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Cash Civil liberties Crime Econonomy English Culture Financial Local Authorities local economy Politics Science Security Society Technology

Discount For Cash? Not for much Longer!

The barmaid passed the pint of Forward Pass[1] over the bar to me, smiling.

Locally made, and perfect for glugging during the Six Nations!

“Thanks” I grinned, holding my smartphone out.

Grabbing the electronic card reader, she held it to my phone, which dutifully chirped, signifying that the £3.60 had been transferred from my current account into the club’s coffers.

Sooo easy to spend your money like this!

Taking my pint to a quiet table, I sat down, musing about the transaction.

Only two years ago, my club would only accept a card payment if the transaction value was over ten pounds. This was to cover the 2.0% transaction fee levied by the card processing company.

Not being a heavy drinker, I rarely spent over ten pounds during a post-work visit to the club, except on Friday nights, when I would meet with the “Last of the Summer Wine” crew and I would stand my round.

So, on Fridays, I would always hit the ATM at the Co-Op on the way home and withdraw enough cash to cover me for the weekend, and for coffees and snacks at work for the following week.

Two things have caused a seismic shift in how we pay for things.

In 2014 Apple introduced Apple Pay, enabling contactless payment transactions to be made using Apple smartphones. Initially, like a lot of people, I was suspicious of this as a means of payment.

Quick and Easy – Apple Pay from my Smartphone…

However, six years of advances in security including the use of thumbprints and facial recognition technology has meant that I now feel much more comfortable with using my phone to pay for items.

Some retail outlets such as Tesco’s limit the maximum contactless transaction value to £30.00, but in many places, including department stores and garages it is still possible to pay using a smartphone or a debit card.

The other thing that initiated a quantum shift in payment methods is that the UKGovernment banned debit and credit card surcharges on January 13th 2018.

All of a sudden, retailers were no longer able to charge for the use of a debit card or credit card payment, so almost overnight the need to carry cash became far less urgent.

So, is cash being phased out as a means for paying for goods and services?

Cash has been with us for over 30,000 years, before written history – and evidence of accounting using tally sticks goes back to the later stages of the stone age.

The Ancient Roman author and scholar Pliny the Elder (AD23- AD79) writes of the best woods to use for tally sticks.

Cash is a meaningful and tangible token of worth, and is universally accepted within a society as having a standard value – as opposed to barter, where individuals trade specialist skills in exchange for goods and services.

Because of the universal acceptance of cash, both coins and notes, it is used as an instant way of paying for goods and services. It is also largely untraceable, so whilst two individuals may conclude a transaction there is no record of payment being made or received.

One of the advantages of anonymising transactions, is that it makes the use of cash attractive for the conduct of criminal activities, and in the past ransoms have been demanded to be settled in unmarked used bank notes.

Even otherwise honest members of society may unwittingly commit crimes by defrauding the government of income tax.

Tradesmen who would never steal from, or swindle their customers may routinely offer a discount for cash – meaning that such transactions never go through their books, and are therefore free of income tax or VAT.

This benefits the tradesman, as the cash received may be used for personal spending, and the buyer saves overall on the cost of the item or work.

There is, however, an indirect advantage to this, which is that the cash earned is frequently injected into the local community, either in the local shops, or pubs and clubs.

Call me a cynic, but the rapid introduction of digital banking is positively welcomed by governments globally. as all transactions will be traceable and identifiable.

Only a year ago, the BBC reported that the use of cash is in decline, and will only account for 10% – 15% of all transactions by 2026.

Obviously, there are also advantages to a business becoming cashless. Retail premises such as pubs, clubs and restaurants may save money from not having to buy expensive sales terminals and then enjoying lower insurance premiums as a result of having no cash on the premises.

Intangible expenses such as employee time wasted in cashing up, and paying in money at the bank’s premises are immediately removed. The inadvertent acceptance of counterfeit money is also eradicated.

Cashing up at the end of a shift – a thing of the past?

Losing cash forever, would, in my ‘umble opinion, be a bad thing, as the elderly, the poor and the disadvantaged would be unfairly penalised if their way of paying their way were denied to them.

The merciless march of automation and the ruthlessness of the digital economy may well change our society for ever.

Brave New World?

You decide.

Go Well…


[1] Triple F Brewery, Alton, Hampshire, UK

Categories
Civil liberties Crime English Culture Politics privacy Science Security Society Technology Uncategorized

Let Your Body do the Talking?

The morning outside is gloomy and damp, and I am enjoying my morning cuppa.

I have just finished setting up my new bank account.

Having been with my previous bank for 36 years, I thought that it was time for a change, especially as my old bank had consistently ripped me off over decades. Some of my money has been returned with a successful PPI claim, and now I am £175.00 better off, having switched my personal current account (Thanks Martin Lewis’s Money Saving Expert!) and have kicked the holder of the sign of the black horse out of my life. Now I just have one more account to move…

Happy Days.

So, there I was, on the phone setting up my new account, when the automated system requested whether I would like to set up voice recognition to ease access to my account.

I accepted, as I know that my voiceprint is as unique to me as my fingerprints, or my facial biometric data.

It then struck me how much of my unique personal data is in the hands and care of a commercial organisation.

This got me thinking.

I have an E-Passport, which contains all of my facial biometric data. I access some of my personal electronic devices with my thumb print, or, in the case of my new phone, through facial recognition and a pin number.

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This in itself is a little spooky, but at least the choice is mine to make.

I accept that Her Majesty’s Government will assume a full duty of care if they release my data, but with commercial organisations, maybe based overseas that may be more difficult to assume.

Since the development of Facial Recognition in the mid 1969s, it has become much more prevalent, and is found all over the world, including Great Britain.

China is now using facial recognition to constantly monitor its citizens, and the collected and identifiable data is being used to prosecute individuals for even minor misdemeanours such as Jay walking[1]. This allows “behavioural scoring” and may be used to grade and rank citizens on their perceived support of the government.

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Luckily, or not, depending on your persuasion, facial recognition does have a weakness. It requires capturing a clear image of a face before the system’s algorithms can plot the data, and compare it with images held in its database.

This weakness is being exploited. In Japan, a university has designed a pair of anti-facial-recognition glasses[2], which, when worn, emit a sea of Infra-Red light over the wearer’s face. This disrupts image capture, and results in the camera only “seeing” a blurred image.

