Watch out there is an Eco-Menace about!

Nowadays we are constantly being bombarded by environmental concerns.  Our oceans are full of plastic and global warming is running out of control.  Some would argue that unless we make significant changes to arrest these rising temperatures, the world will reach an unrecoverable tipping point in the next decade or so.

On the positive side things are changing, even if slowly.  Renewables are becoming more and more available all the time and cheaper to produce.  I was pleasantly surprised to hear that one third of Britain’s energy now comes from renewables (BBC Look North, East Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, broadcast on 15th August 2019) and indeed recent years have seen a massive increase in the numbers of electricity producing wind turbines, both on land and out at sea.  Image of Lincs Windfarm near Skegness on the Lincolnshire coast.

However in the midst of all this good news a new menace is lurking.

Yet it was hailed as the future of urban transport.  It is electric, which is generally understood to mean clean and efficient, although this depends on how the electricity that powers it was originally produced.  It will replace the car as the item of choice for commuting around the city, even if it won’t replace it completely on shopping trips or journeys that cover greater distances.  In the city streets it is faster than a conventional bicycle and they are becoming more readily available all the time.

So what is this amazing new means of getting around?

It is of course the electric scooter!

Forget the hype and forget the glowing endorsement in the paragraph above.  These are a menace, a danger and a threat to life itself.  It is like a great white shark swimming offshore.  It doesn’t mean it will attack you, but if you get into the environment with it then there is a good chance that you are likely to be bitten!

I know I may be coming across as a bit of a dinosaur, doomed to extinction, because I seem unable to change.  Just give me a chance to explain my reasoning.

  1. No training or certification is required before using one so riders are often inexperienced or lack understanding of how to control them properly.
  2. With small wheels and a high centre of gravity they are inherently unstable and are capable of speeds of up to 30 mph (almost 50 kph), although most are limited to 10-18 mph (16-29 kph). They are unstable at low speeds but also high speeds amplify this instability.
  3. They are quite rightly banned in Britain, other than on private roads, but this legislation is largely unknown or ignored. ‘Scooterists’ therefore ride in cycle lanes on the roads or even on pavements.  Prominent UK YouTuber, Emily Hartridge was killed in July 2019 in a collision when she was on a scooter and while I am sympathetic and feel for her family’s loss and am not attaching any blame to her (I am unaware of the exact circumstances and it would be judgmental anyway) if they simply were banned this tragedy would never have occurred.
  4. In Poland the law is confused and downright dangerous.  Scooters are legally banned from cycle lanes and roads, but no such law bans them from the pavements. Consequently they fly by at high speed and pedestrians have to take their lives into their own hands.  There has even been a case in Warsaw when a pedestrian was fined after a collision with a ‘scooterist’ as the pedestrian was deemed as being at fault for moving in the way while unaware of the scooter which was approaching from behind (see for example Polsat News Report [in Polish]).  It isn’t normal or expected to be charged down by a scooter on a pavement and I wouldn’t have been looking out for it either.
  5. It would seem logical that such scooters belong in the cycle lanes or on the cycle paths, but their instability too makes this a dangerous proposition. There is no existing scooter infra-structure.

So there you go, the electric scooter needs a complete rethink, or alternatively to be banned altogether.

Let’s consider another example.  In early August 2019 French inventor Franky Zapata made a powered flight across the English Channel on a jet powered platform; so he proved it possible.  So maybe we should all go out and buy one.  Can you imagine the chaos?  Just because something can be done it doesn’t mean it should be made available to the masses.

As a final thought, why not invest in electric bicycles?  They are more stable and safer (who thought anyone would ever write that about a bicycle!) and there is already infra-structure – which is getting better all the time – in place.

It is time to ban the electric scooter before more tragedies follow.

© Richard Horton, Omega Support Services 2019

A Warning on Acceptance

From time to time it is important to challenge our own worldviews and question the validity of our opinions.  I recently found myself in such a position when I faced the paradox of when acceptance interacts with personal rights.

I remember learning when I was studying that businesses have the right to refuse to serve anybody on the basis of their own choices.  The argument went along the following lines.

