Azara Blog: December 2008 archive complete

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Date published: 2008/12/30

Cars should allegedly be fitted with speed-limiting devices (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Speed-limiting devices should be fitted to cars on a voluntary basis to help save lives and cut carbon emissions, according to a new report.

The government's transport advisers claim the technology would cut road accidents with injuries by 29%.

The device automatically slows a car down to within the limit for the road on which it is being driven.

But campaign group Safe Speed warns against its use, saying it encourages drivers to enter a "zombie mode".

Ministers are planning to help councils draw up digital maps with details of the legal speed on every road.

The speed-limiting devices will then use satellite positioning to check a vehicle's location and when its speed exceeds the limit, power will be reduced and the brakes applied if necessary.

The Commission for Integrated Transport and the Motorists' Forum, which both advise the government, are calling on ministers to promote a wide introduction of the system.

The Commission for Integrated Transport (CfIT) is just a group of typical academic middle class people who hate drivers (excepting themselves, of course). The Motorists' Forum was set up by the CfIT, and so has the same outlook on life, as is clear from their position here. These organisations do not represent drivers.

It is pretty obvious that the government will never get this system to be perfect. There are minor roads that are very close and parallel to motorways. One person's GPS system will say their car can do 30, and the next person's GPS will say that their car can do 70. It's a recipe for disaster. And given the government's inability to put in place any IT system without completely screwing it up, one can pretty much guarantee that the system will work even worse than can be imagined.

Of course there is a useful side effect here. The government wants to track every vehicle in the country (they can already half do this via cameras, but it's clunky). This is going to happen in a few years with road pricing, in any case, but these speed-limiting devices would be a way of getting it all introduced sooner. Welcome to control freak Britain.

Gordon Brown is against allowing people to die (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has told the BBC he is "totally against" changing laws on euthanasia.

Speaking to the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, he said it was not for him to create laws to "put pressure on people to end their lives".

But campaign group Dignity in Dying said it should not be a decision for the PM but for the adult themselves.

It is illegal in the UK to aid and abet a suicide and anyone convicted faces up to 14 years in prison.

More than 100 Britons are thought to have gone to die at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal, provided it has not been carried out for a profit.

The Swiss and Dignity in Dying have this correct. Brown has it completely wrong, not to mention being totally dishonest. He, and his fellow travellers, "put pressure on people not to end their lives" (trivially, since it is illegal). Allowing people the right to die does not equate to pressurising them to die. The government should have very little say in how and when people choose to die.

The world is allegedly too variable for UK wildlife (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

UK wildlife is struggling to cope as erratic and unseasonal weather has taken its toll for a second consecutive year, the National Trust says.

It says birds, mammals and particularly insects have all suffered from a cold, late spring, a wet summer with little sunshine and a long, dry autumn.

The trust says species under threat include puffins, marsh fritillary butterflies and lesser horseshoe bats.

They warned another wet summer in 2009 could be a disaster for insects.

Studies of the past year by the trust's conservation experts show the impact of the weather and how some wildlife has become out-of-step with the usual seasonal patterns:

Matthew Oates, a conservation adviser for the National Trust, said: "Many iconic species closely associated with the four seasons are having to cope with higher incidents of poor weather as our climate becomes more unpredictable.

The BBC regularly runs "end of the world" stories just like this, all based on some press release from some "worthy" (academic middle class) organisation or other, all without any analysis or thought or verification. So, with regard to this particular article, it is not unusual to have snowdrops in January (even early January). It is not particularly unusual to have warm weather in the UK before April and then snow in April (or even later). (And this year it only snowed in Cambridge in March, not April. No doubt it snowed somewhere in Britain in April.) It is also not particularly unusual to have wet weather (ask any tourist who comes to Britain). Perhaps the National Trust will tell us which years over the last 50 (say) have been "normal".

Current food production system allegedly showing "structural failures" (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

A sustainable global food system in the 21st Century needs to be built on a series of "new fundamentals", according to a leading food expert.

Tim Lang warned that the current system, designed in the 1940s, was showing "structural failures", such as "astronomic" environmental costs.

The new approach needed to address key fundamentals like biodiversity, energy, water and urbanisation, he added.

Professor Lang is a member of the UK government's newly formed Food Council.
Professor Lang lists a series of "new fundamentals", which he outlined during a speech he made as the president-elect of charity Garden Organic, which will shape future food production, including:

Professor Lang said that in order to feed a projected nine billion people by 2050, policymakers and scientists face a fundamental challenge: how can food systems work with the planet and biodiversity, rather than raiding and pillaging it?

The typical thoughts of a typical member of the academic middle class. Unfortunately Lang offers no real way forward. So let him propose how to grow at least 50% more food for the 50% more people by 2050, all using less area than is used today (since more area will be required for other things like housing, commerce, forests, etc.).

Date published: 2008/12/23

Raymond Blanc wants people to spend more on food (permanent blog link)

For some reason (evidently it pays to be rich and famous) Raymond Blanc is given rein to write a long piece on the BBC, which for the first half just rehashes trite commentary about Christmas customs. But he finally gets to the real point of his article in the second half, with the usual middle class (i.e. rich person's) diatribe against "cheap" food:

It's the one time of year when, even if we don't splash out on an organic turkey, we do ungrudgingly spend a little more than usual on our food.