There is also a mask available which is designed with multi-faceted angles and patterns that disrupt the received image, again, leading to blurred images.

If you thought that the potential for a dystopian disaster ended with facial recognition technology, there is more over the horizon.

As artificial intelligence develops, we may see an integration of facial recognition with emotion recognition technology, laying wide open an interpretation of our deepest innermost workings.

Currently Emotional Recognition technology is in its infancy, and there is as yet little evidence that shows a reliable and consistent interpretation of the emotional state of an individual, but this will change as AI develops further.

So – if we cover our faces, or wear IR spectacles, we will be able to fool the cameras, and go about our daily business without the state, or, other more sinister organisations tracking our every move and emotion.

Sadly, the answer is no.

Please welcome Gait Recognition Technology!

Gait recognition is another unique human characteristic. The way we walk, hold our body, and our profile and posture are as individual as a fingerprint – and it doesn’t need to capture a facial image.

Anyone like to guess where this technology is being developed?

Whoever muttered “China”, take an extra 10 points.

Yes, a Chinese start-up called Watrix has already developed a system that can identify an individual from up to 50m (165 feet) away, regardless of whether they are facing the camera.

According to the company, the system can’t even be fooled by an individual adopting a limp, walking with splayed feet, or deliberately hunching or distorting their body as they walk.

This is made possible because the system analyses multiple features from all over an individual’s body.

Currently, due to system limitations, real-time gait analysis and confirmation of an individual’s identity is not possible.

Gait analysis requires video footage of the target, which allows the analytical software to process and store the individual’s way of walking.

Currently, video footage has to be uploaded into the system, and then analysed, a process that takes about 10 minutes to assess 60 minutes of video.

In due course, the processing requirements will improve to the point that real-time identification is possible.

According to Watrix, the system has a 94.1% accuracy rating, which is quite acceptable for commercial use.

No doubt this will also improve.

Meanwhile, governments in many societies are realising the dangers of uncontrolled use of personal data.

The EU has recently banned the use of facial recognition for three to five years to enable an assessment of the impacts of this technology and possible risk management measures that could be identified and developed[3]

In the USA, larger cities, and even states are banning the use of Facial Recognition.

San Francisco banned it in May 2019, and later in 2019, Oakland followed suit, as did Somerville in Massachusetts, with Portland Oregon likely to follow suit.

But despite the EU-wide moratorium on the use of this technology, (and the fact that we are still, until 31st January a member of the EU) the Metropolitan Police have gone ahead with a project to use Facial Recognition.

It appears that under the EU/UK’s data protection law, GDPR, it forbids facial recognition by private companies “in a surveillance context without member states actively legislating an exemption into the law using their powers to derogate.”

It’s interesting to see that the system being used by London’s Met Police is subcontracted out to NEC, which, as far as I am aware is not only a private company, but also a foreign one.

Obviously, there are pros and cons to having some form of surveillance, and some sacrifices have to be made to ensure the safety and security of the public, but is this a bridge to far?

Only you can decide…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.met.police.uk/live-facial-recognition-trial/

https://sciencebusiness.net/news/eu-makes-move-ban-use-facial-recognition-systems

 

[1] The Atlantic – Editorial Article

[2] The Daily Mail – Anti Facial Recognition Glasses Article

[3] Science Business – EU to ban Facial Recognition

Categories
Civil liberties Elderly Electric Transport English Culture Motoring Nostalgia Politics Science Society Transport Travel Uncategorized

Elderly Drivers – Good or Bad – I Hope To End Up As One! (Or – Are They Safe?)

I parked the car, nonchalantly locking it with the keyfob, as I do every evening when I return from work.

It was a blustery, rainy late afternoon, and my journey home a relative nightmare. All of the major routes west of Heathrow Airport were in chaos. It seems that the average Brit is breathtakingly incompetent in wet conditions, despite bemoaning that its always raining here.

Either driving lunatically fast, or crawling along far too slowly, the result is multiple accidents, and long holdups. The delays were only made marginally tolerable by listening to the radio.

I decided that the solution to my grumpy mood was to pull my bicycle out of the. garage, and cycle the mile and a half to my alternate refuge, the Passfield Club.

It was only five past five when I arrived, and the place was almost deserted.

I ordered a pint of Fossil Fuel, and went at sat at a table at the far end of the room.

I was thinking about driving. Despite my journey, I knew that I was fortunate to be in a position to drive.

I have held a full licence since February 1977, almost 43 years. The car and motorcycle have become an intrinsic part of my life, and as a relatively fit man, I rarely think of the time when I too will have to hang up my car keys for the final time.

Before that time, I may have to downgrade my vehicle from the small SUV that I drive to a smaller vehicle. Maybe electric?  Who knows.

I recall hearing somewhere that many older people bought an automatic car after maybe decades of driving a manual gearbox car, and subsequently had an accident as a result of confusion over the foot pedals and their location.

 

Also, that older drivers were as dangerous as the young due to their worsening driving abilities.

I wondered if this really was an issue, so I decided to do some research, and here is what I discovered.

According to AXA Insurance’s Technical Director David Williams[1] drivers may face rises in insurance premiums as a result higher compensation claims being awarded following vehicle collisions and accidents.

The two age groups that will be affected most by this will be younger drivers in the 17-24 age group, and those over 75.

That surprised me a little.

Further digging revealed that there are an estimated 2.7 million drivers under the age of 25. Of that figure, 1.3 million are under 22. Combined, these groups make up about 7% of all UK drivers.

Drivers aged 17 -19 represent 1.5% of the driver population, yet they are involved in 9% of all fatal accidents in which they are the driver! Altogether, the under 25 age group are responsible for 85% of all serious injury accidents.

So where does this leave the older driver.

Bizarrely, a quick check of the stats[2] instantly confirms that drivers in the 17-24 category have a very high accident rate comparatively speaking, with 1,912 collisions per billion vehicle miles (CPBVM) travelled. The accident rate then progressively reduces as age increases, reaching its lowest point between the ages of 66 – 70 dropping to just 367 accidents CPBVM.

So, I am, in theory, becoming statistically less likely to have an accident, due to my relentless march into decrepitude.

