is heated by gas or wood? It couldn't be anything to do with a fantasy-driven energy policy, could it? Or my ethnic group - gathering the evidence for more 'special treatment' for supposed minorities?

One question I will be answering in thick black permanent marker is Q41, where I get to tell them how I get to work. 'Motorcycle' is a listed option. Yay!

I'm sure I can work some oppressed victimhood in there, somehow.

Intrusion

There's a good piece over at the Tellygiraffe by Philip Johnston on the intrusive nature of the census.
Most of all, the census has become far more than a simple reckoning of the size of the population and is now inquisitive to the point of prying. We will be required by law in March to provide more than 40 pieces of personal information, including religious belief and ethnic background. Questions about income and sexuality were originally proposed for inclusion but dropped as too nosey. Even so, there is a section to say whether you are in a civil partnership.

It is a far cry from the first UK census in 1801, when just five questions were asked, to establish the number of people in each household, their sex and occupation.
There's some interesting stuff on the history of the census, and how people have always been suspicious of government attempts to find out things. Go and have a read. The comments are worth a look too.

Ten Things about the Census

From NO2ID:

10 Census Lies

The propaganda push for the 2011 census has begun. NO2ID opposes this census because it represents the worst features of database state, the insatiable desire for ever more information, and the presumption that official purposes override privacy.
Here are the ten worst lies you will be told in the coming weeks:

1. The Census is essential for government and business planning

On the contrary, it is worse than useless because it is expensive, inaccurate, and quickly out of date.
One could also ask: what bloody planning?
2. Our Census data is trusted and respected worldwide

Even were this true, should we care? Most countries do have some sort of census, but would being respected at doing something essentially useless be worth more than £300 millio.

3. It's a great source for genealogy

100 or 200 years ago there was little record of most people's lives, and old censuses may be the only documents available. It is ludicrous to assume the same will apply in 100 years time, and outrageous to suggest it justifies spending public money.

4. It's 'good for employment', it provides jobs.

Temporary ones, Yet the money spent would otherwise be spent on something — probably something useful involving permanent jobs.

5. Census data is confidential for 100 years.

Not any more. Census forms are kept from the public for 100 years. But EU legislation allows the 2011 census to be shared with all 27 member states, and the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 created powers to share the information with public bodies, and "approved researchers".

6. The census results in high-quality information.

No one knows how many people lie in their return. The 2001 census is generally believed to have 'missed' around 900,000 men under 40.

7. Everyone should be proud of playing their part in the census.

There is no reason to be proud of being tallied like cattle. There is every reason to oppose the waste and the intrusion. There is a long history of public resentment of the census. In the 1800s census officers had to be given police protection; in 1911 the suffragettes boycotted it in protest; and in the 50s TV publicity told people it wasn't "another bit of snooping"

8. Communities can use census statistics to help gain recognition.

Whether a group is "officially recognised" is a political decision, not the same as individuals being located and categorised. 390,127 people recorded their religion as Jedi in 2001; they have yet to be officially recognised. More seriously, the Board of Deputies says the census underestimates British Jews, precisely because some of that community are nervous of officials knowing where they live.

9. Completing the census is straightforward, convenient and secure.

New questions are more intrusive than ever before, requiring details of employer's addresses, the details of any visitors to your house, and where they usually live. This is a direct danger to people who have sensitive occupations. The online version is a perfect cover for phishing attacks.

10. Your personal information is protected

Security is only as good as the shortest route to breaking it. Thousands of people will be involved, large commercial contractors and government agencies will process it, and the law newly provides that the data may be accessed for a variety of reasons, not just for making a statistical summary.
It cannot be guaranteed there won't be a security breach, or that data once captured will be used legitimately.

They cannot protect it; they shouldn't collect it.
I'm with the Jews on this one. If you have lived in a country where the State is actively hostile to you (for whatever reason), then the more they know about you, the more nervous you get. Old habits die hard. And while we have a nice, cuddly, caring-sharing, Centrist government now, who is to say what use future governments may make of the information? Can we guarantee that all future governments will be benign?

Point 8 is, I think, the main purpose. They want to get us all labelled and categorised so that, at some future time, certain approved groupings can claim recognition and funding. We won't be people, we will be 10% gay, 80% straight, and 10% other, or something. And then we will be asked why 10% of public funding isn't going to gay issues. Or that 60% claim that they are nominally Christian, so that my taxes can go to create faith schools (for, after all, if you allow Christian schools, you must allow all the others too).

That is the bit I won't co-operate with. They can have my name, address and date of birth, and nothing else. The rest is absolutely none of anyone else's business.

The only question is whether to leave those bits blank or get creative. I think I'm leaning towards creative at the moment.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Question

Apropos that 'dog lady' again:

Q: What do you do if a Rottweiler starts humping your leg?

A: Fake an orgasm.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Happy Birthday, Driving Licence

I'm not sure of the exact date (it might have been the 23rd), but it was in February 1971 that I passed my driving test. I passed my bike test the following year. So I have now been driving (legally) for 40 years.

Bloody hell.

In that time, I reckon I have driven about 650,000 miles on four wheels, and about 150,000 on two wheels. The difference is down to the usual reasons - newly married and only able to run one vehicle, young children ditto - and a ten-year gap when illness prevented me from riding at all. But if you add it all up, it's almost to the Moon and back, twice. Or 32 times round the world.

In that time, I have owned 20 cars, from a Citroen 2CV to a 4.6 V8 Range Rover, and 17 bikes, from a wrecked Triumph Tina scooter that I ran in the fields at age 15 to a Honda Pan European ST1300. The worst car I ever drove was a Moskvitch (it wasn't mine, just a loaner while one of mine was in for service), which was truly horrible. There have been no bad bikes. Even the Jawa 350 that I owned in the early 70s was fun at times, and I don't regret having it, although it did perform the greatest service to me by making everything since feel like a luxury.

I've had a few minor swaps of paint, but only one serious accident, when a car turned across my path on a dual carriageway and we met head-on. Luckily it was wet and wintry and I wasn't going fast. My passenger had whiplash which has troubled her all her life since then, whereas I walked away with nothing more than a permanent twitch of the braking muscles whenever I see a car waiting on a central reservation. The 2CV was repaired and back on the road in a week. The Triumph Dolomite that wandered into its path was a write-off.

