Monday, 26 March 2007

Joint Accounts and Credit Cards

The petition is entitled Abolish joint bank/credit cards etc accounts &/or make the banks take responsibility for the misuse of these accounts from either party and the explanatory notes say
"It is becoming an everyday occurance where people are taking & stealing from joint accounts or trying to gain money by putting the other party into huge debts, & getting away with this. It seems that people who are honest are having to pay back the money, when it should be the person who is responsible for causing all the problems. The banks & the government should also take responsibilty for what is happening, as well as education the public of this"

We all make mistakes. We all, sometimes, trust someone we shouldn't trust. We all, sometimes, have our trusts abused.

I'm not quite convinced that this should be solved by preventing all people from having shared accounts. You know, couples who've been married forty years or so ...

The possibility of making banks liable if one of the parties misuses the account/card is probably more viable, though I'm not completely sure.

But I definitely don't think that just because some people are not trustworthy, all people should be prevented from trusting.

Rewards for Those Without Cars

The petition is entitled reward people who don't have a car and the explanatory notes say
"Why not reward people who don't have a car (through poverty or through choice) with an annual benefit that would make using public transport more affordable? Paying people £500 or £1,000 a year for not having a car may make it easier for people to give up their vehicle if they don't use it much and reduce the temptation to travel short distances."

There's a lot to be said for a carrot-rather-than-stick culture. The only thing is - this is only going to be an encouragement to people who really can practically get rid of their cars. Most people really, really feel they can't. So while this would be a nice inducement to people like me (who already don't have cars!) it's not going to do a thing to encourage people like my mother (who needs her car to work) to use public transport more often.

Surely a better use of the money would be to make public transport cheaper for everybody, to encourage people who need cars some of the time to minimise their use?

Asthma and Prescription Charges

Apologies for the hiatus. I have been feeling singularly non-venomous. Fortunately for you, the electrics blew earlier and upset my computer, so now I'm in a bad mood. :)

The petition is entitled Recognise athsma as a life threatening condition and as such provide free athsma medication for sufferers of the disease and the explanatory notes say
"Presently, people with life long and life threatening illnesses get their prescriptions free. Athsma is both life long and life threatening and yet we have to pay at least £6.75 per inhaler to survive. I, for example, get through on average 6 a month, so you do the maths..."

There's nothing as such wrong with this petition. Not all life threatening and/or life long disorders get free prescriptions, however - the PDF leaflet about "Help with Health Costs from the Department for Health lists only hypoparathyroidism, hypoadrenalism for which specific substitution therapy is essential, diabetes insipidus and other forms of hypopituitarism, diabetes mellitus except where treatment is by diet alone, myasthenia gravix, myxoedema, epilepsy requiring continuous anti-convulsive therapy, a permanent fistula requiring continuous surgical dressing or an appliance, and any continuing physical disability which means you cannot leave home without the help of another person. So not all life threatening and/or life long conditions, then.

Furthermore, if you are using six inhalers a month ... the Department of Health also notes that
"Patients who have to pay for more than five prescription items in four months or 14 items in 12 months may find it cheaper to buy a pre-payment certificate (PPC)."

You can buy them online from the Prescription Pricing Division at a cost of (as of 26th March 2007) £34.65 for four months or £95.30 for twelve months. The prices are changing on the 1st July 2007.

I have a sneaking suspicion that I've heard an asthma nurse say that using that many inhalers is a sure sign of the asthma being inappropriately controlled, but that may depend on which kind of inhaler is being used. At any rate, the petitioner need not be spending on each prescription independently.

Tuesday, 20 March 2007


The petition is entitled award mediawatch the knighthood it deserves and there are no explanatory notes.

Who wants to break it to the petitioner that you can't knight a pressure group?

Monday, 19 March 2007

Protecting Children

The petition is entitled save our precious children from all the evil paedofiles and the explanatory notes say
"We need laws and legislation that once the police have caught any paedofile, and they are found guilty they are then locked up for the length of their life. We need harsher sentences and life should mean life with no appeal. Our children should not be abused in any way - they should all have a happy life without evil peering round the corners of our streets."

To be honest, while I don't particularly agree with the sentiment in its entirety (or the spelling, for that matter), I'm most taken by the idea that there are "evil" paedophiles and "precious" children - the implication being that the non-precious children need not be protected from anyone, and that the precious children only need to be protected from the evil paedophiles, not the non-evil ones!

As far as anything else goes I shall merely point out that the petitioner has fallen for the hype; that the same proportion of children are subjected to sex abuse and to stranger sex attacks as ever were, and that the vast majority of sex attacks on children are by people known to them.

ID Card Costs

Three petitions I broadly agree with but that annoy me by their similarity here ...

The first is entitled Supply the first ID card free of charge and the explanatory notes say
"I object to ID cards on the grounds they are just another money making exercise for the UK Government. I believe that if the government really believed in them they would issue the first one for free. If I then erased mine by my own error then I have no objection to pay for it to be replaced."

I object to ID cards (and most particularly the NIR) on a whole range of grounds - but this is a damned fine one to start with. Of course, I suspect the Government's answer will be that the things have to be paid for somehow and if the cost isn't explicitly to the purchaser, then it'll be carried by all tax-payers. And since they're nominally not going to be compulsory (at least at first) why should everyone carry the cost, etc. But still - it's a good spirited suggestion.

The second is entitled Issue the first National Identity Card free of charge and the explanatory notes say
"By the time National Identity Cards are required to be carried the issuing system will have been paid for through taxes. On that basis, as we have already paid for it, the first National Identity Card should be issued free of charge."

I imagine that the answer is going to be that the issuing system may have been paid for initially through taxes but that these costs should be recouped to be fair to those who aren't getting one, or something along those lines.

The third is entitled remove the cost of ID cards, should they be compulsory and the explanatory notes say
"Sould everyone over the age of 16 have to have an ID card then the cost of this should be nothing, as people do not have a choice."

Again, the response is obvious: the funds have to come from somewhere, even if they are compulsory. Additionally, we can expect a good deal of blether about how they will not (to begin with) be compulsory, that it will simply be "convenient" to have one.

Drug Patents

The petition is entitled Extend the period of Patent for drug companies and the explanatory notes say
"To enable the companies to have more time to make a smaller profit per item, but over a longer time. This would result in lower prices for perscription drugs and stop the practice of the Goverment insisting on the use of inferior drugs that cost less but have adverse affects on the patients."

This would be marvellous if you're naive enough to think that the companies would actually charge less per-dose as a results ...

The petitioner also seems to have a strange idea about alternative drugs, too. To the best of my knowledge, a doctor can prescribe whatever drug he/she likes (assuming it's in the BP or whatever it is, and licensed for the relevant condition, etc.). If the thing is out of patent and there is a generic product available, then this must be used - but that's a generic that's exactly equivalent pharmaceutically, to the best of my knowledge.

In short, naivety, madness, or both. Probably both.

Sunday, 18 March 2007

Beer Tax

The petition is entitled Scrap the tax on pints of beer and the explanatory notes say
"If you enter a public bar, you pay zero rate tax on beer sales."

Yet another "But why?" Why beer? Should this apply to all drinks bought in pubs? What about restaurants? The supermarket? What about packets of peanuts? But above all - why? What's wrong with paying a tax on something that is - no, really, it is - a luxury, not a necessity?

I'm beginning to think I need to create yet another category: WHYYYYYYY?

New Tax System

The petition is entitled Abolish ALL individual tax's and replace with a fair single bill system and the explanatory notes say
"Our system of paying various & numerious tax's, many based on income or expenditure rather than benefit recieved, is completely unfair to all (particularly the people who are prepared to work hard for a living). This taxation should be replaced with a system where everybody in the UK, be them permenant or temporary, is given a single, detailed, bill for what it costs to live in the UK. Having a detailed bill will also allow the people of the UK to see where our money is spent, and can make informed choices about our leadership. Using this system would dramatically reduce the number of government bodies and employees who currently collect various tax's and therefore further reduce costs."

Apparently the petitioner doesn't like living in a moderately socialist society - doesn't, perhaps, believe in living in a society at all.

We do not pay our taxes for our benefit. We pay them that society benefits. In a very tiny way, the tax and benefit system is based on true communism: from each according to his abilities; to each according to his needs. This is justice. This is society. Action for the benefit of all.

And an insurance plan, of course, if you are entirely incapable of altruism. You pay your taxes to support the ill, the redundant, the elderly - and if/when you become ill, or redundant, or elderly, other people will pay their taxes to support you.

