Thursday, 22 February 2018

Vapour Trails

I read, with interest, the article over on @Dick_Puddlecote’s page discussing ‘Vaping Etiquette’. On the one side, we had Dick’s view that ‘cloud-chasers’ are ruining the vaping scene and handing ammunition to the prohibitionists. Giving the opposing view was Dave Dorn’s opinion in the defence of ‘cloud-chasers’.

What struck me about this ‘conversation’ on vaping etiquette was how the vaping community is being split on such a polarising viewpoint. I would think that any of the puritans reading the article would be delighted to be reading such a thing. I have little doubt that already such people are excitedly sending emails and memos to other in their clique on ways they can exploit the situation to drive a further wedge between vapers. ‘Divide & Conquer’ is the phrase we are discussing here.

I have to admit that this whole debacle on ‘vaping etiquette’ seriously pisses me off. On the one hand we have plenty of good people out there campaigning and advocating for tolerance to vapers, but on the other hand we have many of those same people screaming intolerance towards vapers who prefer to cloud chase. This simply has to stop.

When I sat on the board of the NNA, the first rumblings of this so-called ‘vaping etiquette’ came to my attention. I made it clear at the time that I had my reservations about developing an etiquette around vaping, but I was in the minority. I left the NNA in the Summer of last year, but keep on following (and supporting) the excellent work they do for vaping advocacy. Since that time, the NNA have put out posters around vaping etiquette. I couldn’t get behind it when I was a part of the NNA, and I still cannot get behind that campaign now. It makes me uneasy and, in my humble opinion, is unnecessarily alienating large portions of the vaping community.

I will admit it. I am an unashamedly proud cloud-chaser. It has NOTHING whatsoever to do with the ability to blow mahoosive clouds of vapour (I can do that quite easily and have many ‘drippers’ that I can build to make clouds that would make even the biggest cloud-chasers jealous). No, the reason I am a ‘cloud-chaser’ is because that is how I actually enjoy my vaping. These days, I rarely build any drippers, preferring instead to use one of the plethora of sub-ohm tank devices that I can easily buy the coils for online. It is easier and so cheap that there is little point in building coils these days. I still occasionally build a coil and ‘drip’, but that is more for keeping my hand in on my ability to build coils. And there is the whole point. All vapers have different preferences, be it flavour, nicotine content, VG/PG mix, power or cloud density. There is no right or wrong way to vape. You vape because you enjoy it and you vape because you have chosen to use an alternative to smoking.

I happen to enjoy filling my lungs up with enormous amounts of vapour and blowing out huge clouds. I don’t do it to annoy anyone. I do it because that is how I enjoy the vape. I could not give a single shit about impressing anyone with the massive clouds. It is just a cloud and, more to the point, it is harmless to me and harmless to anyone around me.

Do you really think the puritans care about whether you are blowing massive clouds or small wisps ?

Of course they don’t. All they see is a ‘filthy nicotine addict’ enjoying himself and, in their eyes, circumventing the smoking ban. Even when you barely blow out any vapour at all, such puritans will still ‘tut-tut’ in their corner and give you disgusted looks. Many of them, emboldened by prod-noses like ASH, will even pluck up the courage to get in your face about it. It is what our world has become in that regardless of what you do to enjoy yourself, there will always be some curtain-twitcher who will disapprove of your habit. Maybe even emboldened enough to start (yet another) campaign group which will campaign to lobby politicians to take away yet more of the freedoms that we used to take for granted in this country. We have fought wars to protect such liberties many times in our past, only to now slowly give away more and more of our liberties to the permanently offended. You can see it most clearly in all the campaigns against tobacco, alcohol, sugar, salt, fast-food etc. The list is ever growing and if we are not careful there will be a future where everything you eat, drink or choose to do will be carefully regulated by the State.

It really is that simple. A vaping etiquette that disapproves of a vaper that blows out larger vapour clouds makes as much sense as pub alienating spirit-drinkers because beer drinkers are a nicer crowd (or vice-versa). The only way that tolerance will come back to the general public is to make people realise that vaping poses no threat. By toning down the vaping habit/choices all you are doing is pandering to, and reinforcing, the already entrenched view amongst many of the general public that vaping is dangerous.

I will end this blog with an anecdote (yes, I used that ‘much abused’ word).

