Azara Blog: February 2005 archive complete

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Date published: 2005/02/28

Cycling ban in Cambridge city centre to be lifted (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge Evening News says:

Labour councillors have failed to get a rethink on the lifting of the highly-controversial city centre cycle ban.

As reported in the News in January, Lib Dem councillors on Cambridge City Council voted to lift the controversial ban for a trial period starting this summer. There were protests from cyclists when the ban was put in place in 1993.

At a recent full council meeting at the Guildhall, Labour councillors tried to get the issue looked at again saying it had not been properly debated, but they were voted down.

The decision to lift the ban came unexpectedly and Labour councillors say they were not given the time to look at the proposals properly.

Under the new plan there will be an 18-month trial with no ban in the city centre and a public consultation then councillors will decide whether to lift the ban permanently.
Lib Dem Coun Jenny Bailey said: "Most of us are OK and we cycle safely but there are a few people who are poor cyclists and they have a bit of an attitude.

"These people flout the ban anyway. This council encourages cycling, it is at the core of many things we do."

Lib Dem Coun Colin Rosenstiel said: "This ban has been internationally ridiculed. Twenty eight per cent of the people travelling to work in this city cycle - that is not just the highest in the country it is nearly double the second highest.

"Encouraging cycling is in the interests of the future of our city."

Won't it be nice when the UK gets rid of Blair so that Cambridge can get rid of its LibDem masters. "Most of us are OK and we cycle safely". How dumb a remark can you get. On that excuse they ought to let cars back into the city centre as well. And what evidence does Bailey have for her claim other than prejudice or the small sample of her and her chattering class friends (who are obviously model citizens, all of them)? Rosenstiel's silly observations are no better. If there is "international ridicule" then that is perhaps because international observers haven't a clue what the centre of Cambridge is like and so speak from a position of ignorance. Rosenstiel is supposed to put the interests of the citizens of Cambridge above the presumed opinions of the chattering classes of some far-off land. And the promised consultation will be as fatuous as all the other consultations have been in the past. In particular, here the only question is whether enough pedestrians write in to complain to overcome the "stuff-the-ballot-box" effort that the Cambridge Cycling Campaign will presumably organise to try and get cyclists to be over-represented in the outcome.

Norfolk water voles don't like scientists (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

A colony of 38 water voles in Norfolk have been seriously affected by hi-tech radio collars fitted to help monitor their movements, a study has found.

The Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at Oxford had been studying the size of populations in Norfolk and Wiltshire.

Dr Tom Moorhouse and Professor David Macdonald noticed a 48% decline in females born at the Norfolk site.

The study found that the shift in the sex ratio could be caused by the stress of wearing the collars.

The water vole (Arvicola terrestris) is the UK's most threatened mammal.

According to Dr Moorhouse and Prof Macdonald: "Radio-collars clearly have the potential to cause some stress to water voles, and it is possible that this might stimulate sex-ratio adjustment.

"Our analysis revealed that the most likely cause for the female decline was a shift in the sex ratio of young raised by radio-collared females."

Researchers have long been aware that the techniques they use had the potential to cause unexpected effects, and there have been many studies into the effects of radio-collars.

However, this is thought to be the first study to show an association between radio collars and sex ratio.

One report does not a phenomenon prove, but is it surprising that animals don't like how they are treated by scientists? The excuse that we have to interfere with them (or whatever) for their own benefit wears a bit thin. How would these scientists like radio collars?

Date published: 2005/02/27

LibDems propose stamp duty change (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The Liberal Democrats are promising to raise the stamp duty threshold if they win the general election, in a bid to court first-time house buyers.

Vince Cable, the party's Treasury spokesman, said raising the threshold to £150,000 would prevent over 400,000 home-buyers from paying the tax.

He said first-time buyers were being "squeezed out" of the housing market.

Under the proposals, the average saving for a new buyer would be more than £1,000, according to Mr Cable.

This is rubbish. If demand for housing is bigger than supply (as it has been for around the past ten years) then the average saving for a buyer will not be £1000, it will be around zero. The problem is that the housing market supply is rigidly controlled by the government, and reducing the tax does not increase the supply. As such, since all buyers for these houses will no longer have to pay stamp duty, they all have extra money to spend on a house, and so the price will increase correspondingly. (People spend as much money as they have, if not more, on buying a house.) So increasing the threshold does nothing except remove money from the Treasury and give it to house sellers.

The main problem with stamp duty is not the £60000 starting threshold. It is that at all the thresholds, including at the higher ones of £250000 and £500000, the change in the tax is absolute, not marginal. (So, for example, stamp duty stupidly increases from £2500 to £7500 at the £250000 threshold.)

The main problem with the housing market is not stamp duty (at its current level, even with the stupid way it is implemented), the main problem is supply. Sort that out and the rest will follow.

Date published: 2005/02/26

London is mega-exhibitions land (permanent blog link)

As seems to be coming more common, there are currently several mega-exhibitions on in London. The Royal Academy has perhaps the biggest and the best, "Turks: A Journey of a Thousand Years, 600-1600". Rooms and rooms full of carpets, books, tiles, art, swords, etc. It is refreshing to see Islamic culture featured in something other than politically whipped hysteria about terrorism. (Of course the only people who will see the exhibition are not going to be islamo-phobic in the first place.)

Meanwhile, over at Tate Britain is an exhibition entitled "Turner Whistler Monet". Tate Britain has the best Turner collection in the world and as an indication of that, most of it was not in the exhibition but in the normal galleries. The exhibition has a large selection of Monets, including multiple copies of single themes, which are rare to see side-by-side. Monet will probably be the main attraction for British viewers. Unfortunately, in the companionship of Turner and Monet, poor old Whistler comes up rather short, but it is still nice to see a big selection of his work.

At the National Gallery a Caravaggio exhibition has opened in the last few days (his late work), and in a week an exhibition of Matisse textiles will open at the Royal Academy, and later in March an Arts and Crafts exhibition will open at the Victoria and Albert Museum (presumably much of that will be from their own extensive collection). Actually, the V&A seems to be living in a kind of time warp. They do not search your bags on the way in (for bombs), they search them on the way out (for stolen artifacts). How quaint, obviously Tony Blair has not managed to impress enough on them that there is a terrorist under every bed, just waiting to wreck havoc on the life of the nation.

German Energy Agency speaks out against wind energy (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

A report from the world's biggest wind power producer denouncing wind farms as too expensive and inefficient has been widely dismissed in the UK.

Money would be better spent targeting energy efficiency to combat greenhouse gases, the German Energy Agency said.
The report by the German government-backed agency says it will cost Germany 1.1bn euro (£700 million) to link its wind farms to the national grid - which it must do if it is to reach its target of 20% of energy coming from renewable sources by 2015.

With more than 15,000 turbines, the nation has the most wind farms in the world. But, says the report, almost the same cuts in carbon dioxide emissions - at nothing like the cost of wind power - can be achieved by installing modern filters at existing fossil-fuel power plants.
"'Green' tariff consumers in the UK believe they are saving the world. In fact they are causing a heavy penalty to be transferred to all other consumers as this so-called 'green' electricity costs up to three times what they actually pay," said Angela Kelly, director of Country Guardian, which campaigns against wind farms.

"The UK's plans to rely more heavily on wind power onshore, and especially offshore, will bring the huge extra costs of more transmission lines.
Greenpeace chief executive Stephen Tindale agreed, increasing wind power was "definitely worth it".

"There are several differences between the UK and Germany. Firstly, our wind resource is better - it's stronger and more consistent.

"Secondly we are using different and better policy instruments. It is much more competitive in the UK. Elsewhere you get a guaranteed price, but in the UK the approach has led to the cost of wind power falling quite substantially in the past few years.

"The third difference is the amount of wind power used in Germany, in some parts it is 20%.

"Everyone accepts that when you get to that level it is much more of a problem because of the fact that wind is intermittent.

Like all products and services, the proponents of wind power always hype it and the opponents always claim it is the end of the world. It would be nice if occasionally someone acted as a disinterested and believable intermediary. The BBC is unfortunately extremely biased in this regard. Their headline is "Anti-wind farm report dismissed". If Greenpeace put out a press release saying how evil coal was and the coal industry dismissed it, you cannot imagine the BBC running the headline "Anti-coal report dismissed". And how Greenpeace knows wind power is "definitely worth it" is bizarre. It will not be the comfortable middle classes who go cold when energy prices go through the roof.

Date published: 2005/02/25

World population 9 billion by 2050 (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The world's population is expected to rise from the current 6.5 billion to 9.1 billion by 2050, the UN says.

Virtually all the growth will be in the developing world, according to a report by the UN Population Division.

By contrast, the population of developed countries will remain almost static at 1.2 billion, the report adds.

It says India will overtake China as the world's most populous country by 2030 - five years earlier than previously expected.

The figures in the revised report are based on national censuses, population surveys and review of trends.

In 2002, the UN Population Division had estimated a population in 2050 of 8.9 billion.

Not good news.

UK nanotechnology review (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The UK government has responded to one major report into nanotechnologies by ordering another review.

Science minister Lord Sainsbury said it would ensure current regulations that safeguard the environment and people's health remained robust.

The Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineers' July 2004 report recommended tighter UK and European regulation over some aspects of the tiny science.

Nanotech manipulates molecules and even atoms to make novel materials.

This precision engineering exploits unusual electrical, optical and other properties.

Lord Sainsbury said he wanted the UK to be a "world leader" in the development and regulation of nanotechnologies.

He stressed it was vital that concerns and gaps in knowledge about nanoscience - which could bring sweeping benefits to society - were covered at an early stage.

But he admitted that the future social impacts of the science were "unknown", adding: "We are at the same stage today as we were in the 1940s with computers."

The Royal Society told the BBC News website it was encouraged by the government's commitment to research, but was disappointed that no extra funding was proposed for it.

Seeing the hysteria created by the so-called environmentalists over new technology like GM food, the scientists and government this time around are trying to play safe. Of course this means research will be delayed, and the UK will not lead the way. China will have no such qualms. All new technologies create problems, but the idea that we can figure out the problems ahead of time is a joke. And another review is just in the style of New Labour. This government will be remembered for removing civil liberties, for putting the interests of the US above the interests of the UK, and for setting up hundreds of reviews in order to avoid taking decisions.

Kate Adie on Reporting Conflict (permanent blog link)

The sixth lecture of the Darwin Lecture Series 2005 was by the BBC correspondent Kate Adie. She is best known as a war correspondent, and Norman Tebbit famously started a pathetic crusade against her and the BBC for her coverage of the US bombing of Libya in 1986. (As usual, the Americans bombed for the sake of bombing, and not very accurately, causing lots of civilian deaths.)

Given her roots in television, it was slightly odd that her lecture consisted entirely of her reading a manuscript, with no visual aids at all. She did not say anything controversial, presumably because when you work for the BBC you are advised not to say anything controversial. (New Labour being even bigger control freaks than the previous Tory government.) Her talk was mainly about the changes in war reporting over her time in the business.

In common with many people, she believes that news reporting, and so war reporting, has become more a part of the entertainment industry rather than news per se. Of course this trend started in America (she said circa 20 years ago) but she said this has now spread to the rest of the developed world. In media outlets there is more interest in audience share than in production quality.

Modern technology has made it easier to communicate from the war zone. She mentioned that she was on the American warship in the Adriatic Sea which fired the first cruise missile in the Kosovo war. Some photographer took a snap of the missile as it was leaving the boat, downloaded the picture to his computer and uploaded it to a newspaper in New York. And the photo was supposedly typeset even before it had hit its target in the former Yugoslavia.

Of course communication being easier does not mean it is any more honest. She mentioned the obvious fact that reporters become very patriotic when their own country is at war, and this is reflected in their reports. (Perhaps they are really patriotic or perhaps they know they would be in serious trouble if they did otherwise.)

Her most interesting comments were about the 2003 Gulf War, when the US invaded Iraq. We were all under the impression that the war was being reported "live" but she says this was not true at all. The only really live reports were for set-piece events like the launch of missiles from far away. (Or when reporters accidentally got caught in the line of fire.) A lot of the "live" reports were from Qatar or Kuwait rather than Iraq, and even reports from inside Iraq had much of the content sent to the reporters from London (or Washington, or wherever) by email. (Since the reporters on the ground did not have any easy way to get hold of information except via their colleagues somewhere else.) In other words, the "live" reporting was largely part of the entertainment factor rather than having anything to do with news reporting per se. (Of course there were exceptions.)

She said that when the NATO forces were getting ready to enter Kosovo from Macedonia there were around 15000 army personnel and over 2700 journalists (the war started before they could finish counting). And apparently in Qatar, where the Americans built their huge briefing centre for the 2003 Gulf War, there were around 8000 journalists credited. As Adie drily said, no doubt some of the tens of thousands of filed reports must have been worthwhile.

Apparently it's more dangerous to be a war correspondent now. She said that ten or fifteen years ago you did not need a flak jacket or need to drive in an armoured vehicle, but you do now.

She then talked about the role, or rather non-role, of women in war. Apparently even now it is difficult to get taken seriously in a war environment if you are a woman (soldier or not). Well, that is not very surprising. And frankly it is not necessarily a bad thing for women (no point being killed so that a male president can prove he's macho to the world).

Date published: 2005/02/24

Tony Blair the tinpot dictator (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Prime Minister Tony Blair has defended controversial proposals to deal with terror suspects as the most "responsible" action to take.

He was writing in the Daily Telegraph, after a Commons vote approved the plans, despite considerable opposition.

The plans, which include detaining suspects under house arrest without trial, face further Commons scrutiny on Monday before passing to the Lords.

Home Secretary Charles Clarke has hinted that concessions may be made.

But in Thursday's newspaper article, the prime minister makes it clear he regards protecting the public from terrorism as his highest duty - above safeguarding civil liberties.

"There is no greater civil liberty than to live free from terrorist attack," he said.

The terrorists have won, Tinpot Tony has removed more and more of our civil liberties. These sinister attacks on civil liberties will do nothing to stop terrorist attacks and he knows it. Anybody fingered by the security forces as a possible terrorist already has their phone tapped, their email read and their postal mail examined, and no doubt they constantly get stopped when they are out and about on the streets.

Blair has shown himself time and again to be a serial liar, and the idea that we are supposed to trust his interpretation of intelligence data is ludicrous. It's obvious that they don't have any real evidence against any of the people they have already locked up, so why should we believe that these people are guilty as not charged. There is something called the rule of law, and it would be useful if the people who run this country started to pretend they believed in it.

As it happens, tonight Channel 4 News dedicated most of the 7 PM news slot to the story of Moazzam Begg one of the British Guantanamo Bay detainees. (The BBC also covered the story.) It was just more confirmation of what we already knew, namely that the Americans became fixated on the idea that Al Qaeda was a large international organisation which every terrorist and every Muslim was a member of no matter what the evidence was to the contrary. And so every Muslim anybody fingered for no matter what reason ended up in the dumping ground of Guantanamo Bay. Begg said that he was not particularly tortured at Guantanamo Bay itself (other than that the whole regime was torture of some form) but he was tortured at Bagram air base in Afghanistan. The American government believes torture is acceptable practise so it is up to them to disprove the allegations in this specific case, which they are unlikely to be able to do.

New Forest the newest national park (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The New Forest will become the UK's newest national park on 1 March, the government has revealed.

The 900-year-old park will become the country's smallest national park by area and will have one of the largest populations of 34,000 people.

The decision comes after a seven-month inquiry, following years of campaigning by some environmental lobby groups.

It was opposed by some farmers, who feared fresh restrictions and increased government interference.
Dr Julian Lewis, Tory MP for New Forest East, said on Thursday that he had not changed his mind that it was "probably not the right decision".

Many of his constituents feared that the new authority would take the future of the area out of local hands, he said.

A new national park for interfering busy bodies to lord over. The new authority will obviously not put the interests of the local people at the top of their agenda. It is after all, a national park.

Date published: 2005/02/23

Global warming, carbon capture and storage, and politics (permanent blog link)

The third lecture of the university's Third Annual Lecture Series in Sustainable Development (2005) was given today by Andrew Palmer of the Cambridge University Department of of Engineering (so a "home" speaker). This was by far and away the best attended of the lectures so far. It was also by far and away the best lecture so far. (The fact that the dreadful buzz word "sustainable" was not mentioned even once was only one reason.)