If only it were possible for us to adopt this attitude for the rest of the year, what a difference it would make to our agriculture, to our regions, to our farmers and to our well-being.

Merely by dint of the fact that we allow ourselves a few food "luxuries" in our Christmas shopping, we trade up from our normal diet, and we try to buy food of a better quality than what we consume the rest of the year.

Admitting this to ourselves is the first step in improving our diet - and our relationship to the sources of our food.

Yes, we can tell the difference. Food that has been grown for its quality, not its quantity, is in the end better for our enjoyment, our families and better for the environment. I don't need to argue this - deep down, we all know it's true.

I have little time for those who patronise the poor by saying that they can't actually afford better food.

We can all afford better food - it is a question of priorities. Sadly, we in Britain choose to spend a lower proportion of our disposable income on our food than do other people in Europe.

Every British government since World War II has colluded in this skewed value system by pursuing a policy of cheap food.

We don't need cheap food any more than we need junk food. We need good, wholesome, nutritious, interesting food, sold at a realistic price, and grown in a way that does not damage the environment but enhances it.

And if that means saving a bit of money by spending less on the tinsel, why, what better time than Christmas to learn that lesson and teach it to our children?

Well, Blanc doesn't "patronise the poor by saying that they can't actually afford better food". No, he is much better. He patronises the poor by saying "we don't need cheap food". Only rich (middle class) people ever say things like that. Given that Blanc runs one of the most expensive restaurants in the country, he is not exactly promoting "good, wholesome, nutritious, interesting food, sold at a realistic price". McDonald's does a better job of that than he does.

And surprise. The more you spend on something generally the higher the quality. Who would have thought it, eh. Who would have thought that a Mercedes was better quality than a Fiat? (Or at least it was before Mercedes-Benz went down market.) Who would have thought that a Mac was better quality than a PC? Who would have thought that Harrods had better food than Asda? This Blanc guy is a genius.

It is not up to the middle class people who run Britain to preach to the ordinary people of Britain what to eat and what not to eat. Ordinary people are perfectly capable of deciding this by themselves, without being patronised.

Unfortunately the BBC is run by middle class people like Blanc, and so there is a regular diet of this kind of diatribe. Indeed, the worst programme on Radio 4 (so even worse than Women's Hour) is the Food Programme, where the BBC dishes out weekly diatribes just like Blanc's article.

This kind of middle class snobbery dates back to at least William Morris, and presumably before. The rich always like to think of themselves as superior to everyone else, and being able to show off is what ultimately drives this snobbery.

SHAC members convicted of conspiracy to blackmail (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Four animal rights activists have been convicted of orchestrating a blackmail campaign against firms that supplied an animal testing research centre.

They used paedophile smears, criminal damage and bomb hoaxes to intimidate companies associated with Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) in Cambridgeshire.

The four, members of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) from Hampshire and London, had denied the charges.

A fifth defendant was cleared by the Winchester Crown Court jury.

During a six-year campaign the group falsely claimed managers of the companies were paedophiles.

They also sent hoax bombs parcels and made threatening telephone calls to firms telling them to cut links with HLS.

One of the features of intimidation included sending used sanitary items in the post to the firms and daubing roads outside managers' homes with slogans such as "puppy killer".

How quaint of the BBC to call them "activists", when they should be labelled terrorists, since they tried to terrorise people. So they are even worse than most other middle class "activists", who campaign on such issues as so-called GM crops and airport expansion, and who merely try and intimidate the rest of society into doing what they cannot achieve through argument or through democratic means.

Date published: 2008/12/17

Cambridge will allegedly be gridlocked in 2020 (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Cambridge will be gridlocked in 12 years unless politicians grab £500 million for desperately needed transport work, a development boss has warned.

Alex Plant, chief executive of Cambridgeshire Horizons, will tell politicians in charge of planning transport in the county tomorrow that congestion in Cambridge will reach "unacceptable levels" if left unchecked.

And he will warn that the only way to get the cash needed to tackle the problem is to go ahead with a £500 million bid to the Government's Transport Innovation Fund (TIF).

But that is dependent on introducing congestion charging in Cambridge, which Cambridgeshire County Council has put on ice after it failed to earn public support for the scheme. An independent transport commission led by Sir Brian Briscoe will consider such issues and any alternatives to congestion charging, which could see drivers charged £3-£5 for driving in Cambridge between 7.30am and 9.30am Monday to Friday.

This report is bizarre for two reasons. First of all, there is no way central government would come even close to giving Cambridge £500 million pounds for transport (on top of what we already get). There are about 550k people in Cambridgeshire (who are approximately the target market for this transportation). If you scale that up to the entire country then you would be getting well over 50bn pounds in extra expenditure on transport. This is not going to happen.

Now you could claim that perhaps the government is going to throw a huge amount of money at Cambridge as a blatant bribe to get it to introduce this so-called congestion charge (which, as always, is not a congestion charge but an access charge). But it's not plausible that the bribe is going to be anywhere near that big. To claim that it will be one must be either incredibly naive or incredibly disingenuous.

