Wednesday, 28 February 2007

"Professor" Reggie von Zurbach

This morning, while examining the latest lists of mad petitions, I found "Limit postal/proxy votes to valid absence", which I thought about blogging on. Then I noticed that the submitter, Prof Reggie von Zugbach, had a rather nutty name which I thought I remembered seeing before. So I Googled.

The first two hits are PM petitions (the proxy votes one I mention above and one asking the PM to "Ignore Third World Hype" on the grounds that no one in the UK cares).

The third link takes us to a post about a petition about a possible cancer treatment at the very wonderful Quackometer site which comments on quacky news stories.

Then we get a page in Hansard (effectively the minutes from the Houses of Parliament) where an MP talked, in 1996, about a stalking case involving Mrs von Zugbach. The MP tells us that Prof von Zugbach "is an author, a former Army major and a lecturer in management studies at Paisley university".

By this point my "just how real is this" detector was pinging madly. Somehow these don't seem like the normal sort of Google hits a professor in this day and age might expect. So I tested with the names - common and unusual - of assorted Professors of my acquaintance. (Go is a marvellous hobby. You meet the most eccentric academics.) And, indeed, the first hits tend to be their professional websites, then perhaps their Go rating, then references to alarming academic papers.

So I went to the University of Paisley website. Where no amount of searching results in Prof vonZugbach's name. A Google search on the Paisley domain gave me two PDFs about research at Paisley in 1999-2000 (where von Zugbach is listed, without titles or qualifications, in a list that may be that of academic staff in the Business School, but doesn't actually say what it's a list of, and also cited as a co-author on various academic papers published in, variously, "Department of Management & Marketing Working Papers Vol 2", "Frank Cass", "STUC Research Conference" and "Defense Analysis") and in 2000-2001 (where von Zugbach is definitely not listed as a member of staff of the Business School, but is cited as a co-author on a paper published in "Defense Analysis"). A re-examination of the University of Paisley Business School shows that von Zugbach is certainly not there now.

Sliding further down the page of Google results we finally find what look like some academic credentials: Professor von Zugbach is a Senior Faculty Member at Knightsbridge University. That's, erm - Knightsbridge University, the "free, autonomous and self-validating organisation". Where he is a "Senior Academic Advisor & Visiting Professor".

Call me an intellectual snob and you'll be right. But this is not the calibre of Professor I am inclined to take seriously at the best of times; his insistence on using the title Professor when signing petitions completely unrelated to his field of study leave me singularly unimpressed.

OK, it's not quite as bad as definitely-not-Dr Gillian McKeith, but it's dubious at best. A singularly inappropriate devaluation of the title "Professor".

And a complete and utter crackpot, to judge by the petitions he's created (the one about proxy votes mentioned above, a request for an English/Welsh language test before permitting UK voting (go, go the Jim Crow laws - probably this would be illegal under EU legislation anyway, wouldn't it?) and a request that it be permitted to ban "sectarian (eg head scarves) clothing in the work place", possibly among others) and several of the ones he's signed (most of the ones I've looked at seem to be of the Isolationist type - stopping people from voting unless they're Pure, sort of thing).

On the plus side, while all of this has left a nasty taste in my mouth, I have discovered the Quackometer. That may make it all worthwhile.

Rationing of Fatty Foods

The petition is entitled reintroduce food rationing to aid in the fight against obesity and the explanatory notes say
"Fatty foods should be rationed so that no one can overeat to such an extent that they become a burden to the NHS."

I hate the phrase "nanny state" and I generally object when people describe proposals as being a step towards one.



Thank you.


The petition is entitled Introduce the law of Prohibition, banning the import and sale of all alcohol and the explanatory notes say
"Alcohol is a root cause of many of society's problems - yob culture, anti social behaviour, domestic violence, dangerous driving and so on. It is also the cause of many health problems. Why should this highly dangerous and addictive drug be legal when other substances that are on par with this evil are illegal. The introduction of prohibition will free up much needed NHS and police resources, save lives and remove the constant misery from people's lives that alcohol causes."

This is the sort of petition that one suspects must really be a joke, or sarcastic - the petitioner, surely, knows enough to know what a useless proposal this is? Surely what they're actually advocating is the de-prohibition (dehibition? that can't be right) of the drugs he considers "on a par" with it.

Surely he knows the history of the US's attempt at prohibition - how alcohol consumption went up, and how inevitable a similar reaction here would be? Surely he knows that police costs would rise trying to control the prohibition, and, doubtless, NHS costs would rise as people brewed and distilled inexpertly and poisoned themselves on meths and other by-products?

Well, presumably not, or he wouldn't have posted the petition. Silly him.


The petition is entitled Facilitate the provisional of more Clothing Optional Places and the explanatory notes say
"It is well known that nude swimming and relaxation is both healthy and natural. Yet in the UK there are very few places where this is permitted without fear of prosecution. The laws on clothing optional activities in the UK should be brought into line with those in the more enlightened European Countries. That is more Beaches, secluded areas in parks and even designated times in public swimming pools. This petition does not ask for a total acceptance of public nudity but merely when appropriate as say in Denmark or Germany."

Is it well-known that nude swimming and relaxation are healthy and natural? I don't think I knew that - am I under-informed, or is this merely opinion?

Still, I've no objection to anyone who wants to be cold and wet having more freedom to so be, and no problem with this petition as a whole. As long as it's not compulsory!!

Sensationalising and Trivialising by the Media

The petition is entitled restrict the all public media from being allowed to sensationalise triviality on the one hand or scaremonger on the other and the explanatory notes say
"No more sensationalising of triviality. For example: what a celebrity wears, eats, sleeps with is not a matter for News At Ten or newspaper front pages.

Scaremongering. For example: bird flu will kill us all; global warming will kill the planet; terrorists will kill all of us in the western world (using anthrax, ricin or some weapon we have overlooked); it will be illegal to celebrate christmas; and so on.

The media is to blame for a lot of the failings of our society. They create vain, selfish, frightened children who grow up wanting everything without working for it, who have awful social skills and a general ignorance of anything older than they are.

I use the term "media" to include televison programmes, radio, newspapers, magazines, web sites, adverts (on TV, radio, posters, billboards, etc) and anywhere that can reach a public audience."

A number of things stand out about this. The first question has to be "how do you ban the press from sensationalising things without curtailing the freedom of the press?

If you don't personally like what the media are like, I suggest finding new media. The internet is particularly useful for this; if I want trivialities about what celebrities are wearing, there's Go Fug Yourself (trivialities and bitching - what else do you want?); if I want more sensible news I cast my eye over the Graun or the BBC. It works for me.

Blaming the media for the failings of our society is ridiculous: if parents and the education system can't teach children to critically judge the media, then that is their failing, not the media's.

Sensations sell papers. Don't like it? Don't buy them.

Dartford Tolls

The petition is entitled Delete the Thames Crossing Tolls at Dartford and the explanatory notes say
"I understand that the Dartford Tunnel and Queen Elizabeth Bridge construction costs have been paid up for a few years. The Toll booths are a bottle-neck to free traffic flow and cause serious hold-ups in both directions, last Nov it took 2 hours from the M20 to the Toll booths a distance of about 5 miles. The pollution to the local area from fumes, clutch and brake dust(high asbestos content) and noise is not acceptable environmentally. I propose that the existing 50mph speed limits be rigorously enforced for safety reasons."

I've only used this crossing twice (once in either direction) and know little or nothing about the specific situation. It's possible that the tolls were only ever intended to cover the initial costs. But this seems unlikely, to me. Tunnels and bridges both have considerably more upkeep costs than normal road, and it doesn't seem unreasonable to me for part of the burden of this cost to be carried by those who use the crossing. This petitioner has completely ignored this. Which irritates me.

He's quite right about the bottle-necking, in my experience (but then, I was travelling during a weekend in July; of course there were blockages), but that's not enough in my opinion to suggest that the tolls are unnecessary.

Music Lessons

The petition is entitled ensure that our children are offered 'music' as a means of expressing themselves within the education system, even if it means that such absolutely stupid activities such as 'Religious Education' and 'Citizenship' are abandoned in its favour and the explanatory notes say
"The current (grossly misguided) UK system of education includes some really obtuse matter relating to how our young folk should (should?) relate to 'life' (dumbing-down of personal development skills, such as the outragious 'Citizenship' lessons that our children must endure, for half a GCSE).

Our young folk should have the opportunity to express themselves through music, an undeniable right that is constantly denied by most state schools. Without a source of well-trained musicians, our orchestras will become totally populated by foreign players (who continue to receive excellent musical tuition).

The sad thing is, that whilst the UK has the very best violin making school in the world (Newark, Nottinghamshire), there are not so many players in the UK that could benefit from owning a violin made by a Newark graduate! Such is the standard of musical education in the UK!