He gave a summary of some of the problems and some of the possible solutions to do with the increasing amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the consequent affects on the planet (such as global warming).

He was originally an oil engineer and he first mentioned that he became aware of the environmental impact of his work when working on the oil fields in Alaska.

He said that the perceived priorities of mankind has changed over the past few decades. Once upon a time people were worried about population and the supply of food. And at some point water and disease were considered the most pressing issues. Now it is war/terrorism and global warming. (Of course the underlying issue for all of these things is still population. It's just that most of the major players, including governments, the media and so-called environmentalists currently choose to ignore the issue of population.) (And the worries change because it is convenient for the ruling elite to keep scaring their citizens, and the latter become innured to today's hysteria so we have to move on to another one.)

He showed the standard graph of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, from its pre-industrial levels of around 270 ppm to the current 370 ppm and ever increasing. He mentioned that the greenhouse effect is of course crucial to life on Earth. If the atmosphere was only nitrogen and oxygen then the aveage surface temperature would be -6C. With the "natural" level of CO2 of 270 ppm then the average surface temperature is instead 15C. If you double the level of CO2 (and we will almost certainly hit that between 2050 and 2100) then if at that level we had equilibrium then the average temperature would increase by 2.5C.

He mentioned the usual effects of this increase. The temperature rise will not be uniform across the planet. The sea level will rise. The frequency of storms will increase. The North Atlantic circulation might stop. The Greenland ice sheet might melt. Etc. This rate of change in the temperature is high but not higher than for certain natural catastrophes, such as massive volcano eruptions and large meteor impacts.

Before continuing he mentioned that the scientific consensus view might be wrong. (Indeed it is almost certainly wrong. Not many scientific theories last even a hundred years.) Scientists are subject to the same herd instinct as everyone else. And there is a large pressure applied to anyone who questions the usual orthodoxy. In particular getting tenure could prove difficult.

But in this talk he did not want to argue with the consensus view. (He implied later that he agrees with it.) He instead wanted to discuss what could realistically be done. He said that some people might want to return to an energy-poor pre-industrial society (read: so-called environmentalists) but most people do not.

He mentioned that increased CO2 had both positive and negative effects. For example, with higher average temperatures in Europe more people would die in summer but less people would die in winter. He claimed that Arrhenius, who was the first person to realise (1896) that increasing CO2 would increase the average temperature, thought this was a good idea, and apparently there were actually proposals to try and do so.

The midpoint scenario for global warming predicts (under current theories) that sea levels might rise by 0.6 m in the next 100 years (more if the Greenland ice sheet melts). But to keep that in perspective, the 1953 storm surge in the North Sea led to an increase of sea levels by 3.2 m in the space of 15 hours. This was a disaster for the Netherlands and the east coast of Britain. Afterwards the Dutch put something called the Delta Project in place to protect themselves against this, at the cost of billions of dollars. (Apparently there was not much opposition to start with, for obvious reasons, but towards the end there were some objections on environmental grounds.) Palmer claimed that some well-known so-called environmentalist once claimed to him that a sea level rise of just 0.2 m would spell disaster for the Netherlands (no doubt part of the campaign of hysteria), but this was manifestly nonsense.

He said that one estimate of the cost to the US of working around the effects of global warming (if business continued as now) would be around 1 to 1.5% of GDP, and it might well be higher for particularly vulnerable countries like Bangladesh.

Onto the Kyoto Treaty. This agreement means that some countries are supposed to make a small reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (with the UK a relatively high figure of 12.5%) but some, such as India and China, are under no obligations at all (and will definitely keep increasing emissions for the forseeable future). Palmer said "even if the Kyoto targets are met the effect on the level of CO2 will not be detectable". (So Kyoto is a bit of a joke, but potentially an expensive joke. But it is the only game in town.) And apparently China is building so many coal power stations right now that those alone increase the level of CO2 more than the decrease forseen with the Kyoto Treaty.

We all know the US is the biggest contributor to emissions but Palmer pointed out that since the US consumes 20% of the world's oil supply, even if it reduced its oil consumption by 50% (hard to believe that would ever happen, especially considering that its population is still increasing) the world's consumption would only go down by 10%. (Of course the rest of the world might follow suit. Or not.)

He said that the biggest point of the US not signing up to Kyoto was not that it was the end of the world but that it was a gift to politicians in other countries looking for excuses not to do anything serious themselves. He mentioned that one of the first things Gordon Brown did when Labour took over in 1997 was to reduce VAT on fuel (and electricity) for heating, and that of course increased usage and therefore emissions. (Of course, the reason it was done was because poor people, in particular old poor people, were afraid to heat their houses and so freezing to death. But there are other ways to deal with that problem through the benefit system.)

Instead of 12.5%, the wonderful Labour government said it would try to hit 20% reduction in emissions by 2010 (relative to 1990). Apparently the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) said in 2000 that this higher target would not be met. They argued for a 60% reduction by 2050. Palmer said he saw no indication politicians were treating this 60% target seriously. In particular after 2010, with the decrease of nuclear power, the levels might start to go up again.

Now he mentioned there were good ways and bad ways to reduce emissions. Good ways include energy conservation, increases in energy efficiency, and use of renewable energy sources. Bad ways included the "dash for gas" (away from coal-fired power stations) and de-industrialisation.

One reason there was a "dash for gas" was because this made hitting the Kyoto targets much easier. But Palmer thought this was an extremely irresponsible thing to have done. (Because gas is a lightweight fuel which allows population mobility and it is stupid to waste it on something like power generation.) Apparently 25 years ago the EU was opposed to changing from coal to gas for this reason (although no doubt coal mining trade unions also had something to do with it). He thought that future generations would curse us for squandering this precious resource.

And the point about de-industrialisation is that it does not reduce emissions, it just moves them somewhere else. For example a steel mill closing down in Sheffield is replaced by one opening in China producing the same goods. The move might even increase CO2 emissions since the factory in China might be less efficient. (This is missing the larger point. It is not just the direct fuel consumption that matters when doing these sums, it is also the indirect fuel consumption, which in this case means labour costs. They are lower in China which means that Chinese workers are willing to work for less money, which means that they will create less emissions than British workers if you do the sum properly. To a first approximation, money = energy, so if something costs more money it has consumed more energy. Of course it is not as simple as that because it depends also on the tax rate and also on how much environmental costs a manufacturer can dump on the rest of the world, e.g. by polluting water, etc.) (So-called environmentalists also miss this point, claiming you can decouple growth of GDP from increases in energy consumption, but that is only because they are not calculating the latter correctly.)

Apparently the world produced 7 gigatonnes of carbon emissions per year (200 tonnes per second). And if we continue with business as usual then that will become 14 gigatonnes by 2050.

He went through the usual list of things that could be done to try and reduce that figure. Minimum efficiency standards for vehicles, Swedish/Canadian building standards (in the UK), full VAT on (heating) fuel (in the UK), taxing airplane fuel, etc. Unfortunately this is one place where he slipped up, because he insisted on demonising car driving yet again, even suggesting people should give up their car and use public transport. This is perhaps fine for professors living and working in provincial towns. But the real point is that because of the high level of petrol tax, car driving is the only economic activity in the UK which already more than pays a carbon tax to cover its associated environmental costs. The same can not be said for public transport, which is massively subsidised. (Of course the proponents might claim that if only everybody used public transport the per unit cost would miraculously decrease so the environmental costs could start to be paid, but that seems unlikely, at least if you wanted to offer a decent public transport system.)

Apparently somebody in Princeton looked at what you could do on the supply side to reduce emissions. You can reduce emissions by 1 gigatonne per year (and we need 7) by doing any of the following:

Palmer then went on to discuss the technical details of carbon capture and storage (CCS). The three things to worry about are capture of the CO2, transport of the captured CO2 to a storage site, and then the actual storage.

The easiest problem amongst the three is transport. That could just use pipelines or vehicles. For storage sites there are several options: natural reservoirs, depleted oil and gas fields, unminable coal fields, at the bottom of oceans (apparently liquid CO2 is more dense than H2O below about 2750 m below sea level), or using reactions with minerals. Palmer thought that the most viable current option was using depleted oil and gas fields (for example, they usually already have pipelines going there, and the "cap" on top of the fields is already known to have prevented escape for 100 million years, although he noted that replacing CH4 with CO2 might cause chemical reactions which might cause this not to work).

Capture is the hardest problem to solve. It is possible but expensive at large-scale plant (e.g. power stations, steel works, etc.) but it is astonomically expensive at small-scale plant (e.g. cars). So it would be best to convert the latter to hydrogen as soon as possible. (Assuming all the problems with hydrogen can be sorted out.) At large-scale plant, capture would be made easier if, for example, coal was burned in oxygen instead of air.

The bottom line was that CCS was possible with existing technologies and so possibly part of the soultion, but he thought not all of the solution.

He ended with a few more controversial comments. Apparently there was a conference in Cambridge in January 2004 which looked at some of these ideas. Apparently Lowell Wood, of UC Berkeley, observed that there is no particular reason to think the current average temperature is the "Goldilock's optimum", and perhaps that was 2C warmer or 2C colder (or ...). Palmer also said that Wood said that the average temperature is lower now than at any time since the Cambrian explosion 545 M years ago, but he admitted later he did not know the details about that so to be taken with a pinch of salt (but if you vary timescales you can usually get the answer you want). (But the point about the current change in temperature is not only the amount or direction but also the speed of the change.)

Finally he mentioned a wacky idea from that conference. That was to add optical scatterers high in the atmosphere. By doing this to a small extent (or putting obstructions between the sun and the earth) it could change the equilibrium temperature back down to 15C even with the CO2 doubling from its "natural" levels. (The current level of solar radiation is around 240 W/m2 and reducing that to 236 W/m2 would supposedly do the trick.)

Well you can imagine the screams about this idea right away. If you get it wrong you could make things much worse. But Palmer did point out that this kind of scheme could be carried out by single countries (the US, Russia, China or the EU) so one of them could just do it as a "gift" to the world. It's a brave new world.

In the question session one person asked about reducing demand rather than trying to sort out supply. Well this kind of question is always asked by the comfortable middle classes. They don't understand why anybody would possibly want to consume more. Unfortunately these people already create more emissions than 90% (or more) of the world, so they themselves are more part of the problem than part of the solution. And we surely must want to bring the average world living standard up to our standard, not the other way around.

He also managed a nice dig at so-called environmental organisations, saying they were "a business no more and no less than Exxon". It's amazing to hear anyone say that. Usually the British media (especially the BBC) just give a pass to the so-called environmentalists, just pretty much printing their press releases without any questioning. Heck, they are "saving the world" so they must be the "good guys". It's good to know that at least someone doesn't take this at face value.

Nuclear power came up. The so-called environmentalists managed to scare the citizens of the West (courtesy of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl) so this is considered a bad, bad source of energy right now in much of the West. (There are exceptions, like France.) And in some sense this is correct, there is still no known good way to get rid of the waste (the idea that you have to store it for tens of thousands of years is unbelieveably scary for anyone with an ounce of imagination). However if you can't get to 2050, you can't get to 2100, and it might be the least worst option for some energy production. Palmer said he was at a meeting recently where a Friends of the Earth spokesperson even said they were willing to contemplate this (hard to believe this is official FoE policy though).

On the same line, someone asked if the government should try and generate some good PR for nuclear power. Palmer said yes, only he observed that "the current government has generated a certain amount of mistrust" and that is certainly the problem. The so-called environmentalists could sink it all in ten minutes with a few carefully chosen words of hysteria.

Someone asked whether fusion research was worth pursuing, given the low odds and long time horizon. Palmer said yes, because although the odds were low the payoff for success would be huge. (Well, there is no such thing as a free lunch, so it is bound not to be as wonderful as its proponents claim.)

Iraq an illegal war (permanent blog link)

The Guardian says:

The attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, warned less than two weeks before the invasion of Iraq that military action could be ruled illegal.

The government was so concerned that it might be prosecuted it set up a team of lawyers to prepare for legal action in an international court.

And a parliamentary answer issued days before the war in the name of Lord Goldsmith - but presented by ministers as his official opinion before the crucial Commons vote - was drawn up in Downing Street, not in the attorney general's chambers.

The full picture of how the government manipulated the legal justification for war, and political pressure placed on its most senior law officer, is revealed in the Guardian today.

It appears that Lord Goldsmith never wrote an unequivocal formal legal opinion that the invasion was lawful, as demanded by Lord Boyce, chief of defence staff at the time.

The Guardian can also disclose that in her letter of resignation in protest against the war, Elizabeth Wilmshurst, deputy legal adviser at the Foreign Office, described the planned invasion of Iraq as a "crime of aggression".

She said she could not agree to military action in circumstances she described as "so detrimental to the international order and the rule of law".

Her uncompromising comments, and disclosures about Lord Goldsmith's relations with ministers in the run-up to war, appear in a book by Philippe Sands, a QC in Cherie Booth's Matrix chambers and professor of international law at University College London.

Is anyone surprised? It was obvious at the time that Blair was making everything up on the fly, and that the war was illegal. Hopefully the International Criminal Court will take an interest.

Owning uninsured vehicles a criminal offence (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Owning an uninsured vehicle should become a criminal offence, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) has said.

At present, it is not an offence to own an uninsured vehicle only to be caught on the roads driving without insurance.

Combining vehicle registration details with insurance industry records could allow uninsured owners to be fined through the post, the ABI said.

More special pleading from an organisation standing to profit (surprise, surprise) from the suggested change. The way the BBC reports the idea it is particularly stupid. Many people keep derelict cars for spare parts, are these really supposed to be insured? The ABI presumably only means the suggestion to apply to those cars that are taxed. (If you own an off-road car that is not taxed you are supposed to declare it. But it's hard to imagine anyone getting excited about a derelict car that has not been so declared.)

Date published: 2005/02/22

A14 upgrade (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge Evening News says:

[ Matthew Bullock, one of the founders of the "Cambridge Phenomenon", ] regularly drives to Oxford, where his father Lord Bullock was a former Vice-Chancellor of the university. "On the way there I go past Silverstone race track, and there is now a fantastic dual carriageway running past it to the M40," he said.

"That new road was built in double-quick time because Tony Blair authorised it. Bernie Ecclestone, the man behind the British Grand Prix, had threatened to stop holding the race unless traffic congestion there was sorted out, and lo and behold, Mr Blair steps in.

"The same applies to the eight-lane stretch of the A1 we now have between Alconbury and Peterborough. That was built with great speed, and it's no coincidence that at the time it was built, John Major was Prime Minister and Brian Mawhinney had been Secretary of State for Transport - and the road ran right through their constituencies.

"With the political will from the top, the A14 could be upgraded much more quickly. It merely needs Mr Blair or Gordon Brown, who has a strong interest in technology, to say go ahead, and it will happen.

"I completely support the News campaign about the A14. The more we can make this a political issue, the more likely we might succeed.

"Cambridge is growing, it is burgeoning, but we're going to screw it up unless ministers pull their fingers out. They are just not supporting our success.

Of course Ecclestone gave a large sum of money to the Labour Party. Perhaps Cambridge should. And as noted, when prime ministers have a local interest they are happy to pull strings. Unfortunately Gordon Brown is part of the Scottish mafia and hates Oxbridge (it's said he has a chip on both shoulders). And Tony Blair is far too busy wasting time and money on Iraq, and trying to remove all our civil liberties, to have any time to do anything useful like making sure the transport infrastructure in the country is any good. [ Well, Gordon Brown did throw a large sum of money at Cambridge in the form of the Cambridge-MIT Institute. Unfortunately that is a classic example of how government should not be "choosing winners". The good coming out is not nearly as high as the amount going in (well, not yet anyway). And it involved Cambridge only because MIT insisted that's who they wanted as a partner. ]

Edinburgh says no to road pricing (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The residents of Edinburgh have voted against the introduction of congestion charging in the city by a margin of about three to one.

About 290,000 residents were asked if they were in favour of cordons, similar to those in London and what is under consideration in Bristol.

More than 74% of those who voted rejected the council's plan.

The turnout for the postal ballot was 61.8%. There were 133,678 votes against the proposal and 45,965 in favour.