Many of you will know that I own a caravan that is situated by the sea down in sunny West Wales. When I first bought that caravan, I would frequently be found in the early evening at local bar near the site. When I first started going to that bar, the weather was gloriously sunny and I was quite content to sit out in the beer garden with my pint of Strongbow and a vape. As it turned out, there were lots of other caravan owners on the same site as me who also frequented that bar. As often happens, when vapers identify other vapers, we all started graduating toward each other and chatting because we all had something in common – we all vaped. The age-range of this group was startling. We had some guys (and gals) in their early twenties, right through the age range to the oldest of us who was 85. We dominated the beer garden as a large group. The range of devices we used showed great variety too. Some were using simple cigalikes, some box mods and/or MTL devices, whilst others (like me) preferred to use high-powered cloud-machines. Anyway, after several weeks, the bar owner approached us in the beer garden and informed us that he had no issue with any of us vaping inside the bar itself. You see, he had seen the trade we were bringing in because we had become an informal group (which was attracting more and more), meeting up as often as possible to chat and drink (and vape) . Anyway, this went on for several months, until one day we discovered that the bar owner was selling up and that new owners would soon be in place. The new owners were not at all vape-friendly and we were immediately exiled to the beer garden – just as the weather began to cool as Autumn crept in. Not wanting to sit in a cold (and wet) beer garden to chat, drink and vape, we all stopped going the bar and instead started meeting at each others caravans to chat, drink and vape instead. The bar had instantly lost a huge proportion of its best customers. Last month, I discovered that the bar had closed down after the Christmas period had failed to save their dwindling profits. All that happened because they alienated their best customers – the vapers.

Closing Comment

The vaping community has come a long way over the last couple of years. We have successfully fended off many bans and made our voices felt in the corridors of power in  the European Union, USA, Australia, New Zealand (and many others) as well as closer to home in the UK. To spoil that progress by dividing the vape community now would be a disaster. Do not alienate other vapers just because they enjoy vaping in a different way than you do. That is simply showing the same intolerance towards fellow vapers that you have accused the Public Health community (and Government) of showing towards vaping in general. It is counterproductive and WRONG. Most vapers I have met consider themselves to be libertarians. 


Thursday, 8 February 2018

Bringing In The Old For The New

I was reading the Head Rambles blog earlier, as I do every day, and reading about the right fuck-up that has occurred in the city of Dublin since they introduced the 'Daniel Day Luas', or Dublin City Tram System to the rest of us.

It made me think about the scramble that seems to be happening everywhere to reintroduce old technology. It seems that City planners everywhere, in their rush to free up the clogged roads of the Cities, are introducing Trams all over the place. You can find them in Croydon, Manchester, Edinburgh, Sheffield - even Cardiff may well have a brand spanking new Tram system soon if the plans I have seen publicised by the Welsh Government come to fruition. And I am sure there are many more examples.

The thing they all have in common is that every one of them has cost eye-watering amounts to introduce, and every single one of them completely screwed up the Town/City centre arteries (roads) they were supposed to be relieving when they were first introduced. Then of course, they cost a similarly eye-watering amount to remedy the problems they caused in the first place - all paid for by the tax-payer naturally.

But it is not even new technology. If you look at most of the Cities mentioned above, they ALL had perfectly functioning Tram systems a 100 years ago. You can easily find pictures of them online with a simple Google search. Even my home city - Swansea - had a tram system at one time (there have even been suggestions to reintroduce trams in Swansea - despite the major failure of the so-called bendy-bus system that was aborted 3 years ago). I am sure that most of the major Towns and Cities of the UK had trams systems  a century ago.

What they all have in common is that they were all scrapped because they were old technology and the Towns and Cities were (supposedly) looking to the future. The same thing happened with the railways, though at least some of those survived into the modern age.

The irony is that we are now looking to the future in our major Towns and Cities by looking to the past. Or at least we are at the moment. Who is to say that in 10-15 years all these Tram systems will be being scrapped again as the same urban developments look to the next 'new' thing - which is probably from the past. I wouldn't be surprised to see Trolley-Buses making a comeback at this rate.

