Monday, December 17, 2007

Dangerous dirge

Forget the nuclear ambitions and meddling in Iraq. Forget the taking of hostages and the homophobic bigotry. The Iranian government is planning to commit a crime against humanity, against its own people, a crime so terrible that the others pale into insignificance.

Iran has announced that Irish bore-rock artist Chris De Burgh is to be first 'major' western artist to perform live in Iran since 1979. The singer, responsible for the horror of the dirge Lady in Red is planning to perform a concert in Tehran, backed by an Iranian band.

However, Ireland's own 'lyrical terrorist' may not be able to sing the lyrics of said song, as it includes phrases which may be considered as inappropriate by fundamentalist Muslim clerics, like 'cheek to cheek', and especially sinful words such as 'dance', 'red', 'lady' and 'the'.

Haven't the people of Iran suffered enough? Why give them another reason to hate the West? The world needs to act now to protect the Iranian people from the De Burgh terror.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Unfortunate timing

Page 5 of tonight's Gazette featured an article about a road safety initiative - a safe crossing point for horses in Sunderland Road at Cleadon. It featured horse rider Toni Keighley who, after a road accident in which a horse had to be destroyed, petitioned for a reduction in road speed limits on roads frequented by horse riders. However, next to the article, in the 'Court Round-up' column, a small paragraph told us that:

Toni Keighley, 22, of Whitehall Street, South Shields, was fined £100, with £45 costs, for driving without insurance. Her licence was endorsed with six penalty points for driving without insurance.

It might be a different Toni Keighley of South Shields (or a misprint) but it leaves me to wonder if anyone proof-reads the pages after the mischievous newspaper elves have finished with the page-setting.

Petrol nazis

New fuel protest group Transaction 2007 is planning a series of protests across the country over the price of petrol and diesel fuel. Essentially it's a narrow self interest group which is demanding cheaper fuel, although the Road Hauliers Association has distanced itself from the protest and Transaction 2007.

Whilst the RHA has voiced concerns about protest methods, it still seems an odd position to take when you consider that on the face of it Transaction 2007 and the RHA have some similar objectives.

Although claiming not to be a militant organisation, some of Transaction 2007's vague demands have a slight whiff of the right wing about them, with foreigners coming in for a bit of heat.

The item in the Gazette on Tuesday featured the poster boy of the 2000 and 2005 protests Andrew Spence together with obligatory Union Jack poster, although unusually the Transaction 2007 website doesn't mention the publicity hungry Spence at all. What the Gazette failed to mention (and does so regularly) is that Spence has a past with right-wing groups. He stood in the 2001 general election for UKIP, and for the BNP contested the Leadgate ward in Derwentside in the local elections this year and also was parliamentary candidate in the recent Sedgefield parliamentary by-election.

He left the racist party after a minor fisticulation incident at the party's booze-fest in Derbyshire this summer. Afterwards, Spence stated he parted with the BNP because it's "not the party I thought it was", although he "was proud to be in the party".

The BNP itself has had links to the fuel protests since they began back in 2000. The BNP ran the website in support of the 2000 protests and party supporters were encouraged to get involved in both the 2000 and 2005 protests. BNP chums the National Front also got in on the act, intimidating tanker drivers by threatening to set alight bails of hay at blockades.

Why the Gazette fails to mention Spence's former affiliation with the BNP seems odd, as it certainly is newsworthy, especially since he's 'proud' to have been in a party of racists and bigots.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Believe what you are told

The state-appointed guardian of happy thoughts, Trevor Phillips, has issued a diktat from inside the walls of his Ministry of Harmony, which says that the Nativity should performed in schools.

Phillips accused schools not putting on nativity plays of "robbing their children of really being part of what it is to be British". Utter codswallop, and an arrogant presumption that he can dictate what he thinks are British values. Normally, as a Nu-Lab creature, Phillips is nailed to the right-wing cross of politically correctness for his views, but since this is traditional Telegraph reader territory he will be praised by the the Tory religious fundies (and probably the BNP too, 'cos he used the word 'British').

For most people, Christmas has become divorced from religion and has become a cultural rather than religious event. There's no harm in society or in education in recognising the origin of Christmas, and believe it or not, we can all enjoy Christmas without being forced to prostrate ourselves before the Christmas Taliban.

Nativity plays themselves have little moral meaning other than 'believe in this fairy tale' and most parents only enjoy them just because their own little cherub is playing a shepherd or an angel. Personally, I don't think the Nativity is very entertaining either (unless they make a version with Samuel L Jackson and a cool soundtrack).

Religion shouldn't be shoved down children's throats, particularly by state decree, and especially not at the expense of the taxpayer. If parents specifically want their children to participate in the Nativity, then church, not school, should be the place to do it.

God knows the church could do with the bums on seats.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Sick racist filth

...or why you can't roll over and ignore the BNP.

Over on the Lancaster UAF (Unite Against Fascism) blog I read this post. It discusses a thread on a web forum called 'Stormfront'. Essentially Stormfront is a discussion board for white supremecists to get their racist rocks off with each other. It's frequented by many BNP members, including goose-steppers from South Tyneside BNP.

Essentially, the scumfront thread was hung on a story of a Luxembourg woman who had immolated herself, allegedly in protest at receiving what she saw as racist treatment at the hands of government. The woman in question was not white, and later died from her injuries. Whatever the circumstances surrounding her death, it was undeniably tragic.

The scumfront posts in response to the story were disgustingly racist and revelled in the woman's death.

The Lancaster UAF blog repeated several of the posts from the scumfront thread, including a post from someone with the nickname "caer urfa". As anyone from South Shields will know, Caer Urfa was an ancient name given to the settlement that eventually became South Shields. This is caer urfa's comment:

"I think that sort of protest should be encouraged" [followed by a “big grin” emoticon]

This creep, obviously delighted with the grisly death of a non-white person, is without a grain of humanity. caer urfa is apparently from South Shields and linked with South Tyneside BNP. Presumably this is how your average South Tyneside BNP member thinks and it illustrates that there's nothing moderate about these fanatics, and that they still think in the same terms as their Nazi forebears.

It sickens me to think that people vote for these scumbags.

Fascist appeasement

There was a post a while back on The Northern Herald blog, where the blogger discussed South Tyneside BNP posting their lie rag in the Primrose ward. The blogger quite rightly asks - what are the local councillors saying about it? And the answer is - nothing.

A poster called Billy Boy (who also seems to be web stalking Peter Shaw) said "Don't you think that by posting about them, you give thm [sic] more publicity than they deserve?" This argument is like saying 'ignore the BNP and they'll go away'.

Well this brand of appeasement obviously hasn't and doesn't work. They don't go away. The BNP are targeting South Tyneside and are evidently buoyed by the last local election results at Primrose.

If local councillors don't publicly challenge these freaks then the BNP could get even more publicity - by winning a seat.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Carbon copy Tories

In an interesting about turn, the Tories are now pilfering Labour's policies - plans for nuke power and stripping the planning system to allow nuke builds to go ahead without the tiresome interruption of citizens.

Also aping Gordon Brown, David 'Gordon' Cameron made his announcement to the CBI at their annual conference. Dave made the remarkable claim that nuke is needed to combat climate change (erm, like Gordon).