I've had a few close calls on the bike, but have only fallen off three times, each time due to my own over-enthusiasm and lack of self-restraint. I like to think each one was a learning experience that I will not repeat. I hope I am right. Scrapes and bruises, but no broken bones or worse. Have I been lucky, or just careful? Who knows.

My Dad always enjoyed driving, and he was happy for me to learn because he knew I would enjoy it too. Neither he nor my Mum were very keen on motorbikes, but to their credit they never stopped me once I was 18, and never made me feel guilty or wrong about what I did. (They did utterly forbid me from having a bike when I was 16 and was hankering after a black Honda CB72 which a mate was selling. I moaned at the time, but looking back it was absolutely the right thing to do. I had no sense at all.)

So, 40 years and the best part of a million miles. A few moments of anger and stress. A few hours of boredom in traffic jams. But in all, hugely life-enhancing. I dread to think of the cost of it all, if you put it together into one sum, but mobility has let me do things that previous generations could only dream of: find work that suited me, even though it wasn't within walking distance of my home; meet people and do things on a whim that would have been impossible without personal transport; just go out and drive or ride because I wanted to.

I'm often rude about cars in this blog, but in all honesty I still get a kick out of driving and would set off on a thousand-mile journey at the drop of a hat, with the same sense of adventure I had when I was 17 (but with a much better chance of getting there in one piece). Bikes, though, are something else. I can never swing a leg over a two-wheeler without a faint memory of that first thrilling ride on a mate's Lambretta when I was about 14, wobbling helmetless down the road trying to juggle clutch and brakes, and wondering why my cigarette had torched down to the filter in half a mile, while the paper was still intact.

Happy days, all of them.

That switch again

I am happy to report (and touching every wooden object wthin reach as I do so) that since I replaced the XT's ignition switch it has run perfectly. Of course, the petrol filler key is the same as the ignition, so I am now carrying two keys round with me. One has a green marker ("unleaded") and one has a red one ("fire and sparks"), and of course most of my riding these days is after dark, so I have had to attach a small LED torch to the keyring as well, so I can see which is which.

I dismatled the old switch and, not only were the contacts filthy, but the spring that keeps the moving contacts touching the fixed contacts was as sloppy as an old sock. I'm surprised any electricity flowed through there at all. That annoying buzz from the headstock area at certain engine speeds has gone too, so maybe that was a symptom as well.

So, HERE'S HOPING that the problem is fixed.

Doggy Treats



The Rottweiler-Chow cross was unavailable for comment.

From the Liverpool Echo:
A GRAN who was caught on camera having sex with the family dog was spared jail. Police found 33 photographs of Paula Mangan, 42, in sexual positions with the Rottweiler-Chow cross dog after raiding her home in Huyton.

Mum-of-two and gran-of-one Mangan initially denied the pictures were of her, as they did not show her face. But when experts uncovered further images which clearly identified her, she admitted her guilt.

Mangan, now of Parkview Drive, Netherley, admitted having sex with the animal.

...

David McLachlan, prosecuting, said officers discovered the images after raiding the home Mangan shared with her partner Lee McCall on January 11, 2009.

McCall, 41, also of Parkview Drive pleaded guilty to 13 counts of making indecent images and will be sentenced on April 18.
As far as one can see from the details in the Echo, this lady did some foolish things with the family dog, while her partner took some photographs.

Do we really prosecute people for this?

H/t JuliaM

That Sexuality Question ...

... which may, may not, be included in the 2011 Census.

Thirty years ago, the worry would have been that people were being forced to reveal if they were gay.

Today, the worry is that they are being forced to reveal if they are not.

What to do about the Census...

Complete it, refuse to complete it, lie?

A lot of people are planning a boycott of the 2011 Census because of the involvement of Lockheed Martin in the planning and data handling. The fact that Lockheed is an arms company doesn't bother me, but the fact that they are American, and therefore subject to the Patriot Act, does. (That is not an anti-US comment, by the way. I just don't like the idea of my personal data being handled by a foreign company with a duty to reveal it to their government if required, and the UK government doesn't exactly have a glowing reputation over standing up to American demands.)

But I object to the census on the grounds of intrusiveness. I have religious views, and political views, and a unique sexuality (only in the sense that everyone's is unique, you understand), and none of these is the business of the State. I can accept that the state needs to know how many people there are, and where they live, and perhaps even what they do for a living. But beyond that, it is no concern of theirs.

Refusing outright to complete the census could result in a £1000 fine or imprisonment. I can't afford a fine, and I don't want to go to prison, so unless everyone boycotts it I doubt if I will. But I'm thinking of the 'Jedi Knight' campaign for the last census. If I say I am, under 'religion', a Pastafarian, who are they to disagree? If I call my sexuality 'fixated on goats, but only pretty ones', how can they question that? Can they prove I am lying?

The questions are not in the public domain yet, and for all I know some of these may not be included. And they are a massive intrusion into my private life. I can accept all the arguments about planning public services and so on, and I don't mind letting the State know I am here, and that I am unlikely to be requiring a primary school place any time soon. But as to whether I am gay or straight, or Catholic or Seventh Day Adventist, I won't be telling. The origin of the calories that run my central heating system will remain untold. As to any 'overnight guests', their sexuality, name, date of birth, address and shoe size, there will be one answer:

MYOFB.

H/t to Longrider who, as usual, has some sensible points to make.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

The Beast



On display at Garlands this evening:

Funky cruiser styling, top speed of 15 mph, range of 50 miles, disc front brake ...

Sachs Beast.

Me likey.

RRP £1599.

Me no affordey.

Sadly.

An Evening With Lois Pryce



Again, apologies for iPhone picture quality

I've just spent a very pleasant evening at Garland's Motorcycles in Haverfordwest, where a lady called Lois Pryce was giving an illustrated talk on her motorcycling adventures.

She once worked for the BBC, but jacked it in and bought a Yamaha XT225 Serow, shipped it to Anchorage, and rode it to the tip of South America. She tells the story in her book Lois On The Loose, which I thoroughly recommend. It's not a book for gearheads or mechanics, as the bike doesn't get much of a look-in, except for the times when it gives trouble, but her account of all the different cultures that she encounters, the generosity of strangers, and the experience of being alone on the road in an alien environment are fascinating. The style isn't quite Bruce Chatwin, but it's very readable. Ideal for the bedside cabinet of the wannabe-motorcycle-globetrotter.

Lois's talk was lively and engaging, and well worth the effort of turning out on a damp night. There were 70 people there, and of that 70, how many do you think turned up on two wheels?

