Azara Blog: October 2006 archive complete

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Date published: 2006/10/31

British Gas sinks to new levels of incompetence (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

British Gas is not only the UK's most expensive energy provider, it also provides the worst customer service - according to research from Energywatch.

The consumer watchdog said complaints about British Gas in the six months to September were twice last year's total, while complaints about its rivals fell.

The top problems were inaccurate bills and the lack of response to enquiries.

British Gas said the service problems were a "temporary situation" and improvements had already been seen.

"We've been putting a new billing system into place this summer and training over 10,000 frontline staff, as well as recruiting 500 extra staff," a British Gas statement said.

British Gas has indeed sunk to new levels if incompetence. You often have to wait (at your expense) half an hour or more before someone even answers the phone. Then you provide all the information they want yet a week or two later all the information seems to have been lost. (Meter readings, house moves, you name it.) Sometimes you get handed through several people only to have to start the explanation all over again. The new billing system was obviously not functional when it went live. Heads should roll.

Cheny plays the terrorism card again (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

US Vice-President Dick Cheney has said that insurgents in Iraq have increased their attacks in order to influence the upcoming US mid-term elections.

He blamed a recent rise in violence on al-Qaeda and others trying to "break the will of the American people".

"They're very sensitive to the fact that we've got an election scheduled," he said, claiming the militants monitor US public opinion via the internet.

What a comedian. The Republican scum that run America must be desperate to be flogging this dead horse. Which party has benefitted most from terror in the past, in particular by playing this very same terrorist card again and again? Bush and Bin Laden are mutually beneficial for each other. Bush is Bin Laden's best recruiting agent. Bin Laden provides Bush with a universal bogeyman so that he can be "tough" on terror.

Date published: 2006/10/30

Stern climate change review proclaims the end of the world (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The world cannot afford to wait before tackling climate change, the UK prime minister has warned.

A report by economist Sir Nicholas Stern suggests that global warming could shrink the global economy by 20%.

But taking action now would cost just 1% of global gross domestic product, the 700-page study says.
...
The review coincides with the release of new data by the United Nations showing an upward trend in emission of greenhouse gases - a development for which Sir Nicholas said that rich countries must shoulder most of the responsibility.

And Chancellor Gordon Brown promised the UK would lead the international response to tackle climate change.

Environment Secretary David Miliband said the Queen's Speech would now feature a climate bill to establish an independent Carbon Committee to "work with government to reduce emissions over time and across the economy".

The report says that without action, up to 200 million people could become refugees as their homes are hit by drought or flood.

"Whilst there is much more we need to understand - both in science and economics - we know enough now to be clear about the magnitude of the risks, the timescale for action and how to act effectively," Sir Nicholas said.

"That's why I'm optimistic - having done this review - that we have the time and knowledge to act. But only if we act internationally, strongly and urgently."
...
Sir Nicholas, a former chief economist of the World Bank, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Unless it's international, we will not make the reductions on the scale which will be required."
...
He went on: "What we have shown is the magnitude of these risks is very large and has to be taken into account in the kind of investments the world makes today and the consumption patterns it has."

The Stern Review forecasts that 1% of global gross domestic product (GDP) must be spent on tackling climate change immediately.
...
The study is the first major contribution to the global warming debate by an economist, rather than an environmental scientist.

The major story of the week, needless to say, and well leaked in advance. But there's nothing new in any of it, it's just an economist's summary of scientific work, and somehow the world is supposed to be impressed that an economist is able to summarise scientific work, with a bit of trivial economics thrown in. The major real point of the review is that it is supposed to provide cover for the politicians to hammer the ordinary people of Britain (of course the ruling elite will continue to be the biggest wasters of them all). The one amusing point is that the British chattering classes seem to believe this is a report of major international significance, whereas it is unlikely to have any impact at all in the countries that matter (e.g. the US and China). The UK does not count for much.

Needless to say the chattering classes have used the report to relaunch their attacks on their pet hates, e.g. 4x4 vehicles and standby power for consumer goods. On Radio 4 tonight George Monbiot, when asked for his plan of action, laughingly managed to call for the abolition of patio heaters and garden lights since they are "unnecessary". Well, books and newspapers are also "unnecessary", perhaps we should ban them. And everything else under the sun. Let's live in caves, since all these modern conveniences are obviously "unnecessary". This is the problem the UK faces, the chattering classes have no common sense or ability to think beyond their narrow partisan view of the world.

Channel 4 News in its coverage managed to claim that electric vehicles are "carbon free", which is about as far from the truth as you can get (the electricity comes from somewhere, and most electricity in the UK is produced by conventional means).

All carbon emissions should be taxed, and at the same rate. It should not be up to the chattering classes that run the UK to decide which sources of carbon are allegedly better than others. That would lead to an extrememly inefficient economic outcome. But sure as night follows day, this is the path we will go down. Car drivers (the only group that already pays a carbon tax in the guise of the petrol tax) and airplane passengers will be crucified, and everybody else will get off scot free.

Some cancer genes and mutations identified (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

US scientists have cracked the entire genetic code of breast and colon cancers, offering new treatment hopes.

The genetic map shows that nearly 200 mutated genes, most previously unknown, help tumours emerge, grow and spread.

The discovery could also lead to better ways to diagnose cancer in its early, most treatable stages, and personalised treatments, Science magazine reports.

The Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center says the findings suggest cancer is more complex than experts had believed.

The mutated genes in breast and colon cancers were almost completely distinct, suggesting very different pathways for the development of each of these cancer types.

Each individual tumour appeared to have a different genetic blueprint, which could explain why cancers can behave very differently from person to person, the scientists said.

Well it's early days but this looks like a big step forward.

Date published: 2006/10/29

Labour leaks letter about green taxes (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The environment secretary is proposing green taxes designed to change people's behaviour to offset global warming, according to a Sunday newspaper.

The Mail on Sunday quotes a leaked letter from David Miliband to Chancellor Gordon Brown.

Proposals include "pay as you drive" and cheap flight taxes and levies on energy-wasting appliances, it says.
...
In the letter to Mr Brown, Mr Miliband calls for measures to combat "car use and ownership", and a "substantial increase" in road tax, the paper claims. He also calls for a new pay-per-mile pollution tax.

The paper said leaked proposals suggest families with big cars could end up paying more than £1,000 a year in additional tax.

Of course Mr Miliband himself will be one of the few people who will not end up paying any more tax, because he is driven to and from work, and flies thousands of miles, all at public expense. Hopefully he will propose that ministers should in future pay for their own transport. All the three main political parties are now seeing who can flagellate themselves (well, the voters) more in an attempt to claim to be "green". Needless to say they are all hypocritical, and in particular do not want green taxes to change people's behaviour since that would require massive tax increases elsewhere. And there is already a "pay-per-mile pollution tax", it's called the petrol tax. But never let reality get in the way of a good storyline.

Another end of the world (or at least Africa) report (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Climate change is already affecting people across Africa and will wipe out efforts to tackle poverty there unless urgent action is taken, a report says.

Droughts are getting worse and climate uncertainty is growing, the research from a coalition of UK aid agencies and environmental groups says.

Climate change is an "unprecedented" threat to food security, it says.

It calls for a "climate-proof" model of development and massive emissions cuts to avoid "possibly cataclysmic change".

The report, Up In Smoke 2, updates previous research from the organisations - Oxfam, the New Economics Foundation and the Working Group on Climate Change and Development, an umbrella group of aid and green groups.
...
Up in Smoke 2 also laments the failure of industrialised governments to help developing countries adapt to climate change.

Between $10bn (£5.2bn) and $40bn is needed annually, the report says, but industrialised countries have given only $43m - a tenth of the amount they have pledged - while rich country fossil fuel subsidies total $73bn a year.

The agencies say that greenhouse emissions cuts of 60% - 90% will ultimately be needed - way beyond the targets set in the Kyoto agreement.

Nothing new here, everything is always "unprecedented" and "urgent". And the alleged size of fossil fuel subsidies is to be taken with a pinch of salt, but not surprisingly most governments of the world would rather subsidise their own citizens than some other people halfway around the world. Talk is cheap, action is not.

Date published: 2006/10/28

Hunting allegedly might have a conservation role (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Rifle-toting tourists hunting exotic animals could actually help protect Africa's vulnerable species, a leading conservationist has suggested.

Elephant populations had benefited from a permit system that allowed sport hunters to kill a limited number of the beasts, according to Eugene Lapointe.

Mr Lapointe was head of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) between 1982-90.

Animal welfare campaigners rejected the idea as "morally unjustifiable".
...
Dr Lindsey, who is not a hunter, carried out research to assess both the positive and negative effects of hunting on conservation.

He found that the industry is not without setbacks. Estimates of how many animals can be shot without threatening the population are sometimes based on guesswork, because no research data is available.

Irresponsible lodge owners, who allowed illegal and unethical practises, such as hunting caged animals or shooting from cars, posed a severe threat to the industry's prospects.

Hunters also needed to find ways to make sure that the money from rich tourists did not end up in overseas bank accounts, but reached local communities, he added.

All rather anodyne and obvious, but of course there are indeed plenty of people who believe that killing certain species of animals (well, mostly mammals) is "morally unjustifiable". Killing for "sport" is stupid but stupidity is by itself not enough of a reason to disallow something.

Dick Cheney jokes about torture (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

US President George Bush has reiterated his position that the US administration does not condone torture, following comments by Vice-President Dick Cheney.

In an interview, Mr Cheney agreed that "a dunk in the water" for terrorism suspects during questioning in order to save American lives was a "no-brainer".