The accident rate rises slightly thereafter, but peaks to its highest for the 81 – 85 age group – at a massive 2,168 CPBVM.

So, in overall terms, from age 60 to 70, not a bad record.

Some of the reduction may well be inked to the fact that older drivers travel less than other adults, with about half the average mileage covered.

 

Demographically, the older population is forecast to expand and the number of people aged over 65 in the EU is predicted to double between 2010 and 2050.

Now a quick look at the science.

Aging brings with it several inescapable changes, including sensory, psychomotor and cognitive reductions – failing eyesight and hearing, slowing reactions, and slower and impaired judgement.

The higher reported fatality rate for older drivers is due to increasing frailty leading to death in a collision that would have potentially only injured a much younger driver.

Current UK legislation requires that driving licences are renewed when an individual reaches 70, and are valid for three years before requiring to be renewed again. This is a sensible approach.

When combined with requirements placed on medical practitioners to advise the UK Driver Vehicle Licencing Agency of any medical condition which would require the revocation of a driver’s licence.

But us oldies are fighting back!

It would appear from several studies that there is an almost compensatory mechanism at work, and older drivers are good at making sensible adjustments to their driving, and adapt their driving to reduce their exposure to higher risk driving conditions.

Many will stop driving at night, or will adjust the times of day or the days of week on which they travel.

Now – back to my original thoughts.

As an individual with no formalised forensic vehicle accident training, I accepted at face value the statement that elderly drivers should not drive cars with an automatic gearbox.

road-safety-character-elderly-driver

Surprisingly, my research seems to indicate the opposite, and a number of reports actually suggest that older drivers should use an automatic car.

In fact, a Dutch study was conducted by the University of Groningen using a professional driving simulator. The research placed young and older drivers in both an automatic transmission car and a car with a manual gearbox. The subjects were then required to drive several routes, including rural roads, rural roads with random varied intersections and finally a route that necessitated joining a busy motorway, overtaking vehicles and then exiting safely at a junction.

The results were interesting, in that the older drivers performed better in an automatic gearbox car than a manual.

This is possibly because the time lag induced by the age-diminished psycho-motor skills to both brake and shift down the gearbox simultaneously impaired driver performance. This was discussed as far back as 2002[3], where research suggested that older drivers should, in fact switch to driving an automatic car.

Interestingly, even the younger drivers in the sample also performed better when driving an automatic.

I accept that there needs to be a safe transition period, so maybe when drivers get to 65, when they are statistically at their safest, they should change to an automatic car, so that they have a few years to adapt to the differences, so that they may benefit from the additional levels of safety that a car with an automatic gearbox provides.

Manual-Transmissions  0009e2bb5fd7-3095-4bef-8

So, in six years, I will get my electric car, which will not only be cleaner in terms of emissions, but may even help me to stay alive a bit longer!

Mark Charlwood© January 2020

[1] Article Click4Reg April 2017

[2] Older Car Drivers Road Safety Factsheet (2016 data) Published May 2018

 

[3] Warshawsky-Livine & Shinar (2002)

Categories
Civil liberties Climate change Ecological English Culture Environment fashion Nostalgia Politics Society Uncategorized war

Is the Spirit of Flower Power still alive?

Lounging on the sagging brown leather sofa in the Petersfield branch of Costa Coffee, I take a swig of my coffee.  Not my normal velvety creamy latte, but a black coffee. Dark and with no sweetener. Not anywhere near as satisfying, but under my new weight loss regime, essential.

A middle-aged woman walked briskly past the window, a stark contrast to the overcast day; bright floral trousers, baby-pink quilted jacket, a lurid multi coloured beanie hat, and electric blue plastic clogs.

Her flamboyant outfit sent my mind rocketing back 4 decades, to the mid 1960s.

The summer of 1967 was sunny and warm. I was eight years old, and loving my school holidays. To my boyish eyes, all of the local women were fabulously gorgeous, and there was an excitable buzz everywhere.

In the USA, the Summer of Love was happening, with over 100,000 young hippies assembling in Haight-Ashbury, a San Francisco suburb, preaching peace, happiness, self-determination, and rebellion against repression and materialism.

These flower children were hopeful and idealistic, as we all are when we are young, and want to see change.

I started to ponder things. The hippie dream was one of love and peace, with multi-ethnic communes striving to live with minimum impact on the environment – an ethos that was strong in 1967. I wondered how much of that dream has survived the intervening 52 years?

The hippie motto of “turn on, tune in and drop out” was a rallying call to disengage from contemporary middle-class values and materialism, and concentrate on expanding the mind – albeit propped up with the use of Psychedelic drugs and living in harmony – not just with each other but with the environment.

Pop culture drove some of this, with icons such as the Beatles promoting eastern religious teachings, and whilst vegetarianism had always been an option, it never had the wide promotion and uptake that it enjoyed with the hippie generation.

Hippies were generally aligned to “Make Love not War” and many thousands protested at the US’s involvement in the Vietnam war, including two demonstrations in London, leading to a number of injuries caused during confrontations with the Police.

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The Hippie counter-culture was influenced by a number of global events. In January of 1968, Alexander Dubček, the First Secretary of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party introduced a series of reforms intended to give more democratic freedom and civil rights to its citizens. By August of 1968, the Soviet Union aided by other Warsaw Pact countries invaded and ruthlessly supressed the “Prague Spring.”

At about the same time, in Vietnam, the Tet Offensive began, leading to the US military commander General Westmoreland announcing that the Viet Cong could only be defeated by drafting another 200,000 men, and activating the reserves.

This not only unsettled middle-class America, but also further affected the Hippie psyche. Draft-dodging became recognised as acceptable conduct amongst the disaffected young; In my part of the globe, England, I well remember the protests in London, and seeing in later years the student riots in France, as the idealist young rebelled against the old world order.

The increasing public awareness that there could be a better way led to the normalisation of the emergent ecologic movement, and that man should go back to living in harmony with the planet.

Music of the time reflected the changing values. Donovan sang “Universal Soldier” as a protest about the Vietnam War. Barry McGuire released “Eve of Destruction” as a protest against the broken civil rights system, war, the worsening situation in the Middle East and the assassination of John F Kennedy.

