Saturday, 28 June 2008

Global Warming - An inexpert view

It seems to me that the current political consensus as to climate change rests on a number of assumptions:

  • that there is bidirectional link between atmospheric CO2 content and average global temperatures,

  • that it is possible for us to control atmospheric CO2 content,

  • that changes in the global climate inherently dangerous and should be avoided

  • that the degree of danger is such that changes of that nature should, if necessary, be avoided at (literally) any cost

Only if all four of these are true should we be seriously considering embarking on a major and expensive change to the rules governing our economy. Even then, the case is not made out; that economic system is, like it or not, the one that has made (many of) us comfortable, safe and well fed. We should tamper with this only when the case is clear. So, the fifth of my criteria is:

  • that the precautionary principle, i.e. that we do not mend things that aren't broken, does not require us to remain with the existing system that has for so long served us well.

With this background in mind, I'm going to try to look at each one in turn. As I type this, I'm sceptical (but not certain) about the first, fourth and fifth. I think the second is utter rubbish, whilst I'm quite sympathetic to the fourth. We'll see how I feel after I've given thought to each.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Child Seats and Bad Laws

I have two small(ish) children, and own a 911. This is enough to place me in conflict with UK law; do I act as the law demands, or do I follow my conscience and act in the best interests of the safety of my children?

Or, to put it more bluntly, UK law requires me to place my children in danger - or at least, greater danger than is necessary. As a caring parent who also wishes to abide by the law, what should I do?

The law in question is that relating to child seats in vehicles. It requires that all children below a certain age, and all below a certain height, must be placed in a suitable child seat whenever they are carried in a vehicle. The only permitted exception that I am aware of is in case of a genuine emergency. Driving the kids to school or to their grandparents is probably not an emergency, (no matter how late you are). So the law requires that if the children are being carried in the 911, they must be in a child seat.

Now, I'm not for a moment suggesting that this is not a good idea in most cases. Indeed, Mrs P and I have sometimes exasperated other parents by always insisting that a suitable seat is used. We have been known to make arrangements for swapping seats if one of the little patentlies is being taken home with one of their friends, and when carrying someone else's child we will always use on of our spare seats of a suitable size regardless of the pleas of the parent to the effect that there's really no need. We have also upgraded their seats as soon as they have reached the relevant size and weight limits, and usually opt for the safest seat we can find - economising elsewhere if necessary. So we are not lackadasical on this subject; quite the opposite.

However, the 911 is a slightly odd case. It has four seats, and is technically known as a "2+2", i.e. two full size seats in the front and two, err, padded areas in the rear that (visually) resemble seats. Given that Porsche's definition of a full size seat for the front excludes those of a rather rotund shape, it doesn't take much imagination to work out how big the rear seats are. "2+1" would be a better description, as we all know that two halves make one.

Now, an adult can in fact use the rear seats. However, I strongly recommend that if this ever happens to you, you try to be the one in the front. Believe me, it's much funnier to watch an adult try to fit into one of these seats than to be the adult demonstrating just how difficult it is. Given the choice between getting into the rear seat, walking, or hitching a lift from the next homicidal maniac to drive past, most people are somewhat torn. Generally, they do tend to take the seat; after all, you never know whether a suitable hitch will turn up and a seat (that you could fit in) the hand is worth two axe murderers (lurking) in the bush. But you get my point; the seats are rather small and not very comfy.

As a child, the situation is very different. As the seats are roughly the same dimensions as a large child seat, they are actually quite comfy for a large child. This does make it difficult to find child seats that fit, but Porsche kindly help by providing child seats in its wide range of accessories. There is a slight problem with this - if I say that Porsche Finance provides easy and affordable long-term credit options for their range of accessories as well as their cars then I think you will understand. Nevertheless, I bit the bullet and bought a pair. And there began my problem.