I don't know that I disagree with the basic principle that music lessons are at least as valuable as "Citizenship" and "Personal and Social Education" and the like.

However, the frothy madness with which this petition is expressed gives me the screaming ab-dabs. And I particularly take exception to the petitioner's objecting to pupils being taught how "to relate to life" while yet thinking that music lessons are necessary for pupils to learn to "express themselves".

Both these phrases push my mumbo-jumbo-speak buttons. Personal and Social Education, as I was taught it in school, involved a wide assortment of things including sex education, morality, environmental issues, all sorts of, well, useful and useless things that didn't fit into other places in the curriculum and yet have a certain value. And my understanding is that subjects like "Citizenship" are on a similar basis: seems quite logical for them to be taught.

I do think that Religious Education as it was taught to me had both too large a part in the curriculum and too much emphasis on Christian history, but at the same time, there's clearly both a place in History teaching for an examination of religion and also, to my way of thinking, a discussion of comparative relition and religion in today's society should logically be included in PSE, PSHE, Sociology, Citizenship or some other catch-all subject.

A basic study of music is a good idea, partly in its own right and partly in order to identify talented pupils so that they can be encouraged to study further. The same goes for art. I object, however, to the implication that all children should be expected to express themselves through music; it has the obvious extrapolation that all children should be expected to express themselves through art, too, and since I have never had any inclination towards or interest in doing any such thing, I object to all children being forced to.

But mostly this petition makes me think that the author is a frothing maniac on his own particular subject (music) to the complete exclusion of assigning any importance to anything else at all.


The petition is entitled Cancel SATS for both primary and secondary schools and there are no explanatory notes.

One wonders whether this is someone who objects to SATS on political grounds or whether, like the "Homework" petition I mentioned in the "Mild Madness Backlog", this is a grumbling school-child's petition.

Assuming the latter, it's making me smile.

Comprehensive Education

The petition is entitled accept that comprehensive education is dead in the water, is a major obstacle to social mobility in this country and that the only way to improve educational opportunities in this country is to return to some form of selective education and there are no explanatory notes.

I don't particularly agree with the petitioner, but what I'm actually taking exception to is the complete absence of any kind of effort to provide explanations or evidence for his contentions.

Tax Rebate on Private Education

The petition is entitled Offer tax relief for people who opt to send their children to private/independant schools and the explanatory notes say
"We would like to ask that some recognition be given by means of tax relief is given to those people who opt to send their children to private or independant schools. these parents help the government by easing the burden on states schools and their resources, and some recognition should be shown for this to help pay for their education. after all they pay all their taxes to the government and get less back in services."

I don't have children, so I'm not getting the benefit of my taxes in the form of education for them - should I also have a rebate? I go to a private dentist so I'm not benefitting from my taxes in terms of NHS dentistry - I need a rebate for that, too, obviously.

No. No, and no, and a thousand times no. Your taxes aren't paying for your children to be educated, they are paying for the education of all the children in your society. It's your contribution to your community.

Incidentally, I do hope that the petitioner's parents didn't spend excessive amounts on getting him educated - his grammar is shocking.

OBE for My Wife!

The petition is entitled nominate Mrs Margaret Angela Owen for the OBE and the explanatory notes say
"My wife, Margaret Angela Owen, retired last year after having served Manchester Education Committee for more than 40 years as a classroom teacher. Her most recent headteacher (at King David Junior School, Manchester) would confirm that Margaret was a very able teacher and her students would agree also, I'm sure. Personally, although I might be slightly biased, I believe her to be patently outstanding and highly intelligent and always gave of her not inconsiderable best to the children. This great career, undisturbed by any desire to become a school head, deserves more than just a "Thank You" and I would urge you to grant this petition - honour her, please!"

I'm choking with laughter over this but can find very little to actually say about it. I have no reason, of course, to think that Mrs Owen was not a very able teacher and much appreciated by her pupils, but the same is true of many teachers who aren't awarded the OBE. And particularly without their spouses feeling the need to petition the PM to honour them!

Live on an Average Wage

The petition is entitled live on an average wage and the explanatory notes say
"he is allowed £20,000 for the whole year and he is not allowed to use tax payers money at all apart from national/international reasons which should be decided by the public vote."

Good idea. Not convinced by the execution, but good idea. I'd have thought that rather than having to vote on the use of taxpayers' money for national reasons one would need a simpler system, for one thing. And for another it would be quite useless for just him to be on this kind of income, given Cherie's income (I assume, anyway). But it's a lovely idea.

False Rape Accusations

The petition is entitled sentence those found guilty of making false rape allegations to a ten year jail term plus loss of anonymity and the explanatory notes say
"Police that have erroneous prosecuted should be found guilty of incompetence and dismissed. Males accused should be granted anonymity.

False accusations of rape are a horrible thing, can ruin lives, and certainly should be punished. But this is not the way of doing it.

Admittedly the petitioner seems to be implying a separate trial for a woman whose accusation of rape has failed, rather than some kind of automatic you-made-the-accusation-he-was-found-not-guilty-therefore-we-imprison-you thing which is how I first read the petition. But I still fear that the effect of this legislation would be to make women more reluctant to accuse their rapists. After all, it so often comes down to her word against his; you can't feel confident that you can prove "beyond reasonable doubt" that you've been raped. And if you don't, my Gods, you're suddenly threatened with imprisonment! I'm not sure I'd have the courage to go through with a prosecution, with that hanging over me.

Furthermore, I don't like the implication that the police should be extra-careful of evidence in rape cases. To my way of thinking, if a police officer's pushed for a prosecution erroneously, s/he should already be being charged and/or disciplined. I don't think rape cases should be special. Actually, in a way, that goes for an accuser, too - someone whose accusation of rape has led to a not-guilty verdict may, in the right circumstances, already be charged with wasting police time and so on, may s/he not? So why extra legislation?

The only thing I do agree with is the idea of anonymity for the accused. I don't see any reason not to provide that protection; it won't benefit the guilty to be thus protected, and it will protect the innocent.

Internet Freedom

The petition is entitled let the internet be a forum of a new kind of a freedom of speech and the explanatory notes say
"With alot of forums on the internet, blogs,yahoo answers, and others we wish that these forums and websites be freed from political correctness and people who think information is offensive etc...People should the freedom to say what they wish..after all what is all the freedom talk worth? getting Blocked from websites and having your blog or message or question deleted! Dangerous websites inciting hatred, fundamentalism etc should be monitored at all times. There should be a new bill of rights for the public to access any information about the government?"

The petitioner seems to be labouring under the delusion that the government has any control at all over the internet.

Freedom to speak does not equate to freedom to be heard; if a website doesn't want to include your comments, why should they? They are paying for the space and for the domain and so on and so forth. You are free, instead, to go away and create your own website, pay for your own domain and space and say what you like.

Of course, if what you say is libellous, ISPs may be reluctant to host your site. But I daresay there are ways of getting around that - expensive ones, possibly, but ways, none-the-less.

It's amusing that on the one hand you ask for complete freedom and on the other you say "Dangerous websites inciting hatred, fundamentalism etc should be monitored at all times." A little bit contradictory, no?

GCSE Standards

The petition is entitled Bring back standards in education and discard GCSE and replace with O level and CSE standards and the explanatory notes say
"It is about time that education was reverted to the way it was, make the teachers confirm that the pupils understand the elements being taught and remove the coursework part for core subjects, after all how hard is it for a pupil to sit on the internet and do their work, make it fair for all and bring back the final tests after two years studying."

This sounds like a bandwagon-leaper; someone who has read a little bit about how GCSEs work and so thinks they know it all, and thinks it sounds easy.

There are certainly things to criticise about GCSEs. The one that I always think of first is a mini-rant one of my favourite teachers used to have: he said the main reason he understood GCSEs to be replacing O Levels and CSEs was so that you didn't accidentally stream someone bright into a CSE theme and make them miss out on an O Level, or a less-bright pupil into the O Level stream and land them with a fail where they could have had a CSE. Only then, he said, he was now expected to assign students to one of three streams: one that could get grades from A*-C or a fail, one that could get grades B-E or a fail, and one that could get grades D-G or a fail. This, he said, was clearly ridiculous, and he was right. A quick examination of Wikipedia shows that to an extent this idiocy has been reversed - there are now a maximum of two tiers. But you can still enter a student for the wrong tier and do them out of a good grade or cause them to get a fail where they could have had a pass, just as you could for O Levels/CSEs.

