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Can I just ask something?

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WHAT FUCKING CUTS?

A losing gun battle

I’ve said more than once that Britain’s handgun ban – gun bans anywhere really – are no barrier to criminals, starting back in March 09.

… let’s say [a criminal] really want[s] a gun. Well since they’re planning to break laws about killing people should we believe that the law banning guns is going to put them off for one nanosecond? If a gun is what they really want then won’t they simply try to get one (or more) illegally? It’ll be harder, but how hard is it really? Currently this guy is on trial for ordering gun parts from outside the UK and having them mailed – yes, mailed – to him. He says he planned to kill himself and while he may well honestly not have intended to hurt anyone else you have to wonder a bit about his state of mind. Still, the point is that he succeeded in getting a couple of guns and was in the process of getting at least one more. This kid bought a Taser, illegal under firearms laws in the UK, on holiday and simply brought it home. From time to time investigative journalists in the UK have shown that getting illegal guns is far less difficult or expensive than we’d like to think, and I think it’s safe to assume that the Northern Irish Peace Process didn’t allow legal ownership of the weapons used to kill two soldiers (and injure a couple of pizza deliverymen) and a police officer recently. So illegal guns are there for those who really want them.

And should we be surprised when it turns out it’s really not that hard to get a gun into Britain, lots of guns even, as long as you dismantle them and put the parts in different bags.

London and Washington were forced to hold crisis talks after the arrest of a private security consultant accused of trafficking more than 80 handguns packed in his hold luggage.
Steven Greenoe, 37, was stopped by security staff on at least one occasion when screening detected “multiple firearms” in his suitcases.
But he was able to talk his way on to the flight from Atlanta to Manchester and is believed to have delivered the weapons to criminal contacts in Britain’s North West.
US court papers obtained by The Times allege that a number of Glock 9mm semi-automatic pistols were offered for sale at up to £5,000 a piece in Britain a week after they were bought by Mr Greenoe for $US500 each in a North Carolina gunshop.
Police chiefs across Britain were given a detailed briefing just before Christmas on the hunt for 60 weapons, including more than 20 Glock pistols and more than a dozen Ruger handguns, that are still unaccounted for. Five guns have been recovered in the UK and ballistic tests show that one was used in a drive-by shooting in Manchester last October.
After consistent success in driving down gun crime [Ha – AE] the discovery that criminals have found a source of powerful firearms has alarmed police.

Mr Greenoe was arrested in the United States in July, with 16 pistols in his suitcases, after a British-led investigation that began when police in the North West recovered a number of new handguns.
… He was able to exploit relatively lax security at the local airport, Raleigh-Durham international, by dismantling the guns and distributing the parts among several suitcases. On each trip the cases were checked on to a domestic flight to Atlanta then transferred to a Delta transatlantic flight to Manchester.

So, much like the guy from my first blog on guns who was simply ordering the parts and putting them together to make a complete gun, all this Greenoe bloke had to do was to take the guns apart so they didn’t look all that gun like anymore. And with that sort of cunning who can possible blame the people who’s job it is to screen bags?

Dismantled Glock 17 – none of the parts look anything like a gun, eh?

Oh.

So the fact that Greenoe got through Customs on multiple occasions while a couple of years ago someone was having gun parts posted to him, along with the rather important detail that the investigation began not with Greenoe being caught at the airport but with the recovery of US bought guns that were already in Britain, the obvious conclusion would seem to be that they can’t thoroughly check every single one of the millions and millions of pieces of luggage and mail entering the UK. Even if you can solve that problem the article implies that this means of gun running is unusual and that most guns come into Britain from Europe, which means it’s not just millions and millions of pieces of luggage and mail but also millions and millions of pieces of freight as well. On top of that you need to consider than while Britain might not feel like a large country it’s pretty big as islands go and has more than 11,000 miles of coastline. Is it all watched all the time? Is there nowhere you could sneak in by boat? I doubt it, and it’s probably worth it if each trip you can drop off a few dozen guns worth five grand each to Britain’s criminals. And even if you tackled all of that successfully it’s still possible to make a home made gun – primitive and risky for the user, sure, but still a gun. Do you think not one single criminal in Britain has ever Googled that? No? Me neither.

What all that means is that you simply cannot keep guns out of the hands of criminals. You just can’t. If they want them they will get them, and while there’s a limit to what the police can do about it the important thing to remember is that the law can do even less simply because criminals don’t obey it.

So think on those laws that in the name of keeping everyone safe prevent law abiding British citizens from having a gun but are fundamentally incapable of preventing criminals having them. And ask yourself what the hell they’re for.

Well, there’s your problem.

CLick to article

Really? And how is this possible? Ah, should have guessed (my bold(.

A YEAR-long investigation of Australia’s free trade agreements has found they are often nothing of the kind.

The Productivity Commission has told the government there is little evidence to suggest Australia’s six free-trade agreements have produced ”substantial commercial benefits”.

Some may have actually reduced trade by introducing complex rules that make it difficult to sell goods made with products imported from countries not in the agreements.

As for IP…

Copyright provisions inserted in the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement could eventually cost Australia as much as $88 million per year as the nation pays an extra 25 per cent each year in net royalty payments, ”not just to US copyright holders, but to all copyright holders”.

The copyright provisions extend payments from 50 years after an author’s death to 70 years and enshrine in Australian law ”rules that would otherwise be anti-competitive such as permitting the use of region codes on DVD players”.

The provisions have saddled Australia with copyright obligations ”even higher than in the US … because we matched their higher level of copyright protection but have maintained our lower level of copyright users’ rights”, the report says.