A spokesman for Edinburgh Council said there were no plans to revisit the issue.

The plan was to charge motorists £2 a day to enter the congestion zone with fines of £60 for those who did not pay up.

A victory for the people over the chattering classes, but quite astounding it was by such a big margin. Of course what was proposed was not a "congestion" charge, it was an access charge (the same as in London). The proponents of such schemes are so dishonest they cannot even call it by the correct name. The chattering classes of London got away with introducing the charge because they did not bother asking the voters, they just did it by decree. (Of course the chattering classes who run London claim the scheme is a great success, but that's because they only ask other members of the chattering classes.) It just goes to show what happens when you let the people decide, they just can't be trusted, can they. Time to go back to ruling by decree. We can't possibly have those horrid working class people independently mobile.

Jane Goodall lecture (permanent blog link)

Jane Goodall gave a lecture tonight at St Catharine's College, on behalf of her Roots and Shoots organisation, and hosted by the St Catharine's Amalgamated Societies. The lecture was in the dining hall and was packed out, so several hundred people attending.

She spent the first part of her lecture talking about how she got her start in life. She was encouraged by her mother to think she could do things if she wanted to. She read Tarzan books and decided she wanted to go to Africa. She saved enough money to go out there and ended up working for Louis Leakey. From there she ended up going to Cambridge to do a Ph.D., and that was without an undergraduate degree, so pretty amazing.

During the 1960s and 1970s she did her great work on chimpanzees. She said that in 1984 she attended a conference in Chicago and decided afterwards that she would dedicate herself less to science and more to trying to save the world (not her words). So she set up Roots and Shoots (1991) and now travels the world (supposedly for 300 days a year) preaching the message.

With many people, including most so-called environmentalists, you hear their message and immediately ask what their angle is, and there usually is one. With Jane Goodall you feel that she is totally sincere and selfless. You could listen to a George Bush speech and come away impressed with his great humanity. Unfortunately you know he doesn't mean a thing he said and underneath is a nasty piece of work. With Jane Goodall you know she means what she says, and she has a positive message.

Her message is basically that people have to take it upon themselves to improve the world, and in particular the environment. Of course mankind has been changing the environment massively (most people would say for the worse) for hundreds and thousands of years, but recent technology has allowed bigger and deeper changes, and the human population is now so high that possibly irreversible changes are happening.

But after stating that the environment was being destroyed by mankind, she then said that she thought there were four reasons for having hope: (1) humans have brains so can figure out better ways to do things; (2) the environment has shown itself to be remarkably tolerant of abuse; (3) there are young people (who are not set in their ways); and (4) the existence of the human spirit. When most people say things like this you would reach for your sick bucket, but not when she says it.

During the question period she was asked if there was one wish she had for the world what would it be. Her answer: "another election in the US". (Unfortunately the Republican slime machine would fix it again.)

Date published: 2005/02/21

Prince Charles on architecture (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Prince Charles has launched an attack on the "cavalier attitude" of Britain's architects and town planners.

He told a Royal College of Physicians conference how car-focused cities affect rates of obesity, respiratory problems, asthma and heart disease.

"When we build badly, it doesn't only affect the health of the natural environment, it affects our own health as well," said the prince.

He urged that new buildings be seen as part of a "living language".

And he warned against the dangers of architecture being used to make iconic statements or indulge in egotistical ambitions.

Another patronising speech from a chap who consumes far more resources, and therefore causes far more damage to the environment, than almost anybody else in the UK. And yet another attack on cars as the source of all evil in the world. (Funny, he gets driven or flown everywhere, but of course rules are for the little people.)

Sure we want better buildings. The main reason we don't have better buildings is because the ruling elite do not release enough land to be built upon, because it would upset the propertied classes, of which Charles is one of the biggest. This means up to half the cost of a house is the cost of the land, which obviously leaves less for the house itself. Charles is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Architects are no better and no worse than any of the other professional classes in the UK. It is almost always the case that it is the client, not the architect, who specifies what kind of statement a building is supposed to make. And Poundbury, the Charles-inspired development near Dorchester, is, if nothing else, Charles "indulging in egotistical ambitions". But that was Georgian and Victorian pastiche, so ok.

Iconic buildings should also not be dismissed. One of the reasons tourists come to London is to see Buckingham Palace, an iconic (although boring) building. And the classic modern iconic building is the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, which has done much good for that city.

Date published: 2005/02/20

Fitzwilliam Museum trainee (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge Town Crier (owned by the same company as the Cambridge Evening News) had a job advertisement for a "Museum Trainee" at the Fitzwilliam Museum in the edition of 18 February:

We are offering a two-year traineeship at the Fitzwilliam Museum. The project is designed to assist individuals of African, African-Carribean, Asian or Chinese descent, who are under-represented in the museum workforce in the UK.
Appplicants will need to demonstrate:

It is quite amazing that such racist hiring practises are allowed. But indeed they are. Section 37 of the Race Relations Act 1976 says:

37.-(1) Nothing in Parts II to IV shall render unlawful any act done in relation to particular work by a training body in or in connection with-

where it appears to the training body that at any time within the twelve months immediately preceding the doing of the act-

(Section 38 of the Act continues in the same vein.) So racism is allowed.

In the particular case of the Fitzwilliam Museum advertisement, there is the usual ridiculous official British distinction between "Asian" and "Chinese". Where do these people think China is? Well, the British bureaucrats have decreed that only India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are in Asia. (And maybe Sri Lanka in a following wind.) So China cannot be in Asia, so must be, well in China. And Indonesia, Japan and the rest are, well nowhere. When you promote racist policies this is the stupidity you get into.

The people who run the Fitzwilliam also ought to at least know that (under the current view of the history of human beings) we are all of African descent. So we are all eligible. Of course they really mean "recently" of African descent, although they don't say what that means. What about first generation, second generation, etc. If you have an aunt who lives in Togo is that good enough? When you promote racist policies this is the stupidity you get into.

Finally, the worst thing about such a racist hiring practise is that it implies the Fitzwilliam (and other UK museums) have been racist in the past (in the opposite direction). So the people who benefitted from this racism, i.e. the people who now run these museums, are not the people who are paying the penalty for this racism, instead they are promoting the inverse racism. But most likely museums have not been racist in the past (well any more than any other British institution). The problem with museums is that they are middle class and so the real discrimination has been against people who are not middle class, and as it happens non-white people in the UK are a lot less likely to be middle class. When you promote racist policies this is the stupidity you get into.

The shrinking size of fish (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The shrinking size of fish due to their overexploitation has dire consequences for the recovery of depleted stocks, scientists have claimed.

Fishing drives natural selection for smaller fish that grow more slowly and have reduced reproductive potential.

These changes are genetic and therefore hard to reverse, scuttling the renewal of dwindling fish populations.
"Most fisheries are collapsing and many are on the brink of potentially irreversible loss," said Jeremy Jackson, of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California.

"There are massive evolutionary shifts going on in the remnant populations of fish. Large fish with huge reproductive potential are being replaced by smaller fish with diminished reproductive potential," he told the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The basic problem is that there are too many humans so there is too much fishing. Nobody (much) wants to address the underlying problem. Scientists are going to have to come up with reasonable, cheap, alternative global food sources and the governments of the world are going to have to act together or the fish will just disappear.

Date published: 2005/02/19

Financial Times survey of suburbia (permanent blog link)

In the UK paper edition of the Financial Times (FT) on 19-20 February they had a ("House & Home") section devoted to a "survey of suburban living". (These articles do not seem to have made it onto their website.)

The problem with suburbia is that most people want to live there but the urban planning elite are violently opposed to it and so try and force the working class to live in urban shoeboxes and put up with the squalor of living in big cities. Urban life is fine for the elite because they are rich enough to frequently escape the city. And even while in the city they are insulated from the travails of ordinary urban dwellers.

The front page article jumps straight away into promulgating the usual urban blurb about suburbs: "The banality of suburban life has been the feeding ground for generations of television and film directors, but this belies its idealistic origins". The latter is referring to the "garden suburbs" of England (such as Hampstead and Letchworth). But there is a constant harping by the urban elite that the suburbs are "banal" in order to justify their own worthiness. Later in the article we get "How did suburbia become a byword for boring, bland development?" This happened because the urban elite have to convince the world that suburbs are evil.

An article on page three continues the theme, from someone who lives in Manhattan. He mentions Andres Duany, who wrote a book "Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream" and works for the town-planning firm of Duany Plater-Zyberk (DPZ). Well you can tell what he believes. But apparently he is not against suburbs per se, just suburbs as they are allegedly currently planned. If only they had involved architects it would have all been done much better of course. Or not. As typical urban planners they hate cars and hate private space, and believe that public space will save the suburbs. Never give people what they want, the urban elite know best.

The main problems with suburban development, as with much urban development, is that is has not been "organic" but instead has involved dumping thousands of homes all built by one or two developers within a year or two in the middle of nowhere. This is why there is sameness. In the UK it is practically impossible for it to happen any other way. If an individual wants to put a house in a field in the middle of nowhere they would be refused permission (unless they were multimillionaires). If a developer instead wants to dump a thousand homes in the same field it is often approved (and developers just try over and over again until they get permission).

On page four we get four articles. One is about a suburb of Tokyo called Setagaya, which certainly sounds nicer than Tokyo itself. Another is by a woman who curses her mother for moving the family out of Manhattan when she was a kid but who is now living in Saint-Germain, a suburb of Paris. Now Paris is perhaps the finest city in the world for living, but the author seems to like Saint-Germain, and so to justify herself she says at the end "it doesn't look like a suburb at all". Another article is about how Aylesbury near London is exploding with thousands of flats and homes all dumped in a few places. Dreadful urban planning. The final article on the page mentions Port Liberté, in New Jersey. New Jersey is the epitome of bad suburban planning, with miles and miles of malls one after the other. Apparently Port Liberté is trying to do better.

On page seven Edwin Heathcote (the FT's architecture critic) continues the usual negative tirade against suburbs, with the usual ritual denonuciation of Celebration (the Walt Disney community in Florida) and Poundbury (the Prince Charles development near Dorchester). After spending a paragraph demolishing the awfulness of Celebration, Heathcote says "unfortunately, Celebration has been a roaring success". So another defeat for the urban snobs. The problem, according to Heathcote, is that the "suburbs remain resolutely architecturally conservative". Well we can't have that. Give them awful houses where nothing is at a right angle, where there is no storage and where your neighbours can see everything you do. The architecture critics will rave. More amusingly, apparently the Chinese have created a mock Californian suburb called Orange County China right near Beijing. Now that is sick. But don't blame that on suburbia, that is just the Chinese foolishly believing that American style is best. (And bring back Colin Amery as the FT's architecture critic, at least he had some useful things to say.)

On page nine we have articles about Fredericksburg Virginia (very posh, so desirable if you have enough money and don't mind commuting) and Brighton (once a bit of a joke but revived largely because of a thriving gay community and the high prices near London forcing people further afield).

And finally at the bottom of the page the first article that mentions Desperate Housewives. Well that's Hollywood, so it must be a true representation. (But of course more indicative of a fat middle-aged male Hollywood producer's fantasy.) This article (by James Harkin) is the first that actually makes some interesting points.

When cities expand, they are flattered with words like renaissance, resurgence and renewal. Suburbs only sprawl. And in architecture schools and among policymakers, there is a powerful faction arguing that they should be replaced with higher density "sustainable" communities.

The use of the word "sustainable" by the urban planning elite is just another attempt to spread propaganda about how evil suburbs are. Unfortunately the really unsustainable behaviour is by the urban elite, because they are rich and so consume vastly more resources of the world than the people they show such contempt for.

A Mori poll by the Commission for the Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) in 2002 revealed that bungalows ... were by far the most sought after kind of housing in the country. Confronted with images of different kinds of homes, 30 per cent of respondents plumped for the bungalow while only 2 per cent ... chose a modern apartment. Nobody at all liked the look of the tower block.

Well obviously. It is only the urban elite who think otherwise.

More interesting than the alleged renaissance in city living, perhaps, is the creeping urbanisation of the suburbs and the collapsing distinction between the city and its orbit. ... So-called "suburban downtowns", crammed with nightclubs and leisure centres, are taking over from sleepy tennis clubs. And many economic activities -- particularly within technology and information-based industries -- have also moved to the suburbs.

Well, there has always been and will always be no sharp boundary between urban life and suburban life, instead we have communities ranging over the entire gamut of possibility.

On page ten is an article about a vast new suburban/urban development on the outskirts of Milan. It is called Milano Santa Guilia and is located on a former brownfield site. It is supposed to have been "conceived largely by British architect Norman Foster" and is supposed to be finished by 2011. Now Norman Foster is a typical member of the urban elite and so we get:

"It's a better alternative to suburbia", says Foster. "It's something that seeks to have the qualitites and [sense of] place of the city, but with the benefits of more open space, more green space, more security, less problems with the car, and a good pedestrian experience, which is, after all, what we think of when we think about our favourite cities."

So typical car hatred expressed there. Well in spite of what Foster says, Paris, the most beautiful city in the world, has huge roads and loads of traffic. It does not detract. City life is all about noise and traffic (both pedestrian and vehicular). Madrid and Barcelona are also beautiful cities. Also lots of traffic. They all have good public transport. It is only in the UK where both the roads and the public transport are rubbish. The problems are not with the car, the problems are with the urban planning elite who think the problems are with the car. Of course time will tell how well Milano Santa Guilia works, and whether it really is any different from all other large modern developments on the edges of large cities.

Also on page ten is an article expressing the usual belief that "neighbourly behaviour is in decline". Well neighbourly behaviour has been in decline since Plato. This is just a typical view expressed by adults when talking about how much better life was when they were kids. The article is mainly about the book "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Communities" published in 2000 by Robert Putnam, which is just a typical book in this genre. Blame it all on (1) two-career families, (2) suburban sprawl, (3) commercial television and (4) "generational change" (the modern generation didn't live through WWII). The usual trite beliefs of the urban elite.

At the bottom of page ten are two short articles, one about "the neighbours from heaven" and the other about "the neighbour from hell" and you have to wonder after reading them whether they are talking about each other.

On page eleven we get articles about education (allegedly a reason to move to suburbia) and commuting (it's a big waste of time but the price of living in suburbia and working in the city).

On page thirteen we are told that the suburbs of Cairo are booming, for the same reasons elsewhere in the world. At the bottom of the page is an article about the suburbs allegedly sprawling further and further from London. (There is this ridiculous belief amongst the UK urban elite that all of the southeast is concrete or soon to be concrete, but as soon as you get past London itself the land is mostly industrial agricultural, a waste of land in this day and age.)

The final two articles are on page fifteen and are about someone who left the city for suburbia (for the usual reasons) and loved it, and someone else who did the same and did not, and so moved back to the city. Isn't it nice to have that choice. Hopefully the urban planning elite will not be able to wreck enough towns to change that.

Global warming in oceans (permanent blog link)

The Financial Times says (subscription service):

A leading US team of climate researchers on Friday released "the most compelling evidence yet" that human activities are responsible for global warming. They said their analysis should "wipe out" claims by sceptics that recent warming is due to non-human factors such as natural fluctuations in climate or variations in solar or volcanic activity.

Scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California have been working for several years with colleagues at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to analyse the effects of global warming on the oceans. They combined computer modelling with millions of temperature and salinity readings, taken around the world at different depths over five decades.

The researchers released their conclusions on Friday at the American Association of the Advancement of Science meeting in Washington. They found that the "warming signals" in the oceans could only have been produced by the build-up of man-made carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Non-human factors would have produced quite different effects.

Tim Barnett, the Scripps project leader, said previous attempts to show that human activities caused global warming had looked for evidence in the atmosphere. "But the atmosphere is the worst place to look for a global warming signal," he said. "Ninety per cent of the energy from global warming has gone into the oceans and the oceans show its fingerprint much better than the atmosphere."

Prof Barnett added: "The debate over whether there is a global warming signal is over now at least for rational people." He urged the US administration to rethink its refusal to join the Kyoto Protocol, which took effect this week.