But in any case, this is not a criticism the petitioner is making. He contends that teachers are not making sure that pupils know their subjects (on what grounds does he contend this? None are given) and that coursework leads to plagiarism. He complains of a lack of fairness (no examples or explanation given) and appears to think there are no longer final exams. (Final exams for subjects with a heavy coursework component, like music or art, may be worth as little as 40% of the final grade. If this wasn't the case with O Levels, I'm damned if I can see how that was justified - you can't test something like art or music solely with a final exam!)

High Houses

The petition is entitled Stop builders erecting 3 story houses & flats close to existing properties and the explanatory notes say
"We need to curb developers from building towering 3 storey houses and flats close to existing properties, depriving them of light, and in some cases creating potential for unwanted surveillance by owners of the new properties. High density housing developments (40 units per hectare) are the norm these days, and they blight the communities in the midst of which they are built. They also deprive towns of valuable green space to soak up rainwater & retain natural habitat for wild birds and other wildlife."

The petitioner (who identifies herself as part of a "residents group") clearly has a bee in her bonnet about a particular project near her own residence, and is consequently generalising to complain about all such buildings.

"Towering" 3-storey houses indeed! I grew up in a 3-storey Georgian house. It's hardly "towering"!

In any case, where a specific development is going to be a problem, it should certainly be tackled. Wild generalisations like this, on the other hand, achieve nothing. (One assumes, among other things, that the petitioner doesn't actually think new houses are necessary. Iiiiiinteresting.)


The petition is entitled ban the use of portable cabins for use as permanent office space and there are no explanatory notes. I guess because the petitioner is stuck in one and is too frozen to type more.

This just seems a trifle pointless. If a specific portacabin is unsuitable for office space, get Health and Safety riled up about it. I don't like the idea of banning specifics instead of making generalised requirements which can apply to everything.

Unwed Mothers

The petition is entitled stop benefits to unwed mothers and the explanatory notes say
"unless the said mother names the father and he assists in the support of the bastard child,(let us for a change use the proper name)the mother should have no right to benefits."

Wow! Someone alert the Time Police and the scientists! We have a genuine time-traveller from the 19th Century here! We must find out how he's done it! (Why am I assuming he? I don't know.)

Let's point out the most particularly special form of injustice here: the mother and most especially the child is punished if, even though the father has been named and identified, he won't pay up. What a great idea!

Child and Anti-Police Crime

The petition is entitled consider bringing in tougher penalties for crimes committed against children and police and the explanatory notes say
"Persons who commit crimes against children should if found guilty spend a minimum of 18 years in prison and those found guilty of murder/manslaughter of children they should be given life with no parole and no release from prison. There should also be more done to protect our police by the courts of this land by giving out longer sentences to those who insult, assualt and even murder our police, it is time the government started to listen to the people of this country of what they want, and less heed to the do-gooders."

The explanatory notes seem to fall into three sections: the bit that worries about kids, the bit that worries about the police, and the bit that starts frothing about do-gooders.

Indeed, the petition feels like two separate concerns jammed together for no particular reason. I'm not as such arguing with either half (though I find myself wondering whether there are many criminals who commit "crimes against children" who really deserve a sentence of more than 18 years in prison, and whether it can really be justified for manslaughter to ever carry such a high penalty), I just wonder why the two are being presented together.

And then - how can it possibly be that "do-gooder" is an insult, a thing to be despised, a thing not to be heeded. Someone who does, or wishes to do, good. An insult. There's something wrong there. OK, OK, it has implications of "naive" and possibly also "ineffectual". But that in itself is a shame.

Sneaky Metrification

The petition is entitled Stop Ministers and others from attempting to Metricate the United Kingdom by stealth and the explanatory notes say
"More and more often Ministers and others within the Government and on Television news, reports and many other interests are referring to measurements in the Metric System. We are still an Imperial measuring country, together with our traditional means of measurements. These moves are a Government ploy for the acceptance of The EU and are designed to make the intergration into The EU more acceptable."

I'm not completely impartial here; I am a Scientist and I do like SI units (except for measuring the height and/or weight of a person, which I can somehow only grok in Imperial).

Let's take this argument in stages:
    We are still an Imperial measuring country. Are we?
  • together with our traditional means of measurements. I incline to the view that we're still an English-speaking country with traditionally correct grammar being expected of maniacal traditionalists. But these petitioners seem to disagree.
  • are designed to make the intergration into The EU more acceptable. Quite aside from anything else, I find the idea of "intergration" into The EU (loving your capitalisation here, folks - pity your spelling and grammar aren't up to the same Dickensian standards) quite acceptable already, and likewise "integration".

I suspect that more Ministers, Government officials and TV news reporters are using metric units because, increasingly, they're young enough to have been taught them extensively at school and they actually think in them. Never ascribe to malice what you can adequately explain as perfectly natural.

Migrant Workers

The petition is entitled Severely limit the number of migrant workers allowed access to the UK labour market and the explanatory notes say
"I believe it is wrong to allow large numbers of foreign workers access to the UK labour market on the pretence that they will do the jobs that we will not do, they may initially do that but then they will progress on to better paid jobs denying UK citizens access to those jobs. I also believe allowing large number of foreign workers into the UK is causing resentment and unrest among the rest of the UK population."

I have to declare an interest, here. On my mother's side, my grandparents were economic migrants to the UK; since my mother didn't take British nationality until she was about 40, in spite of having lived here since she was 4 and worked here since she was 19, she might also be so described. And if it comes to that, my paternal grandfather's parents were economic migrants, too.

I strongly suspect the petitioner doesn't mean people like my grandparents, mother and great-grandparents, admittedly. After all, my grandparents and mother came from the Netherlands, while my great-grandparents came from the Isle of Man. And in the case(s) of my grandparents, they were both highly educated professionals. But still - they were economic migrants, who took jobs that might otherwise have been available to British people.

To my way of thinking: tough. I want all the jobs around me - the binmen, the plumbers, the shop-workers, the doctors, the lecturers, all of them - to be done by the best person for the job. If the best person for the job isn't British - who cares? If they're paying their taxes here, contributing to society by doing the best job they can - great. If they beat me to a job, because they're better than me - that's my problem. Why the hell should I have a job I'm less-able than someone else at, merely because I had the fortune to be born in Bristol instead of Berlin, Bangalore or Brisbane?

Equality with America

The petition is entitled Demand equality with America and the explanatory notes say
"We always stand shoulder to shoulder with the US and get NOTHING for it. Meanwhile all manner of products are released in the states 6 or more months before a UK release date... We should be given equal consideration by companies, enforced by LAW"

Now, there are all sorts of ways in which I agree with the petitioner's initial premise - I usually talk about arselicking on the part of our politicians, or being the fifty-whichever-it-is-th state, or something like that. But basically I agree.

I'm just not quite sure that the way to make this all OK is to ... bring products out at the same time on both sides of the pond. Quite aside from anything else, we're standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the US Government, whereas products are being released (or not) by companies, and nominally we have this "free market" kind of thing, as I understand it, which means that in most ways companies can't be constrained like that. It seems ... a bit mad, really. Fantastic start; hopeless leap of logic; truly loopy request.


My day was made splendid when, this evening, a teenage friend of mine told me he'd passed the URL of this blog to a friend of his, who went on to say
"she comes across as fiercely intellectual. well i think she sounds great. not that i agree with everything she says but she certainly knows how to write with impact"

Cool. Thanks. :) These compliments are making me happy. :)

Commonwealth Duplicate Petitions

Two petitions objecting to Britain's place in the Commonwealth, one saying Britain should be "ousted", and one calling for a referendum on the subject.

It's not difficult to do a quick search on a topic like "Commonwealth". I should know; I did. So - why the duplication?

Welsh Duplicate Petition

Duplicate petitions requesting that a representation for Wales be added to the Union Flag, one closed and one still open. The latter seems to have been added since the former closed; perhaps they intend to do more campaigning. Strange but true.

Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Excessive Road Signage

The petition is entitled Stop the enormous obsession with unnecessary and ugly extra road signs and coloured tarmac and the explanatory notes say
"Our road network was well designed and developed from early last century, mostly serving our needs efficiently. In recent years, they have become almost an opportunity for local authorities to maintain budget levels by spending on ludicrous over-direction and duplication of signage that has left the system looking more like a child's toy set. People are not so stupid as to need this... we managed fine for nearly a century without it. What spending is being cut in other important areas to finance this fiasco?"

Such a sweet idea: the road network was designed (er, no, it evolved) from early last century (not even early last millennium, it's far older than that) and serves our needs efficiently (oh really?).

We managed fine for nearly a century with increasing car numbers and, I'm fairly certain (I can't actually find any figures), increasing accident numbers.

Furthermore, the words "People are not so stupid as to need this" is directly contradictable: there is no known limit to the idiocy of humans. The Prime Minister's Petitions website exhibits this admirably, as do other sites like Wikipedia's Lamest Edit Wars.