More cynical electioneering from the Republican scum that now run America. Cheney wants to signal the Republican base that he is all for torture (since apparently the Republican base loves torture) but in a backhand way so he can claim that it was all just a misunderstanding. His other comment given at the same time, that he is known as the Vice President of Torture, is much more to the point. The Bush-Cheney administration is still in the running to be deemed the worst of all time.

Date published: 2006/10/27

Patricia Hewitt wants to hike up tax on alcohol (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Police chiefs have backed calls by Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt to increase tax on alcohol in an effort to address binge drinking by young people.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) suggested the revenue raised could tackle problems associated with excessive drinking.

Ms Hewitt had urged Chancellor Gordon Brown to "really increase" taxes on drinks such as alcopops.

The Treasury has not directly commented but is thought to be opposed to it.

A spokeswoman for ACPO welcomed Ms Hewitt's comments and said the money could be used by forces across the country.

"We would like to see the revenue from taxation ploughed back into those agencies, such as the police, who put huge resources into fighting the problems associated with drinking to excess, from anti-social behaviour to domestic violence," she said.
...
It was reported that Treasury officials see tax as "too blunt an instrument" to tackle young people's drinking habits.

There are two issues here, which have been conflated. The first is whether a much higher tax would discourage so-called binge drinking by making it too expensive. The second is whether revenue raised from taxing alcohol should be used mainly to solve problems associated with alcoholism.

On the first point, people who drink too much generally drink in pubs or clubs, and the real cost of the alcohol (with or without any tax) is just a fraction of the sale price. So increasing the tax is unlikely to affect them much and instead it is more likely just to hit ordinary, totally blameless, people who buy their alcohol in the supermarket.

On the second point, there already is an alcohol tax. If someone wants to claim it is not high enough to cover its associated costs then by all means put forward the facts. But be prepared to do the same for everything else. (For example, put a tax on kitchen knives to cover the hospital cost of people who get stabbed with knives. Etc.)

For once the Treasury is sane, this proposal really is a ridiculously "blunt instrument". And of course it would just encourage people to import more alcohol from France.

Date published: 2006/10/26

Shuffling the chairs on the deck of local government (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

English councils will get the power to bring in bylaws with fixed penalties without Whitehall approval under plans to increase local communities' powers.

The proposed shake-up would bring in more mayors and elected leaders, with police, health and education bosses to face greater scrutiny from the public.

Local inquiries on issues such as hospital closures and drug dealing could begin if there was public demand.

Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly said councils must be community "champions".
...
Ms Kelly told the Commons that 1,200 national targets and indicators for local government would be cut to 200 indicators and 35 targets.

More paper shuffling. This is great for civil servants (national and local) because someone has to do this paper shuffling. It's not clear it's such a great idea for the nation. Cambridge city council is run by the Lib Dems, and Cambridge county council is run by the Tories, and together they are no better than the national government at promoting the best interest of the citizens of Cambridge. If Cambridge had a directly elected mayor with some power it might help, but the local politicians are almost all opposed to this (they would be knocked down a peg or two).

The BSI promotes a safety standard for school trips (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

One in three parents does not know who is in charge when their children are away on a school trip, a poll suggests.

The survey commissioned by the British Standards Institution (BSI) asked more than 700 UK parents for their views on children's safety on trips abroad.

It showed 82% thought trips should comply with a safety standard.

The results were released ahead of a meeting in London where BSI, the UK's standards body, will unveil a draft standard aimed at making trips safer.

Yet another meaningless survey. You might as well ask whether parents want excellent education for their kids, or dozens of new books every year in their kids' schools, or better health care for their kids, or world peace. No doubt the survey did not ask the parents whether they were willing to pay for this extra level of bureaucracy. When a special interest pressure group does a survey promoting one of their pet ideas, only benefits are mentioned, never costs. The real question here, as always, is whether the benefit outweighs the cost. (Of course parents rarely worry about the costs of education because they assume that non-parents will pay for it all. And to a large extent that is true, although not so much for school trips.)

Date published: 2006/10/25

Lib Dem council in London wants to persecute car drivers (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The cost of residents' parking permits could be linked to car emissions under plans being considered in one of the country's most affluent areas.

A Lib Dem council in London wants owners of gas-guzzling vehicles to pay more to park outside their homes.

Richmond upon Thames residents with two high-emission cars could pay £750 a year, compared with £200 now, but the greenest cars would be exempt.

The council hopes other authorities will be encouraged to follow its lead.

Richmond's plan follows national and local schemes targeting emissions and congestion and comes after the Lib Dem conference approved proposals to use new taxes on gas-guzzling cars and airlines to pay for income tax cuts.

The Illiberal Democrats in action, and the sign of things to come if they have any part to play in a national government. (Not that the other political parties are much better.) This is just an envy tax. On the Channel 4 News tonight the leader of the council laughingly described electric cars as "carbon free", which of course they are not, they just produce carbon emissions at the power station instead of on the road. But never let the facts get in the way of pandering to the academic middle class. The golden rule of these kinds of taxes (or service charges) is that they should be proportionate to the environmental damage caused or should be set at a level to cover the cost of the service provided. This proposed new tax does neither. It does not matter if you use your car every day or only once a month, you still pay the same charge. Further, if these so-called green taxes have the effect that their proponents allegedly want, then people will get smaller cars and the amount raised will decrease to the point where they have to keep jacking up the rate for smaller cars. And, as with many so-called green taxes, the richest, who have a driveway so do not need to park on the road, will be exempt, so the tax is regressive. Of course the residents of Richmond upon Thames can kick the bums out of office if they don't like it, although it's quite possible that a majority will perceive that they somehow benefit, and in a democracy the majority can quite happily persecute a minority (all the better if they can pretend they are somehow morally superior, which they are not).

EU car manufacturers allegedly not improving fuel efficiency enough (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Three-quarters of Europe's car brands are failing to improve fuel efficiency fast enough to meet a key European emissions target, a study has claimed.

The top performer on fuel efficiency was Fiat; while Nissan came bottom of the table.

The report is the first to show the progress of individual European car brands on meeting the commitment to cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Improving fuel efficiency is vital in efforts to tackle climate change.

The more fuel a car uses, the more of the greenhouse gas CO2 is released into the atmosphere.

In 1998, the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (Acea) pledged to the European Union on behalf of its members to reduce the average CO2 emissions for new cars to 140 grams per kilometre by 2008. This represents a reduction of 25% over 1995 levels.

Japanese and Korean manufacturers, which command a smaller part of the European car market, made similar commitments. But they have an extra year to do so.

What the BBC fails to mention is that of course although individual models might have improvements in efficiency, it is the overall mix of sales by a given car manufacturer that determines whether or not this goal is met. So in some sense the EU wants drivers to buy worse cars and somehow the manufacturers are supposed to force that. And at the same time the EU is piling loads of health and safety requirements on cars which generally leads to worse fuel efficiency. So the EU (as usual) is being rather disingenuous in all of this. And on the other hand, increases in fuel efficiency are rather a disaster for the EU states since they rely heavily on fuel duty to prop up their tax coffers. (Well, they will get around that one by arbitrarily hugely increasing the duty rate.)

Link between amphibian disease and global warming (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

A fungal disease that threatens to wipe out many amphibians is thriving because of climate change, a study suggests.

Researchers studying amphibians at a national park in Spain show that rising temperatures are closely linked to outbreaks of the chytrid fungus.

Chytrid fungus is a major contributor to the decline of amphibian populations around the world, threatening many species with extinction.

Details are published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

"We have found an association between increasing temperatures and amphibian disease in a mountain region in Spain," said Dr Matthew Fisher of Imperial College London.
...
Dr Fisher and his Spanish colleagues uncovered an association between the emergence of the disease and global warming while studying changes in the number of midwife toads in Spain's Penalara Natural Park between 1976 and 2002.

The chytrid fungus, or BD as it is sometimes called, infects the skins of amphibians such as frogs, toads, salamanders and newts and interferes with their ability to absorb water.

Dr Fisher said climate change could be worsening the impact of the disease in one of two ways.

Warming temperatures could be reducing the amphibians' ability to mount a successful immune response to the fungus. Amphibians are cold-blooded so their ability to respond to the pathogen could change along with the external temperature.

On the other hand, global warming could be increasing the fungus' ability to grow faster on the amphibian and cause more disease.

This has been suspected for some time, but the weasel words "we have found an association" are telling. Of course when everybody believes something then not only is it easy to get "associations" (i.e. correlations) published but everybody will also assume it means there is a causation (which there might well be).

Date published: 2006/10/24

Another end of the world report (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Current global consumption levels could result in a large-scale ecosystem collapse by the middle of the century, environmental group WWF has warned.

The group's biannual Living Planet Report said the natural world was being degraded "at a rate unprecedented in human history".

Terrestrial species had declined by 31% between 1970-2003, the findings showed.

It warned that if demand continued at the current rate, two planets would be needed to meet global demand by 2050.

The biodiversity loss was a result of resources being consumed faster than the planet could replace them, the authors said.

They added that if the world's population shared the UK's lifestyle, three planets would be needed to support their needs.

