Brexit: a people's vote?

In the wake of the Brexit referendum (June 2016), there have been various petitions and protest marches. The government's response is always basically the same: "The British people voted to leave the EU and the Government will implement their decision."

(More generally, I'm curious. Has there ever been a successful petition on the government website or I.e. one where the government said "Yes, you're right, we'll do the thing that you're asking for." I haven't heard of any.)

Taking a specific example, there was petition 223729 in July: Rescind Art.50 if Vote Leave has broken Electoral Laws regarding 2016 referendum. This got more than 100,000 signatures, so Parliament debated it in September. The debate lasted 1h09m: you can watch the video or read a transcript via that link. It's not quite what I expected: for one thing, it didn't take place in the main chamber. Instead, it was in a smaller committee room. By my count, there were fewer than 20 people present, and none of them were party leaders. It was also far more civilised than any of the debates I've seen/heard in the chamber, where people are booing each other as if they were at a football match; I can only stand a couple of minutes of that before I'm filled with rage. In this case, there were MPs from different parties (Labour, LibDem, Conservative, SNP) all working together. They were all pro-Remain except for The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (Chris Heaton-Harris), who gave a speech at the end that trotted out the standard party line: "blah blah will of the people blah blah" (paraphrased).

In brief, we know that the Leave campaign broke the law, and they were fined by the Electoral Commission. If the referendum had been legally binding (like a general election) then this would be grounds to discard the results and start again. However, since the referendum was advisory, the government are free to follow or ignore the results as they see fit. That means that there's no legal basis to demand a new referendum. The frustrating point is that the government keep claiming that they are bound by the results.

I think the wider issue is that our current laws don't handle referendums very well, possibly because they're so rare. Looking back at the AV referendum from 2011, the "No" campaign lied about the cost (£250 million); for instance, they included the cost of the referendum itself (a sunk cost) and assumed that we'd switch to electronic voting machines. As I wrote at the time (Referendum results), the campaigners are legally allowed to lie, as long as they don't lie about rival candidates. In the Brexit campaign, the £350 million printed on the side of the bus was also a lie, but that's not why the Leave campaign got into trouble; they only broke the law about overspending.

So, suppose that there was a new referendum. How can we trust that this would be any more honest than the last two? Look at how brazen Donald Trump has been in the USA, denying that he said things even when there's video evidence to the contrary. Could we see the same thing over here? More to the point, can we assume that the electorate will actually know (or care) what's true?

Being charitable, let's say that all the Leave voters saw through the lies, but still decided that we'd be better off outside the EU. That doesn't mean that they all had the same vision of what leaving would involve, e.g. how to handle the Irish border. As I said before (Unintended consequences), I would ideally like to see a multi-way ballot based on AV. Some people might say "Any kind of Brexit is better than staying in" while other people might say "Keeping our current status is better than leaving the EU and joining the Schengen Zone".

Suppose that there was another general election under the current party leadership: as a Remainer, who should I vote for?

  • The Conservatives are definitely out, since Theresa May is the one pushing Brexit!

  • Labour are also out, since Jeremy Corbyn is also pro-Brexit. (I don't think he's officially supported it, but he's been pretty luke-warm in his opposition.)

  • The Liberal Democrats say that they're against it; I've been sceptical of them since they went back on their promise about tuition fees, but I decided that it was time to give them a second chance. Then there was a vote where Vince Cable (current leader) and Tim Farron (former leader) didn't bother to turn up, and the government's amendment passed by 3 votes. So, they're out too.

  • I think that only leaves the Green party who are willing to make Remain a party policy.

Ultimately, some of the damage has already been done, e.g. the European Medicines Agency (EMA) are moving their head office from London to Amsterdam. However, I think we can and should stop things from getting too much worse.

Broken chain

This time last year (April 2017), the chain snapped on my touring bike. To be fair, it had lasted 3118 km, and these are essentially consumable items.

I took the opportunity to improve my bike mechanic skills, and replaced the chain myself (rather than going to a shop). Aside from anything else, I think it's useful to know how a chain tool works, just in case I have to make an ad-hoc repair when I'm in the middle of nowhere. So, it makes sense to practice at home, when I can take my time and look things up online. I also replaced the rear cassette (cog wheels to change gear) at the same time.

