Azara Blog: July 2006 archive complete

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Date published: 2006/07/26

Israel kills UN peacekeepers (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

UN peacekeepers in south Lebanon contacted Israeli troops 10 times before an Israeli bomb killed four of them, an initial UN report says.

The post was hit by a precision-guided missile after six hours of shelling, diplomats familiar with the probe say.
...
The four unarmed UN observers from Austria, Canada, China and Finland, died after their UN post in the town of Khiam was hit by an Israeli air strike on Tuesday.

The UN report says each time the UN contacted Israeli forces, they were assured the firing would stop.

A senior Irish soldier working for the UN forces had warned the Israelis six times that their bombardment was endangering the lives of UN staff, Ireland's foreign ministry said.

Had Israel responded to the requests, "rather than deliberately ignoring them", the observers would still be alive, a diplomat familiar with the report said.

Well, this is only one side of the story. But Israel doesn't like the UN so perhaps this is Israel sending a message that they will bomb everybody and anybody who doesn't fall in line, rather akin to the Americans bombing the Aljazeera offices.

Lion Yard to be expanded (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge Evening News says:

Plans for a £14 million expansion of Cambridge's Lion Yard shopping centre have been drawn up.

Arlington Property Investors want to change the design of Lion Yard and increase the number of shops to compete with new developments at the Grand Arcade shopping centre and Bradwells Court.

The proposals involve linking Lion Yard with the Grand Arcade, moving the toilets to the first floor and redeveloping Heidelberg Gardens. The Fisher Square entrance will be closed and people will be able to get into the centre through the new Grand Arcade side entrance on Fisher Square.

Cambridge City Council will contribute 25 per cent of the cost of the scheme by putting in £3.6 million.

Coun Rod Cantrill, executive councillor for customer services and resources, said: "The Lion Yard development represents a long term investment for the city council, providing an important source of revenue. The further development of the centre being discussed with our partners Arlington Property Investors will augment the current retailing offer of the Lion Yard in conjunction with the introduction of the important link through to the Grand Arcade.

"The city council's contribution to the proposed development of up to approximately £3.6 million is a further illustration of our commitment to protect and enhance the economic dynamism of Cambridge."

Arlington applied for planning permission to develop Heidelberg Gardens in 2001 but the work was never carried out. The company has now applied to renew the permission.

Construction of the link between Lion Yard and the Grand Arcade will take place regardless of any expansion and construction work will begin in spring 2007 and open when the new centre begins trading in March 2008.

The proposals form Arlington's strategy and direction for Lion Yard over the next five years in the face of increased competition, changing rental values and the shift in where customers will shop in Cambridge.

A planning application is expected to be submitted to Cambridge City Council shortly and work will take place over three phases in a bid to complete the project in 2008.

Far too much retail development is taking place in the city centre, given how few people actually live there. But this is Cambridge, and the ruling elite have decreed that all shopping has to be either in the city centre or along the Newmarket Road strip. Far worse, in this case it seems that the city has a blatant conflict of interest. They are investing money and they are deciding on the planning application.

Date published: 2006/07/25

Lib Dems denigrate King's Hedges (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge Evening News says:

People living on a Cambridge estate are demanding an apology from a leading councillor after he said the city did not want another King's Hedges.

Residents and councillors have branded Colin Rosenstiel "a pompous a**e" following his remark and rallied to the support of their community.

The row broke out after Labour councillors demanded a new residential development proposed for Clay Farm, Trumpington, be made up entirely of affordable housing.

Only last week the News revealed how developers were exploiting Cambridge's housing boom by concentrating on expensive and exclusive properties, leaving average earners high and dry.

But Coun Rosenstiel, executive councillor for environmental services, rubbished the Labour idea and said: "You'll have another King's Hedges estate if you follow that policy."

Coun Catherine Smart, another Lib Dem, said: "When building big new developments it's not just houses you have to build. You have to make community facilities of all kinds. It is also a matter of whether the development is the minimum the building regulations permit or whether we strive for more sustainable housing and raise the standards.

"We need to make sure we don't build the slums of tomorrow (Wednesday, 26 July)."

Coun Rosenstiel's comments have sparked anger, although he claims he meant community facilities were needed for new developments not just houses.