Just the latest report claiming the end of the world, produced by the usual suspects. First of all the quoted footprints ("two planets" and "three planets") should be taken with a pinch of salt. And even if you want to believe them, with several billion years of ecosystem in the bank a few hundred years at "three" planets consumption is not necessarily the end of the world. These doomsayers claim that even the average Chinese person has a near "unsustainable" lifestyle. How many people in Europe or North America would be happy with the average Chinese lifestyle? How many people in China are? The number one problem in the world is overpopulation. If you want to believe the report at face value, if the population of the world dropped to three billion we would be fine. Needless to say if that happened the doomsayers would not go away, since they have nothing else to contribute to the world. (They were around already in 1960 when the world population was three billion.) And needless to say, even relative to just the citizens of the rich world, these doomsayers have above average consumption, since they are the academic middle class, so perhaps they should turn attention to themselves before lecturing others.

A silly anti-mobile-phone health study (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Heavy use of mobile phones may damage men's fertility, a study has suggested.

Researchers found those men who used a phone for four hours or more a day had fewer sperm and those they had moved less well and were of poorer quality.

The Ohio study involving 364 men was presented to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in New Orleans.

But a UK expert said it was unlikely the phones were to blame, as they were in use and not near the testes, and it may be being sedentary was the cause.
...
Dr Ashok Agarwal, who led the research, told the New Orleans conference the study did not prove mobiles damaged fertility, but said it showed more research was warranted.
...
But a British expert cast doubt on the suggested link between mobile phone use and infertility in the men studied.

Dr Allan Pacey, senior lecturer in andrology at the University of Sheffield, said: "This is a good study, but I don't think it tackles the issue.

"If you're using your phone for four hours a day, presumably it is out of your pocket for longer.

"That raises a big question: how is it that testicular damage is supposed to occur?"

Dr Pacey, who is honorary secretary of the British Fertility Society, added: "If you are holding it up to your head to speak a lot, it makes no sense that it is having a direct effect on your testes."

He added that people who use phones for longer might be more sedentary, more stressed or eat more junk food, which might be more likely explanations for the link found in the study.

Seemingly a classic confusion of correlation and causation. The idea these days seems to be to study anything (e.g. mobile phone use) which the anti-technology brigade hate, then look for correlations with anything and everything that is deemed to be negative (e.g. low sperm count, too much beer drinking, or whatever) and hope that one of the correlations pays off and hey presto, a "proof" that the technology is harmful. Why this kind of junk research is funded is hard to fathom.

Carbon trading to protect rainforests (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Carbon trading can be used to protect endangered rainforests by compensating nations that avoid deforestation, the World Bank has said.

It has suggested that industrial states offset their carbon emissions by funding projects designed to reduce deforestation in developing countries.

The World Bank report said 5% of the world's rainforest is lost each decade.

The forest was more valuable if left to store carbon dioxide emissions than if cleared for pasture, it argued.

According to the World Bank, deforestation contributes to 20% of global carbon dioxide emissions.

Deforested land that is worth $200-500 as pasture could be worth $1,500-$10,000 if left as forest and used to offset - or trade against - carbon emissions in the industrial world.

This idea has been kicking around for quite some time, and is an obvious thing to try. The World Bank has some influence in the world so something might come of it. Of course the carbon cycle, in particular with regard to forests, is quite complex, so any price put on the forest is almost certain to be wrong by a factor of two or more, which is not good.

Date published: 2006/10/23

UK government wants more science scholarships for overseas students (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

A Rhodes scholarship-type scheme will be set up to attract the world's best scientists to the UK, the government is set to announce.

Trade Secretary Alistair Darling will say the wide-ranging expertise available should no longer be one of the country's "best-kept secrets".

The Royal Society scheme will build on the £100m already available for scholarships, he will add.

The announcement comes amid fears for the future of UK university science.

The problem with British science is not lack of scholarships for young(ish) scientists, it is the lack of permanent jobs in the universities. The jobs that exist are also poorly paid in comparison with jobs in the private sector, which does not help, although that is a secondary consideration for most real scientists. Yet another graduate-level scholarship scheme will not do that much for British science, although it might do some good for the British economy since many of the students might settle in Britain with real jobs.

A pointless tranquillity map is generated by the CPRE (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

A way of mapping rural tranquillity has been created by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).

The coloured map and measurement system shows how likely an area in England is to be judged as being tranquil.

It shows the North East is the most tranquil, with the most tranquil county Northumberland. London and the South East are the least peaceful regions.

CPRE Chief Executive Shaun Spiers said: "Tranquillity is one of the greatest benefits we get from the countryside."

The CPRE said finding tranquillity in the countryside matters deeply to people because it is considered to contribute to mental and physical health and to quality of life.

What a surprise, rural areas are more tranquil than urban ones. Why oh why does the UK waste money on pointless organisations like the CPRE, whose sole purpose in life seems to be to keep the urban peasants from getting anywhere near the British countryside (in particular by refusing to allow any rural land from being developed). Considering all the other problems of the British countryside, the lack or not of tranquillity pales into insignificance as a concern.

UK government has allegedly wasted oil and gas revenues (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The government has been accused of "squandering" the windfalls of the country's now dwindling North Sea oil and gas reserves.

Income from these sources should have been better invested in renewable energy, says a report by the New Economics Foundation and the WWF.

It also claims that £1 in every £12 of government income comes from oil or gas, making it "hooked" on the fuels.

These clowns cannot have it both ways. Either you want oil and gas and other carbon-intensive energy sources to be taxed highly (a so-called carbon tax, although that word is rarely mentioned in this context) or you do not. The so-called environmentalists better make up their minds which it should be, and try to be consistent from one minute to the next. No doubt everyone can think of better ways to spend government revenue, and so-called renewable energy is one such area, but it is only one very small part of the big picture. We could also do with better schools, transport network, etc. Get in the queue.

Date published: 2006/10/22

British adults allegedly afraid of young people (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Britain is in danger of becoming a nation fearful of its young people, new research has claimed.

British adults are less likely than their European counterparts to intervene to stop teenagers committing anti-social behaviour.

The Institute for Public Policy report has blamed changes in the family, communities and the economy for the "increased risk of youth crime".

It said teenagers needed structured activities like drama and sports clubs.

Julia Margot, from the IPPR, told the BBC Radio Five Live: "In Britain, as opposed to countries like Spain and Italy, adults are less likely to socialise with children in the evenings.

"So we don't have this culture of children hanging out and playing out in the town square where adults are also socialising and drinking.

"We don't have a culture where adults go out to pubs and bars and bring children with them, and so there is a problem about adults being less used to having children around."

The 200-report, which followed a major debate on the "problems of modern youth" by academics and experts in the field, says that last year more than 1.5 million Britons thought about moving away from their local area due to young people hanging around.

About 1.7 million admitted to avoiding going out after dark as a direct result of youths gathering.

Britons were also three times more likely to cite young people "hanging around" as a problem than they were to complain about noisy neighbours.

British adults were more likely than their other European counterparts to say that young people were predominantly responsible for anti-social behaviour, and cite "lack of discipline as the root cause of anti-social behaviour".

Elsewhere in Europe, 65% of Germans, 52% of Spanish and 50% of Italians would be willing to intervene if they saw a group of 14-year-old boys in their country vandalising a bus shelter, compared with just 34% of Britons.

The Britons who were unwilling to get involved claimed they feared being physically attacked or verbally abused - or that they would be the victim of subsequent reprisals.

Nick Pearce, IPPR director, said: "The debate about childhood in Britain is polarised between false opposites: that either children or adults are to blame.

"In closer knit communities, adults supervised their neighbours' children.

"These days, adults tend to turn a blind eye or cross over on the other side of the road rather than intervene in the discipline of another person's child, often because they fear they might be attacked."

Recommendations for every secondary school pupil - aged 11 to 16 - to participate in at least two hours a week of structured extra curricular activities like martial arts, drama clubs and Scouts, will be published in the report "Freedom's Orphans: Raising Youth in a Changing World" next month.

Dear, oh dear. This kind of vacuous report could have been written any time between the start of civilisation and today. (Indeed it was probably written every decade of the 20th century, especially the 1960s.) No doubt Spain, Italy and the rest of Europe are not the paradises described in the report. And equally Britain is not the hell it is claimed. No doubt the real aim of the IPPR is that yet more money is thrown at families with children, courtesy of people who have chosen not to breed like rabbits. Why does Britain insist on wasting valuable money on sustaining useless consultancies (and related "experts") like the IPPR? Spend the money on something useful, like science and engineering.

Evangelical Christians want Charles to only defend Christians (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Prince Charles should be defender of the Christian religion but no other faiths when he becomes king, a report by the Evangelical Alliance claims.

The prince has said he wishes to become "Defender of Faith" rather than "Defender of the Faith" - a title assumed by monarchs since 1521.

The report says his coronation should not be an inter-faith ceremony, but non-Christian guests could be included.

Well the Evangelical Christians are at the nutty end of Christianity, and they should be ignored. Charles, if he ever becomes king, should be king for all, not just king for Christians. For once he has the right idea. It is the 21st century, not the 14th.

Date published: 2006/10/21

Another study on the loss of ice from Greenland (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Greenland is currently losing about 100 billion tonnes of ice a year.

US space agency (Nasa) scientists have undertaken a new assessment of the rate of melting occurring on the great ice sheet that covers the region.

Their data comes from satellites that detect changes in mass by monitoring tiny fluctuations in the pull of gravity as they fly over the Earth.

Scott Luthcke, from the Goddard Space Flight Center, and colleagues report their study in the journal Science.

The rate of ice loss observed using the Grace (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) spacecraft is much lower than other recent research using the same data has suggested.

The Luthcke team says it has used a different analysis technique - one that enabled the group to determine the behaviour of individual drainage systems instead of looking at the ice sheet as a whole.