Secondly, people always claim the world is at an end when it comes to traffic, and that "something must be done". In 1970 Nicholas Taylor and Philip Booth wrote (in the 3rd edition of Cambridge New Architecture): "Meanwhile, congestion grows worse in Cambridge and the university and city alike are being strangled by the ever-increasing traffic. ... Unless action is taken quickly, there will be no further reprieve." No doubt people were complaining also in 1950, 1930, 1900, etc., all the way back to Roman times ("too many horses and carts"), and before.

And, funnily enough, the usual car-hating suspects who claim that the world is at an end in and around Cambridge (and elsewhere) are the very same people who have implemented policies (e.g. wacky bus lanes) to make the situation worse, and want more of the same. So most of these people are not the ones you would want to listen to.

It is quite clear that the proposed so-called congestion charge makes little financial sense for Cambridge. Far too much money ends up in the pockets of the people running the scheme, rather than doing any good.

It is also quite clear that central government will introduce a national road-pricing scheme in the not-too-distant future. Cambridge, and all other sane towns, might as well wait until that happens, rather than introduce some crazy and expensive proprietary scheme.

Mekong region allegedly at threat from development (permanent blog link)

Richard Black is the better of the main two BBC website environment correspondents (the other one being Roger Harrabin). He at least sometimes makes rational arguments (Harrabin hardly ever does). But he too often slips into the usual academic middle class muddled thinking on the environment. On his BBC blog he says about the Mekong region:

Two kinds of announcement from conservation groups habitually garner a prominent spot in the news agenda; either species are in peril, or species have been discovered alive and well.

On the face of it, WWF's highlighting this week of the thousand-plus species found in the Greater Mekong region over the last decade falls into the second category.
Let's be honest; this is sexy, feel-good, wow-factor biodiversity news.

But when you look to the next decade rather than the last, the most important species in the whole report is undoubtedly the most familiar of all; Homo sapiens.

The Mekong's biodiversity has been preserved largely because a number of factors have kept human development at bay.

Parts of the region consist of wild mountain ranges which, if peopled at all, are home to ethnic groups who still have to live with nature as an equal partner rather than completely taming it.

The Delta is criss-crossed with channels, making road-building difficult; people I know who have worked there talk about the local mosquitoes in phrases that conjure up images of flying piranhas.

Conflicts in and between Cambodia, Vietnam and southern China have curbed the pace of development, as have regimes that restricted entrepreneurship.

The Sun shines and the rains fall. Nature is productive, and the human load has not been big enough to subsume most of that productivity for itself; which is why nature has stayed so rich, and so hidden.

But as WWF points out, the balance of power between man and nature is changing fast.

So it is ok for WWF and their friends to travel all around this area as much as they want (and make press releases out of the trivial fact that it is easy to find new species when you look in a remote jungle area). It's just not ok for anyone else to live or work in that area, at least if they want to develop the area the way Europe and America are developed. No, the locals ought to "restrict entreneurship", i.e. remain poor. So much the better to be patronised by the likes of the WWF.

Black also amazingly claims that "ethnic groups" (how quaint) "live with nature as an equal partner". Once upon a time he might have said that they are "noble savages", but that phrase has rather gone out of fashion. Why is it that some people always believe that some other societies are somehow angelic whereas their own society is somehow the opposite. Humans are humans whether they live in London or in the Mekong.

And like most so-called environmentalists, Black cannot understand that man is part of nature, so to talk about "the balance of power between man and nature" is just sloppy writing, driven ultimately by an anti-human outlook so prevalant amongst so-called environmentalists. So it's ok for mosquitoes to rampage in an area (they're so cute), and it is ok for trees to cover the planet, but let a human in somewhere and suddenly the world is allegedly at an end.

Competition Commission wants BAA to sell Stansted and Gatwick (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The Competition Commission has said it will require BAA to sell Gatwick, Stansted and Edinburgh airports.

The watchdog says the decision is subject to a final consultation but is necessary to improve levels of service at UK airports.

In August, the watchdog had said BAA may have to sell three of its airports because of a lack of competition.

BAA said that it did not believe the Commission had "compelling evidence" that Stansted should be sold.

It added that there was "no justification" for specifying which Scottish airport should be sold.

"We do not believe that it has set out compelling evidence to support its view that selling Stansted as well as Gatwick will increase competition and we remain concerned that its proposed remedies may actually delay the introduction of new runway capacity," BAA said.

It is blatantly obvious that "selling Stansted as well as Gatwick will increase competition". Currently there is really no competition to BAA, except for Luton, in the London area, which is far and away the biggest UK market for air travel. All three major airports should indeed be run by separate companies. Whether that actually improves anything as far as customers are concerned is a different matter. Much of the problems at Heathrow, and in the near future at Stansted, are down to the government pissing about with planning permission (in particular for extra runways). Having a new owner will not sort that out. But at least other operational issues might improve (but it's not totally obvious).

Date published: 2008/12/13

Surprise, the Cambridge Lib Dems oppose the A14 upgrade (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge News says:

A storm has erupted over calls for the £1 billion revamp of the A14 to be scaled down.

Senior Liberal Democrats in Cambridge claim the huge road project could cause major environmental problems for the city - and that some safety issues needed to be tackled.