Not very bright, the Lib Dems who lord over Cambridge. Of course they are mostly rich and mostly live in the posh areas of Cambridge (e.g. Newnham), so think of the citizens of north Cambridge as a bunch of scum. And the Lib Dems have to be joking when they say they want "community facilities" built as well as housing. There are almost a thousand homes being added in Arbury Park (a.k.a. Arbury Camp) and there will be even more added on the triangle bordered by Histon Road, Huntingdon Road and the Cambridge city boundary (the so-called NIAB site). And yet not a single decent shopping centre will be added, because the Cambridge ruling elite, led by the Lib Dems, have refused to allow this to happen. Currently everybody who lives north-west of the Cam has to cross the river (along one of the few roads not shut down by the car-hating Lib Dems) to get to a decent shopping centre, and when these new estates are finished that artificial situation is going to make even less sense. The English are hopeless at urban planning, and Cambridge is a prime example of this. Political correctness (e.g. car hatred and high density building requirements, all in the name of alleged "sustainability") wins out over the idea that we should be raising, not lowering, the quality of the Cambridge housing stock (e.g. by allowing decent plots and by requiring a large percentage of housing to be built by the people rather than by developers, c.f. all the posh houses lived in by Lib Dem councillors, such as on Millington Road). In this case, Labour is also behaving rather stupidly by asking that all housing in any new estate be entirely "affordable", because that restricts who can live there to certain politically correct categories of workers (i.e. public sector workers), and in Cambridge all workers (e.g. university employees) deserve decent housing.

Date published: 2006/07/24

EU ministers agree to continue funding stem cell research (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Ministers from European Union member states have agreed to continue funding research on embryonic stem cells.

Some countries oppose aspects of the research, but scientists say the cells are the key to treating diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

Last week US President George W Bush used his veto for the first time to limit federal funding for the research.

The EU will not fund the procurement of embryonic stem cells but will fund research using cells already procured.

European Commissioner for Science and Research Janez Potocnik said this was a continuation of the EU's existing practice.

"We clarified what actually we do and we committed ourselves to continue in that direction also in the future," he said.
...
EU funds may not be used for research into human cloning for reproductive purposes or changing the genetic heritage of human beings.

EU funds are not available for therapeutic cloning of stem cells, or the creation of embryos for research purposes, both of which are allowed in the UK.

One small bit of sanity in a world otherwise more and more dominated by religious fundamentalist nutters. If the backwards (mainly Roman Catholic) nations want to ban research in their countries that is their right, but conversely they have no right to stop research or funding of such research in other countries.

Lib Dems want to dump Cambridge sewage works on someone else (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge Evening News says:

Controversial plans to move Milton sewage works to a treasured beauty spot are "likely to go ahead" according to a leading councillor.

Cambridgeshire County Council is currently considering a proposal to relocate the waste water treatment works to Honey Hill.

Hundreds of villagers in the nearby villages of Teversham, Horningsea, Fen Ditton and Quy have written letters and signed petitions demanding the plans are scrapped. The idea has also received short shrift from councillors.

Coun Sian Reid, Cambridge City Council's executive councillor for planning and transport, backed the move as she defended plans for new developments on the northern fringe and east Cambridge.

Coun Reid said: "I recently visited an ex-sewage works site in Germany and it was one of the most delightful mixed development sites. It filled me with positive aspirations for that site.

"I have braved a meeting with the residents of south Cambridge at Fen Ditton. There is a strong chance it will be going ahead. "It will come to the environment scrutiny committee who have a chance to talk about it in depth."

Coun Reid made her comments in response to Labour Coun Kevin Blencowe's claim that the cost of moving the waste water treatment works would be too great.

He said: "The costs of relocating the sewage works have gone up and up and make it unlikely in my opinion that it will ever come about. If we are going to meet the figures in the Local Plan, should we be basing housing provision on clearly dubious sites.

"The site identified near Fen Ditton and Horningsea is highly contentious and some might say 'not over my dead body'. The cost is £100 million. Someone has got to pay it, whether that's the taxpayer or somebody else."

Blencowe is of course correct. Unfortunately this whole episode is just the latest breath-taking arrogance from the Cambridge Lib Dem ruling elite. The whole idea is just a classic attempt by a powerful group (the residents of Cambridge) to dump their problems on somebody else, with no compensation. If Reid thinks sewage works are so great, perhaps Cambridge should relocate its sewage works within the Cambridge city boundary. There is a perfect location (plenty of land) right next to Millington Road, where Reid lives. Let's see how the rich residents of Newnham respond to that kind of proposal. Reid herself would no doubt find plenty of reasons why that would be a bad idea, in spite of the "delightful" "ex-sewage works site in Germany".

Date published: 2006/07/23

Japan observations (permanent blog link)

Arriving at Kansai (Osaka) Airport after departing from Heathrow Airport is like arriving on a different planet. Heathrow (certainly Terminal 3) is a dump and barely functions. Kansai is a marvel of engineering and architecture (designed by Renzo Piano). Japanese railways have perhaps the best reputation in the world, and it's pretty obvious why straight away. On time (almost always). Clean (and regularly cleaned). And exacting to the point where you know what car door will open where to the nearest meter. And on most Japanese trains there is English as well as Japanese.