However, the unanswered question is that if nuclear is such a good prospect, why aren't the energy companies getting out their chequebooks to build new ones? There's been no new nuke build for 12 years, and nothing has been stopping anyone from building them. What are they waiting for, if it isn't for some kind of promise of Government bail out?

The real Gordon Brown must be a bit miffed. No matter how hard he's been licking the CBI's boots over the years, Martin Broughton, president of the CBI, clearly nailed his colours to the Tory mast.

It's obvious the CBI is watching the polls and have now decided to back who they think is going to be the winner.

Poor Gordon. I suppose that's a risk of getting into bed with the CBI - sooner or later they're going roll you over.

Free voice

Sometimes courts do make the right decision, and in kicking out religious fundies Christian Voice's action against the BBC for blasphemy the courts have said that at least on stage and broadcast, religion is fair game. And so it should be.

What is ludicrous is that we have blasphemy laws at all. Such laws belong in the middle ages, or the middle east.

There is some irony in the ruling. Although Christian Voice are spitting fury at the decision, it's freedom speech that lets them air their loony values in public, even when they are being intentionally offensive and hateful towards people they don't like.

Glass act

Hilarious comment from the Council about the danger of glass milk bottles in Tuesday's Gazette article about school milk to be supplied in cartons instead of bottles.

The council, essentially backing down to a suppliers wish to be less sustainable (and foist disposal costs onto the council taxpayer), used this gem of spin:

"Cartons are safer and easier to handle, as there is no risk of chipping and breakage."

To prostitute yourself to a corporation's interests using the name of safety must be all in a day's work for a council spokesperson. No wonder the spokesperson didn't want to be named.

I suppose now the council will demand all South Tyneside schools to use only blunt pencils, pointless compasses and set squares without sharp corners.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Cancel Christmas says Ashby

The North East's own Ebenezer Scrooge, Robin Ashby, has branded the Christmas bonus and 4% wage rise awarded to Northern Rock staff as "disgraceful and entirely inappropriate".

It doesn't help that the Guardian describes the rise as 'hefty'. Footballers and corporate directors get 'hefty'. Whilst unexpected, two hundred quid is the least the bank should be giving it's loyal staff for what they're going through.

Ashby whinged that "a discredited management team is rewarding employees for their failure and I'm sure all customers and investors will be furious". So kind-hearted Robin thinks that all Northern Rock staff should be punished for the credit crunch, or for the failure of the board? Is this his Christmas message?

It seems he was quite happy with the management team when it was raking in millions on it's business model of high risk and low costs - and paying rich folk like Ashby healthy dividends.

"Why should employees, who have good pay packages anyway, be rewarded when we lose money?" What a nob, assuming that every employee of NR has a good pay package. The employees are hard working people, working for a company which keeps it's wage bill low and productivity high - performance which contributed to the success of the company.

It's obvious that Robin couldn't give a fuck about the staff who put up with rude and obnoxious customers during the September run. He couldn't care less that they are all worrying whether they will have a job next week, or be bothered if they were all made redundant, or that blow-hards like him are unfairly devaluing Northern Rock staff

Cockweasel. (thanks punkscience)


That's it. That's how much we need to reduce our CO2 emissions to avoid runaway global heating. But think about it - is the de-carbonisation of our economy such a bad idea?

You could question George Monbiot's figures, but in practice when Monbiot does the maths he's usually right, and eventually others follow. He came up with the 80% CO2 cut figure a year ago in his excellent book Heat, and this figure is now accepted as the current minimum cut the UK needs to aim for, and was even mentioned recently by Gordon Brown.

What's Gordon waiting for? Permission from the CBI?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Before the hockey stick...

...there was the curve. It's coincidental that this week sees both the 50th anniversary of the Keeling Curve and the meeting in Bali to discuss the successor to Kyoto. In terms of science meets policy, it represents a kind of long term cause and effect. It's where research into human impact on the atmosphere started, and led to the birth of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The Keeling Curve (actually more of a sawtooth upward slope than a curve) started in 1957 shows rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

Whereas Kyoto has failed to deliver a reduction in CO2 emissions, the Keeling Curve is still here and rising, as stark a reminder as ever.


Tory MP Mark Pritchard has come out against what he perceives as 'Christianophobia' in society and has called for a debate in Parliament tomorrow. What a waste of time.

He says he wants to "protect the Christian tradition" and "ensuring that the Christian tradition of our nation is recognised." Why?

He bemoans that "Some people seem to want to forget the Christian tradition going back to the first century and its contribution to arts, culture and science." Yep, it's their right to do so. Welcome to the 21st Century.

Over Nativity plays he says they "would be a positive contribution for children. This isn't criticising people of other faiths or of no faith." No, it's indoctrination. Give me the superior A Christmas Carol any day.

Like so many Tories, Pritchard relies on the "Politically Correct Brigade" cliché to hammer home his message. I'm not sure who this pc brigade is, but they're very busy. Do they have a special forces section? Do they give out medals for valour in the face of non-fairtrade coffee?

The subject has no place in Parliament. We're already overburdened by 26 bishops sitting in the House of Lords. If I was at the debate I would remind Pritchard of the recent events in Sudan and the dangers of a legislature under the influence of religion.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Benefit discs found

A man in his sixties has been detained for the disappearance of the two discs lost from HMRC holding information about every child in the UK. The man, described as portly, with a fluffy white beard and ruddy complexion, was originally stopped by officers responding to complaints about a man who had been taunting children that "I see you when you are sleeping, I know when you're awake".

When police searched the man's home at 1 North Pole Gardens, they found the lost discs, as well as a number of elves working illegally in his toy sweatshop.

Although the man didn't make the discs, police said they have evidence he has already checked the data twice, taking particular interest in the records titled "naughty" and "nice".

The Government has not responded to this news, but has pledged to no longer use Donner und Blitzen Couriers Ltd.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Room for vroom

An old friend from the International Standard of Comparative Measurement has returned to measure volume - the Wembley Stadium.

Researchers at Oxford Brookes University have calculated that enough vehicle scrap will be created over the next 25 years to fill 1,000 Wembleys. Nice to see all that Oxford intellect being used productively. However, the Guardian piece covering this news also remarks that this is the same university that gave professional oaf Jeremy Clarkson an honorary degree.

It's not clear in the article, but I presume that the unit of the Wembley has been re-assessed to take account of the size of the new stadium. Given that some folk are still stewing over metrication, I'm not sure how society will adjust to the new standard.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

GM genie

Professor Sir David King, the government's pet science monkey, has used his impending retirement from government to bring Genetically Modified food back onto the agenda, aping the GM industry's recent PR gambit - climate change. King, who is also an advocate of nuclear power, played the "it's climate change, stupid" card, arguing that we need GM to ensure there's plenty food for everyone.

He also claimed that "in many ways it is probably safer for you to eat GM products", without producing a shred of evidence to support his argument, only some unsubstantiated blurb about food sensitivities. GM nuts that won't kill those allergic to nut products won't save the world, although it might make a tidy profit for someone.