The first caveat is that the computer modelling was postdictive, not predictive, so is less valuable than it would otherwise be. But it is a bit of a joke that people are still arguing whether mankind has an impact on the climate. You just have to go one mile out of London to see the huge difference in the local microclimate moving from an urban to a rural environment. Britain (and Europe) long ago chopped down most of its forests, and the idea that this has had no impact on the weather is fanciful at best. Unfortunately because of the rightwing demagogues who hold power in Washington, this carping about mankind's impact seems to be the level to which the debate has sunk. But scientists and the so-called environmentalists should also understand that it is not (yet) illegal for mankind to have an impact on the environment. Mankind is part of nature whether these people like it or not. All species try and occupy and consume as much of the biosphere as possible, it's called natural selection.

The real question here is what is the scope and impact of global warming and what can be done about it economically and equitably. If these scientists are so concerned about global warming then why do they insist on contributing more to global warming than 95% (if not 99%) of humanity, including attending these jamboree conferences involving huge amounts of air travel. The real point of the exercise seems to be more political than scientific, as is made clear with the reference to the Kyoto Protocol. However the idea that the Kyoto Protocol is going to sort out global warming is a joke.

UK female academic scientists (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Women are more successful than men in gaining their first academic post but feel winning promotion proves more difficult, a new study says.

A University of East Anglia study shows men still occupy the lion's share of key positions in UK academic science.

Women scientists feel undervalued by colleagues and discouraged from making progress in their careers.

The study was presented to the American Advancement for the Association of Science in Washington DC on Friday.

More than 6,500 scientists from 40 UK universities and a range of publicly-funded research institutes responded to online surveys about their career experiences and perceptions.

Why is this kind of "research" funded? Note that in the first paragraph the BBC carefully offsets one fact against one opinion and the reader is obviously supposed to treat them as equally valid. This is because the required spin on the story is that women are doing worse than men, and not that men are doing worse than women (the politically correct BBC would never run the latter story). The opinion is reinforced in the third paragraph. The second paragraph is also intended to reinforce the opinion but it is trivial in that until the last ten or so years a lot fewer women were entering academic science and therefore it is not all all surprising that "key" positions (i.e. those occupied by people who have been in the field for years) are occupied by men. This is not only true for academics but for almost all professional careers. And part of the problem is not only that there was prejudice (which there was) but that women would often put home above career, and men the opposite. And as is clear from the last paragraph, the survey was not scientific, i.e. the sampling was not random, so the result is totally worthless except as a way of justifying the existence of the "researcher". It's even possible the "fact" quoted in the first paragraph is wrong, if it was based only on evidence provided by the survey. Perhaps if the UK wasted less money on sociology and spent more on science we would all be better off.

Date published: 2005/02/18

Public sector pension costs (permanent blog link)

The Financial Times says (subscription service):

The cost of meeting pension commitments forcivil servants, teachers, National Health Service employees and the emergency services has risen so quickly that it now dwarfs the level of public sector debt.

Using principles based on private sector accounting rules, the actuarial consultants Watson Wyatt estimate that unfunded public sector pension liabilities will reach £690bn in March - more than one-and-a-half times the £417bn level of net public sector debt.
Public sector workers have disproportionately generous pensions compared with private sector employees on similar wages.

The 3m employees with unfunded pensions represent just over 10 per cent of the workforce, but the Pensions Commission estimated that they had built up 29 per cent of the accrued pension rights in the UK.

If the additional liability was added to the national debt, it would amount to more than 90 per cent of gross domestic product, not the 34.9 per cent recorded by the Office for National Statistics.

An extremely scary story if even half true. The government needs to act. (Of course Blair and Brown are too busy playing pretend world leaders to worry about the mess they have left behind at home.)

UK airport expansion (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Residents near Stansted Airport must be given a say over where an additional runway is sited and how much land it uses, the High Court has ruled.

There must also be more consultations over Luton Airport expansion, it said.

Campaigners said it was a "victory for local democracy" and the government must now go back to the drawing board. But as the court said proposals for new runways were otherwise lawful, a "pleased" Transport Secretary Alistair Darling said the plans were on course. He noted that the High Court "has upheld the case for two additional runways in the south east of England at Heathrow and Stansted and rejected calls for that part of the Air Transport White Paper to be quashed". "The government has always accepted that the exact positioning and capacity of the runways at Stansted and Luton will be decided by the normal planning process."

The court seems to be rather disingenous. What do the locals know about where the Stansted runway should be sited and how much land it uses. It should be sited for safety and logistical reasons, not because some vocal local resident doesn't want to be inconvenienced. Of course it is up to the government to properly compensate those affected, which it never does, which is the real nub of the problem.

The Roots of Warfare (permanent blog link)

The fifth lecture of the Darwin Lecture Series 2005 was by Barry Cunliffe, about the roots of warfare. Cunliffe is evidently from the old school, not using PowerPoint but instead speaking from notes with the occasional hard-to-read slide.

He first discussed philosophical approaches to understanding wars. Was mankind naturally violent or not. Was mankind naturally territorial or not. Was warfare a result mainly of ecological imbalances, in particular over-population. Was mankind aggressive because natural selection favours aggression. And so on.

He then went on to examine some of the empirical evidence, first for "primitive" tribes, which have been extensively examined for the last couple of hundred years.

He mentioned the Yanomamo tribe in Venezuela. Apparently the population is so low that there is no ecological imbalance. But they still have raids and wars between groups. It was claimed the death rate through aggression was around 7% for women and 24% for men. So unless you want to make a convoluted argument that warfare is happening because it is preventing them from reaching an ecological imbalance, the conclusion seems to be that the aggression is innate.

He also mentioned the Maring tribe in New Guinea. Here there are 70000 people in 200 square miles so there might be some population stress. They apparently have both "small" (or "nothing") fights and also "true" fights. The former occurr in daily confrontations between different groups, and usually is just about aggressive vocalisation against the opposition, but far enough from each other for the aggression not to become physical. The "true" fights are ritualised and can last for weeks or months. The two sides have rest days by agreement, but if one side just doesn't show up then the other side riots and raids the other side's village.

As Cunliffe noted, the problem with these anthropological studies is that the sample is biased, because the sample does not go back far in time and it involves "primitive" tribes that have been placed under stress from the far-away European world.

Cunliffe then did a quick tour of warfare in Europe over the past 40000 years. Apparently even 30000 or 40000 years ago it seems that a high percentage (anywhere from circa 20% to circa 40%) of humans died from trauma (which probably means warfare).

Apparently up to about 3000 BC warfare was opportunistic, and largely involved raids for the purpose of acquiring land or women or other commodities. The weapons used in war were just ordinary tools which had other purposes. But by around 2000 BC warfare became "bureaucratic", run by an elite, and there appeared weapons designed specifically for war, such as swords, shields and armour. Warriors became removed from ordinary economic activity. Wars often happened to prove the prestige of a leader.

He mentioned the Celts, who had short term warfare involving raids on neighbouring groups, mid term warfare involving raids on distant territories (these could last months) and long term warfare acting as mercenaries.

The height of this kind of warfare occurred under the Romans. Apparently Plutarch says that Julius Caesar managed to kill a million people and capture another million in his ten year campaign in Gaul (out of a population of around six million). No doubt that was exaggeration but it shows the scale of the warfare. Apparently Rome had the largest standing army until France in the 17th century (which had three times the population).

The only mention of the modern era was to do with football games as a sort of ritualised warfare. Of course Bush's invasion of Iraq was all about improving the prestige of the leader, so nothing has really changed in the last few thousand years, except that these days the leaders are chicken hawks so hide thousands of miles away from the action.

Date published: 2005/02/17

Cambridge congestion charge (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge Evening News says:

Introducing a congestion charge in Cambridge could be the answer to making the city's buses run on time.

Two years after the congestion fee was introduced in London, Cambridgeshire County Council still insists there are no plans to introduce charges in Cambridge. But Andy Campbell, the managing director of Stagecoach in Cambridge, says he would welcome anything to ease traffic congestion.

"Anything that reduces traffic congestion will make operating buses a lot easier and will enable us to get the reliability right," he said.

Another example of a special interest pressure group pleading for subsidies to support their own special interest. Stagecoach has a large commercial interest at stake so their self-serving pleading is even worse than usual. In Cambridge much of the problem with buses is that they are inappropriate vehicles for the city's narrow streets, and the real crush happens at the Drummer Street bus station, and the congestion there is almost all due to buses themselves. (The construction of the so-called Grand Arcade has made things particularly bad right now.)

The so-called London congestion charge is not a congestion charge but an access charge, so once you pay your fee you can cause as much congestion as you want. Further, buses themselves are the cause of much of the congestion, but they do not pay at all. In Cambridge buses have already received huge subsidies the last few years such as bus lanes and the Park and Ride schemes. The London charge is mostly lost in the cost of implementing the scheme (so the net "benefit" to the UK economy is probably negative) and Cambridge is so much smaller the relative size of the associated costs will be even worse.

European airline passenger compensation (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Air passengers who are unable to board their flights because of overbooking, cancellations or flight delays can now demand greater compensation.

New EU rules set compensation at between 250 euros (£173) and 600 euros, depending on the length of the flight.

The new rules will apply to all scheduled and charter flights, including budget airlines.

Airlines have attacked the legislation saying they could be forced to push prices higher to cover the extra cost.

Previously, passengers could claim between 150 euros and 300 euros if they had been stopped from boarding.

However, under the old regulations only scheduled flight operators were obliged to offer compensation in cases of overbooking and they did not have to offer compensation for flight cancellations.

A fine example of EU stupidity. The EU is pretending this is for the benefit of passengers but in reality this is for the benefit of the dreadful high-cost state airlines. It is ridiculous to expect that if you pay 10 euros for a flight you should be compensated 250 euros if something goes wrong. You should get exactly what you pay for, and most passengers on low-cost airlines understand this perfectly well. The obnoxious few will rub their hands with glee but in the end this will harm the interests of the vast majority of passengers.

Date published: 2005/02/16

Kyoto Protocol comes into force (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The Kyoto accord, which aims to curb the air pollution blamed for global warming, has come into force seven years after it was agreed.

The accord requires countries to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Some 141 countries, accounting for 55% of greenhouse gas emissions, have ratified the treaty, which pledges to cut these emissions by 5.2% by 2012.

But the world's top polluter - the US - has not signed up to the treaty.

The US says the changes would be too costly to introduce and that the agreement is flawed.

Large developing countries including India, China and Brazil are not required to meet specific targets for now.

It's hard to know whether this will be remembered as the day that saved the world or the day that sunk it. Or just perhaps it will all be forgotten in twenty years when the world focuses on the next hysteria. The treaty is flawed (partially thanks to the US) but it's the only game in town, which is why so many so-called environmentalists support it. Hopefully this will not just turn out to be a treaty where the rich people of the rich world have gotten together with the rich people of the poor world to decide how much the poor people of the rich world are going to get hammered for the alleged benefit of the poor people of the poor world.

Boeing launches new 777 (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

US aircraft firm Boeing has unveiled its new long-distance 777 plane, as it tries to regain its position as the industry's leading manufacturer.

The 777-200LR will be capable of flying almost 11,000 miles non-stop, linking cities such as London and Sydney.

Boeing, in contrast to European rival Airbus, hopes airlines will want to fly smaller aircraft over longer distances.

Airbus, which overtook Boeing as the number one civilian planemaker in 2003, is focusing on so-called super jumbos.

Analysts are divided over which approach is best and say that this latest tussle between Boeing and Airbus may prove to be a defining moment for the airline industry.

Boeing plans to offer twin-engine planes that are able to fly direct to many of the world's airports, getting rid of the need for connecting flights.

On the day when the Kyoto Protocol comes into force it is only fitting to have a story about airplanes written by the BBC without any hint of irony.

Teachers and school trips (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Teachers supervising school trips have been reassured they will not be liable to prosecution over accidents - as long as they have followed guidelines.

Education Secretary Ruth Kelly wants teachers to continue school trips - and not to fear legal action.

"Staff who take reasonable care and follow employer guidelines are ... protected by the law," says guidance issued by the education department.
Guidelines for out-of-school trips are to be published in the summer - and they will emphasise that: "Staff who take reasonable care, and follow employer guidelines are, in the event of any unfortunate accident, protected by the law."

"By carrying out straightforward, compulsory safety checks teachers can protect both pupils and staff on a school visit and minimise the risk of litigation," says the education department.

Unfortunately the dreadful American legal attitude has made it to the UK, so teachers have and will no doubt continue to be held liable for accidents on school trips (where kids will be kids and goof off), no matter what the government says. You would have to be crazy to take kids out on a school trip, it's not worth the risk. Ruth Kelly and her civil servants will not be the ones facing legal action.

Date published: 2005/02/15

UK business complain about skills (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The number of firms finding it hard to recruit skilled workers has risen by 50% in a decade, figures suggest.

A survey of 6,000 businesses by the British Chambers of Commerce found 43% reported difficulties, compared with 29% in 1994.

Director general David Frost said employers were "frustrated" at young people "not equipped" with skills.

The government will respond to plans to reform secondary education - including vocational training - next week.
Mr Frost said: "The system is simply not providing potential employees with the right skills for business and our figures show it has been failing for many years.

"The skills of our workforce are already lagging behind many of our global competitors.

"The government must implement lasting reform in its proposals next week or our competitive edge could be seriously harmed. Businesses cannot wait any longer."

A poll of CBI members last year found 37% were not satisfied with school leavers' English and maths skills.

And 46% were unimpressed by young people's "self-management" skills.

Businesses always complain about lack of "skills". Well they could try and teach required skills to their own workforce. Once upon a time many businesses used to have apprenticeships but that is now rare. However it is interesting that school exam results keep getting better and better but the amount students know when entering Cambridge University keeps decreasing.

Date published: 2005/02/14

Why is Analysis 1 hard? (permanent blog link)

Tom Körner gave a CMS (Centre for Mathematical Sciences) Colloquium today on why analysis is so hard for students (even Analysis 1, the first year course). The problem is that there are lots of epsilons and deltas thrown around and it is easy to get lost. But are the difficulties artificial in that if the functions are "well-behaved" everything gets easier? Are analysis courses hard because they are taught by analysists?

For his main example, he looked at the second mixed partial derivative of a function, f, and asked why does d2f/dxdy = d2f/dydx (all the derivatives partial) for "well-behaved" f. (Apparently Euler was the first to notice it and Weierstrass the first to prove it.). He gave the following possible (facetious) answers:

  1. It is not true because there is an example which is regularly set in the (Cambridge Maths) Tripos to show it is not true. (Of course this is for functions which are not "well-behaved".)
  2. The "well-behaved" condition includes the statement that we can interchange the limits in the definition of the second derivatives, and from that the proof is straightforward. (But the problem here is why is it obvious you can interchange the limits.)
  3. We once saw a proof with lots of epsilons and deltas in it.
  4. "Well-behaved" means that f is like a polynomial and the result is true for polynomials.
  5. Repeated experiment (for various f) shows the result is true.

The fifth point above means that perhaps we find it hard to think of unusual functions so all examples will almost by default satisfy the result. He mentioned a theorem by Kolmogorov and Arnol'd which shows that any continuous function of two variables can be written in terms of functions of one variable and addition. So in some sense there are no unusual continuous functions of two variables. However Vitushkin apparently proved that the Kolmogorov and Arnol'd theorem does not hold for continuously differentiable functions.

Most of the rest of the lecture was used to show how our intuition about theorems on the real line often does not work when we restrict to the rationals. For example, the Intermediate Value Theorem and Mean Value Theorem do not work. For the Intermediate Value Theorem for a counterexample you can use the function f(x) = 1 for x2 < 2 and f(x) = -1 for x2 > 2. For the Mean Value Theorem for a counterexample you can use the function f(x) = x for x2 < 2 and f(x) = x-4 for x2 > 2. The basic point is that the "discontinuity" does not occur because it would have to be at x = sqrt(2), which is not rational. He also showed that polynomial approximation does not work with rationals in the same way as it does with reals for continuously differentiable functions.

So part of the explanation of why things were difficult to prove was that in the real context they could be true and in the rational context they could be false, and "the rationals are indistinguishable from the reals" so people do not have great intuition about these things ("people say the rationals have holes but have you ever seen one?"). And "nobody has ever seen an irrational number" (well, in some sense that is not true since, for example, as is well known, an isoceles right triangle with sides 1 has hypotenuse sqrt(2)).

The bottom line seemed to be that analysis is hard because analysis is hard.

