Azara Blog: September 2008 archive complete

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Date published: 2008/09/30

Gordon Brown refuses to offer unlimited guarantee on bank deposits (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has told the BBC that he will do "whatever it takes" to protect people's savings.

Moves to guarantee bank deposits up to £50,000 - compared with the current £35,000 limit - are expected shortly.

He declined to offer an unlimited guarantee, as has happened in Ireland, but pointed out the government had not let any UK depositor lose out.

He said with Northern Rock, HBOS and Bradford & Bingley they had taken action to protect people's savings.

The Irish government has made an emergency decision to guarantee the safety of all deposits in six of its main savings institutions for two years.

No, Mr Brown is not doing "whatever it takes" to protect people's savings. If he were, he would impose no limit on the bank deposit guarantee. Even the 50k limit does not get Britain up to the 100k dollar limit that has been applicable in the US for years.

There is some support and some opposition to the nuclear industry (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Residents living near existing nuclear reactors only have "qualified support" for new power stations, a study shows.

While most locals trusted the operators of their nearby power station, some had a strong distrust of the UK Government and the nuclear industry, it added.

The team that compiled the data said the findings suggested that a "decide and defend" strategy for new build would be be met by strong opposition.

It had been assumed that locals would support new nuclear power stations.

The five-year study, which included a survey of 1,326 households, was carried out by the team of researchers from the universities of Cardiff and East Anglia.

It's amazing that money is constantly being wasted on these kind of vacuous studies. Surprise, people trust their local operators more than they trust some anonymous "nuclear industry". People also say they like their own MPs but hate MPs (and politicians) in general. And surprise, some people "had a strong distrust of the UK government". Who would have thought?

The fact that anybody is willing to support any aspect of the nuclear industry is a big snub of the academic middle class people that run Britain (and in particular that run the BBC), because the academic middle class (e.g. the so-called environmentalists) have been demonising nuclear power for the last two decades and more.

Date published: 2008/09/29

Tories want to transfer hundreds of millions of pounds from poor areas to rich ones (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

A Conservative government would bring in a two-year freeze on English council tax bills, George Osborne has pledged.

The shadow chancellor told the party's conference in Birmingham it would be paid for by cutting spending on government consultants and advertising.

Central government cannot force bills to be frozen - but any council which limits spending rises to 2.5% will get that amount from Whitehall, he said.

Mr Osborne said the move would save the average Band D household £210.

He said he expected all English councils to want to take part and estimated that it would cost £500m in the first year and £1bn in the second.

Another gimmick from the Tories. Needless to say, given the way the government will settle the central government contribution to the council tax, the councils that limit their spending rise to 2.5% will mainly be in Tory areas, and those that do not will mainly be in non-Tory areas. So this plan will result in a transfer of hundreds of millions of pounds from relativly poor areas of England to relatively rich ones. Surprise, this is just what Thatcher did with the poll tax. If the Tories claim they have 210 pounds per household to throw at the public, they should throw it at all the public, not just the rich.

Tories will deny Heathrow a third runway (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The Tories say they would scrap plans for a third runway at Heathrow and build a high-speed rail line instead.

They are proposing to create a new line linking London St Pancras, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds - saying it would cut Heathrow flights by 66,000 a year.

Transport spokeswoman Theresa Villiers said it had been a hard decision but the party would "not run" from it.

The party says it would cost £1.3bn a year for 12 years. Airport operator BAA said it was offering a "false choice".
...
She said rail could offer a viable alternative to short-haul flights and mean about 66,000 fewer flights a year, 30% of the planned capacity of the third runway, eventually rising to 44% with a more extensive high speed rail network in the UK.

The proposed 180mph rail link would run between St Pancras in London - the terminus for Eurostar - and Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. Heathrow, the UK's largest airport, would also be linked in.

It would be a new railway with a new track freeing up the West Coast Mainline for more commuter journeys. Construction would start in 2015, to finish in 2027, should the Conservatives win the next general election.

The party says journeys would be reduced from 125 minutes to 80 minutes from London to Manchester, and from 55 minutes to 17 minutes between Manchester and Leeds.

A Conservative government would spend £15.6bn over 12 years on the project, which they say could be met from within current levels of government capital spend on rail. The private sector would contribute a further £4.4bn.

Once again the Tories have shown themselves to be unfit to run the country (unfortunately they will be running the country in a year or two). BAA is correct (for once) that this decision represents a "false choice". So on the one hand we have the private sector willing to pay to build a third runway at Heathrow, and on the other hand we have the government willing to throw billions of pounds of taxpayer's money at a rail line. In effect, what this means is that air passengers are willing to pay for the service they are provided, and rail passengers are not. What is it about rail passengers that they think the rest of the country should subsidise their lifestyle?

Further, cutting the Manchester to London journey time from 125 to 80 minutes would be a disaster. It would mean that thousands of people who live in Manchester would be happy to become London commuters, especially given that the taxpayer is massively subsidising their journey. Hundreds of towns and cities in the south of England already suffer from this problem. And the Tories want to spread it to the entire country, it seems. What a wonderfully "sustainable" practice the Tories want to foist upon the country.

Of course this decision would not be so bad if instead of Heathrow the Tories wanted to make Stansted the premier London airport. But if they are now 100% opposed to Heathrow expansion, the Tories have always been 110% opposed to Stansted expansion, because a few of the Tory landed gentry might suffer.

Many people will just ignore food labels (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Food labelling could end up being ignored by a large number of shoppers, experts suggest.

A "significant" proportion did not take them into account when buying treats such as cakes, show early results from a Food Standards Agency-funded study.

Researchers said this was because shoppers knew they were bad for them but wanted to "indulge" themselves.

They also found a trend for ignoring them when buying supposedly basic essentials such as flour and butter.

Those surveyed said this was because these ingredients were needed and could not be avoided.

How dare the peasants ignore the labelling that the academic middle class control freaks have decided upon. And needless to say, the academic middle class people who have done this (small) study have missed the real point, namely that most people have better things to do with their lives than reading labels to the Nth degree. Being middle class, the researchers instead have to project that it is somehow the peasants being wicked (by "indulging" in food the academic middle class do not like).

Date published: 2008/09/28

China space walk mission ends successfully (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

China's Shenzhou VII space capsule has returned to Earth after a successful mission orbiting the planet.

The spacecraft touched down in the Mongolian desert to rapturous applause from mission control in Beijing.

Looking well, the three astronauts emerged to wave to cameras before being given bouquets of flowers.

While in orbit, the men conducted experiments said to be crucial to China's space programme, as well as its first space walk.

Mission leader and fighter pilot Zhai Zhigang, 42, was first to emerge from the capsule, and is now set to be greeted as a national hero.

Meanwhile America is in the throes of trying to sort out its economic meltdown. Welcome to the 21st century.

French government wants to keep tabs on "likely" juvenile offenders (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

David Reid reports on a storm brewing in France over plans to build a database to hold details of people considered likely to breach public order.