It's 'probably' not good for a scientist to make such claims without showing the evidence, instead staking his position with a reliance on utopian science. His post-1950s rosy confidence in science being the solution to the world's ills sounds familiar. Perhaps he can remember that old claim about nuclear power - "too cheap to meter".

Don't mistake me - I love science, me. But when someone who should know better gets lost in panacean speculation it's reasonable to expect that people will stop taking him seriously. Which is a pity, because the guy has been (and still is to a certain extent) a real champion for taking urgent action on climate change.

Let's not forget though, there is enough food for everyone, it's just that so many can't afford to buy enough of it. No matter the wonders of tuna-flavoured triffids or fart free beans that GM promises, if you can't afford it you're still going to go hungry. In reality GM foods aren't developed to feed the world, they are developed like any other modern product - to meet a marketing brief and make big fat wodges of dosh. GM development is now racing to get a bite of the biofuels market, so no bellies being filled there either.

The UK government's own farm scale trials into GM have so far proved at best inconclusive, with no benefits to the consumer or the environment over organic food. Industry and government proclaim GM as safe (and as King posits 'probably safer'), but if it really is safe, why isn't the GM industry willing to accept liability if it goes wrong, or pay organic farmers if their crops are contaminated with GM organisms? Why won't they put their money where their yaps are?

I do hope King enjoys his retirement. As is traditional for those retiring from government, perhaps some kindly soul in industry (like GM or nuclear possibly) could give him a nice part-time job or two to keep his hand in.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Flying in the ointment

A couple of days ago the media praised Gordon Brown for his vision for a low carbon economy. He warned of hard choices and the need to achieve severe reductions in CO2 emissions. So if Gordon is so worried about climate change, why did it take him four months to mention it?

Yet on the ground and in the air - it's business as usual. Brown wants to build more roads and runways, effectively encouraging growth in CO2 emissions in the transport sector, and today his low carbon vision crashed further with Ruth Kelly's backing of the expansion of Heathrow airport. In one undemocratic swoop, Kelly has prejudged the outcome of any public inquiry, as at the end of it all it will be her final decision that counts. Like the nuclear consultation, it seems to be in the bag, no doubt helped along by the fact that airport's owner, BAA, will be effectively managing the data going into the consultation.

They will ignore the environment, the climate change, the thousands of people slowly losing their sanity and health due to aircraft noise. The excuse, as ever, is that "it's the economy, stupid." To counter the environmental argument that the plans should be shelved, Kelly said:

"All it will do is shift capacity over the Channel. It will make us feel pure, but with no benefit to the rest of the planet."

This is a piss poor excuse as well as a morally corrupt argument - it's the same argument crack dealers and arms sellers use - if we don't do it, someone else will.

We need to replace the "it's the economy, stupid" with something like "if we don't sort climate change we're all fucked, stupid." I know, it's not as snappy as Clinton's quote, but you get my drift.

Anyway, so instead of trying to engineer mechanisms to start to limit flying, something we need to do to reduce our CO2 emissions, the government is actively encouraging the growth in aviation and increasing the likelihood of disaster. Carbon offsetting, trading or any other fairyland gimmick they can think of to try and avoid actually reducing emissions will not work. There's no magic technological solution around the corner. Reductions must be the aim.

The British Government - the environmental equivalent of crack dealers.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Darling's new northern bail out

In tonight's BBC Look North item on the Tyne Tunnel we witnessed the BBC becoming PR company to the second the Tyne road tunnel. Even the lead-in had a 'dynamic' soundtrack like some crappy company presentation. In this Tunnel-friendly puff piece, brought to us by reporter Damien Lewis, the BBC painted the tunnel as the only possible solution to crossing the Tyne and failed to mention anything about the opposition to the tunnel, the noise and particulate pollution and extra CO2 emissions.

So much for journalistic balance at the BBC.

There was however a startling revelation - that 50% of the money will come from government borrowing. The last press release from the Tunnel chiefs said that the 50 per cent borne by the PTA would be through so-called "Prudential Borrowing", which is a nice way of giving plain and simple borrowing a somehow less offensive appearance. If the new funding arrangement announced by the BBC is true, and not a journalistic error (what's the chances?), this means that the Tunnel may become another beneficiary of Alistair Darling's largesse, and in more ways than one.

When Alistair Darling was Secretary of State for Transport, he gave the go ahead for the tunnel, and in his justification he commented:

"...the Secretary of State is satisfied that the NTC scheme is reasonably capable of attracting the funds necessary to secure its implementation by means of the concession agreement proposed by the TWPTA."

No doubt based upon what the Inspector said in his final report:

"There is an active market for road and crossing PPPs [public private partnerships]. On this basis, and assuming that market conditions remain favourable for this type of project and that contractual negotiations proceed successfully, then the NTC is reasonably capable of attracting the necessary funding."

So the Inspector and Darling both agreed, even falling for the PTA's line that the tunnel would even make so much moolah that the Tunnel could also fund public transport initiatives elsewhere. So now we get to a sticky situation where things are not as rosy - a concessionaire which won't take the full bill, as first presented to the Inspector, and now a chill in the lending markets. Darling gave the go ahead for the tunnel, and if the report is right, he's going to be writing (at least) a £130m cheque for it too.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Toilet humour

A letter from "Alfy Wells" in tonight's Shields Gazette is either a tour-de-force of comic genius, or a cry for help from seriously in need of psychiatric help. "Alfy", in Viz-esque style, imparted his wisdom:

"All the carry on about don't eat this and don't eat that could put you in your grave with worry. I've got a sure way to lose weight. All you do is to swallow two to three laxatives every other day. It's as simple as that. You should see a difference after a few days."

I'm surprised that he didn't throw in 40 fags a day as an extra insurance in shedding those pounds.

It's amazing that this got past the editorial, especially given the Gazette's habit of gutting all context from letters. I look forward to a letter from a concerned doctor admonishing the Gazette for it's irresponsible attitude, allowing any loon to advise readers on how to deal with their problems with habitual medication.

Perhaps we will see more medical advice from "Alfy", possibly even an "Ask Dr Alfy" spot.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Planning is boring

My previous post may have given the impression that there's little point in getting involved in consultations and planning. Despite my cynicism, I think they are an important way to try and influence development.

The Gypsies' Green campaigners would be in with a better chance if they had responded en masse to the South Shields and Town Centre Action Plan, outlining their preferences for the type of development on both the Gypsies' Green site. As it was, the action plan respondents were close to 50-50 between a hotel or recreational facilities for the site. A concerted campaign during that consultation could have clearly earmarked the Gypsies' Green site for public recreational facilities. The site is now designated as 'mixed use'.

Since the consultation fed into the Core Strategy, which forms the backbone of local planning guidance, you've got to find a pretty good reason, and strictly in planning terms, to stop a project which fits the criteria laid down in the Core Strategy.

Unless the Gypsies' Green campaigners can find a killer planning objection, coherently challenge the economic benefit claims or gain an unassailable level of public support that worries councillors, the development is likely to go ahead. However, Northumbrian Water's concerns about handling the additional sewerage requirements for all the new developments planned in the Action Plan may provide some faint possibilities.

