Friday, 19 October 2007

Let's not forget - or lose - what's good about Britain

Life in modern Britain is irritating in many ways, often thanks to greed and incompetence. So sometimes it is helpful to be reminded how good we have it compared to many other places. I've just been reading a report on Minivan News, a Maldivian anti-government news site, about Abdulla Mahir. Mahir is a torture victim, now granted asylum in the UK, and was recently arrested in the UK for throwing an egg at the Maldives president who, he alleges, had him tortured.

“The police treated me very nicely. One officer said to me 'I hope things work out in your favour.'”

“Another policeman was laughing throughout the interview,” Mahir added.

“It was 99% different being under British custody compared to being questioned by Maldivian police. The interview technique was different. I was allowed my lawyer to sit with me throughout the interview and the whole thing was tape recorded. At the end, my lawyer was given a copy of the tape recording. Then a doctor and a nurse came to check that [Maldivian President] Gayoom’s bodyguards hadn’t hurt me.”

It is slightly humbling to see someone so astonished by what we would consider the absolute basics of decent treatment. This is all the more reason we Britons have to be so careful about the relationship between us and the state we, in the final analysis, own. We must, more than ever, guard assiduously against sleepwalking into a state of ever-greater control, suspicion and our government assuming we are all potential criminals as their default position, because it would be a damned shame if our society changed such that the above statement lost its power.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Bicycles and trucks

The tireless and all-knowing Dave Holladay asked me to co-sign a letter to today's London Evening Standard on how adding an extra set of little side-mirrors to trucks isn't going magically to stop trucks crushing cyclists with depressing regularity, as some people seem to believe. In my correspondence with Dave, I made a point about trucks which I think is important, and which I'd like to record here:

When I see vans and lorries with their "If you can't see my mirrors, I can't see you" signs, I am powerfully inclined to conclude that this simply isn't good enough: if you can't see me and I am in a perfectly reasonable place, your vehicle isn't suitable to be used in an urban environment. Full stop.

And this is the root of it: lorries and other large trucks are designed primarily for the motorway, and the vision they afford the driver is entirely suitable for this, as on a motorway the edges and immediate rear of one's vehicle are largely irrelevant. Lorries should therefore be seen much more like military tanks: great in the environments for which they are designed, but absolutely not suitable for coming into towns and cities. Economics notwithstanding, the "proper" arrangement should be that lorries report to distribution centres at motorway intersections and unload their goods to smaller vans for urban delivery.

So there you have it. Sorry Messrs Tesco, Spencer and Sainsbury - I know you don't like ideas like this. But you can console yourself with the fact your directors' continued affluence has vastly more influence on government policy than road safety, congestion or pollution ever will. And to head off your inevitable counter-point: yes, I will gleefully pay 3p more for each tin of beans I buy if it makes my roads better.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Obesity - where's the transport link?

Today obesity is again in the news headlines, the second time this week. The UK government is getting in a right old tizzy about the subject, and rightly so: this is an important issue (although the claim that Britons being fat is as important as global warming is, erm, just a tad anglocentric, don't you think, chaps?).

But why on earth, in all that has been said about this subject, is nobody seeing a role for transport in solving this problem? The facts are that (1) our bodies are not intended to be sedentary and (2) most people drive for most journeys. The majority of journeys under 2 miles are carried out by car, expending practically no energy whatsoever. Getting people to walk and cycle these journeys would make a huge blow against obesity, but it is not being mentioned. Shifting short-distance transport to active modes would change so much and do it simply, but instead we'll probably end up with hamburger-taxes or something equally silly. Sigh.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Drowning in spam

This afternoon, in the space of about 2 hours, I received over 1000 spam emails. These were almost all messages that had bounced and 'come back' to me because they pretended to come from my domain. The headers were all something like

From: "lorimer Bunker" []
Subject: snongiad

Cannot deliver this message: recipient doesn't exist

meaning that spammers must have sent out thousands of messages purporting to come from my domain, each with a made-up email address. I have received 50 more bounced emails in the time it has taken to type this paragraph. Five more came just in the time it took to type that last sentence!

I'm so livid that I'm being abused this way. I'm furious with the spammers, obviously, but I'm also pissed off with Microsoft, whose woefully insecure operating systems have allowed hundreds of thousands of computers to fall under the spammers' control (because this is how spam is sent, you know: the spammers take control of people's PCs and get them to send all the mail). I'm also mad at the imbeciles who (a) bought Windows PCs and (b) allowed them to get infected. It's not rocket science. Buy a unix computer (such as a Mac, or Linux box) or take extreme precautions: there's just no middle ground. If you allow yourself to get infected you're part of the problem. I hope women laugh at your tiny manhoods.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Celebrity politics

One of my colleagues in our School for Management has shown how people are so unengaged with politics that their voting preferences can be massively swayed by a single celebrity endorsement.

If people are (a) so alienated by the political process that (b) they are happy to chose their political leaders on the basis of Gordon Sodding Ramsey's say-so, then I'm sorry but this democracy idea clearly isn't working out. I hereby announce my readiness to serve as a dictator. Frankly you could do a lot worse.