Of course there are one or two problems with the Japanese railways. For some reason the railways were privatised in the same stupid way the British ones were, namely having different companies run trains on different parts of the network. Only, unlike in Britain, the railway system still functions in spite of this, although rail passes do not work as well as they might otherwise. The one real bad point of the Japanese railways is that some cars are for reserved seats only and some are for non-reserved seats only, and a person with a non-reserved ticket is not allowed to sit in an empty seat in a reserved ticket car. Oh well, every country has its stupidities.

Japan is not big, and along the coastal area between Osaka and Tokyo (and even beyond) you would be hard placed to find a single location where you were not in sight of buildings. It is wall-to-wall development. And although almost all buildings are unique in Japan (so not much in the way of terraces, for example), they are also almost all ugly. And the endless wires and cables in the streets do not help. You can see why the Japanese go crazy over a few cherry blossoms, the rest of the time they are marooned in this horrid street environment. And you can see why architects get hysterical about the odd Japanese house which has been designed with some style, there is just so little of buildings of merit that anything that arises above this mediocrity somehow deserves comment. (And in general central Tokyo buildings are better than those elsewhere.)

The Japanese always claim that they have to put up with (relatively) high density housing because so much of the island is mountainous and therefore allegedly uninhabitable. But certainly along the coastal area between Osaka and Tokyo, the mountains could easily be inhabited. Indeed it is not that unusual to see houses packed together on one hill and the next hill along completely empty, for no obvious reason of geography.

Japanese service in stores is unbelievably polite and good (up to the language problem). If only the often surly and ignorant sales staff in Britain (and elsewhere in Europe) would take some lessons from the Japanese. This kind of service spreads beyond shops. There are all sorts of Japanese workers whose main job seems rather pointless but which makes everything go more smoothly. There are sometimes people at the bottom of escalators just checking that everything goes well. There are sometimes traffic police at junctions where there is hardly any traffic. Indeed this all happens to an extent where it's amazing that Japanese economic productivity is as high as it is, because there seem to be a lot of people who do very little.

The Japanese have also provided an amazing amount of infrastructure for blind people. Everything from textured paving providing paths in (for example) railway stations and offices (although blind people seemed to ignore these) to chirping sounds for crossing roads (supposedly different for the two directions).

Japanese food is (relatively) cheap (even in Tokyo) and pretty good, certainly in comparison to Britain on both scores. You can walk past shops and not even have a clue what the food is because it has been wrapped in some way or other, but it all tastes reasonable enough. The Japanese seem to have a fetish for octopus and some other odd things, but every country has its own quirks on the food front. Many restaurants have wax models on display out front of the dishes they serve. That is rather hilarious but it is invaluable for non-Japanese- speaking tourists. (Some restaurants have English menus but not all, especially when you get away from touristy areas.)

Tokyo really is crowded, even more so than London. Even around midnight there are lots of people milling around near major areas (e.g. Shinjuku). Even around midnight the trains are so crowded that people have to stand.

Heading back to Britain, the plane had to circle for ten or fifteen minutes before landing at Heathrow. (Has any plane ever landed there without having to do so?) Then it sat on the tarmac for another twenty or so minutes waiting for a gate, with the ironic playing of "Land of Hope and Glory" over the airplane PA system. Then at King's Cross even the platform of the Cambridge train was not known until three minutes before it was scheduled to leave. It ended up being platform 1, so not the usual one, and was the second train on the platform, and it left only a few minutes late, leaving little time for people not used to King's Cross to get on the train. Welcome to Britain.

Date published: 2006/07/09

Cameron says teenagers who wear hooded tops are just trying to blend in (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Conservative leader David Cameron is expected to call for greater understanding of teenage "hoodies" in a forthcoming speech on social justice.

Mr Cameron will say teenagers who hide under hooded tops are trying to "blend in" rather than appear threatening.

In a speech on Monday he will describe them as "a response to a problem, not a problem itself".

And he will argue that while teenage criminals must be punished, they should also be shown "a lot more love".

Hooded tops have come to be viewed by some as a symbol of social disorder.

No doubt Cameron will now appear at the Notting Hill Festival in a "hoodie", as Hague did in a baseball cap. Well hopefully sooner or later Cameron will offer real policies rather than just endless soft-focus pap.

Lib Dems want cars banned on hot days (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Summer smog causes the deaths of more than 3,000 people each year, the Liberal Democrats have warned.

However, the government says the number of deaths caused by smog cannot be determined and claims the problem has lessened in the past 20 years.

Summer smog is the noxious air produced when sunlight reacts with pollutants released into the lower atmosphere.

Lib Dem environment spokesman Chris Huhne said traffic levels should be cut on hot, windless days.

More posturing and control freakery from the no-longer-very-liberal Liberal Democrats. And how are traffic levels going to be cut on "hot, windless days"? Perhaps by taxing poor people off the roads, which is the usual solution the UK ruling elite suggest. Or perhaps by arbitrarily deciding that cars with above a certain engine size should be banned (independent of how many people are in the car), which is more in keeping with Huhne's one and only actual suggested policy (a silly annual car tax of 2000 pounds for "the most polluting" cars).