Realistically though, planning is stuffy, boring and filled with terminology seemingly designed to put off the average citizen. Even councillors are put off - few councillors (sitting or prospective) have written responses to any of the Local Development Framework consultations.

It looks like the planning laws are going to be weakened by an increasingly neo-liberal government - taking power away from local people to put in the hands of the developers - so it's more important than ever to watch what's happening in planning terms and shout out if you don't like what you see.

The con-sultation trap

Curly's Corner Shop recently remarked on the waste of time that is the Downing Street e-petition website, and I agree. Most petitions are just a protest on paper, carry little weight and are easy to ignore. Perhaps reasonably so - they only represent the feelings of the core constituency affected by the issue at hand, and those people who could be bothered to put their name to paper and/or wish to show some solidarity with the petitioners' cause. As long as it doesn't take too much of the signatory's time of course.

Some consultations rely on this kind of apathy, and quite often you can tell by the questions asked which way the authors of the consultation want things to go. So it was with the consultation for the South Tyne and Wear Waste Management Partnership strategy. Some campaigners saw the pointed manipulation that was designed into the consultation response questionnaire so instead formed their own responses.

The consultation document asked things like whether ‘obtaining benefit from rubbish by modern treatment facilities’ was a good idea - but didn't state what ‘modern treatment facilities’ people would be supporting. Hence the interpretation of the results to the consultation assumes that respondents would be happy with any ‘modern treatment facilities’ - irrespective of cost - financial or environmental.

Today's meeting of the exclusively Labour cabinet of South Tyneside Council will discuss/rubber stamp the future of the waste strategy, drawing on the interpretation of results of the recent consultation. The review of responses to the consultation holds no surprises for those with some experience of consultations.

But I suppose at least the council appeared to attempt some level of openness.

Now we discover that the councils which are part of the partnership - South Tyneside, Gateshead and Sunderland, are trying to keep us all in the dark about what is really being planned.

Initially, there were nine treatment options to deal with residual waste, but this has recently narrowed to three options:

Mechanical biological treatment (MBT) of waste through aerobic digestion
A combination of mechanical recovery of recyclable materials with a biological treatment to produce a soil conditioner/compost.

Recovery of recyclable materials, sterilising biological waste and producing a material that can be used as a refuse derived fuel (RDF or secondary incineration).

Energy from Waste with Combined Heat and Power
Recovering recyclable materials before burning the residual waste to generate energy in the form of electricity and/or heat (otherwise known as incineration - and Councillor Capstick's preferred option).

It's assumed that one of these options will be put forward as part of a PFI project.

A reasonable assumption, because in July 2007, DEFRA approved the initial ‘expression of interest’ for a PFI bid for cash to build a mega waste facility somewhere in the South Tyne area. The expression of interest was originally submitted by the Partnership to DEFRA in March 2007.

Remember, this was all before the consultation ended in August. So it would be nice to know what type of treatment infrastructure was in the expression of interest.

Back in September local waste campaign group BAN Waste asked DEFRA what type of waste treatment infrastructure was being proposed as part of the PFI bid. After six weeks of wrangling DEFRA refused to grant a Freedom of Information request, on the grounds that "the councils involved do not wish this type of information to be made public".

Wow. It's worth saying that again.

"the councils involved do not wish this type of information to be made public."

That's right - our councils want to keep us all in the dark about a policy which will affect us and our children for at least the next thirty years.

What are they concealing?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Playing the odds

US science teacher and youtube contributor wonderingmind42 has demonstrated an intelligent approach to assess the risk of global heating and climate change mitigation - one which I'm unable (yet) to challenge.

It seems too good to be true. At first I thought it was the climate change version of Pascal's Wager, but the more I've examined it the more I've become convinced of the logic of the argument.

True, it's based upon a simple set of parameters, but it works. When you drill down into more detail, applying weightings to the risks based upon the likelihood vs benefits, the position becomes even more convincing.

Even when you add in a third so far unconsidered scenario: climate change is real but not anthropogenic; doing something still provides a better outcome than doing little or nothing.

I'm keeping an open mind though, so I'm open to any sensible suggestions which will break the test or bring a reasonable cause for re-evaluation.

To really take effective action on climate change it must be driven by policy.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

When cows fly

Did it jump or was it pushed? Suicide because it was in a bad moo-d?

From the Register:

"A US couple had a lucky escape when a 600lb cow unexpectedly landed on the bonnet of their minivan, unsurprisingly causing "heavy damage".

According to AP, Michigan-based Charles and Linda Everson were visiting the area around Lake Chelan, Washington, to celebrate their first wedding anniversary. On their way back to the hotel near Manson on Sunday, the bovine in question decided to plummet from a 200ft cliff and impact without warning against the vehicle.

Charles Everson admitted he "didn't see the cow falling and didn't know what happened until afterward". He added he'd been reduced to repeating: "I don't believe this. I don't believe this."

Chelan County fire chief Arnold Baker said the pair had missed being killed by a matter of inches. The cow wasn't so lucky, and was quickly "euthanised". "


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

No more 99's

It's sad to see a local business go, especially one that holds so many good memories for me, but to stoop to the conceit that the smoking ban 'forced' Minchella's to sell up the business at the Nook is just pathetic.

The truth is that Minchella's at the Nook has for a long time deteriorated and had begun to look tired and need of a good makeover. Also, despite the great ice cream, milk shakes and (adequate) coffee, the range of food was boring. Cheese toasties are hardly inspiring, especially considering when successful places like Cafe Nero can serve a range of delicious food along with excellent coffee - all without whingeing about the smoking ban.

Trevor Minchella said, "The smoking ban killed off this cafe." He's wrong. Apathy killed off the cafe. Of course some smokers stopped going into Minchella's, but he failed to bring in new custom, which he acknowledged when he said, "most of my customers were from a generation who frowned at the thought of having to stand outside in the street just to smoke".

The cafe has an air of neglect, most of the time has only a skeleton staff and has also become frequented by some with a vocabulary you don't want your children to hear.

To claim that the smoking ban was responsible for the business failure is disingenuous and just provides ammunition to pro smoking lobby group FOREST.

Without the secret Minchella ice cream formula I think it's unlikely that it can carry on as an ice cream parlour.

But I do hope that some enterprising soul can take the business on and make a success of it as the Nook needs a good coffee shop, although at £325,000 it's likely to be bought by a local property developer and split up.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Invisible protest

The Shields Gazette got it wrong tonight, in an article covering a protest over the Gypsies Green stadium development. The article stated that:

"The campaigners planned to picket the a meeting of East Shields community area forum, held at the town's Ridgeway Family Centre in Park Avenue, but it failed to materialise."

It did materialise so I wonder how the reporters at the Gazette got it wrong. Fortunately, the Gazette's website seems to have rewritten the news and reported it as:

"Campaigners also turned up before a meeting of East Shields community area forum, held at the town's Ridgeway Family Centre in Park Avenue, last night."

