Azara Blog: March 2009 archive complete

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Date published: 2009/03/30

Cambridge should allegedly introduce congestion charging (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge News says:

Planners should consider building more homes on the green belt and introduce congestion charging if they want Cambridge to remain an economic success story, according to a leading think tank.

The Centre for Cities Group today (Monday, 30 March) warns Cambridge is in danger of becoming a "victim of its own success" if co-ordinated action is not taken to sort out transport networks and a shortage of affordable housing.

The so-called think tank (based in London, not Cambridge) claims to have Cambridge as a "Partner City" so the report is hardly independent. But even ignoring that, not surprisingly, just like all other academic middle class consultancies, they hate cars and love public transport, and believe so-called congestion charging is a wonderful idea. They start with this premise, so of course come to the obvious conclusions.

They ignore the impact of the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway (although it could of course end up being a white elephant, so have negligible impact). They ignore the impact of the recession (well, depression) in reducing traffic levels (this has already been observed on the A14). They ignore the impact that the coming change in central government from Labour to Tory control will make to house building, and hence population, targets in Cambridgeshire (i.e. the numbers will be seriously reduced). And they ignore the cost of implementing the scheme, conveniently just assuming that it is all irrelevant because central government is allegedly going to throw a big bribe at Cambridge in return for introducing the so-called congestion charging (a bribe that the county council currently has no good plans how to spend, so would likely just fritter away).

All in all, they ignore most of the relevant factors, so their report counts for little.

People without children should allegedly be forced to further subsidise people with children (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Statutory maternity leave should be cut from nine months to six to give fathers more paid time off to spend with their children, a watchdog has said.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission said it wanted to see more sharing of paid leave between parents.

Mothers get nine months' paid leave while fathers get two weeks, making arrangements in the UK the most unequal in Europe, the commission suggests.

The government said the UK already had generous measures to support parents.

New mothers currently get nine months paid leave, six weeks at 90% of their salary and the rest at the statutory rate of £117.18 a week. Fathers get two weeks at the statutory rate.

The commission's survey of 4,500 people found "a high percentage" of fathers said they wanted to spend more time with their children.

The commission suggested new fathers should get two weeks off at 90% pay, and another four months leave before their child was five years old.
The new plan would cost around £5.3bn to introduce.

The inequality in leave between women and men is stark. If the so-called Equality and Human Rights Commission wanted to address that issue then all fine and well, and it could obviously be done in a fiscally neutral way. But instead they have another agenda, i.e. to force people without children to hand over another 5.3 billion pounds per annum to people with children (on top of the billions and billions of pounds of subsidy that already exist).

Date published: 2009/03/23

The university wants a supermarket in the north-west Cambridge site (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge News says:

Residents are banding together to fight plans for a giant supermarket on land owned by Cambridge University.

The proposals for a store up to 5,000 sq m have been unveiled for the university's north-west Cambridge site, bounded by Huntingdon Road, Madingley Road and the M11.

Canterbury Street resident Dr Belinda Brooks-Gordon is spearheading a campaign to oppose the plans for the biggest supermarket in the city, which she said would bring traffic chaos for residents.

Dr Brooks-Gordon said:

"This project has the potential to create a store larger than any other in the city.

"We already have three large Tescos, an Asda, and a Sainsbury's a short car or bus rideaway - we simply don't need another large supermarket."

She added: "It would bring with it giant delivery lorries travelling through our streets.

"It could also attract hundreds of shoppers from the north and west of Cambridge, who could converge on this area.

"The extra traffic it could generate would be disastrous.

"It is imperative that we act now to stop these plans getting the go-ahead.

"I would urge everyone to get behind this campaign."

The campaign is being supported by the Liberal Democrats in Castle ward and across the city.

Cllr Sian Reid, executive city councillor for climate change and growth, said: "I am extremely worried about this project.

"It has the potential to destroy the quality of life for people living near this site.

"The extra traffic it would generate, including heavy lorries, would seriously increase the level of carbon emissions in a highly populated area of the city.

"This development is being proposed for purely commercial gain, not to fill a need, and could only serve to harm the local shops."