Let’s not kid ourselves here, it’s not brought any benefits because it’s not fucking free trade, and I feel it’s pretty duplicitous to even call it that. It’s very much like the fashionable blaming of the free market for the financial crisis, even though a few seconds rational thought would lead one to the conclusion that the free market couldn’t possibly be responsible if only because there isn’t one. You might as well blame Santa for not bringing the bike you hoped for because you want to maintain the delusion that it isn’t because your parents just didn’t buy it. Write the fucking headlines honestly – it’s not a free market and these agreements are free in name only. Realise that and you see that it really ought to look something like this:

See? Not hard.

Fourteen thousand dollars?

For some fucking plywood cutout policemen that are promptly stolen?

We’ll call him Constable Cut-Out, a plywood policeman poised on the edge of the Monash Freeway near Doveton to scare the speed off passing motorists.

Cut-Out was one of nine flat-pack flatfoots commissioned by the Transport Accident Commission, at a cost of $13,500, to drive home the message that a police officer would be around every corner at Christmas time.

Not so much flat foots as flat everything.

Because of bad weather, only four were put out on the beat last week. Now, just three remain on active duty.

Less than a day after he was deployed, Cut-Out was, well, nicked – loaded into the back of someone’s ute and driven off.

”I think they might have become collectors’ items,” said TAC spokeswoman Amanda Bavin ruefully.

Well, who could possibly have foreseen that happ…

It’s not the first time policing has made it into the second dimension – it’s been tried in Britain, the US, Ireland and Poland…

Ah, yes. And they had a few nicked as well if I recall.

… but it is a first for Victoria. And thefts were not unexpected.

But they went ahead and blew $13,500 on them anyway?

In fact, the wooden walloper was just the latest TAC asset relieved of duty in the dead of night. People used to steal the trailers that held the billboards, until alarms were installed. Then they’d steal the solar panels that power the lights. The signage operator, Media Banc is in the process of installing video cameras. Perhaps they will film themselves being stolen. ”But we’re talking about it,” says Mr Thompson, ”and for the $1500 the sign cost, a story in The Sunday Age is well worth the theft.”

No it fucking isn’t. The Age will run the story every time there’s a crash anyway, automatically giving you publicity and a platform in proportion to the need (you’ll waste the opportunity by wittering on about speed limits as if that was all that mattered, but that’s by the by). So the publicity gain is pretty minimal and may even be outweighed by the fact that everyone in Victoria now knows there are some cutouts out there instead of real cops. And what if it hadn’t been half-inched? No story and worse, no extra traffic enforcement ability because, in case I need to remind you, it’s just a fucking cutout. The worst and most inattentive driver in the state could go pirouetting right past the bloody thing and it wouldn’t take any action because it’s as wooden as Keanu Reeves in The Devil’s Advocate. Maybe more so.

Still, at least once the bloody things have all been nicked or destroyed the police can get back to work and… oh, wait, no.

As for Cut-Out, the good news is that his abduction was reported to the three-dimensional police. And they are in hot pursuit.

/facepalm

They won’t stop and they won’t learn – II

IPSA sends out the cheques

It seems MPs aren’t just keeping to the traditions of the previous parliament in respect to submitting a few iffy expense claims, they’re also still whinging about having to deal with IPSA. This has been going on for months (see this blog) but now things seem to be coming to a head.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority was warned that MPs would take action unless a “simpler” and “fairer” system was introduced by next April.

Okay, to be fair this was what a lot of bloggers and journos said at the time. Simple and fair, particularly fair to the taxpayer who funds these fuckers, is what’s needed. The simplest and fairest possible system would have been to model MPs’ expense claims on systems common in the private sector, which normally involve a simple reimbursement of reasonable expense on presentation of receipts and invoices. In some jobs you get given a company credit card because reasonable expenses can occasionally be pretty unreasonable on the employee’s pocket – if you have to fly for business reasons, for example – but in my experience when you get given the card you’re also given a short lecture: anything unreasonable that you stick on the card simply comes off your salary, so don’t take the piss. When I had a company card there were no problems with putting flights on for me and a colleague or getting the meals in while staying at hotels for work, but if I hadn’t booked economy class or had included any alcohol with the meal it would eventually have been docked from my wages. And of course my bosses checked every form I submitted and every line of the credit card statement, requiring me to justify expenses on one or two occasions – always successfully I might add, because my attitude was to always be able to justify every line or assume that I’d be paying for it with my own money. This type of system is extremely simple and it is also completely fair, and if MPs want to adopt it we should all support them. But somehow I doubt that’s what all of them mean by simple and fair.

Since its introduction in May, many MPs have complained bitterly at having to abide by its tough new strictures – which were approved by the Commons following the expenses scandal.

Ah, right. Fair and simple means having to follow stricter rules than under the old Fees Office system. I wonder if my proposals would be seen as fair and simple by many MPs.

There were claims that MPs had been reduced to tears at being forced to abide by the rules.

Oh, my heart just bleeds. Fucking sooks, if you can’t stand the heat get out of the Commons. You’re not in fucking chains in there. If it’s so tough take the Chiltern Hundreds and piss off.

During the debate, MPs singled out individual members of Ipsa’s staff for criticism, accusing them of fostering suspicion and leaking stories to the Press. Other officials were described as “remote” and “obstinate”.

While the debate was still ongoing, Sir Ian Kennedy, the head of Ipsa, issued a statement rejecting as “categorically untrue” allegations by Ann Clwyd, a former chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, that the watchdog had leaked stories to the Press.
Saying that details of expenses claims had been released only following a freedom of information request, he added: “I regret deeply, as will many, such attempts to undermine the professional integrity of members of my organisation.”

Not the only thing Ann Clwyd was moaning about. I had a brief look at this debate in Hansard and just before saying the information was leaked to the presss Ann Clwyd saying this:

The story in The Times said that one MP had had a claim for £338 for a shredder refused. Why on earth was he refused that for a shredder? We all use shredders; we often have to shred correspondence, for example.