Civil liberties groups fear that the new police database, called Edvige, would significantly erode rights to privacy.

Although governments regularly gather and store data about citizens, Edvige would include information about the youngest members of society.

"These people could be filed starting from the age of thirteen with a very large amount of data on their life, on their relatives, on their friends, acquaintance ... everything," says Meryem Marzouki from the French National Scientific Research Center (CNRS).

Justifying the creation of Edvige, Gerard Gachet, a spokesperson for the French Ministry of the Interior, says: "Unfortunately we have been confronted by an explosion in juvenile crime."

"If you want to put into force a preventative measure, you have to be able to list these young people in a dossier, and be able to go and see them. Or go and see their parents and say 'watch out', your son or daughter is at risk of falling into juvenile crime," he says.

The row over Edvige led thousands of French people to sign an online petition which forced the French president Nicolas Sarkozy to revise plans.

Among the changes were the withdrawal of the proposal to include political activists, union leaders and religious leaders in the same dossier as potential delinquent youngsters.

Jean-Claude Vitran, from the human rights group Ligue des droits de l'Homme, fears what the data in Edvige will be used for.

"We could well imagine that the one day the extreme left could take power in a democratic country like ours. Then what happens to this information? What do we do? What we'll have is what happened in Eastern Europe 40 or 30 years ago. We'll have police files like the Stasi's," says Mr Vitran. "We don't want that."

Civil rights groups are continuing their fight against Edvige claiming that it will turn France into a Big Brother State. A ruling on the database is expected by the end of the year.

Just the latest attempt by a Western country to try and enact wholesale removal of civil liberties. One can quite easily imagine that anyone on this database could be refused certain types of employment, etc. (And it would be interesting to see what percentage of young people are involved in some kind of crime. Probably near enough 100%. But of course it's the non-middle-class and non-white young people that this database would be aimed at.)

Date published: 2008/09/22

Many of the world's common birds allegedly in decline (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The populations of the world's common birds are declining as a result of continued habitat loss, a global assessment has warned.

The survey by BirdLife International found that 45% of Europe's common birds had seen numbers fall, as had more than 80% of Australia's wading species.

The study's authors said governments were failing to fund their promises to halt biodiversity loss by 2010.

Just the latest "end of the world" report from the bird brigade. On the other hand, all things being equal, you would expect that 50%, not 45%, of "common", or also "uncommon", birds would see numbers fall over any given period. No doubt BirdLife International can cherry pick statistics to make things look bad. And they probably are bad, if you're a bird, or any other non-human species, because there are more and more humans on the planet every year. So it is trivially obvious that there will be "continued habitat loss" unless you insist that per capita human wealth declines to more than make up for the increase in population. And nobody is proposing that (although perhaps this is what the bird people, and other so-called environmentalists, really want).

CERN LHC out of action for at least two months (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The Large Hadron Collider near Geneva will be out of action for at least two months, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (Cern) says.

Part of the giant physics experiment was turned off for the weekend while engineers probed a magnet failure.

But a Cern spokesman said damage to the £3.6bn ($6.6bn) particle accelerator was worse than anticipated.
...
On Friday, a failure, known as a quench, caused around 100 of the LHC's super-cooled magnets to heat up by as much as 100 degrees.

The fire brigade were called out after a tonne of liquid helium leaked into the tunnel at Cern, near Geneva.

A quench is one of the worst things that could have happened, but given how many magnets there are and how complicated the entire collider is, it's not entirely surprising that one occurred. It will mean that lots of Ph.D. students and others are fretting about the delay to their experiments.

Date published: 2008/09/20

Big bosses allegedly want "deep and rapid" cuts in emissions (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

A number of UK business leaders have called for "urgent and comprehensive" measures from the main political parties to tackle climate change.

The Prince of Wales's UK Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change said "deep and rapid" cuts were needed in greenhouse gas emissions.

The group includes the bosses of Tesco, BAA, Shell and energy group E.ON.

Greenpeace accused some of those involved of "hypocrisy of a previously unknown magnitude".

In a letter to the three major party leaders, the business leaders urged them not to allow fears of an economic slowdown to divert them from forging a cross-party consensus on policies to cut emissions.

They wrote: "We now urgently need cross-party effort to develop a comprehensive package of policy measures to change every major sector of the economy."

They said "incremental change" would be insufficient to deal with the threat of climate change.

Action would benefit business by stimulating the economy and reducing costs associated with a changing climate, they added.

But Greenpeace communications director Ben Stewart said: "It's astounding that E.ON would call for action on climate change when they're agitating to build Britain's first coal-fired power stations in decades.

"It makes an environmentalist's jaw drop to see the BAA logo on this letter when they're trying to expand airports across the nation."

It's amazing how many people suck up to royalty. And the phrase "fears of an economic slowdown" is a bit silly. Britain is pretty much already in a recession. Although the bosses of major corporations don't even notice (what's a few hundred thousand in pay gone missing here or there) the ordinary people of Britain notice. Unfortunately the accounting system for emissions is completely bogus (they are accounted for at the point of production rather than the point of consumption). So Britain can pretend to have fewer emissions than is true. The only way to get real "deep and rapid cuts" in emissions is to shut down the economy, and in particular to hammer the working class. Well, the recession is already doing that, to some extent, and the price of oil is going to get worse and worse in future, so emissions on that side will come down of their own accord. Coal is the open question. Although Greenpeace has been hysterical about this new coal-fired power plant (including committing an act of vandalism which they got away with), it is fairly obvious that coal is going to continue to play a big role in world energy sources for a very long time. The real question, then, is whether sequestration can be made to work for coal (and hopefully, eventually, this specific new plant will use this technology). Unfortunately. the so-called environmentalists don't want sequestration to work. It's far too much like "business as usual", and they have a pathological hatred of that. Hence the posturing that is a permanent feature of their comments on the BBC website.

Corpus Clock unveiled in Cambridge (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

A £1m clock called the "time eater" has been unveiled at Cambridge University by Professor Stephen Hawking.

The author of A Brief History of Time was guest of honour when the unique clock, which has no hands or numbers, was revealed at Corpus Christi College.

Dubbed the strangest clock in the world, it features a giant grasshopper and has 60 slits cut into its face which light up to show the time.

Its creator John Taylor said he "wanted to make timekeeping interesting".

The Corpus Clock will stand outside the college's library and will be on view to the public.

In addition to the VIPs, there were a few hundred members of the public at the unveiling.
crowd at Corpus Clock unveiling
The weather was near perfect (after a dreary Cambridge summer). Although the clock is quite a technical feat, it's amazing that a million pounds was spent on it.

Date published: 2008/09/18

FSA tries to stop short-selling of bank and insurance shares (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The City regulator has announced restrictions on short-selling, whereby traders bet on share prices falling, in a bid to tackle market instability.

The Financial Services Authority (FSA) is clamping down on the practice that some believe contributed to the sharp falls in HBOS shares in recent days.
...
The restrictions, which will be in force until 16 January 2009, will be reviewed after 30 days.
...
The US financial regulator, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), also announced restrictions on short-selling on Wednesday.