Date published: 2006/07/08

A long article about recycling in the Financial Times (permanent blog link)

The Financial Times has a long article (subscription service), by Richard Tomkins, about recycling, on the first page of the Weekend section of this weekend's edition. It is partly in jest, with the provocative title "Is recycling utter rubbish?". The basic conclusion is that sometimes recycling (and by this the article mainly means residential recycling) does some good, but sometimes it probably does not, and even when it does some good, the amount of good is minimal relative to the overall problem. The article also points out that the chattering classes like recycling because they can continue with their vast consumption of the earth's resources while being able to pretend that they are ideal citizens, just because they recycle some of the waste. The most environmentally friendly thing to do is to consume less, in particular to be poor.

Attorney General puts interest of US government above UK citizens (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Opposition leaders have criticised the attorney general's decision to refuse a UK trial for three British bankers wanted in the US over Enron's collapse.

Lord Goldsmith said he saw no basis for the Serious Fraud Office to change its decision to leave the case with the US.

But Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said it was a "dereliction of duty" by the government.
...
Sir Menzies said the decision to block their request showed a lack of concern by the government for its citizens.

"The primary obligation of any government is to protect the interest of its citizens and to ensure that their rights are fully respected.

"It is hard to imagine a greater dereliction of that duty than Labour is apparently willing to see. This government has been found wanting."

The case has proved controversial because the men are set to be sent to the US under an agreement that allows US courts to secure the extradition of British subjects without providing evidence they have a case to answer.

Blair will most be remembered as the jerk who got us into a big mess in Iraq, completely unnecessarily and by lying through his teeth. However he has also been responsible for many other bad deeds, including wholesale removal of civil liberties for UK citizens. The Enron case is a perfect example of that.

Date published: 2006/07/07

Amphibian researchers want $400 million (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Hundreds of amphibian species will become extinct unless a global action plan is put into practice very soon, conservationists warn.

Campaigners are forming an Amphibian Survival Alliance, to raise $400m and carry through a rescue strategy.

More than a third of all amphibian species are said to be in peril.

In a policy statement issued in the journal Science, researchers blame a number of factors including habitat loss, climate change and disease.
...
"Time is absolutely crucial, and to beat time we need human recourses and expertise, and finance."
...
In this week's edition of the journal Science, leading conservationists announce the creation of an Amphibian Survival Alliance which will co-ordinate the initiative - pushing forward research, field programmes, captive breeding and making sure the "global crisis" remains at the forefront of policy-making.

Join the queue. Everybody else on the planet also believes the world will end unless their vital work is funded. And here the alleged solutions (e.g. captive breeding) have little impact on some of the alleged causes (e.g. habitat loss and climate change). So this large amount of money could end up being money poorly spent.

Poorer people are less healthy (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

People from poorer backgrounds are more unhealthy and die earlier than the rich, according a study measuring the link between health and wealth.

Poorer people in their fifties were 10 times more likely to die earlier than those who are richer, the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) said.

That was despite an "even distribution in the quality of healthcare between different wealth groups", the IFS said.

The poor often have to stop work early due to ill health, the group added.

Now who would have thought that. Thank god the UK is blessed with such brilliant research. Of course all they have found is the obvious correlation, and have shown no causation (nor claimed any, it seems). In particular is being poor causing ill health or is being unhealthy causing poverty, or something else? Whatever, the correlation is obvious to anyone who observes the world for more than ten minutes. (Of course the analysis was quantitative, but that hardly matters in this case.)

Date published: 2006/07/06

Nuclear power in the news (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Local objections to nuclear power plants could be over-ridden under planning changes proposed by the government's energy review.

Councils could alter the appearance and precise location of the sites but would be unable to reject power plants on the grounds they were not needed.

Trade Secretary Alistair Darling told the Financial Times a "statement of need" would prioritise energy projects.

He said the measures were necessary to ensure power supplies did not run out.

"Given the fact that we may need to replace a third of our electricity generation, there is a serious risk that one day we'll switch on the lights and there won't be gas or electricity unless we deal with this planning problem," he said.

He said the government needed to "streamline the planning laws for big infrastructure projects" to ensure proposals of national importance were identified at an early stage and seen through properly.

Although this makes some sense (and not just for nuclear power plants), the government is treading dangerous ground here and almost certainly someone will take them to court claiming their "human rights" have been violated because of this. And as with all such big infrastructure projects (including wind farms), if the people affected were properly compensated then there would be a lot less objections in the first place (except from the so-called environmentalists, who have nothing better to do with their time).

Meanwhile, the BBC also says:

The Conservatives have said nuclear power should be used only as "a last resort" to supply the UK with energy.