City councillor Sian Reid said these matters "could be addressed with a quicker, scaled-down version of the road's £1 billion upgrade".

She feared the impact of increased traffic flowing into the city - and the rise in the level of carbon emissions - had not been properly investigated.

She was backed by David Howarth, Lib Dem MP for Cambridge, who said it was important to "concentrate on public transport improvements in and around the city".

But the remarks, made as consultation on the upgrade of the dual carriageway between Ellington and Fen Ditton came to a close, were quickly condemned by a business leader and an MP.

John Bridge, chief executive of Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce, said it was "the stupidest thing I've heard in years" - and Andrew Lansley, MP for South Cambridgeshire, said their comments "made no sense".

This is hardly surprising (or news). The Lib Dems are the party of the academic middle class, and the academic middle class hate car drivers (excepting themselves, of course).

No, what is surprising is that the Cambridge News has been quiet for so long about the Lib Dem position, and continues to be so in this article. The News has been campaigning for years for this upgrade to happen, and has never condemned the Lib Dems for their sanctimonious and stupid position, and rarely even mentioned it (this is the first example in years). The News has been completely derelict in their professional duty on this score. The people of Cambridgeshire deserve better.

The people of Manchester vote against the so-called congestion charge (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The people of Greater Manchester have voted against plans to introduce a congestion charge in the region.

Nearly two million people were asked to decide on a peak-time road charge to open up a £2.8bn transport investment.

A majority of voters in all of the region's 10 boroughs voted against the plans, with 812,815 (79%) no votes and 218,860 (21%) in favour of the charge.

It means the application for government Transport Innovation Fund (TiF) cash will not now go ahead.

The overall turnout across the 12 local authorities was about 53.2% with 1,033,000 people casting their vote.

The failed plan aimed to create the biggest road congestion zone in the UK, charging drivers up to £5 a day to drive into the city centre.

The Workers 1, the Ruling Elite 0.

It is amazing that the No vote was quite so high. Of course it's possible that the half of the population which didn't vote might have voted overwhelmingly Yes. But in a democracy, people who don't vote don't count, and rightfully so. Needless to say, most voters almost certainly voted for their own self-interest. So although the Manchester proposal made the most sense of all such proposals across the country (including the existing scheme in London), it is evident that voters overwhelmingly decided they would be worse off. This is one reason that Livingstone never asked the voters in London what they thought, since he presumably also knew he would probably lose a vote.

These anti-car schemes (for that is basically what they are) are very popular with the ruling elite (including the so-called environmentalists) but are not very popular with the workers, who would be the main losers. Ultimately, these so-called congestion charges (and they are not congestion charges but access charges) are an incredibly inefficient and wasteful tax, with the biggest winner far and away being the companies that run the schemes. And no politician has ever given a coherent reason why car drivers should be subsidising so-called public transport (with the small amount of money that is left over after the huge operating costs are taken into account) even more than they do already via the ordinary fuel and car tax.

Meanwhile back in Cambridge, the deluded Cambridgeshire County Council is trying to push through a similar scheme. But unlike in Manchester, there is no economy of scale in Cambridge, so the proposal really makes no sense. Needless to say, the county council would never dare to ask the people of Cambridgeshire to vote on such a proposal, because they know they would be defeated. Instead they have conducted a distorted (and so meaningless) survey where they can convince themselves that of course their ideas were right all along by cherry picking the results (especially since the sample was not random but heavily distorted by the cycling brigade, who are heavily biased against cars, needless to say).

Jury finds police lied over de Menezes killing (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The jury has returned an open verdict at the inquest into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, whom police mistook for a suicide bomber.

It rejected the police account Mr de Menezes was killed lawfully by two officers who shot him seven times at Stockwell Tube in south London.

His mother, Maria Otone de Menezes, said she was very happy and felt "reborn" after hearing the verdict.

The Metropolitan Police said the Brazilian's death was a tragic mistake.

After the verdict was announced the de Menezes family lawyer said officers should be investigated for perjury - a call immediately rejected by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

The inquest jury was given the choice of two possible verdicts, but chose to reject the option that Mr Menezes was killed lawfully by the police.

Earlier in the inquest the jury was instructed not to return a verdict of unlawful killing.

The 10 jury members were asked 12 specific questions about whether or not a series of events on 22 July 2005 contributed to the 27-year-old's death.

After a week of deliberations, a majority of eight to two returned an open verdict and said they did not believe officers had shouted "armed police" before opening fire.

They said they believed Mr de Menezes had stood up from his seat before being shot. However they did not believe he had moved towards the first officer who opened fire.

They also rejected that Mr de Menezes' innocent behaviour had increased suspicions.

This is as damning a verdict of the police action as could have been delivered, given the outrageous decision of the judge not to allow a verdict of unlawful killing. Although it's easy to see how this murder came about by mistake, it is a sad state of affairs that officers who have the right to kill people first and ask questions later have been found to be such blatant liars. Of course this "shoot first ask questions later" policy is one of the many dreadful things brought in by the Tony Blair administration. It is based on the so-called precautionary principle (so if something very bad can happen, then we should not take chances). Once again, this so-called principle has been shown to be seriously lacking any kind of moral authority. It's used by people who don't have a real argument for something, but just want to scare people. (And indeed, other than Blair and Bush, the biggest users of the precautionary principle are so-called environmentalists, who continually quote this so-called principle for much the same reasons.)