School Holidays (again)

The petition is entitled Abolish School terms and allow children 4 weeks holiday plus Bank Holidays and the explanatory notes say
"I would like to see schools run for 52 weeks of the year. Then working parents can take holidays when they would like, without the need to arrange child care during enforced holidays. There would be restrictions for certain age groups when important examinations are due. This would improve work access for single parents, reduce holiday costs at certain times of the year, and be more flexible"

A slightly more informative version of the last time I set the title to "School Holidays".

Still no explanation of how teachers are going to get any holiday. And no explanation at all of how you're going to deal with the lessons the kids miss.

When I think how nostalgically most people remember the long, long summer holidays of their youth, I can't help thinking it's a bit cruel of them to suggest taking it away from the kids - however much it would "make life easier" for parents.

Parking Charges

The petition is entitled make it illegal to charge for parking and the explanatory notes say
"This is one of the biggest rip-offs, currently being perpetrated against the British Public."

I beg your pardon? What on earth gives you the "right" to park somewhere? Why on earth shouldn't you be charged for taking up space with your car? You don't think, say, rent is a rip-off, presumably? Just what planet is this petitioner on?

Sexualisation of Youth

The petition is entitled stop corruption of young minds from the easy availablity and accessibility of pornography/sexualisation of youngsters in teenage magazines and the explanatory notes say
"Tony Blair don't you care (about the state of our nation)? This question has gone round and round in my mind since I witnessed a protest in London about children and how as a nation we are letting them down. In time the results of this gross betrayal of our youngsters will be all too evident, but too late! The need for change from some of the traditional methods of dealing with youngsters was obvious, but values such as manners, social etiquette and respectful discipline, which have all been undermined in some way by liberalists, need to be reintroduced if we are to change the moral abyss that permeates our society at the moment."

Where's that Plato quote I quoted yesterday?
"What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?"

Fascinating leap in this petition from the availability and accessibility of pornography and the sexualixation of youth to manners, social etiquette and respectful discipline being undermined by "liberalists". Oh, and a moral abyss permeating our society? Gosh. That sounds scary. You'd have thought I'd have noticed something like that ...

Psychological Government Campaigns

The petition is entitled stop all departments of the government using psychological tactics in public information adverts and the explanatory notes say
"If there is a message to be conveyed to the public, please stick to the facts. Examples include: all 'Frank' advertising which scaremonger; the adverts concerning road tax and benefit fraud which present the system as a big brother style inescapable net; the anti-speeding campaign which uses a child actress to describe you killing her with a car. If the cause is truly righteous, then there is no need to try and influence people using psychology. We have all been brought up to resist this kind of propagandists' tactics, and to use these tactics is a violation. No wonder the mental health of the nation is going down the tubes."

As I said probably yesterday about charity adverts: I haven't seen these adverts, so I may be talking rubbish. But to my way of thinking, people need to be shocked about some things; none of these sound like completely unreasonable things to be "shocking" about.

All adverts "influence people using psychology", and even a non-"shocking" advert about speeding or benefit fraud or whatever will none the less use "psychology". And I don't think we have been "brought up to resist propagandits' tactics" - have we? I don't think I have, anyway.

And the line "No wonder the mental health of the nation is going down the tubes" renders me all-but-speechless in its Green Inkery.

Motorway Lighting

The petition is entitled have more night lights placed down the central reservation of motorways and the explanatory notes say
"Motorways are impossible to see on at night. More lights are needed particularly on bends and leading up to bends in the road."

Many cars, indeed, in my experience all cars, have these amazingly clever things called "headlights" which light up the road in front of the car. If you have tried using these and find that you still can't see, may I suggest you give up driving for your own sake and everybody else's? Thank you.


The petition is entitled Provide Free Bicycles in city centres and the explanatory notes say
"In Holland people have free access to utilise bicycles to get from A to B. We should implement this in city centres with a basic standard bike available for people to use whenver they want. This will encourage people to cycle from one place to another without having to use taxis or cars."

At sight of this petition, I dashed off to find my handy Dutchman on IRC to ask him about this. First, of course, we had the usual Holland-is-only-a-small-part-of-the-Netherlands conversation. Don't call the Netherlands Holland; I'm liable to get Cross.

Then he said he believed there had been some "white bike" initiatives; he's not sure the bikes were actually available free and he's not sure they're still running, and he also thinks they were only in Amsterdam. He's under the impression that the first initiative failed because the bikes were too generic, so people just stole them, and they broke easily. A more recent project involved very sturdily-built bikes, which looked more unusual and so were harder to steal. He adds that many people tend to regard an unlocked bike as fair game and just take it away, but that this is not in any way policy.

So firstly, this petition seems to be based on something hazily-heard about a non-widespread thing.

Secondly, of course - there's a reason bikes are more popular in the Netherlands than in most of the UK. The Netherlands is flat. Any such program in Durham, say, or Bristol, would fall very flat on account of how the city centres in question aren't flat.

It's an interesting idea. I'm just very unconvinced that it is in any way practical.

Update: said handy IRC Dutchman posted an article about one of these schemes which failed and another article (unfortunately in Dutch) about another such scheme which is still operational. The latter, he says, "is in the national park in the central hills of the Netherlands. Not entirely flat country" but adds "not excessively mountainous either, of course :-)". A quick translation of the latter scheme says "copied from the Amsterdam white bikes concept in 1975, now, 30 years later, they have 1700 white bikes in the park."

Another Dutch friend and I have argued about Cambridge: I say it's flat; he says it's not. I therefore assume this latter is about as hilly as Cambridge.


The petition is entitled bring forward summertime by one month to the last weekend in February giving an extra month of summertime and the explanatory notes say
"There is more light at the end of February than there is at the end of October when summertime ends. There is absolutely no reason why the country should be made to wait to the end of March for the lighter nights to begin. Bringing forward summertime would be beneficial to the economy giving people the opportunity to get out and about sooner and out of hibernation mode. It could also save lives on the roads as previous studies have stated. Sufferers of SAD syndrome would get a months reprieve from the dreadfull durge of wintertime. The alternative suggestions of no wintertime or double summertime etc are never going to get acceptance due to the lack of agreement between the affected parties. Bringing forward summertime by one month would be the best compromise and should be acceptable to the majority."

There's a very good reason why we have to wait until March for the lighter nights to begin: it's called the earth's orbit around the sun. People can get out and about as and when they want to. The "durge" of wintertime is grim in February because there's not much sun. Changing the clocks doesn't change how much sun there is.

If you want daylight, do stuff when there's daylight. The clock is not some god which cannot be thawrted; it's not compulsory to to things at a set time of day. (If your employers are unsympathetic to flexitime, it's a pity and a problem, but not one that we need legislation to control!)

Teachers' Pay

The petition is entitled stop giving teachers pay rises above the rate of inflation and the explanatory notes say
"The Government needs to stop giving pay rises to teachers, with more poor teachers in the profession just for the money and government gifts such as housing assitance. the government should instead be assisting the poorly paid which work much harder than a teacher ever will."

Wow. Vitriol city! From someone who's clearly never, say, shared a house with a teacher, to give them an understanding of how hard teachers tend to work, or the difficulties involved in the profession.

I like kids and deal with them quite well, but I think you'd have to be paying me meeeellions of money before I'd put up with the indignities of teaching just for the pay.

British Standards

The petition is entitled Make British Standards Free to download and the explanatory notes say
"To make British Standards free to download, this is to help Industry comply to the latest regulations without having to pay extra just to check the regulations"

This is certainly a dmaned good idea, it's just spectacularly badly phrased ...

I thought, when I clicked on it, it was something mad about British Pride and Cultural Qualities and the sorts of things that are talked about so much without our ever knowing what they actually mean. Citizenship and all that.

Petition Approval

The petition is entitled exert a degree of control over the distortion of serious policy questions which pass for petitions on the Downing Street website and the explanatory notes say
"In particular, he should establish an Advisory Committee on Democratic Credibility (AC/DC) which should concern itself with just one specific question before authorising petitions to be uploaded to the site:

1. Does the petition include overstated or inaccurate claims about government plans that may cause members of the general public to unwittingly rule out changes to their lives that would be obviously beneficial. If so, this petition should be rejected or revised and resubmitted before being uploaded.

In order to ensure that the spirit of the petition mechanism is not lost, AC/DC should have a locked in lay majority. We suggest three lay members and two official Government members with no less than five years experience in policy formulation. All five should be appointed by a troika of the PM, the permanent secretary for Government Communications and the editor of the Daily Mail, and should serve no more than one four year term."