A rather pathetic attempt by the authorities to find a scapegoat for the current financial mess that the politicians allowed financial institutions to get into. In the UK case, it would not be surprising if Gordon Brown had a few words with the FSA to encourage them to announce this policy.

Plants might not soak up more CO2 from air as temperature increases (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Plants are unlikely to soak up more carbon dioxide from the air as the planet warms, research suggests.

US scientists found that grassland took up less CO2 than usual for two years following temperatures that are now unusually hot, but may become common.

The conclusion parallels a real-world finding from Europe's 2003 heatwave, when the continent's plant life became a net producer, not absorber, of CO2.
...
A lot of faith is being placed in some circles in the capacity of trees and plants to maintain absorption of CO2 as concentrations of the gas rise, or even to use the extra CO2 to grow faster and absorb more of it.

It is one of the reasons behind the recent upsurge of interest in having western governments pay to protect tropical forests.

But the DRI research is one of a number of pieces of evidence suggesting it will not always work. Some ecosystems might continue to absorb carbon dioxide, and perhaps increase the rate of absorption; others may react to warming by releasing the greenhouse gas.

"We conducted this study under current ambient levels of CO2 so we don't know for sure what'll happen in the future," said Professor Arnone.

An interesting study, and one which should lead to more research being done on the subject.

Date published: 2008/09/17

Surprise, if you live a "healthier" lifestyle, you might live longer (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Women could halve their risk of premature death by adopting a healthier lifestyle, research suggests.

By avoiding cigarettes, exercising regularly, eating healthily and keeping weight in check, 55% of early deaths from chronic diseases could be avoided.

Following all four lifestyle tips could cut 44% of cancer deaths and 72% of cardiovascular deaths, the study of nearly 80,000 nurses suggests.

Surprise, if you live the perfect (and perfectly boring) life, you might live longer. Unfortunately this study fails to say how much longer. It's just another in a long line of mostly irrelevant health studies which point out the totally obvious, in an attempt to browbeat ordinary people to live the way the academic middle class control freaks want them to live.

Nick Clegg latest Lib Dem leader to claim he will be in government (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Nick Clegg has said the Lib Dems are on the way to power in his first conference speech as party leader.

"I can't tell you every step on the road... but I can tell you where we're headed - government," he said in a rallying cry in Bournemouth.
...
The 38-minute speech was warmly received by delegates who gave him a four minute standing ovation.

Much of it was devoted to explaining his new tax-cutting strategy, which the party conference backed this week despite opposition from some grassroots members.

If the UK taxpayer received a 1p cut in income tax every time a Lib Dem leader claimed they were "heading" for government, nobody would pay any, and we wouldn't need Nick Clegg to tell us about his alleged (income) "tax-cutting strategy".

Some food waste collection trial was allegedly a great success (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The government's waste advisers are claiming success for a pilot project in which households had their food waste collected separately and composted.

They say 4,272 tonnes of food waste were diverted from landfill, preventing the release of 1,967 tonnes of CO2.

Nineteen English local authorities experimented with ways of collecting food waste from 94,000 households.

In the majority of areas, more than 70% of people agreed to separate their food waste for composting.

The average food waste collection was between 0.3kg and 2.2kg.

There have been widespread reports of dissatisfaction from households around the country as councils have begun the great shift away from traditional weekly bin collections. But the advisers, known as WRAP, say the response to the food waste trial is encouraging.
...
Of the non-participants interviewed, a common reason for not taking part was that residents felt that they did not produce enough food waste to make it worthwhile.

However, WRAP research in the recent "The Food We Waste" report shows that even households claiming that they generate no food waste at all produce, on average, 2.9kg per week.

So WRAP claims "the average food waste collection was between 0.3kg and 2.2kg". That's not a very precise average. Let's say 1.3kg for the sake of the argument. Yet WRAP also claims that "even households claiming that they generate no food waste at all produce, on average, 2.9kg per week", so presumably the average household wastes much more. So the 1.3kg is pathetic in comparison. And how much extra fossil fuel was consumed collecting this pathetic little amount from each and every household?

In Cambridge, as in many local authorities, there is an every-other-week green bin collection in which all organic waste, not just food waste, can be placed. Why should anyone be impressed that some local authorities have had a trial of just collecting food waste?

All in all, this story rather reads just like a press release from WRAP. No doubt these chaps are doing a splendid, just splendid, job. But does the BBC have to give them free air time to announce this?

Date published: 2008/09/16

Director of education at Royal Society resigns over creationism row (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Professor Michael Reiss has quit as director of education at the Royal Society following the controversy over his recent comments on creationism.

Last week Prof Reiss - a Church of England minister - said creationism should be discussed in science lessons if pupils raised the issue.
...
Prof Reiss, speaking at the British Association Festival of Science at the University of Liverpool, estimated that about one in 10 children was from a family which supported a creationist rather than evolutionary viewpoint.

He said his experience had led him to believe it was more effective to include discussion about creationism alongside scientific theories such as the Big Bang and evolution - rather than simply giving the impression that such children were wrong.

Reacting to his stepping down, Lord Robert Winston, professor of science and society at Imperial College London, said: "I fear that in this action the Royal Society may have only diminished itself.

"This is not a good day for the reputation of science or scientists.

"This individual was arguing that we should engage with and address public misconceptions about science - something that the Royal Society should applaud."

Winston is wrong. Reiss had to go. The Royal Society would have been much more diminished if they had let him stay. Of course there is nothing wrong with addressing "public misconceptions about science". But there is everything wrong with including a "discussion about creationism alongside scientific theories such as the Big Bang and evolution" just because an allegedly substantive minority (or even if a majority) of children have been brainwashed by their parents to believe nonsense. Unless the phrase "discussion about creationism" means "trashing creationism as a scientific theory", which was fairly evidently not Reiss' intent. (So it's perhaps worth discussing in schools what a scientific theory is and why creationism and its cousin intelligent design are not scientific theories but just religious sentiment.)

Arctic sea ice does not set a minimum record in 2008 (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Sea ice in the Arctic appears to have passed its minimum extent for 2008 without breaking last year's record.

The US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) says the ice covered 4.5 million sq km (1.7 million sq miles) at its lowest point on 12 September.

Last year's minimum was 4.1 million sq km (1.6 million sq miles).

This summer's ice cover was the second lowest since satellite records began 30 years ago, which NSIDC says emphasises the "strong negative trend".

Nothing surprising, and it still seems like the Arctic will be free of sea ice in the summer in the not-too-distant future.

Date published: 2008/09/15

The Lib Dems are allegedly going to cut income tax for some people (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The Liberal Democrats have backed plans to make cuts to income tax for people on low and middling salaries.

The party's annual conference approved a policy document promising "big" reductions for struggling families at the next election.
...
The leadership proposes to find the money for its change of policy through £20bn worth of savings in public spending.