Date published: 2005/02/13

Ariane 5-ECA rocket launches successfully (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Europe has launched its most powerful rocket to date - the Ariane 5-ECA.

The 50m-high (160ft) vehicle blasted off from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana at 2103 GMT, putting eight tonnes of satellite payload into orbit.

It was the ECA's first flight following its disastrous maiden outing in 2002, when the rocket was destroyed as it veered out of control over the ocean.

Launch company Arianespace believes the vehicle will be crucial in helping it maintain a strong market position.

"This is the success we all waited for, and I thank all those who contributed," said Arianespace chief Jean-Yves Le Gall. "This launch erases the failure of December 2002."

The ECA should substantially reduce the costs of lofting spacecraft, down from between $30-40,000 per kg to $15-20,000 per kg.

The rocket can deliver several satellites at once, taking a maximum of 10 tonnes into a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).

Saturday's mission, described as a qualification flight, orbited two satellites: the Spanish XTAR-EUR military communications payload and an experimental spacecraft, called SloshSat, which will study how fluids behave in orbit.
Arianespace operates Europe's rockets under a charter of the European Space Agency.

It is owned by a grouping of European governments, aerospace firms, banks and the French space agency CNES.

The French minister for research, Francois D'Aubert, saluted the engineers and scientists at Kourou.

"This success has particular symbolic value," he said. "It's a question of sovereignty; a launch capability is a vital instrument for European governments.

"It gives them guaranteed access to space and gives them the information they need for political, economic and scientific reasons."

US company Boeing recently launched its biggest-lift rocket, the Delta 4-Heavy, which has the capability to put 13 tonnes of payload into a geostationary transfer orbit.

However, the Boeing vehicle is not currently being offered to the commercial satellite sector and is being reserved for US military work.

Three cheers for Europe. The crucial point is that "it's a question of sovereignty; a launch capability is a vital instrument for European governments", especially given the current American government.

Date published: 2005/02/12

House buyer gazundering (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

A third of first-time home buyers may cut their offer at the last minute, forcing the seller to take less or find a new buyer, a survey has found.

In total 31% would consider "gazundering", reflecting first-time buyers new-found confidence in a slowing market, says Yorkshire Bank.

A third of first-time buyers also felt they could be choosier, it found.

Yorkshire Bank's Gary Lumby said the number prepared to drop their offer was a "worrying proportion".

"Unfortunately, a downside to this new-found confidence gained from a slowing market has emerged," he said. "A worrying proportion of first-time buyers would be prepared to drop their offer at the very last minute of the house buying process, leaving the seller in a quandary over whether to take the financial blow or to go through the hassle of putting the house back on the market."

First the survey was almost certainly not scientific (i.e. a random sample) so the result (in particular the 31% figure) is largely meaningless. (The context is also not given, so it's also possible the survey wording was misleading.)

The problem with house transactions in the UK is that they often take forever, often for no good reason. Three months is not uncommon (from acceptance of offer to completion). (This is often the fault of the lawyers.) If the "real" value of a property has fallen or risen substantially in that time then it's not surprising if there is a last minute re-negotiation required.

Labour cold calling voters (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Voters have been given a direct line to Labour cabinet ministers during a pre-election cold-calling campaign.

When the telephone rang in selected homes on Saturday lunchtime, the unsuspecting recipient was told they could speak to a Cabinet minister.

John Reid, Charles Clarke, Patricia Hewitt and Ruth Kelly were Cabinet members who took part.

The unsuspecting people called had been identified as potential Labour voters by canvassers.

The technique, which comes from the United States, is one of several interactive campaigning methods being tried by Labour in the run-up to the next election.

Party leaders hope to by-pass the media and engage directly with voters by phone, e-mail and text message.

How obnoxious can you get. "We don't care what you think because we are the rulers, but since there's an election coming we'll cold call you and pretend we care. Could you do with any double glazing?"

Date published: 2005/02/11

Bob Metcalfe and Hermann Hauser (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge-MIT Institute (CMI) sponsored a joint talk with Bob Metcalfe (in Cambridge, MA) and Hermann Hauser (in Cambridge, UK). Each gave around half an hour talk and then there was half an hour for questions. The subject was how to grow a small business into a large one.

(Metcalfe was one of the main people behind the ethernet standard, and founded 3Com. Hauser was one of the founders of Acorn, which transmogrified into ARM, and is one of the godfathers of the Cambridge scene.)

Metcalfe went first and gave an amusing talk. He said he was in Cambridge, UK in c. 1991-2 and used to wonder with academics here why there were no big companies in Cambridge. "Were the English stupid?" "Did they lack the marketing gene?" "Was there a lack of working capital?" No, none of these. He concluded that the problem was that the best grads wanted to "work for the government". (Well, or more likely financial institutions.) And entrepreneurs had low status.

At the time both Oxford and Cambridge were just then admitting their first MBA students. Many of the business school staff apparently had trouble getting college positions (which Metcalfe said, incorrectly, was a requirement to hold a university position), because they were looked down upon. On the other hand, in Silicon Valley entrepreneurs were treated like "rock stars" and "gods". Metcalfe said he met a few of these "rock stars" and was reasonably unimpressed enough to think "if they can do it I can do it" (it was funny when he said it).

He then gave two fingers (for US readers: the middle finger) to "marxists", who he blamed for the anti-entrepreneur attitude. (Well there have been no marxists to speak of in Europe for over ten years, so they can no longer be said to be the problem. But the chattering classes on the whole are still anti-corporate and anti-business, so there is still a problem.)

Actually he came back later to "marxists" (or "communists"). He said some French MP visited him to find out what the French government could do to try and create a Silicon Valley in France, and he told him "unelect the communists", to which the reply was supposedly "I am a communist". Anyway, Metcalfe said he came to the conclusion that the French government would only be willing to change things that didn't matter. (Lucky for the UK, since many French entrepreneurs have come here.)

Metcalfe said that to start a company that you want to become big you have to start thinking big on purpose and pick the appropriate people, markets, money (from investors), etc. Apparently a lot of techie entrepreneurs (and he included himself at first) do not distinguish between cash and profit. He said "cash is more important than your mother" (although he loved his mother).

There are two points when you need cash, when you are first starting and not yet profitable (cash hard to raise, for obvious reasons) and then when you are in the period of high growth (cash easy to raise).

He said you have to know how much infrastructure to build in advance. You should use a big accounting firm from day one because they will give you cheap rates at the start if they can see you might become big one day. He said you should buy/rent enough space so you can grow into it. (Well, obviously there is a limit to that philosophy.)

He said "Don't hire, recruit. B people hire C people, A people recruit A+ people." You want the best possible person in each and every job at any given moment in time (and who this is changes in time, as the company grows). At 3Com he was the sales boss until they got to sales of $1m per month, then someone else took over until $5m per month, another until $25m per month, and another until $125m per month. (All factors of 5 of course, so no doubt approximate figures.) They needed different people in that role at the different times because the sales channels were different.

Metcalfe said the founders have to decide "do you want it to be big or do you want to run it"? (He listed Ken Olsen as an exception. And no doubt there are a few others. Bill Gates is not far off.)

He said he got his vision while working at Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center). When he left in 1979 to form 3Com he knew that networked computers, mice, etc., were the future. But in 1979 nobody would have said that they wanted to buy ethernet. (This was before PCs even really existed.) So 3Com did not do market research. "We were market research."

Not surprisingly, he said that you have to do everything well to succeed, including sales, something techie founders often neglected. Sales people were "a different form of life, not a lower form of life". During the period of high growth of the company sales people should have the highest compensation in the company. (Yuk.)

The customer was not always right. Don't give the customer what they want, give them what they are going to need. Choose your customers carefully. "Don't choose customers who go bust."

Raise "ambitious money", i.e. raise money from people who have high expectations. This might be like letting foxes into the henhouse, but it was better to have dangerous people on your team rather than on someone else's team.

Apparently in the US there are customers willing to buy from start-ups, which makes it easier (he contrasted with Germany, where he said don't bother with most contracts if you are not Siemens).

In order to foster the right climate for growth of these big companies you need a cluster of research universities (which he said were much more productive than the private labs of monopolies like Microsoft), and you need pre-existing start-ups (e.g. HP existed for 25 years before 3Com got started).

His final words were his strapline for his "secret of everything": "freedom of choice among competing alternatives", or "focaca". Just as well he was a techie and not a marketing person.

Then Hauser took over. His talk was largely a sales pitch. But what the heck. He mentioned the usual Cambridge suspects, ARM and CSR (Cambridge Silicon Radio), but also mentioned a "future ARM", Solexa, who do ultrafast gene sequencing (the claim being that they were aiming to be able to do an entire human genome in less than one week, for less than $10k, so the start of thinking about doing "personalised medicine").

From the government he wanted, or had already gotten,

Of course ARM is the great Cambridge success story so far (but nothing compared to the American giants). Apparently the ARM Risc chip is in 90% of mobile phones, in most PDAs (including all of Windows Pocket PCs), in Nintendo GameBoys, and in iPods. With 1.3 billion units shipped in 2004. That's a lot.

In the discussion period questions were alternated between Cambridge, UK, Cambridge, MA and emails from the webcast audience. Someone asked how do you know what your company should do by itself and what to use external contractors for. Hauser quoted an Austrian general: "a general should only give orders that nobody but a general can give". Metcalfe said that at 3Com they often switched between the two modes (dependent on the specific operation at the specific moment in time).

Someone asked how do you know which customers are the "right" ones. Metcalfe said that with the ethernet, originally they were told by sales people that lots of people with Apple 2 computers wanted it, but he concluded that was not powerful enough a computer, so decided to ignore these customers. The IBM PC was the first computer which was just powerful enough, and those were the customers they aimed for (luckily). Apparently they provided Sun with equipment early on in Sun's life, but then were told by Sun that eventually they would put the functionality on the motherboard themselves, so Metcalfe took that as an indication not to bother upgrading any of the products for Sun.

Renewable energy means higher bills (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Consumers face a 5% rise in electricity bills by the end of the decade to help meet government targets on renewable energy, an official report says.

The National Audit Office (NAO) report says that renewable energy is a relatively expensive way for Britain to cut emissions of greenhouse gases.

The government hopes to generate 10% of the country's energy by renewable sources within five years.

The NAO says this target is achievable but at a cost of more than £1bn a year.

BBC environment correspondent Richard Black said the government's progress on renewable energy was "lagging" and some previous reports have suggested that the government would not meet its target.

However, the NAO report found that the government was on track to meet the 10% figure.

This was despite the amount of electricity generated by renewable sources, such as wind power, being only 2.4% in the 2003/4 financial year, against a target of 4.3%.
The government hopes to double the level of energy generated by renewables to 20% by 2020.

The NAO said in its report: "The use of renewable energy on this scale would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by between 20 million and 27 million tonnes, and increase the diversity and hence the security of the United Kingdom's energy supplies."

The NAO report also claimed there are cheaper ways to reduce production of greenhouse gases, such as promoting energy efficiency.

The last sentence is the most crucial. Energy efficiency is not sexy so does not get discussed. Wind power is sexy so does get discussed (and vastly subsidised). In the UK much wind power is being forced offshore, because there is a lot of opposition to it being sited onshore, which makes the cost much higher. Of course if the companies that put up the turbines were forced to pay compensation to the people who were affected, which they should but do not, then this would not be as great an issue. Unfortunately in the UK there is never compensation in these circumstances, forcing a small minority to subsidise energy production for the vast majority.

Date published: 2005/02/10

North Korea nuclear bomb (permanent blog link)

The Financial Times says (subscription service):

North Korea on Thursday declared it had manufactured nuclear weapons - its most brazen admission yet that is has crossed the nuclear threshold - and announced it was withdrawing from multilateral negotiations on its disarmament.

Coming amid increasing hopes of an imminent breakthrough to the stalemate over Pyongyang”s nuclear weapons programme, perhaps as soon as this month, the statement will confound North Korea”s neighbours.

"We had already taken the resolute action of pulling out of the NPT (nuclear non-proliferation treaty) and have manufactured nukes for self-defence to cope with the Bush administration”s ever-more undisguised policy to isolate and stifle the DPRK," North Korea”s foreign ministry said, in a statement run by the official Korean Central News Agency. North Korea is officially known there as the Democratic People”s Republic of Korea.

The weapons were built as a "nuclear deterrent for self-defence under any circumstances," the statement said. "The present reality proves that only powerful strength can protect justice and truth."

But some analysts point out that North Korea, with its fondness for belligerent outbursts, has a history of strengthening its threats just before agreeing to talks, a tactic aimed at increasing its bargaining power. If that is the case this time, Thursday”s rhetoric could in fact be a counter-intuitively positive gesture.

Nevertheless, the first unequivocal admission that it already has nuclear arms will in the interim cause some alarm.

North Korea is of course run by one of the most dreadful governments in the world. In particular nothing they say can be believed, so whether or not they have a nuclear bomb is no clearer today. But given the current American government's view of the world, it makes sense for all countries to have as big a military presence as possible, in case the US decides to bomb them next (Iraq was no threat and they were not only bombed they were invaded). Although whatever happens, North Korea is far more likely to harm South Korea and Japan than the US.

Open source biotech (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

A team of scientists has developed an "open-source" alternative to one of the most effective - but patent-protected - ways of genetically modifying plants.

Scientists need to pay for licences if they use Agrobacterium; thought to be the only bacterium able to transfer foreign genes into plants.

But new research in Nature shows other bacteria can carry out gene transfer.

This could allow scientists to avoid the complex patent licencing process, which some say stifles innovation.

The properties of Agrobacterium tumefaciens allow scientists to engineer any desired genes into the bacterial DNA and then insert them into plant genomes.

It has hundreds of patents issued on it, with biotech giants Monsanto and Syngenta amongst the significant rights holders.

The microbe, which causes plant tumours in the wild, is used widely in research. But patent rights are rarely enforced until scientists decide to commercialise the fruits of their work.
The team behind the Nature paper has also launched a collaborative research platform on the internet called BioForge, which will allow scientists to develop new technology within a protected "commons".

It is about time that some biologists are starting to follow the open source model of the computer world. The so-called environmentalists would have been a lot less successful with their hysterical campaign in the UK against GM food if there were less biotech patents so people could see a common good being served. Of course these so-called environmentalists should put their money where their mouth is and fund open-source biotech instead of wasting all their effort on scare mongering.

Fluctuations in global temperature over time (permanent blog link)

Nature says (subscription service):

Fluctuations in global temperature during the past millennium may have been larger and more frequent than previously thought, says a fresh analysis of the climate record.

The analysis is likely to reignite a long-standing controversy over the cause and extent of natural climate variability, scientists say, although the unprecedented nature of global warming since the mid-1980s remains unquestioned. The study was conducted by Anders Moberg of Stockholm University, Sweden, and his team.

According to an earlier study, which produced the widely cited 'hockey stick' graph, average Northern Hemisphere temperatures during the past millennium were relatively stable until the late nineteenth century, when they began to increase sharply. In 2001, this assessment was used to underpin the most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) -- the scientific branch of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

But the Moberg study, which is published just as the Kyoto Protocol comes into effect, suggests that notable climate changes have occurred throughout the recent past. If such natural fluctuations continue in the future, they may "amplify or attenuate anthropogenic climate change significantly", the authors conclude.

Moberg's group used a combination of different 'proxies' to reconstruct decadal and centennial temperature changes. Proxies are climate indicators such as tree rings, pollens and boreholes, and the researchers used each one at the timescale that it records most accurately: tree rings are used for reflecting annual variations, for example, and sediments for longer-term changes. The researchers then used 'wavelet analysis' to combine the timescales in the optimum manner.

Time will tell whether this model is more or less accurate than previous ones. As with all such studies the political repercussions are almost more important than the scientific ones, although they should not be since the study has no direct bearing on the current debate about "global warming".

Date published: 2005/02/09

Silicon Fen alive and well (permanent blog link)

The Financial Times says (subscription service):

Nearly a year after its market debut, Cambridge Silicon Radio, Cambridge's latest star technology company, is still shining brightly, with exponential growth figures and a market capitalisation of £456m - 50 per cent higher than on float.