Of course the "development is being proposed for purely commercial gain". How shocking. Needless to say neither Reid nor her husband have ever done anything for commercial gain, which is presumably why they are so poor that they ended up living on Millington Road. (Or maybe they just inherited it all, which is hardly any better.)

And it is equally bizarre that another reason she gives against the proposal is that it "would seriously increase the level of carbon emissions in a highly populated area of the city". Whoa, those carbon emissions will just kill you if they are emitted in your neighbourhood. The poor people who live near all the other supermarkets in town must be dead. Or perhaps the rich people who live in the Huntingdon Road area are just especially sensitive souls.

The academic middle class people who run Cambridge (and this includes pretty much nearly all the Lib Dems) hate supermarkets. So this hysterical reaction has to be seen in this light. But there are no decently sized (or even decent) supermarkets west of the river in Cambridge, forcing all residents to cross the river to get to one. And with a large expansion in housing coming on the west side of the river, there is plenty of good reason to build one there. Indeed, Reid herself claims it is already a "highly populated area of the city".

It would have been extremely sensible to have built a supermarket on the Arbury Park (Orchard Park) site. As it happens, Sainsburys wanted to do that many years ago (so before the residential development was even mooted) but interested parties managed to stop it. And the ordinary residents of Cambridge who live in Arbury and King's Hedges would be far happier to have a new supermarket nearby than the academic middle class residents who live in the Huntingdon Road area, so there would even have been far less fuss generated. It is too late to put a supermarket in Arbury Park itself, but there is space across the other side of Histon Road (but it's hard to see that being allowed by the planners no matter how much sense it makes).

A supermarket in the north-west Cambridge site would make almost as much sense as a supermarket would have in the Arbury Park area if only decent road links were designed into the development, and that includes a decent road link from Histon Road near the A14 to Huntingdon Road near Girton. But this is extremely unlikely to happen. If there is anything the academic middle class of Cambridge hate more than supermarkets, it is cars. So they will make road access abysmal. They will then wonder why the road congestion is so bad, and of course blame the drivers, rather than themselves.

Cambridge University's 800th anniversary street banner with dates (permanent blog link)

Cambridge University is having its 800th anniversary this year. As part of that celebration, they have erected street banners all over the main streets of Cambridge. Most of the banners have images on them but one just has nine allegedly significant university dates listed:

1209 - Groups of scholars flee from Oxford, after riots break out and all schools were closed. Some of them congregate at the ancient Roman trading post of Cambridge for the purpose of study, the earliest record of the University.

1381 - The Peasant's Revolt. A mob led by the city's mayor stormed Corpus Christi College, burning books, records and manuscripts, in protest against its rigid exaction of "candle rents", or rent charges assessed upon houses in its ownership, according to the number of wax-tapers found. A wage freeze and a new poll tax ignites the Peasant's Revolt. Led by Wat Tyler, the peasants march on London to protest, but King Richard's forces behead Tyler and the uprising is swiftly crushed.

1446 - The founding charter of King's College. The lavish decoration of this charter and the concessions, exemptions and privileges it confers indicate the importance of the foundation of King”s College to Henry VI (1422-1471). The charter was written by John Broke (documented 1443-1450) clerk of the chancery, and illuminated by the London artist William Abell (documented 1450-d.1474).

1584 - The Cambridge University Press, first established in 1534 by Henry VIII, publishes its first book: Two Treatises of the Lord His Holie Supper.

1687 - Isaac Newton, of Trinity College, publishes his laws of motion and universal gravitation in his book Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica. Newton is considered the father of calculus and modern mathematics. He became Lucasian Professor fo Mathematics at Cambridge in 1669, a position which today is held by Stephen Hawking.

1787 - William Wordsworth arrives at Cambridge and publishes his first poem. Later, in his epic poem The Prelude, he recounted of his arrival, 'And nothing cheered our way till first we saw | The long-roofed chapel of King's College lift | Turrets and pinnacles in answering files, | Extended high above a dusky grove.'

1859 - Christ's College graduate Charles Darwin posits his theory of natural selection in his ground-breaking book On the Origin of Species. This was followed by The Descent of Man (1871) which argued that humans and apes shared a common ancestor - a theory which revolutionised our understanding of life.