The results indicate that Greenland lost about 100 billion metric tonnes (or gigatonnes, Gt) of ice per year from 2003 to 2005. Other estimates for the same period have been close to 240 Gt of ice.

Both figures, however, contrast with findings showing that the ice sheet's overall volume was roughly constant during the 1990s.
...
The contribution to global sea-level rise of the ice loss observed in this study is about 0.3mm per year.

Commenting on the Grace research, Anny Cazenave, from the Observatoire Midi-Pyrenees, France, said scientists still had much work to do, to pull all their observations together and build a full picture of ice mass trends.

"Because of these contrasting behaviours - mass loss in coastal regions and mass gain in elevated central regions - ice-sheet mass loss exceeds mass gain only slightly," the Toulouse-based researcher said.

"Thus according to the recent mass-balance estimates, the ice sheets presently contribute little to sea-level rise. However, great uncertainty remains, mainly because of incomplete coverage by remote-sensing surveys, spatial and temporal undersampling, measurement errors, and perturbation from unrelated signals."

More interesting data, but leading to further questions more than answers. It's unsatisfactory that these things cannot be measured to within a factor of two (which is ok in astronomy but not in subjects that matter).

Republicans play the terrorism card (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The US Republican Party has launched a controversial terror-linked TV advertisement to bolster support ahead of mid-term elections next month.

The footage shows al-Qaeda leaders with captions of threatening statements, while the soundtrack of a ticking bomb plays in the background.

The advertisement, which ends with the sound of a bomb exploding, is due to air from Sunday.
...
Both Osama Bin Laden and his second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are shown in the commercial, which is entitled "The Stakes".

Attributed quotes such as "Kill the Americans" and "What is yet to come will be even greater" are flashed across the screen.

Gun-bearing militants in training camps are also shown, followed by the stark message: "These are the stakes. Vote November 7th."

What a surprise, the Republican Party is run by scum who try and scare voters. That is the main way they win elections (well, that and disenfranchising Democrat voters illegally, and vastly outspending Democrats). It would not be half so bad if they had not actually increased the terrorist threat in the world through their utter arrogance and incompetence, in particular letting Bin Laden go in Afghanistan while launching their illegal and party political war in Iraq.

Date published: 2006/10/20

Drought will allegedly affect many more people by 2050 (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Climate change threatens supplies of water for millions of people in poorer countries, warns a new report from the Christian development agency Tearfund.

Recent research suggests that by 2050, five times as much land is likely to be under "extreme" drought as now.

Tearfund wants richer states to look at helping poorer ones adjust to drought at next month's UN climate summit.
...
Citing research by the Oxford academic Norman Myers, Tearfund suggests there will be as many as 200 million climate refugees by 2050.

Nothing really new here, everybody already knows that climate change will have some serious effects just such as these. Unfortunately what this report really amounts to is just more of the usual pleading that in effect the poor people of the rich world should be throwing more money at the poor people of the poor world, only history shows that most of that money instead ends up in the pockets of the rich people of the poor world.

Bill to classify gardens as greenfield fails (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

A Kent MP has suffered a setback in his drive to give private gardens greater protection from housing developers.

Greg Clark, MP for Tunbridge Wells, is battling so-called "garden grabbing", where new housing is built on land that was previously one home and a garden.

Because they are classed as brownfield land, councils can do little to stop developments on front and back gardens.

But Mr Clark's Protection of Private Gardens Bill has failed to get a second reading after the government objected.
...
The MP said he had obtained government figures which showed that 26% of new housing in the South East was being built on the site of what was previously a single dwelling and garden.

Well hardly any private bills get through parliament, so the failure is hardly a big deal. And if you care to go far enough back in time, then 100% of housing is built on the site of what previousy was not built on. This is the way the world goes when the population goes from nothing to 60 million and climbing. The current pressure on gardens is mainly due to refusal by the ruling elite to allow building on (real) greenbelt land, and the concomitant claim that somehow so-called brownfield sites (which are often not really that brownfield) are somehow more environmentally appropriate for new building. So any land (such as a back garden) that is accidentally classified as brownfield is suddenly worth millions of pounds per acre.

Date published: 2006/10/19

EU wants to cut energy consumption by 20% by 2020 (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

An action plan to cut Europe's energy consumption by 20% before 2020 has been outlined by the European Commission.

More than 75 "ambitious" measures include tougher energy standards for electrical goods, a low-energy building strategy and more fuel efficient cars.

Officials say the proposals will deliver an annual saving of 100bn euros (£67bn) and help the EU meet its Kyoto Protocol target to cut emissions by 8%.
...
"Energy efficiency is crucial for Europe," Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs said. "By saving energy, Europe will address climate change, as well as its rising consumption and its dependency on fossil fuels imported from outside the European Union."

The Energy Efficiency Action Plan (EEAP), unveiled by Mr Piebalgs in Brussels, will be introduced over the next six years.
...
Mr Piebalgs said the Commissison felt it was important to focus on saving energy because "everything was in our hands".

Therefore, he added, the EEAP would also look at ways to increase awareness among consumers about the need for greater efficiency.

"People should understand that each time they waste energy by opening a window they are not only actually destroying the potential to buy goods or save money, they are also making the climate warmer even through this small emission," he told reporters.

He has got to be kidding. Perhaps he hasn't noticed, in his perfectly air conditioned office and house, that people open windows to allow fresh air in. The EU commissioners and eurocrats are amongst the richest people, and therefore largest energy consumers, in the EU and the ordinary citizens of the EU don't really need patronising lectures from them about saving energy. On a more serious point, the energy consumption being considered is not bona fide. For example, if a steel plant closes down in the UK and moves to China, suddenly it will seem, according to EU reckoning, that the UK has consumed less energy, because it now imports more steel, and this is wrong. And as Piebalgs himself points out, if you save money heating your house, then you will spend it on some other good, which requires energy to make. Well it's not a one-for-one substitute and given that energy prices are likely to rise (so that becoming more energy efficient will be a requirement just to stay still), this is unlikely to be a real issue.

Tories produce report about tax (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Shadow chancellor George Osborne has insisted the Conservatives will put economic stability ahead of tax cuts.

The party's Tax Reform Commission has outlined a £21bn package of cuts as part of a simpler, flatter tax system.

Mr Osborne said he would adopt some of the ideas but said other changes - such as higher green taxes - would mean the overall tax take would not be cut.
...
Recommendations in the report include reducing the basic income tax rate from 22% to 20%, scrapping the 10p starting tax rate and raising tax-free earnings from £5,035 to £7,185.

It also backs replacing inheritance tax, abolishing stamp duty on shares, cutting business taxes and lowering the main corporation tax rate.

It did not consider council tax, VAT, business rates or environmental taxes - favoured by Tory leader David Cameron.

Mr Osborne, at the launch in the City, said: "We will not be promising reduction in taxation at the election. Any changes in taxes will be revenue neutral."

He said environmental taxes on pollution and carbon emissions will be increased to pay for reducing the tax burden on families and workers: "I want to tax the bad, not the good."

If Osborne wants to reduce "the tax burden on families and workers" then who does that leave? (Well, "family" has unfortunately become a code word which means "people who have young children", although most families, by any real definition of family, do not.) This is all the usual hot air. Unfortunately politicians and the media love to play the game that the country can have great services yet nobody has to pay for it. There are more and more non-workers relative to workers, so the latter will inevitably pay more taxes no matter how much any government would like to pretend otherwise. And, as hinted, people who don't breed like rabbits will definitely be hammered by the Tories (as by the other parties).

Date published: 2006/10/18

Breast cancer screening perhaps does more harm than good (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Concerns have been raised that breast cancer screening might lead to some women undergoing unnecessary treatment.

Researchers looked at international studies on half a million women.

They found that for every 2,000 women screened over a decade, one will have her life prolonged, but 10 will have to undergo unnecessary treatment.
...
The report, published in the Cochrane Library, involved a review of breast cancer research papers from around the world.

The scientists found mammograms did reduce the number of women dying from the disease.

But they also discovered it was diagnosing woman with breast cancer who would have survived without treatment, meaning they were undergoing unnecessary chemotherapy, radiotherapy or mastectomies.

About a fifth of cancers picked up by screening are in the milk ducts of the breast.

Some of these cancers will progress while others will not - but there is no way of predicting what will happen.

This means women and doctors have to decide whether or not to risk doing nothing, or go ahead with treatment which might be unnecessary.

They also revealed a further 200 women out of every 2,000 experienced distress and anxiety because of false positives - a result that indicated a cancer was present but was later found to be wrong.
...
In 2001, the same authors concluded there was no convincing evidence that screening programmes reduce mortality from the disease.

Not that surprising and not that new (except for quantification). The key finding is that there are apparently ten times as many false positives as actual positives. Women should certainly be warned about this, loud and clear. Unfortunately the findings go against the current dogma, so the health professionals will likely just pretend the study never happened.

Scientists want North Sea cod fishing to stop (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

A complete ban on North Sea cod fishing in 2007 is the main recommendation to European governments from their scientific advisors on fisheries.

The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (Ices) says stocks of cod, sandeel and anchovy remain below sustainable limits.

Ices has made the same recommendation on cod for the last four years, but ministers have gone against it.

The full report is released on Friday, with quotas decided in December.

It contains better news on some other species. Norwegian spring spawning herring is recovering, and Ices is recommending an increase of about 75% in its quota.

Smaller quota increases are recommended for mackerel and hake, while small reductions are urged for plaice, blue whiting and sole.