While we are talking about it, what is it about all these Towns & Cities that they have to name new things after famous people from those Towns/Cities/Country who, the moment they became famous, fucked off to live somewhere else. As far as I can tell, the majority of famous Irish people leave Ireland as soon as they become famous and settle down in the UK or USA. Meanwhile, famous people from the UK seem to leave to live in Ireland or America. It also seems to be a common theme amongst famous Americans these days too.

Anyway, to get back to the original subject, what is it about Town/City planners that they cannot come up with anything more innovative than to return to a system that was scrapped a century ago? 

Technology moves on at a staggering pace, yet transport seems to be going backward at a staggering pace. It is not just the trams. 50 years after Beeching ripped the guts out of the Railway Network, there are massive projects underway to reinstate or restore defunct railway lines all over the country (except in Wales because here you can only get funding for a Transport solution if it benefits Cardiff).

The proposed Swansea Tram system seems to have been kicked into the dust because the pen-pushers reckon there would not be the footfall. I am not convinced by that argument as the Swansea area has a population of around 220,000 people and the current road system in the centre of Swansea is attrocious and even if you get into the Centre it is hard to find somewhere to park and bloody expensive if you do. 

Personally, I would rather they had looked into introducing a monorail system in Swansea. It would have had the advantage of being elevated, so not interfering with existing transport and could have been developed as a loop system that feeds off to different surburbs at each end. The other advantage of the monorail system would be that the elevation would provide breathtaking views of Swansea Bay and be a tourist attraction. It would be the perfect replacement for the long-lost Mumbles Railway (the oldest passenger railway in the world) that was scrapped by an act of sheer vandalism by backward thinking Councillors 60 years ago. But nobody could ever accuse Swansea Council of being imaginative or innovative and I very much doubt anyone in the Council has the nous or the daring to take on such a project.

Yep, progress into the future seems to always be fuelled from the past.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

A Question Of Trust ?

For once, things actually got interesting in the Senedd yesterday when a heated spat blew up between Plaid Cymru AM - Adam Price - and the the First Minister - Welsh Labour's Carwyn Jones. As many will already know, the First Minister is already under investigation over claims of a bullying culture that exists within the Welsh Government and into claims that he has been deliberately misleading the Senedd. This all came to a head due the tragic and unexpected death of one of Jones own AM's in Carl Sargeant,

That investigation is ongoing with many claims and counter-claims that the inquiry is already flawed. But it has led to a rather interesting and tense atmosphere in the Senedd, especially during First Ministers Questions, as many clearly have the scent of a First Minister fighting for his political life.

However, the spat yesterday was interesting given that there are now threats of legal action over whether the First Minister has breached the Data Protection Act. You can read about it as reported on the BBC Wales website this morning here.

I am not going to go into the legalities of what is being claimed - that is for a court of law to determine if it gets that far - and I am not about to blog opinions on something that may become a court case. But it does raise some interesting questions.

Adam Price later tweeted about the matter:

And Plaid Cymru themselves later confirmed they are pursuing this:

 For those unaware of how the Senedd works, '@yLlywydd' in the tweet above refers to the Welsh Assembly equivalent of Westminster's Speaker of the House (John Bercow). The present 'Llywydd' is Elin Jones.

As most people know, the emails of Assembly Members are available for anyone to examine under the Freedom Of Information Act, as long as they are emails held by the Welsh Government email system (it would not extend to an AMs personal emails on a personal service - such as GMail - for example). Therefore, it is quite possible that any member of the public could have got access to the emails mentioned by Carwyn Jones. There are some rules, so some emails can be excluded from FOI if, for example, the contents of said email could be something with might compromise national security. There are obviously many things that Politicians discuss behind closed doors which the general public cannot be privy to for obvious reasons (such as national security).

It is also true that the Welsh Government email system is considered a corporate email system and therefore anybody using that email system - employees AND AMs - would be subject to their emails being analysed by the Welsh Government at any time if there was just cause for viewing them (e.g.  such as the employee and/or AM being suspected of illegal activity). So again, nobody in the Welsh Govt can expect any email they send or receive to remain personal.

However, what can be questioned is 'how' the First Minister got hold of the emails in question that he used to attack Adam Price. If he asked Welsh Government staff to retrieve those emails for him to use, then he would have needed to go through a formal process, which would have been logged and recorded, which would include the reasons why he wanted such information and on what grounds he could expect to have a right to see them. Furthermore, the person whose emails he has asked to see would also have the right to know that such a request had been made. Adam Price's reaction in the Senedd would seem to indicate that he was unaware that any such thing had taken place.