I wonder whether the petitioner is suggesting that the bill be based purely on the benefits to self (how on earth would you calculate road-use, library use, defence spending, for pity's sake?), or on a bill simply consisting of the total expenditure on societal things divided by the number of people in the UK (in which case - children? Do their parents pay?). Either way, it's sheer madness, as cim commented in response to my post Benefits and the NHS.

It astonishes me how few people have given thought to the purpose of the tax system as serving society. Perhaps they haven't thought about society at all. They need a good fwapping. I wish I thought that whoever writes the response to these petitions would provide one - but I fear that is over-optimistic in the extreme.

Administrative Affairs

The petition is entitled Establish a dedicated government department aimed at improving the efficiency of the government machine. The Minister for Administrative Affairs be a cabinet level figure to ensure concern with good governance is shared at the highest level and the explanatory notes say
"There is a pressing need to improve efficiency at the highest level of government. This department would create a dedicated team, led by high calibre civil servants with a nose for detail, who could seek out maladministration and nip it in the bud. This dynamic hub of activity should be seperate to the Cabinet Office and number 10, being it's own fully fledged department."

I do hope the civil servant who let this through in spite of the clear position from the EPetitions site that "We decided it was impossible to justify this use of Civil Service time, or to come up with clear guidelines as to what amounts to good or bad taste. Reluctantly therefore we have decided no longer to accept petitions which are obviously intended as jokes."

For the benefit of any hopelessly naive teenagers who happen to be reading in bewilderment (hello, Will), I suggest a brief perusal of Wikipedia's page on Yes Minister, followed by perhaps a chat with your parents and, if at all possible, some watching of the show or reading of the books.

Police and Tacos

The petition is entitled place taco cards in all police cars and the explanatory notes say
"we are worried about the speed through streets by police cars. they should have taco cards for over the speed limit. Also an independent check on taco cards to see if speed was warrented more often police cars speeding unwarrentd. its a danger to the public"

From Wikipedia, "A taco is a traditional Mexican dish comprised of a rolled or folded, pliable maize tortilla filled with an edible substance." I thought it was doughnuts police officers were particularly supposed to eat?

One assumes they're actually meaning to suggest the installation of a tachograph. I have a vague feeling, based possibly on watching "The Bill" fifteen years or so ago, that police cars tend to have some kind of positioning system so that the central station knows where they are all the time, and I can only think that if so this could be modified for the purpose, and for all I know might be already. But this is only vague haphazard thinking.

Mostly I'm just imagining the police with their tacos.

Cars per Household Again

The petition is entitled Limit every household to just two cars and the explanatory notes say
"I am asking the Prime Minister to make it a criminal offence for every household in the UK to have more than two cars, regardless of the number of individuals living in the property. We need to take urgent action to stem our road use, ease congestion and protect the environment."

This is a far more sensible petition than the similar one I talked about in Cars per Household. So much so that I'm not about to label it a duplicate.

The only real flaw is defining what a household is. Are my five random stranger housemates and I a household? What about one family I used to know, who a few years ago consisted of two elderly but active parents and one middle-aged developmentally disabled son - who holds down a job as a mechanic very happily but isn't really capable of living alone (gods only know what'll happen to the poor chap when his parents have both died - as it is, he and his increasingly frail, now-widowed, mother lean on each other most touchingly!). It would have been hopelessly impractical for them to be restricted to two vehicles - and why on earth should three adults who choose to share a house have to be counted thus? We're forever being told that adult children (as it were) can't afford to leave home because of house prices - preventing them from having vehicles as well is inviting a world of unjust trouble!

Cash for Teenagers

The petition is entitled Give each British child from the age of 13 up to 18 £10 a week and the explanatory notes say
"The only money available to teens at the moment is the EMA and this only applies to those post 16 and in education. If this petition is passed then each child once turned 13 shall recieve £10 a week which will be collected at the post office so there is no need for a bank account.At the moment there is no personal source of income for a child if they do not work or are not 16 or over and in education. This money will stop parents beeing bugged for money."

I can't decide what order to take the possible objections to this in ...

Since I've decided on my arbitrary use of ONS statistics which show that from 1991 until 2000 at least there were a reasonably consistent approximately 12,000,000 children between 0 and 15. Ergo there are roughly 750,000 young people per age - so about 4.5 million kids between 13 and 18 (inclusive). At a cost of £520 per year per kid, that's about £2.34 billion. Now, according to the Department of Health the NHS's running costs for the financial year 2003-2004 are something like £61 billion. So not counting the administrative costs for this project (which I'd guess would be substantial), it would cost about the same per year as the NHS costs for a fortnight - which sounds like, well, lots.

Other objections can be expected to include a profound resentment of encouraging children to depend on government handouts, and complaints about a reduction of parental control (money can be both carrot and stick in childcare; this would reduce that for parents).

Then there's the most important question: why? "To stop parents being bugged for money"? This really doesn't sound like a good reason to me ... and the sort of kids who'll bug their parents with any persistence will probably continue to do so. What's a tenner?

Saturday, 17 March 2007

Compulsory Voting Twice

Joy for the duplicated lunatics!

The first petition is entitled Pass a Law making Voting compulsory and the explanatory notes say
"With the trend in low voting turnout becoming higher with each election, it should be made compulsory to vote at all elections, to get a true picture of the government that the british people want. None of the above should be included on the vote form so that those who do not hold political views are seen to be voting."

The second petition is entitled make it compulsory for all voters to vote in elections for government and the explanatory notes say
"Too many people in my opinion complain about legislation passed by elected officials of this country. Voting should be made compulsory to establish a true representative government of the people. For those uninterested in who wins ensure a new catagory is placed on every ballot paper stating "none of the above". Consideration should also be given to moving election dates to a sunday to allow maximum time for all to vote. A fixed penalty fine of £5.00 could be implemented for none compliance, to be given to charity."

Now, considering that if you click on the "Create a Petition" link you're told
"Before creating a new petition, please use this box to check whether a petition already exists which makes your point. If so, please add your name to that petition. We will not create duplicate petitions making identical points"

I suspect that at least two people have been idiots here. The creator of the second petition, and the Civil Service bod who passed it ...

It's not that I object to the idea, which does, after all, seem to work for the Australians. I just object to the duplication.

Abolish Holidays!

The petition is entitled Abolish al Public Holidays and the explanatory notes say
"Employers never seem to get public holidays or much annual leave so why should employees ?. Increase the wages , abolish public holidays change the annual leave to non paid ."

So because some people, who have chosen to run their own businesses, end up taking very little leave, no one else should get any either?

It's rather telling that the "short name" the petitioner has chosen (which creates the permanent link to the petition) is "1fedup". Seems that the petitioner is personally fed up with his choices and wishes to impose them on everyone else ...

Criminals and the Army Again

The petition is entitled Make Criminals Join The Army And Serve In War Zones During Their Sentence! and the explanatory notes say
"Relieve the burden on the state by making criminals serve their sentence constructively by joining the Army and serving in war zones, this will eleviate the strain on our prison space and tax payers, and provide a more contructive way to repay their dept to society, whilst easing the current pressure on our Armed Forces."

Not only is the petitioner an inconsiderate muppet (c.f. my previous blog entry Prison Overcrowding - Conscription), but she hasn't the nous to check to see if she's duplicating another petition, either.

So let me repeat: this would be enormously unfair on the armed services, who have signed up to serve their countries as professional soldiers, not as prison officers. It would, I imagine, be grossly expensive in terms of NCO time and probably also military police time. It would further degrade the status of the armed forces in the public's eyes (and clearly petitioners like these don't think much of them in the first place!).

What I should have said in detail last time I posted about this, and didn't, was that for any woolly liberals who think they'd benefit from a more sympathetic and/or understanding and/or positive perspective on the military, I recommend either or both of John Ringo's Legacy of the Aldenata books and/or John Ringo and David Weber's Empire of Man series. The first two books in both series are available from the Baen Free Library. This blog is in general a stunningly negative thing; it is nice to be able to positively recommend some life-brightening things as well.

Car Engine Size

The petition is entitled reatly reduce road tax on bigger engine and the explanatory notes say
"surely road tax is in place to pay for fixing/replacing roads? then how come 6 months tax for me costs £100, where an almost identical car with a 1.6 engine costs much less, even though the damage caused would be the same? this extra money doesn't even appear to be used for carbon exchange projects, but on other ways to tax us using technology (pay per mile, speed cameras, congestion charges etc)"

Actually, since a larger-engined car is heavier than an otherwise-identical car with a smaller engine, I imagine they cause more road damage ...