Date published: 2008/12/08

An alleged correlation between religion and anti-nanotechnology views (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Attitudes to nanotechnology may be determined by religious and cultural beliefs, suggest researchers writing in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

They say religious people tend to view nanotechnology in a negative light.

The researchers compared attitudes in Europe and the US and looked at religious and cultural backgrounds.

They say the findings have implications for scientists and politicians making policy decisions to regulate the use of nanotechnology.

This is a classic case of confusing correlation and causation. All they have found is a correlation between "religious and cultural beliefs" and views on nanotechnology (and that's assuming the survey was sensible, which it might well not have been). They have not found a causation and so the use of the word "determined" is bogus. There are no doubt a zillion and one things that correlate well with views on nanotechnology. Why focus on this one? Because the researchers have a political premise to spin. And is it just nanotechnology or pretty much all modern technology, that these people don't like? And did they label people with strong environmental views as being religious? Because in the UK it is the so-called environmentalists who are most opposed to nanotechnology. But environmentalism should indeed be viewed as a form of religion, so that is consistent with the correlation that the researchers have found. Anyway, why is this kind of pointless research being funded?

Stansted Airport brought to a standstill by middle class protestors (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Dozens of flights at Stansted airport have been delayed or cancelled after more than 50 protesters occupied a secure area near the runway.

Climate action group Plane Stupid said it started the protest at 0315 GMT by breaching security.

The runway was closed for about two hours, but reopened at 0810 GMT. Delays are continuing and passengers are being advised to contact their airlines.

Airport operator BAA said the protest was "unlawful". Police made 57 arrests.

A spokeswoman for Essex Police said 50 people had been accused of aggravated trespass, three of attempting to gain access to a restricted area, and four of conspiracy to commit a public nuisance.

Ch Supt Ian Gruneberg told BBC News the demonstrators, who were chained together, were "committing a criminal act" and would be dealt with by the courts.
Nick Barton, BAA's commercial director at Stansted, told BBC Radio 4 he hoped the airport would be able to "recover quite well" from the impact of the protest, but delays were likely for the rest of the day.

He defended airport security and said staff had responded quickly.

"[The protesters] were unable to get to the runway, and a second wave of protest was stopped at the fence," he said.

"You should bear in mind, of course, that the runway's about 2,000 acres [8 sq km] in size - it is an enormous area - and we don't intend to run an airport as a fortress."

The BBC's Stephen Chittenden, at Stansted, said protesters had brought concrete blocks and 6ft-high security fencing with them and erected a "stockade" about 50m (164 ft) from the runway. They then chained themselves to the fencing.

One of the activists taking part, Lily Kember, 21, said they had forced their way in using bolt-cutters while the runway was closed for overnight maintenance work.

Ms Kember said she was "incredibly apologetic" that passengers had been affected, but added: "The effects of climate change are going to be monumental."

Plane Stupid said on its website that the action was intended to draw attention to CO2 emissions from the aviation industry.

One protester, whose full name was not given, said: "We're here because our parents' generation has failed us and it's now down to young people to stop climate change by whatever peaceful means we have left.

"We're afraid of what the police might do to us, we're afraid of going to jail but nothing scares us as much as the threat of runaway climate change."

Chief Superintendant Gruneberg might like to believe that the demonstrators "would be dealt with by the courts". The unnamed protestor might be "afraid of going to jail". But time and again, middle class protestors up and down the country have gotten away with their campaigns of intimidation and vandalism, so not just against airports but against GM crops, etc. The courts are run by the same middle class people, so they always let these criminals off.

And the BAA commercial director, Nick Barton, is taking the piss, when he says that "we don't intend to run an airport as a fortress". All airports in Britain are now run as fortresses. They have police outside the terminal building with big guns. If you even take a photo of the (beautiful) terminal building, you get questioned by them. But as elsewhere in life, the police seem incapable of dealing with the real, rather than imaginary, criminals.

The prize for utter hypocrisy goes to the "activist" Kember. She might claim to be "incredibly apologetic". Is she personally going to apologise to the thousands of people she inconvenienced? Indeed, this is the time of year for interviews for admission to Cambridge University, and no doubt some of the candidates would have come in through Stansted. It's quite possible that some could not make it to their interviews because of the actions of the silly spoiled middle class kids like Kember. And needless to say most of the people flying today were not doing so just for "fun", there was lots of inconvenience. Hopefully these "activists" (i.e. criminals) will be made to at least pay tens of thousands of pounds in compensation to all affected people (companies and passengers). But needless to say, that will never happen.

Date published: 2008/12/07

Cambridge City Council butchers Byron's Pool area (permanent blog link)

Like all organisations, Cambridge City Council wastes an inordinate amount of money publishing propaganda which it sends to its citizens. One such example is a newsletter called Cambridge Matters, for which the Winter 2008 edition has just landed on doorsteps around the city. This newletter consists mainly of patronising advice about recycling and being "green". (Of course, not publishing the newsletter would be very green, but do not expect the city bureaucrats to follow their own advice.) (There as yet seems to be no online version of this particular newsletter. The Cambridge Matters website points to an alleged archive but the link is broken.)

