Azara Blog: February 2011 archive complete

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Date published: 2011/02/25

Birmingham Airport is keen on the proposed high-speed train line (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Birmingham Airport says the proposed new high-speed rail link between the city and London could be a solution to runway capacity problems in the South.

Airport bosses said it will be quicker to get to London from Birmingham than from London Stansted if it is approved.

Proposals for the 250mph rail link show it will take 39 minutes to get from Birmingham International to London.

Opponents say it will ruin the environment and that there is no case for it.

Chris Crean, from environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth, said it was important that full analysis work be done to see if HS2 would be a green form of transport.

He said: "The really important issue about the aviation sector is that it does not pay the full cost for the pollution that it causes."

Birmingham International station is situated next to Birmingham Airport.

London Stansted airport is a 45-minute journey from the capital and getting to London Heathrow by the underground system can take 50 minutes from parts of the city.

Surprise, Birmingham Airport wants the high-speed HS2 line to go ahead because it will financially benefit, without having to pick up any of the costs.

Still, that is not any worse than the confused reaction from Friends of the Earth. They hate aviation, even though aviation is a lot closer to paying the "full cost" of its use compared with train travel, which is hugely subsidised by the government (currently, roughly half). Unfortunately so-called environmentalists always look at indirect costs (like pollution) and never look at direct costs. But subsidising one is no better (or worse) than subsidising the other. In all cases subsidies represent the customer being able to externalise the full cost of their journey onto the rest of society. Unfortunately the real problem is that the puritanical middle class control freaks, like the people who run Friends of the Earth, cannot cope with just about any technology introduced since the industrial revolution, and want to stop everyone else from using it. They support trains only because they see it as a lesser evil than cars and planes, because it is an older technology. Back in the middle of the 19th century the same class of people would have campaigned vociferously against trains.

GM crops are increasing in the world (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The area of the world's farmland used for growing genetically modified crops increased by about 10% last year.

GM use grew fastest in Brazil but fell in the EU, says the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).

Virtually all GM strains used were engineered for just two traits, disease resistance and herbicide tolerance.
SAAA estimates that more than 15 million farmers are involved in GM agriculture.

"We can recount a momentous year of progress in biotech crop adoption," said Clive James, the organisation's chairman and founder.

"During 2010, the accumulated commercial biotech plantation exceeded one billion hectares - that's an area larger than the US or China.

"And biotech crops registered double-digit growth over 2009, bringing the total global plantings to 148 million hectares. Biotech crops are here to stay."

However, critics point out that this is still just 10% of the world's arable land area as defined by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

About half of the global GM total is accounted for by the US - although overall, the developing world is adopting the technology faster than industrialised countries.

If current trends continue, developing countries will be growing more than half of the global total within a few years.
Greenpeace, meanwhile, has presented a petition bearing more than a million signatures to the European Commission, demanding that the executive stop approving new GM varieties.

The world moves forward. The EU moves backwards.

Date published: 2011/02/18

Cambridge Cycle Campaign whines about Gilbert Road yet again (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge News says:

Cyclists have welcomed the completion of controversial bike lanes in Cambridge-s Gilbert Road - but raised concerns about the lack of speed reduction measures.

Hundreds of residents opposed the plans to create 1.7m-wide cycle lanes along the road, with double lines preventing cars parking in them and on the verge.

But the £150,000 scheme was approved with support from cyclists and transport chiefs who said much of the parking - at the Milton Road end at least - was commuter-related.

Klaas Brümann, a member of the Gilbert Road group of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign, said: "Cycling along Gilbert Road is now much more pleasant, faster and feels safer. Car traffic also seems to be travelling at more even speeds."
He said: "The original proposal for the cycle lanes on Gilbert Road included speed reduction measures and bollards to avoid cars going into the cycle lane. These measures were taken out by Cambridgeshire County Council's cabinet.

"Unfortunately some drivers use the cycle lane for queue-jumping."

He added: "As before the implementation of uninterrupted cycle lanes, many pupils coming from Gurney Way use the pavement up to the pedestrian crossing at the Chesterton Community entrance.

"In the absence of speed reduction measures and traffic lights or a toucan crossing at Gurney Way this may have been encouraged by their parents.

"However, it is illegal and with cars reversing out of driveways, is dangerous."
Mike Davies, programme manager of Cycle Cambridge, said the traffic calming measures had been removed from the scheme because of fears they would shift rat-running to other roads in Arbury, and concern about noise.