1988 - Stephen Hawking, Lucasian Professor of Mathematics since 1980, publishes his book A Brief History of Time. Hawking is known around the world for his research in the fields of theoretical cosmology and quantum gravity. The book was an international phenomenon, remaining on the Sunday Times best-seller list for 237 weeks.

2009 - The University of Cambridge celebrates its 800th Anniversary.

Now of course given 800 years of history, it is easy to quibble with some of the choices, although obviously one of the ground rules was to have one allegedly significant event per century, which perhaps explains the rather weak selections before Newton. And the arrival of Wordsworth in Cambridge hardly seems like an earth-shattering event. Indeed, the only two earth-shattering events listed are Newton and Darwin. But the prize for the silliest date of them all is 1988, for A Brief History of Time. In a hundred years nobody will care about A Brief History of Time. It is not a particularly well written book, and it had no influence on any academic development at all. It is pretty obvious that far and away the most significant work in Cambridge the last half of the 20th century was Crick and Watson on DNA, in 1953 (definitely earth-shattering). Presumably the university did not want two biology events in a row. Or perhaps they just wanted to have a more recent event which looked trendy. Whatever, it is just embarrassing. Presumably even Hawking would prefer to be remembered for his academic work rather than this book.

A quarter of government databases are allegedly illegal (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

A quarter of all government databases are illegal and should be scrapped or redesigned, according to a report.

The Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust says storing information leads to vulnerable people, such as young black men, single parents and children, being victimised.

It says the UK's "database state" wastes billions from the public purse and often breaches human rights laws.

But the government says the report contains "no substantive evidence" on which to base its conclusions.

It is hard to know who is correct here. Of course the government (as pretty much all governments) is no friend of transparency and has repeatedly been shown to be awful when looking after information on its citizens. On the other hand, if the Rowntree trust is so convinced that so many things are "illegal" then surely they should sue the government.

Date published: 2009/03/22

Committee of MPs wants more money thrown at school buses (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Ministers and English local authorities must provide more alternatives to car travel for pupils, MPs have said.

The Commons Transport Committee said it was disappointed plans had not been in place before the introduction of 14-19 diplomas, which can mean more travel.

The committee recommended a move towards more walking, cycling and American-style yellow school buses.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said it would be looking at the committee's recommendations "in detail".

Some 30% of children go to school by car and there are concerns that more could be walking or cycling.

Some councils do offer free school buses but many stick to a rule that restricts their availability to children who live more than three miles from school.

This would be expensive to implement, and that has been made worse the last decade or two because more and more often children do not go to their local school but some other school miles away, which obviously exacerbates the logistics issue. Needless to say, the Commons Transport Committee is very good at asking for money to be thrown at politically correct forms of transport and less good at justifying it. And if only "30% of children go to school by car" then it's hard to see why anyone (other than the usual academic middle class control freaks) would in particular have "concerns that more could be walking or cycling" (or indeed, taking a bus).

Exhibitions at the Royal Academy (permanent blog link)

The Royal Academy, as usual, has some good exhibitions on.

"Byzantium 330-1453" finished its run today (so it ran 25 Oct 2008 - 22 Mar 2009). As often on last days, it was pretty crowded, which meant lots of queuing to see lots of the artifacts. The selection was eclectic, but pretty much as to be expected. So lots of nice ivory panels, and lots of icons. They even had a large mosaic floor, amazingly enough. And several examples of so-called micromosaic art works. And there was a roomful of work (mostly icons) from St Catherine's Monastery in Sinai, so an opportunity to see things that would otherwise be difficult to ever get to see.

Meanwhile "Andrea Palladio: His Life and Legacy" is also getting close to finishing (so running 31 Jan - 13 Apr 2009). It was put on in celebration of the 500th anniversary of his birth (in 1508) and has already been to Vicenza and is heading next to Barcelona and then Madrid. Palladio did not have a vast output but became famous and had a large influence on Western architecture because of his treatise "Quattro Libri dell'Architettura" (The Four Books of Architecture), which in particular promoted his own designs. Inigo Jones and other British architects latched onto this style and in some sense it still survives to this day since even new British country houses (e.g. by Robert Adam) are often still based on a Palladian concept. The exhibition had lots of drawings from the RIBA collection, and amazing wood models from the Centro Internazionale di Studi di Architettura Andrea Palladio in Vicenza.