Two.

The XT got some admiring glances in the car park, and several people came up to me and wanted to talk about it. One guy even asked if it was for sale. I know I cleaned it this afternoon, but are people blind? The thing is held together with cable ties and gaffer tape, and it's missing most of the body plastics. Anything that isn't scratched is rusty. Nevertheless, it's kind of satisfying when my eBay drudge bike gets all the attention. One chap told me they were very rare these days (they're not) and that every one that goes on eBay gets sold before the auction end (they don't), and that I was very lucky to have it. He was right there, at least.

The evening ended with a mass decamp up to The Glen, where there was a pint of Rev James with my name on it and some free sandwiches to round off the evening. Very pleasant.

My decision to rock up wearing only a leather jacket and jeans was fully justified when it started to rain just as I left the pub. Mmmm, a wet plastic seat. After listening to the story of a 5ft 4in female alone facing bogus policemen on a remote jungle track in Honduras, I felt I just had to man up and get on with it. So I did.

Breaking: US kills IPCC Funding

Via JoNova, news that the US House of Representatives has voted to kill the US funding of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:
Another victory for science! House votes 244-179 to kill U.S. funding of UN IPCC! 'It no longer wishes to have the IPCC prepare its comprehensive international climate science assessments'
Defund IPCC 'amendment was sponsored by Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Missouri), who read aloud on the floor from the 2009 U.S. Senate Report of more than 700 dissenting scientists! (Written by Climate Depot's Morano)

Luetkemeyer: Americans 'should not have to continue to foot the bill for an (IPPC) organization to keep producing corrupt findings'
Source
Luetkemeyer: Scientists manipulated climate data, suppressed legitimate arguments in peer-reviewed journals, and researchers were asked to destroy emails, so that a small number of climate alarmists could continue to advance their environmental agenda.

Since then, more than 700 acclaimed international scientists have challenged the claims made by the IPCC, in this comprehensive 740-page report. These 700 scientists represent some of the most respected institutions at home and around the world, including the U.S. Departments of Energy and Defense, U.S. Air Force and Navy, and even the Environmental Protection Agency.

For example, famed Princeton University physicist Dr. Robert Austin, who has published 170 scientific papers and was elected a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. Dr. Austin told a congressional committee that, unfortunately, climate has become a political science. It is tragic the some perhaps well-meaning but politically motivated scientists who should know better have whipped up a global frenzy about a phenomenon which is statistically questionable at best.

Mr. Chairman, if the families in my district have been able to tighten their belts, surely the federal government can do the same and stop funding an organization that is fraught with waste and abuse.
Source

The alarmists are still unable to engage with the argument, but fall back on the usual boilerplate name-calling and argumentum ad hominem:
The amendment was sponsored by second-term Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Missouri), who obviously knows nothing about climate science or the IPCC, and I expect could care less. His talking points were clearly provided by some denial machine operative and Mr. Leutkemeyer simply followed the script.
Source

Clearly, Rep. Luetkemeyer does care, or he would hardly have gone to the effort of presenting this to the House. As always, if you disagree with me, you are following a secret agenda, a line prepared by a 'machine' and you are wicked to the core. If you agree with me, you are a dispassionate and intelligent scientist whose farts smell of lavender.

Nice to see science maintaining its core of impartiality and reasonableness. Interesting times.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Blast From The Past

I was reading an old edition of Bike magazine the other day - from August 1985, to be precise. I had kept it because it contained a test of a favourite bike of mine, the Yamaha XT350 trail bike (I have owned two). The test ended with words which somehow stuck in my mind 26 years ago when I first read them:
It's probably one of the most versatile bikes yet made. It's also practical, sensible, economical and if you can't have fun on it then you must be dead.
Just for a flavour of the times, the issue also contained test of the Russian-built Ural 650 (complete with pictures of Roland Brown in a trenchcoat and a fur hat with pretend machine-gun), and the new hotshot race-replicas, the Suzuki RG500 Gamma and the Honda NS400R. There are also adverts for Allspeed exhausts, Koni Dial-A-Ride shocks and Tommaselli controls. Remember them?

But the article that interested me most was an interview with the Rt Hon Henry Bellingham, MP. At the time, Bellingham had been an MP for just two years and was yet to make his mark. But he had an interest in setting up an all-party group of MPs to represent motorcycling interests, and this is what interested the good hippies of Bike. Bellingham (Eton and The Guards, Magdalene, Inner Temple) was MP for North West Norfolk. He lost his seat in the Labour landslide of 1997, but regained the seat in 2002, retained it in 2005, and again with an increased majority in 2010. The peak of his career seems to have been Shadow Minister for Trade and Industry, back in 2002.



I can't find a contemporary image of Bellingham from 1985, but the above recent pic is remarkable, in that the guy has hardly changed at all in 26 years. Colour the hair black, and you have the pic from Bike. The tilt of the head, the hairstyle, the facial expression - all identical. The only real difference is in the clothes: Bellingham 2011 wears a decent suit, whereas the man from 1985 is dressed in a huge, long, double-breasted pinstriped jacket that hangs on him like an overcoat. He really looks like one of Monty Python's Upper-Class Twits. Bike was run at the time by a bunch of anti-establishment ex-hippies; Mark Williams was long gone, but Roger Willis was in the editor's chair, and the tone of the magazine was still slightly in the Oz/International Times mood, full of "zorsts" and "Crazy Crankin' Capers" and "Hot-poop Stories". So it was quite a surprise that the interview with Bellingham was positive and sympathetic.
There isn't a single fleck of foam on his lapel and there's not even anything weird about his handshake. He doesn't own a British motorcycle - there's only one Trident in his life - and never has. Yet he does support MAG, albeit with 'common sense' reservations, and is the prime mover in MAG's declared ambition of setting up an all-party group of MPs to represent the interests of motorcyclists. Why this is a Good Thing we'll come to in a minute, but why should a non-biking MP from the party of Law'n'Order concern himself with the interests of motorcyclists who have often enjoyed a less than, er, orderly or law-abiding public reputation? Bellingham says he was approached by riders within his own constituency of Norwich who simply didn't conform to the stereotype: "I was impressed by their intelligence, enthusiasm and manifestly reasonable and sensible attitude, and was persuaded that motorcyclists have not had a very fair deal over the years. Conservatives also stand for the freedom of the individual and there is an increasing lobby of conservationists, road safety groups and environmentalists - mostly older people - who threaten that freedom for motorcyclists, who by and large are a much younger group."
Nothing changes, really - except for the ages. Nowadays, it's the motorcyclists who are the older group, and the enviro-loonies are the youngsters. But the battle lines haven't really altered. Personal freedom versus those who wish us to live an approved lifestyle. Their approved lifestyle.