Of course the scientists don't have to worry about the people in the fishing industry, just the fish, which is why they are happy to give their black and white view of the world. Meanwhile back in the real world the politicians have to balance the interests of the fishing industry today and into the future, so they will likely yet again ignore the stark advice.

Date published: 2006/10/17

Yet another anti-aviation report from the middle class (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Britain will not be able to meet its goals on climate change without curbing the demand for air travel, according to an Oxford University report.

The government is targeting a 60% cut in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.

But the report authors say the UK is becoming "air dependent" and government policies on increasing air travel contradict that stated aim.

The government said it wanted aviation included in the next round of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme.

Carbon dioxide emissions from aviation doubled during the 1990s while those from the rest of the economy fell.

Currently, aircraft produce about 5.5% of UK emissions.

The report says that without new policies, they will account for about a quarter of the national total in 2050.
...
The Oxford team notes that airport expansion was backed in the recent Aviation White Paper, which aims to increase the number of passenger movements in UK airports from about 200m per year now to about 470m by 2030.

Nothing new here, and it's hard to believe that this "research" was funded. It's just the usual academic middle class diatribe against flying, although of course the academic middle class fly much more than the average UK citizen. The long-term projections of air travel are almost certainly bogus, but even if they were true, and assuming there are no vast improvements in aviation technology, it should be up to the citizens of the UK whether or not they spend their carbon allowance on air travel or on other things, it should not be up to a bunch of middle class academics to decide this. The entire emphasis of the report is on demand reduction, because heaven forbid that the government do what the people want. The authors complain that air travel has gotten cheaper over the past twenty years. But that is because it has become more efficient, which is a good thing, not a bad thing. If only rail travel had similarly become more efficient. The authors pull out the usual triviality that of course richer people (e.g. academics) travel by air more often than poor people (what a surprise) and use that as a justification for making air travel more expensive. But of course it will be the poorer people who thus lose out completely from air travel. The authors complain that more and more air travel is for leisure. How dreadful. The peasants should not be allowed any holidays abroad, only the academic middle class. This whole report is just a crass political statement, it is not a serious look at aviation.

Maggie's Children allegedly will be worse off (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Improving the stock of affordable housing and giving savings tax breaks are two key ways to alleviate old age poverty, a think-tank has said.

In its report called Maggie's Children, the Policy Exchange looked at how people born between 1980 and 1995 would fare in 50 years' time.

Student debt and high house prices will impair the financial fortunes of this "unlucky" generation, the report said.

It warned that "Maggie's Children" would be poorer than their parents.
...
The key recommendations in the 144 page report include:

"Maggie's Children" not only face the prospect of an impoverished old age, many also will be living alone, according to the report.

Another pointless report. A "de-centralised planning system" would result in fewer houses being built, not more. The only reason most housing is being built today is because central government is requiring local authorities to provide it. And there is already a "lifetime savings account", it's called the State pension. And grandparents hardly need tax credits, for child care or otherwise, that would just provide yet another tax break for the middle class (i.e. the rich). If Maggie's Children have a hard time it is because Britain might well get poorer relative to the rest of the world, thanks largely to the anti-commercial mentality of the British ruling elite.

There will allegedly be a large expansion in nuclear power (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The world needs a 20-fold expansion in nuclear energy in order to prevent dangerous climate change, the head of a leading industry body has said.

John Ritch, director-general of the World Nuclear Association, made his comments at a conference in Sydney.

He said nuclear power was the only way to fuel fast-developing nations without big rises in greenhouse gases, and that nuclear weapons is an unrelated issue.
...
There are about 440 reactors in the world producing electricity, and Mr Ritch forecast a major expansion ahead, with almost 30 new plants currently under construction.

"We will be moving... to a world in the next 25 years in which we have more than 1,000 reactors, and by mid-century I would expect we would have 2,000 to 3,000 reactors in the world," he said, concluding that by the end of the century, a 20-fold increase on today's numbers would be feasible and desirable.

Well he is hardly an unbiased observer. And nuclear power is not nearly as "carbon free" as it pretends (but neither is solar or wind power). It will be amazing if his predictions of the number of reactors by 2050 turns out to be anything near the mark.

Date published: 2006/10/16

Some toxicologists deride chemical scare-mongering (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Leading toxicologists have warned green groups are "misleading" the public with chemical contamination campaigns.

They said they are deliberately and unfairly scaring the public.

In particular, they criticised a WWF campaign that has highlighted the presence of chemicals in blood, food and in babies' umbilical cords.

The scientists said the minute levels detected did not warrant the group's focus on health dangers, but WWF has denied it was scare-mongering.

Shock, horror, so-called environmentalists run scare campaigns. That is their entire modus operandi, since unless they claim the world is about to end, nobody pays them the slightest attention. Of course in the decades ahead nobody will remember most of their scare stories. And unfortunately by the laws of probability they will almost certainly eventually pick on some chemical that will indeed be found to cause a problem. If you cry wolf often enough then eventually there will be a wolf. Meanwhile, if they continue their all-encompassing scare-mongering they should just be ignored, since a random toss of the coin is likely to prove equally predictive about harmful chemicals. (The same goes for so-called GM food, which has also been subject to extensive scare-mongering by the so-called environmentalists.)

BBC swallows the government line about road pricing (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Road charging is the government's radical proposal to cut congestion, and pilot schemes are being developed. So what would it be like? A BBC experiment intends to find out.

This would be the biggest single change to the way we drive since the invention of the motorway.
...
The government likes road charging because it makes drivers face up to the true cost of road congestion.

The BBC swallowing government propaganda wholesale. There is no such thing as the "true cost of road congestion" since there is no free market in roads, because the government completely controls the supply. So the government can arbitrarily decide not to build or improve roads, or to close existing roads down, and then congestion gets worse. The real truth is that "the government likes road congestion" because it is another source of tax, and because it means they can blame the victim of road congestion, i.e. the driver, for the problem the government has created and refused to do anything about. Perhaps the BBC will one day advocate that London rail commuters should "face up to the true cost" of their commuting (which is subsidised by other UK taxpayers, in particular car drivers).

Cambridge city councillor wants more family housing built (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge Evening News says:

Cambridge will become a city of singletons and childless couples thanks to a lack of family homes, according to a former mayor.

Coun John Hipkin, who served as Mayor of Cambridge last year, said the city council appeared to be using planning permission as a form of "contraception" by allowing hundreds of one and two bedroom flats to be built - but hardly any developments for families.

His comments come hot on the heels of Cambridge-based property consultant Carter Jonas' warning family homes in the city would become like "gold dust".

Cambridge is a young town (relatively speaking) so there is some excuse for building a preponderance of flats. But the colleges are more and more putting up enough buildings to house their own students, so that part of the market is going to dry up. And it is obvious to anyone who cares to walk around Cambridge that far too many flats are being built, and the only way this will work is if most of the occupants of those flats are London commuters. Not that much family housing is being built and certainly no family housing is being built (with one or two exceptions) that is anywhere near top notch, except in price. Carter Jonas is not wrong, although of course they only cater for near-millionaires and above, and it would be nice if the ordinary people of Cambridge were able to live in decent accomodation instead of the rabbit hutches being built all over the city. Unfortunately the current ruling elite (in Cambridge and in the UK generally) believe the ordinary people should live in rabbit hutches.

Date published: 2006/10/15

Corruption in allocation of "key worker" housing (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Subsidised flats meant for nurses and teachers in London are ending up in the hands of well-paid professionals and top executives, the BBC has discovered.

An investigation by the BBC's Five Live Report centred on Chelsea Bridge Wharf by the River Thames, where a two-bed luxury flat costs more than £500,000.

It found that 40% of the subsidised flats had been sold to people who were not key workers.

A probe by the UK government has found this was a problem nationwide.

According to the government's own evaluation of shared ownership schemes, one in three properties have gone to someone who could afford to buy the home on the open market.

The entire system is corrupt because the whole concept of a "key worker" is corrupt. What the government has done is try and subsidise housing for certain politically correct categories of workers, at the expense of the rest of the country, including many workers who earn less than the so-called key workers. In Cambridge, for example, many university employees earn less than teachers, and in Cambridge the former are by almost any definition just as "key" as the latter. But the government says that teachers are "key" but university employees are not. And many so-called key workers have partners who earn quite a lot of money, or have inherited a substantial amount of money, or are old enough to have accumulated a pot of money. And fundamentally, when the government throws money around in this way, corruption is bound to creep in. If the BBC is allegedly so concerned, it should point out the source of the problem, not just the result.

Government wants religious schools not to be so religious (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

All new religious schools could have to offer at least 25% of their classroom places to "non-believing" children, the BBC has learned.

Education Secretary Alan Johnson believes the move could reduce religious and racial tension.

His plans stipulate that where there is "strong local opposition" to the policy, councils would need government consent before implementing the quota.

A Conservative Party spokesman said they welcomed the proposals.

More arbitrary (why 25%?) and silly meddling by the government in education. The whole point of a religious school is that people who attend ought to believe in that religion. If the government doesn't like the impact of religious schools then it should just ban them, or at least provide no explicit or implicit funding for them. And it is odd that new religious schools should be affected but not existing ones. How fair is that?

Date published: 2006/10/14

Richard Rogers wins the RIBA Stirling Prize (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Madrid's Barajas Airport has won the UK's most prestigious architecture award, the £20,000 Stirling Prize.

The colourful 1.2km-long Spanish airport building was designed by the Richard Rogers Partnership.

It is the first time the firm has won the Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba) prize.