Since the Lib Dems have not spelled out the details of their proposals (e.g. what constitutes a "middling" salary, or what services will be cut), this is mostly hot air. And indeed, they have also promised to increase so-called green taxes, which basically means whacking up the petrol tax from the current extortionate level to a super-extortionate level (since the Lib Dems, along with the rest of the academic middle class, equate "green" with "anti-car"). So although people with "middling" salaries might see a small drop in income tax, they will almost certainly also see a large increase in petrol tax, which will offset this.

Meanwhile, on the same tax front, the BBC says:

People should be given income tax breaks for living healthy lifestyles, the Liberal Democrats have said.

Health spokesman Norman Lamb said "points" should be awarded to those who attend regular cancer screenings and take part in physical activities.

Local health boards must be set up with powers to cut taxes for people who accumulate enough points, he added.

Poorer people could have their benefits increased if they pursue a better lifestyle, Mr Lamb said.

He criticised the current system for being too "Stalinist" and top-down.

Lamb, as is often the case, is taking the piss. His proposals are as top-down as they get. And you can just imagine the corruption and idiotic and expensive bureaucracy involved to make this idea work. A lot of people walk and cycle to work. Who is going to vet that activity? Or how about people who hike in the countryside. Etc. Or is the tax break only going to be offered to people who act "healthily" in some officially sanctioned way? For example, some people drive to work, and then after work drive to some "health" centre to do some exercise while watching TV. Presumably that (rather silly) activity will be deemed to be "healthy" and so worthy of a tax break. The Lib Dems are the political party of the academic middle class control freaks, and this proposal is a perfect example of that.

Arbury Park allegedly in danger of becoming the next Cambourne (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge News says:

Planning chiefs need to be wary of Arbury Park turning into "another Cambourne" according to Cambridge City councillors.

Cllr Mike Todd-Jones said, at a council meeting last week, building works at Arbury Park "seem to have virtually stopped and there is no retail centre or local amenities" on the site, mirroring criticisms brought against the Cambourne development.

Cllr Todd-Jones also highlighted the fact residents have complained of "poor access on and off the site for vulnerable users and cyclists" and "anti-social behaviour".

Cllr Todd-Jones spoke to the News following the meeting and warned against it becoming another Cambourne.

It is a bit unfortunate that Arbury Park is coming on stream just as the credit crunch is making housing difficult to sell. But Arbury Park was heading for disaster even before the credit crunch happened. The British just do not seem to be very good at urban planning.

The Accordia site, off of Brooklands Avenue, has much higher quality housing (thanks to the fact that architects were actually involved with the design). Indeed, bizarrely enough it was recently nominated for the top architecture prize in the country (the RIBA Stirling Prize). But it also has "no retail centre or local amenities".

But the problems at Arbury Park go way beyond anything seen at Accordia. For one thing there are enough horrible kids in the area to make life difficult. Indeed, as can be seen in the photo (taken 31 August 2002),
burnt out cars next to Arbury Park site
local kids used to steal cars and leave them in an underpass of the A14 and torch them. This is right at the edge of what is now Arbury Park. Well, at least the cars in the underpass have been cleared, because the guided bus uses that path. But the local kids behave the same. Indeed, the small community centre in Arbury Park is still awaiting completion but has had its windows smashed already.

Beyond that, the British urban planning elite spend all their time and effort trying to screw car drivers. So rather than worry about whether the housing was any good, or whether Arbury Park would have noise problems because it bordered the A14, or how people would shop for their groceries, the Cambridgeshire planners just worried about how to screw Arbury Park residents who were car owners. The result is plain for all to see.

The world's oceans are allegedly noisy (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Levels of noise in the world's oceans are causing serious problems for whales, dolphins and other marine mammals, a report warns.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw) says undersea noise blocks animals' communication and disrupts feeding.

Naval sonar has been implicated in the mass deaths of some cetaceans.

In some regions, the level of ocean noise is doubling each decade, and Ifaw says protective measures are failing.

"Humanity is literally drowning out marine mammals," said Robbie Marsland, UK director of Ifaw.

"While nobody knows the precise consequences for specific animals, unless the international community takes preventive measures we are likely to discover only too late the terrible damage we're causing."

In its global assessment of cetacean species, released last month, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) concluded that ocean noise posed a significant threat.
...
Noise generated by ships' engines and propellers, and by seismic airguns used in oil and gas exploration, produce a range of frequencies that can interfere with both these groups of species, Ifaw concludes.

Surprise, Ifaw wants the world to stop. And while they might get some support for making naval sonar less hostile to marine animals, they are going to have a much harder sell if they go after ordinary international shipping, because the entire global economy depends on this. Of course Ifaw is academic middle class, so doesn't care about the economy, but the rest of the world does.

Date published: 2008/09/12

Royal Society director of education says creationism should be taught in science lessons (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Creationism should be discussed in school science lessons, rather than excluded, says the director of education at the Royal Society.

Professor Michael Reiss says that if pupils have strongly-held family beliefs about creationism such ideas should be explored.

Rather than dismissing creationism as a "misconception", he says it should be seen as a cultural "world view".

This was more valuable than simply "banging on" about evolution, he said.

Rev Prof Reiss, a biologist and Church of England minister, said he now believed it was more effective to engage with pupils' ideas about creationism, rather than to obstruct discussion with those who do not accept the scientific version of the evolution of species.
...
Prof Reiss, speaking at the British Association Festival of Science at the University of Liverpool, estimates that about one in 10 children is from a family which supports a creationist view rather than evolutionary.

He says that in his experience it is more effective to include discussion about creationism alongside scientific theories such as the Big Bang and evolution.

"An increasing percentage of children in the UK come from families that do not accept the scientific version of the history of the universe and the evolution of species.

"What are we to do with those children? My experience after having tried to teach biology for 20 years is if one simply gives the impression that such children are wrong, then they are not likely to learn much about the science that one really wants them to learn.
...
Prof Reiss said that he had shifted his own views on how to respond to creationism.

"I realised that simply banging on about evolution and natural selection didn't lead some pupils to change their minds at all.

"Now I would be more content simply for them to understand it as one way of understanding the universe."

This was challenged by Simon Underdown, senior lecturer in the department of anthropology at Oxford Brookes University.

Creationism should be taught within the context of religion rather than science, said Dr Underdown. "It is not something that fits within the mainstream of science."

Hopefully the Royal Society will decide that Reiss is no longer worth keeping as their director of education. How can anyone who claims to have any interest in science say that "I would be more content simply for them to understand it as one way of understanding the universe." Creationism leads to no understanding of the universe. These children's parents, who are foisting these ideas on them, do not want to understand the universe. They want to believe in some random mythology. If 1 in 10 children believed that 2+2=5, would Reiss be so tolerant? At best, creationism belongs in a religious education class. It is not a scientific theory. The Royal Society will become a laughing stock if they start pushing the Reiss line seriously.