Of course, it is also possible that the emails were supplied by the Health Board themselves, as is their right because they were also involved in the exchange. However given the recent bullying claims that were made in some quarters, as reported by ITV News here, then one could also legitimately ask if those emails were given willingly or under duress.

A further complication in any legal proceeding would be the concept of 'Parliamentary Privilege'. This means that Ministers enjoy a legal immunity from criminal or civil proceedings for actions or statements done in the performance of their Ministerial duties.

A fuller explanation is given on Wikipedia here.

Now whether Parliamentary Privilege applies in the Senedd I do not know. I am sure that guidance is held somewhere, possibly on the Welsh Government website itself. But even Parliamentary Privilege only gets you so far. Breaches of the Data Protection Act can, and should, override any such 'Privilege'. But we all know that buried deep in the Legislations around Parliaments are often surprising 'get-out' clauses or 'immunities'.

So, as I said at the start, these are indeed interesting time in the Senedd. Rather than the same old bland 'business as usual' things seem to have been stirred up in recent months in the Senedd and the tension is rising and rising. This particular episode may yet even end up in the Law Courts.

But one has to ask how much longer the First Minister can keep his tenuous hold on his office. A fingernail grip can only last for so long. And if he does fall, how many others would he take with him ?

Welsh Politics has taken a turn toward the 'interesting'. About bloody time too. 

I will certainly be watching with interest.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Historical Lessons

I am a proud Welshman. I have lived in Wales for most of my life (apart from a brief spell in London when I got a first job). I love Wales. It has friendly people (for the most part), astonishing scenery and an abundance of beaches that attract people from everywhere during the summer months. Unfortunately, it is also governed by overly-paternalistic fuckwits at both Government and Local level who have a strong desire to micro-manage every minutiae of our personal lives that they can get away with. The latest wheeze on the part of these fuckwits is to give the vote to 16 & 17 year olds. This because the fuckwits in question are Labour politicians and they seem to be of the belief that the young will vote for them in their droves. I think that will backfire badly on them.

In my experience, young people cannot be arsed to cast a vote even way past their 18th birthday as politics do not register as being important in their lives. Besides, what world experience does a 16/17 year old actually have. They can only marry prior to 18 with their parents consent. They can join the armed forces at 16 (with parental consent) but cannot be sent to the frontline to fight. They are banned from buying knives, glue, alcohol, cigarettes and even over-the-counter drugs because they are not considered responsible enough. Despite this, the Labour Government think they are responsible enough to vote, even though those same politicians want to deny them the right of buying or doing any of the items I just mentioned above, and more.

If these people are constantly trying introduce ever more restrictions on adults (and they are), then just think about what they have already banned kids from doing. 

I did exactly that. The whole announcement of giving the vote to 16/17 year olds has led me think back to when I was a kid growing up during the 1960’s/70’s. What I could do as a kid that is denied to today's youth.

What was different ?

We were much freer. I can remember as a kid owning several air-rifles and pistols (it was not illegal). I also owned two (sport) longbows and arrows and 3 javelins (I was a very keen athlete). As I enjoyed angling, I was also the owner of several different types of knives. In fact, it was common for me to be carrying at least one knife even when I wasn’t fishing. A knife was useful for all kinds of things such as cutting/whittling wood for whatever I was making for myself to play with. Of course, as with all kids, I was regularly involved in dust-ups as disagreements with friends/foes broke out. They carried knives too, but none of us would ever have dreamed of using a knife in a fight. Nope, for us, the way to settle a disagreement was with our fists. If you resorted to threats with a knife then you were considered a complete wimp and shunned.

Another thing I regularly did was to go down the shop to buy cigarettes. Not for myself or my parents (both my parents were life-long non-smokers), but for my grandfather or grandmother. The shop assistant, whether at a small corner-shop or a fledgling supermarket (supermarkets in those days were tiny premises) would not bat an eyelid. Most enclosed public spaces (like pubs. clubs, cinemas, snooker halls etc) were fug-filled places that was like walking into a fog-bank. But it never harmed me.