Well, Ann, possibly it might have been refused because £338 is a lot of fucking money for a shredder. Of course he needs to be able to shred correspondence but if he can’t find a machine for half that much then future correspondence might be along the lines of, “Why the fuck are you so profligate with our money, you inept wanker?” As I’ve explained already, nobody is saying he may not have a shredder and expense it. Nobody – nobody reasonable, anyway – has ever said that MPs can’t have what they need for the job they do any more than past employers of mine expected me to bounce up, down and around the British Isles paying for all the fuel, flights and accommodation out of my own pocket. No caps on spending, no allowances made, no limits imposed, just the simple and fair requirement that I could justify every line and the understanding that I might well not be reimbursed if I couldn’t.

In that respect the MPs have a point. IPSA is a sticking plaster solution as a result of a knee-jerk reaction. Many bloggers were sceptical and felt that it may as well have been called YAFQ (Yet Another Fucking Quango), and so it seems it is. It is over complex and it probably is unfair to parliamentarians – there’s no question in my mind that it isn’t fair to the taxpayers when once again the receipts are not being made available. But what makes me more than a little suspicious of the MPs’ motives – aside from the point that at five hours this debate was apparently worth spending five times as much time on as one about the fighting in Afghanistan – is that if they genuinely wanted simplicity and fairness they should be advocating scrapping IPSA altogether and replacing Gordon Brown’s Heath Robinson effort with something very close to what is the norm in the real world, preferably with full disclosure of all receipts and invoices by making them available online to anyone who wants to look along with the reasons given for the purchase. For example:

32nd of Gloom 2010 – 15 sheet x-cut wheeled shredder with bin from Staples, for destruction of private correspondence from constituents etc.*
£140 + VAT (receipt attached, PDF copy forwarded for online publication)

See? And millions of people do that week in, week out. What’s so fucking hard about it? Where’s the complexity? Where’s the unfairness?

‘Kinell!

* Yes, I deliberately chose one that was half the price after VAT that the unnamed MP tried to claim for, but sounded like it would still suit a small office with a light but fairly constant amount of shredding to do. I also found one that was similarly specced but more than twice as much. Took about fifteen minutes light surfing for both of them.

Palin drones.

I haven’t blogged on the Wikileaks story partly because plenty of others already have, so I’m not going to go into it in much depth now beyond passing a few comments on the rumblings and ramblings of Sarah Palin and others. Palin bashing is not normally my thing, but it’s hard to resist when headlines are saying she wants him hunted down. Hunted down? Seriously? For what? Look, I realise this is all very embarrassing for the US but come on, how damaging is it really? Yes, it’s classified information, but I have a feeling that there’s a clue to the value of much of that information in the fact that the US soldier who leaked it was a Private First Class, a rank which I believe you get in the US Army automatically just by sticking around for a certain amount of time.

And the actual content itself. Jesus Christ, is it really a big deal? So now we know what we only suspected last week, that politicians and political appointees can be bitchy, craven and stupid. Wow, who knew? It’s a shock revelation alright, the shock being that they bothered to classify it in the first place. Okay, I’m exaggerating. As I said, it is embarrassing for the US but if was really that sensitive what the fuck were they doing allowing a lowly Pfc access to it all? As for hunting down Julian Assange, you’ve got the leaker in custody. Wikileaks published it, but if it had been the editor of the New York Times would there be calls to hunt him down? But where Palin really put me at risk of spewing tea all over the keyboard was with this:

Why was he not pursued with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders?

Sarah, honey, what fucking urgency would this be, eh?

Pursued with urgency since 1998.

If the US does decide to go after Assange “urgently” can we presume that he can hole up until at least the mid to late 2020s in a Swedish ski lodge somewhere?

The 46-year-old, who is known for her conservative views, questioned on Twitter why the US government couldn’t “stop WikiLeaks’ treasonous act”, perhaps unaware that Mr Assange is not an American citizen, and that the activist website is hosted in Sweden with servers across the globe.

Not much I can say that The Age didn’t. Treason is betraying one’s own country and Assange is not an American. How much he may or may not have betrayed Australia by publishing leaked American diplomatic data is another thing, but he’s certainly not a traitor to the US. By definition he can’t be. John McCain’s daughter understands that.

Kind of.

Last month, the daughter of Senator John McCain, Sarah Palin’s presidential running mate, said Mr Assange’s release of military documents on Afghanistan and Iraq as “unAmerican”.

“He looks like a James Bond villain. He harbours a lot of ill will towards America. To me he’s a villain,” Meghan McCain said, adding that Mr Assange was a “creepy rogue Swedish guy”.

Points for being literally correct about Assange being unAmerican, but he’s not a Swede either. He’s fucking Australian for Christ’s sake. Australia? You know? Big island. Bottom right hand corner of most world maps. You can’t miss it. Though Mrs Exile suspects that really he’s from Gallifrey.

And these are two of the comparatively sane voices on the US right. There are people talking about having him assassinated or kidnapped, presumably for later execution after a few years of softening up in Gitmo. All for some poxy diplomatic gossip, which even the US government isn’t getting too excited about.

…the US Defence Secretary today played down the impact of WikiLeaks’ latest documents’ release, calling them embarrassing and awkward but only having a “fairly modest” impact on US foreign policy.

“Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for US foreign policy? I think fairly modest,” Robert Gates said in a Pentagon press conference.

Though that’s not stopping them from wanting to charge him as well.

The US government is seeking to charge Mr Assange and other WikiLeaks representatives under its Espionage Act, although it is unclear whether such moves are possible.