Imagine you own a small shop and you buy products wholesale and then sell them with a mark up to make a living.  Effectively these products belong to you until you sell them.  So in the same way as you have personal property at home you have the right to simply sell them as you wish to who you wish and there is nothing that can be said or done about it.  It is your inalienable right.

Everything was simple and clear… or so I thought.

Recent events and discussions have caused me to pause and reassess my understanding of the issue and more than anything the point of this post is that at all times we must be prepared to revisit our views from time to time and if necessary change.  This is not an argument for the erosion of absolutes, rather it is an argument against arrogance.

In October 2018 a Christian couple won a battle in the legal courts that supported their right to refuse to ‘make’ a wedding cake for a gay couple in what became known as the gay cake case.   For many it was seen as a test case as it made out that the bakers were homophobic.  The bakers argued contrary to this that it was not in fact a homophobic position that they had taken, rather they had refused on the basis that they don’t agree with the message that had been requested.  The court agreed with them (summary based on an article in The

Whatever the legal rights and wrongs of the issue, it seems apparent that the refusal was based on a principled stance on not supporting gay marriage.  It can therefore be defined as homophobic even if it wasn’t hateful.  Individuals are entitled to have whatever views they want, even if others find them disagreeable.  Personally if I am in a position where somebody refuses to serve me (or more likely they provide unsatisfactory service) I would just simply not give them my business and go to a competitor.  A student of mine said on this very issue that ‘it is the fastest way to destroy your own business’.

In Poland recently another issue arose when a member of IKEA staff used a Bible quotation to support a homophobic comment on the company’s intranet.  The company fired him on the basis that his views did not align with the inclusive values of the company.

This further complicates the issue because in the first case the company – albeit a small one – refused to provide the wedding cake with the requested message on the basis of the owners’ values, but in the second the employee was fired on the basis on the owners’ values not matching his.  What about the right to individual views – even if we find them unpalatable?  Could he have been moved sideways or to another area rather than lose his job?

The answer is a resounding no!!!  For IKEA to keep this employee on would have been to validate his view.

For the bakers it is more complicated.  They argued that they disagreed with the message not making the cake – surely they go hand in hand, forgive the bad pun, especially on a wedding cake!  If the message had been something racist or chauvinistic they would have been applauded for taking a stance, rather they found themselves being sued.

The cake is definitely more complicated, but if I had been wanting a cake and they refused to decorate it with the message I wanted I would have simply gone elsewhere.  I certainly wouldn’t have taken them to court.

However, even if ‘gay cake’ still remains complicated, one thing has become clear to me.   Service cannot be refused on the basis of a demographic.  The refusal of service concept that I learnt was on the basis of abusive / difficult customers, or even the simple economic arguments along the lines of productivity – or put simply a profit to efficiency ratio.

If we start allowing companies to refuse service on the basis of a demographic we are on a slippery slope.  We are in danger of recreating an apartheid system.  We will serve anybody so long as they are not _____ (insert whichever demographic word you like here).  Taken to an extreme, it is not that long ago that people were labelled, excluded and ultimately murdered on the basis of a demographic.  The yellow Star of David worn by European Jews during the Second World War should serve as a warning to us and along with the swastika it has become one of the world’s most potent symbols of hate.

On this point, it may be a concern that members of the LGBT+ community are also being labelled.  The difference between the rainbow and the Star of David is that it is a self-labelling.  It does worry me that the rainbow may lead to separation or discrimination, but that is a discussion for another article.

© Richard Horton, Omega Support Services 2019.

Brexit – When the Remainers Shot Themselves in the Foot!

In my last article about Brexit I made a strong case for a second referendum based on the fact that if the entire electorate were to be taken into consideration little over 37% voted to leave the EU.  Admittedly by the same token approximately 34% voted to remain. There was a turnout of 72% and the rest of the electorate either didn’t vote or had their votes spoilt in some way.  The basis of my argument was that a vote to leave needed to be an active vote and a threshold of 50% would have been required.  A non-vote would therefore not count for a Brexit vote.  To justify this seeming bias I explained that passivity and lack of interest could and probably should be interpreted as I don’t care.  Change requires activism and it was necessary for the Brexit supporters to ensure their campaign led to the requisite number of votes based on the entire electorate.  I have reproduced the results below.

