Thursday, September 28, 2006

It ain't what you've done, it's the way that they remember you doing it

I have about two week's worth of rather amazing activities, all Junkk-related, to blog upon, but as I look at the huge pile of materials to go through to do so, I keep procrastinating and dive off on a detour.

Last one, promise. And, sorry, not a heck of a lot to do with the environment, though I guess as a commentary on political leadership, media reporting and public opinion I guess it could be bent to fit. It's amazing how some other things have been.

As I sat in yet another jam, I happened to listen to Bill Clinton's speech at the Labour conference. I am still trying to scrape the sticky sweet ooze (that's saccharine, should anyone wonder) out of my speaker grilles. This was a consummate politician and speaker charming the crowds?

Maybe it's because I am biased. I'm afraid that no matter what his other achievements (I am sure there were some, but can't recall exactly what they were, or indeed any that were environmentally beneficial. Big Al, yes... Bill, no) all I can hark back to is a guy who didn't inhale, and a President of the USA who stood in the Oval office and figured not having relations would be a neat plan to establishing his country's position in the eyes of the world.

I must think of a twist on Groucho's 'I wouldn't want to join a club...' to apply to those who should be careful from whom they receive praise. So I couldn't resist this to the Sunday Times:

"So an ex-President is moved, special-relationship-wise, to confer not such faint praise on the personalities, achievements and legacies of our current government. Considering the source, cigars all round!"

More seriously, I do fear for political direction across all areas, especially the environment, when the media and public can be swayed so far, so quickly, so often, yet in the full face of the historical facts.


Hey, maybe I could become a columnist: This from the next day's Telegraph (don't worry, I'll be sure to have a go at some right-wing nonsense soon - Cameron's Huskie Hugging for example - and quote the BBC or Guardian when they catch up;):

"It was left to former President Bill Clinton to cheer them all up with a bucketful of Arkansan syrup – New Labour was a "stunning success" and had produced "prosperity and social progress for so long it's easy for people to believe it's just part of the landscape". That's one view.

A different assessment came from Dagenham MP Jon Cruddas, a contender for the deputy leadership. This one-time Downing Street adviser accused Mr Blair of living in a "parallel world". The real world inhabited by his constituents was one of falling wages, growing housing pressures, and healthcare in crisis: "You cannot say things are getting materially better." Who is right – Clinton or Cruddas? We know whose word we would take."

Guilty until proven innocent... or you keep your nerve

As I'm a roll (blogging that is, I certainly can't apply that term to my journeys), I'd like to share something I just fired off to Jeremy Vine of Radio 2, having ached to contribute to a debate on speed cameras yesterday whilst trapped in my car.

It was a potetially interesting debate, involving points of law and frnakly bigger issues of precedent, and like usual I was amazed at the selection of contributors, designed more to stir things up than allow reasoned discourse. I was also suprised that certain key issues were not raised (and totally unsuprised, if frustarted, at what unnecessaily emotive ones were allowed to be introduced).

Let's make one thing clear. Speeding to excess is not safe. It is also illegal. It shoudl not be done. However, as this reply (typically verbose, and hence unlikley to be featured) shows, in addition to my views on rational legislation, the spirit of justice and a resonabel expecation of what policing should be about, there is a bigger picture to consider, and that is where the burden of proof lies, or should do. And in case you are wondering what the heck this has to do with the environement, well, not a lot. Until you get to a para near the end:):

"I was driving yesterday when you broadcast the segment about self-incriminating, potentially human rights-breaching, heavy-handed bureaucratic fascism in action.

It's not often I find myself on the side of human rights lawyers, but in this case I wish I could have sped up to find a layby and pitch in.

But as you offered a follow-up beyond the speeding issue, here's my two cents (first on this, second on the broader one):

There is a principle at stake here, and I'm surprised it was not mentioned (or I missed it).

That is: 'innocent until proven guilty'.

I may be misquoting as it was a while ago, but think it was Lord Denning who long ago said he was interested in justice, not the law.

Well, we've sped way past the spirit of the law, and now the letter is where we depressingly now find ourselves, from both sides:



Speed cameras

A great aid to road safety or an unfair tax on those honest enough to pay the fines without a fight?

As two motorists go to Strasbourg to protect their privacy from snooping speed cameras, the UK's top traffic policeman has just launched a crackdown on motorists who use legal loopholes to avoid convictions for speeding. But we can reveal that police have been using their own loophole to cancel tickets for their officers who have been caught speeding.

Those who sprang to the cameras' defence, especially those with a vested interest in the revenues, seem to want it all one way.

But what worries me more is that fact that this all smacks of 'guilty until you prove yourself innocent'. The authorities are simply too lazy, mean or inept to police dangerous driving in a fair manner, and are relying on the catch-all of dumb robots to do the job of getting the truly guilty in with a much wider net, with the bonus of a nice little earner of the fine income.

I have not yet had a speeding ticket, but I'm waiting for the day I do. And dreading that I have an accident because my eye is too often on the speedo rather on driving the road safely.

However, I have had two motoring 'offence' notices, both of which were subsequently quashed, but only because I took the issue as far as it would go.