NHS Entitlement

The petition is entitled Restrict the NHS to British citizens and UK residents only to protect the NHS from privatisation and the explanatory notes say
"This petition would guarantee to stop privatisation of the NHS and would cut the costs of running the NHS by £millions. It would also stop non-tax payers to scrounge off YOUR money that you pay legitamitly to the government."

Who, exactly, does the petitioner think is entitled to NHS treatment?? The Citizens' Advice Bureau website makes things quite clear, and to spare you clicking, let's summarise.

Some treatment is available free to anyone at all:
  • treatment for accidents and emergencies as an outpatient in a hospital’s accident and emergency department. Emergency treatment in a walk-in centre is also free of charge (England and Wales only). However, if you are referred to an outpatient clinic or admitted to hospital from an accident and emergency department, you will be charged
  • compulsory psychiatric treatment
  • treatment for certain communicable diseases, such as tuberculosis, cholera, food poisoning, malaria and meningitis. Testing for the HIV virus and counselling following a test are both free of charge, but any necessary subsequent treatment and medicines may have to be paid for
  • family planning services.

So not much there, then.

Furthermore, some people are entitled to all NHS hospital treatment free of charge. These are people who:
  • have been living legally in the UK for at least 12 months when you seek treatment, and did not come to the UK for private medical treatment. Temporary absences from the UK of up to three months are ignored
  • have come to the UK to take up permanent residence, for example, if you are a former UK resident who has returned from abroad, or if you have been granted leave to enter or remain as a spouse
  • have come to the UK to work, either as an employee or self-employed person. This does not include people on short business trips
  • normally work in the UK, but are temporarily working abroad, have at least 10 years continuous residence in the UK, and have been abroad for less than 5. However, if you are studying abroad you are not entitled to free NHS treatment
  • are receiving a UK war disablement pension or war widows’ pension
  • are an asylum seeker or have been granted exceptional leave to remain or refugee status. Proof of your immigration status from the Home Office may be required. If you are refused asylum you may be required to repay the cost of any treatment you have received
  • are imprisoned in the UK or detained by UK immigration authorities
  • are a UK state pensioner who spends up to six months a year living in another European Economic Area (EEA) state, but are not a resident of that state
  • are working in another EEA country, or in Switzerland, but are paying compulsory UK national insurance contributions
  • are a student following a course of study which lasts at least six months, or is substantially funded by the UK government.

There are also reciprocal arrangements within the European Economic Area and various other countries, whereby their residents here can get NHS treatment and our residents there can get their treatment.

In other words, the vast majority of people entitled to NHS treatment are already, as the petitioner requests, "British Citizens and UK residents". The few others - well - it doesn't feel as though either justice would be served by cutting them off from it, or much money would be saved either!

In short: what guarantee that this would prevent the privatisation of the NHS? None at all!

Private Education Tax Rebate Again

The petition is entitled make public school fees income tax deductible and the explanatory notes say
"Whilst we support progressive taxation as a guiding principle of our social democracy, public school fees should be income tax deductible because of the tangible reduction to the burden on the public purse which results from sending a child to private school."

The petitioner clearly hasn't thought this through, just as the petitioner I wrote about in Tax Rebate on Private Education hadn't.

I, having no children at all, put no burden on the public purse by requiring them to be educated, but I pay my taxes towards that potential education all the same. I see a dentist privately but pay the taxes that support other people's NHS treatment, none-the-less.

Your taxes, petitioner, are for the education of society's children, not your children.

P.S. Ooh! I forgot to say - interesting that the petitioner only thinks this should apply to public school fees; only, that is, the "leading" private schools.

"Wholistic" blether

The petition is entitled List in a global 'dictionary' and make practice of the word Wholistic and the explanatory notes say
"Negotiates to inform Government of wholistic awareness. Seeks funding as wholistic consultant. Paradigms developed since 1993 shaped & shared across the board. Seek funding for 7 online outreach 'Wholistic consultants'. Units banked with NOCN. Volunteers practice the Wholistic self, documenting experiential learning for the provision of wholistic awareness. Founder listed with NHS Directory of Complementary and Alternative Practitioners & Member of a Registered Charity. Expect on consultation to arrive at the real meaning of the word "Holistic" & awareness 'bridging the gap' between mainstreams of education to the complementary (post 16) fields of Learning. Objective- share experience of wholistic learning techniques in the ‘digital age’ to statutory agencies, organizations and communities that wish to develop a simple understanding of the word wholistic."

I'm impressed. Fully fifteen people so far have understood this petition (and presumably also its notes) well enough to feel able to sign it. I wish one of them would explain it to me!

The petitioner lists herself as belonging to Universal Learning Volunteers, so I visited their website to see if I could get any sense out of that. I must say they have an exceedingly pretty butterfly-of-light background image to their first page - it's a pity it is so high-contrast that you can't read all the text. And indeed that the HTML of both the index page and the main page beyond it are invalid, so that it renders hopelessly in the browsers I have available to me. All overlapping text and stuff.

I do not find the website deeply enlightening. "Universal Learning is committed to bridging the gaps between 'mainstreams' of education and the 'complementary' fields of learning", which is all very laudable. "The Association for the Development of Universal Learning - is an on-line network of individuals who support the development and application of a Universal approach" - OK - for people who believe in a holistic approach to everything, apparently. Dirk Gently would be thrilled.

Aha! A button labelled "Principle" - where it says "The process of W*Holistic Management entails two steps; 1. ANALYSIS (taking-apart the 'problem' to see what makes it 'tick;') & 2. SYNTHESIS (putting it back together, ticking better!)" That sounds to me like ... er ... the only way to solve a problem. A perfectly normal method employed by ... anyone. What's "W*Holistic" about it?

I took a trip over to the Quackometer and found to my amusement that in the Little Black Duck's opinion, "The quacking noise is deafening. This web site is riddled with loosely defined terms and possibly pseudoscientific language. It shows no sceptical awareness and so should be treated with a suspicious mind."

I must say I agree with the Duck. I find it very difficult to put a finger on why this all sounds nonsensical and psychobabble-y - some of it, of course, sounds perfectly sensible, only expressed in a flowery and almost-incomprehensible way.

Undoubtedly there are times when a holistic approach - to use the conventional spelling - is valuable. Particularly with psychological health problems, but also in all sorts of other cases.

Which doesn't mean we need quackery and incomprehensible gibberish like this.

English Language and Construction

The petition is entitled make it comulsary for all construction workers in the UK to attain a specified level on English lanuage ability and there are no explanatory notes.

Which is a pity, because my overriding question here (as so often) is "WHY?????"

If their employers are satisfied with how a person works and with their own ability to communicate with their employees, what's the problem? (That goes for the people employing the construction company, of course, as well as for the bosses of the construction workers.)

If you wanted doctors, or nurses, or anyone else obviously public-facing, to be subject to English tests, I might agree. But to pick a hypothetical random example, an experienced Polish construction boss who's lived here for years and is functionally bilingual could employ an entire staff of Polish workers with varied levels of English proficiency quite happily, couldn't he? And if you don't like it, you don't have to employ them. What's the problem?

P.S. "Comulsary"? "lanuage"? May I suggest you undertake a trifling revision of the language yourself?

Water as a Fuel

The petition is entitled Explain why water, as a totally environmental fuel source, is not in widespread use within this country? and the explanatory notes say
"Many companies have devised simple methods of breaking down water into its basic components of Hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O). A company in Canada has devised not 1 but 2 ways of achieving this. H is a very efficient fuel source and has the added benefit, when heated, of re-attaching to O making it recycleable. Why is this not the only fuel source we use? Could it be that we would have no further need for Oil, Gas and Electricity companies? How would the government recoup the lost tax revenue? Is this the true reason for the road pricing policy? Serve the people Mr Blair and not vast Corporations! Do the right thing!"

I applaud the petitioner on his ability to grasp one minor point while failing utterly to understand its implications! Even more I applaud the five other people who've signed it in the last three days, without noticing the enormous flaw.

It is, indeed, extremely simple to break water down into hydrogen and oxygen. Very simple. No need for companies to "devise methods" - you can find it in any GCSE chemistry textbook, I think.

The difficulty is that this "breaking down" takes energy. More energy, in fact, than you later get back by using the hydrogen to generate energy.

Broadly, we deal here with the first law of thermodynamics - that energy cannot be created or destroyed - and with the second law of thermodynamics, which (among other things) says that you cannot have perfect efficiency. In other words - we can't get as much energy out of a system as we put into it.

Everyone evidently needs a tame physicist to answer this sort of question before they make an idiot of themselves asking it publicly of the prime minister (who, not being a physicist, probably can't answer it without help anyway).