The May 2019 European elections would have been a perfect opportunity for Remainers to send a strong statement of intent.  The results when they were announced showed the decimation of the main parties.  The Conservatives under Theresa May have lost popular support due to what many see as her mishandling of the whole situation and Labour under Jeremy Corbyn failed at least in part due to his failure to make clear what his stance is and how his party stand on Brexit.  Corbyn’s dithering makes Theresa May’s ‘Brexit means Brexit’ in comparison clear, rather than the empty rhetoric it truly represents.

A further consequence of this was that Nigel Farage’s newly formed Brexit Party (a mere 6 weeks old) won at the polls taking just under a third of the total vote.  Combined with other leave groups (UKIP being the obvious one) they commanded approximately 34% of the popular vote.  However the overall vote showed that Pro-Remain parties (in particular the Liberal Democrats and the Greens) secured a greater number of votes, but it was a divided vote.  Compared to the referendum, the turnout was low and the figures are probably more an indicator of a return to apathy and a weariness of our politicians’ ability to deliver anything.  Unlike the referendum though this really is a first past the post election with a simple majority being enough to secure election.

The result, summarised above by the BBC, sends a mixed message on where Britain stands concerning Europe and the Remainers only have themselves to blame.  Realistically only three parties have a chance of acquiring real power (no disrespect to the Greens – who at best will be seen as a fringe by a majority until the world faces a cataclysmic ecological disaster*), and for a long time there seemed to be only two.

* I know some will already say the world is teetering on the edge – see for example Extinction Rebellion.  Most will not believe that we face imminent danger until rising sea waters are lapping at our feet or something else just as visible.

The Liberal Democrats have undergone a remarkable resurrection after getting into bed with David Cameron and sacrificing their principles (think Nick Clegg and Student Tuition Fees).  They were completely crushed in the last general election and the unheard of happened when a sitting party leader even lost his seat.  Since the referendum though they have developed a clear and effective remain policy that has been communicated across all channels.  Unlike the Conservatives and Labour we know where they stand.  We may not agree with all of their policies, for example increased funding for the NHS means higher taxes or we might be uncomfortable with their age old adherence to Proportional Representation (which suits them politically more than the Conservatives or Labour), but if it is a one issue vote everybody who is in favour of remain should have got behind them.

It may mean tactical voting, but if that 40% had largely been made up of Liberal Democrats the country would have to sit up and pay attention.  The waters would have been muddied and there would have been no clear mandate to either remain or leave.  This would have forced a new referendum – which should be conducted on the principles outlined previously.

Instead Remainers splintered their vote and Nigel Farage’s Brexit party became the largest single block.  This could have been avoided.

Halloween beckons and with it a no deal future.  Remainers if you want to stop it step up and stop shooting yourselves in the foot!

© Richard Horton, Omega Support Services.

Is Reading Becoming a Thing of the Past?

It is widely thought that the arrival of the new millennium marked a new age and as vinyl had become a thing of the past so would the printed media.  Many lamented the death of both.  Interestingly in recent years vinyl has had something of a revival.

The millennium was supposed to mark the end of the book because it was the time when Generation Y would come of age.  A notable characteristic of Gen Y is a preference for digital media.  It was widely believed that they no longer read more than short internet articles and the newspaper is completely lost on them.  Some drew the conclusion that the book would be consigned to history.  Advertisers, who perhaps otherwise wouldn’t have abandoned traditional advertising in newpapers and magazines, are focused more on creating an online presence to reach Gen Y and those who have followed.  Similarly the TV was considered an out of date medium for them and the internet was the only way forward.

Books are to be treasured.  The written word has been central to maintaining history and storing knowledge since the dawn of time.  Historians often refer to prehistory and recorded history and the line of demarcation between the two is the advent of writing – which by implication means reading too.  Books inform and educate, they don’t only transfer knowledge but they are one of the best ways to learn vocabulary and develop imagination and as a result, creativity.  The creative spark is one of the things that makes mankind unique and separates us from other species.