In this issue the bureaucrats tell us that:

73 non-native trees are being removed from Byron's Pool Local Nature Reserve. Removing the Sycamores and Horse Chestnuts which obstruct navigation of the River Cam and cause severe shading of the river will benefit wildlife such as Chubb, a fish which breeds in the river. Ellis Selway, Nature Conservation Officer, said "All of the trees felled will be replaced with more favourable tree species such as the Black Poplar (Populus nigra betulifolia) which is Britain's rarest native tree."

Look, if for some reason a few trees are allegedly impeding navigation on the river, fine and well. (Although the river at this point is really just for punting from Cambridge to Grantchester and so serves no real navigational purpose.) But it's unbelievable that 73 trees really needed to be killed in this way. Horse Chestnuts have been in Britain since before 1600, and Sycamores if anything even earlier. They are native in all but name. And is there any evidence that Black Poplar actually ever was growing (in the past N hundred years) in this particular location? It is unbelievable how much time and effort is spent by people who allegedly are interested in Nature trying to destroy Nature. For some reason humans have this deep need to always play God, rather than let Nature take its course. It's not so bad if people play God on their own property with their own money. Here unfortunately the taxpayer is being forced to pay for this wanton destruction.

Update: photographs of the destruction.

McKinnon hacking case plea to Gordon Brown (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been urged to halt the extradition to the US of computer hacker Gary McKinnon.

Mr McKinnon, from Wood Green, north London, faces up to 70 years in prison if found guilty in the US of breaking into military computers.

Supporters held a vigil and delivered a letter to Downing Street calling for him to be tried in the UK instead.

Campaigners said the fact that Mr McKinnon has Asperger's Syndrome should be taken into account.

What should be taken into account is not McKinnon's alleged Asperger's Syndrome. What should be taken into account is that the law allowing this extradition is just plain dreadful. It was one of the many examples of Tony Blair putting the interests of the frankfully evil and criminal Bush administration in America above the interests of the citizens of Britain. It remains to be seen whether Gordon Brown supports this dreadful law or will stand up for British citizens. The fact that the US wants to imprison this guy for 70 years just for hacking into their military computers shows how stupidly they have reacted. If anything, they should be paying him large amounts of money for pointing out how pathetic their security was. If McKinnon could hack into their computers, so could the actual, rather than imagined, enemies of the US.

Date published: 2008/12/06

Surprise, rich kids have more active brains than poor kids (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The brains of children from low-income families process information differently to those of their wealthier counterparts, US research suggests.

Normal nine and 10-year-olds from rich and poor backgrounds had differing electrical activity in a part of the brain linked to problem solving.

The Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience study was described as a "wake-up call" about the impact of deprivation.

The 26 children in the study, conducted at the University of California, Berkeley, were measured using an electroencephalograph (EEG), which measured activity in the "prefrontal cortex" of the brain.

Half were from low income homes, and half from high income families.

During the test, an image the children had not been briefed to expect was flashed onto a screen, and their brain responses were measured.

Those from lower income families showed a lower prefrontal cortex response to it than those from wealthier households.

Dr Mark Kishiyama, one of the researchers, said: "The low socioeconomic kids were not detecting or processing the visual stimuli as well - they were not getting that extra boost from the prefrontal cortex."

Since the children were, in health terms, normal in every way, the researchers suspected that "stressful environments" created by low socioeconomic status might be to blame.

Previous studies have suggested that children in low-income families are spoken to far less - on average hearing 30 million fewer words by the age of four.

Professor Thomas Boyce, another of the researchers, said that talking more to children could boost prefrontal cortex development.

"We are certainly not blaming lower socioeconomic families for not talking to their kids - there are probably a zillion reasons why that happens."

His colleague, Professor Robert Knight, added: "This is a wake-up call - it's not just that these kids are poor and more likely to have health problems, but they might actually not be getting full brain development from the stressful and relatively impoverished environment associated with low socioeconomic status."

He said that with "proper intervention and training", improvements could be made, even in older children.

Surprise, there is a correlation between socioeconomic status and brain activity. Who would have thought it? And there were only 26 kids in the study and yet we are given a grand sociological theory to explain it all away. The comments of Boyce are amusing. So he is not into "blaming lower socioeconomic families for not talking to their kids". No, of course not. It's all the higher socioeconomic families fault for talking to their kids and (presumably) for causing the "stressful and relatively impoverished environment associated with low socioeconomic status". And of course we need "proper intervention and training", i.e. more money should be taken away from rich families and thrown at poor families. This study is political, not scientific.

Happiness is allegedly "infectious" (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Happiness is infectious and can "ripple" through social groups, according to US researchers.

A study of 5,000 adults suggests a person's happiness is dependent on the happiness of those around them.

A friend who becomes happy and lives less than a mile away increases your likelihood of happiness by 25%, the British Medical Journal reported.

But the mood of work colleagues did not have an effect, the Harvard Medical School-led study found.