The company's float on the London Stock Exchange last February was a psychologically important event for Cambridge, breaking the initial public offering drought that followed the bursting of the technology bubble and reassuring investors that the "Cambridge phenomenon" is still working.

It is not just the fact that CSR managed to float, raising £39m, that is important. But the company - which makes Bluetooth chips used for connecting devices such as mobile phones, headsets and PCs to each other without wires - has also gone from strength to strength since the float.

Profits have been growing by 20 per cent or 30 per cent each quarter, as increasing numbers of Bluetooth-enabled devices come to market. Many are hoping that, if the trend continues, CSR will be Cambridge's next £1bn company, joining the ranks of peers such as Arm and Autonomy.

"I feel now for the first time in 25 years that we finally have critical mass in Cambridge," says Hermann Hauser, director of Amadeus Capital Partners, a venture capital group. "Cambridge is the only place in Europe where this has really happened."

Others hold similar views. Doug Richard, founder and chairman of Library House, the Cambridge-based research company, and one of the judges on the hit BBC investment programme Dragon's Den, says: "The Cambridge cluster has just tipped over and a period of explosive growth is ahead. It manages to attract a very large quantity of capital without variation."

New research from Library House shows that the city is one of the main centres of technology innovation in Europe. It gets the lion's share of technology investment, attracting more than 25 per cent of the UK's venture capital investments and 8 per cent of the total in Europe.

Of course Hermann Hauser and Doug Richard are Cambridge cheerleaders, so they are hardly going to say anything else. If you look at the number of empty office blocks in town this is not a booming city. But hopefully things can only get better. There are zillions of new houses and flats being built in Cambridge, and it would be good if they were occupied by somebody.

Capacity building for sustainable development (permanent blog link)

The second lecture of the university's Third Annual Lecture Series in Sustainable Development (2005) was given today by Leo Jansen of Delft University of Technology. He apparently studied chemical engineering but this was not an engineering talk, it was a management talk. It was full of sustainable development jargon ("foresighting", "backcasting", "ecoefficiency", "knowledge fusion", "stakeholders", etc.). There were lots of diagrams with arrows flowing here and there connecting the various pieces of jargon. And it was all presented with a "mom and apple pie" flavour. The Eurocracy that runs Europe would love it all.

Jansen was a member of a large Sustainable Technology Development research programme in the Netherlands from 1992-1997. It was not clear what this programme actually achieved. It seems that "capacity building" is about making sure that more and more of industry worries about "sustainable" design. This would not be a bad thing if it was not such a fuzzy concept. The way Jansen sees industry adopting this viewpoint is for universities to educate their students about sustainable development and wait until they become the captains of industry. You never know, that might be the way forward. But we need less management speak and marketing blurbs and more science and engineering.

Date published: 2005/02/08

Police exam in Iraq (permanent blog link)

The Guardian published sample exam questions for the new Iraqi police force. They are so silly you have to wonder if the Guardian is just taking the piss, but it is not yet April Fool's Day.

"Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person is: (a) torture; (b) interview techniques; (c) interrogation techniques; (d) informative and reliable."

Well the Americans clearly believe (b) and (c) so what is an Iraqi police recruit supposed to say.

"In a democratic free society the role of police is to protect: (a) the citizens; (b) the leader; (c) the state; (d) the military."

Well the police should protect everyone, so the correct answer is (a)-(d).

"The police basic standard of conduct requires: (a) all citizens to be treated with respect and dignity; (b) information to be shared with the local community; (c) special treatment for privileged persons and organisations; (d) bribes to be collected for services."

Well for most police services in the world (c) is certainly true (why else does Bush get 10000 police to protect him when he comes to London). And (b) might also be a reasonable choice depending on what "information" they are talking about.

"Human rights can be taken away from a person: (a) never, human rights are inalienable; (b) if the government says so; (c) if the accused has committed a serious crime; (d) in time of war."

Well most people in most countries seem to believe the correct answer is (b)-(d). After all, the British and American governments already practise (b), and most countries practise (d), and many people push for (c) (e.g. for alleged paedophiles).

"Which of the following could be a suicide bomber?: (a) male; (b) female; (c) child; (d) all of the above."

Well the only point of this question must be that the American policy of shoot first and ask questions later should be the same for the Iraqi police.

Not only are these questions silly, they are downright patronising. Answer the questions the stupid obvious "Uncle Tom" way and you go to head of the class.

Pebble bed nuclear reactors in China (permanent blog link)

The Financial Times says (subscription service):

China is poised to develop the world's first commercially operated "pebble bed" nuclear reactor after a Chinese energy consortium chose a site in the eastern province of Shandong to build a 195MW gas-cooled power plant.

An official representing the consortium, led by Huaneng, one of China's biggest power producers, said the proposed reactor could start producing electricity within five years.

If successfully commercialised, the pebble bed reactor would be the first radically new reactor design for several decades. It would push China to the forefront of development of a technology that researchers claim offers a new "meltdown-proof" alternative to standard water-cooled nuclear power stations.

China and South Africa have led efforts to develop "pebble bed" reactors, so called because they are fuelled by small graphite spheres the size of billiard balls, with uranium cores. The reactor's proponents say its small core and the dispersal of its fuel among hundreds of thousands of spheres prevents a meltdown.

Advocates of "modular" pebble bed reactors argue they offer the hope of cheap, safe and easily expandable nuclear power stations a potent appeal for China, which is struggling to meet huge growth in energy demand while avoiding environmental disaster.

Pebble bed reactors are small, which suits remote and rural areas and makes them easy to expand.

The reactor's supporters also argue that the technology is secure from proliferation. The low-enriched uranium fuel consists of half-millimetre-sized particles of uranium dioxide encased in graphite and silicon carbide, which in turn is encased in a graphite ball. Experts say it is expensive and difficult to process such spent fuel. Plans for a rival pilot plant near Cape Town, developed by Eskom, the South African power utility, US-based Exelon and British Nuclear Fuels, have been stalled by environmental challenges.

Well you can never believe any claims made about a new technology (like everything else in life, it is over-sold) but hopefully China will be able to make something of it. Soon the West will not have to worry about preventing technology from reaching China, they will have to worry that technology is not going the other way.

Date published: 2005/02/07

Lake District National Park Authority (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Free guided walks in the Lake District will be able to continue for another year - thanks to a mystery cash donor.

Tourism chiefs wanted to stop the tours because they drew mainly "middle-aged, middle-class, white people".

But at a meeting of the Lake District National Park Authority on Monday, members were told there was "massive opposition" to the plan.

The meeting was told a mystery sponsor had come forward and pledged £38,000 to save the walks for the current year.

The meeting heard the cash would provide "breathing space" so that more research could be done on attracting other groups, especially from ethnic minorities, into the area.

The authority has been under pressure to cut costs and also to encourage visits from minority groups and the disabled.

It still faces a 9% cut to its £9m a year budget.

Who the heck are the morons who lead the Lake District National Park Authority (LDNPA) and do they serve any purpose in life whatsoever. If you have to make budget cuts you say "we are cutting service X because we can no longer afford it", you do not say "we are cutting service X because we hate the people who use it, and bugger off all you horrid middle class people who dare to come to the Lake District". The Cumbria Tourist Board must be tearing its hair out. The British never have gotten the idea of tourism. Repeat three times: "the customer is always right". The LDNPA instead believe "the customer is always wrong".

Of course perhaps this was all a cynical ploy to gets lots of free national publicity for a little known service. Well, unfortunately it seems that the report is genuine, as the LDNPA itself says:

Forging links between Langdale and Manchester youngsters, easy to use paths for wheelchair users and car-less routes around the Lake District are all part of an innovative National Park master plan.

The final report of Open Return - a Lake District National Park Authority led research project to find ways of opening up the countryside for all - is about to be published.

Featuring nine case studies, the initiative was funded by the Countryside Agency and has included 28 organisations with Lake District interests.

The report is expected to help formulate policies for the future and is designed to benefit all visitors and residents, with a special focus on those currently under represented, such as: youth; people with limited mobility; ethnic minorities and inner-city dwellers.

NPA's access development adviser Barney Hill said he hoped Open Return would signal a new and very positive era in the countryside.

"It could lead to wider and better access for all, integrated transport, improved cycle routes and less dependency on cars, in other words, a National Park for everyone to enjoy," he said.

Three years in the making, Open Return has seen a number of inspirational schemes, such as linking children from rural Langdale with pupils from Manchester's inner-city Medlock School. Exchanges saw visits to the fells and city, with head-teachers hailing the programme "invaluable".

"Miles without stiles" looked at making paths completely user friendly for those with limited mobility, in wheelchairs, and pushing child buggies. A Broughton-in-Furness route has emerged as a prime example of what can be done.

This is definitely the kind of politically correct rubbish that only New Labour Luvvies could inflict upon the world. (Gee whiz, nine whole case studies. Well that proves it then.) Note that "a National Park for everyone to enjoy" means that most of the current visitors to the Lake District (those who take cars) can go to hell, so in fact it is really "a National Park for most everyone not to enjoy". One of the problems with the Lake District is that it is already far too manicured, and no doubt the LDPNA will not be satisfied until there is a child buggy accessible route along Striding Edge. (Don't laugh. The Green Mountain Club in Vermont had to install a wheelchair accessible toilet at one of their shelters in the middle of nowhere because of federal government regulations. Where the morons of America lead the morons of Britain are sure to follow.) And you can bet your last euro that "youth; people with limited mobility; ethnic minorities and inner-city dwellers" are not well represented on the LDNPA itself (ah, but rules are for the little people, not the rulers).

Liberal Democrats election leaflet (permanent blog link)

It must be nearly election time, the LibDems (as usual) are first off the mark and have dropped a leaflet through the door with the usual assortment of articles. (This is the "Focus on Arbury Jan/Feb 2005" issue. Different propaganda is no doubt arriving elsewhere in Cambridge.)

For some reason the LibDems always seem forced to mention that "Cambridge is a two horse race" (between Labour and the LibDems). Thanks, we didn't know that. (And in case the voters of Arbury are too thick to know what that means, the statement is made in half a dozen variations.) In the rest of the country they are happy to ask people to vote for them even if they are no hopers. So presumably the two remaining Tory voters in Cambridge have every right to vote Tory at the next election, whether the LibDems like it or not, and it is rather arrogant of them to presume otherwise.

They say "In a survey of residents to which thousands of people replied, the City Council found that 78% of people wanted to be able to recycle plastic." Well that is a sure indication if any were needed that responses to these surveys are dominated by the vocal middle class, and so are not representative of the general public. (Of course since the LibDems are themselves middle class they are happy for this sector of the public to be over-represented.)

Another concern is the council tax, which the LibDems claim is "unfair" and want to be replaced "by a fair system based on people's income". Well unfortunately in this world "fair" taxes are those other people pay and "unfair" ones are those you pay. Governments of the world are addicted to tax and manage to tax just about everything in existence. There is a sales tax, a petrol (gasoline) tax, an income tax, a capital gains tax, an inheritance tax and a council tax, amongst others. The council tax is a crude property tax, and so an even cruder wealth tax.

The idea that property (or wealth) taxes are inherently "unfair" and income taxes are inherently "fair" is ludicrous. Of course there is the question of the rate, but as with all taxes the rate is arbitrary. The problem with wealth tax, as the LibDems and some other people see it, is that old people generally have higher wealth relative to their income than younger people. There is an easy solution to this problem, namely charge lower rates for older people. (Single-person households already get a 25% discount, for example.)

For those who do not know, the council tax is based on which of eight bands your property falls in (when the last valuation was done, in 1991). As a comparison, in Cambridge in 2004-5 the lowest council tax charge was around 747 pounds (1083 euros, 1389 dollars) and the highest council tax was around 2240 pounds (3249 euros, 4167 dollars).

The leaflet says "the LibDem proposal [ for local income tax ] would mean that the average family would be hundreds of pounds better off". No doubt that is a slightly misleading statement (politicians always lie), but suppose for the sake of the argument that most people would pay less with the local income tax than with the council tax. What this means is that a majority of the population has managed to screw a minority (who would obviously be paying more, in compensation). Well that's obviously "fair".

And finally in the leaflet we discover there is to be a new group called the "Friends of Histon Road cemetery". Ah, the middle classes are finally making inroads into the wilds of north Cambridge.

The LibDems should easily win Cambridge, given their current domination of local politics. Their main problem is that the Labour candidate, Anne Campbell, comes across as a more decent person than the LibDem candidate, David Howarth, but of course she has to put up with Blair hanging around her neck like a dead weight.

Date published: 2005/02/06

Guantanamo Bay detainee (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

A British terror suspect held in Guantanamo Bay for 33 months plans to sue the government, it is reported.

Martin Mubanga claimed in the Observer that an MI6 officer played a key role in consigning him to the US camp in Cuba, following his arrest in Zambia.

Mr Mubanga, 32, from Wembley, London, said he was brutally interrogated and daubed with urine at the camp.

The home secretary said he would not be launching an investigation and that the media reports were not "well informed".

Mr Mubanga, who has dual British and Zambian nationality, was one of four Britons who were released from the US camp in January.

He said he was sent there after being interrogated by a British man who said he was from MI6, shortly after his arrest in Zambia in March 2002.

Mr Mubanga said he had been in Afghanistan and Pakistan to study Islam.

But he said he was unable to return to the UK because he had lost his British passport, and was travelling on his Zambian passport instead.

Mr Mubanga said the "MI6 agent" told him the passport had been found in a cave in Afghanistan along with documents listing Jewish groups in New York and suggested he had been on an al-Qaeda reconnaissance mission.

Mr Mubanga said the man, and an American female defence official, tried to recruit him as an agent, but he refused and within three weeks was told he would be sent to Guantanamo Bay.

Well you cannot believe everything you read in the newspapers. But it is by now well known that torture was (and probably still is) rife at Guantanamo Bay. (Of course Bush appointed as Attorney General one of the people who effectively authorised the torture, which shows what the American government thinks.) And Blair gave his soul to Bush after 9/11, so it would be surprising if the British government was not involved in facilitating transfers to Guantanamo Bay.

More money for cycling (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Cycling is not being promoted or funded well enough by the government, a sustainable transport watchdog says.

The National Cycling Strategy Board said the level of cycling in Britain is among the lowest in Europe with only 2% of journeys being made on two wheels.

Philip Darlton, the board's chairman, says an extra £70m is needed to meet government targets on reducing congestion and enhancing air quality.

Ministers say spending on cycling has risen from £29m to £39m since 2002.

But Mr Darlton says he can see "no overall strategic commitment" to cycling at ministerial level.

Only one in every 50 journeys made in the UK is currently made by bicycle, he told BBC Radio Five Live.

Last June ministers abandoned the target of raising this figure to 6% by 2010.

But the government has pledged to spend an extra £10m to link the UK's existing cycle lanes to schools around the country.

Yet another special interest pressure group pleading for money for its own special interest. Ah, but cyclists are "saving the world" so of course the rest of the country should subsidise their life style. Well, trains and buses get huge public subsidy so perhaps cycling should get its fair share (but £70m sounds way too high). On the other hand perhaps cyclists should pay a road fund license (just like car drivers) to help maintain the roads and paths they use. And isn't it amazing how everything that is claimed to be "sustainable" needs a government subsidy to sustain it.

Date published: 2005/02/05

Condoleezza Rice on Iran (permanent blog link)

The Financial Times says (subscription service):

Condoleezza Rice used her first overseas trip as US secretary of state on Friday to set a tough stance on Iran, warning the Islamic republic that it must abandon any attempt to build a nuclear weapon and end support for terrorism.

In London and Berlin, the first stops of her week-long tour of Europe and the Middle East, Ms Rice refused to rule out the possibility of an attack against Iran under a Bush presidency.

She made clear, however, that Washington had not given serious political consideration to military intervention.

"The question is simply not on the agenda at this point in time," she said during a press conference in London, adding: "We have many diplomatic tools still at our disposal and we intend to pursue them fully."

Asked how Washington might view an Israeli attack on an Iranian nuclear plant, a possibility raised recently by Vice-President Dick Cheney, Ms Rice replied: "The point is that the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon is deeply destabilising. It is destabilising to Iran's neighbours, for very good reasons. It would be destabilising for peace and security internationally.

