Sunday, March 07, 2010

Expanding the legal framework of marriage - why should we draw the line where we do?

Why do we think that the state has the right to intervene in some aspects of relationship (such as the expanded definition of marriage to include homosexuals) but not others. Why stop there? Why not expand the definition of marriage to allow polygamous groups of men and women to all be married if they so desire?

Similarly why do we allow certain “religious” rights to groups such as Christians, Moslems and Jews, but bar similar rights from groups of people such as Jedi Nights or the Church of the Flying Spaghetti monster, or followers of “The Dude”.

Both of these questions point in the direction of the historicist nature of our moral framework. The answer to both these questions is so obvious and yet terribly confronting to our law makers. There is no real ground upon which our moral framework rests, other than the weight of the past, combined with the relative size, determination and assertiveness of any such special interest groups.

The reason we allow air stewards to wear crosses, but not carry plastic toy light-sabres is because people have been wearing crosses for 2000 years, whereas they have only been wearing plastic toy light-sabres for 20.

And same sex marriages between couples is a more similar structure of commitment between people to the previously existing framework of marriage, than is marriage amongst mixed or same same-sex groups of an arbitrary size or self-determined composition.

What makes us think that the laws we make in such cases are right and acceptable, is not ever based on any reference to some Platonic notion of “The Good”. Rather it is simply an extension of our prejudices from our past as they colour the determination of those alive in the present to stand up for their own vision of what is personally desirable.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

You don't have to have been speeding to get a speeding fine

Things you may not know about speeding fines in the UK:

(1) You don't have to have been speeding to receive a speeding fine:

For example:

You don't have to have been speeding to get a speeding fine

Not a speeding fine but still a fixed penalty notice:

Man given a fixed penalty notice for blowing his nose while in a stationery car

(2) You are assumed guilty until you manage to prove yourself innocent. To prove your innocence will probably take hundreds of hours of your time, may require hiring specialised lawyers and expert witnesses, and even after all that work and stress and worry and time and money spent, a judge may still decide you are guilty even if you are not.

(3) Speeding fines tend to get issued to the "easy targets". Anyone with any real intention to flout the law regarding speed limits, simply invests in the top of the range radar detection equipment, and doesn't get caught. It is the people who can't afford that equipment (and hence also can't afford the fines and extra insurance they have to pay because of points on their license) who are the ones who suffer. As usual, rich people are at complete liberty to do whatever they like. While poor people are made to suffer for momentary lapses of concentration like slipping a couple of miles an hour over 30. Like 32 in a 30 zone.

(4) Speed detection apparatus is inaccurate and prone to operator error.

(5) Speed limits are in often applied in a random and arbitrary manner.
Residential areas may be zoned anything from 50 to 40 to 30.
On some roads the zoning flips back and forth between these bands.
To avoid fines you must transfer your attention off the road ahead, and on to attending to what the speed zone indicators are saying, and what the speedometer is saying.

[Aside: For 26 years the closest I have ever come to a road accident is scraping a wing mirror in a car park. I drive safely and carefully and keep a safe stopping distance of clear road in front of me. Where there are obstructions at the side of the road that people could step out from behind I slow down, often to significantly below the speed limit. I use my judgement in a reasonable and sensible way. I take the road conditions into account. The chances that you or your children would die at my hands on the road are about as small as they get with any driver on the road. Now I am being told that I should take my attention off the road ahead, and transfer my attention on to the speedo and the road signs. And that is supposed to be making the roads safer?]

(6) In my experience the police have no inclination to supply all the information that might be useful to demonstrate your innocence. With the initial "Notice of Intended Prosecution" there was the absolute barest minimum of information relating to the alleged offence. It required several phone calls and perseverance to get further information and evidence. Even after sending photographs, the police still had not told me where the offence was supposed to have taken place (I only have their word to go on that I was even in a 30 zone). They refused outright to supply me with a copy of the video evidence that they keep on file (they would only send me two photographs taken from that video). I would have thought this is a violation of the Data Protection Act to not supply this information. However they are much more practised at playing their little game than I am. The impression I get is that they know exactly how much they can get away with, and they get away with anything they can.

(7) If like me you do tend to drive very carefully leaving a safe stopping distance in front of your car, and keeping within the speed limit, the thing you will find out is that other drivers tend to overtake you - including in 30 zones. As to whether the consequence of having lots of drivers slowing up and then overtaking makes the roads safer or more dangerous on the whole I think can only be a matter of speculation.

(8) The actual statistics of road deaths paint a very different picture from the one that is used to justify fining easy target drivers:

Department of Transport statistics > Statistics (data, tables and publications) > Accidents and casualties