Hopefully the Gazette will provide a clear correction tomorrow.

invisible protest

Disturbing development

I had gone along to the picket at Ridgeway Family Centre to find out what it was all about for myself from those involved, and signed their petition. Whilst I'm opposed to the privatisation of public space, I did notice the protest itself turn ugly and very disturbing. Some of the protesters verbally abused one mother visiting the centre (with her child) who didn't agree with them, and had a running argument with one councillor. When one person suggested that a hotel could bring jobs, some of the comments about the people who would work at the hotel were xenophobic bordering on racist.

I'm all for public protest but intimidation is not the way to gain support.

Trick or treat crime

Foreseeing a trick or treat crime wave this Halloween Inspector Peter Sutton advised those present at the East Shields CAF meeting that in the run up to Halloween the police are asking retailers not to sell eggs or flour to under-sixteens. I'm not a fan of this US import of child begging with threats, but if there's anything that should be banned from sale it's the tons of plastic crap that will end up in bins on the 1st November.

Invisible protest - update 27.10.2007

The Gazette has today clarified the reason for the incorrect protest report above:

"It [the protest] took place at 4.30pm, outside Ridgeway Family Centre in Park Avenue, rather than the advertised time of 6pm."

I don't know what advertised time they were referring to, the CAF meeting time of 6pm or the pre-meeting training session at 4.30pm, or indeed a time they were advised by the protest organisers.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Driving the ABD mad

Loony driving lobby group the Association of British Drivers has got twisty knickers again, over a report suggesting an across the board reduction in urban road speeds to a maximum of twenty miles an hour.

The group, which also worships climate change denial, claims that drivers will kill ten times more people because the reduced speed limits will force drivers to glue their eyes to their speedometers. Yup, I know it seems too stoopid to be true. But read it for yourself.

ABD blow hard Nigel Humphries said:

"All you achieve by making people drive down the road looking at their speedometer is 10 times as many deaths and that's before you cause more accidents because people aren't looking where they're going."

Okay, I know Mr Humphries' sentence doesn't make much sense, and I'm sure there's nothing in the Highway Code or the proposals that makes "people drive down the road looking at their speedometer" forsaking all other considerations. Bjorn Lomborg would be jealous at Humphries' ability to pluck something as eye-catching as "10 times as many deaths" out of the air without providing any evidence to back it up.

By the way, sack the lazy BBC journalist who couldn't be bothered to ask. I suspect that if Humphries had claimed that speed cameras were an EU/alien conspiracy to force us to buy cheese-flavoured petrol it would have been accepted with equal reverence.

Back to the research. Our Transport Research Laboratory survey said:

"20mph zones across the UK and in other European countries found child road accidents fell by 67%, cyclist accidents by 29% and traffic flow by 27%."

Hmmm. So no sign of a tenfold increase in deaths. And remember that's "before you cause more accidents because people aren't looking where they're going" - so that's a tenfold increase, plus whatever other number Humphries can come up with.

Did Nigel Humphries make the tenfold increase up, or can he substantiate his claim?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day

One issue. One day. Thousands of voices:

Bjorn and bears

Statistician and darling of climate change deniers Bjorn Lomborg today tried to make a point about global warming 'hype'. There's nothing wrong with tackling hype, but when it's discussed in terms of climate change, it's usually used as a tool to dismiss the subject like you would the next boy band or fad food. Today Bjorn put his foot in it. Big time.

After berating green groups and the media for using polar bears as the poster child for climate change, he then conceded that for polar bears it would be that "likely disappearing ice will make it harder for polar bears to continue their traditional foraging patterns", so many can turn to the lifestyles of brown bears, "from which they are evolved". He concludes that polar bears "may eventually decline, though dramatic declines seem unlikely."

Essentially he's saying that polar bears can adapt as some kind of reverse evolutionary technique, back to the state of their forebears (no pun intended), as if bears are like some kind of migrant worker, changing skills and moving around for work. I wouldn't doubt the resourcefulness of polar bears, but it's reasonable to expect that any creature that has become highly specialised in adapting to a particular environment would have difficulty if that environment changed drastically. Extinctions are made of such things.

Let's ignore that he's not a biologist. He's a statistician. But for someone who trades on his credentials as an objective observer and interpreter of statistics, he has made a frighteningly subjective and unquantifiable statement, using an unqualified term such as "unlikely".

We need people to challenge preconceptions, even if they are wrong. But with gems like hoping polar bears will 'evolve out of trouble', Lomborg will lose further credibility, so much so that at some point even the most fundamentalist climate change sceptics grasping at any shred of justification for inaction won't listen to him.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Fayre play

I attended South Tyneside Council's 'Enviro Fayre' event (notch one up to the Department for Shit Names) on Sunday and it seemed a well organised event, let down by the weather which no doubt caused the disappointing turnout.

The fayre started with several speeches, the first one from Council Leader Councillor Paul Waggott telling us how great South Tyneside Council is at all things green.

Then TV presenter John Craven gave a ten minute speech on environmental challenges, drawing a link between his time at the helm of BBC's Countryfile and his increasing interest in green issues. He passionately covered the threat of climate change and had particular criticism for our wasteful throwaway culture.

Mayor Tracey Dixon gave a bland but mercifully short 'I open this event' speech, brightened momentarily by her embarrassment at a wardrobe malfunction which prevented her from stepping onto the stage. I would have thought that South Shields MP David Miliband (who I didn't see there) would have loaned his Toyota Prius in the spirit of things to get Cllr Dixon to the event, but she had to make do with the council's monster diesel Volvo.

There were many companies plying sustainable wares like solar panels, wind turbines and ground source heat collectors. It's amazing how the domestic renewable energy and energy efficiency market has taken off. Local battery company Cell Pack was also there with the new Hybrio range of hybrid rechargeable batteries and chargers.

There were loads of freebies - energy saving light bulbs, radiator heat reflectors, free tries on Segways (although I still can't work out what's green about them), free bicycle checks and tonnes of information. The Council organisers were also giving away rubber balls made to look like the Earth, but I'm not sure where these fancies fit in with John Craven's rally against frivolous waste, given that most of the balls will end up in the bin after serving it's purpose as a marketing tool.

There were a number of local conservation groups present, with Durham CVS reporting on it's excellent work restoring local habitats, the Vegetarian Society on well, being a vegetarian, and Traidcraft bringing in the ethical trade message.

One local green group was missing though. South Tyneside Friends of the Earth. The group, which has been closely involved with several council consultations, most recently the waste strategy, and involved in the Tyne Tunnel and Fellgate campaigns, didn't receive an invite. I wonder who they've pissed off.

Overall though, the Enviro Fayre concept is a good one (but a shitty name) and well executed, if not as organic and egalitarian in it's approach as the brilliant Newcastle Green Festival, but there's hope that the normally excellent South Tyneside Council event organisers can learn and up their game for next year. Perhaps the event could be brought forward into the late summer season's events for next year and include a live music stage.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Cut'n'paste cowboys

In another example of lazy journalism that you couldn't make up (actually you probably could), the BBC, Guardian and Times have been caught with their journalistic pants down over TV theme composer Ronnie Hazlehurst's obituary. Some joker had edited the late Mr Hazlehurst's Wikipedia entry and credited him with penning S Club 7 hit Reach. Displaying the true spirit of hard-nosed investigative journalism, the media outlets reproduced the undoubtedly unquestionable research with all the skill of Alt-e-c, Ctrl-v.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Tunnel doesn't add up

The BBC yesterday reported on the Tyne Tunnel toll increases to help line fat cat's pockets, er, I mean pay for the second Tyne road tunnel. A close inspection of the article makes me wonder at the professionalism of journalists these days when a key part of the article is so wrong.