"That is why there has been, I think, now very strong international consensus that Iran cannot be allowed to go down that route. . . . The European Three [have] given the Iranians an opportunity to demonstrate that they are serious about living up to their international obligations. They ought to take it."

Pot. Kettle. Black. The American government has done everything it can to hinder the "European Three" (France, Germany and the UK) in their negotiations with the Iranians. Bush has been a complete disaster at home (the US is heading for total bankruptcy) and the only way he can keep any credibility with his own people is to divert their attention by constantly creating international crises. And when America stops "destabilising for peace and security internationally" and starts "living up to their international obligations" perhaps the world will welcome it back into the league of nations instead of treating it like the rogue state it has become.

House of Commons debate on A14 (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge Evening News says:

THE fight to get the region's most dangerous road upgraded will be going to the Commons next week.

Jim Paice, Tory MP for South Cambridgeshire, has secured a half-hour Westminster debate on Wednesday evening, when he will demand action to improve the A14.

He is expected to tell Transport Secretary Alistair Darling, or one of his Junior Ministers, to pull their finger out and get on with the long-awaited improvements.

The A14 is continually in the news because of its high rate of accidents.

On Thursday the News reported a "day of carnage" with 12 people injured - four of them seriously - in a series of accidents on the A14 as well as the A10 and A428.

Mr Paice, his Huntingdon colleague Jonathan Djanogly and Cambridgeshire South MP, Andrew Lansley, have been applying for a special Adjournment Debate at the end of Commons' business every week since Christmas.

Now Mr Paice has got lucky and he will lead the call for action, backed up by his colleagues.

He wants the Government to urgently press ahead with improvements recommended three years ago by the Cambridge to Huntingdon Multi Modal Study, commonly known as CHUMMS.

This included a new dual carriage way section of the A14 to bypass Huntingdon, the widening to three lanes of much of the road north of Cambridge and improvements to the junction with the A10 to Ely and King's Lynn and the junction at the A1049 for Histon and Impington.

The A14 is a joke, but a tragic joke. It has got to be one of the worst designed roads anywhere, and far too small for the required capacity. Instead of upgrading the A14 the government is throwing money at a parallel road for buses only (on the old Cambridge - St Ives railway line). Needless to say if the A14 were functioning properly buses could use it as well, so building a separate road just for buses is poor design, but is a requirement driven by the anti-car mentality prevalent amongst the British ruling elite. Ministers and civil servants should be charged with governmental homicide every time someone dies on the A14, since their lack of action makes them directly responsible for the situation.

Date published: 2005/02/04

UK birds of prey (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Birds of prey being re-introduced to areas of the UK are under threat because they are being illegally killed, experts are warning.

Breeds such as the red kite and hen harrier are being targeted, especially in areas managed as grouse moors, says the UK Raptor Working Group.

The group was established in 1995 to advise ministers over the issue.

Professor Colin Galbraith of the UK Raptor group said the persecution of raptors was a "disgrace".

Birds of prey have always been unpopular among gamekeepers and pigeon fanciers because they prey on red grouse in the uplands, racing pigeons, and pheasants prior to their release in the lowlands.

But over the last five years, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and the country conservation agencies have been helping to implement the Working Group's recommendations, the UK Raptor Working Group says.

These included the launch by the police in 2004 of Operation Artemis, to target those responsible for the continuing illegal persecution of threatened hen harriers and a decline in the levels of illegal persecution in some areas of lowland Britain, leading to the return of buzzards to areas where this bird has previously been eliminated.

But, it said, the illegal persecution of birds of prey continues in many areas. Published research has shown that this is especially prevalent in areas managed as grouse moors.

Well perhaps there would be less of a problem if the people affected by the release were properly compensated for their financial loss. Lack of compensation amounts to state theft and is also a "disgrace".

EU patent law (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

A European Parliament committee has ordered a rewrite of the proposals for controversial new European Union rules which govern computer-based inventions.

The Legal Affairs Committee (JURI) said the Commission should re-submit the Computer Implemented Inventions Directive after MEPs failed to back it.

It has had vocal critics who say it could favour large over small firms and impact open-source software innovation.

Supporters say it would let firms protect their inventions.
In the US, the patenting of computer programs and internet business methods is permitted.

The patent proposals are being driven by pressure from the US and in particular from large corporations, who are the main beneficiaries of the patent system, because they can use large teams of lawyers to bludgeon small businesses, independent of who is right or wrong. (It would not be so bad if the US patent office did a reasonable job of vetting patents.) The EU should tell the US to get lost (as on most issues these days).

Why Apes and Humans Kill (permanent blog link)

The third lecture of the Darwin Lecture Series 2005 was by Richard Wrangham, about why apes and humans kill. It's possible that there might be reasons due to evolution by natural selection. A traditional scientific explanation would be that killing was the result of an escalating conflict that went too far.

He mentioned two views of human nature. The first was the "Rousseau" view, whereby killing was:

and so most humans were innately reasonable and "nice" and killing was a freak occurrence.

The second view of human nature was the "Hobbes" view, whereby killing was:

and so killing was just part of human nature.

As a small support for the "Rousseau" view he quoted a claim that "1% of people in the USA commit 50% of the murders".

To investigate the question further he looked at other species. Apparently there is a species of spider monkey, the Muriqui, in Brazil, which has been observed for many years and there has been no evidence of violence and even the traditional male dominance hierarchy has not been detected (to some laughter he said that even with mating the males would hang around and practically say to each other "after you").

On the other hand chimpanzees, one of the closest relatives of humans, were observed to have regular violence, including fatal fighting. So the question became, why do chimpanzees kill?

He then went through some of the evidence of chimpanzee killing. In particular he was interested in killing between chimpanzee communities (not inside one community). Jane Goodall was the first to observe chimpanzees killing chimpanzees in Gombe starting in the 1960s/1970s. The killings resulted from lone individuals being caught by a group of male chimpanzees from another community in a surprise "raid", who then beat it to death in a gang frenzy. Apparently one of the chimp communities was eliminated largely due to such raids (at least six males were killed this way).

Males did the killings and males were usually the victims.

He showed part of a film showing such a raid in another reserve (Kanyawara in Uganda). The killing was all over in ten minutes. One chimp each held down the victim's arms and legs and then the others took turns biting, beating and ripping the victim.

Wrangham said there was long-term research about five sites where the chimpanzees had neighbouring communities (otherwise there was no likelihood of such killings), with eleven communities and more than 180 years of data. In this time there was direct evidence of 33 killings and another 16 deaths were suspected of being such killings.

There were also intragroup killings, but these were mainly of infants because of male dominance attacks. (He did not say, but presumably similarly to what happens, for example, with lions when a new male takes over a group.)

He said that for a release of chimps by humans into the wild in the Congo, 40%-50% of the males were attacked by wild chimps (and would have died were it not for human intervention). A similar thing happened with a release of chimps in Senegal.

So the bottom line was that such killings were "natural" with chimps, supporting the "Hobbes" view.

Wrangham then turned to the causes of the killing. Apparently chimps like to hang out in large groups, only resorting to small parties when there was not much food, and in that case they would avoid territorial boundaries. (Presumably this is due to wanting to avoid being the subject of attack.)

The killing attacks happened only when there was a clear imbalance of power (lots of males on one side, not so many on the other) and in this case the attackers were never seriously hurt. The attacks happened because there was an opportunity to kill. There was usually an element of surprise.

He showed a map of the territory of one chimpanzee community. There was an inner core, where they felt comfortable spending the night, and there was an outer section, where they would sometimes hunt for food during the day, but usually only in groups with a reasonable number of males. There were many observations of conflicts between communities, even in the inner core, but these were different in that usually one side backed down without any serious injury on either side. The "home" side often "lost" these conflicts (i.e. had to back down) and the "winner" was usually the side with more males in the particular conflict. There was no element of surprise in these conflicts.

He quoted a study when the recording of an alien chimp was played and the probability of a group calling back was highly correlated with the number of males in the group. With only one male in the group there was a low (almost zero) probability of reply, but by the time there were four or more males there was a high (almost one) probability of reply.

Of course chimp communities benefit in the long term from eliminating their neighbours, because they get a bigger territory with more food and this creates an opportunity for having faster reproduction (observed). But Wrangham said the killing attacks offered no obvious short term reward. (Well, it presumably offers some social cohesion.)

With intergroup killing the violence was used as a strategy:

Wrangham wanted to assure the audience it was not just primates who behaved this way. Wolves have also been observed to have similar behaviour, with both defensive but particularly offensive territoriality killing. He quoted one study in Alaska where 39%-65% of deaths were killings by other wolves. Wolf groups were unstable, wolves were often alone, and when there were meetings between groups there was frequently a power imbalance.

And some primates were not like chimps. He mentioned bonobos (apparently another close relative of humans). Here it seems there have been no observed kills or attempts at kills. The groups were stable, bonobos were rarely alone, and when there were meetings between groups there was no large-power imbalance.

What was the relevance to war? He looked at nomadic hunter-gatherer groups, in particular hunters who lived in the world of other hunters. Apparently nomadic hunter-gatherers lived in communities of typical size 25-40 but were part of tribes of typical size circa 500, and the territories were defended not by communities but by tribe.

He quoted one recent study which said that "all the evidence indicates very high killing rates among all known simple hunter-gatherer societies" (which he then gave some caveats to). The killings between groups were:

He quoted some small-scale societies where there were also ritualised battles, which were rarely lethal (so no element of surprise).

He then moved onto states. Apparently with some state wars there are no battles, just lots of killing (decolonialism, drug wars, guerilla wars). And some state battles involved "safe" killing, safe because of a temporary imbalance of power in the killing zone (e.g. three against one) and with helpless victims (e.g. apparently the largest death of soldiers in battles is when one side is running away).

So the following kill while safe: chimps, social carnivores (e.g. wolves), hunter-gatherers, small-scale societies and states. But states also kill while at risk. There are real battles with "unsafe" killing. Apparently most soldiers avoid killing and find killing traumatic. Soldiers fight in fear (of being punished by their own side or killed by the opposition) and alchohol has been used throughout human history to promote fighting. States unlike chimps conduct lethal battles (when both sides risk being killed).

Wrangham quoted some statistics about the percentage of a population killed in intergroup aggression per year. The numbers quoted were 0%-1.4% for chimps and foragers, 0%-1% for farmers and 0%-0.2% for industrial states (and the latter was for 1900-1990 when there were two world wars, so perhaps surprisingly low). (One would think one has to be a bit suspicious of such studies since the data must be patchy and states are so big that there is a lot of intragroup killing.)

He said it was clear that chimps were much worse behaved than humans, with almost daily intragroup aggression in chimp communities. The fighting rate within communities for chimps was estimated to be 150 to 1000 times that for humans.

So the claim is that humans behave in the "Rousseau" view at home and in the "Hobbes" view abroad. (Obviously simplistic but a nice strap line.)

Why do humans get into lethal battles? Perhaps this is partly due to the safety of leaders (e.g. Bush will never himself fight in Iraq; he won't even appear in London without 10000 policemen protecting his every move). But Wrangham thinks it is also due to the positive illusions leaders give themselves about their ability to win. (Which begs the question, is there an evolutionary reason for this?) He quoted the Bay of Pigs, but managed to avoid mentioning Iraq, which of course is the relevant example today. (Wrangham is at Harvard so perhaps there is some necessary self-censorship here to avoid labels of traitor by the Republican scum. Or perhaps it was all just too obvious.)

Date published: 2005/02/03

Carbon sequestration (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The UK's chief scientist, Sir David King, says petroleum companies should be looking more closely at the storage of carbon dioxide in ageing oil wells.

He told a climate conference in Exeter, organised by the UK Met Office, that the practice of carbon sequestration could help combat future warming.

Norway's Statoil company has buried CO2 under the North Sea since 1996.
Statoil's experiment is centred on the Sleipner Field. Waste CO2 that comes up with the extracted methane is separated off and then pumped back under ground. It would normally be vented into the atmosphere.

Climate scientists generally acknowledge that sequestering carbon in this way can play a role in combating global warming.

One obvious limitation is it can only be used to trap and then store emissions from large point sources such as power stations.
There are also concerns that the gas could eventually find its way back into the atmosphere, though research on the Statoil project shows that, so far, the carbon dioxide is securely stored.

The technology is available; the key question is cost.

Sir David King's concept could enable companies to generate extra revenue. They would use the pressurised carbon dioxide to pump out the last oil from ageing wells, which would be impossible to extract otherwise.

"In the experiments, pumping carbon dioxide down there, you could squeeze the remaining oil out to pay for the experiment," he said.
UK oil companies remain unconvinced that sequestration is viable in the way that Sir David suggests.

Spokespersons from Shell, BP and the UK Offshore Operators Association, which represents UK companies extracting oil and gas from the North Sea, all told the BBC News website that there was interest in sequestration, but at the moment it was not a favoured option within Britain.

Sir David King believes there is a simple reason for their stance.

"In principle it should pay for itself, but I think the oil companies are looking for a tax saving, for a tax break on the oil produced," he said.

Companies declined to comment on this observation, but there are clearly logistical obstacles.

Many of the UK's large power stations and heavy industry are hundreds of kilometres from the North Sea oil wells, where their emissions would be stored.

The financial climate is also a key factor. Norway has a carbon tax, and Statoil would have to pay for putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere - storage is cheaper.

British oil companies and power generators are now members of the European Emissions Trading Scheme, which opened for business in January.

This means they will have to keep emissions below a certain target - which the government has yet to define - but they can use various methods to get there, such as improving energy efficiency, investing in renewable energy, planting forests, or buying emissions credits from other companies.

Sequestration is an option - but at this stage, British companies seem set to opt for cheaper ones.

"In principle it should pay for itself." Well obviously not, otherwise the companies would be doing it. And if carbon is the big evil that many climate scientists believe then there should be a carbon tax, directly related to the damage done. There is already such a carbon tax for petrol (gas) for cars, but set arbitrarily and intended to fill the UK government coffers rather than for environmental reasons. In fact driving a car is the only economic activity in the UK which covers its environmental costs. In particular electricity generation does not and using natural gas for heating in buildings does not. And "public transport" does not. Of course the one activity so-called environmentalists always target to blame for global warming is driving. (Well, they also don't like air transport, except when they themselves use it. For some reason they think that air transport is not "public transport", unlike transport by bus and train.)

Ancient trees (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Best-selling author Bill Bryson has launched a call to improve protection of Britain's ancient trees and woods.

The appeal came in an address to the all-party Parliamentary Group on Conservation and Wildlife at a meeting hosted by chairman David Kidney MP.

The Woodland Trust and the Ancient Tree Forum say there are more than 475 cases of woods threatened by development.

Mr Bryson said it was "scandalous" that ancient trees were being destroyed and called for better protection measures.
The Woodland Trust charity has estimated that Britain has more than 80% of northern Europe's ancient trees.
Mr Kidney, Labour MP for Stratford, said: "Sustainable development demands protection of our irreplaceable natural heritage.
The groups also want a living UK map of ancient trees which will enable them to monitor threats and losses.

Isn't it amazing how many people feel impelled to quote "sustainable development" as alleged justification for something they want. It is almost a sure sign that they have no real argument.

The Cambridge University Botanic Garden and Cambridge City Council recently did a veteran trees survey in Cambridgeshire. They found not many such trees in parks and gardens. One reason is that parks and gardens are maintained to be safe and tidy, and this means that "dead" or "dangerous" trees are felled. Of course society is not going to allow "dangerous" trees to survive in public places where someone might be injured or killed, for fear of lawsuits and media hysteria if nothing else. If the public domain shows such disdain for old trees it is hardly surprising that the private domain often does as well.

Date published: 2005/02/02

Marshall's military aircraft operations (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge Evening News says:

Proposals to move Marshall's military aircraft operations to the Mildenhall USAF base are set to be welcomed by councillors.

The American base, owned by the Ministry of Defence and still officially an RAF station, is one of five alternative sites identified in a consultant's report as a replacement for Marshall's Cambridge airfield, which is earmarked as a potential housing site.

Forest Heath District Council, which covers Mildenhall, is expected to approve the planned move "in principle" at a special meeting on Thursday.

Three massive hangars, one capable of taking C-17 Globemaster III transport planes flown by the RAF and USAF, are planned for a site at the end of the runway near West Row.

