Category: Legal things

Nov 27 2013

The gay marriage “slippery slope” merchant

I think what bothers me most about people who use the “slippery slope” argument against gay marriage is they always say it’ll lead to people marrying dogs or cars.

Thing is, I find the underlying mindset disturbing more than the fact they’re making the argument. Cars aren’t alive. Dogs are incapable of providing informed consent. Neither are legally resposible for themselves, recognised as sovereign entities. The underlying mindset seems to be that marriage is something that you do to others, wether consentual or not. It seems to cry “I beleive marriage is an act of violence” first, arguably worse than the explicit text that they only beleive it should be commited against the opposite sex.

Or given the context, perhaps that should be the opposing sex.

It screams, “When I marry someone, they are my property”. My object. My slave. My Husband. My wife. My dog. My Car. Mine.

Maybe it’s actually the frequent use of the word “partner” they object to.

Aug 11 2011

Something on the policing of the riots

If you read my Twitter, you’ll know a few days ago I was fully in support of bringing in the army to support the overwhelmed police forces. I’m not any more, and I suspect my reasons are the same as a number of other peoples. A misapprehension.

I mistakenly believed that because the police were being overwhelmed in the first couple of days (or “beyond their limits” as I think someone said), then naturally they must have all of their resources attending to it. It seems a natural assumption; if I said I was being overwhelmed by something, it would be because everything I had wasn’t enough.
That was when there were 1400 officers on the streets of London. The last couple of nights there’s been 16000. Ten times as many, and then some.

I assumed that 1400 was the absolute most number of police officers that could be deployed, so was incredulous that the army hadn’t been brought in to back them up. Turns out I was wrong and there were MANY more officers that could have been deployed, so the army wasn’t needed.

So my next question is why did it take 24 hours to get all those additional officers into place? Okay the big wheels of bureaucracy take a long time to turn, but aren’t we supposed to be prepared with rapid-response tactics and so on? I know the situation isn’t the same as a few bombs going off somewhere, but still.

I’m also going to say these panicked reactions, even though I’ve shared some of them at the time, are wrong.

Water-cannons are dangerous (though admittedly the least-so of the suggested options). They’re used to break up large groups of people who’re refusing to move. The riots weren’t groups refusing to move, they were people moving about entirely too much! If anything they could have done with some sort of oil-cannon to make it harder to run away.
But that water is very high-pressure. There’s the famous picture doing the rounds of the protester who literally had the eyes blown out of his face by the water pressure. I believe he lost one entirely, and only has partial sight in the other now.
Water cannons are only used for breaking up demonstrations. If they’d had them during the student protests in London, that’s where they would have been used. To soak them to the skin and make them give up faster. And now the PM has given the OK for them to be used in England (I’d say UK, but they’ve been used in Northern Ireland for a long time).

Mandatory army service. Because having an unemployed, desperate, underclass who’re also trained in firearms and hand-to-hand combat is a great idea. Okay that’s histrionic, but all I know is my grandfather said maybe I should have joined the army to teach me some self-discipline. And I know that if I wouldn’t have killed myself or been beaten to a pulp, I would have probably come out psychotic. That’s a judgement call. I know my own mind, and I know while I need a certain level of self discipline, the army level plus all the combat training would have cemented itself to my latent school-time anger, and any form of creativity or self-exploration would have been buried. I would be a horrible and self-hating person. Up until a few years ago I did whatever people told me. The sense of duty they drill into you, I’d never have been able to fight that. Private Meat Puppet, sir.
Also ask ANY military professional how well conscripted armies compare to voluntary armies. I’ll give you a clue to the only answer you’ll get: they don’t.

Throwing people onto the streets or cutting off benefits? 1) Do people still receive benefits in prison? No? Do they when they get out? I presume so, because they’ve served their time. Better question; if someone is known to have been in the riots and hasn’t been sent to prison for it, why not? 2) At least one cause behind these riots is poverty (probably enforced by culteral expectations to own expensive pointless things, but again, not getting into that here). Making people even poorer, homeless and desperate is not going to prevent this from happening again. I can almost guarantee you’ll end up with the worst areas of the city literally breaking away from the rest of society. Imagine a whole borough where outsiders and police get killed if they enter. Cutting back food isn’t going to make the patient healthier.