The prize is awarded to European Union architects for the building that has made the greatest contribution to British architecture in the past year.
...
Other nominees included the National Assembly for Wales in Cardiff, the Phaeno Science Center in Wolfsburg, Germany, a family home in west London, Evelina Children's Hospital in south-east London, and the Idea store in Whitechapel, east London.

Well Rogers has never won the prize and he is one of the doyens of British architecture, so it seemed inevitable that he would win. At least the airport is a wonderful building. Apparently the new Heathrow Terminal 5 building, also by Rogers, will come in at twice the cost per square meter. And it will not look nearly as good (and probably not work nearly as well). Unfortunately the British spend far too much development money on lawyers and not enough on architects.

The "people's choice" for the prize was the children's hospital, the politically correct option, by Hopkins Architects. It is certainly much better than almost any other hospital in Britain, and could easily have been the winner. (But is the NHS going to maintain the building properly?)

The National Assembly for Wales, again by Rogers, is also good (and a bargain at a seventh of the price of the Scottish Parliament), so even that could have won. Especially since airports are not politically correct and non-English parliaments are.

Apparently the Phaeno Science Centre, by Zaha Hadid Architects, was the bookies' choice. This can only be because Hadid seems to have become flavour of the month amongst a certain section of the ruling elite. The Science Centre is ok on the inside but looks dreadful on the outside and you have to wonder how well it will weather in time. There is no way it deserved to win.

The Idea store (i.e. library with a few extra bells and whistles) is good enough but it's not really that amazing (and c.f. the Peckham Library by Will Alsop and the Laban arts centre building by Herzog and de Meuron, for example).

And it's hard to see a house ever winning the Stirling Prize, it's just not in the same league. And although the Brick House, by Caruso St John Architects, is an architectural statement, it looks more like a concrete bunker (with a few skylights) than anything else. It's an example of what happens when you put too much building on too little land. (And the minimalist interior is like a prison, but that's entirely the fault of the owners.)

France passes a silly law about Turkey and Armenia (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The French parliament has adopted a bill making it a crime to deny that Armenians suffered "genocide" at the hands of the Turks, infuriating Turkey.

The bill, proposed by the Socialists and opposed by the government, needs approval from the Senate and president.

Turkey called the decision a "serious blow" to relations with France. It has already threatened economic sanctions.

Armenia says Ottoman Turks killed 1.5 million people systematically in 1915 - a claim strongly denied by Turkey.

The European Commission has said that the bill, if passed into law, will "prohibit dialogue which is necessary for reconciliation" between Turkey and Armenia on the issue.

Turkey has been warning France for weeks not to pass the bill.

"Turkish-French relations, which have been meticulously developed over the centuries, took a severe blow today through the irresponsible initiatives of some short-sighted French politicians, based on unfounded allegations," the Turkish foreign ministry said.

The bill sponsored by the opposition Socialist party provides for a year in jail and a 45,000-euro (£30,000) fine - the same punishment that is imposed for denying the Nazi Holocaust.

The ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) did not back the law, but gave its deputies a free vote.

It passed by 106 votes to 19, after most deputies left the chamber in protest against what critics say is an attempt to attract votes of the some 500,000 people of Armenian descent in presidential elections next year.

One expects this kind of pathetic grandstanding from the US Congress, but now France has joined the club. Perhaps they should spend more time apologising for the appalling French behaviour in Algeria (and elsewhere), or indeed running their country rather better than they do, rather than trying to determine the only words that should be allowed to be used to describe historical events. Presumably the French Senate will have more common sense and let the bill die. But it would serve France right if they lost business in Turkey as a result of this cynical vote.

Some engineer wants to tag airplane passengers (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Electronically tagging passengers at airports could help the fight against terrorism, scientists have said.
...
The work is being carried out at a new research centre, based at University College London, set up to find technological solutions to crime.
...
Dr Paul Brennan, an electrical engineer, is leading the tagging project, known as Optag.

He said: "The basic idea is that airports could be fitted with a network of combined panoramic cameras and RFID (radio frequency ID) tag readers, which would monitor the movements of people around the various terminal buildings."

The plan, he said, would be for each passenger to be issued with a tag at check-in.

He said: "In our system, the location can be detected to an accuracy of 1m, and video and tag data could be merged to give a powerful surveillance capability."

The tags do not store any data, but emit a signal containing a unique ID which could be cross-referenced with passenger identification information. In the future, added Dr Brennan, this could incorporate biometric data.

The project still needs to overcome some hurdles, such as finding a way of ensuring the tags cannot be switched between passengers or removed without notification.

The issue of infringement of civil liberties will also be key.

But potentially, said Dr Brennan, the tags could aid security by allowing airports to track the movement patterns of passengers deemed to be suspicious and prevent them from entering restricted areas.

How many terrorist incidents would have been prevented with such technology? (Certainly not 9/11.) And if you can get into restricted areas of airports you can do so perfectly well without being a passenger. And if the tag can be removed then it solves nothing. This seems like a classic case of a technology in search of a justification. Unfortunately some scientists and engineers will spout any sort of nonsense in order to obtain funding.

Date published: 2006/10/08

Natural gas pipeline supposed to go over the Brecon Beacons (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

...
If the National Grid - which operates the UK's energy infrastructure - gets the go-ahead for the second phase of the project [ to link LNG terminals in Wales from Milford Haven to the national network in Swansea], then this same pipeline, destined ultimately for England, will cut through the Brecon Beacons National Park.

A designated area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the park has made it clear it is opposed to the idea and says that according to European Union rules a more thorough survey of the environmental impact is needed.

"We are fearful a good job will not be done, because the timeframe to build the pipeline is so tight," says Paul Sinnadurai, the Park's ecologist.

One of the biggest fears for the Park is that business interests will overpower environmental concerns, especially after a period of public consultation was delayed by a month, increasing time pressures even further.

The pipeline, expected to meet around 20% of the UK's energy needs, will link LNG (liquefied natural gas) terminals in Milford Haven, West Wales, to the national network in Swansea and ultimately Gloucester.

The whole project is forecast to cost £750m ($1.4bn) and National Grid is contractually obliged to start delivering gas in October 2007. It aims to start building the second section - 115 miles long - in early 2007.

If it fails to meet the timetable, it could incur up to £36m in fines by September 2008, imposed by energy regulator Ofgem. The penalty would start at £2m for the first month and increase incrementally.

In addition, National Grid would have to compensate the energy firms - Exxon, Qatar Petroleum, BP and Petronas - for their inability to import LNG.

The National Grid said it is working hard to balance the UK's energy needs with environmental concerns and points out that the pipeline will run underground so it will not be visible.

It also said that its construction methods take great environmental care, adding that each layer of soil removed is labelled and set aside so that it can be put back in its original order.
...
The Park's ecologist are still not convinced and argue that the Brecon Beacons fragile upland habitats could take much longer to recover from the pipeline construction than other regions.

It's not going to be great in the short term for the park if the pipeline goes through it, but it's hard to believe there will be any real impact in the medium to long term, and certainly an insignificant impact in comparison with other external factors such as climate change (and of course the gas in this particular pipeline will add some small percentage to the world total of greenhouse gas emissions). It would be better if the park worked with the National Grid instead of just opposing everything.

Government panics because the prisons are full (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Emergency measures to reduce prison overcrowding will not expose the public to more dangerous criminals, Attorney General Lord Goldsmith has promised.

Home Secretary John Reid is expected to announce that some inmates will be moved from secure jails to open prisons and police cells.

Lord Goldsmith said public safety would come first, and no prisoner would be moved without a proper risk assessment.

Yeah right. Of course this is what happens when you increase the prison population from just over 50000 to almost 80000 (almost a 60% increase) in ten years.

Date published: 2006/10/07

Little thought given to cyclists at Histon Road and King's Hedges Road (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge transport planners do not seem to have a clue about cycling, in spite of the fact that allegedly they are keen to promote cycling.

The city has recently re-designed the intersection of Histon Road (well the B1049) and King's Hedges Road. This was because of the new development at Arbury Park (Arbury Camp). The result could hardly have been worse for cyclists.

Coming into town from the roundabout over the A14 there is a wide cycle path on the pavement. Only if you are going straight ahead up Histon Road you would not want to use it, because it involves using several pedestrian crossings rather than a straight-through ride parallel to the cars. So instead you are of course going to stay on the road with the cars.

On the other hand if you turn left onto King's Hedges Road you can stay on the cycle path. Only it ends not that much further on. After that you are forced on the road. Even worse, as part of their attempt to slow cars down, they have introduced various pinch points (with central reservations for pedestrians) along that section of King's Hedges Road. Since there is no cycle path, cyclists have to share the road with the cars, and this makes cyclists particularly vulnerable in these spots.

It really is that bad. Why could they not have put in a cycle path along both sides along the entire stretch of the road?

And the poor design does not stop there. If, heading out of town, you want to turn right from Histon Road onto King's Hedges Road, you are either forced to cycle past the intersection to a pedestrian crossing (which no self-respecting cyclist would use) or turn right with the cars. If you turn with the cars you cannot get on the cycle path which immediately presents itself, the brilliant planners have put a tall curb in the way all along the road. (Well, that cycle path does finish rather soon, but presumably some day it will indeed be extended.)

How did this design ever get past anybody? Do these bureaucrats not have a clue how cyclists cycle?