The petitioner just wants to spoil my fun!! It would, doubtless, cost a bomb; who on earth would such a troika appoint as lay members, and, of course, it would put people off submitting even sensible petitions.

Environmental Building

The petition is entitled Enforce all new house builds to have solar panels on there roof, use gray water for toilet flushing. Make financial provision and enforcement of action for all community and public buildings ( with the exclusion of those that are grade 1 or 2 listed ) to have 90% of there power needs to be supported by solar/wind power and where possible the use of water recycling for toilet and other uses and the explanatory notes say
"Everyone accepts that we need to do something to help obtain electricity in a better way than we do at the moment. Making a start with new builds having solar panels will reduce the need for wind and nuclear power. Including a provision for community and public buildings will help generate excess power than is being used but will also cut costs of publicly run buildings."

Firstly, the confusion between "there" and "their" is making me twitch.

Secondly, this is quite sensible in most respects, I suspect. The biggest problem I'm aware of is that presently solar panels are extremely inefficient and generally, I think, still take more energy to make than they're likely to accumulate in their lifetime. I don't think it's at all practical to require buildings to have 90% of its power needs supported by solar/wind generation - very few buildings are located such that this is possible.

Even if I'm wrong about the energy required to make solar panels, this sort of thing would add significantly to the cost of new builds, which might not be a problem for all of it, but would certainly be a problem in some cases.

Local Election Voting Slips

The petition is entitled Remove which party a candidate represents from voting slips in local elections and the explanatory notes say
"This would lead to people having to vote for those people with the best local policies, encourage candidates to actually interact with local people, and prevent incompetent local candidates from gaining power purely on the basis of party backing."

So here I am, a simpering idiot who wants to vote for my local candidate from the simpering idiot party, and I get my ballot paper and - oh no! The parties aren't on there! What am I going to do? Am I going to vote for the person with the best policies? How can I? I don't have their manifestoes with me, presumably - if I did, I'd know who belonged to which party.

People who care are going to go into the voting booth already knowing who they want to vote for, but then, they do already. All you're going to discourage are a few idiots. Which, OK, sounds nice in a way - but it means even lower participation, and I can't honestly think that that's a good thing.

Inheritance, Cohabittees, Intestacy

The petition is entitled allow co-habitees rights to inherit when long partner dies intestate and the explanatory notes say
"At present long term partners have to apply through the courts for financial assistant from a late partners estate should that partner die intestate. This is very costly and can have serious implications especially where there are minor children involved. Surviving partners should be able to inherit in order to continue to spport families."

My sympathy for anyone whose long-term partner has died is great. If their pain is worse because they're having to fight in the courts to inherit, that's very sad, but why on earth does it require legislation. Any silly sod who hasn't left a Will is a silly sod. And any parent who hasn't left a Will deserved a slapping.

Making a Will is not difficult. Nor need it be expensive. If you don't love your partner enough to make a Will to protect them in the event of your death, that's a very sad thing. We don't need more legislation; we need people to be sensible enough to make a Will.

Isle of Wight Bridge

The petition is entitled Build a bridge to the Isle of Wight from the UK mainland and the explanatory notes say
"The isle of wight is 5 miles from the prosperous south east of england yet has deprivation only equaled by parts of inner London. Building a bridge with possibly EU funds would bring the economic prosperity of south east england to this area of 135000 people. Enabling islanders to work on the mainland and earn a living wage whilst saving on the amount paid in benefits. Average earnings on the island are some 20 25% below nearby Portsmouth. The natural harbours of the island would be more accessible and economically viable enabling the regeneration of all areas of the island benefiting all. The current arrangements of high cost ferries (for islanders) will not achieve this). The Isle of Wight ferries do not receive subsidies from government or EU and islanders pay the full cost of maintaining this link."

I'm going to take the petitioner's facts and figures as read, and assume that a better link between the island and the mainland would indeed reduce deprivation there.

Bridges are not only expensive to build; they also require maintenance. Cf, most obviously, all the legends about painting the Forth Bridge, which is never finished, because as soon as you finish painting at one end you need to start again at the other. So this would cost lots of money, in capital and in ongoing costs.

It would seem a little more practical to me to just use that money to subsidise the ferries ...

Further point, however - this petition is another splendid one asking the PM to build the bridge with his own "fair" (or otherwise) hands. I approve of that bit. :)

Let Kids Play

The petition is entitled present an Act to protect organisations from litigation claims arisng from "letting children play" and the explanatory notes say
"More and more organisations and authorities are imposing draconian and nanny state measures to prevent children from being children and playing, eg the banning of "tag" chase in school playgrounds. This can only be due to fear of litigation from some parents who blame others for the natural occurrence of accidents. Of course any Act does not excuse wilful negligence to make environments and supervision safe as is practicable."

This sounds quite reasonable and sensible and so on, until you realise the consequences of it. Organisations will still be held responsible for negligence. OK. So you have to determine when negligence has occurred and when it is merely an accident. Which you do how? Parents have to be able to sue in cases of negligence, and someone has to determine whether the parent is suing justificably or not, and how, short of a court case, can you determine that?

In other words: you can't ban parents from suing without potentially letting negligent organisations off. So how do you prevent organisations, non-negligent ones, from deciding the safest path is to prevent people from suing by preventing accidents at all? I don't see how this can work.

Birthday Holidays

The petition is entitled Authorise Birthdays as an Official Bank Holiday and the explanatory notes say
"Every British citizen should be entitled to a NATIONAL Holiday to celebrate the occasion. Should your birthday land on a non working day then the previous working day should be the NATIONAL Holiday."
Awww, bless!! Do let's bear in mind that the major impact of this would be that employers would just start offering one fewer day of leave on new contracts ...

Some people like working on their birthdays, or at least seem to have a great deal of fun wearing silly hats and having cake and so on.

P.S. If everyone's birthday was a Bank Holiday, the Banks would never be open. And if it was a NATIONAL holiday, no one would ever be able to work. Oops.

Civil Servants' Pay

The petition is entitled Allow all Civil Servants to have the last Friday in every month off with full pay to compensate for the low salaries and there are no explanatory notes.

Are Civil Servants badly paid? I vividly remember a quote, though not where from (possibly Yes, Minister or Yes, Prime Minister) saying something like - traditionally, Civil Servants were given honours (knighthoods and all that jazz) to make up for the crap pay, but now they're really well paid and still get honours. Something like that.

A quick Google tells me that except for the Senior Civil Service, there are no Government-wide pay systems. "Subject to Treasury approval, each department is encouraged to establish reward structures and pay scales which meet their own particular needs. Annual increases in pay scales are then negotiated with the Treasury in the form of an annual “pay remit”."

Which being so, ducky - get out there and negotiate it for yourself.

Daytime Roadworks

The petition is entitled Ban any roadworks taking place between the hours of 6am and 8pm in England and the explanatory notes say
"During the day there is obviously a lot of cars on the road. So why do we have roadworks in the daytime when they could easily do it during the night ? It would put an end to 80% of traffic jams."

The first problem I see with this is the noise. Lots of roadworks are noisy things. I'd be very pissed off if some silly sod decided to do roadworks outside my house in the night because of traffic jams. (As it happens, the house next door is having work done on it. Specifically, the room next to mine. The wall the rooms share is being drilled into. Now, yes, I should get up before they start at 9am, then it wouldn't be a problem. But I work well at night, which means sleeping in the morning. It sounds like someone's drilling in my room. Which wakes me up and scares me.

Secondly: the expense. You're going to have to pay your road-workers extra (I bloody hope you are, anyway) for working at night. And lighting the works is going to be expensive, both in capital expenditure to get the lighting and in electricity to run them. So it's going to be expensive. Doesn't sound good.

And thirdly and tangentially - why England? I mean, why only England? I've been caught in roadworks in Scotland and Wales, too. (Terrifying, on a narrow Scottish road where there's bogs to the left and roadworks to the right and it feels as if the available road's about 2mm wider than the car. Eeek!)

Finally - 80% of traffic jams? Really? I don't feel as if it's that high, myself. So many jams are caused by accidents and things, or just by sheer mass-of-traffic.

Online Voting and ID Cards

The petition is entitled introduce online voting in tandem with the introduction of the UK ID card scheme and the explanatory notes say
"I object to the introduction of the unpopular yet inevitable UK ID card scheme. However, this promised "secure" scheme should allow online voting through a secure internet connection. Should the majority of the UK, ID card-holding electorate sign an e-Petition it shall be introduced as law or be adopted as policy. Repeatedly this government has chosen to ignore the will of its people who they represent and serve. The people of the UK deserve a reactive government that is in accord with the electorate."

I agree, very strongly, with the sentiments expressed by the petitioner - in that the ID card scheme (and most particularly the little-mentioned NIR "database" associated with it) is utterly reprehensible, insecure, not going to achieve what it's claimed to be for, etc., etc. I could write a very pretty rant.