He said speed survey results would be analysed to see if the measures were necessary.

It is unfortunate that the Cambridge Cycling Campaign (CCC) is still whining about Gilbert Road. The whole thing could have indeed been designed much better, but not in the way the CCC wanted it. So it could have included a fair amount of parking, as well as the dedicated cycle lane. Unfortunately the council listened far too much to the CCC.

Brümann is being particularly ridiculous. So he says it "feels safer" and yet wants to whine that the extremist measures that the CCC were pushing for were not introduced. Of course the CCC does not care about the rat-running issue because it is not a problem for them. The CCC is just a typical special interest pressure group that tries to bludgeon the rest of society into putting the interests of the CCC (which is not even the same thing as the interests of cyclists) above the interests of society as a whole. As such, they should largely be ignored.

And on the Gurney way front, it is obvious to anyone that the speed, or not, of the traffic has nothing to do with the issue. The traffic is at a complete standstill during the rush hour and yet nobody with any sense would want to cross the road twice even then. A toucan crossing would help but not that much (you could just about walk the distance in the same time as it would take to wait for two sets of lights to go green).

Far better all around would have been for the council to provide a pedestrian/cycle route from Ascham Road through to Courtney Way / Metcalfe Road. They could have done so at the time that Lady Adrian School was being expanded into Castle School, and before the new Milton Road school site was developed. Unfortunately that would have taken some vision, and that is sorely lacking in Cambridge transport policy, whose only goal seems to be to make the lives of motorists as miserable as possible.

Along these lines, it is unfortunate that the "transport chiefs" need to perpetually denigrate drivers who park their cars on roads, especially, it seems, when this is "commuter-related". Commuters are the workers who pay the taxes to keep the useless transport bureaucrats in business. Of course, at the other end of Gilbert Road, the main people who parked their car in the road were the residents (and their visitors) and yet the transport bureaucrats also denigrated them, this time for allegedly being selfish for not wanting to have their parking taken away with nothing given back in compensation.

UK government wants to allow bankers in without any question but not scientists (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Non-European Union workers earning more than £150,000 a year are to be excluded from the government's immigration cap.

Scientists will also be given "a significant advantage" in coming to the UK as firms attempt to fill jobs where there are staff shortages.

Immigration minister Damian Green said the UK had to "attract the brightest and the best" to promote recovery.

Intra-company transfers have already been exempted from the cap after pressure from business.

The government has said it wants to cut the overall non-EU immigration limit from about 200,000 to "tens of thousands" by 2015.

This will be split into monthly allocations with a total of 4,200 available for the first month in April, with 1,500 each month after that - a total of 20,700.

Certain types of scientist will also be given priority, following concerns UK-based research would be harmed by the cap.

Mr Green said chemists, biochemists, physicists, geologists and research and development managers will all be among those given an advantage, while high earners would be exempt.

This is pathetic. Rich bankers, who practically destroyed the world economy a few years ago, are going to be welcome with open arms and no questions asked. And yet scientists will only be given some nebulous "advantage" for immigration. And not even all scientists, but only some random subset: chemists, biochemists, physicists and geologists. What about mathematicians, engineers and IT specialists? The government has no clue, it seems, and is keen to commit economic suicide by keeping talented people out of the country. There have already been several instances in Cambridge University where visas have been denied. If rich bankers can be given a free pass, then all STEM-related people should also be given a free pass. They contribute far more to the world than any banker has ever done.

MPs write another pointless report, this one about hill farming (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

MPs are urging ministers to do more to help hill farmers, saying many are struggling for a "decent" living and their plight hurts rural communities.

The cross-party environment select committee said livestock farming was vital to preserving landscapes.

But "hard-pressed" farmers needed help to diversify into new areas and direct payments linked to livestock numbers may need to be reintroduced, it argued.

Ministers said they were committed to "affordable" measures to help farmers.

In its report, the committee said the industry was under pressure and that tenant farmers in remote areas were having a "particularly hard time".

Obviously this report could have been written at any time in the last N years for some large N (and has been written several times). It is bizarre that MPs are daft enough to write about "preserving landscapes". It is a landscape that has been created by humans, and it makes little sense that the country should be throwing vast quantities of money at these farmers just because the current generation of comfortable middle class hill walkers thinks that the current landscape is quaint and so should be preserved in aspic. There is no reason not to let it go wild.