And I don't think anyone could say "Conservatives also stand for the freedom of the individual" these days without bursting out laughing. That was then; this is now.

Convinve me I am wrong. Tell me that all the CCTV cameras and body scanners have been mothballed; that the drinking and smoking and diet quangos and advisers and champions have been wound up; that the dole queues are full of diversity co-ordinators and LGBT issues officers; that BT no longer keeps records of my emails and browsing habits and will no longer let the Government have a sneaky look if it asks nicely; that my personal details held by DVLA are not for sale to every bandit 'parking enforcement' company in the land; that my Parliament is supreme once again and that we can make our own laws to suit ourselves and our priorities.

I'm listening.

Thanks to commenter Brian for unmuddling my dates. Now corrected.

The Perils of Internet Translation

I'm beginning to regret posting a kit report on my recent torch purchase. It has attracted a large number of spam comments, all from the same Australian company, all advertising the virtues of Maglites, and all written in very bad English. I've reported the originator to Blogger, I have left foul and threatening messages on his own blog (one post, 18 months ago, with a comments thread as long as your arm, all saying the same thing: get lost), and I have deleted all the comments without publishing. As the post is over 14 days old, they all come for moderation anyway, so it's no problem.

The first comments were, I think, automatically generated, as the post specifically mentions 'Maglite', and Maglites are what he is selling. All were along the lines of "yes, that is good torch, but I like Maglite torches, they very robust are". But then one came in last night which I thought was written by a human, as it (however wierdly) refers to the context of the post (in a bike blog) as well as the product. The writer calls himself 'German' and the post reads like either bad English from a German, or good German badly auto-translated. I think it's rather charming:
I've ever pioneer the corner of Halfords where they donjon the multipacks of fasteners, washers, electrical connections and added much items to be an extremely multipurpose base. Plus, I do quite measure their slave division.That's an brilliant mullein...two of those strapped to the advance of my Kwak would belike improve dark travel no end!
But then it sort of rang a bell, and I went back to the original post. The first comment was from endemoniada_88:
I've always found the corner of Halfords where they keep the multipacks of fasteners, washers, electrical connections and other such items to be an extremely useful place. Plus, I do quite rate their tool section.

That's an impressive torch...two of those strapped to the front of my Kwak would probably improve night riding no end!
I prefer "belike improve dark travel" myself ...

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Three ... Two ... Ignition ...

I have now changed the ignition switch on the Yamahaha. What a beast of a job!

It involved taking off the clocks (which I hate, as those bloody wires never seem to want to go back in the same place) and the top yoke. Then the fun started, as I tried to separate the old switch from the yoke. The switch is attached (heh, was attached) with two security bolts. These are designed to be tightened to a certain torque value, and then the head of the bolt is designed to snap off. So if you want to take the switch off, there's nothing to turn. David Lambert, who supplied the new switch, advised in an email to tap them round with a small chisel. Well, no chisel I have is small enough for that, and the half-inch one made no impression at all. So I attempted to drill them out. At this point I discovered that the bolts are made of the hardest substance known to Man. I wrecked two drill bits before resorting to brute force 'n' ignorance, and knocked the mounting lugs off with a cold chisel and then turned the bolts out with a pair of massive Mole grips. Surpisingly hard work.

The new switch went on without a problem, and the bike was back together in no time. I now have a lovely crisp clickety-click switch, and everything seems to be working perfectly. The slight brightening of the headlight when I touched the brake lever has gone; in fact, now the headlight dims very slightly, which is what I would expect. Road test tomorrow, assuming the rain holds off. (We're going out to the step-daughters for a meal tonight, and I need to be clean for that, so playtime has been curtailed in favour of a shower and shave.)

These security bolts are a laugh. They are meant to make it hard for a thief to remove the ignition switch and thereby steal the bike. But that, of course, is utter bollocks. The wires from the switch go to a block connector behind the headlight shroud, which is easily accessible with nothing more than popping the plastic off its lugs. If you know which wires to bridge at the connector, the bike is yours. All these bolts do is make it bloody difficult for an honest owner to carry out some basic repairs. They have been replaced with nice, simple Allen bolts. If anyone gets close enough to find that out, they will have nicked the bike already.

Welsh Referendum

Further to my previous post, we are having a practice run here in Wales on 3 March. A referendum on extending the law-making powers of the Welsh Assembly. Ho-hum.

Devolution in Wales has had a pretty lame history. In Scotland, it has been a live issue for many years, but here no-one (apart from politicians) is really bothered. The first referendum on the subject was in 1979. The Labour government had proposed the creation of a Welsh Assembly (with strictly limited powers) and put the proposition to the Welsh people. 80% voted 'No'.

That's a fairly substantial expression of opinion, but Labour were undeterred. In 1997, Tony Blair's government held a referendum to see if the support for an assembly had increased. Even with the support of Labour, the Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru (the only major party to campaign against were the Conservatives, and they are not greatly liked in most of Wales, so their involvement may even have boosted the Yes vote), the result was very close. In the end, less than 1% separated the results: 50.3% in favour and 49.7% against. Turnout was an unimpressive 50.1%. In effect, only 1 in 4 Welshmen could be bothered to go to the polling booth and cast a vote for an Assembly. But Labour wanted it, and Wales got it. Setting it up cost millions. Not a catastrophe on a Holyrood scale, but a massive amount of money in a country which, by UK standards, is not wealthy.

The Assembly gets quite a lot of airtime on the local BBC news (and is often presented by the very cute and very astute Betsan Powys)



but in the street and the workplace, I can't remember ever hearing a conversation that involved Cardiff Bay, other than as a location for a night out on the lash. People just aren't interested. (I am interested in politics, and even I don't know the name of my AM or which party he/she supports.)

The referendum on 3 March is on law-making powers. At the moment, the Assembly is like a neutered dog - it can bark all it likes, but its generative powers are strictly limited. The Assembly wants powers to make its own laws independent of Westminster (no surprises there - what politician doesn't want more powers?), and the line up of For and Against are pretty much the same as in 1997.