Rubber bullets are dangerous. They’re not paintball gun bullets or BB rounds. The British type are 1.5″ rounds, about 4 inches long and actually made of plastic. They have a range of about 100metres and travel at 200ft/s. They’re supposed to be fired at the ground so they bounce up and hit the legs or lower body, but if they bounce or are fired higher can hit the upper body or face. 17 people were killed by rubber bullets in Northern Ireland (and 41 permanent injuries), and the UN has they under a temporary ban from peacekeeping use after two protesters died. Okay this is the extreme, and you can get away with broken bones, severe bruising, bleeding and so on, but be aware what you’re asking for.

But hey, they’re rioters, they’re fucking with our lives, they deserve to get beaten on, right? Who cares if they die while breaking the law?

Leaving the reasons behind the riots aside totally, as that’s a whole different argument, let me list three things that’ve happened today.

  • Someone got sentenced to two months in prison for taking part in the riots. However they claim they were video-taping a police officer beating a youth who was already on the ground. When the officers noticed, the filmer was pepper-sprayed and arrested. Did they? Doubt we’ll ever know. If it’s true you can bet that camera doesn’t exist anymore.
  • EDIT: It doesn’t seem this is the specific video mentioned, but it seems to show the same series of events. Filming a stop-and-search, annoyed police deciding he’s looking for a fight and tackling him to the ground. Uploaded today, the 10th.
  • Video was put online of Birmingham (?) police swarming on a couple of people and beating them to the ground including putting the boot in. They did not appear to be part of any gang larger than 3 people or appear to be making any hostile motion. After they were beaten it is said they were NOT arrested. Why are you beating people to the ground who are making no violent actions or who have apparently not done anything you can arrest them for?
  • A friend witnessed and videoed a youth walking past a ground of police officers, apparently peacefully. The 15 officers and dog piled onto him and arrested him. His only crime appears to have been that he was wearing a hoodie. I have a friend who makes and sells hoodies. There’s a fashion-police joke here somewhere, but it’s not a funny one. If her account of the video pans out, 15 police and a canine unit arrested someone because of the way they were dressed. Because of how they looked.

We can’t afford to be trite with this kind of shit. If abuses are happening in the name of the law, it needs to be dealt with. Likewise we can’t allow panic to edge us into thinking street-justice is the way forward.

I mean, you do realised Judge Dredd was supposed to be DIStopian, right? That the idea of having a police force where you receive summary justice based on a single persons opinion is a nightmare of personal vendettas? I’m surprised I’ve heard so much of it come from people in racial or sexual minorities too, and it’s hard to repress the feeling I need to shout in their faces “You realise you could be giving some racist or homophobic asshole in a position of power permission to kill YOU, right??”
And that’s not to mention all those hundreds of thousands who supported the student protests who under the same carte-blanche would have instead been leaving parliament square soaking wet with outright hypothermia instead of a chill, or shattered ribs and kneecaps instead of scuffed elbows. Those that would have been able to still walk anyway.

These riots have also brought the “truth” spouted by some groups into stark relief. I’m not talking any of these nationalist groups who’ve been trying to jump on the hero/vigilante bandwagon (notably by going into other peoples neighbourhoods to “defend” them, where they don’t know who is what, and getting into trouble with police themselves as a result). I’m not talking about Scientology, who’ve been out scouting the clean-up works for vulnerable victims of these riots to recruit and brainwash (you surely know about THAT by now, right?).

I’m talking about groups like Wikileaks and Anonymous, whose tweets have thoroughly embarrassed both of them these past few days with what I can only assume is either their own anarchic wishful thinking or genuine confusion that any sudden “riots” reported in the mainstream media must be popular revolutions that needs supporting, and not a bunch of criminal louts out to steal TVs and trainers.