Prisons Abroad

The petition is entitled Build Prisons abroad where land is cheaper to accommodate long serving criminals and the explanatory notes say
"We need more prisons yet land is expensive in the UK so why not build prisons abroad to house criminals serving long sentences? This would then free up prisons in the UK so that criminals can be properly punished instead of having to release them early for good behaviour. This could save the taxpayer millions every year."

Why on earth should "abroad" want our criminals imprisoned on their land ...?

Slightly unsure about the "free up prisons in the UK so that criminals can be properly punished" - it almost suggests that only the shorter-term prisoners here would be "properly punished".

Then there's the question of who'd be employed as prison officers. Presumably not British citizens - you'd have to be paying enough for them to come and go from whichever bit of "abroad" was chosen, which would surely be filthy expensive. Or if you were employing locals - well - the UK would have to do things very carefully in order to have the right to dictate how prisoners were treated, and to keep up inspections, and so on.

There is also the issue - if one is concerned by this sort of thing, which many petitioners clearly are not - of the prisoners' rights. In particular I think of family contact ...

But mostly I think - no government with any sense would allow the UK to run a prison on its soil. Now, I don't know that governments normally have any sense at all, but I can't imagine them having that little.

Flying Cars

The petition is entitled Fund research into the development and intergration of flying cars to British Airspace and the explanatory notes say
"Death, accidents and traffic jams are common throughout Britains roads, however there is an alternative that has been explored yet.

Flying cars will relive all traffic congestion, decrease the amount of time driving (direct routes) and cut deaths on the road to 0 as A) Cars wont be on the road to cause deaths B)If you have a flying car you will not want to crash it

So i urge the government to give more funding to this new form of eco-friendly travel."

Someone wanting to live in the 2000s predicted in the 1960s, I see ...

I'm particularly taken with "If you have a flying car you will not want to crash it". D'you know what - I don't think people want to crash their non-flying cars ...

Given how many bad drivers there are, I cannot imagine how disastrous this would be. And I'm also quite unconvinced by the idea of routes just being a free-for-all - on the one hand I'm not sure how you'd make it not be, but on the other I cannot imagine how chaotic a free-for-all would be.

And then there's the practicality ... Being airborne is tricky. It requires lots of effort. Personal helicopters, say, are not practical things to be around. A few very rich people haven't them causes little trouble, because aside from anything else they all-but-forcibly (possibly forcibly ... I'm not quite sure where to look up how, if at all, their use is restricted) land in controlled places and generally fail to be around the public.

I strongly suspect that no amount of research is going to make flight eco-friendly. It might, possibly, maybe, decrease congestion. The sheer energy-expenditure of keeping heavy things up in the air, however, is not going to be eco-friendly until and unless there's an eco-friendly method of energy generation and storage. And I really don't share your optimism that accidents would be reduced!

Benefits for the Young

The petition is entitled Make Benefits Fairer to Young Single People and the explanatory notes say
"Stop unfairly favouring those with children in the benefits system. They choose to have children, and should not do so if they can't afford them. Stop increasing payments of benefits for 3rd and subsequent children. The world is overpopulated. Large families are a luxury, not a right. A woman with 5 children can get the equivalent of a £35,000 salary, when some single young people who work have to survive on £11,000 and repay student debts. Make rates of all benefits the same for those aged 18-24 as for over-25s; why is someone under 25 not entitled to the same standard of living? When calculating benefit entitlement, assume anyone over 18 does not wish to live with their parents - many young people can't afford to move out, and the state does not help them but happily saves on benefits at the expense of ordinary, hardworking parents. Introduce low-interest loans to assist young people on low incomes to pay for a deposit on accommodation."

For whom do you think child benefits are? Who is intended to benefit from these benefits? The key is in the name - the children.

I quite agree with the bit about those between 18 and 24 getting less benefit than over-25s, by the way - that's quite insane. And the "low-interest loans" to assist young people finding accommodation I'm ambivalent about.

But I really, really, really don't like the petitioner's assumption that innocent children should be penalised because their parents chose to have them ...

Friday, 16 March 2007

Compulsory Contraception

The petition is entitled make the contraception jab/implant compulsary for all girls under 16 and the explanatory notes say
"This would help tackle the fact that children are having babies. They are a drain on resources."

Thought number one: my word - that'll be great for the significant number of people who're affected badly by hormonal intervention, then!

Thought number two: The Victoria Gillicks of the world will be delighted with that! I suppose in theory Gillick's complaint that she should know if her under-16 children were being given contraception would be null, since she'd know jolly well they were - but that's really not her point, and I'm sure she and others would complain about it encouraging children to be promiscuous.

Thought number three: I imagine some other complaints would be made to the effect that it would encourage carelessness with respect to sexually transmitted diseases, and also that it would encourage boys and young men to treat contraception as purely the woman's responsibility. And I can't say I'd disagree.

Thought number four: I wonder what it would cost, compared to what it would prevent? The Office of National Statistics gives faintly confusing data ... it tells us that in 1999 there were 3.9 pregnancies leading to maternity per thousand girls aged 13-15. It also appears to say that there were 4.4 abortions per thousand girls aged 13-15 who conceived, which seems infeasibly low. Their abortion figures suggest that in 1999 there were 3.8 pregnancies leading to abortion per thousand girls aged 13-19. I suppose, to get an upper bound, we could add those together and say that in 1999 there cannot have been more than 7.7 girls per thousand aged between 13 and 15 who got pregnant.

Then we wonder how many of them there were, not per thousand, but at all ... We go back to the ONS and find that in 1999 there were 12,000,000 children aged between 0 and 15. If we assume (dodgily, but it'll do) that they were evenly spread in that age range, we get 2,250,000 children aged 13-15, and therefore 1,125,000 girls. Which leaves us with a hair under 8,700 pregnancies (we think that 4,300 lead to the children being born and 4,400 lead to abortions). Maybe. Based on dodgy maths.

So. What would it cost to implant or jab all the under-16s? Presumably we don't actually want to bother with the babies ... given that in 2006 we had the brouhaha about Scotland's Youngest Mother who got pregnant at 11, I suppose the petitioner wants us to start at least this young. (I do wonder about the medical implications for those girls who, at 11 or so, are not yet through puberty ...) So by the same extrapolation we used earlier, I assume that in 1999 there would have been some 3,750,000 girls to be jabbed and/or implanted.

What do jabs and/or implants cost? I have failed dismally to find an actual answer to this. The nearest I can find is the price-list at Marie Stopes International, which won't, of course, be charging exactly the cost. They make a "profit" on this price-list, as the website says "Some of the money from the fees people pay in our UK centres goes towards supporting our work in developing countries". Furthermore, it's going to include the cost of the personnel ... but then again, it would also cost the NHS/government in personnel as well as simple costs.

An injection, at Marie Stopes, costs £25 and must be repeated monthly, so there is an annual cost of £100, ignoring follow-up appointments and so on. An implant costs £240, but lasts three years, giving an annual cost of £60. Let us therefore assume that the implant would be most cost-effective - it also having the benefits of being removable if the girl has a bad reaction to it, and of the implanting giving minimum disruption to the girl's life.

If the actual cost were £60, therefore, the cost for 1999 of implementing this project would have been £225,000,000. Even if we assume that Marie Stopes International makes around a 50% "profit" to spend elsewhere, that's still over a hundred million pounds. Or some £11,000 per pregnancy it might prevent ...

There have to be cheaper ways.

There are many other good arguments against this proposal. But I've spent hours randomly calculating the cost, so I'm going to stop arguing now. Hopefully everyone can see that it's mad anyway.

Balfour Declaration

Ordinarily I skip over anything "Israel/Palestine" related as contentious, complicated, controversial and simply too scary for me. But as I scrolled through the list of the day's petitions I saw two new ones side by side:

An interesting contrast to the usual problem of duplication, no?

It's worth noting, perhaps, that I feel an urge to mock the first of the petitions, not for its content, but for its petitioner's inability to do maths. The explanatory notes for the petition start:
"At a time when the Prime Minister is apologising for the slave trade, we think it appropriate that on this 100th anniversary of Lord Balfour's historic letter to the Zionist Federation, he apologise to the Palestinian people for the suffering caused to them by Balfour ..."

Um. I hate to break it to you, but 2007 is not the 100th anniversary of 1917 ...

Thursday, 15 March 2007

Equine Passports

The petition is entitled Cancel the Charge of Equine Passports and the explanatory notes say
"I understand that the charge of a passport for your Horse is £30 i wish for you to abolish this charge as this ruling for every horse in the UK to have a passport was a valid Law but to charge for this is unreasonable."

A quick prod at the BBC shows that since the 28th of February 2005 it has been compulsory to have a passport for a horse if you wish to move it from place to place, or to sell it.