A US defence lawyer specialising in intelligence cases, Mark Zaid, told Reuters it would be “very difficult for the US government to prosecute [Mr Assange] in the US for what he is doing”.

Under US law, anyone charged would had to have been in contact with a foreign power and also provided them with secrets. Mr Assange has not been accused of doing either.

Quite. He’s a pain in the arse and he’s probably not going to shut up until we’re all bored with him leaking what this Ambassador said about that Ambassador’s wife’s dress at the other Ambassador’s party and stopped paying attention. The Yanks have the guy who did the actual leaking in custody, and as a soldier presumably he’s covered by some American version of the Official Secrets Act. Content yourselves with that would be my advice, and certainly don’t fall for the temptation of extra-judicial killing of the citizens of allied nations. America is still supposed to be leading the free world, and the implication was that it’s leading it to more freedom rather than less.

‘Kinell.

I want to ride my bicycle…

I have a business proposition for you and I wonder if you might be interested in investing. What we’re going to do is something I’m calling Truck-Share™ and it involves buying a load of trucks and leaving them parked up in strategic locations in and around Melbourne, and hopefully other cities in the fullness of time when the idea’s caught on. The way it’ll work is that when people have a load of things to move but don’t really want to buy a truck of their own they can just pay either an annual, monthly or daily fee to use Truck-Share™ and that means they have the use of any spare truck from any of the locations where they’re left to any other Truck-Share™ parking point. This also saves the trouble of having to make a return trip with an empty truck because the user can simply leave it at the nearest parking point to their destination. The trucks won’t need an ignition key but will be left secured by a special electronically controlled wheel-clamp that opens to smart-keys provided to paid up users of the scheme, whose responsibility it is to secure the truck again after they’ve finished with it. Failure to return the truck or loss of the truck while it’s in the user’s care will obviously attract a fee to help cover the cost of a replacement truck. Oh, and all the trucks will be painted in an exciting blue and white colour scheme.

Eh? What do you mean it’s a fucking silly idea? It’s sheer bloody genius. Yes, obviously there’s a wee problem with the fact that you need an appropriate licence to drive a truck, but then again you need to have a bike helmet to ride a push bike here and that didn’t stop Melbourne Bike Share. And that’s been a terrific success, hasn’t it?

Hasn’t it?

MELBOURNE’S shared bicycles are languishing on city streets, six months after the scheme’s launch.

VicRoads figures show an average of 183 trips a day are being made on the 450 blue bikes, which are costing taxpayers $5.5 million over four years.

The bike scheme has been crippled by Melbourne’s compulsory helmet laws.

Oh, cock.

Seriously, and piss-taking aside, who the hell are the shared bicycles for if not for the casual user, and when are they going to be wandering around the city with a bike helmet? I know plenty of people who own a cycling helmet but without exception they all own a fucking bike as well. Not only that but whenever they travel anywhere with their bike helmet they invariably take the bicycle too, and being as it’s incredibly difficult to ride two bicycles at the same time they won’t need to borrow one of the shared ones. At the same time people who aren’t regular cyclists are quite likely to have neither bike nor helmet, so while they might like the idea of being able to pay a small fee to use a bike to get from A to B many will be put off by the helmet law. And as the article makes clear it’s not exactly a cheap fine either.

Anyone riding a bike without a helmet faces a $146 fine.

That’s about £90, or if you want an idea of its worth in price parity terms I reckon that would buy me enough diesel to reach Sydney – a lot of bloody money to get pinged for having decided as a responsible adult to accept the personal risk of cycling half a dozen blocks without a lid. Is it really a surprise that the helmet law is having a negative affect on the Bike-Share scheme?

But maybe I’m being unfair. Maybe it’s bike share schemes in general.

Melbourne’s scheme lags far behind those in overseas cities. About 140 cities have introduced shared bikes; only Melbourne and Brisbane have compulsory helmet laws.

Dublin City Council’s bike share scheme also has 450 bicycles. Launched last September, it now averages 3020 trips a day.

Ah, so that’ll be a ‘no’ then. Still, at least Melbourne has avoided the horrifying carnage that has turned Dublin into something that looks like a cross between the Tour de France and a bad day on the Somme, right? Ah, wait, no.

Dublin councillor Andrew Montague, interviewed recently on bicycle blog situp-cycle.com about the success of Dublin’s scheme, said more than 1 million trips had been taken on Dublin’s 450 existing bicycles without a fatality, despite helmets being optional.

Bear in mind that Dublin and Melbourne have roughly similar population densities and so probably roughly similar traffic levels and other hazards, and both have a fairly decent public transport system as an alternative to Bike-Share. They both have trams, even. Granted Melbourne has many more trams and tram routes than Dublin and no doubt some would argue that difference justifies helmet laws here, but I’m very sceptical that a few ounces of foam and plastic will do you much good against a forty tonne tram moving at perhaps as much as 20km/h or so. Yes, it might mean a few more falls but that taking that risk or not is still a decision reasoning adults can make on their own.

Some have pointed the finger at the decision to launch the scheme in June this year, the middle of winter and one which turned out to be a colder and wetter winter than Melbourne has seen in recent years. Okay, but then Dublin is a colder and wetter city than Melbourne – sorry, Dublin people, I’m not knocking the place and it’s a good city but it is colder and wetter than Mellie – on top of which they launched their Bike Share scheme in September 09 just a couple of months before being hit by the coldest winter for a couple of decades. And still they managed to notch up more than 3,000 trips a day, more than a million a year, with about the same number of bikes that the Melbourne scheme has. Either they kept cycling through a more bitter winter than anything Melbourne gets or they began queueing up for the things once the spring came. Either way, the launch in the actual middle of the Australian winter isn’t really a plausible excuse for Melbourne Bike-Share getting a fraction of the use that Dublin’s scheme gets. And Dublin, or at the very least Cllr Montague, understands why.