The researchers used data on adults who took part in the US Framingham Heart Study - set up to look at the risks leading to future heart disease - between 1971 and 2003.

Participants were asked to identify their relatives, close friends, place of residence, and place of work and were followed up every two to four years.

They were also asked whether they agreed with statements on whether they enjoyed life, felt hopeful about the future, were happy and felt they were just as good as other people.

It was found that live-in partners who become happy increased the likelihood of their partner being happy by 8% and similar effects were found for siblings living close by (14%) and neighbours (34%).

The relationship between people's happiness levels seemed to extend up to three degrees of separation - to the friend of a friend of a friend.

The analysis also showed that close physical proximity was important for the spread of happiness.
Professor Andrew Steptoe, a psychology expert from University College London, said: "It makes intuitive sense that if people around you are happy that might have an impact on your own happiness.

"What's a bit more surprising is that it's not just the people who you closely come into contact with but people a step removed as well."

He said the work had implications for public health.

"Happiness does seem to be associated with protective effects on health.

"If happiness is indeed transmitted through social connections, it could indirectly contribute to social transmission of health," he said.

A classic confusion between correlation and causation. Of course no doubt the researchers tried to take into account obvious factors like wealth, etc. But they will not have thought of all possible factors. And on the other hand it is indeed pretty trivially obvious that social factors have an impact on happiness. If a city is ravaged by war or unemployment or disease or crime it would hardly be surprising if people in that city on the whole weren't very happy. And what is the take-home message supposed to be from this research? Should the government force the BBC to publish only "happy" news so that everyone is happy? Should people who are not happy be taken out and be shot so as not to infect the rest of the population? Should we drop the teaching of reading, writing and arithmetic and instead just teach "happiness" in schools?

More intelligent men allegedly have better sperm (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Men of higher intelligence tend to produce better quality sperm, UK research suggests.

A team from the Institute of Psychiatry analysed data from former US soldiers who served during the Vietnam war era.

They found that those who performed better on intelligence tests tended to have more - and more mobile - sperm.

The study, which appears in the journal Intelligence, appears to support the idea that genes underlying intelligence may have other biological effects too.

Therefore, if tiny mutations impair intelligence, they might also harm other characteristics, such as sperm quality.

Conversely, people with robust genes might be blessed with a biological "fitness factor" making them fit, healthy and smart.

Previously, scientists tended to assume that lifestyle factors were more likely to underlie any relationship between intelligence and health.

For instance, brighter people may be less likely to smoke, and more likely to take exercise, both of which are known to impact on mental performance.

The latest study tested the gene theory by taking two characteristics that seemed unlikely to be associated with each other - intelligence and sperm quality.

They found a small, but statistically significant link, and were able to show that this could not be explained by unhealthy habits, such as smoking or drinking alcohol.

The study was based on 425 men who undertook several intelligence tests and provided semen samples.

The researchers found that independently of age and lifestyle, intelligence was correlated with all three measures of sperm quality - numbers, concentration, and ability to move.

Lead researcher Dr Rosalind Arden said: "This does not mean that men who prefer Play-Doh to Plato always have poor sperm: the relationship we found was marginal.

"But our results do support the theoretically important 'fitness factor' idea.

"We look forward to seeing if the results can be replicated in other data sets, with other measures of intelligence and other measures of physical health that are also strongly related to evolutionary fitness."

Is this result supposed to be surprising, that one measure of fitness might be weakly positively correlated with other measures of fitness? Even with such a correlation it doesn't prove very much. For example, it's quite possible that the experience of some soldiers in the military directly impacted both their intelligence and their overall health in a negative way (needless to say, the Vietnam War often did that). Why is this research being funded?

Date published: 2008/12/02

Yet another report on reducing UK emissions (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Official advisers to the UK government have demanded Britain slash greenhouse gases by a fifth of current levels by 2020 - the toughest target so far.

The Committee on Climate Change said a cut of 21% on 2005 levels was needed for the UK to play its fair share in combating dangerous change.

It proposes firm carbon budgets for the next three five-year periods.

It is believed to be the first time any major nation has attempted such a move. Ministers are considering the report.

If the budgets work, they could be copied worldwide.

The independent committee recommends that by 2020 it should be made almost impossible to burn coal for electricity without technology to capture and store the carbon emissions.

This has major implications for the UK's energy policy.

The report says fuel will inevitably become more expensive to achieve the carbon targets. But it says the government will need to compensate poor households rather than trying to keep prices down.

To make the targets even harder for the government, the committee recommends the UK should not be able to buy its way out of its obligations by paying poor countries to cut carbon on our behalf.

Until now, the government has been planning to buy up to half of our carbon credits.

The report has been generally welcomed by environmentalists, but they are angry that the committee has not set any specific targets for aviation - the fastest-growing source of emissions.

The committee has put aviation into the overall carbon budget but exempted it from specific targets until disputes over responsibility for international aviation emissions have been resolved.

Greenpeace said the advice on coal-fired power stations meant the end of plans to build new plant at Kingsnorth in Kent.

"Assuming the government accepts the advice of its own climate change committee, Kingsnorth is dead in the water," said John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK.

"Eon's investors and the company's executives will read the Turner report with sweaty palms, as their coal plans don't even come close to satisfying the new standards the committee is demanding."