The farmland site would be separate from the USAF facilities, although the planes would use the same, recently rebuilt, runway as USAF tanker jets and transport planes.

Only Marshall's military aircraft work would be carried out at Mildenhall because the airfield is an operational base.

Marshall's is one of the most important Cambridge employers, particularly because it is a high-skill company which is not in the hot-today cold-tomorrow IT and biotech sectors, thus providing some diversity for the city. Unfortunately and unbelievably the Cambridge ruling elite have decided to ask Marshall's to get lost. Heck, some of Marshall's employees get their hands dirty and we can't possibly have that in precious Cambridge, where all jobs have to be "knowledge based". The arrogance of the university has spread to the arrogance of the city government and the city will live to regret this stupidity.

Discrimination against pregnant women at work (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Around 30,000 women a year are sacked or made redundant or leave their jobs due to pregnancy discrimination, research suggests.

The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) says half the 1,000 women questioned for its survey reported some level of bias against them.

EOC chair Julie Mellor said the findings were "shocking".

The organisation is asking the government to provide more support to both employees and employers.

"Although some employers knowingly flout the law, many businesses do face genuine challenges in managing pregnancy and simply don't know what their responsibilities are or what help is available to them," Ms Mellor said.

The EOC research indicated that 20% of respondents believed they lost out financially due to discrimination, and 5% said they were put under pressure to leave when they announced their pregnancy.

Sarah Holland fell pregnant when she had been working for a software development firm for almost five years, she told BBC One's Breakfast programme.

"I had been passing on e-mails to my partner about being excited about being pregnant and doing a test to confirm what we already knew," she said.

"We then had four days off together to celebrate. On coming back to the office that morning, I was immediately informed I was redundant.

"My boss said he had been thinking about it for the last 18 months, but he had no paperwork to back himself up at all. I was to work for three months to finish a project and then go."

Well this reads like an EOC press release, which the BBC just pretty much regurgitates without question. The EOC "research" is extremely unlikely to have involved a random sample, but instead a self-selecting sample, so the results are meaningless. They are doubly meaningless because they involve what the respondents believed, which is not necessarily the same as reality. And bringing up one example as "proof" that the report is correct is classic non-scientific mumbo-jumbo. Of course the EOC has to justify its existence so has to find discrimination whether it exists or not.

Having said all that, in this case the report is morally correct. Any small business would be crazy to hire a woman who might get pregnant because the associated costs are borne by the business, not society in general. If society believes pregnant women deserve a break then it is up to society to apportion the costs across society (via the tax system) and not burden small business. (Whether pregnant women deserve a break is another matter.)

Engineers as honest brokers for sustainable development (permanent blog link)

The first lecture of the university's Third Annual Lecture Series in Sustainable Development (2005) was given today by Roland Clift of Surrey University. Of course these days "Sustainable Development" is considered as a half-serious subject largely because of "Global Warming". It's always refreshing to hear an engineer discuss this subject because it will be scientists and engineers who solve the problems of the world, not social scientists or politicians or so-called environmentalists.

Having said that, this talk had the usual selection of diagrams with arrows flowing here and there that one often sees in Sustainable Development talks. In particular there was the usual three-way Venn diagram between "Eco-centric concerns", "Techno-centric concerns" and "Socio-centric concerns". The idea is that magically there is an overlap between all three concerns if only those stupid humans would move towards it. (We are today supposedly way off the overlap in the techno-centric direction. So the ecosystem is taking a hit and there is also little social equity.)

As Clift pointed out, if you don't believe there is an overlap (and that we are not there today) then you are wasting your time working in Sustainable Development. As someone who works in this area he not surprisingly claimed to be a neo-Malthusian who believes there are constraints on what we can do on and to the planet. Well there are obviously such constraints (imagine if there were a trillion trillion people) but the real question is what that means in practise, today. Malthus was wrong with his quantitative projections because he did not forsee the successes of technology. But you'd have to be pretty naive to claim there will never be limits to population growth. So we are all Malthusians in some pretty meaningless sense.

What you want from such talks are interesting facts and new ideas. There were some facts. For example, he said that in 1800 the ratio of the energy content of food produced by humans to the energy content of non-renewable sources used in making the food was 10:1. In 1900 it was 1:1. In 2000 it was 1:10. (Not clear if that included transport, hopefully yes.) And he said that large amounts of irrigation for agriculture were from non-renewable water supplies (no numbers). And the amount of phosphate available from phosphate deposits will supposedly only last from 10s to 100s of years.

Twenty years ago most anti-fossil fuel advocates would have said that the reason we need renewable energy is because fossil fuel will run out. Today the same advocates believe the problem is that fossil fuel will not run out and that emissions are the real issue. (Apparently the oil sands of Alberta cost about 15 dollars per barrel to produce, well below the current cost of crude oil. And the available supply is as much as Saudi Arabia has in oil.)

So how did we get to the techno-centric world we live in? Clift said this was because decisions were made which failed to recognise:

What he failed to mention was the reason for this is because everybody wants something for nothing, this is the whole underlying philosophy for most political systems. (As anybody who watches wildlife programs knows, this is perfectly natural, for example hyenas and lions are happy to steal food from cheetahs.) If you can pass the cost of doing something onto the rest of the planet then that is considered to be good. (For example, the "public transport" users of the world believe that other people should subsidize their journeys.)

Clift then showed a simple "taxonomy" for decisions. There are two types of decisions, those decisions with agreed criteria and those without. He put corporate decisions in the former category and public decisions in the latter. The former category was further split into decisions with prior articulation of preferences and those without. The claim was that those horrid economists with their cost-benefit analyses believe that all decisions are those with prior articulation of preferences and so can be analysed in the cold light of day. Whereas most of the big decisions of the day (e.g. global warming) are decisions without agreed criteria.

As an example of the latter he mentioned a road bypass scheme where the people for the bypass and the people against the bypass could just not see eye to eye, because, he believed, there were no agreed criteria for why the bypass should be built. This is missing the point. The people who support bypasses are those who will benefit from its construction and those who are against are those who will lose out. (The so-called environmentalists fall into the latter category because they believe the planet will lose out so psychologically they are losing out.) In the UK (as in the rest of the world) people who benefit from road schemes do not have to pay anything for their gain and people who lose out are never compensated. So their respective views are not very surprising. This is the real issue, not that decisions do not have agreed criteria.

As another example he mentioned disposal of waste. (A growing problem in the UK given the interference of the EU on the matter.) Everybody knows that waste needs to be disposed but nobody wants a waste treatment plant (or dump) in their backyard. Again, this is not very surprising. Urban people are happy to send their waste to rural areas. The people affected are not compensated and the urban people do not pay properly for the waste disposal. In effect one group of people is stealing from another group.

Clift mentioned a "new paradigm". Decisions (well, big decisions) should involve an extended peer community and technical specialists should contribute to the deliberative decision process but should not be prescriptive but instead be "honest brokers" (hence the title of the lecture). Allegedly those horrid technocrats have been shoving technology (e.g. nuclear power) down peoples' throats and it is time instead for dialogue. The problem he did not mention is that "the people" is in reality in the UK a synonym for "the vocal comfortable middle classes", who are generally anti-technology (and anti-corporate) and are happy to limit the consumption of the rest of the country (they are happy with their lot in life so everybody else should be too).

He then showed a schematic diagram. On the x-axis was "systems uncertainty" and on the y-axis was "decisions stake". When both the uncertainty and the stakes are small then applied science is used, when one or both are a bit larger then professional consultancy is used, and when one or both are fairly large then we are supposedly in the arena of "post-normal science". What a dreadful piece of jargon. Apparently this idea of "post-normal science" has been promoted by some chap by the name of Ravetz, and even more scary, apparently this jargon has caught on in the EU bureaucracy.

Clift is a member of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP), whose most influential report to date is probably the 22nd one, "Energy - the Changing Climate" (June 2000). He showed a diagram illustrating the RCEP view of "deliberative decision processes", which includes at its heart the "application of people's values". As already mentioned, in reality this means the "application of the views of the vocal comfortable middle class".

That RCEP report recommended that the CO2 level in the atmosphere not exceed 550 ppmv. The pre-industrial level was 270 and the current level is 380. Unfortunately at this point Clift mentioned the "precautionary principle", specifically: "by the time the effects of human activities on the global climate are clear and unambiguous it would be too late to take preventative measures". This argument is not good enough. There are good and reasonable arguments why 550 is going to cause a lot of problems to the planet. (Many people believe even that is too high a figure.) It is these arguments that need to be weighed against any action taken. Not the precautionary principle. If you really believe in the precautionary principle then you don't get out of bed in the morning, just in case you get hit by a bus. Or you lock up every Muslim just in case they are a terrorist.

Apparently the RCEP recommended that the entire planet ration out emission quotas on a per capita basis (for reasons of equity). Currently the UK produces 9 tonnes per year of CO2 (or was that just counting the C, and for all emissions?) and the 550 limit meant that should be reduced to 4 tonnes per year by 2050, or roughly a 60% reduction.

Clift said that the RCEP report relied on three disciplines, geophysics (to arrive at the 550 figure), philosophy (to arrive at the need for per capita rationing) and engineering (to show this was all feasible). (Well the only scary bit here is that apparently they needed a philosopher to justify the equity argument. The British middle class in action.)

To show feasibility they recommended both demand-side reductions and supply-side changes. On the demand side they recommended improved building performance (an easy target in the UK since current building performance is generally dreadful), modal shifts in transport (get those horrid car drivers out of their cars, the usual story) and improvements in manufacturing. On the supply side they recommended increases use of renewable energy sources (e.g. wind power) but for reasons of supply stability in combination with nuclear power and/or continued fossil fuel electricity generation, and that the latter would probably require carbon sequestration (apparently technologically feasible and already being done in Norway). Needless to say most so-called environmentalists oppose nuclear power at all costs, and the UK has done nothing on this front for years.

Apparently the Treasury estimated that a 60% reduction in emissions was equivalent to an expenditure of 2% of GDP from now until 2050, as compared with an expected annual increase of 4% in GDP. So half of the latter goes to saving the world and the rest goes to "consumption". Clift at this point mentioned that he is happy not to consume any more at all. Well that is a rather flippant remark, the comfortable middle classes are happy not to consume any more and they can't understand why anybody else would want to. Well, needless to say, with ever increasing health costs and expectations, any increase in GDP can easily be swallowed up, and the comfortable middle classes will consume their share of this, whether they recognise it as increased consumption or not.

Of course it is slightly ironic in view of the rest of the talk that it is the dreaded technocrats who are proposing the 60% reduction, without input from "the people". When asked at the end what would happen if "the people" decided they didn't want to reduce UK emissions by 60%, he said simply that there would just have to be public persuasion. Fair enough, but unfortunately democracy has a habit of producing the answers you don't want.

Date published: 2005/02/01

Reducing aircraft noise (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge-MIT Institute says:

Cambridge-MIT Institute 'Silent' Aircraft Initiative.

This long-term, transatlantic initiative brings together leading academics from Cambridge University in the UK and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) inthe United States with representatives from all parts of the civil aerospace/aviation industry. They are working together, sharing knowledge, testing the technologies and developing the design for a plane that is radically quieter than current passenger aircraft.

CMI's 'Silent' Aircraft Initiative has an ambitious aim: to discover ways dramatically to reduce aircraft noise, to the point where it would be virtually unnoticeable to people outside the airport perimeter in a typical built-up area. Not only will this directly advantage communities situated close to airports, it will also provide a major boost to the UK aerospace industry, and help UK airlines and airports to operate more productively.

London Luton Airport is the latest in an extended "Knowledge Integration Community" of partners involved in this three-year project, including regulators, airport operators, airlines, aerospace manufactures and representatives of community groups opposed to aircraft noise. Fellow partners in the project include British Airways, Boeing, the Civil Aviation Authority, Cranfield University, Marshalls Aerospace, National Air Traffic Services, and Rolls-Royce.

London Luton Airport has made a long-term commitment to the initiative, and an Airport team led by Airfield Environment Manager Neil Thompson will be assisting the CMI team in a variety of practical ways, allowing data acquistion vital for the development of the next generations of low noise emission passenger aircraft.

To meet their targets the Cambridge-MIT Institute (CMI) 'Silent' Aircraft team are currently looking at a number of radical concepts for reducing aircraft noise - including embedding jet engines within the main fuselage, new undercarriage and airframe configurations, and a complete re-examination of the conventional wisdom on take-off and landing approaches.

If you forgive the dreadful politically correct jargon ("Knowledge Integration Community") then anything along this line is welcome. These are the real environmentalists, people who do science and engineering research to make the situation better. (As distinct from the self-proclaimed environmentalists who only know how to complain about the "sins" of the world.)

Flood risk to new homes (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Better planning is needed to cut the risk of flooding in areas where the government plans to build thousands of new homes, insurers have warned.

The Association of British Insurers said up to 10,000 of the 1.1 million homes to be built in south-east England by 2016 were located in the floodplain.

It said the cost of flooding could rise by £55m a year, and some houses could be uninsurable without more safeguards.

The government said the report showed careful planning could manage the risk.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott last week confirmed proposals for 1.1 million new homes to be built in the south-east over the next 11 years.

The scheme targets four growth areas - Milton Keynes and the south Midlands, Ashford in Kent, the Thames Gateway in south Essex and north Kent, and a strip running from Peterborough to London.

The M11 corridor (from London to Cambridge, and artificially extended up to Peterborough for politically correct reasons) should be a growth area. Unfortunately the politicians have paid scant regard to flood risk. In Cambridge, for example, the area around Riverside and the old Simoco site on the other side of the river have both been targeted for development. That area of the Cam has flooded three times since 2000, and if you believe the dire global warming predictions things will only get worse in future. You can always build houses a few feet up off the flood level. This is relatively easy for Riverside (there is a natural slope) but in the case of the Simoco site this would be particularly bad because it would remove a natural water meadow and make the flooding worse downstream.

Cambridge design and historic environment champions (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge Evening News says:

Cambridge City Council has appointed two members to champion high quality design and the protection of historic buildings.

Coun Sian Reid will now be the council's Design Champion and Coun John Hipkin will be the Historic Environment Champion.

Coun Reid said: "Cambridge will experience major growth in the decade to come. It is critical that it becomes a shining example of high quality urban design.

"It is also important that any development is compatible with and respectful to the existing community."

Coun Hipkin said: "I want to see the people of Cambridge proud of and taking informed decisions about their historic environment.

"For example, now that the county and city councils have improved the streetscape of Kings Parade, and Kings College has refurbished its buildings, I'm keen to see the job finished by replacing the temporary street lights. In small things as in large, let's have something of which Cambridge can be proud."

King's Parade and the central area of Cambridge do not need champions. The dreadful planning control away from the central area could do with a fresh look. Unfortunately the city is the body responsible for this situation and as such these two councillors are likely just to be middle class control freaks who make things worse.

Graphology and the Blair/Gate's doodle (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Experts said some doodles revealed lots about Tony Blair - until it was discovered they were drawn by Bill Gates. So how seriously should we take the study of handwriting?

A flick through last weekend's newspapers should have been an illuminating experience for anyone interested in learning more about Tony Blair.

Graphologists - handwriting experts - had been invited by some of the press to analyse a sheet of paper containing doodles by the prime minister during a meeting at last week's World Economic Forum.

Some of the results made alarming reading. According to a graphologist consulted by the Times, Mr Blair's use of triangles represented a "death wish", symbolic, she said, of "the risk to his political career".

Elaine Quigley, a graphologist consulted by the Daily Mirror, thought the scribbles showed "the Blair Flair at work without the overlay of public performance". The circling of words was, she said, a sign of the prime minister's "quick mind and ability to turn on the spot and come up with a fluent answer".

Conversely, graphologist Helen Taylor, quoted in the Independent, found the badly formed circles revealed "an inability to complete tasks".

The only blot on the copybook came later when Number 10 disowned the doodles. The scribbles of this reckless, struggling incompetent were actually the work of fellow delegate Bill Gates, who as founder of Microsoft is possibly the world's most successful self-made businessman.

So-called handwriting experts are like many other so-called experts in Britain, just second-rate crackpots. The fact that some companies supposedly use these so-called handwriting experts to determine whether or not someone gets a job is just plain scary and is a complete abdication of corporate responsibility.

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