Magic allegedly makes children more sociable (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Children taught how to do magic tricks instead of attending standard personal and social education lessons perform better socially, a psychologist says.

Magic requires self-discipline and an ability to empathise with your audience, Prof Richard Wiseman told the British Association Science Festival.

His team thinks it could help with bullying and aggressive behaviour.

He has tested it by teaching magic tricks to children aged 10 to 12 in Herefordshire.

"Social skills are quite a difficult thing to take on board," said Prof Wiseman, a psychologist based at the University of Hertfordshire, who began his working life as a professional magician.

Children are usually taught about these skills in personal, social and health education (PSHE) classes, but Prof Wiseman has been trying out a new approach - using magic to teach citizenship.

He says learning a trick requires self-discipline, and performing it demands that the magician thinks about how the trick looks from another person's perspective.

"Tricks develop self-esteem, confidence and empathy. These are all useful traits to teach children," he told the conference in Liverpool.

Prof Wiseman compared children's levels of self-esteem and sociability after these lessons with those when they had attended only the standard social education lessons - where self-reflection and moral tasks were the focus.

He found that children were significantly more sociable and confident after the magic lesson than after the standard PSHE lessons.

This kind of "miracle cure" approach to education is made by some person or other every few months and the BBC always laps it up. It's hardly surprising that any single non-standard lesson would result in just about any sensible measure you like improving in students because such a lesson is not as boring as any standard lesson is, which comes on top of all the other standard lessons students have to put up with. And these salesmen can always easily come up with pseudo-scientific reasons why this approach must be right ("a trick requires self-discipline", blah, blah, blah), but it proves nothing. Magic is not a magic bullet.

Date published: 2008/09/11

Universities secretary claims that government does not meddle in admissions (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Universities Secretary John Denham insists the Westminster government is not going to "start meddling" in the way universities choose students.

He said the target to have half of all young people in higher education was right but ministers were not forcing universities to take poor students.
...
Speaking on the Today programme on BBC Radio Four, Mr Denham said fair access to universities was vital.

"We can't afford to waste the talents of young people in this country and widening participation to higher education in general, and fair access to the most competitive selective universities, is crucial.

"We work with universities in many ways to make the case for widening participation and also to encourage universities to work with schools as they do to get students to apply to universities," he said.

"What we don't do is tell individual universities how to run their admissions policies. Our universities' strength depends on their autonomy and there is a line we don't cross.

"So we will argue passionately that we are not making the best use of too many people who are very able, we want to see change in schools and universities but we are not going to start meddling, interfering in how they run their admissions procedures."

Well, that's clearly nonsense. They constantly meddle in admissions, and in particular set targets for how many State versus non-State school students should be admitted, in particular into Oxbridge. Denham by a clever choice of words might like to claim that this is not procedure, just outcome, but it's a fatuous distinction to make.

Date published: 2008/09/10

CERN Large Hadron Collider powers up (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Scientists have hailed a successful switch-on for an enormous experiment which will recreate the conditions a few moments after the Big Bang.

They have now fired two beams of particles called protons around the 27km-long tunnel which houses the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

The £5bn machine on the Swiss-French border is designed to smash protons together with cataclysmic force.

Scientists hope it will shed light on fundamental questions in physics.

It's an amazing piece of technology, but that doesn't mean it's worthwhile. And the statement that it "will recreate the conditions a few moments after the Big Bang" is fairly meaningless, since existing particle accelerators also do this, just not quite so far back. But it's evidently a phrase that non-physicists (at least those who write for the media) seem to love, so it gets repeated endlessly as if we are all supposed to be in awe. When the physicists apply for even more money for the next accelerator, you can guarantee they will come out with the same slogans all over again.

Greenpeace vandals cleared of causing criminal damage (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Six Greenpeace activists have been cleared of causing criminal damage during a protest over coal-fired power.

The activists were charged with causing £30,000 of damage after they scaled Kingsnorth power station in Hoo, Kent.

At Maidstone Crown Court Judge David Caddick said the jury had to examine whether protesters had a lawful excuse.

The defendants said the protest was lawful because it aimed to prevent damaging emissions. Energy firm E.ON said lives had been put at risk.

Surprise, once again academic middle class vandals get away with vandalism. And with this dreadful decision, in theory these people (and anyone else) can go around smashing up whatever they don't like: random power stations, random cars on the street, random supermarket displays, random factories, etc. They cannot win the argument democratically so they try and win it via vandalism and intimidation, and the court unfortunately ruled in their favour today.

Republicans cry about the big bad wolf and Sarah Palin (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The US Democratic presidential candidate has denied claims of sexism after likening his rival's promise of change to putting "lipstick on a pig".

Barack Obama said Republican John McCain's outrage was "phoney", a diversion from debating real issues.

The controversy began on Tuesday after Mr Obama said his rival was advocating change while pursuing the politics of the current Bush administration.

Mr McCain's campaign accused him of smearing running mate Sarah Palin.

Mrs Palin joked last week that lipstick was all that separated a "hockey mom" and a pitbull.

Mr Obama made the remark during a rally in Virginia where he accused the McCain campaign of trying suddenly to adopt the promise of change - a platform he himself has been running on for months.

Drawing a link between the Republican senator for Arizona and President George W Bush, he suggested change would be impossible for Mr McCain to achieve.

"You can put lipstick on a pig. It's still a pig. You can wrap up an old fish in a piece of paper and call it change. It's still going to stink after eight years. We've had enough."

Mrs Palin, a self-described "hockey mom", made her joke about lipstick during a speech at the Republican National Convention last Wednesday.

Soon after Mr Obama's comments, McCain aides produced an election campaign ad referring to "sexism in American life", and accusing the Illinois senator of "smearing" Mrs Palin, governor of Alaska.

The Republicans are pathetic. They have no issues to discuss with America, so instead they discuss dross. And in this case, their aim is to further push the risible claim that the whole world is ganging up on poor old Sarah Palin. Poor old Sarah Palin, only one of the most corrupt small town mayors, and apsiring corrupt governors, in America, catapulted to mega-stardom by an old man with nothing to lose. To think that this woman could be running the most powerful country in the world in a few years, it beggars belief. You can imagine the Republicans then would be crying about how that nasty Vladimir Putin (or pick your favourite "bad guy of the minute") is making fun of poor old Sarah Palin. (Perhaps he'll bring a lipstick along and wave it in her face just to have a good laugh.)

And needless to say, even if Obama was saying that Palin was a pig, that could hardly be deemed to be "smearing" her, since pigs are intelligent and there is no indication that she is.

Date published: 2008/09/09

British airlines want relaxation of hand luggage restrictions (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Virgin Atlantic says "now is the time" for a review to be carried out of the current restrictions on hand luggage.

Director of communications Paul Charles said people were confused by different restrictions in different airports - including the rules on carrying liquid.

The call comes after eight men were tried over an alleged plot to blow up planes. None was found guilty but three were convicted of conspiracy to murder.