At the time, this angry protest was deemed so inflammatory that several radio stations in the USA banned it, as did Radio Scotland. Even dear old Auntie Beeb placed it on a restricted playlist, meaning that it couldn’t be broadcast on general entertainment shows.

So, what of the Hippie dream now?

Well, it may not exist in quite the same form, but be under no illusions, there are still plenty of idealistic people out there.

Greenpeace still upholds ecological ideals and frequently protests robustly.  More recently in the UK we have seen Extinction Rebellion protesting against the lack of state action on the climate emergency.

Highly organised and connected via social media they advocate peaceful protest against inaction by the government.

Their website suggests that protests should be occupying relevant and significant buildings, chanting at meetings, and gluing themselves to doors and infrastructure. Not quite so radical as French students setting cars ablaze, but still quite effective.

I think that pretty much everyone has heard of Greta Thunberg, the schoolgirl who protested climate change outside the Swedish parliament every Friday. Now an internationally recognised figure, and a speaker at global climate change conferences, she has captured the younger generation’s consciousness and has catalysed a global movement.

In the UK in 2019, School and University students called a strike to highlight climate change, as did youth from across the globe, from Australia to India, and the USA to Sweden. The events were co-ordinated using social media under the banner of Fridays for Future.

However, there are other equally able and motivated young people here in the UK, who don’t appear to be as well known.

Take, for example, Bella Lack. She is now 17 and has been an activist against climate change. She has over 150,000 followers on social media, and as a result of her activities, she is Youth Ambassador for the Born Free Foundation, The RSPCA, The Save the Asian Elephant and The Ivory Alliance.

Amy and Ella Meek, sisters who formed Kids Against Plastic, an organisation that is dedicated to reducing single use plastics, and educating young people in the environmental issues facing us, and highlighting the fact that young people have a voice, and can make a difference.

I believe that the Hippie Dream is still alive and kicking. Its face may have changed, but its spirit lives on in the likes of Greta, Amy, Ella and Bella.

These are the new Hippies – caring, thoughtful, and motivated to make the world a better place for all of us.

Maybe their music isn’t as good as that churned out in the 60s Summer of Love, and maybe we don’t have Woodstock or Flower Power…

 

Perhaps we should…

 

Mark Charlwood© 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
Civil liberties English Culture Motorcycling Motoring Old Friends Society Transport Travel

He Rides a Different Road

He’s in his fifties, yet leather-clad, his grey hair proves his years,

His tattoos long since faded, and his belly fat, from beers,

With chains, and studs and heavy boots, his presence here is awesome,

The patch upon his back is clear, he is an iron horseman,

 

Iron Horseman, iron Horseman, on your two wheeled steed,

In search of lost horizons, a wistful, restless breed,

Always riding to the future, in search of some deep truth,

Or chasing down the tattered fragments of your youth.

 

You’ll see him up the Ace Cafe, or at a bikers boozer,

He spends less on food and clothes, than he does upon his cruiser,

In his mind he’s easy rider, he’s Brando on the run,

Mad Max on the Highway, Terminator with a gun,

 

Iron Horseman, iron Horseman, on your two wheeled steed,

In search of lost horizons, a wistful, restless breed,

Always riding to the future, in search of some deep truth,

Or chasing down the tattered fragments of your youth.

His summers packed with ride-outs, just cruising with the HOG,

In a roaring stream of metal, they look a fearsome mob,

But behind the beard, and denims, the leather and the chrome,

Is a bloke who’s’ taking Christmas toys, to the local children’s home.

So when you sit in judgement, from your shiny, ivory tower,

On your dull commute to office land, where you wield such puny power,

Of the old bloke on his noisy bike, In his jacket, jeans and scarf,

Remember that he’s just chosen, to ride a different path

 

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Mark Charlwood 2019©

Categories
Civil liberties Cycling Society Transport Travel Uncategorized

Forced to Wear a Cycle Helmet? I Don’t Think So!

I was sitting in the office the other day, when I overheard a conversation between two of my colleagues.  Now, I should probably explain here, that one of the protagonists is a keen cyclist, and commutes to work by bicycle every day, regardless of weather  – a distance of some thirteen miles.

The other party to the discussion was a self-confessed petrol head, and drives a very powerful, sporty muscle car.

He was remonstrating with my biking colleague, criticising him for not wearing a cycle helmet.  Quite rightly, in my opinion, the cyclist was defending his position by saying that there was no legal requirement for him to wear a crash helmet, and as such he wouldn’t.

This got me thinking.  Over the past three or four years, there has been some serious lobbying by some safety motivated pressure groups[1] to make it a legal requirement for cyclists to wear crash helmets whilst riding their bicycles.

As a free thinking adult, and a free spirit, I normally baulk at any sort of legislation that attempts to regulate aspects of my private life, and this includes the “Nanny State” mentality of coercing me to stop engaging in activities that are perceived by others (in all possibility non-participants in those activities) to be either dangerous or unhealthy.

So I decided to conduct a little research into the subject, and this is what I came up with.

Statistics.  Lots of statistics, all of which can be distorted and twisted to put a particular slant on a story.

However, I have done my best to strip the spin and hyperbole from the stats and explain it as it is.

Firstly, one has to first understand why a cyclist may need a crash helmet.

Advice to wear a helmet, means that the person or organisation offering the advice feels that there is a great risk that a head injury may be sustained by the individual when taking part in the activity – in this case the relatively safe pastime of riding a bike.

So, to put this into perspective, there is a need to assess the element of risk associated with cycling, and compare it with other common activities.

A little research throws up some interesting facts that the proponents for mandatory crash hats don’t tell you.

Firstly, according to Her Majesty’s government, there were over four times as many pedestrians killed on the roads in 2016 than cyclists[2]. If we are to accept the pro helmet lobby’s argument that helmets should be mandated for the riskiest activities, then they should be advocating that pedestrians should be compelled legally to wear helmets!  This is obviously ludicrous.

Bicycle helmets manufactured to comply with the older BS 6863 are designed to protect the rider from falling from a stationary riding position – not for crash impacts with vehicles moving at speed. The newer standard – EN 107, has progressively weakened the requirements due to lobbying from the manufacturers themsleves!