It is not that Gen Y and subsequent generations won’t read, it’s the idea that they will no longer read books that concerned older people.  Reading and writing have been such an essential tool in the development of culture and identity that the abandoning of the book for more superficial writing seemed to be a travesty.

Then along came J.K. Rowling! 

Just when parents were despairing of getting their children to open a book for anything other than school work, Harry Potter arrived on our shelves and a whole new generation were captivated.  The remarkable thing about Harry Potter is that it is not all that remarkable.  It is not unique in featuring little witches or being teen fiction*, nor is it remarkable in its setting in a school, yet a whole generation were hooked and our eternal love affair with books found new life.

* to label it teen fiction or a young reader’s book is a misnomer because many adults enjoyed the series too.

Harry Potter wasn’t unique in this category, but it was the one that stood out the most because of the popularity of both the books and then subsequently the films.  The Eragon series (strictly speaking known as The Inheritance Cycle) by Christopher Paolini and Twilight by Stephanie Meyer went a long way to re-establishing reading as a habit for the young and not just older generations. Again they were made into films and while Eragon was relatively well received the Twilight films were generally labelled as ‘terrible’.

I am not particularly a fan of any of these series and I find some elements of Harry Potter quite objectionable.  Let me illustrate.  It is typical of adventure stories to put the protaganists in danger as they face challenges, overcome obstacles and ultimately defeat an enemy.  However, in my mind, Harry Potter stretches credibility (yes I know it is a fantasy world – or am I just an unknowing Muggle?), because the children are exposed to danger during the normal activities of the school, Quidditch is probably the most dangerous game in history and the lesson with the Mandrake roots in which Hermione Granger acknowledges that “the cry of the Mandrake is fatal to anyone who hears it” is not a lesson that responsible teachers would teach.  Chemistry teachers do not teach bomb making and woodwork and metalwork classes are not devoted to weapon making for a reason.

As a teacher myself I know that student safety is of paramount importance.

I reiterate that I know it is fantasy, but this is pushing the credibility too far.  Teenagers sneaking out of class and going into the woods on their own to follow a suspicious character and getting into trouble is one thing, but danger in the classroom is something else.

Despite these objections, I am grateful to authors like J.K. Rowling who has led the way in getting a whole generation to pick up a book.  It might just be that one day we will look back and view her as the saviour of the book.

So thank you J.K. Rowling and the rest of you.  Your contribution has been noted and appreciated.

© Richard Horton, Omega Support Services 2019

Standards of Information and the New Millennium

In the late 80s one of my favourite rock bands, wrote a song called Somebody Save Me.  Within its lyrics it contained the following lines:

Everybody’s got opinions
But nobody’s got the answers

Somebody Save Me, Cinderella from the Album Night Songs (1986)

This seems to have become a motto for the new century.  Indeed my writing this piece is a demonstration of this.  Anybody can write anything they like and it doesn’t even matter if it is true.  Consequently people are buying into it wholesale; not only by producing ill-conceived articles, but also in people reading and believing every word they have read.

Let me illustrate: –

The outright lie.

The Brexit vote was driven by misinformation.  Remember the famous red bus that proclaimed that leaving the European Union would result in £350m a week staying in the government coffers?  Furthermore this money  could be used to support the overwhelmed NHS.  According to a BBC graphic the real figure was actually £161m, when taking into account the funds that return to Britain, either directly or indirectly.  This in itself is a substantial amount, but not what Brexiteers claimed.  It can be assumed it doesn’t take into account any reduction in tax receipts as any consequence of a potential downturn in trade as a result of Brexit.

The moral meme.

Anyone who uses social media has come across the meme, often readily recognised pictures with a comment beside it.  A personal favourite, after Cecil the lion was hunted and killed by an American Dentist, was a pride of lions on the prowl, captioned with the phrase – “we are looking for a dentist..?”  Amusing as it was, it was clearly untrue, but made a powerful point.

However when similar memes masquerade as truth it is problematic. 

Consider the so called European refugee ship that was accepted by North Africa during World War II.  I have reproduced it below.

It may seem logical that many Europeans attempted to escape Europe during the horrors of World War II and the message of our common humanity and reciprocation is indeed a moral one and thus rests easily on our consciences – so we accept it as true.