And upstairs in the Sackler Gallery just starting was "Kuniyoshi" (from the Arthur R. Miller Collection), running 21 Mar - 7 Jun 2009 before heading over to the Japan Society in New York. Kuniyoshi was a print artist of roughly the same era as Hokusai and Hiroshige and although not quite as famous as those two, produced some amazing work, especially with a military subject. He also did lots of prints with supposedly beautiful women in them (since that apparently made money) but the women are totally stylised with pretty much the same face, so it's not obvious why they were supposed to be beautiful. The works on display were pretty varied and definitely worth seeing.

Date published: 2009/03/18

China wants consumers not producers to be held accountable for carbon emissions (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

China has proposed that importers of Chinese-made goods should be responsible for the carbon dioxide emitted during their manufacture.

China's top climate change negotiator, Li Gao, said his country should not pay for cutting emissions caused by the high demands of other countries.

In recent years China has overtaken the US as the world's largest producer of greenhouse gases.
Beijing argues that rich nations buying Chinese goods bear responsibility for the estimated 15-25% of China's carbon emissions that are created by its production of exports.

China is largely correct (but of course is only bring up this point because it serves their own interest). So the US and the EU have been able to hide their true emission levels by exporting the production of goods to countries like China.

Pope deluded about HIV/Aids and condoms (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Pope Benedict XVI, who is making his first papal visit to Africa, has said that handing out condoms is not the answer in the fight against HIV/Aids.

The pontiff, who preaches marital fidelity and abstinence, said the practice only increased the problem.

The Pope shows once again why he should usually just be ignored. The way the current Catholic church is willing to apologise over their stupidity about Galileo will be the way the church in another four hundred years will presumably apologise over the stupidity of the current Pope.

Date published: 2009/03/15

Britain should allegedly hugely increase the cost of alcohol (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The government's top medical adviser has drawn up plans for a minimum price for alcohol which would double the cost of some drinks in England.

Under the proposal from Sir Liam Donaldson, no drinks could be sold for less than 50 pence per unit of alcohol they contain.

It would mean most bottles of wine could not be sold for less than £4.50.

Cabinet minister Douglas Alexander said the government would consider what Sir Liam had to say in his report.

But Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell said ministers had no intention of going ahead with something that would punish the responsible majority of drinkers.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "We have not ruled out taking action on very cheap alcohol - it's clearly linked to people drinking more and the subsequent harm to their health."

She said more work needed to be done to make sure action was "appropriate, fair and effective" but decisions would take the "wider economic impact during this difficult time" into account.

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said it was important to deal with people's attitudes and not just the supply and price of alcohol.

The Liberal Democrats backed Sir Liam's stance and said putting an end to "pocket-money priced alcohol" would influence drinking behaviour.

Donaldson can draw up all the plans he wants. It doesn't mean anyone should pay any attention to them (no matter how much the BBC is pushing the angle that they should be). Needless to say, his proposals would not affect rich people like himself. The main losers would be the vast majority of ordinary people who drink sensibly. It seems that both Labour and the Tories have (so far) responded sensibly. On the other hand, it seems that the Lib Dems have once again shown themselves not to be very liberal (but they are the party of the academic middle class, so are inherently puritanical control freaks).

Government has allegedly wasted money trying to tackle health inequality (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Ministers have wasted public money in their attempts to tackle health inequalities, MPs say.

The House of Commons' Health Committee said the government should have been more careful in designing and piloting projects in England.

The MPs highlighted a series of schemes, including Sure Start, which had failed to have much of an impact.

But the government said tough targets had been set and interventions were based on good evidence.

Ministers have pledged to reduce the health inequality gap - measured by infant mortality and life expectancy - by 10% between 1997 and 2010.

But it seems certain they will miss that target as data published last year showed the gap between the richest and poorest has actually widened in the past decade.