On the other hand, I don't see how the scheme can provide a secure way of voting online. At least, it could be made to, I think, but not as it's proposed. And if it were possible, I'd be more interested in seeing it being used for actual online voting in elections than e-Petitions, which as I've discussed before in the blog post entitled "Referendum" would need to be properly written and so on ... anyway, this is an Interesting Idea and I am Thinking About It.

Healthcare Reimbursement

The petition is entitled make provision to financially reimburse anyone that may be denied state provided healthcare and the explanatory notes say
"If this government intends to restrict healthcare based on an individuals lifestyle choices such as obesity or smoking it is reasonable to expect that if that person is or has been a taxpayer they are entitled to be reimbursed all past and future contributions to NHS funding as a proportion of their total tax burden so that they may make their own healthcare provisons."

This is, presumably, about a Labour Party plan (explanation in a BBC article) to allow patients to sign "health contracts" whereby, say, a person who wanted nicotine patches to help them to give up smoking would agree to attend a course to help them to give up. This does not yet appear to be Labour policy, only something that might be in the next manifesto. So "this government" would not appear to have any such plans. Consequently, campaigning to "this Prime Minister" might seem a little foolish.

Of course, the petitioner could have got the wrong end of the stick, and be complaining about doctors' entirely justifiably refusing surgery to someone whose health is so poor (as a consequence of their weight or their smoking or whatever) that the surgery is more dangerous than not-surgery. (Again, there's a BBC article about this.) I feel rather strongly that doctors and surgeons need to have this right. I was very angry when my grandfather, who was overweight and had heart troubles, but insisted on having a general anaesthetic for his knee replacement. It was frankly extremely dangerous for him to have a general anaesthetic in his physical condition, and completely unnecessary - except that he insisted. Fortunately it was all OK, but it was a foolish and unnecessary risk.

As far as I understand it, the "health contracts" plan would relate only to treatment highly specific to the condition (obesity, smoking-addiction, whatever), not to any other NHS treatment. So the "reimbursement" plan of the petition seems entirely unnecessary. But then - the petition itself sounds like the knee-jerk reaction of someone who's unaware of what's actually being proposed and who by.

Charitable TV Ads

The petition is entitled Control charities on TV Commercials and the explanatory notes say
"We are sick of have our homes intruded by Charities seeking funding on TV. We do not want it stopped fully but it needs to be controlled and the more graphic ones need more control to stop distress to those viewing TV."

Now, I have to admit that I don't watch TV. Haven't seen any of these "distressing" adverts. Have, in fact, no idea what the petitioner's on about.

But I'm moderately certain he's completely bonkers. There is a TV in one of the bars I visit regularly and from time to time it's on a channel with ads, so I'm not completely in the dark. I've never noticed an advert for a charity. Certainly not a "distressing" one. I assume it's something like the "shocking" adverts one sees on billboards and stuff - either the NSPCC "Full Stop" or the domestic violence campaigns that have been going on. Or any number of other ads-intended-to-shock. Generally speaking, in my opinion, the charity/public information adverts that are intending to shock bloody well ought to be, because they're about shocking things that people don't think about, or brush under the carpet. (Drink driving; AIDS; domestic violence; etc., etc.)

And if you have a complaint - that's what theAdvertising Standards Agency are for.

Fast Food Adverts

The petition is entitled legislate that fast food outlets should either show adverts that accurately reflect the meal we actually get, or serve meals that are the same as those shown in the advert and the explanatory notes say
"Ever wondered why your burger, or sandwich, or other fast food meal looks like a very poor cousin of that shown in the advert or glossy pictures in the window? So have I. It's time this practice ended. Not only would it be a useful tool in the war on obesity, it would make these fast food providers either improve the quality of the food they serve, or improve the honesty of their marketing.

Now, I will admit to occasionally succumbing to the strange temptation that is a Whopper With Cheese. I must say that I have never looked at one and thought "what! This is unrecognisable! It's not what the picture is!" It's the smell that lures me, anyway, not the pictures. Which to my way of thinking are reasonable approximations of the food, anyway.

No, really. If you don't like the difference between what's pictured on the menu and what you get when you order, stop ordering. Most places you can find some kind of alternative. And if you can't, you should have been better prepared.

Cut Taxes

The petition is entitled Reduce all taxes in the United Kingdom by 40 % and not to create any further taxes and the explanatory notes say
"This country has millions of hard working people who see alot of their money taken away by numerous taxes. Take for example the Council tax, year on year increases yet no real improvements. Most working people are now not seeing any increases in their salaries with most salary rises suspended, yet we are still expected to pay out higher taxes. I would like to see all taxes reduced by 40% with no further increases and also an end to any further taxes being made, WE THE PEOPLE HAVE HAD ENOUGH AND DEMAND FAIRNESS FOR ALL."

I sympathise. Really I do. Sometimes taxes seem obscene. Then you look at the costs of things like the NHS, or schools, or think about how much rubbish collection must cost, or ...

Look, mate, I feel moderately certain that government spending is approximately "open", if you want to try to understand the accounts. The National Audit Office publications page lists all kind of exciting accounts. Go get your head around them, then come back and tell us what you think should be cut that'll save that amount of tax. Go on. I dare you.

Vignettes for Visiting Vehicles

The petition is entitled Introduce a "vignette" as used in Switzerland to allow foreign vehicles access to UK roads and the explanatory notes say
"The huge influx of vehicles using UK roads and adding to congestion and wear and tear should be partially offset by introducing a modest charge, along the lines of the Swiss system but covering all roads, on incoming foreign registered vehicles.

The charge should be related to damage caused to the roads, so that cars would pay a lower sum than LGV's, should be valid for a period of 90 consecutive days, thus tourists would pay a nominal charge for use of UK roads, business and comercial users would pay a charge more consistant with the damage they cause.

Failure to display the "vignette" should result in a summary fine, enforced by retention of the vehicle until the charge and fine is paid.

Sounds quite a sensible idea. I don't know a lot about foreign cars and going abroad with cars and the like, never having done either, but it all sounds quite sensible. If, as the petitioner implies, we don't currently make provision for foreign (at least non-EU) cars paying a spot of "tax" or similar it seems a bit silly. But ... one question ...

The petitioner says "The huge influx of vehicles using UK roads and adding to congestion and wear and tear". What huge influx? I mean, I know if you drive the nice route between Durham and Edinburgh (the A696, through Kielder Forest and via Jedburgh; instead of up the hideous, horrible A1 through Northumberland), you see an astonishing number of Dutch cars. And, indeed, on the border there, up at the very top, there are parking places which have signs at the exit reminding you, in several languages, to drive on the left. But still - what huge influx, exactly?

Common Sense

This petition is entitled create a 'common sense' law, which overrides all other laws and the explanatory notes say
"We live in a society where people will sue anyone over anything.

I propose a common sense law. This law will override all other laws.

eg. If someone is breaking in to your house, and should suffer an injury, they should not be able to sue you. Common sense.

If you're stopped at a red light, and an ambulance/police car/fire engine comes up behind you, sirens and lights on, you should not be fined for moving through the red light so that they can pass you. (Common sense would also dictate that you make sure it is safe to move through the red light.)

I love this idea. It feels like such a great idea.

Only what's common sense, exactly? One man's pearl is another man's poison, and what I think is common sense someone else calls loony leftism and what they think is common sense I call raving Toryism.

It's a marvellously appealing idea, though.

Underground for West Yorkshire!

The petition is entitled Build an underground system for West Yorkshire and the explanatory notes say
"This would be investment for the future to create a World Class underground system for the whole of West Yorkshire. This would solve all the congestion and environmental issues by enabling people to get about easily and replace the buses and trains and trams and alot of cars. It would also link up all the towns cities and villages in the area."

This is another petition that seems to come out of nowhere - what are the problems faced by West Yorkshire particularly that an underground system, of all things, would solve? Underground systems are expensive - what on earth are the benefits?

I don't know all of West Yorks that well - I have family in Bingley and used to have grandparents in Bradford; I seem to have spent hours on trains between Leeds and Bradford or Shipley or Pudsey or wherever it was convenient for someone to pick me up. It all seemed to work - better than, say, public transport in rural Gloucestershire does.

So - er - what would be the point? Judging by, oh, Paris, London, anywhere else with an underground, you can't replace the buses or the trains, or the cars ... And it costs a shed load of money - for what? Madness.

British Pride

The petition is entitled Re-create Pride in the British Nation and what we have achieved and the explanatory notes say
"We have become too apologetic in this Nation and it is time we stood up and acknowledged the positive things we have done and celebrate that we have learnt from our past. It should no longer be that we are embarrassed to be British - rather we should be Proud. How can we engage others to join in our culture if we can't be proud of it ourselves?