There were enormous mountains of spoil heaps at one end of the village and we regularly 'sledged' down those spoil heaps on old pieces of rusty, corrugated iron sheets. We would inevitably have a few mishaps along the way, resulting in a few cuts and bruises, but no real harm came to us (though a few of the more unfortunate did sometimes end up in the river at the foot of the spoil-heaps).

In the school holidays (and most weekends) I would be off out of the house before 9am on my push-bike, never to be seen again until the sun was setting. We would often be many miles from home by midday. Something else we often did was to cycle (or push) to the top of the nearby mountain, spend a few hours up there, then race back down on the mountain road, often reaching speeds of 50-60mph on the steep slope, overtaking cars, vans and even lorries on the way down.

We bought sugar-laden sweets in bags that were a mixture of the contents of massive jars behind the counter at the sweet shop. Some of those sweets were sugar laden cigarette look-alikes, replete with similar cigarette style box packaging. We’d have great fun with those in the winter months putting them in our lips and blowing huge plumes of steam in the cold air pretending we were smoking. But despite this, I never once was tempted to smoke an actual cigarette throughout my childhood. Granted, some kids did, but most of us did not.

I still recall going with my father to watch him playing rugby, entering the smoke-filled rugby club before the match. Sitting down with him the same smoke-filled rooms after the match while he enjoyed a pint and I had my glass of (full fat) coca-cola. Hell, I can even remember watching some of the players having a smoke on the rugby field at half-time.

Most days, the Corona Pop lorry would come through the village where we lived, selling the pop in bottles from the back of the lorry. I would always go around the village later in the day with my mates collecting the empty bottles to return to the Corona lorry the next day because we used to get money for returning the bottles.

.... and Yes. I still have all my own teeth !!

I could walk into any ironmonger and buy sharp tools like screwdrivers or wood-chisels, even knives and scissors. Hell, my father often used to send me up across to the ironmonger with a 1 gallon can to buy paraffin for the paraffin heater we used during the winter months.
I can even remember, along with several of my mates, going to a petrol station and filling a 1 gallon can with some 4-star (leaded) petrol, then heading off up the mountain to some ruins with a load of (glass) milk bottles and rags and we made petrol bombs with them. We did not cause any problems with these explosive devices, just chucked them against some old stone walls and watched them burn. Health & safety would have a fit at such a sight today.
Speaking of which, we could also purchase fireworks. Proper fireworks, not the watered down two-sparks-and-a-meek-bang ones you get these days. I could not imagine Health & Safety ever allowing such a device as a Jumping-Jack firework (which did exactly what you would expect from the name) to be sold these days. On November 5th, we’d have a massive (usually at least 20ft tall) bonfire on the common and let off fireworks. Not an adult to be seen. None of us ever came to any harm.

As I reached my latter teenage years, I became interested in cars and motorbikes - the majority of which (in the 1970's) were veritable deathtraps. Seat-belts were not law in those days. Most cars did have seat-belts, at least in the front, but plenty were on the roads that had no seat-belts whatsoever. I learnt to drive without ever wearing a selt-belt. I even took my driving test without wearing a seat belt. It was several years after I had passed my driving test that wearing seat-belts became law. By that time, most cars also had rear seat-belts and a few years later it became law to wear those too. The first time I ever rode a motorbike, crash helmets were not required, though those did become law before I took my motorbike-driving test.

But even with all that life experience and freedom, which kids these days do not have, we would not have known or cared who to vote for. I was in my early twenties before I first voted, by which time I was working and had a more realistic view of the world.

We thought we had no world experience upon which to choose to vote in those days, that fact has not suddenly changed. But if Labour think giving the vote to 16/17 year olds will give them a sudden leap in support, they are sadly mistaken. Besides, Labour have already lied to the young once when they pledged to annul all student debt, only to then admit after the last election they couldn’t do it. Most will not forget that lie. But then again, there are still plenty of terminally thick people even amongst the young.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

The Same Old Arguments

My Sunday mornings, as with most people, are generally a relaxed affair. As a (very) early riser on most days, my Sunday morning starts at 4am, before waking my younger daughter up to get ready for her early morning shift at the local supermarket. This means I am usually out of the house at 4.45am taking her to work. If the weather is not too wet, I then will often go for a walk along the Swansea Bay seafront at 8am before picking the same daughter up at 9am when her shift finishes. That is then usually followed by heading back to the Supermarket for 9.30am opening so that I can get whatever groceries I need and get through the tills when they open at 10am – leaving the rest of Sunday to do with as I please from the comfort of my home.