The article says that the rise "is to help pay for a second tunnel, costing £185m". Oops. Did the BBC journo actually fail to read the PTA's press release from 21st September which put the bill at £260m? I suppose a benefit of the doubt could be due - perhaps the tunnel's PR monkeys forgot to tell the BBC the new price - however we don't know yet because there's nothing on any of the Tyne & Wear PTA websites.

At least the Shields Gazette got the numbers right.

It's bad enough that many journalists just reproduce press releases without scrutiny. I know the BBC's journalistic standards are dropping, but an inability to research a story properly is pretty shit, and makes you wonder what else they're getting wrong.

That sinking feeling

Of all the bad naming that could befall projects, one has appeared that is, believe it or not, worse than Quadrus. The "Titanic Quarter" regeneration project in Belfast has got to be the most stupid name for anything. I know it's named after the famous ship built by Harland & Wollf, but to name it after a ship which is synonymous with disaster does not seem the wisest choice. It's almost as bad as naming a hospital geriatric ward the "Shipman Ward".

I wonder how much the marketing team got paid for this beauty?

Monday, October 01, 2007

Religion to excuse bad behaviour

Last week was a mad bad week for religion. In what marks a waypoint to the end of the age of reason and a return to the Middle Ages, come stories of fundamentalist religion stamping all over rationality.

Jesus loves you - unless... teach fact, not fairytale...

US teacher Steve Bitterman has alleged that he was dismissed after some students complained that his comments were "denigrating their religion". The 'denigrating' comment? He apparently described the story of Adam and Eve as a fairy tale.

Mr Bitterman said the school was "teaching their students very well to function in the eighth century." Leeches anyone?

...or you're gay...

The Anglican Church has bent over for the fanatic fundamentalist element of the church and formally agreed to exclude gays from some aspects of the church.

The US church won't appoint bishops who have admitted to being gay and having a partner, and won't do gay blessing services either. There's something very un-Christian about the church uniting over the intentional exclusion of some of it's congregation just because of their sexual preferences.

...or want safe sex

The US doesn't have all the fun though. During the 18th and 19th Centuries some clergymen were at the cutting edge of science and rational thought. Not so now. Mozambique's Roman Catholic archbishop Francisco Chimoio has accused European condom manufacturers of infecting condoms produced for African countries with HIV. His comments amount to a fatwah on safe sex and a death sentence for tens of thousands of his countrymen and, presumably, flock. Nutter.

Sharp dressed homophobe

But the fundamentalist Christians don't have it all their own way in the homophobia department. Iranian president and walking Top Man advert President Arminadinnerjacket proudly announced to the world that there were no homosexuals in Iran's Muslim paradise. Those gays that do raise their heads are rehabilitated with the hangman's noose. I'm not convinced that Dinnerjacket should be so confident, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Anglican Church had their next bean feast in Iran.

Monday, September 24, 2007

No news is bad news

What is possibly the UK's biggest news story is still not in the news. It's as if there has been a blanket news blackout over the Usmanov/Murray assault on internet free speech affair.

It's taken British blogging by storm and more bloggers are adding their names to the list of those outraged at such a vicious attack on freedom. For an up to date list, see Curly's excellent post.

Surely the news editors know the story is out there. Why aren't they reporting it?

Just for laughs

Professional cheeky chappies Ant and Dec decided to chance their arm at a bit of current affairs humour on their Saturday night show with a dig at Northern Rock.

The sketch featured the diminutive one leaving the studio in a Mourinho-esque style pay-off. "I'm off to the bank" he says. Twice. They might has well have flashed the punchline at the bottom of the screen there and then. He then walked out of the studio to a branch of Northern Rock, where he pauses outside, shakes his head then cheekily looks at the camera (the trademark 'yes I think I'm funny' look) and then turns round and returns to the studio with his cheque.

Okay, I should have known better than to watch this tedious shit so it's my own fault. I was forced to watch it, honest, but once you're sucked in it's like watching a train crash in slow motion.

Given that Northern Rock has been the sponsor of Ant and Dec's All Star Cup golf event there is a hint of biting the hand that feeds you - so future sponsors beware.

I know there's no such things as out of bounds when it comes to comedy, but I'm guessing there's nearly 6,000 people who wouldn't laugh their tits off at tits Ant and Dec.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Freedom of speech gunned down

In an impressive example of how the blogoshpere can work, the issue surrounding the clumsy attempts to silence Craig Murray, former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, for his criticisms of billionare Alisher Usmanov, have had the opposite effect and blown the story wide open. Usmanov's lawyers Schillings has scared hosting company fasthosts into taking down Murray's site, but in a scattergun approach to block Murray's comments, Boris Johnson's website has become collateral damage despite not mentioning the Murray issue.

The tsunami of online outrage that has followed has had the opposite effect that presumably Schillings intended and turned it into a major news item. Unfortunately when the print media should be shouting about this assault on freedom of speech on the front pages, there's only the merest squeak.

Given that Usmanov is tipped to buy the chairmanship at Arsenal football club, I wonder what South Shields' most prominent Arsenal supporter, MP and Foreign Secretary David Miliband, thinks about someone with a chequered past taking over?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Hole lot of debt

More on the second Tyne road tunnel. The New Tyne Crossing Project Board has just announced that it's begging to be allowed to extend it's borrowing limit to £130 million and increase tolls. Since the second tunnel was given the go ahead by Alistair 'Rock' Darling in 2005, the project has rocketed up in price from £185m to today's announcement of £260m. Given that turf hasn't yet been cut, it's reasonable to expect costs to rise still further.

It's the kind of increase that would make the 2012 London Olympic committee proud.

Given the fragility of the wholesale markets at the moment, who is going to lend that kind of money, and if someone does, what guarantees will they want? The concessionaires can rely on HSBC and the Bank of Scotland, the Tyne & Wear PTA probably as yet don't have such luck. The current tunnel was bailed out in the 1980s when Newcastle City Council loaned the Tyne Tunnel money (interest free) to refinance the latter's loans because of the volatile lending markets at the time. £4.1m is still outstanding to Newcastle City Council.

Unfortunately veteran tunnel toll campaigner Stan Smith is too poorly to respond to this news, and there is little chance of local councillors having the nerve to call the Tyne & Wear PTA to account, so the announcement will probably go without challenge.

At a time when the finance industry is in such turmoil our politicians should be especially vigilant of dependence on debt. If the new tunnel does go awry, will the public be expected to bail it out again?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Yellows going green?

So far, Labour's effort in reducing carbon emissions has been a failure, with CO2 emissions increasing since 1997 despite countless speeches on the dangers of climate change. In particular it's handling of renewables has been pathetic, the incompetent management of micro renewables grants a specific case in point.

The only plus I can think of was the introduction of the Climate Change Bill, but since that had cross party support, and Miliband's minions ripped the guts out of it, I won't include that as a Labour success unless it hits the books as a strong climate law.