Naturally, everybody wants human activity to be as safe as is reasonably practicable.  However, there is a fine balance between protecting people and demotivating them from being involved in an activity.

The health benefits of cycling are well known; excellent for cardio-vascular fitness, aerobic fitness and the development of muscle bulk and stamina. Add to that the psychological benefits of riding a bicycle  – greater hand/eye co-ordination, a very good stress buster, and a great sense of personal freedom and independence, and you have a formula for good health.

Using the World Health Organisation’s Health Economic Assessment Tool, Cycling UK estimates that a UK-wide helmet enforcement law would result in an extra 263 deaths per annum as a result of the decrease in physical activity resulting from a reduction in cyclists. This would lead to an estimated increase in public health costs of £304M to 451M per year.

Given these stark warnings of an impending obesity epidemic, it would appear to be common sense for governments to encourage as many people as possible to ride a bicycle, not only as a leisure activity, but also as a means for commuting, and even a way of conducting commerce.

A second great driver for the encouragement to cycle is the government’s commitment to comply with EU emissions reduction targets.

Reduction in the use of hydrocarbon-powered transport is central to this theme, and increasing the number of bicycle journeys is an excellent way of both improving national fitness levels, and reducing pollution and greenhouse gases.

To facilitate this, there have been a number of initiatives set up to encourage cycling in the UK.  Boris Johnson, when he was Mayor of London, launched a public cycle hire scheme, now administered by Santander Bank – still colloquially known as Boris Bikes, to encourage Londoners to cycle.

This has proved to be a great success, with over a quarter of a million active members[3] and this has now been complemented by the provision of a London-wide cycle network, consisting of Bicycle Super Highways – with an orbital route, and cross city routes.

Sadly, all of these initiatives may prove to be worthless, should the pro-helmet lobby get their way, and legislation is passed to enforce cycle riders to wear crash helmets.

The statistics indicate that in every country that has instituted compulsory helmets for cycling, there has been an immediate and irreversible reduction in the number of active cyclists on the roads[4].

For example, in Perth, Western Australia, cycling rates plunged by 30 – 40% immediately after the compulsory wearing of cycle helmets became law.

Statistical analysis emphasises that the benefit of cycling, in terms of life years gained through better health against life years lost as a result of serious injury risks is a factor of about 20:1.

To put this into context, in the U.K., there is one cycling death per 29 million miles cycled – so tiny as to be almost irrelevant.

In fact, in 2012, an average person was three and a half times more likely to be killed in a road accident as pedestrian than riding as a cyclist!

I have to confess that I do wear a helmet – occasionally.  The big difference is that I make the decision whether to wear one based on my own assessment of the risks associated with the type of ride I am about to embark upon.

If I am about to ride down a well-maintained canal towpath, or ride on relatively quiet country lanes then I most definitely leave the helmet at home. However, if I am riding in a busy city, commuting to work, or riding in a cycling event, then I grab the bash hat from the cupboard, and reluctantly wear it.

Some charity cycle events insist that a helmet be worn by participants, despite there being no legal obligation to wear one on the public roads of britain. At busy and well subscribed events such as the London Bridges Bike Ride, or the London to Brighton Bike Ride, I will wear a helmet, as I believe that the risk likelihood of coming off as a result of the density of riders is high.

Conversely, on smaller, rural rides, I will wear a bash hat at the start to comply with the organisers requirements, and as soon as I am under way, I stop, remove the helmet, put on my cloth cap, and ride accordingly.

If legislation were enacted tomorrow, then I admit that I will consciously disregard it, and continue to ride without wearing a helmet when I think it appropriate to do so.   I have ridden bicycles since I was five years old, and as an adult have suffered numerous cycle crashes, where I sustained injuries to arms, legs, and knees, and in most of them I was not wearing a helmet.

I was in fact wearing a helmet when I sustained a particularly bad knee injury, (having lost control of a mountain bike, and being unable to unclip from the pedals before impact) but it was as useful as an aqualung is to a buffalo

More recently I survived a near fatal cycle accident – and in this case I was yet again not wearing a helmet. Furthermore in all of my accidents, wearing a helmet would have had no influence on the outcome.

We also need to consider the financial costs of the introduction of such a law. Cycling UK has calculated that initial costs for helmet acquisition could be around £180 million, and subsequent renewal costs of about £45 million every year – all of which falls onto the rider to provide.

An unintended consequence of this, is that there may be a degree of social exclusion, with poorer members of society not being able to afford a helmet, and therefore being prevented from gaining the health and cost effective travel benefits, or continue to ride without a crash helmet, and face being criminalised for committing an offence.

The same logic applies to,wearing a high visibility jacket or tabard.  There is currently no robust supporting evidence to suggest that wearing a high viz jacket will actually prevent a collision.  Evidence so far seems to suggest that whilst a high viz jacket is useful to a cyclist being seen by other road users in daylight, they are only 15% effective at night.

The use of high intensity stroboscopic lights fitted to a bicycle will make the rider 47% less likely to have a daytime collision with a vehicle, and at night, the use of frame mounted lights  together with flashing lights built into anklets or fitted to pedals make the rider 90% less likely to be killed or seriously injured.

So, as far as I am concerned, I will continue to wear sensible brightly coloured clothing, and ride a well-lit, and well-maintained bicycle, taking into account where I will be riding, and at what time of day.

Time for Nanny State to take a back seat!

[1] www.headway.org.uk/get-involved/campaigns/cycle-helmets/

[2]  www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/ras30-reported-casualties-in-road-accidents

[3] www.tfl.gov.uk/corporate/publications-and-reports/cycle-hire-performance

[4] www.cyclinguk.org/sites/default/files/document/2017/11/helmets-evidence_brf.pdf

 

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Civil liberties Humour Politics Satire Society

Is the Carrot Wagging the Horse?