However, closer examination reveals the truth.  It may not be obvious but the picture has been de-coloured which makes it look older.  The people are so small that they become featureless but if you were too zoom in it would be obvious they are not dressed in the style of the 1940s.  However, the biggest clues are the name of the ship and its home port.  It is the Vlora, registered in Durres.  Both of these are Albanian port cities and what we are actually looking at is an attempted mass exodus from Albania after the fall of communism.  The ship crossed the Adriatic and ended up in the Italian port of Bari.

It was notorious at the time because the Italian authorities didn’t know what to do with the Albanians and most were kept in boiling conditions with little provision in Bari’s football stadium.

This meme became very popular and was viewed by millions through their social media accounts, but shouldn’t a moral message be rooted in the truth?

It also illustrates the point that anybody can use anything to say what they want.  Here is a meme I mocked up during the 2017 election to illustrate what I am saying.

It is obviously untrue and nobody believed it as it completely lacked subtlety, but there is a tendency nowadays to believe what we read, but not only that, but to share it further if it happens to coincide with our beliefs and values.

Readers need to take responsibility and be more discerning in what they share.  In the past journalists had to comply to certain standards and were brought back into line if they strayed – think of the paparazzi in the aftermath of the car crash that killed Princess Diana. 

When studying, students are required to check the reliability of their sources and reference them to demonstrate not only their trustworthiness, but also the diligence of the study.

Let me finish with a simple illustration to make my point.  We have all probably received a ‘Nigerian’ email, which typically is from a widow claiming that her husband has just passed away and her money is locked into an account that she needs your help to access.  She will give you a cool $1m if you can share your banking details to enable her to get the outstanding $9m.

We read it on the net and immediately dismissed it as a scam and unless from a recognised media source we should treat all information with similar scepticism.

If fact, embrace that last paragraph.  Treat everything with doubt, until you check it out – even from so called reliable sources.  I challenge you to check the information I have shared here and take me to task with any information I have shared that is wrong.

© Richard Horton, Omega Support Services 2019

Brexit – The Case for a Second Referendum

Brexit is a mess and it has been ever since the result of the referendum was announced in June 2016.

We can discuss the wisdom of David Cameron’s choice to put it to a public vote (which in the author’s opinion was a short-sighted attempt to unite the Conservative Party that has resulted in dividing the country).  We can even bemoan the arrogance in how he argued that he could win the case to remain thanks to a towering self-belief that in recent history has only been topped by Tony Blair (remember how he tried to shrug off the Iraqi WMD debacle and probably didn’t even convince himself).

Remainers bleat that the vote to leave was misinformed, backed up by the often cited statistic that the most Googled item in the UK after the referendum was ‘What is the EU?’  Negative campaigning – on both sides to be fair – left the public confused and reduced the vote to an emotional reaction rather than a rational decision. 

Leavers insist that the vote should be binding and that to not leave makes a mockery of the oldest sustained democracy in the world.  They also claim that those who didn’t vote for whatever reason can’t complain about it.  Promises of more funding for the NHS have proven to be unrealistic as has a completely closed door on immigration.  The deed has been done and that is the end of the matter.

Theresa May, infamous for using her words to say nothing, declared Brexit means Brexit and she is fully intent on delivering it because the British public has spoken.

Division, dissension and disarray – we have become an international embarrassment.  The world looks on in wonder how such a cultured and civilised nation has been reduced to such a state.  Even EU President Donald Tusk, who has been notably diplomatic and conciliatory in his approach to the negotiations (unlike the self-important one time city mayor Jean-Claude Junker), finally lost patience in declaring (paraphrased) that ‘(he) wondered what special place was reserved in hell for those who devised Brexit without any idea of how to deliver it.’

Frankly I agree.

This was another mistake Cameron and Co made.  Remain or Leave were simple choices, but Leave was vague in its definition.

Allow me to digress for a second.  Imagine you want to move house.  You don’t simply sell up and move out.  If you were to do so you would end up on the street.  You make a plan, or maybe even two plans.  Maybe you will sell and rent while waiting in a chain or for a suitable property to become available or maybe you will buy and move in before you sell your old house.