What do we need in the aftermath of all this?

Well for starters the places that have fared best have been those with strong community ties. It’s not surprising that came from areas with strong ethnic backgrounds. Everywhere else is commuters who’d sooner step on your face than be 15 seconds late for work. Get to know your fucking neighbours. You’ll make your area a nicer, more secure place.

Police need to be able to call in and get in support forces MUCH faster.

Police need their equipment rethinking if they’re carrying too much to be able run after someone.

Police need to be able to coordinate better. I still have no idea why they couldn’t have swept a team through the Pembury Estate and kettled that mob in the next road where there were solid walls of terraces either side.

While I thought it nightmarish at first, and it would be if applied to peaceful protests, give the police super-soakers full of UV dye, and fit the helicopters out with UV strobes. Tag them and look for people flashing bright red in the street later at your leisure.

To prevent abuses of power, equip every officer with sealed camera unit that runs the entire time they’re on duty. Passive evidence-gathering plus a personal black-box. If the camera’s off and you’re accused of something though, you’re considered off-duty. Might help those community relations too if there’s a guarantee of evidence in case someone “falls down” while getting arrested. And yes that shit still happens.

We also need more distractions for people. Free ones. There’s 500k jobs available in this country and 2.5million unemployed. “Get a job” only works if there’s actually enough jobs for everyone. But that gets into the reasons behind the riots, which is another matter entirely.

We need a government with the balls to say when we all need to calm down, rather than making reactionary blanket statements that they’ll use against us in future in order to cover a loss of face because they didn’t want to stop sipping margaritas in the sun. We elect a government to make the big decisions we CAN’T make as individuals and SHOULDN’T make in the heat of the moment. This lot are supposed professionals pandering to the whims of the amateurs who hired them. Stop pandering to the armchair generals already!


Also I’d like to say the riots revealed another sad state of things. While in the final day it was mostly black males still engaged in the rioting, in the first couple of days those involved were of both sexes and all races. Is it only when people hit rock bottom people actually stop giving a shit about those things?


If I get the time and energy, will follow up with thoughts on the causes of the riots and the misapprehension that “insurance will cover it all”. The latter because as someone who’s had business insurance, it makes me laaaaaaaugh. :P

Aug 02 2011

Forum fallout

I’m aware that some people probably think I’ve been pointlessly shit-stirring on the old UKFur forums this afternoon.

The short story behind it is a friend got assaulted, robbed and raped over the weekend. (I am not willing or able to provide details, as it could influence behaviour and the outcome of legal action.) Myself and a few others were rightfully angry that a forum mod said they wouldn’t be kept away from them on there.

I can see their point. The forum moderators are not the police, they don’t know rumour from fact, they are not in the position to request legal documents or evidence.
However, while the forums are not linked to the real world meets per-se as is repeatedly stated, the majority of the organisation, promotion and discussion of those meets takes place on those forums. Large portions of the forums are dedicated to those meet discussions to the point there are regional moderators to spread the load.
Whether it likes it or not the UKFur forum moderators do have a responsibility to the real-world events even if they’re not directly organising them.

So when something like this occurs and is witnessed by long-term meet organisers AND the person is arrested and taken away at the meet itself, surely that’s enough that at very least you wouldn’t want them able to discuss and plan future meet attendance with the rest of the group, right?

I tried to steer away from the R-word at first in the thread, as it was not what was witnessed at the meet, but ask on the forums what outside events on the forums would lead to someone getting banned there with a few examples like murder and assault. Rape did eventually rear it’s head though as it was pretty obvious people knew something like this had happened and it was the point of my question.

The responses, screen-capped for posterity, were ranged, interesting and changeable as the few intense pages went on. They were for the most part polite, but I still can’t shake the feeling more than a few were also “shut up now” hints/expectations from some mods. I’m honestly surprised I didn’t get any warnings or outright bans myself as a result of this, though hypocritically a few others got off-site harassment as a result of joining the thread.