Lord Turner, the committee chairman, said the cuts could be achieved without compromising our lifestyles or economy: "The reductions can be achieved at very low cost (an estimated 1% loss of GDP growth in 2020). The cost of not achieving the reductions at a national and global level will be far greater."

This report says nothing new, and is just the latest such report produced by endless quango after endless consultancy. Like all such quangos and consultancies, there are no people on the committee who have any substantive real-world experience (the chair, Adair Turner, was at McKinsey for many years, but that is just a consultancy). The major difference is that this quango has some statutory power, so the government has to pay some attention to what the CCC says.

The BBC report is (surprise) somewhat misleading. So the alleged 21% cut from 2005 levels (34% from 1990 levels, which is what the Kyoto Treaty is based on) is only for the so-called interim budget. The committee is actually recommending a 31% cut from 2005 levels (42% from 1990 levels), if the rest of the world plays game (in some unspecified way).

The committee (surprise) expects that a lot of emission reductions will come about through efficiency. With respect to transport, this efficiency will not only be because of increases in mileage per unit of fuel (e.g. because cars will be forced to become smaller and lighter), but magically through "changed driver behaviour, modal shift and better journey planning". The first and last phrases are a bit of a joke, and the "modal shift" category means that they are going to force poor people out of their cars via tax. Hardly a revolutionary (or fair) proposal.

The Greenpeace spokesman is also talking through his hat (presumably because he has to get his propaganda points in). The report will not really make Kingsnorth unfeasible. The report says "Conventional coal-fired power generation should only be built on the expectation that it will be retrofitted with CCS equipment by the early 2020s." Eon can easily give weasel words to that effect.

Of course most so-called environmentalists hate nuclear power even more than they hate coal. But the CCC report is relatively pro-nuclear power, and amazingly enough the BBC completely ignores this point.

Like all such reports, the committee claims that there is hardly any economic cost at all from doing all these wonderful things. Well, it's quite possibly true, but that remains to be seen. It's equally likely that Britain will decline into relative world poverty by 2050 (and so automatically meet all these targets), because Britain is dominated by people who write reports rather than people who do things.

And as with most of the British ruling elite, the committee is not interested in looking after the interests of the citizens of the UK. They say "The appropriate UK share of a global emissions target involves ethical judgements and will be the subject of international negotiations. But we believe that it is difficult to imagine a global deal which allows developed countries to have emissions per capita in 2050 which are significantly above a sustainable global average."

Of course per capita emissions are not a particularly fair way to look at anything. It rewards countries which irresponsibly have allowed, and continue to allow, their population to explode. Why should the workers of Britain be asked to make sacrifices so that other countries can behave irresponsibly? Why are the British ruling elite not looking after the interests of the citizens of Britain?

Space organisation wants more money thrown at the "threat" of asteroids (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The international community must work together to tackle the threat of asteroids colliding with Earth, a leading UN scientist says.

Professor Richard Crowther's comments come as a group of space experts called for a co-ordinated science-led response to the asteroid threat.

The Association of Space Explorers (ASE) says missions to intercept asteroids will need global approval.

The UN will meet in February to discuss the issue.

In the ASE report, the group of scientists and former astronauts point to the historical record to highlight the dangers of asteroids; an impact 65 million years ago may have wiped out the dinosaurs, and the Tunguska impact in 1908 produced a 2,000 sq km fire in Siberia, big enough to engulf a city the size of New York.

They say the next major threatening event could occur in less than 20 years. Asteroid Apophis is due to pass close to the Earth and analyses suggest a one in 45,000 chance of a collision.

An impact by Apophis would generate the equivalent of a 500 megatonne blast, at least 100 times more powerful than the Siberian event.

Needless to say, this alleged threat is much less serious than, say, the global recession, or climate change, or the lack of clean water, education, etc., for billions of humans. Not much money should be spent on this issue. There are real problems to worry about first.

Judge says that Jean Charles de Menezes was not killed unlawfully (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The jury at the inquest into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes will not be able to consider a verdict of unlawful killing, the coroner has said.

Sir Michael Wright said that having heard all the evidence, a verdict of unlawful killing was "not justified".

Mr de Menezes, 27, was shot dead by police at Stockwell Tube station in south London after he was mistaken for one of the failed 21 July 2005 bombers.

The jury may now return either an open or lawful killing verdict.

Sir Michael's ruling came as he began his summing up of the case on Tuesday.

"In directing you that you cannot return a verdict of unlawful killing, I am not saying that nothing went wrong in a police operation which resulted in the killing of an innocent man," he told the hearing.

But in narrowing down the choice of verdict, he added: "All interested persons agree that a verdict of unlawful killing could only be left to you if you could be sure that a specific officer had committed a very serious crime - murder or manslaughter."

Sir Michael also warned jurors that they must not attach any criminal or civil fault to any individuals.

This is totally outrageous. The judge is basically claiming that the State can shoot anyone it wants, whenever it wants, and nothing will come of it. Especially if the victim is a foreigner. The police screwed up big time. And if no individual or individuals can be picked out for blame, then the police as an institution should be found guilt of unlawful killing.

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