On the one hand, even if the so-called health inequality gap is wider, it doesn't necessarily mean that the government schemes have not helped (so, the gap might have ended up being even wider without such intervention). On the other hand, although the government is very good at producing patronising adverts telling the peasants that they should behave themselves (in particular with regard to health), it is not clear the government knows how to spend money wisely or effectively.

Maldives is allegedly going to become carbon neutral (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The Maldives will become carbon-neutral within a decade by switching completely to renewable energy sources like wind and solar power, its leader has said.

President Mohamed Nasheed told the BBC the Maldives understood better than most what would happen if the world failed to tackle climate change.

His tiny country is one of the lowest-lying on Earth and so is extremely vulnerable to rises in sea level.

He said he hoped his plan would serve as a blueprint for other nations

Mr Nasheed was due to announce the plan formally after the screening of a new film on climate change, The Age of Stupid, on Sunday.

The Maldives is made up of a chain of nearly 1,200 islands, most of them uninhabited, which lie off the Indian sub-continent.

None of the coral islands measures more than 1.8 metres (six feet) above sea level, making the country vulnerable to a rise in sea levels associated with global warming.
It is estimated that the Maldives, which has high levels of poverty, will need to spend about $110m a year to make the transition to renewable energy sources.

Asked how it could afford this, the president said the country was already spending similar sums on existing energy sources, and he expected to recover the extra cost within the decade.

If the Maldives really does "recover the extra cost within the decade" then doing this makes sense independent of any other consideration.

Unfortunately, though, the Maldives economy is quite heavily dependent on international tourism. It is not clear exactly whose account the huge carbon emissions associated with that tourism should be tallied against, but since the Maldives is making money from tourism, they must be held partly responsible. But however they have defined "carbon neutral" is unlikely to have taken this into consideration.

Date published: 2009/03/12

Another end-of-the-world meeting on climate change (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The worst-case scenarios on climate change envisaged by the UN are already being realised, say scientists at an international meeting in Copenhagen.

In a statement outlining their six key messages to political leaders, they say there is an increasing risk of abrupt or irreversible climate shifts.

Even modest temperature rises will affect millions of people, particularly in the developing world, they warn.

But most tools needed to cut global carbon dioxide emissions already exist.

Nothing new here. But it is interesting that the mention of "irreversible climate shifts" is becoming more and more prominent at these kinds of meetings. Of course "irreversible" does not mean irreversible, it means irreversible on a human time scale. (The planet has been plenty hotter in the past and quite evidently managed to get through that perfectly ok.) And they want to peddle the phrase "risk of irreversible climate shifts" rather than "definite irreversible climate shifts" because if it's the latter, there's nothing anyone can do about it.

Government drops phone-based lie detection system in job centres (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Lie detectors are unlikely to be used in job centres after genuine benefits claimants were wrongly identified as "risky" during a pilot project.

Some councils are testing a phone-based system - Voice Risk Analysis - to help process benefit claims.

The system analyses voice stress levels and can identify liars, it is claimed.

When tried in a job centre in Nottinghamshire, almost two thirds of applicants initially considered high risk were found to be genuine.

Officials said there were no plans to roll out the system to more job centres.

It sounds like someone oversold the benefits of their wonderful (not) lie detector system. But what is most amazing about this story is that the government actually decided to try and determine if the system was any good, and stopped its deployment when it found out it was crap, rather than just going ahead with the scheme no matter what.

Scottish BMA conference votes against chocolate tax (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Scottish GPs have voted against a proposal for chocolate to be taxed in the same way as alcohol and cigarettes to tackle increasing levels of obesity.

Dr David Walker, a GP in Lanarkshire, warned that chocolate had lost its status as a "treat" and had become a harmful addition for some people.

However, his motion calling for a tax on chocolate was defeated by two votes at a BMA conference in Clydebank.

He said he was "disappointed" but glad his suggestion had provoked debate.

Speaking after the vote, Dr Walker, who is also a trained food scientist and nutritionist, said: "A little of what you fancy may do you some good, but as nearly one in four people in Scotland are obese a lack of physical activity, an unhealthy diet and larger portion sizes are clearly taking their toll on the health of Scotland.

"Chocolate has lost its status as a special treat and I think that if we charged a tax on it then, over a number of years, we could restore that status."