Now, I suppose I should explain that I've never really understood national pride; you don't choose your nation, so what's to be "proud" of? I can understand the last sentence of these explanatory notes, I suppose.

But most of all, I look at this petition and say - Tony Blair, or the minion who writes his responses for him, is going to love answering this. He'll be able to talk about "Cool Britannia" and about the Olympics and basically just pat himself on the back, because he's certainly been talking the talk about this kind of stuff for years.

Monday, 26 February 2007

Scrapping Child Benefit

The petition is entitled scrap child benefit after the child is 5 years old when the mums go back to work and the explanatory notes say
"There is no need for tax payers to fork out for up to 16 years for other people's children when the mums can easily go back to work (at least part time depending on their situation) when the child starts school at the age of 5 unless they are still in education themselves."

With most of the loony petitions - see the one entitled "Corporal and Capital Punishment", for example - you can sort of see where they're coming from. Or one can say "Pah, someone's reading the Daily Mail too much!" But this ... I've heard of these anti-children people; certainly I know I've "met" some people online who think all children should be kept well away from them. But to go this far? Where are they coming from? What sort of society do they want to live in? One assumes the petitioner would also object to, oh, VAT not being charged on children's clothes, for example. It's just ... strange to the point of incomprehensible. To me, anyway.

First Class Train Tickets

The petition is entitled Scrap divisive First Class travel on Trains and the explanatory notes say
"I request that First Class Travel on Trains be scrapped. I commute into London (for which I pay £150 a month) and find it extremely annoying to have to stand in standard accomodation whilst there are many empty seats in the first class accomodation.

I believe that this separation of the accomodation on Britain's railways is extremely divisive and emphasises all that's bad about Britain's 'class' system.

I believe that all travellers should be travelling 'First Class' and that comfortable travel shouldn't be a privelege to be enjoyed by the few.

Indeed, I look forward to a day when all travellers can travel as one, shoulder to shoulder, in comfort and safety, as they speed to their destination.

Let's throw off the shackles and finally do away with 'First Class' travel.

Liberation now !"

Given the privatisation of the rail network, it's hard to imagine the government trying to take control of this, isn't it? And then - if they implemented "first class" style seating throughout the carriages, there'd be fewer seats, which would be annoying. And I hate it when carriages are so crowded one has to travel "shoulder to shoulder" with one's fellow travellers.

In other words - I love the Loony Left when they give me a grin like this.

Weekend Prisons

The petition is entitled Weekend Prisons and Holidays and the explanatory notes say
"Prisons are full often with people who should not be in prison full time. We need to look at alternatives to full time prisons. We would like to see the introduction of Weekend and bank holiday prison for thos in employment and in full time education. If a person has committed an offence and it is proven he/she are in full time employment it would be better for the country if they only attended prison in their time off i.e weekends and Bank holidays. This would keep those in employment still in the work force and earning money to look after their families and also to pay taxes. These in education would be monitored to ensure they were not abusing the system and if they were they would then be sent to a main prison."

This petition raises some interesting questions, really, about the purpose of prison. If it's intended as punishment, perhaps this theory might work. If, on the other hand, it's about protecting society from possible re-offending, then ... well ... this doesn't look so clever.

I wonder how many of the weekend-imprisoned would manage to actually remain in employment? If I were an employer of one of them I'd probably be looking hard for a reason to sack them.

Time for a new category/tag: Curious ideas. Mad, but curious, you understand. Thought-provoking.

School Holidays

The petition says abolish school half term holidays (ideally all holidays) and require children over the age of 10 to go to school 52 weeks per year (and not be allowed leave for holidays with parents) and the explanatory notes say
"It's half term!"

Shall we just let the teachers have this petitioner to do what they want with?

Philosophy and Religion in Libraries

The petition is entitled Completely seperate Philosophy and Religon sections in libraries and the explanatory notes say
"Libraries always put philosophy and religon next to each other. Philosophy is a method of critical thinking, whereas religion is based on faith not critical thought; therefore they ought not be related by contiguous placement. Philosophy is better placed next to Science."

Yes! Let's petition the PM to completely reform Dewey Decimal!

Personally, you note! We are requesting the Prime Minister himself to go around reshelving every library in the country! Yes!

Incidentally, in a lot of local libraries, the Science shelves are next to Philosophy - on the other side to Religion, obviously.

Wheat Crunchies

The petition is entitled bring back the worcester sauce flavoured wheat crunchies in the multipacks and the explanatory notes say
"these have been replaced by "cheese" flavour!!! whats that all about?? Not even "cheese n onion" but just "cheese"?!?!?"

I suggest the petitioner get better taste. Wheat crunchies? Of all the savoury snacks, these are possibly the dullest! (OK, OK, rice cakes are worse. But still ...)

Corporal and Capital Punishment

The petition is entitled bring back the cane in schools and capital punistment for criminals as there is no discipline in this country any more and it will only get worse and the explanatory notes say
"The cane would stop the out of control kids and maybe cut crime in the future it's better than no discipline what so ever. Why do we keep people in person who will never change and keep causing good people pain and make them scared to go out at night."

There is a marvellous quote I'm thinking of:
"What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?"

It is, of course, a quote from Plato. You know, the Greek philosopher from around 400BC. Apparently there's vast quantities of similar quotes in early Roman literature, too.

Student Fees

The petition is entitled Give Free Univerisity to Student Who Attain A High level of Pass and the explanatory notes say
"Credits should be given to all students who wish to attend University, These Credits should be topped up if the acedemic level is achieved in their exams, students who simply attend university and do not perform should receive no credits , this would be a way to reward our brightest and smartest students without penalising them, and it would send out the right message toward achievement."

It's not that bad an idea. Might be a bugger to administrate, and can you imagine the appeals people would make accusing people of favouritism and stuff ... but broadly, not a bad idea.

There's just something terribly, terribly ironic about a petition requesting free education for the most dedicated and able being written in such appalling English. (The creator's name appears to be British, incidentally.)

Unregistered etc. cars

The petition is entitled Remove all unregistered, uninsured, untaxed vehicles from the roads and the explanatory notes say
"Remove all unregistered, uninsured, untaxed vehicles from the roads, thereby delaying the need for congestion charging, PAYD pay as you drive schemes and making the roads inherently safer for all. Currently these anonymous vehicles are involved in more accidents and illegal traffic activity and NOTHING is being done."

Call me naive, but I'd have thought such cars were removed from the roads where found ... Searching for news articles on the subject I find a report from Stoke and Staffordshire about a clampdown on uninsured cars last July. And another report from Warwickshire saying that from 1st October 2005 police were allowed to seize vehicles they have good reason to believe are uninsured. Yet another article from Lancashire talks about an operation clamping down on untaxed cars last December.

So it seems to me likely that the police have the power to clamp down on these crimes, and presumably (I optimistically assume) do so where either it's causing particular problems or it seems like a particular efficient use of their time.

There's a distinct lack of major news stories about the harm the unregistered/untaxed/uninsured cars are causing the community as a whole. Either there's some major conspiracy suppressing the stories, or, erm, it's not a big problem. And I really don't think it's a big enough problem that a major clampdown would delay the need for congestion charges!

Money to Africa "and other countries"

The petition is entitled Stop giving our money to Africa and all the other countries and the explanatory notes say
"We are being robbed. All our past and present governments keep giving the peoples money away to all these countries who haven't progressed at all. They still sit on their haunches and breed.Why shouldn't they when we keep giving them more money. Yet we the British tax payer are having all our services quashed.Health,Education and the State pension etc. Although there is still enough money for the MP's to have their pensions.But we the working people pay more taxes there are new ones every year."

I suppose, before I mock this petition, I should try to find out exactly what proportion of "the peoples [sic] money" is being given to "all these countries who haven't progressed at all". I have this feeling it's not much, but to be fair, I don't actually know. I'd look it up, if I could think where or how. I've found a BBC article about Aid to Africa which says the UN's had a target, for the last 35 years, of 0.7% of national income should be given as aid - not that it's clear who this 0.7% should be spread between. And there's a pop-up thingummy from that article saying that the UK gave US$7.84 billion in 2004, which was 0.37% of GDP, and that this aid is mostly to Africa but also to Latin America, Asia and Eastern Europe.

0.37% of GDP. About half of what the UN recommends. And you're complaining about this amount being too high?!

Drug Control

The petition is entitled Recognise that Crime and Drug Dependency are now out of control and that to protect our children and culture he will give 3 years notice to adopt a Zero Tolerance Policy to all users of Drugs and abusers of Alcohol backed by free treatment or Custody Till Clean and the explanatory notes say
"Successive Governments have failed to create unambiguous policies towards drug and alcohol abuse and the crime and degradation that follows.