Their Energy Review's interim findings say there should be a "level playing field" for environmentally-friendly sources and other means of power.

Another content-free statement from the Tories, but that's little different from Labour, either in general or in this policy area specifically.

UK government likely to miss its child poverty target (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The government may miss its child poverty target unless it changes its approach to boosting the incomes of the poor, a charity has said.

Targeted benefits and tax credits have helped to lift 700,000 children out of poverty since 1999.

But for these tactics to eliminate child poverty by 2020, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) said it would cost taxpayers an extra £28bn a year.

A more wide-ranging approach to poverty relief was needed, it said.

Since 1999 the number of children living in poverty has fallen by 700,000 due to rising parental employment and the introduction of tax credits.

The JRF said there now needed to be a greater redistribution of wealth to benefit poorer families combined with policies to help parents into work.

Just using tax credits and benefits to alleviate child poverty would become very expensive over the next few years, the report added.

Continuing to follow such a policy would add £28bn to annual government expenditure between 2010 and 2020, an "unlikely scenario" the JRF said.

In 1999 the government said it wanted to gradually eliminate child poverty.

It set itself the goals of reducing child poverty by a quarter by 2005, half by 2010 and altogether by 2020.

Unfortunately something that will never be eliminated is the child poverty lobby. One of the problems is that child poverty is defined by the government to be relative, not absolute. So a child is (allegedly) in poverty if the household has an income less than 60% of median household income. So the main way to eliminate poverty is to make income distribution as narrow as possible. While this might be a wonderfully socialist goal, it is not very credible and has little to do with real poverty. And the claim in the article that the JRF is calling for "a greater redistribution of wealth" must be misstated, since wealth is not income. You could give every poor household a Rolls Royce and it would not change their income at all.

(Actually, there is a way for households with children to have more than 60% median household income even while keeping a wide income distribution, and that is by forcing households without children to hand over much, much more of their income to households with children than they are handing over already. To a large extent this has been the government plan, but there is a limit to this strategy. At some point households without children would just get up and leave the country. They are the responsible ones, because they have not bred, but they are being forced to subsidise ever more the irresponsible ones, who have bred.)

Cambridge transport planners officially throw out Victoria Avenue closure plans (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge Evening News says:

Plans to install bollards to restrict traffic on two of Cambridge's busiest streets have been thrown out.

But residents in Victoria Avenue and Maids' Causeway are demanding something is done.

Now engineers will investigate a 20mph limit monitored by average speed cameras, restrictions on HGVs and traffic calming.

Councillors also want to see a pedestrian crossing at the junction with James Street.

Residents claim they have been waiting seven years since the two streets were included in the Core Traffic scheme which aims to reduce through traffic in the historic city centre.

Wendy Andrews from Brunswick and North Kite Residents' Association said: "In 1999, the council predicted that traffic on Maids Causeway would increase by 23 per cent when Emmanuel Road closed. In fact the traffic has increased by 36 per cent. Maids' Causeway now carries 15,500 vehicles and Victoria Avenue 17,000 per day.

"Sixty per cent of it is through traffic. That's over 9,000 vehicles per day not needing to access the city centre but just taking the shortest route through the middle."

Another resident, Dr Erica Hunter, said: "In October 2001 a proposal to ban HGVs was rejected by the environment and transport area joint committee because this would be dealt with when the phase was implemented. We've all been waiting and feeling the vibrations as the HGVs literally cause the old houses to shake."

Both speakers presented petitions to the Cambridge Traffic Management Area Joint Committee.

But the committee also received a petition from shopkeeper Jeremy Waller, saying access along the streets should remain open.

Councillors were concerned about the apparent split in opinion about whether something should be done.

A previous survey showed 60 per cent of people wanted action but during recent public consultation, 61 per cent said nothing should be done at the moment.

Coun Julian Huppert, committee chairman, suggested looking at a range of alternatives.

But Richard Preston, Cambridgeshire County Council's head of network management, warned there was no cash available for schemes in the area and implementation of average speed cameras would mean a change of policy.

He said: "I want to try to manage expectations. On cameras, people will demand why Maids' Causeway instead of a hundred other sites."

Indeed, why should Maids' Causeway have speed cameras, the problem they are complaining about is traffic quantity, not speed. (Victoria Avenue already has one speed camera.) And why 20 mph and not 30 mph like just about everywhere else in the city? (During the evening rush hour, cycles move faster than cars on Maid's Causeway and Victoria Avenue, and drivers would be ecstatic to even achieve 20 mph.) Maid's Causeway and Victoria Avenue are not dangerous roads. And if these roads are to be closed down then why not every other road in Cambridge? Indeed, forbid the rich residents of Maid's Causeway from driving down any other road in Cambridge, if they want to ban other people from driving down their road. And before Elizabeth Way was built, Victoria Avenue was the busiest road in the city, so this is not a new situation.