If the BMA spent more time sorting out the incompetence of doctors and less time trying to control freak over the rest of society, the world would be a better place. It is amazing how many members of the academic middle class think they have the right to decide what other people should and should not do with their lives. And with regards to this specific pathetic motion, why chocolate? Why not all sweets? Why not all meat (also bad from various points of view)? Why not all food and drink that someone objects to for whatever "earnest" reason? Of course now that the academic middle class has achieved its objective of taxing alcohol and (especially) cigarettes at ridiculous rates, the next thing on the agenda was bound to be food.

Date published: 2009/03/10

Quick reactions allegedly correlated with long life (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

People with quick reactions are likely to live longer than those less quick off the mark, a study suggests.

The joint Edinburgh University and Medical Research Council team looked at the response rates of more than 7,400 people, the journal Intelligence said.

Researchers found those with the slowest reactions were 2.6 times more likely to die prematurely.

They said quick reactions may be a sign of intelligence, which in turn was linked to healthier lifestyles.
Ash Ranpura, a neuroscientist at University College London, said: "There is evidence of a moderate correlation between how long it takes you to process information and intelligence. So these are very interesting findings."

Ranpura is wrong. These are not "very interesting findings". These are trivial findings. There ought to be some kind of correlation between just about any alleged measure of intelligence/health and just about any other alleged measure of intelligence/health. And it proves nothing, because correlations prove nothing. More pointless "health" related "research".

Update: Ash Ranpura (of the ICN at UCL) emails to clarify and correct:

Thanks for picking up the recent BBC story on cardiovascular health and reaction time. As you know doubt have guessed, the little quote from me at the end is printed out of context and doesn't adequately represent my views on this paper. Like you, I thought the paper wasn't hugely exciting, and I was surprised that the BBC was covering it. What I actually said to the reporter was that the findings might be very interesting if they provided the basis of a useful bedside diagnostic tool.

This is why I think you're unjustified in your blanket condemnation of correlational research. Health care workers look for factors which predict disease, because those factors help to select treatment plans. If the CRT measure used in the study is substantially predictive of cardiovascular health, then it is a cheap and easy way to identify patients who might need extra medical attention. It doesn't matter that CRT isn't causally related to cardiac health -- all that matters is that it helps clinicians diagnose patients.

You're wrong to say that any measure of intelligence or health will be strongly correlated with any other. My research demonstrates that vocabulary scores aren't predictive of mathematics scores in children, and that neither scores are predicted by postnatal birth weight or gestational age at birth (both correlate with general health). Moreover, vocabulary scores are predictive of the development of certain sets of brain areas (in the temporal lobe) while mathematics scores are predictive of parietal cortical development. So the scores index different kinds of cognitive functions and different aspects of biology, and all of those aspects can operate somewhat independently.

In short, the CRT test isn't amazing, but it's not completely useless either.

BBC claims that lunchtime siestas cause diabetes (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Taking regular lunchtime siestas could increase the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, according to research.

The study of 16,480 people, found those who napped were 26% more likely to get the condition than those who did not.

Several factors which may be behind the link included disrupted night-time sleep and an association between napping and reduced physical activity.

But a conference in Glasgow will hear that factors like genetics and being overweight are more significant.

The researchers will tell delegates at the Diabetes UK event that napping during the day may disrupt night-time sleep.

This could have an impact as short night-time sleep duration has been shown to be associated with an increased Type 2 diabetes risk.

Surprise, all they have shown is a correlation, not a causation but the BBC dresses it up as a causation, so claiming that "lunchtime siestas could increase the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes". This kind of "research" is in any case pretty pointless. You can come up with a zillion and one correlations between a zillion and one things you are apparently not supposed to like (and it seems that lunchtime siestas are the latest on that list) and a zillion and one health outcomes. It's all pretty trivial, and meaningless, stuff. Surprise, people with worse sleep patterns are correlated with people who have worse health. Who would have thought it.

Woman who threw custard at Mandelson is arrested (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Police say they have arrested environmental campaigner Leila Deen after an incident in which green custard was thrown at Lord Mandelson.

The business secretary was confronted before he was due to take part in a low-carbon summit in London.