Date published: 2011/02/11

Nick Clegg blames everyone but himself for university funding situation (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Nick Clegg has warned Oxford and Cambridge universities that it is "not up to them" to decide whether they can charge fees of up to £9,000 a year.

The deputy prime minister said they had to "dramatically increase" access for poorer students, after Cambridge said it could demand this amount.

From 2012, English university fees will be between £6,000 and £9,000 a year.

Mr Clegg made the comments to BBC News as he faced an audience of students who accused him of "selling out".

Before the general election, his Liberal Democrats pledged to fight to end tuition fees.

But, since forming a coalition with the Conservatives, this policy has been dropped, amid protests by many students.

Cambridge University's working group on fees has recommended charging £9,000 for all its courses, while leading figures at Oxford have met to discuss the possibility.

During the BBC debate, hosted by political editor Nick Robinson, Mr Clegg said: "The truth is, for Oxford and Cambridge, and for those universities who've said over the last few years that they want to charge £9,000, it's not up to them.

"They can say what they like. They can't charge £9,000 unless they're given permission to do so.

"And they're only going to be given permission to do so if they can prove that they can dramatically increase the number of people from poorer and disadvantaged backgrounds who presently aren't going to Oxford and Cambridge."

Needless to say, Clegg is technically correct that it is not up to Oxbridge "to decide whether they can charge fees of up to £9,000 a year". Unfortunately, he and his government has removed so much government funding from universities that either these high fees will be charged or universities will be seriously damaged (or both).

Obviously the reason that Clegg was taking this "tough" line with Oxbridge is that he is trying to divert attention from his sorry contribution to the affair. The Lib Dems made a crazy promise during the election not only not to increase tuition fees, but to abolish the existing (circa £3300) fees. That was naive enough, but even worse, it was discovered after the election that Clegg did not even believe in this policy. And also after the election he enthusiastically pushed for the increase of the fee to the £9,000 limit.

Oxbridge already biases selection towards poorer students. The problem is that these students have been badly educated by the UK school system, and the government, rather than admitting it is responsible, wants to shift the blame to Oxbridge, who are supposed to magically figure out in a relatively short interview (or two) which of these students are bright enough to overcome 18 years of neglect and survive (never mind thrive in) a 3 year university education, surrounded by students who have been properly educated.

It is ironic that the current government, stuffed full of nice but dim people who all went to Oxbridge and who are only where they are in life because they were born rich, is allegedly so concerned about poor students. The one policy that all Oxbridge colleges should publicly declare as part of their support of access for poor students is that not a single child of any government minister will in future be accepted as an undergraduate. Someone has to make the sacrifice of a place at Oxbridge in order to help the poor.

Soil Association whines that government is not doing enough for it (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The UK government is not doing enough to support and promote organic food and farming, a report says.

The Soil Association said sales continued to grow in other European nations during the recession, while UK sales fell by 13.6% in 2009.

A government spokeswoman said there was scope for UK organic producers to grow if they became more competitive.
Peter Melchett, policy director for the Soil Association - which operates the UK's largest organic accreditation scheme - described the fall in sales, after years of continuous growth, as "really frustrating".
National Farmers' Union president Peter Kendall said he looked forward to organic and conventional farmers working more closely together, but warned it would be "dangerous" for the government to set fixed targets.

"I warn you from years of experience, governments meddling by saying what you should be doing with your businesses is not the way forward," he said.

"Get consumers to want to buy."

Referring to the recommendations outlined in the Association's report, he added: "You want the market to take you. You do not want the [government] to do it, because it is extra resources drawn from your business.

"Do not say that the government should have targets... it should be supply and demand."

Responding to the Soil Association's report, a Defra spokeswoman said: "Organic farming is one of the pioneering approaches to sustainable production and remains influential, but it's not the only one and it would not be right to increase taxpayer support for one particular sector.

"Many consumers make some purchases of organic produce," she added.

"It commands a premium price, but it represents less than 2% of the market. The opportunity is there for organic suppliers to build their market share by being competitive and customer-focused."

Needless to say, the Soil Association "report" is just a puff piece of self-promoting propaganda. Peter (Mond, 4th Baron) Melchett and the Soil Association have a direct financial interest in organic food (they make a huge amount of money certifying what is allegedly organic) and so are hardly impartial. In this case the NFU and Defra are spot on in their critique. Unfortunately the BBC buried this critique way at the bottom of a very long article, most of which is just repeating the Soil Association propaganda.

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