Date published: 2006/10/06

Development plans for northwest Cambridge on display (permanent blog link)

Cambridge is expanding on its northwestern side. There was an exhibition today of some of the plans. The first site to be developed (excluding Arbury Park, which is already being built) will be the so-called NIAB site. This is a parcel of land bounded by the city boundary on one side, and stretching inwards towards Histon Road and Huntingdon Road, so that there will no longer be greenbelt inside the city boundary in that direction. This land was owned by half a dozen organisations, including NIAB (the National Institute of Agricultural Botany) and a couple of Cambridge colleges. David Wilson Homes is the lead developer.

The second site to be developed will be the remaining greenbelt land between Huntingdon Road and Madingley Road, stretching out to the M11. Currently this land is owned by the university.

The plans for the NIAB site are much further advanced. It will be almost entirely residential. There are no offices and so no jobs. And there is no decent shopping centre planned, since the Cambridge ruling elite think that the peasants who live northwest of the river should be forced to travel across the river (or way up to Bar Hill, or to Milton) to get to a supermarket. Urban planning in England is rather hopeless.

There have been a couple of workshops for local residents (mainly from the Huntingdon Road area, rather than the Histon Road area, since rich people seem to have more say in these matters). Local residents almost always oppose any new developments and the idea behind these workshops is to give local residents a way of letting of steam. Unfortunately the ideas they put forward are always for their own self-interest, rather than what might be good for the city as a whole, and in particular for the new residents of the NIAB site. People who attend these kinds of events are almost always anti-car, or at least anti anyone else's car. This means that the only car entrances to the new site are from Histon and Huntingdon Road, as far from the city centre as possible. There could also have been entrances from Windsor Road, Brownlow Road and Blackhall Road, but funnily enough the existing residents were not very keen on that idea and they seem to have won the day. This will no doubt cause all sorts of traffic problems at the two chosen entrances. (But some people seem to be deluded enough to believe that people who live on the NIAB site will walk and cycle everywhere.)

The NIAB site will apparently be required to have 40% so-called affordable housing, and the site built at around 45-50 households per hectare (so around 20 per acre). The former is bad news for the developer but the latter is compensating good news. Neither is good news for the new residents. The slogan might as well be "Building the slums of tomorrow today". The people at the workshops seem to have convinced the developer to make the housing lower density at the existing housing boundary and higher density further out. Surprise, surprise, this is for the benefit of the existing residents, not the new ones. In general cities should be higher density in the middle and lower density further out. The NIAB site should all be low(ish) density, since it is at the edge of the city. (As the city moves further out over the next century there would then be the inevitable infill.) The NIAB site will have a reasonable public green space (and apparently even allotments, bizarrely) but no decent gardens for houses.

The exhibition presented what will become the basis for outline planning permission for the NIAB site. Given all the idiotic restrictions mentioned above, the plan actually looks fairly sane, mainly because it is based on rectilinear streets, not the crazy (and inefficient) curved streets popular in the 1980s and 1990s. (Being Cambridge, it is flat, so there are no contours to follow.) The key will be whether the buildings are designed by decent architects or just by developers on the back of an envelope. The Accordia site on Brooklands Avenue (despite all its faults in terms of density) is the model to follow, not Arbury Park. Unfortunately the NIAB site is unlikely to command the silly prices found on Brooklands Avenue, so the developer will presumably not be that keen to spend good money on a good architect. More likely we will end up with Arbury Park II.

On interesting feature (about the only interesting feature) is a pond (or lake) at the northern end of the site. Apparently this is to aid water drainage from the site. The schematic plans showed a slightly artistic shape to the pond. Let's see what happens.

Meanwhile, the exhibition provided the latest chance for the university to show its plans for its land between Huntingdon Road and Madingley Road. The university representative at the exhibition claimed this development was not being done because the university was short of money, rather to provide some housing for university staff. The plans show such housing at the eastern end of the site, along with some new university buildings. But the rest of the site is "open market" (except for another small clump of academic buildings on Huntingdon Road opposite Girton College). So the university is not actually getting much in return in exchange for selling off this large tract of land. You could call it selling off the family silver. It has to happen some time, but you hope you get something decent in return, and it's not obvious that will happen here. But if Bill Gates (or whoever) stumps up a couple hundred million pounds, the university might change its mind and put a new Cambridge college on the site.

The transport links for this site are also not inspiring. The site borders the M11. To go south on the M11 you have to go out to Madingley Road. To go north on the M11 you have to go out to Huntingdon Road. Even worse, there is no easy way to go west on the A428 or east on the A14. This is because the M11 - A14 - A428 interchanges in Cambridge are badly, badly designed. (Although someone at this exhibition claimed that the M11 will finally get a northbound entrance, and corresponding southbound exit, at junction 13 on Madingley Road. This would help.)

The remaining piece of the puzzle is the tract of land adjoining the NIAB site, bounded on one side by the city boundary and on the other side by the A14. This is the responsibility of South Cambs, not Cambridge, which is why the NIAB site artificially stops where it does. Some day (in N years, N large) this land will also be built on, it makes no sense not to do so. (But development in England rarely makes sense.)

Jack Straw plays the veil card (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Cabinet Minister Jack Straw has said he would prefer Muslim women not to wear veils which cover the face.

The Commons leader said he did not want to be "prescriptive" but he believed that covering people's faces could make community relations more difficult.

Mr Straw has said he asks Muslim women at his Blackburn constituency surgeries if they would mind removing veils.
...
Mr Straw has dismissed suggestions that his remarks are designed to raise his profile ahead of Labour's deputy leadership election.

He has yet to confirm whether he will join the race to succeed John Prescott but is widely expected to do so.

Meanwhile the BBC says:

A Muslim woman's veil was snatched from her by a man who shouted racist abuse at a bus stop in Liverpool.

The 49-year-old, from Toxteth, was at the junction of Kensington and Holt Road when her veil was snatched by a tall white man in his 60s.

Insp Saied Mostaghel, of Merseyside Police, said: "This was a despicable attack, which has left the victim feeling extremely shocked and upset."

Connect the dots (the BBC does not).

EU and US agree on passenger data deal (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The US and the European Union have struck a new deal for sharing airline passenger data, after lengthy talks.

The interim agreement will replace a deal struck down by the European Court of Justice in May, which allowed the US its own access to passenger data.

Under the deal, the EU will "push" the data - 34 pieces of information per passenger - to the US, replacing the current "pull" system.
...
The previous deal lapsed on 1 October when both sides failed to agree on terms for a renewal. The new accord will expire at the end of July 2007.

Negotiations over a permanent deal will begin during an EU diplomatic visit to Washington in November.

Justice ministers from across the EU are scheduled to meet later on Friday to discuss the deal, which could be formally approved next week.

EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini said new mechanisms had been agreed to distribute data from airlines to the US.

US officials will no longer be able to "pull" the information - which includes details on credit cards, passports, telephone numbers and even meal preferences - direct from airline computer systems, but will have it "pushed" to them.

The information will be sent to the US Department of Homeland Security, which will "facilitate" any wider distribution among other US counter-terrorism agencies, Mr Frattini said.

Civil liberties campaigners had argued that the amount of information collected is intrusive and that data protection once the details are in the US is weak, the BBC's Jonny Dymond reports.

It was the data protection issue that led to difficulties between the US and the EU.

The US wanted the information made available automatically to a number of different domestic agencies, but the EU wanted to be sure that if the information did move between agencies then it would remain secure, our correspondent says.

Addressing these concerns, Mr Frattini said the new deal allowed easier distribution of data, but would not allow "unconditional direct electronic access" by agencies such as the FBI.

The new "push" system would be tested before the end of the year, Mr Frattini said.

Well at least there has been some agreement. But the EU is rather missing the point. It matters less that the information is passed around several US agencies, more that the way any airline passenger information is treated by the US government is completely flawed. For example, if your name matches the name of any alleged terrorist, then the US government assumes you are a terrorist. All other information, such as where you live, etc., is ignored. (Gee whiz, wonder if the real terrorists change their names now and again.)

Date published: 2006/10/05

Cambridge and Oxford allegedly ranked second and third in the world (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Harvard has retained its top place in a world universities ranking this year, but Cambridge and Oxford have moved up to second and third.

They displaced the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which is now ranked fourth in the Times Higher Education Supplement's table.

There are 29 British universities in the top 200 - six more than last year, a bigger rise than any other country.

Another is now in the top 10: Imperial College London, up from 13th last year.
...
The university rankings are based on a survey of 3,703 academics worldwide.

They were asked to nominate up to 30 institutions they regarded as the best at research in their own fields.

On that measure, Cambridge came top, followed by Oxford then Harvard.

All rather silly, and the day an American publication puts Cambridge and Oxford so high in any ranking, you might give the result rather more credibility.

Teaching at universities is allegedly under threat (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge Evening News says:

Teaching at universities is under threat, Cambridge University's Vice-Chancellor has warned.

In her annual address at the start of the new academic year, Prof Alison Richard said undergraduate education was being put at risk by the pressure universities and their staff were under to focus on research.

Research was seen as having higher status than teaching, and was more important when it came to university rankings, and attracting investment.

This meant more and more academics saw teaching as less important for their careers, and believed it made less sense economically.

At Cambridge University teaching has long been considered to be unimportant compared with research. Just look at any of the job adverts for academic staff. And people who get lumbered with teaching are often treated like second-class citizens. But it's been like this pretty much forever.

Date published: 2006/10/04

Breastfeeding allegedly does not make you cleverer (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Breastfed babies are smarter because their mothers are clever in the first place, not because of any advantage of breastfeeding itself, a study suggests.