I learnt a few interesting things, both on the thread and off;

  • One mod can’t talk about people being raped without turning it around to complain about their own love-life.
  • Another admits they’d ban someone for accusations of molesting a pet, but would only maybe ban someone for actual proof of rape/assault.
  • The few users who respond at that point agree they would expect this response from moderators.
  • Memories are either short, times change, or hypocrisy reigns as one who is concerned about the discussion fouling police investigations omits recalling previous mod-only discussions about deleting profiles containing potential evidence when a pair were arrested for a mutilation/murder pact last year.
  • Another mod places rape on the same level as cyber-bullying.
  • Sympathetic parties are only sympathetic until they think they can out the mystery parties involved (specifics of those involved were intentionally never revealed and the thread closed before accusations began to fly).
  • Several mods don’t know the difference between detached and callous.
  • Several users don’t know the difference between a community and a database.
  • Many mods have a career in politics ahead for studiously avoiding answers to direct questions such as “Would you ban a user if it were admitted by them and proven by police they raped or assaulted another user of this forum?” even after it’s put forward that not doing so would be against the victims human rights.
  • That they might ban them but it might not work because they could come back under another name. Which undermines the whole justification for banning for any reason.
  • Only one mod seemed to give a shit that this might have effected a real person, and not just be to cause drama on their forums.

Basically the forum as a whole has historically managed to largely avoid having to do anything directly about this sort of thing. The problems usually just “go away” by themselves. People who are banned from physical meets for bad behaviour of whatever sort generally drift away from the community in a short while as they are no longer able to meet folk in person (for the most part). Throw in the fact that there’s long been a small but disturbing undercurrent of social pressure that a level of sexual predation in the fandom is just normal has meant small assaults against members of the community have been either stifled, ignored as hearsay/drama, or left to sort themselves out.

I’d like to say though that this has changed greatly in recent times through the sustained efforts of “Lupus Londonwolf” and the rest of the LondonFurs Committee who organise the physical London Meets (and a few others). They have probably done more than anyone to minimise and rapidly remove these harmful social elements from the community. They took chaotic, hidden back-room meetings and brought them into daylight; exposed members to the public and banned people who broke the rules. And most members have learnt from this. Social skills have improved, and people don’t try to get away with questionable shit anywhere near as much. Those who do are quietly removed early on or learn fast.

To put it succinctly, over the last 5 years or so they’ve changed the London group from one where we got kicked out of pubs every few months for damaging furniture, under-age drinking and people who couldn’t figure why it wasn’t appropriate to wear bondage gear and hump in public, to one where people aren’t afraid to report feeling uncomfortable about someones behaviours or actions, where you can change into costume without having someone try to feel you up, where we’re not only asked back to venues but the staff like us enough to offer us special rates and hours! This change in mentality seems to have spread to meets across the country.

It’s for actions like theirs that I’m still glad to be a member of this community, not for the actions of forum mods who still believe in the old Geek Fallacy that everything must be permitted or you’re persecuting them just like mean old normal people.

I owe this community a lot, but I’m not so tethered to the past I don’t know I can do without the forums if I need to, and at worst the community itself. It helped me grow and grow beyond it as a result.

Would I have said things as bluntly and honestly if I’d still only been socialising in that community? Maybe, but probably not. I know now though that in the worst case I would have lost access to a small convenience where I post maybe once or twice a week and would have had to look at other websites for meet-up details.

Widen your social circles, gain security through redundancy. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind for fear of retribution or expulsion. There’s usually more than one place to socialise, and if there isn’t already, make one.

TL;DR – If you do something that forces meet organisers to call the police on you, get you arrested and charged at a meet, not only do I want you banned from that meet but I don’t want to have to you haunting the community discussion forums where those meets are planned and organised, let alone haunt those members your actions may have affected.

UKFur, I am disappoint.

Jul 26 2011

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I have been known by the chosen pseudonym “Sci Starborne” on the internet for over a decade. I am known by this name to far more people than by my birth name, and especially by people I actually care about. I enjoy living under this name and having all the associated back-history that goes along with it, so heavily resent being forced into having to use only my birth name which tends only to attract nightmarish ghouls from school-days.