The 911 is open topped. So, compared with sitting in the rear without a booster seat, the elder of my children is:
  • higher up, therefore more exposed and less protected by the bodywork
  • higher up, meaning his shoulder is actually above the seat belt anchor
  • sitting over the belt buckle rather than to one side of it, meaning he has to co-operate if it is to be released.
When seated without a booster seat, his shoulder is correctly positioned relative to the buckle and the car's bodywork protects much more of his little pink body. I can also reach in and release him; with the booster seat, I cannot reach the buckle unless he lifts himself out of the seat for me. Obviously, if there had been an accident and he was unconscious then he could not then be released quickly. Given that a head injury would be more likely in his elevated state, this would worry me.

I have therefore come to the reluctant conclusion that he is safer without the seat. To achieve this, I must break the law. My hope is that if I am stopped, I will meet either a sensible and listening policeman or a sensible and listening magistrate.

So what is the link to the bad laws of my title? Simple. This law is set from Whitehall and covers 99% of situations correctly. It is a bad law because it takes no account of the other 1%. So, if we assume that everyone complies with it except those in my situation, and that it is enforced properly, then it will bear down only on those who have considered the issue carefully and fall into an exceptional category. As a result, we will end up prosecuting the most conscientious.

Why? It is because the law approaches the issue from a completely wrong-headed direction. By defining what constitutes safe behaviour, and prescribing it, the law takes it upon itself to decide in advance what is and is not safe in each and every combination of car, child and circumstance. This is, plainly, impossible. A decent effort is admittedly made, combining factors such as age and weight in such a way as to approximate to safety (while also making the law complex and unenfoceable...), but perfect foresight is sadly impossible.

Better surely to pass a general law, that drivers should act safely at all times, and issue guidance that, in general, carrying children without a child seat is contrary to this (as well as being incredibly stupid). Then, it is open for a driver to assert that he was, in fact, acting safely - as I ahve done above. As matters stand, if I am prosecuted there will be no defence; New Labour have decided for me what is safe and what is not and my opinion counts for nought.

Of course, many will say that a general law is more difficult to enforce as it allows for a subjective defence to be brought. That does (of course) beg the question, but it reveals the reason why this law was introduced. We all know that the CPS does not prosecute unless there is no doubt in the evidence. Whether this is through laziness, incompetence or timidity, we cannot know. But here is the harm that this failure of political direction and leadership has caused; the style of law has changed for the convenience of the system and the inconvenience of the citizen.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Well done David

I think it's fair to say that people are tired of politicians who think that politics is the art of the possible. It has been a complaint for time immemorial that politicians think only of the next few weeks, or at most the next election.

This week, we have seen this in spades, but we have also seen its converse. Labour's grubby search for votes in favour of the 42 day law was politics at its most efficient (I hesitate to say "at its best"). Every potential Labour rebel was clearly made to understand that this was a virility test for their Glorious Leader and that they either voted in favour of it or they hastened the loss of their job, their office, and their expenses claim form. And we saw the result.

We also saw one exception. We saw a career politician actually stand up for what he thought was right. We saw him put his salary where his mouth is.

Well done David.

Every Blogger ...

should take a good, close look at this picture!

(yes, that includes me!)

Friday, 6 June 2008

They're still at it...

Now, I distinctly remember Gordon saying that spin was over, that his arrival at No. 10 was a new dawn, and that we could all start believing New Labour press releases again. Or words to that effect.

Now, in the light of the soldiers vs traffic wardens debate, take a look at this post over at Burning Our Money. This sets out the MoD's defence that soldiers are not paid less than traffic wardens. However, in the soldier's pay it includes their pension contributions (etc), but the comparison was made with traffic warden's basic pay.

Whichever way you slice it, this is not a fair comparison.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Five minutes or the full half hour?

I've recently taken part in a debate on an online forum on the subject of global warming. I've taken a somewhat politically incorrect viewpoint; in short, that we should not necessarily be focusing all our attention on worldwide agreements to minimise CO2 emissions, but we should be working on coping with possible increases in temperature in practical ways that are likely to yield local results.