The government said it was "right to continue" with luggage restrictions.
...
BBC transport correspondent Tom Symonds said that senior BA sources would like the restrictions lifted, but only if it was safe to do so.

And they want the rules to be the same across Europe to avoid passenger confusion.

Needless to say, BA is correct that the rules should be the same across Europe. But there is little chance the current government will change the rules back to what they used to be because that would be admitting they had made a gigantic mistake in the first place.

Food should allegedly be labelled with "sustainability" information (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Food packaging could be embedded with computer chips that instantly link your phone to an on-line sustainable food guide, a UK conference has heard.

The guides would help consumers navigate their way through the ethical and ecological decisions about what they eat, the proponents argue.

The UK should lead Europe on this approach, food policy expert Professor Tim Lang said.

The criteria used to judge food sustainability are still up for debate.

"Do I eat green beans from Kenya, because they are good for me, or do I say no because there are four litres of water embedded in each stem of green bean?" asked Professor Lang, from City University, London.

He said scientists and policy-makers now realised the environmental, ethical, and health impacts of the food we ate.

Producers needed to find a way to present this information to the consumer, he told the conference.

He outlined a number of criteria that consumers should consider when buying food: how much energy and water are used to produce each calorie of food; what is the impact of the food item on climate, biodiversity, and the labour-force of the country it was grown in, and what are the health and financial costs of food.

"Packaging could be the point of entry for [this] information," said Professor Lang.

Information on socio-economic and environmental criteria could be presented simply through "food flowers" - diagrams where each petal represents a different impact, with the shaded area of a petal showing how highly a food item scores.

The more detailed information could be accessed from a website and uploaded from food packaging to our mobile phones.

There would, however, need to be universal agreement on which issues should be reflected in the labels.

"That needs governments to agree with companies, to agree with civil society to agree what those criteria are," explained Professor Lang.

The academic middle class in action. Nobody would care about this information except for the academic middle class, and in any case it would almost certainly be so arbitrary, and probably unfactual, as to be misleading. Well, perhaps the British public ought to be informed that, for example, British tomatoes are much more energy intensive end-to-end than Spanish ones are, in spite of the transport, so "local" produce is not necessarily "environmentally friendly", despite what most of the academic middle class claim. And a lot of fruit and vegetables are sold without packaging, is Lang going to force everybody (including food markets) to buy these chips and package everything up? And what vast new bureaucracy is going to be created to vet all this information? No doubt Lang would offer his advice for some large consultancy fees.

Date published: 2008/09/08

David King says less money should be spent on old science (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The most brilliant minds should be directed to solving Earth's greatest challenges, such as climate change, says Sir David King.

The former UK chief scientist will use his presidential address at the BA Science Festival to call for a gear-change among innovative thinkers.

He will suggest that less time and money is spent on endeavours such as space exploration and particle physics.

He says population growth and poverty in Africa also demand attention.

"The challenges of the 21st Century are qualitatively different from anything that we've had to face up to before," he told reporters before the opening of the festival, which is being held this year in Liverpool.

"This requires a re-think of priorities in science and technology and a redrawing of our society's inner attitudes towards science and technology."

Sir David's remarks will be controversial because they are being made just as the UK is about to celebrate its participation in the Large Hadron Collider, the world's biggest physics experiment.

The Collider, built at the Cern laboratory under the Swiss-French border, is starting full operations this Wednesday.

It will seek to understand the building blocks of matter, and, in particular, try to find a mechanism that can explain why matter has mass.

This international venture is extremely expensive, however. The UK alone has contributed more than £500m to the LHC - the largest sum of money to date invested by a UK government in a single scientific project.

Physicists had a huge amount of credibility, and hence power, after the second world war because of nuclear bombs. This has resulted in them being able to get hold of astounding amounts of money for these large toys. And somehow the astronomers have successfully attached themselves to the physicists' coat tails, and together these two subjects are given a vast amount of research money. But you could view these two areas as "old science", and it will be interesting to see what future generations make of throwing so much money at a machine whose main purpose in life is to find the Higgs boson, and where the most interesting outcome would be if it is not found. King is correct that more attention should be paid to newer problems, in particular carbon emissions. As well as research money, though, these newer subjects also have to be able to attract good students by making the work look "sexy". The high energy physicists somehow manage to make their work sound "sexy" even though they are just repeating the same old nostrums to the public that they were making over 20 years ago. It is not clear if chemistry and engineering will ever be made to sound "sexy".

Yet another Blair-inspired hysteria determined to be wrong (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Three men have been found guilty of a massive terrorist conspiracy to murder involving home-made bombs.

Abdulla Ahmed Ali, Assad Sarwar and Tanvir Hussain's convictions follow a huge terrorism inquiry, which led to sweeping airport restrictions.

The three, on trial with another five men, had pleaded guilty to plotting to cause an explosion. Seven admitted plotting to cause a public nuisance.

The eighth man, Mohammad Gulzar, was cleared at Woolwich Crown Court.

The group had been accused of plotting to bring down transatlantic airliners with home-made liquid explosives, disguised as soft drinks.

But after more than 50 hours of deliberations, the jury did not find any of the defendants guilty of conspiring to target aircraft.

The BBC might as well have said that not only were these people not found guilty of trying to blow up aircraft, but even if they had tried to do this, they would have had no hope in succeeding, given how they allegedly tried to do it. This is yet another of the legacies of Blair-inspired hysteria: people cannot even take drinking water through airports, except in risible amounts.

Date published: 2008/09/07

UN climate scientist says the world should eat less meat (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

People should consider eating less meat as a way of combating global warming, says the UN's top climate scientist.

Rajendra Pachauri, who chairs the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), will make the call at a speech in London on Monday evening.

UN figures suggest that meat production puts more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than transport.
...
"The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has estimated that direct emissions from meat production account for about 18% of the world's total greenhouse gas emissions," he told BBC News.

"So I want to highlight the fact that among options for mitigating climate change, changing diets is something one should consider."

The FAO figure of 18% includes greenhouse gases released in every part of the meat production cycle - clearing forested land, making and transporting fertiliser, burning fossil fuels in farm vehicles, and the front and rear end emissions of cattle and sheep.
...
Transport, by contrast, accounts for just 13% of humankind's greenhouse gas footprint, according to the IPCC.
...
But the biggest source globally of carbon dioxide from meat production is land clearance, particularly of tropical forest, which is set to continue as long as demand for meat rises.
...
Dr Pachauri [sees this] as an issue of personal choice.

"I'm not in favour of mandating things like this, but if there were a (global) price on carbon perhaps the price of meat would go up and people would eat less," he said.

Boy, you would have thought he would know better than to start lecturing people about what they eat. But it is interesting about how so-called environmentalists in England get hysterical about transport (they believe the peasants should not be allowed to drive or fly) but rarely, mention meat, even though Pachauri would like to claim the latter is a bigger problem. (Of course whether the 13% and 18% figures are broadly accurate or not is open to debate. It is odd to include land clearance directly in the meat producing emissions total since it is a one-off set-up cost, not a recurring event, but perhaps they have taken that into account.) The one sane thing Pachauri says is at the end. We should have a global price on carbon and then everyone can decide for themselves on what to spend their own money, without having to listen to endless patronising lectures from anyone.