Needless to say if Maid's Causeway is closed down then the traffic will just move to Elizabeth Way, which is already way overloaded. But evidently the rich residents of Maid's Causeway think they are more precious than the poorer residents of Elizabeth Way. And you could not sensibly ask for lorries to be permanently removed from Maid's Causeway and Victoria Avenue because that is one of the few routes into the shops in the northern part of the centre of the city, thanks to the closure of Bridge Street. (Well, they could ban lorries from Maid's Causeway and not from Victoria Avenue. But this would increase lorry traffic on Elizabeth Way and Chesterton Road.)

Perhaps the Cambridge ruling elite are finally learning the obvious lesson that closing roads down just moves problems elsewhere. But don't count on it. A few years ago the residents of Victoria Road campaigned to get lorries banned from their road at night, and the brilliant suggestion from the Cambridge ruling elite then was for the lorries instead to use Histon and Gilbert Roads (yes, the residents of those roads told the ruling elite where to go, so this idea was never implemented). And the Maid's Causeway problems are partly due to the closures of Bridge Street and Emmanuel Road. So we have been there before and no doubt will be there again. Unfortunately the cult of car hatred is behind most policies of the Cambridge ruling elite, and that will continue.

Date published: 2006/07/05

Mercury-based vaccines and MMR allegedly not linked to autism (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Mercury-based vaccines and MMR jabs do not lead to an increased risk of autism, a Canadian study says.

McGill University Health Centre looked at patterns between the development disorder and jabs in 28,000 children, the Pediatrics journal reported.

They found autism rates were higher in children given jabs after thimerosal was eliminated from vaccines and after MMR vaccination coverage decreased.

Experts said research was now needed to explain why autism was more common.

Concerns were raised in the late 1990s that the MMR jab may be linked autism as the three-in-one vaccine was said to overload the immune system.

The 1998 research has since been discredited, but immunisation rates have dropped in recent years.

Meanwhile, thimerosal, traditionally used as a preservative in vaccines, has been gradually phased out of use after being linked to autism.

This has come at a time when autism rates have been rising across the world.

Before the 1980s, one in 2,500 children was diagnosed as autistic, a developmental disability that affects the way a person communicates and interacts with others. Now the figure is closer to one in 250.
...
Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, an autism expert at Cambridge University, said research was needed to pin down why there has been a rise in autism.

He said there was many likely factors but an "explanation" was needed.

"There may also be some as yet unidentified environmental factor, but the new study suggests MMR and thimerosal are ruled out."

The first paragraph of the article is misleading, as is made clear in the third paragraph. This study not only found that these alleged factors did not lead to an increased risk, but quite the opposite was true. Of course this is only one study. And the people who promoted these fears in the first place will never back down. So this is not the end of the story. And perhaps one "explanation" as to why so much more autism is diagnosed is because it is now more widely looked for, and a whole industry has built up around it. It's certainly much better for a child to be labelled as "autistic" rather than just "anti-social". And Baron-Cohen himself recently suggested that the "explanation" might be that people who could pass on "autism genes" were more likely to marry these days (which seems not that believable, the way most people meet is not that different these days).

Cambridge nuclear bunker might be used for storage (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge Evening News says:

Plans to use a nuclear bunker for storage could save it from demolition.

The Grade II-listed bunker, left over from the Cold War, was earmarked to be bulldozed by housing developers Countryside Properties.

But after a long-running tale of twists and turns, Surrey company Keepsafe Self Storage has now made a bid to use it as a stock room.

The building, on the former Government buildings site off Brooklands Avenue, Cambridge, first became a contentious issue in 2003 after the 20th Century Society campaigned for its protection and it became a listed building.

Eva Branscome, of the society, said: "I am hopeful about the new proposal. This is the ideal solution for the bunker and we will not be opposing the application.

"The exterior of the bunker will not be touched and there is nothing on the interior that is in the public interest. This is the obvious use."

The 1950s bunker was originally built as a standby regional seat of government for use in the event of a nuclear attack.

Cambridge City Council eventually gave the green light for demolition after Countryside bought the site for upmarket housing.

But after receiving objections the application was sent for a full planning inquiry.

This has now been postponed while the council considers the latest application.

Sounds like the best medium-term solution, the bunker really is not good for very much except for storage. One problem is site access, the bunker is located at the far end of the Accordia development and the only access is via residential roads.

Date published: 2006/07/04

Many new schools being built are allegedly mediocre buildings (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Half of a sample of 52 secondary schools built in England in the last five years were at best "mediocre", government design advisers say.

The design quality was "not good enough to secure the government's ambition to transform our children's education".

The report by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (Cabe) coincides with an inquiry by MPs into Building Schools for the Future.

The government says it has already taken steps to raise standards.