I'll be voting No. It's not that I am against devolution, far from it. I believe that all decisions should be taken as far as possible by the people involved, and devolving powers down to communities and away from a remote central government is a good thing. But if you think the politicians at Westminster are twats, you haven't seen the Welsh Assembly in operation. Playground spats, grandstanding, undercover deals - all are there, and of exhibition quality. If these chumps are given powers to make laws, then I suspect we will see an awful lot of ill-thought-out, self-interested and plain dotty ideas coming out of Cardiff Bay. And not just ideas, but actual laws that we will all have to obey. I predict a major outing for the Law of Unintended Consequences with every one.

I did consider abstaining. I am not Welsh, and I feel that the issue is one for the Welsh people alone. But then again, I have lived and worked here for 21 years now, contributing to the economy and marrying a local girl, so I suppose I have some stake in the matter.

Voting Reform

We are having a referendum in May on changes to the voting system. As I understand it (and I could be wrong; it's happened before) we will be voting on whether to adopt the Alternative Vote system in place of the current First Past The Post. And I am in a quandary. Which way to go?

I have long thought the AV system to be a good idea, ever since I first heard of it when I was a student. But there are so many forms of AV (Wikipedia lists several, and does the maths, and it's tricky) that I am not sure what I would be voting for. A simple system where you put the candidates in your preferred order seems a good idea. I have lived in too many constituencies where my vote was effectively wasted, either because my preferred candidate was a shoo-in, or didn't stand a chance. Either way, whatever I put on the ballot paper was irrelevant. If it were possible to vote for the candidate you really want, but be able to express a preference for the next-best if your candidate were unsuccessful, I think that would be a good idea. For example, given the Coalition's recent performance, I would be quite likely to vote for UKIP at the next opportunity - except that this is a marginal Tory seat, and a vote for UKIP might well let Labour in, and that is the last thing I want to happen. So I will probably vote Tory, as the only effective way of keeping the bandits of socialism out. But if I had the opportunity to express a second preference, then I might vote UKIP and put the Conservative second. A lot of people might do the same, and UKIP might stand a chance of getting elected.

That's fine, as long as the link between constituency and representative is maintained. One constituency; one MP. The problem is that AV might start us down the road to having a party list system, where the results are 'balanced' to represent the overall votes in the constituency by adding people from a party list - people who have never been voted on, and people who might only be there because of their party loyalties. Think Jim Devine*. That is the first step on the road to remote and unresponsive government, a bit like the EU.

Which is, I assume, the whole point, given the affiliations of many of those campaigning for AV.

Of course, the No side point to the FPTP system and say that it has served us well for many years. No it hasn't. It has given us governments that most people didn't vote for, who are in power for five years and can do what they like. They might be red and they might be blue, but the result is the same. No-one feels that they have any influence on the government of the day. And then we wonder why turnout is so low. We get five years of one direction, and then five years of another direction, to and fro, see-saw, and then they suggest that this is the best of all possible systems which should be imposed on the rest of the world, by force if necessary.

I'm against the Yes compaign, because I believe it will be a stepping-stone to a system that will be unrepresentative and remote, and will bind us further into an EU that most people want out of. But I can't pretend that the present system works well.

Your thoughts, as always, are welcome.

*Yes, I know he was elected, but so would a retarded chimpanzee in that constituency if it had the right colour of rosette. That's not election, that's acclamation.

A Personal Letter from William Hague

That nice william Hague has written to me about the voting reform referendum. His email starts:
Dear Richard
which is good as far as it goes, but ends:

Together, we can win this referendum and save our voting system.

Thank you,

William Hague's signature

Note to editors: read the copy before pressing 'send'.

BBC - never knowingly honest

The BBC's Newsnight did a poll on people's attitudes to reform of the voting system. The sample was only 1002 people, which out of an electorate of about 40m is hardly representative, but hey, we have a programme to put out and an agenda to push. Some extracts:
Sixty-five percent of people think the system of electing MPs needs a major overhaul, a BBC poll suggests.

But 63% of those polled said a referendum on changing the system is a waste of time and money when there are other pressing needs in the country.

Forty-one percent of those asked support the UK adopting the Alternative Vote in place of first-past-the-post.

But an equal number (41%) of people said they oppose the move to AV.
If you put that in nice, easy round figures (suitable for a post-Labour workforce), the gist is as follows:
  1. Most people think the referendum is a waste of time and money
  2. Nevertheless, most people think that the voting system needs an overhaul
  3. Just under half support the adoption of Alternative Voting
  4. The same number support retaining the FPTP system.
Now, as far as I can see, points 2, 3 and 4 are pretty much old news. We know the electoral system is flaky and outdated (although my suggestions for improvement are probably not the same as the modernisers') and that people are fairly evenly split between keeping FPTP and adopting something else. So far, so tedious.

The big item to me is the first. The previous government was desperate to alter the voting system so that it could build an unshakeable power base in second preferences across the country - or give that to the Lib Dems, as the less-unacceptable alternative to the eeeeevil Tories. It was part of their plan to build a 'progressive consensus' which would keep the Conservatives out of power in perpetuity. It made a lot of noise about 'responding to people's concerns' after the expenses scandal, and 'giving power back to the people', and this referendum is the result, bequeathed to the Coalition by a dying and desperate fag-end Labour administration. And the poll results suggest that people aren't in the slightest bit interested.

Massive Labour policy push; massive voter rejection. That's news, isn't it? So that was the headline, wasn't it?

Of course not. The BBC's headline summarising the above mish-mash of surprising and obvious:
Majority want overhaul of voting system, poll suggests
They pick the least interesting and downplay the rest. Anything else wouldn't fit the agenda, of course. It will be interesting to watch the BBC's coverage of the AV issue as the referendum approaches. Just don't expect impartiality. Like my impressive man credentials, it might be in their genes, but they hide it well.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Pruning the Blogroll



Notice anything? Click for bigger. So much smut, so little time.

I have titled the blogroll on the right of this page "My Regular Reads". These are the blogs that I read most days and have put here because they might appeal to the people who read this blog. They are not a recommendation, still less an endorsement, as I read them because they interest me, and not necessarily because I agree with them. But if you read this blog, I have no doubt that some of them will interest you too. The list has grown over the last year or so, as I have added things as they arose, but never took any out, and it had become unwieldy.