Head of the TUC thinks the rich should pay a lot more tax (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

People taking home more than £100,000 a year should pay higher tax rates, the Trades Union Congress has suggested.

On the eve of its conference in Brighton, the TUC said the "super-rich" were better off in real terms than their Victorian era counterparts.

The £27.7bn fortune of steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal was said to be double his nearest 19th Century equivalent.

General secretary Brendan Barber said extreme wealth was "socially divisive and morally objectionable".

The TUC says higher tax rates should be imposed on earnings between £100,000-£150,000 and over £200,000.

Barber is obviously up to the good old 1970s trade unionist tricks and games. So on the one hand he mentions the "super-rich" and naivly compares the richest person in the country with the richest person over a hundred years ago. (Naivly because the median wage will have more than doubled since then in real terms as well.)

On the other hand he then delibarately confuses that non-issue with an attack on the not-so-super-rich who earn 100k. Well, exacly why should these people pay more tax, in order to pay for the services that Barber wants for his members? Someone who earns 200k already pays around 70k in (income) tax per year. Gee whiz, obviously they should really be forking over 80k or 90k or 100k, that would be much "fairer".

It is unfortunate that certain trade unionists are still waging class warfare. It's time they grow up and join the 21st century.

Date published: 2008/09/05

Sea levels allegedly unlikely to rise by more than 2m this century (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Sea levels globally are very unlikely to rise by more than 2m (7ft) this century, scientists conclude.

Major increases would have to be fuelled by a faster flow of glaciers on the Greenland or Antarctic ice sheets.

But writing in the journal Science, a US team concludes that a rise of 2m would need glaciers to reach speeds that are "physically untenable".

However, even increases substantially less than 2m would cause major issues for many societies, they say.
...
[T]his latest research tallies broadly with the conclusions of other groups that have examined the question using different approaches.

In its landmark assessment of climate change published last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that sea level rise would probably fit in the range between 28 and 43cm over the century, although 59cm was a possibility.

The current rate is about 3mm per year.

But the IPCC specifically excluded the mechanism able to produce the biggest amounts of water quickly - acceleration in the flow of ice from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, the world's two major ice masses that would between them raise sea levels by about 70m if they completely melted.

Of course this all depends on what happens over the next few decades. Now 3mm per year equates to 30cm per century, so the rate would have to get a lot faster to even get near 2m (but needless to say, this could easily happen).

Wind power needs backup for non-windy days (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

By 2020, more than a third of Britain's electricity will be generated by wind power, according to government plans. But what happens on calm days?
...
Denmark is proud of the fact that a fifth of its electricity comes from wind. But Hugh Sharman, an energy consultant, says this figure should be treated with caution. Sifting through the charts in his crow's nest office overlooking the Jutland peninsula in Denmark, a different picture emerges.

"Every time the wind is high, the exports are high. Every time the wind is low, of course there are few exports". Mr Sharman says more than half of Denmark's wind power is exported - so it only actually uses nine percent of the wind energy it generates. If the Danes couldn't do this, their system wouldn't work.

The UK, however, doesn't have this option. There is a link to France and one being planned to Holland but these won't able to shift the amount of power needed to balance our system. Peter Jorgensen believes it can, but it won't be cheap.

"You could build a system that would balance on it own," says Mr Jorgensen, "but it would be very costly"

Other options for Britain would be to store its wind power in giant batteries, but this is difficult and very expensive.

Instead the UK will need to look at back-up power stations for the many days when it is not windy enough . In the short term that will come from fossil fuel generation, says Nick Rowe, an energy campaigner with Friends of the Earth.

It does not mean we will need the fossil fuel generation all the time but it means they need to be turned on when necessary."

This back-up will probably have to be gas-fired power stations as these are the easiest to turn off and on.

But this will mean a "dash for gas" - a resource that Russia, hardly Britain's most cooperative ally, has in spades.

Dieter Helm, professor of energy policy at Oxford University, says Britain could find itself badly exposed. It would be "about the worst possible thing that one could conceive of given what's going on in Russia and given our dependence on Russian gas supplies".

It could also prove costly. The energy company, E.On recently estimated back-up power could cost up to £10bn per year across all the energy suppliers. That would add £400 to the average annual household energy bill.

Unfortunately the BBC does not publish enough articles like this. The basic conclusion is that wind power in effect is a lot more expensive than the zealots claim. Needless to say, for this reason alone, it should only be one part of the carbon emission reduction solution.

Of course the so-called environmentalists want energy to be expensive, so for them this costly redundancy could be deemed to be a feature, not a bug. For them it is a disaster if energy is cheap, because cheap energy means people can do things (and the so-called environmentalists don't want people to do most things that people want to do, so denigrate these activities with labels like "consumerism").

Date published: 2008/09/04

Coal plant in Germany tries out carbon capture and storage (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Beneath the gargantuan grey boiler towers of Schwarze Pumpe power station which pierce the skies of northern Germany, a Lilliputian puzzle of metal boxes and shining canisters is about to mark a moment of industrial history.

This mini power plant is a pilot project for carbon capture and storage (CCS) - the first coal-fired plant in the world ready to capture and store its own CO2 emissions.

It's good to see someone trying this technology out. Although CCS is of course not going to solve carbon emissions by itself, it's one technology that might turn out to be a crucial part of the entire package.

So-called environmentalists justify vandalism (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Multi-millionaire environmentalist Zac Goldsmith has appeared as a defence witness in the trial of six Greenpeace activists charged with criminal damage.

He is the second high-profile defence witness to appear. US physicist James Hansen gave evidence on Wednesday.

Mr Goldsmith told Maidstone Crown Court an action could be justified if it was to prevent larger crimes taking place.

The protesters are charged with causing £30,000 worth of damage after scaling Kingsnorth power station, in Hoo, Kent.

They claim they were lawfully right to damage the plant because they believed it would prevent further damage around the world from global warming.

The academic middle class (and the filthy rich Goldsmith) taking the piss as usual. With this excuse, one could be forgiven for breaking into the offices of Greenpeace and smashing the computers, which after all use electricity, and so contribute to global warming (not to mention they are made of toxic materials, etc.).

These people have not won the argument through democratic means, so they are using un-democratic vandalism and intimidation to try and achieve their aims. When the working class behave like this, they are called yobs. When the academic middle class behave like this, they often get away with it because the judges are of course also academic middle class and think this is all jolly good fun.

Date published: 2008/09/03

Strong tropical storms have allegedly become stronger (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The strongest tropical storms are becoming even stronger as the world's oceans warm, scientists have confirmed.

Analysis of satellite data shows that in the last 25 years, strong cyclones, hurricanes and typhoons have become more frequent in most of the tropics.