The permutations don’t matter the point is you make a plan.

Brexit is about the whole of Britain moving out and no plan was made.  If we want to leave we should already have provisional bilateral agreements in place, and an understanding of the position concerning immigration, trade and border controls – especially with the Republic of Ireland.

I’m leaving is tantamount to just walking out, but as with a marriage we cannot just walk away.  There are certain moral and legal obligations that remain.  Were we told this?  Did we understand the implications of these commitments.  European projects are figuratively the EU’s babies, we can’t nor shouldn’t walk away from these projects in the same way as a parent can’t nor shouldn’t walk away from a child.

On this point it is important to make clear that the EU needs to give ground too!

Dwelling on the past, however, doesn’t deal with the core issue of whether we should remain or not.  Brexit should be an informed decision carried by either a Parliamentary majority, or – and now that particular Pandora’s Box has been opened – with a clear majority in a referendum.

Dear Mrs May, Brexit means Brexit because the British people have spoken is a misguided belief!

Let’s look at the statistics.

Accessed on 26 February 2019 and reproduced from Wikipedia:

In terms of percentage it was close, often cited as 52/48% but in terms of numbers it represented more than a million people who cannot be ignored.  However, a true extrapolation of the data reveals that declaring the British public has spoken isn’t entirely true.

Out of the British public with the right to vote (46,500,001), the number who actually voted to leave was 17,410,742.  Therefore the actual percentage of the public that voted to leave was actually 37.44%. 

Newsflash Mrs May! This is not a majority.

Of course the same claim could be made of the remainers; whose actual vote comes out as 34.71%

Brexit however was such an important decision with major repercussions on the future direction of the country that this should have been taken into account.  My first thought was to skew the vote, but this would be fundamentally undemocratic.  To insist on at least a 60/40% vote in favour of Brexit to change would be unfair.

However what would be fair would be to insist that whatever the turnout, based on the number of registered voters the threshold to achieve Brexit would need to be greater than 50% of the whole or in this case, as the number works out quite nicely, 23,250,001. 

The British public would need to be informed very clearly that not voting communicates, ‘I can’t be bothered’, ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I’m not interested’ means they don’t care and it is reasonable to interpret a non-vote as don’t change anything which is tantamount to remain.  Thus their non-vote, while not being overtly a vote to remain, does become significant as it is not added to the leave total.  The apathy of the non-voter would work against Brexit.  So long as this is clearly understood it is then for those who wish to leave to make sure they vote.

On the surface this may seem unfair.  Why should such restrictions apply to only one side?  Well it is simple, a vote to remain is a vote to carry on (albeit with a possible wish to reform the EU) whereas a vote to leave is a vote for change.  Change need to be voiced whereas simply carrying on can happen through the quiet acquiescence of the apathetic.  Those who drive political change are known as activists for a reason.

Again there is precedent in day to day life.  If my wife asks me what I want for dinner and I don’t offer a suggestion I can’t complain when she feeds me what she wants.  My apathy means do what you want.  Only a proffered suggestion can change this.

So to summarise, the original referendum was flawed in how it was set up and how the results were interpreted.  We have now opened the issue up to a public vote and we can’t force that genie back into the bottle.  So a new referendum is the only way forward with a clear understanding that an absolute majority (based on the total electorate) needs to be achieved to execute Brexit and it needs to be made crystal clear to the voting public what a non-vote means.

And in the meantime before voting let’s focus on clear reasoning rather than negative and populist arguments to make our points, whichever side of the divide we are on.   While you are at it Mrs May bash out a tentative agreement and inform the public of what it means so a vote for Brexit becomes an informed choice.

And finally Mrs May deal with the very reasonable Mr Tusk –whose loss of patience is fully understandable – and look to scope out a Norway or even Switzerland type of deal in the event of Brexit; after all when we joined the Common Market it was something more the shape of EFTA that we wanted in the first place.

Whatever you do ignore the hair fondling Juncker who is nothing more than a hyped up little man with a Napoleon complex.

© Richard Horton Omega Support Services. 2019