So I have taken the pruning shears to the roll, and pruned out a number of them. Some hadn't posted in a long time; some had changed direction or become a bit lacklustre or monotonous. Whatever: if they no longer grabbed my attention, why should I think they would grab yours? And if someone has not posted in six months I take it that they no longer are writing in that particular niche, and there is no point in keeping them on. I have kept them all in my reader-feeder, so if they are resurrected at any time I can put them back. But I think some are gone for good.

Someone told me that I should have a maximum of about half-a-dozen blogs in there - that quality was better than quantity. That's true, but unfortunately it doesn't work for me. I am a scatterbrain with wide interests, and I could no more cut the list down to six than I could name my favourite three musicians. It would leave so much out. So I used a cut-off date of one month. If someone hasn't posted a single word in four weeks, it looks as though they have found something else to do with their time.

I hope this will cut down on the clutter and make the page a bit quicker to load.

All part of the service.

Happy Birthday Highway Code



The Highway Code is 80 today!

Boring, boring, boring - after all, it's only what you must do to pass your test, right? A bit like all those skool textbooks: used to get what you wanted, and immediately forgotten thereafter.

I'm a big fan of the Highway Code, as it happens. Everything you need to know is in there, and if everyone drove according to its (quite reasonable) guidance, accidents would be few and far between. Sometimes what it says is a bit obvious, but then it has to cater for a readership from the barely literate up to winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature. In its structure and detail, it's a model of clarity. And so it should be, after 80 years of development.

The IAM is conducting a survey on attitudes to the Highway Code. You don't have to be a member to take part. Poll is here.

UPDATE: the IAM site seems to have fallen over for the time being. It was fine earlier today. If you want to take the survey, perhaps try later. (Perhaps posting a link to them here gave them more traffic than they could cope with? Nice thought.)

UPDATE TO UPDATE: The links to the site and polls seem to be working fine now (Thursday 18:00)

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Animal Crackers

It's the weekend - well, it's my weekend - and I'm coming down with a cold, I need cheering up, and I bet you need cheering up too.

So here are some photos of animals, all of which lead to the question: How the f ... ?

















It's the cows that crack me up.

Now, where's that bottle of Aberlour?

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Separated At Birth

I just noticed the similarity.



One's chips, the other's toast.

Chuckle du Jour

NickM from Counting Cats:
... expecting decisiveness from the Church of England is like expecting sausage rolls at a bar-mitzvah.

Oh yes.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Egyptian Oddities



In a country that has been run as a corrupt dictatorship an in a constant state of emergency for 30 years:
  • the army state that their role is to protect the people
  • the people trust the army more than they did the police or the politicians
  • the army protect the people against the secret police
  • the dictator leaves and the army takes charge, and the protesters celebrate.
It doesn't quite fit the script, does it?

As George Alagiah pointed out, this is the first time that the Egyptian people have had charge of their own destiny for 8000 years.

The region is going to be massively unstable for a while yet, but all the signs are good.

World Press Photo Award 2010




This iconic image of Bibi Aisha. From Wikipedia:
Bibi Aisha is an Afghan woman who has become a willing symbol of the destructiveness of Taliban violence against women. Aisha's father promised her to a Taliban fighter when she was 12 years old to satisfy an obligation, in a practice known as baad. She was married at 14 and abused. At 18, she fled the abuse but was caught. Her father returned her to his in-laws. To discourage kidnapping in the village, they took her into the mountains, cut off her nose and her ears, and left her to die.
She was taken to the States for free reconstructive surgery, and now looks like this:



The nose is prosthetic. Surgery will wait until she has undergone counselling. Her husband was arrested, because mutilation of a bride who leaves home is not permitted under Sharia law.

If they had stoned her to death, that would have been acceptable.

He's unlikely to face any punishment, as she cannot return to testify against him in Afghanistan for fear or reprisals from his family.

And the Archbish advocates acceptance of Sharia law in the UK.

Electrickery 2

Electricity is evil. It is doubly evil when confined within a motor vehicle. The reason for this is that electricity is the cause of proportionately more intermittent faults than any other system. If something rattles, you can find it and tighten it. If something corrodes, you can strip, repair and refinish it. Even fuel faults (which can be little buggers if they feel in the mood) are usually amenable to logic and careful diagnostics. But electrical faults are thoroughly wicked little monsters who disable your ride, and then disappear. Have they gone, or are they still there, waiting for you to reach that dark, fast stretch of rush-hour A-road before stranding you instantly without power or lights?

I mentioned recently that I had experienced a misfire on the XT and had turned back and dug the Triumph out of hibernation to complete the journey. Yesterday, I got out the multi-meter and checked everything. Twice. Nothing wrong. The battery is reading 12.6V, the alternator is delivering 14.4V at fast idle, reducing to 13.2V if I switch on the lights and heated grips. In other words, fine. I took it for a 5-mile ride (up the hill, so if it conked it would be easier to push - I'm not 18 any more), and it behaved normally. I rode it slow, I rode it fast; I lugged it and revved it; I let it run down to nothing in a high gear and then whacked it open, waiting for the gulp and cough that I had the other evening. Nope - it ran sweetly and well.

I took it out to the shops this morning. Same thing. So now I am in a dilemma: do I use it for work tomorrow, as the problem has gone away? Or do I play safe and take the Triumph on the grounds that the gremlins are just hiding and waiting for their next chance to do me some bad?

The only thing I can guess is wrong is the ignition switch. I know the contacts are a bit iffy. Sometimes increasing the electrical load (like switching on the lights) will kill everything, and only switching the key off and on again will cure it. Perhaps that's it.

I have now got a new switch on order from David Lambert, and I will fit that when I next have a day off. In the meantime, I think the Triumph needs a bit of a run. It's dirty again, after all.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Gordon Mubarak

I've just been listening to the speech by Suleiman to the crowds protesting in Cairo. It was astonishingly badly-judged. Even at this distance, it irritated the hell out of me and sounded both complacent and insincere - and I'm not even Egyptian.

Then I remembered why. "We understand your concerns. We will do better. We have set out structures that will meet your democratic demands. We are of the people. Changes are being implemented. You must be patient. We care about the country. The President is anxious to preserve all the great things that he has achieved. We only need a little more time to get it right ..."

Yup, it's Gordon Bastard Fucking Brown all over again.

No wonder they are rioting.

Parliament Grows a Pair

So the House of Commons has voted, with a 212 majority, to reject plans to give prisoners the vote.