Under the multi-billion-pound scheme, all secondary schools and half of all primaries are to be transformed over 15 years.
...
Cabe audited a representative sample of 52 of the 124 schools that had been completed.

The three criteria were functionality, build quality, and "ability to create a sense of place" with "an uplifting effect" on the local community.

It found 10 that were good or excellent - four of which were new academies - 15 were "partially good", 11 "mediocre" and 16 "poor".

"Those ranked as poor were considered particularly bad at providing inspirational educational environments, and nearly all schools failed to tackle basic issues of environmental sustainability such as providing natural daylight and ventilation," Cabe said.

All but one of the poorest 10 had been built under the private finance initiative (PFI), and only three of the best 10.

Well, Cabe is probably more-or-less accurate in its assessment, but the quality of buildings is only a secondary consideration in education, far more important are the quality of the teachers and the quality of the children.

Bypasses allegedly bad for rural areas (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Three controversial bypasses failed to reduce traffic to the levels promised, a study by green groups has found.

Researchers looked at the A27 Polegate bypass in East Sussex, the A34 Newbury bypass, Berkshire, and the M65 Blackburn Southern bypass, Lancashire.

The Countryside Agency and the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) found traffic on the bypasses was growing faster than forecast by the government.

Transport Minister Stephen Ladyman said other factors were to blame.

"Many of the effects that are reported in this study are not as the result of the road development itself, but are the result of other developments that have followed behind the road developments," Mr Ladyman said.

"So if we decide to build an industrial park for example near a new road then you can hardly be surprised if that industrial park generates new traffic."

Researchers also said the bypass schemes caused permanent damage to rural landscapes.

Their study, published on Monday, said traffic on the three bypasses had already reached or exceeded the levels forecast for the year 2010.

And extra traffic, over and above the gradual increase happening everywhere, had flowed on to local roads.

At Newbury and Polegate, the new bypasses did reduce town centre traffic.

But in Polegate, shop owners suffering from losses in trade had actually been campaigning for signs to be installed on the bypass directing traffic back into town.

In Newbury, most of the freed-up space on the old bypassed road was being taken up by traffic attracted by new development, the study said.

A completely disingenous report from these so-called environmental groups, whose main aim in life seems to be to freeze life in the countryside as it was in 1950, pity that it's 2006. Bypasses no more do "permanent damage" to the countryside than any other human intervention (including monocultural agriculture). But bypasses are a slightly tricky issue in that since they do reduce through traffic in towns, shop owners are almost bound to suffer, and that means the local residents in turn will suffer from reduced availability of local shops. It should be up to residents generally in a town whether they should have a bypass, it should not be up to a bunch of unaccountable middle class bureaucrats.

Date published: 2006/07/03

Committee of MPs releases report on terror suspect detention limit (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The 28-day limit for police to hold terror suspects without charge may well need to be extended, an influential committee of MPs says.

But the Home Affairs Committee report warns any such move would require extra safeguards to be put in place.

It attacks the government for the way it put its argument for a 90-day limit, a plan thrown out by Labour rebels.

Committee chairman John Denham says evidence leading to detention without charge needs to be "compelling".
...
Ministers have made clear they feel there is still a need to go further than the 28-day compromise, which was agreed in November after Tony Blair suffered his first Commons defeat as prime minister.

In its report, the committee says no recent cases provide justification for a longer detention period.

But it adds: "The growing number of cases and the increase in suspects monitored by the police and security services make it entirely possible, and perhaps increasingly likely, that there will be cases that do provide that justification.

"We believe, therefore, that the 28-day limit may well prove inadequate in the future."
...
[It] is highly critical of the roles played by the police and the government in the attempt to set a 90-day limit.

"On such a major issue, with very significant human rights implications, we would have expected the case made by the police to have been better developed."

The report adds that it was "unsatisfactory" that the prime minister and home secretary had not "critically challenged" the police's advice to assure themselves of the case that was being made.

It says a "lack of care" in presenting the case, rather than the breakdown of political consensus blamed by then Home Secretary Charles Clarke, was the main reason for the difficulties.

The report pretty much makes the obvious point that Blair and Clarke were just playing petty politics rather than being serious, with their push for 90 days. The "lack of care" in presenting the case was not accidental, it was on purpose, since there was really no case. The line in the report that "the 28-day limit may well prove inadequate in the future" is trite and seems to be a sop to ministers so that they can claim they were "right" all along.

Cambridge transport bureaucrats back down over closure of Victoria Avenue (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge Evening News says:

Controversial plans to close a busy Cambridge street will be put on the back burner by transport bosses.

Cambridgeshire County Council considered stopping traffic from cutting through Maid's Causeway and Victoria Avenue during the day. Three options were put forward, including the idea of bollards in one of the streets.

At a county council workshop, 68 per cent of people attending had said traffic was a problem.