Our children now regard a "Spliff" as a right of passage and some advocate legalising drugs as the only policy.This simply adds to the confusion.

We,the caring majority,know that,given time,resources,and resolve we can ensure that future generations grow up knowing that ALL DRUG AND ALCOHOL ABUSE IS UNACCEPTABLE IN THE UK.

The 3 year notice will give addicts/dealers the choice of treatment and support OR custody.

Custody will be no soft option and "Cold Turkey" the dish of the day to remind them of the reason to get clean.

Yes, we will need more prisons and treatment centres in the short term but in the long term say 10 years society will reap the rewards.

Less crime and delinquency,stable and supportive families,the hope of a caring society where its no longer hip to be high!

We beg this to be YOUR legacy to OUR history.

Evidence, pls, Mr Petitioner.

Oh, and one big question: how are you going to define and diagnose alcohol abuse?

Benefit Reforms

The petition is entitled Limit payable benefit to the equivalent of a 40 hour week at the current minimum wage, with NO other benefits in kind, such as council tax payments and free dental care or prescriptions to all but the elderly and disabled and the explanatory notes say
"The benefit system creates an unfair advantage to those who are currently unemployed. Many of those are unwilling to work, so after benefits are paid, the council tax is paid , rent is paid, dental care , health care, food tokens and all other benefits of one sort or another are paid, these people become far better off than others who are working and struggling to survive, having to pay ALL their own bills. The Government should also introduce a system of insurance for people to be included in their national insurance contribution, that guarantees a benefit on enforced redundancy at the equivalent of approximately 85 - 100% of the wage as paid at the time of redundancy, protecting people who have worked, but are unable to do so through no fault of their own."

One assumes that this petitioner has never so much as met an unemployed person, let alone taken the time or trouble to find out how much "benefits" (all the multifarious sorts) are actually worth. That is the only explanation for their ignorance.

"Kanine" database

The petition is entitled Compulsory Kanine D.N.A. Database and the explanatory notes say
"This petition is for a Compulsory Kanine D.N.A. Database to be set up so that owners that let there dogs foul in public places can be prosecuted by the D.N.A. of their dog's excrement."

One: utterly unfeasibly unenforceable; Two: unbelievably expensive to manage even a little bit.

Pensioners' Perks

The petition is entitled Provide all pensioners with free energy, free TV licence, free glasses, free telephone, free broadband Internet and 50% Council Tax charge and the explanatory notes say
"Pensioners have worked all their lives to contribute to the UKs economy. They deserve to live comfortably with some benefits."

The obvious problem with this is that some pensioners are quite rich and don't need this kind of assistance, and it'll cost a fortune providing it to them that could otherwise be spent on less fortunate pensioners.

Saturday, 24 February 2007

Roaming Pets

The petition is entitled Ban uncontrolled free-roaming pets (such as cats) and the explanatory notes say
"Make it a requirement for people to keep their own animals within their own property. Cat mess is unpleasant and a health hazard for kids. Its not right that people can let their animals run wild over your property."

I rather get the impression from the RSS feed that each petition is approved by some kind of moderator (pity the poor mod!) before being put up on the website, because by and large they are only appearing in the day. So I expected the weekend to be quiet. Only I happened to mention to someone the child benefit for cats petition, and then had to link to it for them, which meant searching the petitions for the term "cats", whereupon I noticed this little gem which had previously passed me by.

Now, to be fair, feline excrement can carry very nasty things which children certainly need to avoid (is it listeria, particularly? I forget. Probably more than one nasty, anyway). And while cats are normally, most of them, tidy and bury their shit properly, not all of them do, and it can be very unpleasant. I believe the best possible way to avoid having cat shit in your garden, if you live in a much-catted area, is to have a cat yourself. Other methods include using orange peel: cats very much dislike citrus oils, so pop a bit of orange peel round the garden and it should help.

Or you could try banning free-roaming pets. It might well reduce the problem - if you could enforce it in any possible way. Feral cats would still exist, though, not to mention foxes (urban and rural), rabbits, badgers and all the other roaming creatures who, well, roam.

And this is an animal-loving country; you'd never get people to go for that cruelty in legislation. Bonkers.

Friday, 23 February 2007

Chip & PIN

The petition is entitled We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to ban pins on credit and debit cards and bring back the signature and there are no explanatory notes.
Chip & PIN is not entirely free of security concerns; the biggest problem, as far as I am concerned, is the way it has enabled banks to shed liability in the event of fraud happening. On the other hand, it also has benefits, and when someone merely says "stop this thing now" with no explanation of their objections, I firmly plonk them in the "mild madness" category at once.

Sex Offenders' Registers

The petition is entitled Make for public viewing the names and addresses of all convicted sex offenders and the explanatory text reads
"Follow the example set in the U.S and make available for public viewing the name and address of all convicted and released sex offenders.

This petition clearly falls into the Green Ink Brigade on its spelling and in-depth knowledge of US law.

At this stage I'm not going to go into details about why I think this is a particularly bad idea; that's not the point of the blog. Most of my objections are covered by the Wikipedia page about Megan's Law and those that aren't presently I'll probably add shortly, since I've just discovered their lack.

This is a very serious and highly emotive subject and I've had some fairly substantial abuse hurled at me in the past for my opinions. I sha'n't respond to any that comes up this time; express your objections civilly by all means and I'll be happy to debate.

Royal Prerogative

The petition is entitled Return the powers of The Royal Perogative to The Sovereign (HM Queen Elizabeth II) and the explanatory notes say
"The Royal perogative is now in the hands of The Prime Minister and His Government, not the current Sovereign. The Royal perogative should be returned to The Sovereign absolutely. Thus ensuring that serious matters requiring the Royal Perogative remain the responsibility of The Sovereign. The right to declare War falls under the Royal perogative as a significant example, and should be returned to The Sovereign. Thus accountability for actions requiring The Royal perogative would reside and remain with The Royal Sovereign."

Why? Why, instead of leaving these powers in the hands of the elected, should we return them to the hands of someone who inherited?

And for that matter, have you asked Her Majesty if she wants them back? I've just had a look at Wikipedia, which has a nice description of the powers included in the Royal Prerogative, and I'm not sure, if I were an 80-year-old woman, I'd want the responsibility to "keep the peace" over the country, for example ...!

Wine Markups

The petition is entitled limit the outrageous mark-ups that restaurants currently allowed with wine-lists and the explanatory notes say
"It is a scandal that leisure/cultural pursuits are so expensive in London. Without a shadow of doubt, one of the most guilty is the criminal mark-ups that restaurants are allowed to the sale of wines. Bottles of £3.99 wine should not be allowed to be resold at £20.00 - unlike most politicans - many of us actually have to foot the bill themselves"

Actually, I don't suppose the markups on wine are nearly as outrageous as those on other products. I bet that at the restaurants in question, you won't get change from £2.50 for a half-pint of Coke - which will have cost the place pennies.

But even if that is the most outrageous example in the world of scandalous over-pricing, you have a choice, Mr Petitioner. Don't buy the wine! If you must have it, buy it for £3.99 in Bottom's Up and drink it at home!

If you want to live in a society that isn't a free-market economy, on the other hand, campaign for that as a whole - and I think I'll take up campaigning against you, because, well, as a system it seems to work reasonably well.

Income Tax on House Rental

The petition is entitled Introduce 50% income tax on house rental income to help first time buyers and the explanatory notes say
"First time buyers are being denied access to the housing market by people purchasing multiple homes. If everyone were limited to two houses, after which there was a blanket 50% income tax (with no tax free band) on the third house owned if rented, then 75% for the fourth and any consecutive then the house market would be more easily accessible to first time buyer snad the poor."

I hope to be a "first time buyer" some time soon (I've been hoping this for the last three years, so I'm not holding my breath) and goodness knows house prices are terrifying in most of the UK.

But I really, really, really don't think that this would help. Let's suppose it was brought in tomorrow. My landlady, who is a professional who owns a number of houses, keeps several permanent maintenance staff, sets her rents fairly, treats her tenants well, etc., would be paying a vast extra sum on lots of places. Like I say - she's a professional. She makes her living this way. She sets the rents fairly, but she does also make a profit. Naturally. She needs to. So if she were paying extra taxes on the rents, I'd be paying the extra tax ... Which would rather cut into my ability to save a deposit for purchasing a house in future, wouldn't it?

This wouldn't penalise landlords. It would penalise tenants. Those who, for whatever reason, can't buy their own places - or don't want to. Disproportionately penalise the "poor" that the petitioner's attempting to help. Oops.