So, I was back on the road in May. Unfortunately, the new chain only lasted a month, then it snapped too. This time, I'd only gone 258 km. I don't know whether I just got unlucky (dodgy chain) or whether I did something wrong when I fitted it.

After that, I procrastinated for a while, but I finally got round to fitting another new chain recently. I carefully documented the process each time, and I was planning to post step by step instructions here. Unfortunately, this didn't quite work out that way.

I went out for a test ride at 2am, when the roads were pretty clear, but I only got halfway round the block. Just as I was turning at a junction, the rear wheel locked up, so I had to hop off and carry the bike over to the side of the road. I'm glad that didn't happen in heavy traffic!

Checking the bike again in daylight, I saw that the rear mech (derailleur) had somehow got wrapped around one of the spokes in the rear wheel:

Rear mech tangled with spoke

I'm not quite sure how I managed that. I couldn't see any easy way to get it loose, short of applying brute force. So, at this point I decided that I was out of my depth and I should turn to the experts. I went to a local cycle shop, and they took a look. They were able to get the mech free, but they discovered a new problem: the hanger (that connects the mech to the frame) was bent:

Bent hanger

(If you draw a horizontal line across the middle of the cog wheels, you can see that the adjacent metal is almost in a banana shape.)

Under normal circumstances, they would simply remove the hanger and replace it. However, in my case the hanger is actually part of the bike frame, so it can't be removed. Another option is to bend it back, but that might weaken the steel, and they're not willing to risk it.

This frame was handmade by Roberts Cycles, but they're now closed while Chas Roberts takes a sabbatical. I've emailed one of the mechanics who used to work there, to see whether he can take a look; I don't know whether it's possible to de-weld the hanger from the frame, or whether I potentially need an entire new frame.

I'm also not sure about the cause and effect here: did the broken chain pull the mech out of alignment, or did the chain snap because the mech was stuck in the wheel?

I actually have two bikes: the touring bike and a Brompton (folding bike). In theory, that means that when one of them has mechanical problems I can switch over to the other one for daily use while I repair the broken one. In practice, it means that I tend to put off the repair, because I have another working bike. Then the second bike also develops a fault, and I wind up with two broken bikes and nothing to ride. I've been in that situation for several months, but it's now time for me to focus on the Brompton: either fix it myself or admit defeat and take it to a shop.

Comics clearout

I'm having another clearout of old comics. These are all now available in digital format (Marvel Unlimited and/or Comixology) so I no longer need the paper copies, and they're all going free to a good home; leave a comment if you'd like them. If I've marked something as a complete set then I'd prefer to keep those issues together, i.e. give them all to the same person. Aside from the comics, I also have 11 spare dividers.

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I created my LiveJournal account 15 years ago (in April 2002), and it's a lot quieter now than it used to be. I think that's mainly due to competition from other social networks: I make short posts on Facebook or Twitter, and only use LJ for longer ramblings. Looking at my friends who used to post here, most of them have now moved over to Dreamwidth, partly because LiveJournal is now owned by a Russian company. LiveJournal recently updated their terms of service, and this section caught my eye:
"7.4. Please note that, User shall be subject to Article 10.2 of the Federal Act of the Russian Federation No. 149-ФЗ if more than three thousand Internet users access the Blog (the Blog’s page) within 24 hours."

I'm not sure what that legislation is, but I don't expect to ever get that many people reading my blog so I'm not too worried. However, I've set up a Dreamwidth account anyway, using the same account name (johnckirk). I haven't copied anything across yet, so I'm only using that to read other people's blogs. The main purpose of this post is to establish that I am the same person on both platforms.