So far as I can tell, it's not strictly necessary to have one otherwise. And according to another BBC story, the cost is £75, not £30 ...

So. Broadly speaking, charging for compulsory things makes me twitch. But actually, these aren't compulsory, any more than a driving licence, a TV licence or a passport are compulsory. You can choose not to have a horse ...

Stop Immigration!

The petition is entitled stop all immigration in to this country and the explanatory notes say
"stop all stop all immigration in to this country until it is known how many refuges are already here and speed up/reduce the time it take's to deport"

All immigration? So an American friend of mine, who recently married her British long-term partner, and who's got a job as a university lecturer here, couldn't stay after all? A (purely hypothetical invented-on-the-spot) elderly Indian widow whose son's been here 20 years and has taken British citizenship and who wants to come live with him to help look after his kids and have them look after her, can't come? What about all those Australian and New Zealander teenagers who come doing a world tour and stay a few months working in bars - is that immigration that would have to stop? Or Eastern European au pairs? What about the vast quantities of Indian and Japanese and Chinese students that make up so many students at our universities?

None of them can come any more? Until we manage to count how many "refugees" there are - which, actually, I think we already know, since a refugee is surely someone who has been granted asylum, which means they've been noted and, I assume, counted, by the system.

Or is this just yet more ill-thought-out, knee-jerk, point-free rubbish? Why yes, so it is.

(I've said it before - I'm biased. My grandparents immigrated to the UK from the Netherlands and duly supported themselves and their children here until the children were grown up, and then supported themselves until their deaths. Contributed enormously to their local communities, and in my grandfather's case national community, too. I take exception to people wanting to prevent people like them from coming here.)

P2P File Transfer

The petition is entitled Ban Peer to Peer Communication Software and the explanatory notes say
"Considering the immense uprall of peer to peer communication technology, and the relative knowledge and avalablity of it, I propose that it is banned completely, rather than have inumerous inadequate attempts to police these applicactions.

Taking in to account the immense problems that the music industry is coming under, it seems farcical to allow these scroungers to destroy the industry."

I'm going to resist the temptation to point out exactly how dubious the petitioner's claims of "immense problems" for the music industry are, and how little evidence there is that any form of pirating is "destroy[ing] the industry".

But let's ignore that. It's contentious and complicated and I can't be bothered.

Let's think about the practicality. People download software from all over the place. The internet has no international boundaries. Well, OK, there's weird stuff possible at a high level, c.f. the Chinese censoring stuff, - but I don't think that this could be applied merely to software downloads. You can ban people from downloading the software, but that certainly isn't going to stop anyone, and you're not going to be able to police it.

Furthermore, even if you could invent some deeply clever way to enforce the ban, people would merely use other methods to transfer music and other files between them.

It does also seem a little unfair on those amateur musicians (and probably not-signed-to-big-companies pros) who want to promote themselves by any means possible and for whom P2P is a good way of getting their music out there.

Protection of Law Abiding Citizens

The petition is entitled Protect Law Abiding Members of Society and the explanatory notes say
"The laws of the United Kingdom have been set out through the ages to protect society. If a person has been found guilty of breaking these laws, then they should not be able to claim protection under the same laws that they have willfully broken."

So, say I ... get caught speeding; doing 35 in a 30 zone, say. And then six months later I'm raped. Say. Your position appears to be that I would then have no entitlement to have the rapist caught and charged with his crime ...

Or perhaps you mean only literally "the same laws". So that, perhaps, someone who committed a burglary when young and foolish, but took his punishment on the chin and has since reformed and lived a sin-free life, should have no protection against being burgled himself?

If this isn't what you mean, petitioner, may I suggest you rephrase yourself? You are not Humpty Dumpty, and when you say something it means what we understand the words to mean, no more and no less.

Fake Tans

The petition is entitled legislate against the excessive use of female grooming product within males on the triage/new claims unit within multinational insurance companys. This must extend to manicures and fake taning products. The reasoning behind this is the lack of productitivity resulting from constant preening and looking into mirrors is damaging both the national economy and our standing within the world economy. Firther to this the level of fake tan is also becoming a health and safety issue due to the stange orangey glow coming from the male members after they wallow in there vats of St Tropez!. There are no explanatory notes.

Come to that, there is no grammar.

In fact, I think that there is no sanity, and nothing to say. I present it to you uncommented. I trust it makes you laugh as much as, on contemplation, it is making me laugh.

Probationary Driving Licences

The petition is entitled introduce a Graduated Driving Licence to include a two year probationary period after passing the practical test and the explanatory notes say
"During this probationary period newly qualified drivers must display P plates and must not carry more than one young passenger unless there is an adult over the age of 25 present (excluding parents carrying their own children). Drivers would not receive a full licence until they had safely completed this period which could be extended following traffic offences. This type of licence is the only measure shown internationally to have cut the rates of death and injury in this group."

This appears to be a better-phrased version of the petition I talked about in A Variation on Driving Ages. It doesn't discriminate against young people, and while it doesn't provide direct evidence, my prodding has indeed shown that (per the Department for Transport), several countries in the EU do indeed have measures like this, which presumably they believe to be effective. (I haven't actually found any evidence that they're effective as such. But I've found plenty of evidence that people believe they are, possibly for good reasons. Which is a start.)

The only thing - aside from "more bloody duplication" - that bothers me about this petition is the "not having other young people in the car without adults" bit. I suppose I see what it's getting at - the risk of young people inciting each other to idiocy. (And goodness knows I remember being in a race between two 18-yr-olds when I was 17. Terrifying. It happens.) Or perhaps rather than "young people" the petitioner merely means children, to not put them at risk or something. The DfT link doesn't suggest any other countries have this practice, however, so I'm not sure why the petitioner thinks it should be added.

OK, I'm biased. I grew up in rural Gloucestershire where public transport verged on non-existent. It was an enormous relief to my mother when my friends got old enough to drive so she no longer had to drive 30-mile round-trips regularly to take me to and from rehearsals. And of course it was a huge boon to one's social life when people started to be old enough to drive. Notwithstanding the aforementioned racing incident.

On the other hand, I'd probably add zero-alcohol-wossnames to the restrictions. Austria has this, and so too (from Wikipedia) do several Australian states.

At any event: a nice sensible petition overall, which is disadvantaged by being merely a sensibly-written version of a previous one.

Benefits and the NHS

The petition is entitled make people pay a proportion of their benefits to the NHS and the explanatory notes say
"all people who are hard working tax payers have to pay for the NHS out of their wages, what about people who have never worked? They should have a reduction in their benefits and it SHOWN that the reduction is to pay for the NHS. There are many 16 year old mums who have never paid anything into the system who get the services of midwife, hospital for the birth etc etc .WHO DO THEY THINK PAYS FOR THIS SERVICE.If you are to reduce the benefit it may make them think twice if they can see that someone has to pay."

The fundamental problem with this bit of lunacy (aside from the usual problem that the petitioner has clearly never discussed being on benefits with anyone who's actually on them) is that, of course, benefits are carefully calculated (in theory at least) to be a small but possible amount on which to live. If one took some of it away to "pay for the NHS", one would need, to be just, to increase the benefits by the same amount ... In other words, you'd increase admin complications (which would cost money) without getting any back - and what evidence do we have that this would "make [anyone] think twice"? None. Think twice about what, for that matter. It's a bit blooming late for these hypothetical teenage mums to think twice, isn't it?

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

England for the English

The petition is entitled Allow the English to govern England and the explanatory notes say
"create quotas for Irish, Welsh and Scotts to live in England. Ban nationalities other than English sitting in Houses of Parliament."

This petition is so simplistic as to be impractical - so much so that I suspect, yet again, that the petitioner is not entirely serious.

On contemplation, I find that Tony Blair was born in Scotland; so, one assumes, was Gordon Brown; John Prescott was born in Wales; John Reid is Scottish; Ruth Kelly was born in Northern Ireland; Tessa Jowell was educated in Scotland ... the more I investigate the Cabinet the more of them seem to be not-born-in-England - I begin to think that this is a good idea after all! Let's decimate the Cabinet and make them start again!

But more sensibly ... completely breaking up the UK into its constituent parts would probably be enormously complicated, and assuming all the parts became members of the EU, they'd mostly have to allow people in and out and things ... then you'd have to sort out who actually belonged to which nation (birthplace? then what about people who've become naturalised as UK citizens?)

What chaos it would cause! And to what avail? What benefit? Oh ... right ... none. (Except possibly ridding ourselves of NuLab!)