I'm delighted with this, for two reasons:

One, that it is the right thing to do. Prisoners should not have the ability to vote on those who make the laws we live under. As is often said, "those who break the law should not make the law" or, put another way, your human rights, other then the very basic ones of food and shelter, end the moment you moment you infringe mine by theft or assault. Parliament's decision is a sharply-defined moral choice, at a time when making such moral choices is unfashionable.

Two, it demonstrates that our Parliament has the ability to decide for itself. Cameron has wrung his hands and said we can't vote no because of our commitment to the ECHR, but Parliament has stuck two fingers up and done what they wanted. That is how Parliament should work, and always did work before our Prime Ministers became Presidents in all but title.

What happens next will be interesting. The decision is not binding on the Government, which has until April to decide what to do. Either it will go with what Parliament wishes, which will bring it into direct conflict with the EU (and if Cameron wants the support of the British people, that's a good way to get it), or it will fudge and compromise - say, by giving the vote only to nice prisoners - and thwart the will of the people as expressed by their elected representatives.

Either way, we are heading towards a crunch. I hope Cameron grows a backbone, remembers his 'cast-iron' promise, and tells the EU to stuff itself. This could be the start of the process of disengagement from the EU altogether. Public opinion is against the EU, but not galvanised enough to do anything about it. A constitutional crisis such as this might well be the tipping point that gets people up off their sofas and shouting. If he doesn't, and compromises with, say, votes for prisoners on sentences of 12 months or less, then Parliament will rightly say that he is acting for his EU paymasters and not the British people.

And David Davis is waiting in the wings. I wouldn't underestimate him.

Academic Freedom

Just when you thought that the world had gone all soft, and that traditional values were retreating into the mists of history, there comes a very heartwarming story.

Cambridge student Omar S Choudary has published his Master's thesis, which explains how to build a gadget that protects the hacking of bank cards. To do so, he has to include a fair amount of information on how the cards work and what the security flaws are. The UK Cards Association are in uproar, and are demanding that the material be taken down:
"The publication of this level of detail" goes beyond "the boundary of responsible disclosure. Essentially, it places in the public domain a blueprint for building a device which purports to exploit a loophole in the security of chip and PIN."
You might think that, rather then blaming a clever student, they would ask themselves how their "crackproof" chip and pin system can be hacked by a young student working at sub-PhD level. But no, and they go on to issue a veiled threat:
Therefore, "we would ask that this research be removed from public access immediately, and would hope that you are able to give us comfort about your policy towards future disclosures."
Here's the reply by Ross Anderson, Professor of Computer Security:
You seem to think that we might censor a student's thesis, which is lawful and already in the public domain, simply because a powerful interest finds it inconvenient. This shows a deep misconception of what universities are and how we work. Cambridge is the University of Erasmus, of Newton, and of Darwin; censoring writings that offend the powerful is offensive to our deepest values. Thus even though the decision to put the thesis online was Omar's, we have no choice but to back him. That would hold even if we did not agree with the material!
If only our noble institutions would be as robust about our ancient rights and privileges - Magna Carta, habeas corpus, free speech, that kind of thing.

Now you know who to support in the next Boat Race. Well done, Cambridge.

H/t Big Brother Watch.

Devine Justice



Jim Devine - not as nice as he looks

So Jim Devine has been convicted. Hoo-bloody-rah.

First, he tried to get out of being tried in public court at all, claiming he and his kind were above that kind of thing.

Then, there was the merciless kippering by Krishnan Guru-Murthy on C4, where he condemned himself out of his own mouth and put up an exhibition display of quality whingeing and self-justification.

Lastly, there was the trial, where his erstwhile comrades left him to swing in the wind.

Now he has been convicted of false accounting. He will be sentenced in four weeks.

Devine is an ex-union official who was Robin Cook's agent and inherited Cook's seat in 2005, largely owing to the influence of Labour's Scottish machine. He was never up to the job of an MP, and from his display on C4 I suspect that he had neither the intellect nor the wits to survive. That's not a show-stopper for Labour, of course - you could have pinned a red rosette on a donkey and it would have 'secured a clear and susbstantial majority for change' in Livingston. But looking at him under Guru-Murthy's fairly mild but persistent questioning, and I was reminded of a rabbit facing an F-16 with Sidewinder missiles. He stumbled, he sweated, he prevaricated, he sweated some more. It was hard not to feel sorry for him, but I managed it.

It seems appropriate that he was finally caught for some petty cheating, rather than anything contemptible but grand. I await his sentencing with interest.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

'Buttock Woman' Dies



Bizarre story of the week goes to the BBC, with its report of a 20-year-old London woman, Claudia Seye Aderotimi, who travelled to a hotel in Philadelphia, where she appears to have been given a liquid silicone injection in her arse after arranging an appointment over the Internet. She died shortly afterwards.

I am led to understand that the practice of buttock augmentation started in South America and has spread to the US. As with everything else, the UK is not far behind, it seems. Apparently, a rear end the size of a Rhine barge is seen by men as shapely and attractive, although I don't know who they asked to get that one.

What is it with women? For decades, we have been asked the eternal question "does my bum look big in this?", and have learned to answer diplomatically, for fear of losing all food and privileges, Lysistrata-style. Now we learn that what you wanted to hear all along was not "no dear, you look as slim as an ironing board in that outfit", but "Christ, does that thing have its own postcode?"

Listen, ladies. Fat or thin, flat or chesty, gym-toned or steatopygous, we don't really care. Be kind to us, look us in the eyes and smile, don't take yourselves too seriously, and we will love you for ever. All the more so if your charms, or lack of them, are natural.

Really.

Why Ed Balls is the Man for the Job

In the comments over at Guido's place (and his comment of the week) is this gem from 13eastie:
1994 Economic Advisor to Gordon Brown
1995 Economic Advisor to Gordon Brown
1996 Economic Advisor to Gordon Brown
1997 Economic Advisor to Gordon Brown
1998 Economic Advisor to Gordon Brown
1999 Chief Economic Advisor to Gordon Brown’s Treasury
2000 Chief Economic Advisor to Gordon Brown’s Treasury
2001 Chief Economic Advisor to Gordon Brown’s Treasury
2002 Chief Economic Advisor to Gordon Brown’s Treasury
2003 Chief Economic Advisor to Gordon Brown’s Treasury
2004 Chief Economic Advisor to Gordon Brown’s Treasury
2005 Smith Institute Wonk
2006 Economic Secretary to Gordon Brown’s Treasury
2007 Member of Gordon Brown’s Cabinet
2008 Member of Gordon Brown’s Cabinet
2009 Member of Gordon Brown’s Cabinet
2010 Member of Gordon Brown’s Cabinet
2011 Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer
Yup, a varied and interesting background, with a track record of spectacular success.