Life Stripped Bare

A few months ago, I watched a Channel 4 documentary: Life Stripped Bare. It's still available via 4OD, although you have to log in first (which is free of charge). The basic premise was extreme decluttering: three households were completely emptied, with everything put into a storage unit about 1 km away. This included furniture, curtains, lampshades, and all clothing. Every day for 3 weeks, they were allowed to retrieve 1 item, but they had to go and fetch it from the storage unit. That meant that on day 1, they had to go outside completely naked:

I like that clip: it has jaunty music, and there's a sense of fun. The same thing applies to the program as a whole; I generally avoid reality TV (e.g. "Big Brother") because I have no interest in watching people bicker with each other, but that wasn't an issue here at all. There was zero conflict between the people involved: they were cooperating, and rising to a challenge.

Personally, I've had an ongoing challenge to declutter my flat. I haven't quite gone to the lengths in this program yet, but I can see the appeal of doing something similar, and I recommend watching it. Having said that, I think there are some things that could have been handled better.

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Comics clearout

I'm having another clearout of old comics, mostly from the 1990s. These are all now available in digital format (either on Marvel Unlimited or Comixology) so I no longer need the paper copies, and they're all going free to a good home. If I've marked something as a complete set then I'd like to keep those issues together, i.e. give them all to the same person.
Edit: These comics are all now taken.

Here's the full list:

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NB This is quite a big pile, so if you request any then spare some thought for how you'll carry them home!

Piles of comics

Unintended consequences

Disclaimer: As with all my blog posts, I am only representing my own views here. I'm not speaking on behalf of any of my employers (past, present, or future).

Every so often, I see people protesting against animal testing; this particularly applies to the pharmaceutical industry, where new drugs (medicines) are tested on animals before they're tested on humans. Some people have been quite militant about this, e.g. SHAC campaigned against Huntingdon Life Sciences for 15 years. Other people create petitions, e.g. "Make animal testing in all its forms illegal across the UK" (Jan 2016).

I've been vegetarian since 1992, primarily because I'm concerned about animal welfare, so I do sympathise with the campaigners on this. However, I'm not sure that they've really thought through the implications.

Collapse ) If Parliament did decide to change UK legislation and ban animal tests, I would certainly expect them to have a clear plan for what happens next, rather than just saying "We'll sort out the details later." This leads me on to Brexit.

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Skant-ily clad

I went to Nine Worlds in August, and one of the panels involved wild speculation about the future of Star Trek (particularly the new TV series). One joking suggestion was that we might see the return of the skant, i.e. the mini-dress from early episodes of TNG.

Women in skants Man in skant

Apparently the idea was to demonstrate equality in the 24th century, by showing that men would wear dresses too. However, it was reserved for a few background characters rather than the core cast, and it didn't really catch on. Anyway, there's a quite bit of cosplay at Nine Worlds, so I've been thinking about wearing a skant next year. I'd have to make it myself (or commission someone else to do it), since you can't exactly buy these things off the peg; I've done some digging online and made notes on that, but I'll save the logistics for another post.

For now, I've been thinking about what it means to be a man wearing a dress. This follows up on my previous post (discussing the allegedly "cis-heteronormative" code sample), although again I don't claim to be an expert on this topic and I apologise in advance if I say anything hideously offensive.

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Assumptions about sex/gender/orientation

I don't post much to Twitter, mainly because I find it hard to squeeze anything meaningful into 140 characters. However, I did get involved in a brief discussion yesterday, and I'm now expanding on my thoughts here.

This all involves some PostgreSQL documentation. Here's the code sample in question:

IF = 'm' THEN
    pretty_sex := 'man';
    IF = 'f' THEN
        pretty_sex := 'woman';
    END IF;

According to @alsothings, this is a "totally unnecessary cis-heteronormative example", i.e. it's both cisnormative (assuming that everyone is cisgender) and heteronormative (assuming that everyone is heterosexual). I'm not convinced, but I'd welcome any comments from people who know more about this area than I do.

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Ghostbusters (2016)

Tonight I went off to the BFI IMAX to watch the new Ghostbusters film. I'll get to my thoughts (with minor spoilers) below, but first a bit of preamble.