He said Melbourne needed to remove its compulsory laws to succeed. ”It’s clearly not working now [in Melbourne],” he said.

Yes it does, Cllr Montague. And it’s been warned and warned and warned, but despite nearly all other cities with similar schemes having either no helmet law to start with or choosing, as Mexico City apparently did (PDF), to scrap it the Victorian government wouldn’t be told.

[Victorian Roads Minister (at the time) Tim] Pallas rejected the idea of changing the helmet laws.

”Bicycle helmets save lives and lower the severity of injuries,” his spokesman said. ”In line with Victorian road laws, helmets are compulsory for people using Melbourne Bike Share.”

He said the government was confident the scheme would become popular. ”We are pleased with the numbers and expect they will continue to grow with the progressive rollout of the scheme and with warmer Melbourne weather.”

Except of course the numbers haven’t really grown with the warmer weather, have they Tim? And why not? Fucking helmets, mate, that’s why. I mean, just look at this transcript from an ABC program on the topic (listen to the podcast here, complete with obligatory Queen sample – this brief vox pop is at 38:42):

Chinese tourist: Oh, yes we need helmets. Where are these helmets? I didn’t know….

[Presenter] Wendy Carlisle: You have to bring your own.

Chinese tourist: Oh, really? Oh no, we don’t have it, so, it’s not useful I think, yes.

Wendy Carlisle: OK, thank you very much.

Chinese tourist: Thank you. ‘Bye.

So there we have it. A casual user who, being a tourist, didn’t have a bicycle on her and would have happily coughed up a few bucks to use a Bike-Share bicycle, but she was stuffed by the helmet law and put off from using it. Think she’s alone, Tim? Of course he bloody isn’t – 1.4 million people visited Melbourne in 2009, and how many of them do you think would have chosen to pack a bike helmet. Any that came having planned to hire a bike during their stay may have found out they needed to bring a helmet or would have brought one anyway, but casual users? Come on. A tourist or even a local could conceivably walk past the bike racks and make an impromptu decision to ride a few blocks, which the scheme allows for by selling daily and weekly subscriptions from automated credit card machines found by the racks. And then they see the notice saying that wearing a helmet is required by law, and since they don’t have one they go and get the tram instead. The obvious solution is to allow a free choice whether to risk it or not, but that’s really not the kind of thing Nanny State Victoria, aka the Labor government, would be at all interested in. Hence not only Tim Pallas’s response to the idea of scrapping the law but the actual “solution” the government came up with.

The Victorian Government will trial disposable helmets, to encourage use of Melbourne’s bike share scheme.

The $5 helmets will be available from vending machines at Melbourne University, Southern Cross Station and 30 city convenience stores, from today.

Riders can return the helmets after use for a $3 refund.

The Roads Minister Tim Pallas says the helmets meet all the safety standards.

“If you want a top quality good loking helmet maybe you’ll want to pay good money for it,” he said.

“If you want a helmet for the purposes of a short term hire, these are more than adequate for the job and they’ll do a good and safe job.”

The helmets that are returned will be disinfected and rented out again.

Wonderful, though if you can’t see it being cleaned how do you know it was done properly? Stillbut as The Age point out the fucking things cost the Victorian taxpayer $8 each in subsidies, which is on top of the $5.5 million cost of the scheme itself. Fair enough, it’s not a patch on some of the other sums Labor have spunked away while it’s being running the state (Grand Prix, Wonthaggi desal plant, etc) but all the same … oh, wait, is that jingling sound the noise of even more money being spent?

A $25-helmet is given free to people who sign up for an annual subscription. Helmets have also been made available cheaply at some city stores and hotels.

I’d like to thank you, Tim, from the very bottom of my wallet, for identifying the opportunity to allow people to take responsibility for their own safety and its costs and then ignoring it in favour of spending even more fucking money on nannying people. The good news is that Labor is no longer in government and with luck the new Roads Minister, whoever it turns out to be, might revisit the helmet law issue, though since the Coalition aren’t really much more into individual choice and personal freedom than the ALP I’m not hugely optimistic. And to be frank if it doesn’t happen I expect the scheme to wither and die, as ably argued on these videos (found here).

Depressing that so many of the Melbourne people spoken agreed that the scheme was going to struggle with the helmet law but immediately ruled out the obvious solution of repealing the law. I can understand the guy in the bike shop – he has a stock of bike helmets to sell after all. But the rest? They just parroted the Nanny state line about safety, happy in their inability to account for the lack of injuries and fatalities on all the other schemes in cities around the world. I wonder if I could interest any of them in a couple of hundred bright blue DAF light-rigids? They’re all hardly used.

Headline of the decade.

Nicked from the Toronto Sun.

And really very little I can add to it other than to draw attention to the last six words. Governments full of useless politicians clinging to power seems to be a modern epidemic.

Movie News.

Apologies for another video based blog post so soon after the last one but I came across both at more or less the same time. Anyhow, stuff Avatar 2 or whatever is heading for a screen near me this summer, this is a film I’d be interested in seeing.

H/T Thoughts On Freedom.

Skidding off the Laffer Curve.

I do hope this doesn’t come as a shock to anyone in the real world.

The Treasury will lose hundreds of millions of pounds in vital tax revenues each year as hedge fund managers move overseas, experts have warned.
One-in-four hedge fund employees has already left London to move to Switzerland, which is said to have a more stable tax regime, according to consultancy Kinetic partners.
Calculations by the company claim the UK could have already forgone about £500m in tax revenues, based on the 1,000 or so hedge fund managers it says have already left the country.
The introduction of the 50pc tax rate on earnings above £150,000 is thought to have triggered the departure of many hedge fund managers. Political attacks and regulatory uncertainty have also been cited as key reasons.