Chain Reaction



Following my recent post on How Aid Can Work, I see that toilets in the Third World Developing Nations are a hot topic. You can now twin your toilet with a Third World Developing Nations toilet and help to give those people a "safe, clean and hygienic" place to go to the loo.

The charity has its tongue very firmly in its cheek, to write things like:
You have no toilets in your basket
And
Twin your toilet now!
Basically, you donate £60 and they send you a framed photo of the latrine your money helped to build. You put this in your downstairs loo and all your friends a) know that you are a right-on kind of person with no hang-ups about bodily functions, and b) have their awareness of the issue raised.

I think it's brilliant. Bog standard, but brilliant.

P.S. I have also learned a new word from this website: diarrhoeal, as in 'diarrhoeal diseases'. That hasn't enhanced my life by much, I have to say.

Causes of Violence



Thanks to JuliaM (she reads CiF so I don't have to), a link to an article in The Guardian by George Lavender, on why the new gang injunctions won't work.

He's saying that these things have been tried before in the US and didn't work, and that's a valid contribution to the argument: I don't know if he's right or wrong, but the point deserves consideration. However, some of his secondary arguments made me suck my thumb and start rocking in my chair. In fact, the piece is full of premium, Grade A 'ressi-zum' whinging and entitlement wheedling. Try this:
Gang injunctions have also been used to justify increased police surveillance and harassment of communities of colour. All those named on the injunctions in Oakland have been black or Latino, and has lead [sic] critics of gang injunctions to describe them as "legalised racial profiling".
If members of a certain racial group commit crimes, it is not racist to say so. If 99% of terrorist incidents are committed by dark-skinned, bearded men between 18 and 30, then it isn't racist to ignore white female pensioners in your searches; in fact, it is common sense and mandatory for the effective use of limited resources. If all the Oakland injunctions name black or Latino people, perhaps that's a hint as to where the problem lies? (Clue: it's not with the people charged with clearing it up.)

Or this:
Community organisations in California say that injunctions are an ineffective and inappropriate response to social problems, because they fail to address the fundamental causes of violence such as poverty and unemployment.
Can't we lay this one to rest? Poverty and unemployment do NOT cause people to be violent. I have had no money at some points in my life, and I have been unemployed. At no time did I ever think of committing acts of violence because of it. That's because I am not a violent person, and the thought of hurting someone - or even their property - for whatever reason is, and always will be, abhorrent. Violent people are violent, whether rich or poor. To say that people become violent through poverty and enemployment is a massive insult to all those poor people who continue to live blameless and peaceful lives, despite all the acknowledged difficulties.

Or this:
"Our communities will only become safer places when we have secure incomes, when our basic needs for housing, nutrition and health care are met, and when we believe our lives matter", says Manuel Fontaine of Plan for a Safer Oakland.
Here we get to the crux of the issue. Pay us money, house, clothe and feed us, tell us we are important, and we might start to behave.

Please note: I am not saying that poverty and unemployment are not a blight on someone's life, and should not be alleviated if possible. In an ideal world, we would all have nice, secure jobs and a decent income. And some people would still behave like rats in a cage. The roots of anti-social behaviour are far deeper than mere cash, plasma tellies and 'nothing to do'. Targeting and removing the worst offenders might only be a sticking-plaster, but it's a start. Don't forget that the principal victims of gang violence are usually also poor and disadvantaged. Who is speaking up for them?

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Quote of the Day

From Guido:
A charity that relies in the main part on taxes is no more a charity than a prostitute is your girlfriend.
What oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed.

Electrickery

Sometimes I think I understand motorcycle electrics, and then something comes along to disabuse me of that innocent but inaccurate notion.. Electrics ought to be completely logical, but in practice the 'smoke theory' makes as much sense as anything.
When, for example, the smoke escapes from an electrical component (i.e., say, a Lucas voltage regulator), it will be observed that the component stops working. The function of the wire harness is to carry the smoke from one device to another; when the wire harness "springs a leak", and lets all the smoke out of the system, nothing works afterwards.
I'm on nights at the moment. I rode home on Saturday morning and parked the bike up outside the house. When the time came to go back to work on Saturday evening, I togged up, put my bag in the topbox and switched the ignition on. Nothing. No dash lights, no starter, no go. The ignition switch is a bit dicky, so I fiddled with the key a few times, but then gave up and took the car. (Yes, I checked the kill switch!) This afternoon, after my sleep, I thought I would see what was wrong.

The Yamahaha, being a trail bike, has a very simple electrical system [1]. There is a wire from the battery to the ignition switch, with a fuse close to the battery end. That fuse, just the one, protects every circuit on the bike. A quick check with a test lamp showed that there was juice in the battery, and as far as the near end of the fuse carrier. Then I checked the far end of the fuse carrier and there was still power. So I now suspected a break in the wire under the tank, or a malfunction with the switch itself. Investigating that was going to involve some dismantling, so I decided to do a few easy things today before work, and leave the other stuff to my next day off.

So I took the fuse out to check it. Remember that there was power both before and after the fuse, indicating that the fuse was good, and the fuse itself was unblown. I took the fuse out - all OK - and put it back. I checked the ignition switch, more in hope than expectation, as there was no reason to think anything would be different, and lo and behold there was light. The bike started first time, all the lights worked, and everything was back to normal. So I took out a perfectly good fuse, put it back, and solved the problem.

I know why. The fuse lives in a little box next to the battery, a space which is also shared by the indicator relay. Last week I replaced the relay, as the old one was flashing like a Club 18-30 disco at about 300 bpm. The fuse was simply sulking, as it hadn't had any attention.

It's fine now.

[1] Simple is good, but the disadvantage is that, if the fuse ever blows for any reason, it takes out the engine and lights, everything. I had the headlights fail on a car once, and managed to find a safe place to stop using the indicators. On the Yam, even that wouldn't work. It's a poor design for a bike that is mainly used on the road, and if I ever get round to any serious restoration work on the bike, I'm going to try to design a new scheme that doesn't have all the electrical eggs in one basket.
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