In addition to this, the naming option is illegal under EU law, and perhaps more importantly seeks to squash the original levels of anonymity that motivated much of the original blogging revolution.

I cannot use Google+ in good faith without feeling I am assisting in a march toward a future where all internet usage is licensed and traceable, with the associated further hindrance of anonymous freedom of speech.

If you had left the option to choose a *display name* separate from my real name, I might not be leaving but would still not be inclined to post any original content on your service.

You’ve come up with a nice framework, an improved layout for social networking formats, but the first one that mimics it and allows you to make a page for your pet cat is going to win out. You’ve put too much framework in place with too little sympathy for those who dislike it.

I find this all another reminder that a company motto is in no way legally binding.

FYI: Go to “Account Settings“, click “Account overview” tab, and select your choice “Delete Google+ content or your entire Google profile”

Mar 01 2011

The legality of using an electric cart

So I’ve been trying to figure out if it’s legal for me use these electric robot bases I’ve been making. This is only my research from today, so there may be flaws. Please feel free to correct me.

Electric bicycles & scooters in the UK are legal to use at age 14 without any licence provided the motor is only capable of 200Watts of power (or 250Watt if it’s a trike or tandem), limited to a maximum of 15mph under electric power and weighno more than 40Kg (60kg for trikes & tandems).

The junk-built “Thunderbird 1” would fall under that at the moment. A 120Watt motor and it’s built as a trike. It’d be lucky to hit 12mph with the wind at it’s back.

However, I do not want to ride T1; I wanted to add a guide-handle to it and use it as a power-assist cart to move heavy stuff around. This seemed a lot safer to me.

But this would also suddenly make it a class-K vehicle; “Mowing machine or vehicle controlled by a pedestrian”, which requires a UK driving licence to use. Mine is currently only a provisional licence.

I found a case where a poor sod who worked delivering milk using an electric hand-cart was told by the police that he wasn’t allowed to, and since he couldn’t get a drivers licence (could only read a licence plate at 21 yards, rather than 25) the dairy had to get him an assistant with a drivers licence to guide the cart while he walked alongside.

I can’t find the link right now, but it was the local MP bringing up the ridiculous state of the class-K licence in parliament and pointed out the man would have been fine to use a bicycle cart, or a horse & cart, all at much higher speeds (and potential risk) than a 4.5mph trolley. The matter ended after a lot of description by being dismissed in true government fashion. Paraphrasing; “Very nice, but that’s an extreme example, it’s not worth bothering.” “That’s ok, I can tell my annoyed constituents I tried, thanks!”

Then I look at the Road Traffic Act of 1988, section 189 which explicitly states “controlled by a pedestrian” is NOT to be treated as a motor vehicle. The same portion also defines the electrical-assist pedal-cycle as not a motor vehicle.

So a class-K is a vehicle as far as the driving licence is concerned, but not as far as the Road Traffic Act is concerned.

Fortunatly this section also defines what “controlled by a pedestrian” actually means;

  • is constructed or adapted for use only under such control, or
  • is constructed or adapted for use either under such control or under the control of a person carried on it, but is not for the time being in use under, or proceeding under, the control of a person carried on it.

Now here it gets very muddy. Remote-control vehicles.

The person driving a radio-control car is a pedestrian, but they have no physical contact with the vehicle. And the only specific example given in section 189 is that of lawnmowers (as well as the milkman case). This implies that the control by the pedestrian is considered to be by physical contact with the vehicle. And there is ample proof of larger & more powerful remote-control vehicles (EG: 5000 Watts) than I’m making being used without a licence (other than that for the radio system).

Now if, and it’s a dangerous to take an if when dealing with the letter of the law, this above paragraph is correct in it’s assumptions, we’re left with an absurd situation.