It’s a cold, brisk, yet crystal clear Saturday morning, as I sit here in Costa, with my habitual Java in my hand. I have been people watching for a relaxing half hour, just chilling out, and enjoying the weekend. 
The tidal ebb and flow of pedestrians on East Grinstead’s London Road pass before the window, snuggled against the cold in thick jackets and scarves. However, in the main, they appear happy, probably due to the azure blue skies, sunshine and the lack of any sort of wind. 
I have been idly reviewing the week of newsworthy items, and I spotted an article that was definitely worthy of my consideration and subsequent fact-based ridicule. 
It seems that the UK’s population of Vegans and Vegetarians have got their delicate knickers in a twist over the discovery that minute traces of tallow have been used by the Royal Mint in the production of the UK’s new polymer five pound notes. 
Amidst the electronic squawkings in the twittersphere, it seems that a petition was raised to have the Bank of England change the manufacturing process of the notes. Predictably, the Bank of England is now “Looking into alternatives”
Now, let me try and put this into perspective.
The current working population (16 – 64 years old) of the United Kingdom is 38 million according to the Office of National Statistics. A page on the National Health Service website states that there are around 1.2 million vegetarians in the UK – about 3.5% of the adult working population. (www.nhs.uk) and less than 1% of that population are Vegan.
A quick tap on the calculator shows that the vegan population is estimated as a staggering 380,000,  
The petition managed to gather 120,000 signatures, enough to be considered for parliamentary debate – but this tiny figure represents just 31% of the vegan population if considered in isolation, or 0.1% of the total vegetarian population.
Pardon me if I come across as being just a little incredulous here. But Really? Truly? 0.003% of the adult people within the UK can trigger such a furore over a matter largely unimportant for the vast majority of people, and subsequently for a major institution to commit a sudden volte-face on the issue. 
I wonder how much this will cost the UK government? Any project changed mid course and without warning will incur costs, and these costs will be recovered from the taxation of working people. 
Whilst I am generally very respectful of the opinions of others, and having three or four vegetarian friends for whom I have cooked meals, this is, quite frankly, ludicrous.
Engage Grumpy Old Git Mode….
I am now looking forward to seeing the next Vegan/Veggie revolts on other highly contentious issues such as banning Beer and Wine due to the brewers use of Isinglass – a clearing agent made from fish bladders. Naturally, they will all enjoy the new alcohol free world in which they will live. Or maybe pay far more for beer and wine cleared with synthetic (and possibly much more dangerous to health) substances.  
Those Vegan ladies will have to stop using a great majority of perfumes due to the addition of Castoreum used in the manufacturing process. (Interestingly, castoreum is obtained from the Beaver’s castor sac).
Many plastic items, including supermarket carrier bags, and bicycle tyres use stearic acid in the production process. It is used as a “Slip agent” to prevent plastics sticking together, hence its use in banknote manufacturing. 
No Vegan Parents will be able to have soft and cosy laundry, because fabric conditioners contain dihydrogenated tallow dimethyl ammonium chloride in them, in order soften the fabric’s fibres. This product is obtained from the rendered fat from cattle, horses and other livestock.
No more sugar either in their brave new world, as most sugars that have been refined use bone char during refining. Bone char is the residue collected from the ashes of burnt animal carcasses. 
Protected Lovemaking? Well, that’s out too… condoms are made from latex, together with casein a product extracted from animal milk. This product is used to lubricate the condom.  
Oh no! More bad news for Vegan women. No more nail varnish ladies. This is made with Guanine, known commercially as “Pearl Essence”. In reality it’s made from fish scales, and is one of the four base components of RNA and DNA, the building blocks of life.
Crayons have animal fats in them as well, and whilst thinking of children, let’s consider confectionery. Red coloured food products are tinted using the crushed bodies of the Cochineal Beetle. Glazed chocolate confectionery uses an edible shellac known as “Confectioners Glaze”. In reality, it’s extracted from female Lac Insects. 
Breakfast will never be the same again in Vegan households, as a number of Orange Juice suppliers are adding Omega Three fatty oils to their products. Omega three is extracted from fish. This is a relatively new thing, and is known as “Nutraceuticals”, the addition of products essential to well being into food. 
I shall never eat another bagel again either, as researching for this article revealed that a product called L-Cysteine is used in their production. This product is manufactured from bird feathers and human and pig hair. Yuk!
Toothpaste contains Glycerine another animal product.
The list is almost endless. 
Man has been involved in animal husbandry, farming and cultivation for thousands of years. Homo Sapiens are biologically optimised to operate on a mixed diet, hence the provision of teeth such as incisors and canines to enable the cutting and ripping of flesh, and molars for the grinding of pretty much everything consumed. Stereoscopic vision enables man to be an effective hunter of lesser life forms. 
Naturally, man has also evolved philosophically and culturally, and many now consider the taking of animal life for sustenance as unacceptable, conveniently overlooking the fact the vegetation is also living matter. 
Everyone can make their own choices in terms of their ethics. If you don’t want to eat meat, that’s fine. If you make that as an ethical decision rather than a dietary one, then you should also stop wearing leather, stop riding a bike, driving a car, in fact doing most things that are an intrinsic part of living in the 21st century. 
I do have some sympathy with the protestors. Regardless of the minute amounts of animal product being used, individuals are effectively being forced by the state to handle something which they find offensive and over which they have absolutely no choice. 
In due course, I guess the fiver will become so devalued it will eventually become a coin, in the same way that the old pound note did. This will stop the whinging, unless of course, a way is found to make base metal out of old cat pelts.
So, at the end of the day, in our topsy-turvey world, the process of society is being driven by a loud, vocal, and possibly ill -informed minority, and political correctness means that fewer people feel able to turn round and say “Suck it up Cup Cake”. 

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Aircew Airport Civil liberties Humour pilots Politics Satire Society Travel

Education And Aiports – Are we Losing the Plot?

Grumpy – And With Good Reason!

It may be because I am getting older, and therefore less tolerant of the idiocy of others, or it may be that other people really are becoming more cretinous and idiotic.
To prove my point, let me share some thoughts with you.
A few weekends ago, I had to make a short train journey to meet up with some family members for a genteel lunch, at a beautiful quiet country pub, nestled snugly in the Surrey countryside, in a fold of the peaceful and wealthy Surrey Hills.
In order to enjoy my journey to its fullest extent, I made a quick excursion into the pleasant little town of Haselmere, where I was to catch the train.  I left myself time to take a gentle stroll into the quintessentially English High Street where Costa Coffee is located, so I could buy my usual Skinny Wet Latte with an extra shot.  

Meandering back to the station, I popped into W H Smiths and bought a paper to pass the time.