The Conservatives, apparently recent converts to green politics, seem to be suffering from a split personality - one side wanting to continue with more flights and more roads, the other trying to grasp the green nettle. It looks like Redwood's carbon spewing proposals have the Cameron favour at the moment, possibly because they are not too far from Gordon Brown's "concrete it" attitude to the environment. Depending on which personality wins will confirm if the Tories are genuine on the environment or just copying Labour's greenwashing.

So it's refreshing to see at the Lib Dem conference Environment honcho Chris Huhne calling for the country to be 50 per cent carbon neutral, with energy from "clean, non-carbon-emitting sources" by 2020, rising to 100 per cent by 2050. It's a courageous idea (for a 'mainstream' party) and what's needed - a strong target with a clear objective.

What's telling is that we haven't so far heard a peep in response out of Hilary Benn. Labour are so keen to try and outstep the Conservatives that they've missed the Lib Dems, although I'm not sure if that really worries them.

Let's hope that Hebburn Lib Dem Councillor Joe Abbott pricks up his ears and thinks about how the Lib Dems' new proposals can be realised in local terms, especially considering his objection to the proposed wind turbine at the A&P yard in Hebburn. Cllr Abbott has also got into the unusual frames of reference for the measurement of objects, saying that the turbine would be "six Angels of the North on top of each other". Since that particular gem seems to have originated from a Northumberland "No to Wind Turbines" group it suggests what's really informing his thoughts, and it's not what's coming from Chris Huhne.

Realistically, if we want renewable energy, we need wind turbines. Of course wind won't be able to provide all of our energy, so solar, tidal power, wave energy and other renewables as part of a balanced mix also need to be developed urgently, along with initiatives to reduce energy use.

In terms of siting wind turbines, my personal sequential preference is for offshore, then industrial site, brownfield site, urban areas and finally rural areas. Also, land based sites should be as close to the point of use as possible to minimise transmission losses through our aged grid. There is a fly in my preference ointment though - on the land wind tends to be stronger and more consistent in upland rural areas, so I wouldn't rule out rural areas - they need electricity too.

The infrastructure isn't yet in place to support offshore, so until it is we've got to go with onshore for quick wind energy wins and personally I think industrial, brownfield and urban sites should be treated as the next best option.

This is where the A&P development fits in. It's a working industrial site and most of the energy produced will be used in the yard. I can understand the concerns about the noise and the size of the turbine. Bejaysus, at 80m high plus the blades (or two Concorde jet planes placed nose to tail) it's big. But we need to remember this is a river which once had a skyline dominated by cranes, so I think in terms of visual intrusion it's replacing one industrial structure with another. As for noise, it's an industrial site and if the level isn't worse than what is already produced then there's no net disadvantage. Being a previous resident of Hebburn Village I can attest to the audible volume of ship hull sandblasting, but accepted it as the price for purchasing a house in an industrial area.

It's disappointing though that the planned turbine (as with others erected locally) is going to be imported. As shipbuilding was winding down on the river an opportunity was lost to shift the massive resource of first class engineering skills from building ships to building renewable generation units for wind, wave and tidal power. In the past the Tyne was famous for exporting coal; in the future the Tyne could be exporting clean green energy. Even though I don't believe in Karma, if I did there would be a poetic green Karmic balance somewhere in there.

Hopefully in light of the Lib Dems' new aspirations for CO2 reductions Cllr Abbott will reconsider the plans more seriously than dismiss them with a knee jerk. However, given his (and Newcastle Lib Dems) support for the second Tyne road tunnel, I'll not be surprised if he continues his business as usual attitude.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Smash and Gran

First they destabilise the finance industry, now they're smashing up Metros - is there no way to stop the OAP menace?

The results of a review of an incident in May involving an electric scooter, an octogenarian and a Metro train door by Metro safety inspectors have been reported today in the Gazette.

The inspectors reported that Mrs Dees, 80, had hit the Metro doors with an equivalent force "of a rhino ramming the door". Have we started to quantify impact force in units of rhino because of the dropping of metric measurements? I'm looking forward to the return of the double decker bus to measure height.

I'm not sure quite why such an apparently powerful vehicle requires a "bull-bar" style front bumper - perhaps to see off any rampaging elephants on the Jarrow savannah.

These electric carriages are unregulated and the only qualification needed to drive one is the cash to buy it. The one in the incident reported didn't even have brakes, presumably relying on the inertial resistance from the electric motor to stop. Then again, who needs brakes when you have a choice of handy crumple zones: Metro doors, someone's shins, a push-chair?

These things are everywhere. You can't walk down the shops without having to dodge these pavement dodgems, and I've even seen one on the access road to the Tyne Tunnel. Soon they'll be travelling in gangs terrorising poor hoodies. The police will need a special electric scooter force to bring these ruffians to justice. Just as soon as they've charged up.

This menace must be stopped now.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Time for a climate scare?

It's despairing that in the 21st Century people can be so easily panicked. The trials of Northern Rock is a classic example of mass hysteria, which leads me to think that, along with the growth of religion, 'intelligent design' (I know, it's a facet of religion, but it's special because it pretends to be science), and climate change scepticism there is an ongoing assault on reason.

The Northern Rock incident has made me think that if people took the threat of climate change as seriously as a manipulated media event then the UK would be running carbon free in a year.

Rock hammered

Northern Rock has long followed a model of borrowing short and lending long to fund it's growing mortgage business, which has so far provided the company with massive success. But the folk standing in the queues don't hear this.

To these folk, it doesn't matter that Northern Rock is looking at making at least £450m profit this year, or that the bank is otherwise in a financially strong position. It doesn't matter that Northern Rock, unlike Barclay's which was twice bailed out by the Bank of England last month, has yet to touch a penny of the Bank of England loan facility.

It also doesn't matter that, the more that people withdraw, the greater chance that Northern Rock will be taken over, which would mean massive redundancies in the North East's biggest finance industry employer. It doesn't matter that the loss of Northern Rock would also mean the loss of the Northern Rock Foundation, the biggest charitable giver in the North East, which could also mean goodbye to a number of local charities and good causes.

All these people see are the queues, and all they hear are the interviews with the headless chickens (although the rush to join the queues is more like a flock of sheep if you want to continue the farming analogy). To a large extent, the media herd has driven the events, starting with the BBC's misleading labelling of Northern Rock's request for the Bank of England facility as 'unprecedented'.

It's been interesting to follow the media coverage. Everyone with an opinion, including inveterate band wagon jumper Dave Cameron, has been falling over themselves to criticise Northern Rock or the government for not predicting this. Hindsight is indeed an exact science, but the reality is it couldn't be predicted. Of course there were risks in Northern Rock's model, but no one foresaw all the banks shutting their doors to short wholesale borrowers like Northern Rock. Normally, the banks loan money to each other, but Northern Rock and others were locked out by the liquidity freeze.

In a tsunami of silly media comment and downright stating the bleedin' obvious that has more in common with football than finance, the most idiotic comment award has got to go to ITN's annoying Chris Choi, who tonight called the queueing an "investor revolt", as if those people in the queues were on some honourable crusade, rather than a panic of self-interest.