Complete Tax Change

The petition is entitled facilatate a system where the collection of tax in done in a efficient manner and the explanatory notes say
"I ask to government to roll all taxes (current and future) including Vat, petrol tax, council tax, income tax, national insurance, passenger departure tax, road charging, inheritance tax, stamp duty (and any other taxes i may have forgotten)together. Then instead of all the complex tax collection methods make the tax system more efficient by taking 100% of each income and giving back an allowance to live on, say £20pw. An increased allowance would of course be payable to Members of Parliament and Ministers"

So what you're actually suggesting is that everyone's salaries/wages be paid to the government who then give out a "living allowance" which is the same for everyone, except for MPs who'll get more?

I'm trying to imagine out what would happen ... Workers would no longer be motivated to negotiate higher pay, so instead they'd negotiate lower pay (as low as possible, really) but "perks" - broadly what I'd probably try for, I imagine, would be for almost everything I spend money on to become classified as an "expense" which I could then reclaim from the company. I'd have to negotiate some kind of deal about exactly how much I could claim and what for. And presumably most people would do the same thing.

Of course, this proposal would vastly change our society: impossibly so. I strongly suspect the petitioner is joking - particularly given the final sentence. In short: BONKERS.

Immigrants' rights to benefits

The petition is entitled Before Imigrants are granted permission to Stay in the UK. They must prove that they are financially able to support them selves and any dependants for 12 months without having to rely on the State and the explanatory notes say
"Like many other western countries. Should Imigrants wish to move and live in the UK. They must be able to support them selves and their dependants for 12 motnhs without needing assistance from the state. This includes housing, transport and all other living expenses."

Has the petitioner done any research?

There's a nice little guide that the BBC provides explaining who is entitled to live in the UK.
  • EU and EEA nationals from the pre-expansion EU must live in the UK supporting themselves and their dependants for six months before being entitled to benefits.
  • Nationals from the new EU member states, in Eastern Europe, must live in the UK for two years before being entitled to benefits.
  • Commonwealth citizens may claim benefits as soon as they arrive if they can prove they intend to make their permanent home in the UK.
  • Spouses and under-18 dependent children of permanent UK residents (i.e. citizens and those entitled to live here permanently) may live here, and under some circumstances unmarried partners as well. Presumably they're entitled to benefits, but equally presumably their partner's income is taken into account.
  • Widowed parents and elderly parents and grandparents of permanent residents may come to the UK providing they are not going to be dependent on the state.

That appears to be the sum total if people who can come to the UK and claim benefits, except for refugees/asylum seekers, to whom a whole different set of criteria apply.

So. What changes does the petitioner wish to see? An extension from six to twelve months that an EU national must be resident before being entitled to benefits, apparently. I'm sure that's going to have an enormous effect on everything ...

Pound Notes

The petition is entitled bring back the use of the good old one-pound note! and the explanatory notes say
"Like many others, I have fond memories of the old one-pound note and I would like to see it reinstated for general use as is still current in Scotland. It was a great signal of Great Britain and it im not asking for it to replace to one-pound coin but merely as nostalgic alternative to it. It would give a lovely aspect the next time you ask your friends to ‘lend us 40 sheets till pay day’ because they could technically lend you 40 pound notes, and the best thing about the pound notes is that you always feel like you’ve got more money in your pocket than you actually have thus promoting good feeling throughout the nation! Come on guys please sign this for old times sake!"

Madness on so many levels ... Disappointingly I'm failing to find the news reports and things I know I've read, long long ago, about the total lack of durability of banknotes, though the Bank of England's need to issue around a hundred million new fivers every year - that is, nearly half of the number in circulation - in other words, I think the life-span of a five pound note appears to be ... ah! The BBC reported in 2002 that the life-span of a fiver in 2002 was only about nine months. Judging by the bank's more recent statistics that seems to have risen somewhat recently, but still - they're not long-lived things, clearly. Whereas coins, the same BBC article points out, have a life-span of decades.

So. It appears that for small denominations, notes are not economically a good idea. Hence the coins. (In my experience, while one-pound notes are still theoretically in use in Scotland they are vanishingly rare). So how exactly is this rapidly-tatty bit of paper "a great signal of Great Britain"??

I rather infer and assume that having notes instead of coins for small denominations is expensive. You pay for the nostalgia-pound-notes, then, Mr Petitioner!

Capital Punishment

The petition is entitled use the dealth penalty for everyone who breaks the law and the explanatory notes say
"No one would break the law then"

Someone has sort-of signed this petition with the "name" of
"These get better. Right. Just off to turn myself in - nicked a biro from work and so must die."

Really, I'm not sure there's any more to say than that.

However, let's try. First problem I see relates to miscarriages of justice. Because these sometimes happen, you have to let people make appeals and things. When the punishment is loss of life, traditionally, more appeals are allowed. So capital punishment is expensive and time-consuming for the entire justice system. Having it for all crimes would cause chaos - unless you disallowed all the appeals and things, whereupon you're going to kill innocent people.

But perhaps you believe that everyone's guilty of something so everyone should die. That might work.

Then there's the fact that presumably no one would plead guilty to anything any more, because that way they might have a hope of living. I'm under the impression that this would lead to vast quantities of jury trials - so more expense and time-consuming-ness.

Then, of course, there's the fact that you'd end up killing almost everyone. I think my only law-breaking's been speeding, for which I've never been caught - though you may wish to include my occasionally pinching a bit of milk from a housemate. Still, it's probably true that you'd end up killing everyone. Which could get a bit complicated - once you were down to twelve people, you couldn't have a jury to find them guilty ...

I rather imagine that fewer people would be found guilty than currently. I don't think, if I were on a jury, I could bear to find someone guilty of ... well ... much, if the sentence was bound to be death. And I don't suppose I'm alone.

I'm not even sure it would stop me speeding, given that I usually do it either entirely by accident or on a motorway where there are hundreds of cars all of us going at 80mph.

Underage Drinking

The petition is entitled require all establishments that sell alcohol to ask for approved identification from any individual that appears to be under the age of 35 and the explanatory notes say
"Aim is to make it harder for underaged individuals to obtain alcohol. Also, the excuse that someone looked to be over 18 would be much harder use."

Thirty-five?!?!?!? So many problems ... People don't necessarily have ID, and certainly don't necessarily carry it - you'd be making a lot of people's lives a lot more complicated. That's the consumer's point of view. Then there's the retailers - all that ID checking is going to take ages and be a right royal pain when shops and bars are busy.

This would be hopelessly unpopular with everyone, therefore - and how much gain would there actually be? How many 18-yr-olds can actually pass for 35? The irresponsible places where under-age people currently buy alcohol would probably ignore the law; very few under-age drinkers would actually be inconvenienced. While an awful lot of sensible, law-abiding adults would be put to an awful lot of trouble!

Uniform Banknotes

The petition is entitled print exactly the same bank note and coins in the united kingdom and the explanatory notes say
"there has been a loop hole for years, we are one country but use different types of notes, lets close this loop hole. Keep all the banks running but printing off the same notes and coins and rename the banks e.g. British bank of scotland, British bank of England ect. this way the historic names of the banks are not erased but edited. Also have on the notes bank of britain or bank or United Kingdom instead of the bank of england est."


What problem is caused by the different notes?

OK, sometimes it's a nuisance to find shops (particularly in the South) refusing to accept Scottish notes. But this is easily overcome and a very small problem to bother about.

I just don't see the point in changing - and apparently the petitioner thinks it's so obvious s/he doesn't need to explain ...

Shared Parenting

The petition is entitled Tackle Young Offending By Introducing A Presumption Of Shared Parenting And Opening Secret Family Courts and the explanatory notes say
"Britain is in breakdown. Family breakdown. The secret family courts are creating a ‘Generation X’ of children. Children who are turning to crime. A lost generation growing up without the love and discipline of their fathers. We the undersigned call for the urgent introduction of mandatory mediation before couples go to court, a legal presumption of shared parenting combined with a fully transparent system of justice that can restore public confidence in the discredited family justice system."

To do the petitioner justice, he has been completely up-front about his personal bias here - he's from Fathers 4 Justice.

He starts with a dubious premise - that "Britain is in breakdown", for which I personally see little or no evidence. We can return again to the old Plato quote:
"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?"
There are many such quotes from around the same time; I really should look up a new one for next time I need one.

This alleged breakdown he ascribes to absent fathers - that is, forcibly absent fathers. While I was trying to find figures for how many people grow up without their fathers, a passing reference reminded me of the post-war generations (of which there have been several) where vast numbers of children grew up without their fathers because the fathers had been killed. One wonders why they didn't, er, lead to Britain breaking down.