Standing on the sun dappled platform, I began to peruse the news of the day.  Amidst all of the hysteria about the forthcoming General Election, and the sad stories relating to the earthquake in Nepal, I found some cause for an element of grumpiness, which cheered me up considerably.
It seems that London’s Goldsmith College have banned Caucasian men from attending an “Anti Racism” event, because according to the “Diversity Officer,”  in order to attend you have to belong to the BME. It appears that the BME, far from being some supremacist group, stands for “Black Ethnic Minority”. 
Mind you, there is good news here as well, because the event also positively welcomed those who are “non-binary”. 
You could be forgiven for thinking this was some form of computer phobia, or an inability to count in base ten.  
I was a little amused to discover that those amongst us who are “Non Binary” do not know what sex they are.
Is it not somewhat ironic, that an event that is intended to break down barriers, and stop people discriminating against others based on racial background should fall into the trap of banning others from attending because they come from a different racial heritage.
You couldn’t make it up could you?
I did have to chuckle at the next article, concerning yet another bastion of the British Education system –  this time Queens University in Belfast.  Why has such a respected seat of learning become the target of my grumpiness (albeit mirthful grumpiness)?
Well, the scholarly leaders have decided to ban a conference on Free Speech, Self-Censorship and the Charlie Hebdo killings.

Who employs these people?  Are they specially selected for being stupid, so as to make the scholars feel clever?

So, it was with a mood of cheerful grumpiness that I met up with my family, and enjoyed an excellent lunch, with good company and good food.
Having to a certain extent, forgotten the previous evidence that modern educationalists are sillier than primary school children, I awoke the following morning early, as I had to take a trip to London to attend a business meeting.
Driving to the station, I grabbed a coffee, and picked up a Metro free newspaper at the station entrance.
Skimming through it, – amongst the latest daily doses of pre election hyperbole and more sad stories of the earthquakes and avalanches around Everest I spotted what I was subconsciously looking for…..my morning fix of idiocy to fuel my impish inner self.
Now, I work in the aviation industry, and have done for the best part of my working life, having previously served as a security officer, VIP services manager, an aircraft cleaner, a passenger services executive, and have been flight crew.  I have been exposed to much witless behaviour on many occasions from both passengers and colleagues, but I did draw a sharp intake of breath at the story published.
It seems that a little boy, of four years old was travelling through East Midlands Airport with his family, who were flying out to Lanzarote for their holiday.
All would have been well, but for the four year old carrying a plastic toy gun. It was promptly confiscated by airport security staff because “it posed a security risk”. A spokeswoman for the airport apparently said “No items may pass through security that resemble a prohibited item”
Having seen a Nerf gun in a photograph, it’s quite difficult to see what part of a bright yellow and orange plastic toy could cause anyone but a certifiable lunatic, (or maybe a user of psychotropic drugs) or someone of less than normal eyesight and common sense to mistake it for a real weapon.
Are these people actually recruited for their simplistic interpretation of a regulation that is obviously designed to stop people wandering round the departures lounge with replica AK-47s and similar.  
Mind you, a few years ago I  personally witnessed another situation whilst passing through to airside as a passenger.  The lady in front of me was asked to cover up her tee shirt….it was camouflaged and had an image of a Hand Grenade on it.  
She was justifiably irritated, but was told that the image could be distressing to other passengers.
We live in a very strange world these days, where reality is skewed to accommodate flawed thinking, and four year old children can’t take their favourite toy with them on holiday.
Welcome to brave new world.
Discuss! 
Mark Charlwood © 2015.  Mark Charlwood holds the intellectual property rights associated with this article. Please contact me if you wish to use it, or quote from it.

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Civil liberties Politics Society

Welsh Rugby Fans want to sing “Why Why Why, Delilah”

I was just settled down in my local Costa Coffee last week, my favourite Skinny Wet Latte with an extra shot in my hand, and the Daily Mail (thoughtfully provided by Costa) on the table.

I browsed through the major news stories, which all seemed so boringly predictable, and was about to shove the paper back in the rack when another, more interesting article caught my eye.

Upon reading the story, it became apparent that a “Senior Politician”, in this case, Mr Dafydd Iwan, the former president of the Welsh Nationalist Party Plaid Cymru, has objected to the Tom Jones hit ballad “Delilah” being sung before Welsh Rugby Matches.

I stifled my laughter, as there were other customers nearby, and I didn’t want to be regarded as weird, even although some may say I am.

What nonsense!

It seems that the noble politician has got his knickers in a twist because he regards the song as offensive, because it “is about murder, and it trivialises the murder of women”

Well, I can see his point – to a certain extent. Not, however, to the extent that I believe it should be banned.

For pity’s sake! It’s a song! A very well written song, as evidenced by being awarded the Ivor Novello award for the “Best song musically and lyrically” in 1968. It was so good that it reached Number 2 in the UK top ten in the same year.

Now, using the same sort of skewed logic that our Mr Iwan uses, maybe we should stop singing “God Save the Queen” as this may be construed as sexist, elitist, and theologically unbalanced. Jingoistic, and appealing to the might of empire to obtain wealth and status.

Or maybe we should ban the genteel ladies of the Women’s Institute from opening their meetings with the wonderful Hymn “Jerusalem”. After all, it is condoning violence, “Bring me my bow, of burning gold, bring me my arrows of desire, bring me my spear, oh clouds unfold, bring me my chariot of fire”.

The next verse implores the middle aged ladies to wage what amounts to a religious war, with quotes like “Nor shall my sword, sleep in my hand, till we have built Jerusalem, in England’s green and pleasant land”

Maybe Liverpool City football fans should be prevented from singing You’ll never walk alone” as it could be suggesting that it’s encouraging stalkers to follow fans.

What about Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls”. This is an anthem in praise of the larger lady, but if Mr Iwan and his ilk have their way, it will be suggested that this trivialises and marginalises the chunkier ladies. – better ban it as we can’t have that sort of suggestiveness!

Rod Stewart will certainly be banned, due to his chart topper Maggie May….in the dreary, dark, PC world that Mr Iwan wants us all to inhabit, this lyrical wistful ballad will be consigned to the Naughty Step, relating as it does, to the seduction of a schoolboy by a mature woman. In his world, this no doubt trivialises such actions.