Well done, Gordon. Well done, Ally. If you foresaw the election result and chose to leave a little land mine for the Cobbleition in the form of a tax George’ll be tempted to keep just to try to make ends meet (not a hope) but which will actually tempt the wealthiest and most mobile taxpayers to bugger off to where they can keep more of what they earn, then well done to you both – it was a brilliant move.

On the other hand if, as is much more likely, you actually thought it was going to make more money for HM Treasury you are indeed the pair of deluded twats that I always thought you were.

Sorry, no refunds.

Many years ago I bought a car. In fact it was my first car, and I was moderately pleased with myself because it was fairly cheap. However, it was also a Fiat and nearly everyone I knew told me that Fiats had a reputation for being a bit useless. ‘If it starts first time it’ll never make it all the way to where you’re going,’ they said. ‘It stands for Fix It Again Tomorrow,’ they said. ‘Don’t for Christ’s sake buy that bloody Fiat,’ they said. And although many journeys were completed without it breaking down, proving that there was a lot of hyperbole in what I’d been told, it was nonetheless true that these were broken up by periods of absolute rage and misery because the fucking thing was off the road for some reason or other. Even when it was working it seemed there was always something that needed to be fixed, even if it was more an annoyance than an actual hindrance. There were probably good Fiats around (I had a decent Fiat years later) but this one was a dog.

It wasn’t as bad as I’d been told it would be but I had been warned it’d be a dog and it was. And who’s to blame? Who was responsible for inflicting the bastard thing on me? Who should have paid the price for my misfortune? Only one name comes up, a certain Mr A Exile. I chose to ignore advice and buy a car with a poor reputation just because it was a cheap set of wheels, and neglected to consider that the everything between those cheap wheels might be more demanding and less stable than Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction.

Oil pressure light.

And I did indeed pay the price, literally and figuratively, for not listening to advice. Caveat emptor, as the Romans said, meaning ‘you bought it, tough shit’. Nobody made me do it and I did so knowing that others had advised me against it. There is nothing to be done in this situations but accept it and move on, though bizarrely some don’t see it that way.

Labour have failed in an eleventh-hour attempt to get compensation for people who bought ID cards as MPs approved legislation to scrap them.

It had to be Labour, didn’t it? The party with absolutely no concept of people being responsible for their own decisions.

Shadow ministers wanted people who own cards to be refunded, saying they had bought them in “good faith”.

Like I did with that car? Look, sometimes you just have to accept that you’ve made a bad decision. It’s part of being human and imperfect, and when all it’s really cost you is thirty quid and some face I’d suggest you’ve got the benefit of an important life lesson for a bargain price. Refunds? Pah!

Labour’s Denis MacShane, a cardholder himself, said his money was effectively being “confiscated” and said if someone’s house had been taken by the state, that would get recompense.

Demonstrating that Labour also has little grasp of what happens when you buy something. In return for getting something you want or think you need you give your money away. It is not confiscated, and since governments and politicians in general and socialists in particular are experts at confiscating money I find it very disappointing that Denis McShane is unable to tell the difference. You still have your card, Denis. What you are unhappy about is that it has become worthless and without any useful function, even though many felt they always were and it was never a secret that the ID card scheme would be scrapped if Labour lost the election. The value of pointless government shit may go down as well as up.

… SNP MP Pete Wishart said it was “tough luck” on card owners as they had made an informed choice to buy one.

“We have to be absolutely and abundantly clear with this – ID cards are exclusively and solely a New Labour creation,” he said. “All other parties in this House made it absolutely clear that we would have nothing whatsoever to do with them.”

Ministers say cardholders were aware they would be invalidated with a change of government.

Quite. But if McShane wants to press the point maybe it would be worth conceding that perhaps both parties should settle up.

Rejecting calls for compensation, Immigration Minister Damian Green said the scheme had cost £292m but fewer than 15,000 cards had been issued – equivalent to £20,000 per card.

“This is by any standards a scandalous waste of money which lies squarely at the door of ministers in the previous government,” he said.

“We don’t see why the taxpayer should have to pay out yet again.”

No, but here’s a thought. Denis McShane and nearly 15,000 other pricks who wanted ID cards got them in the face of all the opposition and in the knowledge that their future wasn’t assured, and they got the rest of the country to bloody pay for it all. Compensation, Denis? Sure, but first let’s discuss the 19,970 quid difference between the cost of the card you wanted and what it cost the rest of the country. Alternatively you could just grow up, accept the fact that you made a poor buying decision that is your responsibility and your’s alone, and shut the fuck up.

H/T Looking For A Voice.

Taxpayer getting a lubeless arse-fucking again.

Whether it’s coming out of council tax or coming out of central government funding (paid for by general taxation), this isn’t what those taxes are being paid for.

Local authorities across the country are allowing hundreds of their employees to devote all or part of their working week to union, rather than council, duties – while their salaries are paid from public funds.
A survey of 77 English councils by this newspaper found that they spent around £11 million last year on the salaries of individuals who were employed by the councils, but in fact spent their time on trade union duties.

Despite having had a dig at some of them I don’t have a problem with unions as such. Free assembly, associate with who you like, nothing to do with me. I wouldn’t join an organisation that tells me whether I’m allowed to work depending on what the rest of the members want but I wouldn’t want unions banned or anything, even the completely insane ones that seem hell bent on putting their members out of work. And I certainly don’t have a problem with unions having full time staff just like any other large organisation providing, and this is quite important, it is the union that pays for them. It is the union members who supposedly benefit from there being a union that should be covering this, not Mr and Mrs Smith of Wisteria Avenue who’ve just sent of cheques for their ever increasing council tax and telly licence – oh yes, they’re fucking at it at the Beeb as well as councils. In fact it’s all around the public sector.