  • If I ride on Thunderbird 1, I have no legal issue.
  • If I guide Thunderbird 1 with a handle, I need a full driving licence or a provisional one with a fully licensed person present.
  • If I drive Thunderbird 1 via remote-control, I have no legal issue.

Further to this I find some more explicit descriptions on the Suffolk Police website that states;

  • The term MPV (mechanically propelled vehicle) is not defined by legislation, but will include, for example, child-sized motorcycles, quads and all motorised vehicles as defined in the Road Traffic Act 1988. Note the exceptions from the definition of motor vehicle contained in section 189(1)(c) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 i.e. grass-cutting machines, certain vehicles controlled by pedestrians, and specified electrically assisted bicycles.
  • An MPV becomes a motor vehicle when it’s made or adapted to go on roads.
  • MPVs have to be registered, taxed and insured.

I think this just told me that a childs electric ride-in car (a 4-wheeled vehicle, not a bike or trike) would have to be taxed & insured.

I know I’m being facetious there.

Though there’s another loop-hole in all this mess that recently saw a man prosecuted for riding a Segway in the UK. Why is the Segway illegal to use on public land? Because it doesn’t have pedals, apparently. Quoting from the Legalise Segways website; “The Highway Act of 1835 renders the Segway PT illegal in the UK on pavements. They cannot be used where bicycles can (even electric bicycles) because they do not have pedals – and they cannot be used on the road as a motor vehicle because they do not meet any kind of permitted type approval in the UK. The only place they CAN be used is on private property (and only with the land owner’s permission).”

Their mention of the electric bicycles is a bit of a mistake I feel. Although I can’t find Segway literature listing motor power, a user forum post from 2002 however says the Segway uses two 2HP motors. So nearly 3000Watts.

With the electric-bike/trike law an absolute 250Watt limit, using the comparison here seems to provide their campaign with an immediate Achilles heel. I would be far more concerned that the Segway is fifteen times more powerful than the highest rated electric-assist bicycle, rather than it lacking pedals. (of course the Segway needs that power for rapid high-power adjustment in balance, rather than speed or loading)

But the pedal issue is why electric scooters are illegal. They’re solely electrically powered, not power-assisted. And despite being popular gifts for kids, illegal to use on anything other than private land in the UK.

Now to close with a couple of bits of speculation;

  1. The law relating to electric MPVs (but not motor vehicles) seems to take the attitude that the electric motor is solely for the purpose of assistance where the person is physically unable. Bicycle power-assistance, invalid carriages, electric wheelchairs, etc. Actual use as an independent low-risk/low-cost device for the able-bodied does not seem to be a consideration.
  2. With Thunderbird 2 looking at 360Watts of power, it should be legal to use as long as I don’t ride on it, control it wirelessly, don’t run it fast and don’t act like a cock to draw attention to myself. The whole area of new MPVs seems to be a sprawling grey-area where there’s a lot of interpretation involved on the behalf of the legal services. While this seems to sit ok as not-a-passenger-vehicle or a pedestrian-assist/controlled vehicle, it’s still an unusual variety of remote-controlled-vehicle which could invite legal wrangling. The additional robotic components will likely exacerbate that.
  3. While I can’t find specific mention, there’s some suggestion that using an RC vehicle to carry anything (person or cargo) turns it back into a motor vehicle. Which would rather stump one of the original intentions for the damn things.

If I were to make an amendment to the rules though? For a start I’d scrap the motor-wattage rating completely (Hell, scrap the ICE size limits too), but keep the speed limits on them.

It doesn’t matter if your motor is a hundred or a thousand watts; if it’s limited to twelve or fifteen miles per hour you’re only going to go that speed. The only thing it’ll effect is how much load you can carry and how quickly (or if) you can get to that top speed.

Final thought: While cat-K seems to be included on full licences by default, as many of the other categories require specialised testing it seems to imply there is a specific test or portion of test to get licensed to “drive” a push-lawnmower. I wonder if it’s possible to get a licence for JUST that?

Also, I’m aware that while not a legal necessity, public liability insurance is advisable when using powerful RC vehicles in public.

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