Writing in the journal Nature, they say the number of weaker storms has not noticeably altered.

The idea that climate change might be linked to tropical storms has been highly controversial.

A few years ago, it was claimed that hurricanes would become more frequent as well as more common in a warming world.

The swirling winds pick up energy from a warm ocean.

But recent research has suggested they would occur less frequently, though likely to pack a more powerful punch each time.

Well nothing radical here, but obviously it is only one study and there will be others examining this all in further detail.

John McCain cries about spilt milk (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

John McCain's US presidential campaign has angrily condemned the media for questioning the way his running mate Sarah Palin's candidacy was vetted.

Mrs Palin is preparing a key address to the Republican National Convention - days after she revealed that her unmarried daughter, 17, was pregnant.

Mr McCain's team denied claims it had not checked her background thoroughly.

Mr McCain is due to be nominated on Wednesday as the party's presidential candidate for the 4 November election.

Mrs Palin will make her key speech at the convention in St Paul, Minnesota, on Wednesday.

Ahead of the address, a written statement from senior campaign adviser Steve Schmidt said the "nonsense" over the vetting process for Mrs Palin should end.

"This vetting controversy is a faux media scandal designed to destroy the first female Republican nominee for vice president of the United States who has never been a part of the old boys' network that has come to dominate the news establishment of this country," the statement said.

Poor old John McCain. He chooses one of the least qualified people he could have chosen to be his vice president, and is then surprised that everyone is taking the piss out of him. By all accounts he just made the choice up at the last minute. As for Palin herself, the pregnancy story is irrelevant (even if it shows she has not been very good at communicating with her daughter). What is relevant is that she is one of the most extreme right-wing religious nutters you can imagine, and fairly clearly well versed in abusing her political office to boot (so very old boys' network). Hopefully the (not very bright) US electorate will for once choose wisely.

Date published: 2008/09/02

UK government wants to throw money at the housing industry (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Homebuyers will not have to pay stamp duty on properties costing £175,000 or less for the next 12 months.

The current £125,000 threshold will be raised as part of a package of measures aimed at boosting the housing market.

Someone buying a home for £175,000 will save £1,750 under the scheme, which is likely to cost the Treasury £600m.

The government estimates half of all property transactions will now be exempt from stamp duty - up from one third when the threshold was £125,000.
...
Other housing moves announced by the government include:

Under the new loans system, called HomeBuy Direct, households in England earning less than £60,000 will be offered loans free of charge for five years on new properties, co-funded by the state and developers.

Once the five-year "free" period is up, homebuyers will be asked to pay a fee, the Department for Communities and Local Government said - although no more detail of this was provided.

In a statement, the DCLG said: "Not only will this [HomeBuy Direct] help first-time buyers... it will help the housebuilding industry weather difficult conditions."

Most of the substantive announcements are bad policy, with Gordon Brown yet again putting what he perceives as his narrow partisan interest above the interest of the country (not that this will avoid him getting defeated at the next election).

The one bad thing about stamp duty is that the rate is absolute, not marginal. Unfortunately this one bad thing is never discussed. Instead here we have an arbitrary raising of the base threshold for an arbitrary period of one year. So now, temporarily, someone buying a home for 175k will pay no stamp duty, and someone buying a home for 176k will pay 1760 pounds in stamp duty. Well that makes sense.

And because the rate is absolute, not marginal, this raising of the base threshold will mainly help people buying houses in northern, rather than southern, England. It seems likely that the 600m pounds to pay for this will just be shoved on national debt, but in effect, it is yet another transfer of wealth from the south to the north, for no particularly good reason.

And this new loans system, HomeBuy Direct, seems really ripe for corruption. For example, if an unmarried couple wants to claim they are really two households, in order to get under the 60k earning threshold, then no doubt they will easily be able to do so. Why should households earning under 60k be given special handouts? And more importantly, why should the country be bailing out the housebuilding industry? It will be interesting to see the details of this scheme. Again, how is this going to be paid for?

Date published: 2008/09/01

Surprise, exercise might make you live longer (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Taking the stairs instead of the lift at work could save your life, claim Swiss researchers.

Banning the use of lifts and escalators led to better fitness, less body fat, trimmer waistlines and a drop in blood pressure, a study of 69 people found.

This translates to a 15% cut in the risk of dying prematurely from any cause, calculate the University of Geneva team.
...
Before the study, the 69 participants had what the researchers described as a sedentary lifestyle, meaning they did less than two hours of exercise or sport each week and climbed fewer than 10 flights of stairs each day.

Over the 12 weeks of the study, the volunteers, who were hospital employees at the university, were asked to use the stairs exclusively at work instead of taking the lift.

On average, the number of flights of stairs - classed as climbing up or down one storey - rose from five per day to 23.

After the three months of the trial, tests showed they had better lung capacity, blood pressure and cholesterol measurements.

Their weight, body fat and waist measurements also dropped, and their capacity for doing aerobic exercise improved.

Taken together, this equates to a 15% reduction in the chances of dying young, say the investigators.

Who would have thought it, eh. Exercise makes you live longer (if you don't meanwhile die of a heart attack). It's amazing this kind of research gets funded. Next we will find that if only people walked to the corner shop instead of drive, they will live longer. These researchers, along with most of their fellow travellers in the academic middle class, fail to grasp one simple point. Most people prefer the sedentary lifestyle. But heaven forbid that people be allowed to do what they want to do. The academic middle class must instead constantly hector them to do what the academic middle class want them to do.

Crime level forecast to rise due to economic downturn (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Crime levels are set to rise because of the economic downturn, according to a leaked Home Office letter.

The draft letter to Downing Street said rising property crime and violent crime, and increased hostility to migrants, were likely.

It also forecast more smuggling of fuel, alcohol and tobacco.

Home Office minister Tony McNulty said the letter was a "statement of the blindingly obvious", as it was clear crime may go up in the slowdown.

The letter was draft advice which had not been cleared by home secretary Jacqui Smith and had not been sent to Number 10, the Home Office said.

The letter based its suggestions about property crime, such as burglary, and violent crime on the experience of the recession in the early 1990s.

It said if the economic slowdown was on a similar scale over the next couple of years, property crime would be likely to rise by 7% in 2008 and a further 2% in 2009.
...
Shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve said: "It is deeply disturbing that a department as shambolic as the Home Office already faces such problems as a result of the economic downturn. It is patently not equipped to cope. Why haven't they prepared for this?

Good for McNulty, standing his ground rather than pandering to an inane BBC report. Needless to say, the state of the economy is only one factor that is linked with crime, and other factors, e.g. how many youngish men there are in society from deprived socioeconomic backgrounds, could well be more important. So McNulty rather overstates the "blindingly obvious" bit, but his basic point is sound. It seems the BBC feels the need to grandstand any statement that indicates the government believes the world does not get inextricably better with every five year plan. And the media wonders why no politician ever speaks honestly. Well, even worse than the BBC, the statement by Dominic Grieve is just plain pathetic.

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