But the details of my view itself are not important to this post. I'll probably expand on it in the future, as it is something that I feel is very important. What is important is the reaction that my stance provoked. Within a few hours, it had been suggested that I was:

- lacking in intelligence
- lacking in education
- blinkered
- merely debunking
- naive

My actual opinions were not dealt with, nor were the various factual inconsistencies that I pointed out in the hypothesis of anthropogenic global warming. Fortunately, I had already seen the comments by the Bishop of Stafford and had commented that:

"This is what upsets me about this debate. Either you support the MMGW hypothesis, [...], or you are an acceptable target for personal attacks."

So it was, ahem, quite satisfying to point out the ad hominem attacks.

Eventually, some links were provided which were intended to convince me that AGW is real; in fact, these simply supported my concerns, and showed that the person posting them had not actually looked at them critically. But it made me think about what is happening to the very process of argument. Maybe I led a sheltered upbringing, but 15-20 years ago, if I said something that people didn't agree with, they would leap onto any deficiencies in my argument and try to reason me out of my opinion. Eventually, either one would convince the other or we would accept that we were both resolute. OK, sometimes the latter option would take days (/weeks/months...!) but at least we were addressing the argument.

We don't see argument today. Nowhere - not even on the Today Programme. The only responses we hear are either personal attacks, or a longwinded answer to a different question, or a blizzard of irrelevant statistics. Listen to a minister sometime, and think about their answer. You'll see what I mean.

Is this the real legacy of Blair? Have years of spin taught us a new style of “debate” where we just repeat out view ad infinitum until our opponent gives up or the programme slot runs out? Or am I just pining for my youth, a brief period in the 1980s when there was genuinely a clash of ideas?

Smug? Moi?

My first ever blog post was on the subject of Gordon and the fact that, compared to Tony before him, he lacked that certain something.

Today, I read that Lord Levy has now said exactly the same thing, although, I suspect, to a slightly larger audience. Do try to keep up, your Lordship ...

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Shameless feel-good Sunday post

It's Sunday, and I've had a nice weekend cleaning & polishing the other half's car, tidying up, gardening, taking the dog out, and so on. So I'm in a good mood. Time, I think, to re-post here my favourite of all the posts I've made on Tyresmoke, the forum for performance car owners. This dates from January this year.


So … as is often said, why do we bother buying these nice cars? Why do I have a 911 in the garage, when it costs me an arm and a leg in depreciation, tax, fuel, fuel tax, insurance and so on and I never really get the chance to use it properly? After all, I’m too busy to get to more than 2 track days a year, and for the other 364 days this year it will either be raining, foggy or icy, or there will be congestion, speed cameras, speed traps, poor road surfaces, and/or buses, Nissan Micras and Rovers in the way. Then, if the road does open up (which we know it won’t), it’s just an opportunity to be selfish, arrogant and irresponsible, and ruin the environment for our children and our children’s children.

So, why? Why do we bother? What’s the point?

I was reminded yesterday. Some good friends popped over for dinner, with their 9 year old daughter. After lunch, it was explained to me that their daughter is a car fan and has heard that I have a Porsche – could she see it, please?

(Rubbish, thinks I – her Mum is just as much a car fan!)

Anyway, we went out front, opened the garage, and reversed the 911 out. There are small squeaks of excitement – in stereo. Looks like both of them like cars, after all. So I opened the car and the roof and let them both all over it. Much smiling ensued.

Of course, then it struck me that I’d started the engine to reverse it out – would they mind if I took it round the block to warm the engine properly? No, it seems they wouldn’t, so long as they can come too! So off we went, with Mum in the passenger seat, daughter in one rear seat and one of the little Patentlies in the other rear seat. And we had an absolute ball. Managed to demonstrate the 911 handling with a sharp 2nd gear corner at which the pendulum-mounted engine helped us round the corner …. Then we headed for the lanes, with Mum & daughter shouting out every time we went over 6,000 rpm (which was often!). Then we get to my favourite bit – a sharp right into a steep downhill with a sharp left at the bottom – which was described as “better than a rollercoaster”.

All with the roof down, of course. 9 Centigrade is plenty warm enough!

We returned home with three grinning passengers. The daughter was so grateful I even printed off a photo for her of the car on a 2007 trackday – her eyes lit up! (and it was only me at the wheel!)

So … that’s why. Because it’s fun and people enjoy it.