But when residents and business owners were asked, 74 per cent said cars, buses, cyclists, pedestrians and motorbikes were able to use the route without any difficulty and 61 per cent said the council should leave the streets as they were.

Now transport officers have recommended the Cambridge traffic management area joint committee puts off measures to control traffic on the streets.

Plans may be reconsidered as part of the council's long-term transport strategy.

Unbelievable, the Cambridge ruling elite seem to have backed down. The fact that 68 percent of people in one consultation allegedly supported the closure and 61 percent in another allegedly supported the opposite shows how unrepresentative these consultations are, it is quite easy for one side or the other to stuff the ballot box. And almost certainly in both consultations the Cambridge middle class were vastly over-represented and the non-residents (mainly drivers) who actually use Victoria Avenue and Maid's Causeway were vastly under-represented. The complaints from business people might have tipped the balance here. The best thing about the whole process was that it kept the Cambridge transport bureaucrats busy so that they have had less time to inflict their damage elsewhere.

Date published: 2006/07/02

Tories want to ban Scottish MPs from voting on English issues (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The Conservatives are to recommend Scottish MPs be banned from voting on issues that only affect England.

A party spokesman said the Tories were "almost certain" to back the idea, which has been recommended by a task force led by Kenneth Clarke.

The debate over the post-devolution role for Scottish MPs became known as the "West Lothian question" after being first posed by former MP Tam Dalyell.

Tory leader David Cameron supported the idea in his party's leadership contest.

The measure was also included in the Conservative manifesto at the last election.

The Tories want to end what they believe is the unfairness of Scottish MPs voting on issues such as health and education in England, although these matters are decided by the Scottish parliament north of the border.

The Tories are totally correct, it is totally ridiculous that Scottish MPs have any say of matters that impact only England. But of course the Tories are not doing this because of any principle but because they are largely an English party and conversely Labour is in power in Westminister only because of its large swathe of Scottish MPs. So this is a grab for power.

Birds allegedly adapting long-distance migration to climate change (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Birds that migrate long distances have adapted to the world's changing climate in unexpected ways, a study shows.

As the planet warms, and spring arrives earlier in Europe, birds are being forced to change their migration patterns.

It had been thought that birds travelling long distances from Africa to Europe would be unable to adapt.

But a study in Science suggests they have evolved in response to climate change and are returning earlier.

The need for migratory birds to coincide their arrival at breeding grounds with plentiful food supplies is a known evolutionary pressure.

Scientists had assumed that birds travelling short distances would be better able to adapt - and arrive earlier for spring - because of similar climate conditions in their nearby winter grounds.

But researchers in Europe decided to test this theory, using long-term banding and observational data from Scandinavia and Italy dating back to 1980.

The study revealed that long-distance fliers have adjusted their migration habits to arrive earlier in northern Europe in time for the start of spring.

This suggests a more permanent change in migratory behaviour due to climate change than previously thought.

Interesting, but of course it's only one study.

Date published: 2006/07/01

Office of Fair Trading to investigate UK airport sector (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is to study the UK's airport sector to see if it works well for consumers.

The move, which the OFT first said was a possibility in May, follows the purchase by Spain's Ferrovial of the UK's main airports operator, BAA.

The OFT said it had not decided whether a more in-depth investigation by the Competition Commission was warranted.

"Nearly two thirds of UK air passengers begin or end their journey at a BAA airport," said the OFT in a statement.

"Within the London area this rises to nine out of 10 passengers, and in Scotland over eight out of 10 air passengers fly from a BAA airport."

BAA, which Ferrovial bought for £10.3bn at the start of this month, owns Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Southampton, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen airports.

Ferrovial said in May that it would fully cooperate with any competition probe into the UK airports industry if its bid for BAA was successful.

Critics of BAA's market domination have long called for it to be broken up.

Yes, BAA should be broken up. They can treat both passengers and airlines like rubbish because they know full well there is no competition. In the London area BAA only does not own Luton, and that has severe capacity constraints and poor transport links. Heathrow is a complete disgrace (especially terminals 1, 2 and 3). And Stansted is great because of Norman Foster, Easyjet and Ryanair, not because of BAA.

England crashes out of World Cup (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

England went out of the World Cup 3-1 on penalties after their quarter-final with Portugal ended 0-0.

England lost skipper David Beckham to injury just after half-time and Wayne Rooney was sent off after 62 minutes for a stamp on Ricardo Carvalho.

They battled on bravely for the rest of normal time and extra-time with 10 men to take the game to a shoot-out.

But Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher missed to end their hopes and Sven-Goran Eriksson's reign.

Well England is not the best football team in the world and the quarter-final is about their level, especially when the "hero" Rooney managed to get himself sent off. England went out of the World Cup in 1990 and 1998 on penalties and you had to believe it was going to happen again when Gary Lineker calmly announced that "by the law of averages" England should win this time around. They need to teach more probability in schools.

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