Mandatory mediation before court sounds like a good idea, I must say. Presumption of shared parenting has flaws, though I wouldn't dispute it provided the courts had the right to override it. And the question of increased transparency - well, a quick Google indicates quite a lot of people, including assorted family judges and MPs, are in favour of increased transparency, and I can't say it sounds like a bad idea from this very limited research I've done.

So in fact what the petitioner's asking for sounds quite reasonable. It's a pity, therefore, that he's based it on illogical rhetoric about a breakdown for which he has no evidence and linkages between this alleged breakdown and something which may be entirely unrelated to it.

Product Placement

The petition is entitled Allow understanding of the effectiveness if product placement as a form of marketing communication and the explanatory notes say
"Product placement in films and television programming is being increasingly used by marketers to counteract the fragmentation of the media and the sophistication of audiences. HELP US!!!"

Does anyone know what the petitioner is asking for?

I don't think anyone's dis-allowing understanding of the effectiveness of product placement. After all, the marketers seem perfectly aware of it, seem to understand it, don't they?

I suppose he's probably asking for some kind of restriction to be placed on product placement as a form of advertising - but I don't really see how such a thing could be implemented, or justified. (OK, one should be sure that the BBC doesn't end up using it. But that's about all.)

What do you want, man?!?

Cat-Car Interactions

The petition is entitled make it compulsory for drivers involved in an accident with a cat to report the accident to the Police and the explanatory notes say
"Every year, hundreds of beloved pet cats are run over and killed on our roads but it is not a legal requirement to report an accident involving a cat, as it is with dogs. Cats are not classed as animals within the Protection of Animals Act 1911, from where the rules stem. Cats as pets are no less loved than dogs and careless drivers should have to report it to the Police if they are involved in an accident with a cat. Many owners whose cats simply didn't come home would have achieved closure had the drivers concerned been legally required to report the accident to the Police."

I'm a cat-lover, but use of phrases like "achieve closure" bring me out in rabid wish to murder someone's cat.

The police are quite busy people. There are quite a lot of feral cats who belong to nobody. It is quite easy to hit a small animal like a cat without harming it, or without knowing what's happened ... I once saw a cat go under the wheels of the car in front of me - hurtle across the road and go right under the wheel, which passed over its midsection - and then continue to hurtle up the bank on the other side of the road, apparently unhurt. Really strange sight, that was.

I don't think I've ever hit an animal, but I do think it's possible to do without knowing. And more than possible to do it without knowing what you've hit. If this were made law, and if I did hit something, I'd get paranoid and probably end up reporting having struck a squirrel a possible glancing blow, because it might have been a cat, or something.

If you just made it a requirement to stop and check what you'd done and report it if you'd actually killed a cat, I suppose a very, very few people might hear what's happened to their cats who wouldn't otherwise.

At what cost, though? In police time, in particular - for every dead cat reported presumably they'll have to take some kind of action to try to track down the owners, or at least keep a register so people who's cats are missing can come and check ...

How complicated. How expensive in time. How ... pointless.

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Absolute Monarchy

The petition is entitled transfer all of the government's executive power to the Monarch and cease holding elections and the explanatory notes say
"It is clear that the present system of elected 'representative' government is not meeting the needs of the public. Politicians are not trusted and, once elected, not accountable, except to each other. Elections simply guarantee that power is placed in the hands of the very people who should be denied power at all costs. Therefore, we must stop holding elections of all kinds and immediately return to a system of absolute monarchy. This system would be permanent, hereditary and presided over by the House of Windsor."

There's an almighty leap of logic from complaining about the unaccountability of our "elected representatives" to declaring that this means we must return to an absolute monarchy ... I mean, how exactly would that be an improvement in terms of accountability?

Now, the Queen seems like a decent enough woman, and Prince Charles isn't a bad chap for all his lunacy on green-ness, and for that matter Prince William comes across as quite a reasonable kid. But none of these things imply they're marvellously fit to rule a country in actual practical terms (rather than being figureheads, which I suspect they're all quite capable of). And even if, actually, their decency means they might muddle through - what happens if you get someone who's not?

This spins off into an interesting little bit of philosophy that is never really dealt with in a couple of series of books that I'm quite keen on in general. Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga and David Weber's Honorverse both have hereditary heads of state in their main societies. (In the Vorkosigan novels, Emperor Gregor has some approximation of absolute power, though each of the sixty Counts has a substantial autonomy in his district. In the Harrington novels, Queen Elizabeth is constrained by a constitution and houses of parliament.)

Both of these sets of books portray strong, honourable monarchs who deal admirably with their power and responsibility. It makes things all look very nice and shiny. What they show less is how this breaks down where a monarch is not strong, honourable and able to cope. Bujold skirts the issue by talking about what a nightmare things would have been had Emperor Gregor's father, Prince Serg, survived to take control after Emperor Ezar's death. The clear result would have been a mess of monumental proportions, she indicates, with the inevitable result of even more people than normal trying to assassinate the Emperor, and Pretenderships and Coups and all sorts of exciting things like that. Basically a mess. Weber's books are more idealistic and fail (as far as I can remember - admittedly I prefer the Vorkosigan saga and have read them more often and more recently) to cover potential problems with the situation at all. All the members of the House of Winton (and many of the aristocracy) are Fine Noble People who one can't imagine being anything other than great monarchs. This is not, unfortunately, realistic.

The petitioner should really go away and read Shards of Honor, the first ten chapters of which are available free, and cover the stuff I'm talking about. Then he should think about what would happen if we got a Prince Serg. Then he should think again.

Everyone else should just read either or both of the Vorkosigan Saga and/or the Honoverse novels because they're good.

Birth Certificates

The petition is entitled Make the fathers name compulsory on Birth Certificates and the explanatory notes say
"I feel that it should be compulsory that fathers names are shown on all Birth Certificates.At present only the mother can decide whether the fathers name is shown on the certificate. This is wrong, as the child has a right to know it's roots.I know from experience how awful it is not to know your parentage. It has completely ruined my life and I suspect hundreds and thousands of others too. I have never known the details who my father was as my mother to this day, will not divulge. No matter how dreadful the circumstances of my birth I feel I have a right to know. I have always felt like half a person,I hate it that others are feeling the same way! let's do something about this.Thank You!"

I'm very sorry about your heartbreak, oh petitioner. But do you think that this would actually work?

At present, as far as I can tell from the General Register Office website, a father who isn't married to the mother has to explicitly sign himself up to be registered as the father. He must do so in the presence of a JP, Magistrate or similar. So it wouldn't be possible to (as I had first thought she might do) mothers like yours to simply invent a name and address. But the simple question - how do you force a woman to say who the father is? I suppose you could make it a crime not to name the father - in which case I suppose you imprison a woman who's just given birth - and what on earth do you do with the baby?

Then you'd have to make special provision for anyone who'd been raped by a stranger, obviously. And indeed anyone who'd been raped full-stop, I should think, because even if you'd decided to keep a baby conceived in a rape (which I believe a few women do, for a variety of reasons) you might well justifiably not want the father getting parental responsibility.

Then there are - I believe - dippy women who get pregnant on one-night-stands when they don't know the father's name or anything about him. Hard to imagine for a cerebral prude like me, but I believe it happens. Is it really fair to criminalise this?

And of course you'd also have to criminalise refusing to be named. Which seems unfair - "they say" there are women who deceive men to get pregnant, and even if this is rare, I feel one should take the possibility into account in legislation.

In short, I really don't think that this is practical. I do not believe the petitioner has thought with his brain. And unfortunately, legislation that's all heart and no brain is not good legislation.

Education in Crime Prevention

The petition is entitled Make mandatory educational a component of sentencing and the explanatory notes say
"In order to tackle the number of people who become involved in repeat offending due to their poor literacy and numeracy preventing them from finding employment, the government should make attaining B at GCSE Math and English (+ 1 practical subject) a precondition for release from prison for repeat offenders."

I shouldn't mock this perfectly reasonable suggestion, I really shouldn't.

But there's something terribly ironic about someone suggesting poor literacy is a problem and therefore requesting "mandatory educational" and that people study "Math". It's unbelievably cruel of me to mock. But I'm afraid it made me laugh.

People really, really should proof-read ...


The petition is entitled enforce a law that makes bookmakers have to lay a bet to lose a certain sum and the explanatory notes say
"The betting world is full of many shameful operations, that restrict some punters from betting more than very small sums. I believe that any bookmaker granted a license, should have to display on thier premises/website a "we will lay any horse to lose" sign. Therefore customers would know where they stood"

Does anyone understand what the petitioner's requesting?

