Azara Blog: May 2010 archive complete

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Date published: 2010/05/27

David Cameron, arrogant and obnoxious after two weeks in power (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Downing Street refused to allow a government minister to appear on the Question Time programme unless Tony Blair's former adviser Alastair Campbell was removed, the BBC says.

No 10 complained about the presence of Mr Campbell on the weekly discussion show, the corporation said.

Downing Street said he was not elected or a frontbench spokesman and asked him to be replaced by a shadow minister.

The BBC said it refused the demand as a point of "fundamental principle".

The last Tory government was arrogant and obnoxious beyond belief, for most of its rule. The previous Labour government became arrogant and obnoxious after Gordon Brown took over. The current Tory government has only been in power a couple of weeks and it has already become arrogant and obnoxious.

David Cameron spent much of the campaign claiming that Labour had allowed Government to trample the rights of Parliament. So it was appalling that one of his first acts as prime minister was to trample the rights of Parliament by trying to hijack the backbench 1922 committee to make it compliant with the wishes of his government rather than the wishes of his backbenchers.

And now Cameron has thrown a tizzy because he could not specify who the BBC invited to appear on Question Time. This is presumably the first of the Tory attempts to browbeat the BBC. Rupert Murdoch will be paid off handsomely for his support for the Tories.

John Sulston criticises synthetic genome patents (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

A top UK scientist who helped sequence the human genome has said efforts to patent the first synthetic life form would give its creator a monopoly on a range of genetic engineering.

Professor John Sulston said it would inhibit important research.

US-based Dr Craig Venter led the artificial life form research, details of which were published last week.

Prof Sulston and Dr Venter clashed over intellectual property when they raced to sequence the genome in 2000.

Craig Venter led a private sector effort which was to have seen charges for access to the information. John Sulston was part of a government and charity-backed effort to make the genome freely available to all scientists.

"The confrontation 10 years ago was about data release," Professor Sulston said.

"We said that this was the human genome and it should be in the public domain. And I'm extremely glad we managed to pull this out of the bag."

Now the old rivals are at odds again over Dr Venter's efforts to apply for patents on the artificially created organism, nicknamed Synthia. The team outlined the remarkable advance last week in the prestigious journal Science.

But Professor Sulston, who is based at the University of Manchester, said patenting would be "extremely damaging".

"I've read through some of these patents and the claims are very, very broad indeed," Professor Sulston told BBC News.

"I hope very much these patents won't be accepted because they would bring genetic engineering under the control of the J Craig Venter Institute (JCVI). They would have a monopoly on a whole range of techniques."

The problem is not so much with Craig Venter as with the entire world (in particular US) patent system. Far too broad patents are allowed in all areas of technology, and they are indeed "extremely damaging". The current patent system often prevents innovation more than it protects it.

Date published: 2010/05/22

Craig Venter makes synthetic genome (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Scientists in the US say they have succeeded in developing the first synthetic living cell.

The researchers constructed a bacterium's "genetic software" and transplanted it into a host cell.

The resulting microbe then looked and behaved like the species "dictated" by the synthetic DNA.

The advance, published in Science, has been hailed as a scientific landmark, but critics say there are dangers posed by synthetic organisms.

The researchers hope eventually to design bacterial cells that will produce medicines and fuels and even absorb greenhouse gases.

The team was led by Dr Craig Venter of the J Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) in Maryland and California.

He and his colleagues had previously made a synthetic bacterial genome, and transplanted the genome of one bacterium into another.

Now, the scientists have put both methods together, to create what they call a "synthetic cell", although only its genome is truly synthetic.

This is another great advance forward in biological techniques. But the hype about the advances it will lead to is still only hype. On the other hand, the "critics" are the usual suspects who cannot cope with biotechnology, or indeed with almost any technology that is post industrial revolution. As with any new technology, there are risks that are not fully understood. But there are risks with anything, and there is no point refusing to develop technology just because some middle class "critics" cannot cope with the modern world.

Date published: 2010/05/12

The LibCon government takes over (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

New Prime Minister David Cameron has said his "historic" Conservative-led coalition government will be united and provide "strong and stable" leadership.

In a good-humoured press conference with Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, who is now deputy PM, he said they would "take Britain in a historic new direction".

Their agenda was to cut the deficit, support troops, clean up politics and build a "stronger society".

Mr Clegg acknowledged "big risks" but pledged a "bold, reforming government".

He is among five Liberal Democrats appointed to Cabinet posts, something Mr Cameron said showed "the strength and depth of the coalition and our sincere determination to work together constructively".

When Nick Clegg was running around the country proclaiming that he wanted a balanced parliament this is presumably what he meant. So not only is Eton well represented in the cabinet, but so is Westminster. How balanced can you get.

It will be interesting to see how long this coalition lasts, given the inherent contradictions in many of the ideas of the two parties (although the Lib Dems seem to believe all things at different times, dependent on who they are talking to and the phase of the moon).

The first decision of the New Labour government in 1997 was visionary. It handed over power to determine interest rates to a Bank of England committee, without direct government interference.

The first decision of the LibCon government is anti-visionary. It is to refuse to allow extra runway capacity in the southern half of England (and probably everywhere else). It condemns Britain to moving backwards, rather than forwards.

The long national nightmare has begun.

Another end of the world report (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The Earth's ongoing nature losses may soon begin to hit national economies, a major UN report has warned.

The third Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO-3) says that some ecosystems may soon reach "tipping points" where they rapidly become less useful to humanity.

Such tipping points could include rapid dieback of forest, algal takeover of watercourses and mass coral reef death.

Last month, scientists confirmed that governments would not meet their target of curbing biodiversity loss by 2010.

This is not really news, and hardly surprising. With the human population increasing more and more, there is less room on the planet for other species. Unfortunately no government and no so-called environmental organisation wants to point out this obvious fact, instead pretending that the circle can be squared. Well of course the 5 billion humans who are currently not in abject poverty could be forced into abject poverty like the unfortunate 1 billion humans who currently are, and that would give more breathing space to other species. This seems to be the rather unfortunate goal of most so-called environmental organisations, but needless to say it is not what normal people would see as the way forward. Governments should not reward people for breeding (as happens now in the rich world). And countries should not be rewarded for breeding by accumulating more of the world's resources by having done so (e.g. it is a common belief among so-called environmentalists that considering per-capita emissions is the only "fair" measure, but that rewards countries that misbehave by having too many people).

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