This particular Sunday morning, I was sitting at my PC catching up on the usual round of blogs that I like to read, with the TV on in the background. I don’t generally take much notice of what is on the TV when I am catching up on blogs, I just like to have it on as background noise. 

As it happens, the TV was on BBC 1 this morning, and Nicky Campbell’s “The Big Question” was showing. It’s not a program I usually take any notice of. In fact, the only previous time I have taken any nnotice of it was when Chris Snowden made an appearance a couple of weeks ago. But this morning was different.

They started a debate about whether pornography was harmful. Now normally, this wouldn’t grab my attention, but I started hearing very familiar arguments being aired and that is what grabbed my attention.

It began with some woman (no idea what her name was) who was from an organisation called ‘Object’ (no, I’ve never heard of it before either). She was your typical ‘Mary Whitehouse’-type telling everybody why (in her opinion) porn was wrong and that everybody should be agreeing with her. She sounded very like the way Deborah Arnott comes across with her anti-tobacco rhetoric, and this is the reason why the debate suddenly caught my attention. Not because of what this woman was saying, but because of her reaction when people spoke up against her. Just like Arnott, her reaction to dissention was to attempt to talk across everyone else. Fortunately, Nicky Campbell is quite adept at controlling these debates so that was not allowed to happen.

The first person to silence her happened to be a young lady sitting right behind her. This young lady is a porn actress and her reaction to being talked across was to ask this ‘Object’ woman if she had ever been in the porn industry. When the reply came that she had not, the young lady quite rightly pointed out that she therefore had no real-world knowledge of how the porn industry works and that she should listen to somebody who did have that experience.

The debate continued with the woman from ‘Object’ getting more and more flustered as other people spoke and disagreed or countered her views. One author, who has written books on the porn industry, quoted a story he had been told by a stripper who complained that members of this ‘Object’ organisation actively came to the strip-clubs and screamed abuse at the strippers about what they do for a living and that ‘Object’ were actively lobbying various North London councils to get the strip-clubs (and therefore their livelihood) shut down.

If you are a smoker, such a story should be familiar to you because it is the exact same tactics that ASH have been using against smokers, retailers AND tobacco companies.

Another young lady, a Professor at some North East University, came out with an absolute belter of a statement that caused the whole audience to break out in a round of applause.

Her statement was:
What is more damaging is people coming along and telling other people what their morality should be.

That was a scathing commentary on the likes of Object, and indeed ASH. For what are those bodies other than busybodies who are intent on poking their noses into everyone else’s business and trying to impose their own values.

I found myself nodding in agreement with this Professor, as I suspect would every smoker, vaper & drinker. We are all well-used to such people constantly poking their noses into what we like to do in our private lives and lecturing us on why we are wrong, that we should not be doing that and the harms we are doing to ourselves, despite us all being in full possession of the facts and still being happy to continue with our ‘frowned-upon’ habit/enjoyment.

The last devastating statement came once again from the author, who said:
Porn addiction is a non-entity dreamed up by scientists and researchers.

To me, that was the nail being firmly whacked on the head by the hammer. Smokers & vapers are well-used to being lectured on how addictive Nicotine is by the ideological-driven tobacco control people. We all know there are reams of scientific evidence that points to nicotine in itself having no addictive qualities whatsoever.

So I had an interesting and unexpected diversion from my normal routine this morning. I could plainly see how the tactics that have been employed by Tobacco Control over the last 30 years is slowly seeping its way into other areas where the busybodies would like to poke their noses next.

This debate just happened to be about pornography, but we have all seen the same arguments used to justify regulation on smoking, vaping, alcohol, fast-food, sugar, salt, fizzy drinks. The list is endless and having got away with the lies in regard to smoking, these busybodies clearly think that is the way to go to get their other pet projects (i.e bans) off the ground.

...And what a joyless world that would be.

This morning’s episode of ‘The Big Questions’ can be found here.

The debate on Pornography starts at the 23:50 mark.

Watch it and see the parallels I describe.