Needless to say, nothing will come of it. The academic middle class can get away with all sorts of criminal acts (vandalism, assault, etc.) which ordinary people could not. These so-called environmental campaigners have the same mentality as the anti-abortionists in the US. They don't like something and they cannot win the democratic (or indeed any) argument so they believe they can do whatever they want to stop their pet hate and suffer no consequences.

Date published: 2009/03/05

Cambridge Transport Commission begins sham public consultation (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge News says:

Cambridge is being blackmailed into the congestion charge with a £500 million transport improvement "bribe".

That was the accusation slung at the Government as a public consultation into the road toll was held last night in the city's Guildhall.

There was also concern about the effects of the recession on traffic growth, with the slowdown affecting major housing developments.

A report released to coincide with the meeting shows many residents are baffled as to what the transport improvement plans are.

They have slammed the Cambridgeshire Transport Commission for failing to inform the public how the cash would be used - other than to pay for a congestion charging system in the city.
A report released to coincide with the meeting shows many residents are baffled as to what the transport improvement plans are.
The report's introduction states:

"Inevitably, given the emotive nature of the issue, there is a huge range of opinion, much of it contradictory. Some of the assertions reported may or may not be accurate: some undoubtedly need to be tested to ensure they are supported by evidence."

The central government bribe is the least of the problems. For one thing the 500 million is just a mythical figure. For another, the (so-called) congestion charge makes no sense for Cambridge. And this consultation is itself just a sham. It was just started to try and provide the Tory politicians who came up with this crackpot idea some political cover. It is obvious that the conclusion will be just what the people who set the commission up want it to be, and they will then claim they are "forced" to introduce the scheme because an "independent" commission found in its favour.

It is hardly surprising that there are "contradictory" opinions. You can find contradictory opinions about anything. The commission may well use this as an excuse when publishing their final report. But the contradictory opinions are not the issue. The most important question is whether the scheme makes any sense, and quite clearly it does not. A secondary concern is what the general public on average thinks, not what the entire distribution of opinions is. Of course this consultation will not determine what the general public on average thinks. All public consultations are heavily biased towards the academic middle class and the academic middle class are heavily biased against cars (at least those driven by other people).

A robot could write the final report of the commission. It is obvious the conclusion will be that the scheme is a jolly good idea with all sorts of weasly caveats (such as that government needs to market the scheme better because the peasants just do not understand) and with the standard line that "tough" decisions need to be made (i.e. car drivers need to be screwed some more, since evidently car drivers should subsidise everyone else's transport).

Climate change is allegedly already having an impact on birds (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Climate change is already having an impact on European bird species, according to British scientists.
Some birds are expected to do well as temperatures rise, but these are in the minority, the researchers write.

"Overall, the trend is towards net loss," said a spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), which contributed to the study.

The researchers found birds that are expected to do well as temperatures rise had indeed increased in number since the 1980s.

But some 75% of species studied by the researchers had declined in the same period.

The study compared the change in population numbers of bird species over the last two decades with the projected change in their ranges and found a strong link.
One UK species, the Scottish crossbill, could face extinction, the RSPB warned. The crossbill's range is already restricted to the Caledonian pine forests of Scotland.

"We need to redouble our efforts," said the RSPB spokesman, "for a G8 nation to lose a species is shameful."

The spokesman said preserving pine forests could be crucial to the survival of the crossbill.

Bird people always claim the world is about to end, and this is just the latest article in that vein. At least here they have allegedly found a "strong link" (i.e. a correlation) between predictions and reality. On the other hand, after blaming climate change for the problem, we then get the contrary claim that existing habitat loss is the issue for the Scottish crossbill. If climate change is changing the range of birds, then preserving existing habitat is not going to do much good, at least in the way the RSPB implies. And why is it allegedly "shameful" for a "G8 nation to lose a species"? Humans might be causing accelerated species extinction but it does not change the fundamental fact that in Nature species come and species go (and mankind is of course part of Nature, indeed a big part of Nature). What is "shameful" is the number of allegedly scientific people who bizarrely believe that they can make Nature stand still (if only they could stop all other people from doing anything).

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