Researchers found breastfeeding mothers tended to be more intelligent, more highly educated, and likely to provide a more stimulating home environment.

However, they stressed that there were still many advantages to breastfeeding.
...
They found that mothers who breastfed tended to be more intelligent, and when this fact was taken into account, most of the relationship between breastfeeding and the child's intelligence disappeared.

The rest was accounted for by other aspects of the family background.

All pretty obvious, but at least somebody has come out and said it. Not that it will stop the health faddists from peddling a thousand and one other crackpot ideas.

Delaying carbon emission reductions allegedly costs more (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The world must act now to curb climate change, as doing nothing will cost more long-term, UK officials have said.

British government official and former World Bank chief economist Sir Nicholas Stern said pursuing alternative energy made economic and environmental sense.

He was addressing a closed-door meeting in Mexico of representatives of 20 of the world's most-polluting nations.

The two-day gathering hopes to reach agreement on ways to meet future energy demands while cutting emissions.
...
British Environment Secretary David Miliband quoted findings reached by Sir Nicholas in his report, which was commissioned by the UK government.

"He shows that the longer action is delayed, the more expensive it is," Mr Miliband said.

"What he says is that... it is imperative we take action to prevent further climate change because the economic costs - never mind the human costs and the costs to the environment - will far outweigh the costs of mitigation."

Quite possibly true, but no doubt the error bars are huge so take it all with a pinch of salt. And if Miliband is so keen on action being taken, perhaps he should start by promising that he and the rest of the government will not fly anywhere. (Ah, but sacrifices are for the little people.)

Date published: 2006/10/03

Mice cloned from mature blood cells (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

US scientists say stem cells are not necessary for cloning and other cells may even be better candidates.

The Pittsburgh University team created two baby mice from a fully matured blood cell that itself is incapable of making more of its own kind.

It had been thought only immature stem cells, which can become many types of other cell, were capable of doing this.

A UK expert said the Nature Genetics study disproved the idea that only immature cells were of use for cloning.

Somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) - the scientific term for cloning - is creating an embryo by taking the nucleus, which houses the genetic material of a cell, from one cell and putting it into an unfertilised egg that has had its own genetic material removed.

The resulting embryo is then an exact genetic copy of the cell from the animal or person that donated the nucleus.

Stem cells are still at an early stage of development, and retain the potential to turn into many different types of cell that make up tissues and organs, which is why experts have heralded their promise for treating a variety of genetic diseases.

But experiments using adult stem cells taken from mature tissue to make early stage embryos have yielded disappointing results, with success rates of 1-5%.

Dr Tao Cheng and colleagues tested whether a fully matured type of white blood cell, called a granulocyte, could propagate early embryos.

Not only was this successful, the granulocyte was far better at this than its immature ancestor cells destined to become granulocytes.

Between 35% and 39% of the mature granulocytes yielded early stage embryos called blastocysts.

In comparison, only 4% of the immature stem cells could produce blastocysts.

And only the mature, or "differentiated", granulocytes were able to produce two live cloned mice pups, although both of these died within a few hours of birth.

To check the success of the findings, the scientists also tried cloning using embryonic stem cells - cells taken from blastocysts, rather than using mature tissue to find the donor cells.

Nearly 50% of these yielded blastocysts and 18 cloned pups were born.

However, the use of embryonic stem cells is controversial because opponents argue that all embryos, whether created in the lab or not, are fully fledged humans, and as such it is morally wrong to experiment on them.

Scientists have been looking for successful alternatives to embryonic stem cells.

Dr Cheng said the results clearly showed there was no advantage in using adult stem cells over mature fully differentiated cells.

"We can say with near certainty that a fully differentiated cell such as a granulocyte retains the genetic capacity for becoming like a seed that can give rise to all cell types necessary for the development of an entire organism."

Stem cell expert Dr Stephen Minger, from King's College London, said: "The findings are quite surprising.

"Up until this [point], the conventional wisdom was that the less mature a cell, the more likely it is to be reprogrammed. This work suggests the contrary.

"Certain types of mature cells could be much easier to reprogramme than expected.

"But of course this has only been done in mice and there could be a big difference when it comes to humans. It would be interesting to see whether the same is found with human cells."

Well wait until this is repeated and elaborated in other labs. But it sounds like good progress.

Cameron wants to steal more money from people without kids (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Parents of children of all ages should be able to ask to work flexible hours, says Conservative leader David Cameron.

Employers already have to consider requests from parents with children under six for family friendly hours.

Mr Cameron said he was also looking at a possible tax allowance for families where one parent stays at home.
...
Mr Cameron told BBC Radio 4's Today programme his party had talked to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) about his plans to allow more people to ask to work flexible hours.

"I think it will help people have a better work-life balance, that's really important - that's the centre ground for me, it's the issues people care about in their lives," he said.

The majority (people who breed) stealing yet more money from the minority. It would not be half so bad if people who had children actually thanked the rest of society instead of constantly complaining that they need ever more of a subsidy to support their chosen lifestyle. And what about "better work-life balance" for people responsible enough not to have children on a way over populated planet.

Date published: 2006/10/02

Another idiotic government scheme to subsidise housing for the few (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Extra help for up to 20,000 key workers looking to get on the property ladder is on offer from Monday.

The Open Market HomeBuy Scheme will see the government and selected lenders funding up to 25% of a property cost.

Interest payment start after five years but it should help borrowers afford more expensive property.

Borrowers will still have to fund the remaining 75% of the property cost through a standard mortgage or their own savings.

The scheme will be open to public sector workers and those on council housing waiting lists.

Applicants will be assessed by HomeBuy agents, employed by local housing associations.

Once the applicant has been accepted onto the scheme they will have 12.5% of the property value loaned to them by the government and 12.5% by a lender, drawn from selected banks and building societies.

This 25% loan will be interest free for the first five years but if the property is sold the government and lender will be entitled to a share in any increase in its value.

The government said that its portion of the loan will be interest free indefinitely.

The 25% loan will help the borrower afford a more expensive home than would have been the case if they had had to rely on just a mortgage and their own savings as a deposit.

Another idiotic and unfair government scheme which helps a few politically correct categories of people and which leaves the majority of house buyers not only no better off but also forced to subsidise the few to leapfrog them on the property ladder. If this scheme was any more widespread it would not only start to hit government finances it would also start to push house prices up, because all subsidies by the government of house buying has exactly that effect. So in the end it would be a self-defeating move, of benefit mainly to house builders (as if they need any help). By restricting the number to so few people, the government is at least limiting the damage they are doing. What the BBC article does not mention is that although the buyer will (quite rightly) only get 75% of any profit when the house is sold, if the housing market turns down then the government and lender will get hit with the first 25% of any price reduction, and this is ridiculous. The buyer only gets an upside, and not any downside. If only everybody else in the housing market was lucky enough to be so supported. We need more houses, not more crackpot schemes of benefit only to the politically correct few. We need a government of all the people, not of some of the people.

Global polluters meet in Mexico (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Ministers from the world's top 20 polluting nations are gathering in Mexico for talks on climate change.

The delegates will discuss possible ways to meet future energy demand while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Well you never know, something might come of it, but it's not very likely.

Date published: 2006/10/01

London wants to dump its rubbish in Cambridgeshire (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge Evening News says:

Top councillors have reacted with fury once more over the news that Cambridgeshire will have to clear up London's rubbish.

Cambridgeshire currently boasts one of the best recycling rates in the country, at more than 50 per cent. Meanwhile London is lagging behind, recycling less than a quarter of its rubbish.

As revealed exclusively by the News, the Government wants Cambridgeshire to bury millions of tonnes of waste from the capital because it doesn't need as much landfill. Coun Keith Walters, leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, said it was a disincentive for other authorities to follow Cambridgeshire's example.

He said: "I don't want to let the London waste problem go away without scoring a political point. I do take grave exception that when we're at the top of the league for recycling, as Cambridgeshire is, someone in another place says, 'oh well, you must have some spare landfill capacity'.

"The last time I looked London's recycling rate was 20 per cent. If the rest of the country find out about it I can't see them rushing to improve their recycling rates in case they get London rubbish."

It is always claimed by the urban planning elite that big cities like London are somehow more "sustainable" than suburbs and rural areas like Cambridgeshire. Like most things the ruling elite claim, it is nonsense.

Even Bob Woodward has turned on Bush (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Veteran US journalist Bob Woodward has claimed that the true extent of insurgent attacks in Iraq has been hidden by the administration.

He makes the claim in a book, State of Denial, due to be released on Monday.

Mr Woodward has had better access to policymakers in the Bush White House than any other writer.

In a preview interview he also revealed that former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has become a frequent adviser to President Bush.

State of Denial is a follow up to earlier volumes on the Bush White House which have contained a vivid detail of who said what to whom but have been largely uncritical of the President.

Indeed, they have been recommended as essential reading by Bush supporters.

This book appears to be much more challenging, with Bob Woodward making at least one eye-catching and politically damaging claim that the true extent of the violence in Iraq is being hidden.

"Now, there's public and then there's private, but what do they do with the private - they stamp it secret. No-one's supposed to know," Mr Woodward said.

He added that the insurgents knew how effective they were - but the US public did not.

One cannot really respect Woodward. He (as well as the dreadful newspaper he works for, the Washington Post) backs up the regime for years, before its policies have become manifestly disasterous, although the Washington elite know full well what is going on, and then he (and the Post) finally decides to be critical long past when it matters. About the only good thing about the book is that it shows once again that the rats are indeed deserting the ship. George W Bush, one of the worst presidents of all time.

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