The system, known as “facility time”, also operates in Whitehall departments, the NHS, the BBC and other areas of the public sector – meaning that the true extent to which taxpayers subsidise trade unions is actually far higher.
The disclosures come at a time when the public sector unions are preparing to fight spending cuts and threatening strike action.

Why not carry on paying the bastards while they’re on strike, then? It’s not like it makes any difference when they’re not doing anything for the poor fucks paying their fucking wages when they are working.

Critics argue that the payments are “sucking money away from vital services” while freeing up union funds to be used for campaigning.

Which is true of course, but besides the point that union costs are supposed to be paid with member subs, not working people’s fucking taxes.

The Town Hall payments are made under local agreements struck between each council and the unions that are represented among its workforce.
In some cases, council officials who are also union representatives are paid by the council to work full time for the union.
In other cases, councils allow members of their staff to spend a proportion of their working week on union matters, while continuing to pay their full salaries from council funds.

Even that’s fucking unacceptable. We’re not talking here about a few hours a months lost to personal emails, solitaire and surfing the web, we’re talking about people spending some or even all of their working hours working for an entirely different organisation to the one at which they’re theoretically employed. Can you imagine such a thing in the private sector? Can you imagine someone being paid to do nothing at all for the company that pays their salary but instead spends 40 hours a week working for an organisation that might well prevent any work being done by anyone at all if it gets pissed off?

And even if it happens, and for all I know workplace law might even force it on companies in some places or circumstances, that’s the companies problem, not Joe Public’s. If Joe doesn’t sell to it, buy from it or have shares in it there’s no real problem for him, but that doesn’t apply when this goes on in the public sector. That’s because Joe and everyone is threatened with violence if they don’t pay the taxes that are being drained to pay the salaries of people who are, for all practical purposes, union employees.

Somehow the wrongness of this situation seems to have escaped both the unions and the councils (ooooh, there’s a fucking shock).

Councils and unions insist that the arrangements are good value for taxpayers as they ensure that industrial relations remain cordial.

That’s not the point, you thieving fucking cunts. If you took it all down the fucking casino and doubled your the taxpayers’ money each and every time without fail, even if you had some precognitive gift that literally meant you couldn’t lose, you’d be correct in claiming that it was really good value but it wouldn’t have given you any fucking right to have done it in the first place.

… Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, the UK’s largest public sector union, said: “There are more than six million public sector workers and all these staff have the right to be represented.
“If trade union stewards are going to represent staff properly, they need time away from their usual jobs to do it.”

Fine, don’t have a problem with them being properly represented providing, as I mentioned earlier, it comes out of their unions subs instead of the taxpayers’ pockets. By all means hire full time staff but do it on your own budget. If being represented is so bloody important to them and so valuable they should be more than happy to cough up the necessary. Let me spell it out for you.

IT IS NOT YOUR FUCKING MONEY!

Do you understand Dave Prentis? Is the message coming through, unions? Can you get that through your tiny brains, councils? Are you picking up what I’m laying down, NHS, BBC, LEAs, GMB, FBU and all the rest of the alphabetti spaghetti brigade?

IT IS NOT YOUR FUCKING MONEY!

It’s not your money to spend as you please, okay? It’s not your fucking money at all. Bad enough that there is no real choice but to pay, bad enough that so many end up paying not just on behalf of others but also for the foolhardiness of others, but if you can’t restrain yourselves from spending money taken by force, ultimately taken at fucking gunpoint, on things outside the remit for which it was paid then there really cannot be any further argument: taxation is indeed theft.

And you bastards are thieves.

Victory for free speech?

Bollocks. It’s a defeat for contract law.

Look, everyone knew who the Stig is before today. It’s one of the worst kept secrets in the world. But the thing is the guy signed a contract with a confidentiality clause and when it didn’t suit him anymore he didn’t want to honour it, and a judge was daft enough to agree. I highly doubt that his contract bound him to life long servitude to the BBC so if he wanted to publish his book the obvious thing to do, which I imagine was what his contract required him to do, was to hand in his notice, quietly fuck off, and then print what ever he likes. It’s not often I take the side of the Beeb and oppose people like the Taxpayer’s Alliance, who are understandably pissed off about the BBC spunking money away on legal action over a minor joke character on the ‘grubby little motoring show’ they put on BBC2, but where will end up if courts can allow one party to unilaterally alter a signed contract to the other party’s disadvantage and without their agreement?

Say you hire someone to work certain days of the week, they sign a contract agreeing to this, and then later tell you that they’re no longer going to work the contractually agreed days. Why doesn’t matter. Whether it’s because they’ve converted to a religion that doesn’t let them or because there’s something new on TV they like, the effect is the same to you – and if you can’t or won’t accommodate them then you have to part company in whatever way was in the terms of the contract. How would you feel if a judge then told you that actually you couldn’t let him go and you couldn’t make him work the day he agreed to, contracted to and now refuses to? Would you be pissed off? I bloody would be.

I said all this about Fred Goodwin over a year and a half ago. Remember how there were noises about changing the law so the government could take a large chunk of his contractually agreed pension and throw it to the baying crowd?

I don’t want to take the side of someone I think is a smarmy arsehole, but when people openly plan to change the law so contracts can be torn up retrospectively and sue because they couldn’t be arsed to make their own judgements about the risk their investment was running I can’t help but feel some sympathy.