I think he's saying that he wants bookmakers to be forced to make some specific bets. I certainly can't see why they should! Further, what does this request have to do with his first sentence, about "restrict[ing] ... punters from betting more than very small sums"?

Me no understandee!!

A Variation on Driving Ages

The petition is entitled enforce all under 25's to show a P-plate for two years after passing driving test and the explanatory notes say
"In order to reduce the risk of serious accidents involving young inexperienced drivers, there should be a compulsory "P" plate to replace the "L" plate on passing the driving test. This would indicate to other road users that a) the driver has passed the driving test b) the driver is young c) the driver is inexperienced. The "P" plate would only be available on "lower-powered" cars, say less than 1.2 lt. At the end of 2 accident free years, a further test could be taken and then the restriction could be lifted. If a culpable accident occurs then consideration would be given to extending the duration of the P-plate. Anyone who should be on P-plate use and caught driving without would have their licence withdrawn and would need to be put through the standard test again."

At least this petitioner hasn't decided young people have no right to drive at all. I suppose that's progress.

I don't think I'm inherently opposed to this idea, either - in its very broadest outline. I don't see why it should only apply to new drivers under the age of 25, and I don't know that having a second test is terribly practical, or yet restricting it to "lower-powered" cars. Also I suspect it's hopelessly impractical - how on earth would you enforce it?

You'd need to change the law about learners - currently (providing you can get insurance) you can learn to drive in any kind of car. It would hardly be fair for you to learn in you parents' high-powered thing and then not be able to drive it having passed your test!

But the idea's not bad. It's just that the specifics don't seem well-thought-out.

Monday, 12 March 2007

Test Voters

The petition is entitled introduce a competence test that individuals must pass before they are permitted to vote in elections and the explanatory notes say
"The current process of democracy, allowing every citizen to vote regardless of understanding or intelligence, is far from ideal. The process allows charismatic individuals (and politicians) to generate a large following amongst the populace with shallow, poorly thought-through policies that do not stand up to detailed scrutiny. The process also breeds apathy among highly-educated voters who feel their views will be outweighed by a mass of voters with a poor grasp of the issues, having been seduced into voting for the high-profile individuals. We propose a mandatory test to be completed by every subject of the land, to show competence in the understanding of basic politics and governance before being permitted to vote in elections."

Mmm, yummy, Jim Crow laws ...

Cards on the table: I am one of the "highly educated" voters who feels (as I posted in Cut the Knee-jerk Law-making just a few hours ago) that their views are outweighed by a mass of voters with a poor grasp of the issues.

I still don't think this is any approximation of a good idea. I made fleeting reference to things of this nature in the post about Reggie von Zurbach, regarding a petition that wanted people to pass an English/Welsh language test before being allowed to vote.

Even if one accepts the concept that people have to be "worthy" to be allowed to vote, actually testing this "worthiness" is bound to open an enormous can of controversial worms. Even if you've decided that people have to be "competent in the understanding of basic politics and governance", you're never going to get agreement on a test that successfully measures this. So it's hopelessly impractical on that level.

But in any case, why do I have any right to say who should or should not have any right to vote? I might say that Person X has no right to vote because they are ignorant and credulous and knee-jerking voting because the Sun's told them to - but they might say that I have no right to vote because I'm a do-gooding liberal idiot. And who is to say that I am more right than them? Obviously in my opinion I am right and they are wrong - but why should my opinion count for more than theirs? Especially when there are (we seem to be assuming) so many more of them than of me?

And most of all, of course - tests like this can become the thin end of the wedge for bigotry - racism and other forms of unacceptable discrimination can be cunningly hidden and practised by this sort of test. That has to be the biggest danger with this sort of thing. Potentially, very nasty indeed.

No. Being democratic means giving everyone a say, irrespective of their ignorance or other idiocy.

More on Junk Mail

The petition is entitled national database of addresses where people would prefer not to receive unsolicited mailings and the explanatory notes say
"The Prime Minister shall make it his responsibility to: 1 Set up a national database of UK addresses where the owner or occupier would prefer not to receive 2 Require the Home Secretary to administer said database by asking the Police and Security Services to address and to advise on issues of security, as and when they arise. 3 Require the Environment Secretary to inform the operation of the database so that it works at a national, local authority and local community level. 4 Categories of non-addressed mail should include, but not be limited to: a. Commercial advertising b. Appeals by bodies of a charitable nature c. Information from a local authority where it under no legal obligation to supply (i.e. information about new services, regular mailings or brochures, surveys etc.) d. Material circulated by political parties e. Newsletters, petitions, advance notice of social activities and similar which may on an occasional basis be circulated by volunteers to a locality"

This petitioner is even madder than the one I talked about in Stop Junk Mail, since s/he is clearly requesting something that already exists ...

Also, s/he has signed themselves "Lobster Blogster", which I must say made me suspect s/he wasn't for real. On the other hand, having located their blog, I note that someone has already mentioned this and s/he says
"OK, I admit it's not [my real name], but everyone I know personally knows my real name and that I blog as Lobster Blogster. I've had nicknames since I was plankton, and LB is no different form that. Incidentally I've signed four or five petitions in the name of Lobster Blogster, but I always give my real name and address. Er, and Tony Blair knows my real name and address, does it matter that you don't?"

So apparently s/he does mean it seriously and simply hadn't noticed the Mailing Preference Service. Oops.

Credit Card Interest Rates

The petition is entitled Regulate the Interest Rates Charged for Credit Card Balances and the explanatory notes say
"The government should strictly limit the rates of interest charged for outstanding credit card balances to at most 3X the going bank rate extant. This would assist in avoiding Personal Bankruptcy as being the only way many people can escape their credit card debts. With interest rates of 5 & 6 X the bank rate, i.e. at present some are charging 25%..29%, it then becomes impossible for a customer to clear their balances when so much has to be found to pay the interest charge, especially when their income may be fixed, or have even dropped."

Broadly speaking I cannot see why Person A should be prevented from making a commercial arrangement to suit themselves merely because Person B can't make sensible provision for their circumstances changing or their ability to pay!

I very much dislike any kind of legislation which aims to protect people from themselves - I want to run my life my way, thank you very much, not be restricted unless what I'm doing is impacting on the rest of society.


Two More Driving Age Petitions

Two more petitions about driving ages, just like the ones I talked about in Driving Ages and Driving Ages Again.

The first petition is entitled Raise the minimum driving age from 17 years old to 25 years old and the explanatory notes say
"70% of accidents are caused by the youngest 30% of drivers. Raising the minimum driving age to 25 years would ease congestion, improve road safety and reduce the number of road-traffic accidents exponentially."

While 70% of accidents may be caused by the youngest 30% of drivers, I maintain that unless you've compared what proportion of accidents are caused by, say, the 30% most inexperienced drivers, you have no evidence at all that age is in the least bit relevant.

Further, I maintain that it's grossly unfair to arbitrarily select young people to penalise so strongly just to alleviate congestion.

The petition is entitled Increase the age of driving to 21 and the explanatory notes say
"I believe that if the age of learning to drive was increased to 20 with a year of learning before taking the test was put in place, this would dramatically reduce the accidents and road deaths due to immature drivers. This would also have a massive impact on current road conjestion (not reducing but keeping the level current) with very few new drivers taking to the roads, giving the government more time to tackle conjestion problems. It would also lower carbon emmisions and lower insurance premiums for safer drivers and force the government to improve public transport as more people would be forced to use rather than drive to work etc."

Aside from a temporary hiatus, you would presumably have exactly the same number of new drivers as you get now; they would just be doing it later.

Four petitions making exactly the same spurious, illogical, unscientific arguments. Only qualifying as not-duplicate, presumably, because they've each chosen a different arbitrary minimum age that would be "more acceptable" to them personally to have people driving at.

Good King Nick

The petition is entitled make Nicholas G Dixon-Clegg the monarch of a newly reuninted British Empire and the explanatory notes say
"I know it makes sense. You know it makes sense. Make it so."

The only thing that puzzles me about this petition is that the EPetitions: Facts, figures and progress page says quite clearly
"Initially we accepted humorous petitions, on the grounds that they did no harm and were often funny. However, particularly after the site received publicity in the media, we found that more and more time was being taken up considering borderline cases where supposedly humorous petitions risked being seen as offensive or in bad taste. Some users also contacted us to complain about silly petitions undermining the serious purpose of the site.

We decided it was impossible to justify this use of Civil Service time, or to come up with clear guidelines as to what amounts to good or bad taste. Reluctantly therefore we have decided no longer to accept petitions which are obviously intended as jokes."

Does that mean that the Civil Service moderator(s) think this was serious? If so - EEEK!