The rest of us are mature enough to understand that the lyrics are merely a light hearted reflection on the types of adolescent fantasies that most schoolboys (myself included) have about older women.

Dean Martin – well, Little Ole Wine Drinker Me will be scuppered, as this obviously mocks the very real problems of alcoholism, and marginalises the needs and requirements of the alcoholic.
Nursery Rhymes shouldn’t be exempt either, most of which have lyrics that are of questionable integrity.

Jack and Jill famous for decades due to their hill climbing abilities? Banned! Why? Because it condones child labour. Fancy making little kids climb a steep hill to collect water. They obviously haven’t been adequately trained, and a proper risk assessment doesn’t seem to have been conducted. Furthermore, they weren’t wearing any form of protective clothing, or using the correct equipment for manually handling heavy buckets.

Ding Dong Bell doesn’t do well either. Think about it. “Ding dong bell. Pussy’s in the well, who put her in, Little Tommy Flynn”

Sounds like it’s trivialising the abuse of animals doesn’t it?

I could go on, and maybe research even more songs that should be banned using the flawed logic of Mr Iwan.

Ultimately, it’s all too silly for words. So, the lyrics of Delilah tell the story of a man pushed too far. It’s no worse than watching a modern police series, or, dare I say it, a contemporary soap series. You can see it happening for real every night on the TV news.

It’s a great song Mr Iwan. It’s a wonderful powerful stirring ballad that is sung by one of your countrymen, a man with a great voice. It’s been adopted by the Welsh Rugby fans because it is FUN to sing along as a big crowd, and Tom Jones is a true Welsh icon.

Quite unlike Mr Iwan, who I’m sure will sink into obscurity long before Delilah stops being sung by us ordinary, cheerful adults who are able to discriminate between political comment, and a good song.

Discuss….

Categories
Civil liberties Humour Politics Satire Society

If Music Be the Food Of Love, Play on…

I was just settled down in my local Costa Coffee last week, my favourite Skinny Wet Latte with an extra shot in my hand, and the Daily Mail (thoughtfully provided by Costa) on the table.

I browsed through the major news stories, which all seemed so boringly predictable, and was about to shove the paper back in the rack when another, more interesting article caught my eye.

Upon reading the story, it became apparent that a “Senior Politician”, in this case, Mr Dafydd Iwan, the former president of the Welsh Nationalist Party Plaid Cymru, has objected to the Tom Jones hit ballad “Delilah” being sung before Welsh Rugby Matches.

I stifled my laughter, as there were other customers nearby, and I didn’t want to be regarded as weird, even although some may say I am.

What nonsense!

It seems that the noble politician has got his knickers in a twist because he regards the song inappropriate, as it “is about murder, and it trivialises the murder of women”

Well, I can see his point – to a certain extent. Not, however, to the extent that I believe it should be banned.

For pity’s sake! It’s a song! A very well written song, as evidenced by being awarded the Ivor Novello award for the “Best song musically and lyrically” in 1968. It was so good that it reached Number 2 in the UK top ten in the same year.

Now, using the same sort of skewed logic that our Mr Iwan uses, maybe we should stop singing “God Save the Queen” as this may be construed as sexist, elitist, and theologically unbalanced. Jingoistic, and appealing to the might of empire to obtain wealth and status.

Or maybe we should ban the genteel ladies of the Women’s Institute from opening their meetings with the wonderful Hymn “Jerusalem”. After all, it is condoning violence, “Bring me my bow, of burning gold, bring me my arrows of desire, bring me my spear, oh clouds unfold, bring me my chariot of fire”.

The next verse implores the middle aged ladies to wage what amounts to a religious war, with quotes like “Nor shall my sword, sleep in my hand, till we have built Jerusalem, in England’s green and pleasant land”

Maybe Liverpool City football fans should be prevented from singing You’ll never walk alone” as it could be suggesting that it’s encouraging stalkers to follow fans.

What about Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls”. This is an anthem in praise of the larger lady, but if Mr Iwan and his ilk have their way, it will be suggested that this trivialises and marginalises the chunkier ladies. – better ban it as we can’t have that sort of suggestiveness!

Rod Stewart will certainly be banned, due to his chart topper Maggie May….in the dreary, dark, PC world that Mr Iwan wants us all to inhabit, this lyrical wistful ballad will be consigned to the Naughty Step, relating as it does, to the seduction of a schoolboy by a mature woman. In his world, this no doubt trivialises such actions.

The rest of us are mature enough to understand that the lyrics are merely a light hearted reflection on the types of adolescent fantasies that most schoolboys (myself included) have about older women.

Dean Martin – well, Little Ole Wine Drinker Me will be scuppered, as this obviously mocks the very real problems of alcoholism, and marginalises the needs and requirements of the alcoholic.

Nursery Rhymes shouldn’t be exempt either, most of which have lyrics that are of questionable integrity.

Jack and Jill famous for decades due to their hill climbing abilities? Banned! Why? Because it condones child labour. Fancy making little kids climb a steep hill to collect water. They obviously haven’t been adequately trained, and a proper risk assessment doesn’t seem to have been conducted. Furthermore, they weren’t wearing any form of protective clothing, or using the correct equipment for manually handling heavy buckets.

Ding Dong Bell doesn’t do well either. Think about it. “Ding dong bell. Pussy’s in the well, who put her in, Little Tommy Flynn”

Sounds like it’s trivialising the abuse of animals doesn’t it?

I could go on, and maybe research even more songs that should be banned using the flawed logic of Mr Iwan.

Ultimately, it’s all too silly for words. So, the lyrics of Delilah tell the story of a man pushed too far. It’s no worse than watching a modern police series, or, dare I say it, a contemporary soap series. You can see it happening for real every night on the TV news.

It’s a great song Mr Iwan. It’s a wonderful powerful stirring ballad that is sung by one of your countrymen, a man with a great voice. It’s been adopted by the Welsh Rugby fans because it is FUN to sing along as a big crowd, and Tom Jones is a true Welsh icon.

Quite unlike Mr Iwan, who I’m sure will sink into obscurity long before Delilah stops being sung by us ordinary, cheerful adults who are able to discriminate between political comment, and a good song.

Discuss….