Now it’s the same for the Beeb. They are bastards of the lowest ordure, the TV licence is a complete fucking scam, they’re biased against one set of pricks and in favour of another set of pricks, and they only make a small number of decent shows, though for those shows I would be prepared to pay money if only the fucktroons would sort out iPlayer to work outside the Europisstake Utopion. In short I am not Auntie’s biggest fan. But on this occasion I side with them just because they signed a contract in good faith with someone who apparently now wants to have his cake and eat it.

But you know what’s really annoying? Just as it was with Fred Goodwin’s pension, siding with a bunch of loathsome, unspeakable shites to defend the principle of a signed contract leaves me feeling slightly in need of a wash, like lying down with dogs might have given me fleas. My enemy’s enemy and all that but I like to be able to dislike my hate figures on a full time basis. And for that reason above all, Stig or Ben or whatever we should call you, I hope you lose both the case as well as the gig (apparently this has already happened), and that your book is rapidly consigned to the charity shop bargain section.

Bring on the Blue/Red/Green/Yellow/Two-Tone Ska/Orange Stig.

You couldn’t make it up.

Via Watt’s Up With That, one of the maddest things I have ever read:

A non polluting electric car company gets slammed with fine for “non compliance” for a car that can’t produce any emissions.

Yep, you read that right. Tesla, who are a fairly new and small company specialising in electric cars with all the risk that implies, have copped a fine of US$275,000 for non-compliance. Now, this seems so eye-swivellingly deranged that I thought perhaps there’d been some kind of mistake. Perhaps, I thought, this related to emissions in production or maybe the batteries vent something over time.

Wrong.

… Tesla failed to obtain a “Certificate of Conformity”, mandated on all cars sold in the U.S by Clean Air Act of 1963 and its revisions.

In other words it’s a car so it’s simply assumed that it has a similar set of exhaust products to any other car, despite the fact that a child could explain why it doesn’t. This means it’s a $275,000 fine for failing to complete a box ticking exercise which. Given that the article WUWT linked to points out that

… in some parts of Kansas, shops must provide water troughs for horses [although] Kansan storekeepers have long been excused from abiding by the obviously obsolete ordinance …

it seems deranged not to apply the same logic to an electric car manufacturer and the demands of a Clean Air Act that clearly have no relevance. Eye-swivellingly deranged, in fact, especially since eco-driven fucknuts governments the world over like to talk about zero emission vehicles as part of the solution to the sky not doing what it’s told and, as DailyTech mention, Tesla is a small company with some big financial challenges.

For Tesla, whose stock pricing has been battered and is struggling to finish its upcoming 2012 Model S mass market EV on time, the revelation is a bit embarrassing. However, several reports on the topic from various news organizations fail to note that the government has given Tesla hundreds of times the sum of the fine in loans.

The government in January 2010 loaned Tesla a cool $465M USD to keep the company afloat while it develops its 2012 Model S EV. Tesla’s battery maker A123 Systems has also been able to expand, flourish, and fill Tesla’s Roadster orders thanks in part to a $249M Department of Energy grant.

That’s not hundreds of times the sum of the fine, though there could of course be more help that wasn’t mentioned, but I get the point. And as one of those horrible laissez-faire types, and despite liking the Roadster’s looks and admiring Tesla’s attempt to make a genuinely desirable* – aspirational, even – electric vehicle, I’d suggest that if Tesla need nearly three quarters of a billion tax dollars of government help then perhaps the market isn’t ready for their product or vice versa. Still, having committed both to the cause of ZEVs and to financially helping a manufacturer why the fuck would you then hammer it with a fine for something so utterly pointless as failing to get a certificate to say its products comply with irrelevant legislation?

Big government giveth, and big government taketh away.

* I wouldn’t say no even though I’m not at all convinced by the warble gloaming problem it was created (partly) to solve. 0-100km/h in 4 seconds and near silence sounds very appealing, though I’m far less excited by a ‘refuelling’ time orders of magnitude longer than the few minutes it takes to fill even a large tank. And in Australia its 380km range really restricts it to population centres, though it’d be an interesting challenge to plan a long distance drive across the country in ≤380km hops.

Riddle me this.

In what kind of operation can the solution to a two thirds drop in demand for what is produced be to raise prices by an eye watering 70%? The answer is, with weary predictability, a government operation.

The Las Vegas Review Journal reports that building permit activity in the City of Las Vegas is but a third what it was in 2004. So, of course, city officials are proposing a 65 to 70 percent hike in fees for building permits, plan check, and inspections because the city just can’t cut its staff any further than it already has (124 to 49 in the Building and Safety Dept.) and provide “adequate services.”

Naturally this can’t possibly have any negative repercussions such as an even further reduced interest in construction or land development in the Las Vegas area, right? I mean, it’s not like people have anywhere else to go, is it?

Oh, what’s that? Las Vegas is tucked into the bottom corner of Nevada and is close enough to California and Arizona that Los Angeles and Flagstaff are only four hours or so away? And another hour will get you to San Diego or Phoenix? Oh, yeah, okay, but apart from those… sorry, what? Close to Utah as well? And what does that have to d…

From 1990 to 2000, St. George beat Las Vegas by a mere 0.6% as the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the U.S. This trend has continued, with St. George being declared the second fastest-growing metropolitan area in the U.S. (behind Greeley, Colorado) in September 2005.[4] In 2007, the metropolitan area (defined as Washington County) had an estimated 140,908 residents.[5] The population of St. George and surrounding cities in 2050 is projected to be at more than 700,000 residents.

A couple of hours, you say? Oh.

Obviously it’s not as simple as the cost of land permits and so Vegas probably isn’t going to dwindle away into a ghost town, but when your neighbour is one of the fastest growing towns in the country and demand for planning permits in your area has dropped through the floor making the process either harder or more expensive is probably not going to fix things. On the other hand making it easier and cheaper… no guarantees but it’s not going to put anyone off, is it?