And yes, I was subjected to these aggressive notices, along with escalating threats of increased fines and eventually court proceedings, at every stage feeling I was dealing with a computer. And why not? Because having been vindicated, all that happened was the original, invalid fines were cancelled. I was put through the hoops and ever-greater penalties for simply questioning, yet the authorities had no such disincentive in the proceedings.

This is official extortion. Argue and the price goes up. Argue some more and we drag you to court. But if they are wrong, all bets are off.

When I see a speed camera where my kids are walking back from school (and yes, make it 20mph), and not on the only clear stretch of a remote A road where you can get safely past a tractor, and the damn thing has the speed limit posted on it (as opposed to a preceding few miles' worth of hundreds of bits of useless 'road furniture'), I'll call them safety cameras. If they are policed properly. And if booked I'll take my medicine, and rue the day that such things as context, mitigation and proof supported by official testimony and expert witnesses are no longer part of the legal process.

If someone is proven driving illegally and dangerously, throw the full legal book at them. Fines. Jail. No more licence. I'll support that 100%. But not using a robot backed with bureaucratic fascism to generate income from the easy mark of someone who has paid for their tax and insurance, and may have very good reason for thinking they were not at fault or simply not know who was driving or how their car was so labeled (which is what policemen are for, to stop and catch them - no wonder we no longer hear 'it's a fair cop').

And to those who use the 'what if it was your kid' for bending this aspect of criminal justice to suit, wait 'til there's a knock on your door because a facial recognition system has you or them pegged as a mugger, or your bin has the wrong rubbish in it. Fine if it's up to the system to prove it was you first: not so fine (or actually ever-increasing fines) if it's incumbent upon you to prove first that you have no association with the crime or a good explanation. Or drop a family member in it instead.

I'd be glad for someone to explain the difference with such cases and the one above.

First they booked the [alleged] speeders, then they came for...

It's an interesting state, sorry, country, Britain has become. And a fine legacy for the leadership who have brought us here.


I have awoken next morning to posting this to the following in my in-box from the Telegraph:

'The case for speed cameras destroyed in a flash"

While this will doubtless intensify debate, it does broadly add weight to my core beliefs.

However, I personally believe that we should have the cameras, only that they should be moved to urban situations where pedestarisans are at danger. At best they will act to cause even the most dangerous to check their speed, and at worst provide some additional ammunition to trace, track and build cases aginst consistnetly offending vehicles. Meaning more police effort: 'Chris Grayling, the Tories' transport spokesman, called for greater use of police patrol cars, rather than cameras, to deal with the menace of "rogue drivers".'

This would contribute to the cause of safety. If the human rights case proves successful, it will mean no further, or at least much reduced, revenues. It will be interesting to see whether the authorities maintain their enthusiasm for our safety if there is no money it.


I have been persuaded to allow comments on my blog.

I had originally decided against, as I really don't have the patience, skin-thickness, time or willpower to resist getting embroiled in, at best, passionate debates, or at worst flame wars.

But I have been shown the comment moderate option.

This will not spare me from beiung lured into civilized discourse, and hence will be dangerous to my already woeful time-management. But it will mean that anything I don't fancy, and/or which looks like going in a fruitless direction, won't make the cut... just like the BBC, Telegraph and a few others (The Guardian possibly not, unless they don't have a swear filter).

So if you feel like pitching in, feel free. Just remember that I hate waste, and do have a nice big, virtual red pencil I'd hate to have to wield. Oh, and a family who like me to get away from the keyboard on occasion. So while I may allow a post. I may not reply. No offence meant.

First, offer a viable alternative

Missed me? I'd like to say that the lull in my posting has been a result of a well-earned rest, lazing on some sunny beach, but sadly it's merely a case of 25-hr days... most of which have been spent in a traffic jam.

Let's get out of the way straight away that I am in a car because I have no choice. Either it would be impossible to get from Ross to where I'm meant to be (and, more importantly, back - too many calls to the missus to pick me up at Swindon to drive us both to Gloucester to pick up my car) or too expensive (Ignoring the joys of lugging demo kit on a rush hour tube, I can still get to London and back for about £25 in fuel plus £10-20 parking, which is about half the cost of even a pre-booked train and often having to wait a few hours to get the cheap rate. I like seeing my kids.

Any road up (if you'll excuse the pun), I have been on (as opposed to moving along) waaaay too many of the things, and it is not an experience I'd wish to repeat, given the choice.

In addition to incredible roadworks decisions (like taking out most of London's Euston road last night at the tail end of the rush hour), listening to the radio is like getting intel on new minefields as you barrel across the desert. The other day I was headed for London (again), when first the M4 was 'closed', so I dived off onto the A40, only to learn that the M40 ahead was also shut down, prompting a detour back to the M4 past the other mess.

And as I listened to Radio 2 on other journeys I was amazed how daily entire major arteries were literally taken out of commission all day for a jack-knifed lorry or overturned caravan.

Now I fully endorse everything necessary being done to secure the safety of those who may be injured in accidents, or to render dangerous situations safe, but I cannot recall in the past this requiring such swingeing over-reactions of such durations. What on earth is going on? Are they simply trying to make the process of road travel so miserable that people no longer try? Most are already having such horrible time it can only be of necessity, so they obviosuly have no choice.

And I am sure it is not helping the planet to have all those vehicles sitting in a 15-mile tailback on idle.