It's fair to say that this film attracted quite a bit of controversy, even before anyone had actually seen it. Looking at the Ghostbusters page on Facebook, each time they posted something about the new film they got negative comments. E.g.
Post: "Let the ghost journey begin 3 days today!"
Comment: "3 days today people will be vomiting in disgust of this injustice to the fans"

Based on the advance publicity, there were two things we knew about the new film:
a) This is a reboot rather than a sequel.
b) The Ghostbusters are all women (as opposed to being all men in the original film).

A lot of people complained about the reboot aspect, but they were dismissed as misogynists. For instance, here's a recent article from The Guardian:
Why Ghostbros on Twitter are monstering my Ghostbusters review
"It's that latter, and vital, aspect that naysayers who have yet to see Ghostbusters will vehemently disavow as the reason they're not jazzed for the latest iteration. [..] Yet few, if any, people complained that their childhoods were being stolen when word got out that Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill were going undercover for a big-screen update of 21 Jump Street, the beloved 80s show that introduced the world to Johnny Depp."

Personally, I saw the original version of 21 Jump Street once when I was a kid, but I don't remember anything about it other than the basic premise (cop goes undercover at a high school). There may be people who remember it a lot more clearly, but I don't think that it's iconic in the same way as Ghostbusters. (As Spike put it in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: "Who you gonna call? ... God, that phrase is never gonna be usable again, is it?") In any case, I haven't watched the remake. In a similar way, I enjoyed the original versions of Robocop and Point Break when I was at school, but I haven't watched either of those remakes either. I also enjoyed the original version of Total Recall; I have seen the remake (when I was round at a friend's house), but I wasn't particularly impressed by it. I watched the three Spider-Man films with Tobey Maguire, but I haven't watched either of the Amazing Spider-Man films.

So, if I say "I'm not enthusiastic about reboots in general, and I won't rush out to see the new Ghostbusters film", I don't think it's fair to assume that I'm lying about my motivation because I hate women. More generally, I prefer to assume good faith; you're not going to win anyone over if you refuse to engage with their actual arguments and just attack a strawman instead. (I think this is a wider issue of partisan politics. For instance, I voted "Remain" in the recent Brexit referendum, but I don't think that everyone who voted "Leave" is equivalent to Alf Garnett. Some, yes, but not all.)

If you want to read the continuing adventures of the original Ghostbusters, I highly recommend the IDW comic. It's been through a couple of relaunches, but it's all part of one ongoing story. Right now (18th July), most of the collections are on sale at Comixology: I think that 4 issues for £2.49 is pretty good value. It's worth noting that they've brought in new characters and had female Ghostbusters (at one stage the team had 3 women and 1 man) but they've done that as a sequel rather than a reboot.

Looking online (e.g. Why Ghostbusters Went With A Reboot Over A Sequel), the explanation is that Paul Feig (the director and co-writer) thought it would be a better story if the new team created their own equipment rather than having it handed to them. I can see his point, but I think it's possible to have the best of both worlds. Look at Extreme Ghostbusters: this was set about 10 years after The Real Ghostbusters, and the basic premise was that the original team were victims of their own success. They'd caught all the ghosts and put themselves out of work, so they moved onto other things. When ghosts started reappearing, a new team took over, but then they found that the old equipment no longer worked properly so they had to redesign it (e.g. the dome shaped trap that Kylie carried on her back). Looking at the trailer for the new film, they've developed new equipment that wasn't in the original film (e.g. the pistols and boxing glove), so they could still have done that even if they'd inherited the basic gear.

Also, look at the Doctor Who relaunch in 2005. This wasn't a reboot, but you didn't need to have watched any previous episodes in order to understand what was going on. The new stories stood alone, and re-introduced any relevant information (e.g. "this is a Dalek"). They only started to draw more on the backstory when they'd established the new series on its own merits. So, I think that the new Ghostbusters film could have done the same thing: all you need is the line from the trailer ("30 years ago, 4 scientists saved New York"), and you could skip over the details.

Based on all that, I figured that I'd watch the new film at some point, but I'd probably wait until I could stream it at home. However, a few friends independently said that they'd enjoyed it at the cinema: peer reviews count for a lot, so I figured that I'd give it a go. Also, I suspect that people will be talking about this at Nine Worlds next month, so I'd like to have an informed opinion. Collapse )