Hopefully tonight's announcement by Alistair Darling will cool some heads amongst Northern Rock customers, quieten the nerves of staff and stave off a takeover, which would be disastrous for it's employees. And judging by the speed at which the queues dissolved when the rain started at 3pm in Newcastle this afternoon, here's hoping for a bit of bad weather to help restore calm.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Freedom fries

Simon Jenkins' comment piece in The Guardian, reflecting upon the abandonment of our freedoms pretty much echoes my thoughts. It's disappointing that so many of our politicians are happy to see our liberty dismembered, some of them even cynically trading on the emotive 'remember 9/11', apparently unaware that each freedom lost in the name of security is a small victory for the terrorists.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Jesus saves... on bus fares

What do you get when you cross bureaucracy and religion? Idiocy.

The news that 11-year-old Elliott Stewart from Brasside in Durham has been refused a free bus pass to get to school, just because he hasn't been baptised, would be worthy of the sitcom Father Ted, if it wasn't true.

Durham Councillor Clive Robson said (presumably not realising how stupid it sounds):

"Although a child does not have to be a Roman catholic to attend a Roman Catholic school, he or she and at least one parent has to be baptised Roman Catholic to be considered for free travel to it."

So, it seems a ritual splash of water is all that is stopping Elliott from enjoying free bus travel to school.

In an attempt to make it appear that faith schools have become more open in their admissions rules, policies have been changed to allow children not baptised in the Roman Catholic religion to enrol in a Roman Catholic school. But the mechanism that would allow Elliott to have the same opportunity of access to school as his schoolmates doesn't exist.

But rather than put their hands up and admit it's a silly rule, and that special dispensation will be given for Elliott until the policy is changed, the jobs worth drones at Durham County Council have stuck to the tried and tested 'rules is rules' excuse, with a the 'Ombudsman sez so, so there' for good measure.

How long before Durham becomes known as "The Deep South of the North East"?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


It's been ten days since my birthday, and an apparently 'significant' or 'watershed' one at that. I've never been too bothered about my own birthdays and don't like fuss, although I try to be vigilant in remembering others'.

However, there is one special thing about the day. I treat my birthday as a day not about me but my mother, recognising what she went through on that day to bring me into the world. Unexpectedly, this made for a more personal and meaningful day than the current Mothers Day card-fest, and the practice has now become a tradition that's passed onto my son.

As this birthday was supposed to be significant for me, it's caused me to wonder precisely why it's significant. Many significant birthdays are related to key life events - 13 - the first teen year, 16 - the age of consent and to bear arms for the state, 18 - the right to vote and purchase alcohol. After 21, birthdays move to decimal years - 30, 40, 50, 60 and so on; 10 years apparently being an arbitrary period of note.

But I couldn't find anything definitive on this one. I suppose there's the argument that any celebration is a good thing, but the only conclusion I can come to is that measuring years in tens must mean something to someone other than greetings cards manufacturers, but not to me. Maybe there's some kind of birthday bingo going on and I haven't been given a card.

I don't feel 14610 days old (well, 14620 now) at all. I don't know if you are supposed to 'feel' a particular age, but something I've noticed about this one is that everyone is asking if I do.

That's worrying. I still haven't worked out what I'm going to do when I grow up.

Dawn on day 14610

Day 14610

Friday, August 10, 2007

Guilty pleasures

Cancer Research UK has released research that some cancers have risen due to our lifestyle. Cancer is now characterised as a kind of earthly retribution - paying for the sins of a hedonistic lifestyle - eating, drinking and tanning yourself to death. A timely message perhaps, given that many will be off on their jollies to abuse (enjoy?) themselves in such a manner. CRUK have also kindly provided a twenty page brochure on what you can do to reduce the risk of cancer.

I explored the brochure , where it illustrates the reduction in the number of people smoking has been reflected in a reduction in deaths from lung cancer. The document also rightly emphasised the importance of early detection and prevention. The main message is that personal responsibility is key.

The brochure also heralded a new £12m research project "on health behaviours associated with tobacco use, diet and nutrition, obesity and physical activity, which are major risk factors common to several major disease groups".

I think the conclusions will be pretty obvious without the need to spend £12m - don't smoke, eat a balanced diet and exercise. Pay me please.

However, whilst the brochure calls for personal life changes to prevent cancer (nothing wrong with that), nothing is mentioned of external factors - chemicals and hormones in food and water, cosmetics and household chemicals, pesticides, heavy metals, air pollution, and a whole host of other environmental nasties. Indeed the word environment doesn't even grace the pages.

Now as you've probably guessed, I've got my Waste Management Strategy hat on at the moment so I also explored the brochure for the mention of incineration's biggest risk - dioxins. You guessed it, it's not there. I looked on CRUK's website, which dismissed dioxins as "a group of chemicals that are formed unintentionally by industrial processes such as burning fuels and incinerating waste". The word 'unintentionally' stinks of appeasement. It's like the pharmaceutical euphemism 'side-effect' or the military one 'collateral damage'. We know it happens - but tough shit babe, you can't do anything about it.

Some press releases from CRUK even downplay research suggesting links between the environment and cancer - comments that wouldn't be out of place on a government or chemical company press page.

That environmental factors have become the silent elephant in the room invites accusations that CRUK aren't being entirely honest. The cancer charities should be out shouting on the streets as loudly about the environmental risk factors as they are about their new 'live healthy' guilt trip.

But if they did, would they suddenly find funding dry up?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

God bothered

A couple of weeks ago I attended a meeting at a South Tyneside primary school and saw something I found to be disturbing. This school is what's commonly known as a 'faith school'. I've never visited a faith school before.

These types of school have never bothered me much, except perhaps for their discriminatory practices where children from families with the same religious orthodoxy as the school would get enrolment priority before children from another religion or from a non-religious background. Often these schools are defended not on the basis of religion, but that of education - statistically, those who attend faith schools tend to do better in exams than their contemporaries in mainstream (not overtly religious) schools.

It could be that a culture of religious belief is responsible for the grades, or that children attending these schools tend to come from homes which value and instill aspiration, hard work, discipline and reward. Or a bit of both.

At the meeting my mind wandered during a particularly dull discussion and my eyes scanned the walls of the school hall for a bit of light diversion. I found a section on wall which could be summarised as "Postcards to God". The wall contained a number of small cards with a short bit of text on them. Here's some examples:

"I belong to God's family, I feel special."

"I belong to God's family, I feel loved."

"I belong to God's family, I feel happy."

And so on. Each card also held the name of child, and by the handwriting I would guess the age of the authors to be around 8 to 10 years old.

This is when it struck me how divisive faith schools are.

As an aside, I must admit, I don't even like the term 'faith school'. The two words somehow seem incompatible with each other. Faith is something you believe without reason or evidence. It's the ideology of ignorance. Where children are 'taught' creationism as an alternative science to evolution, as in places like the Christian fundamentalist Vardy schools. This is loony indoctrination, not education.

The subtext of the Postcards to God is one of group superiority. "I belong to God's family, I am special" logic has a flip side which implies that those who don't belong to God's family are not special, not loved and somehow less worthy.

The world of religion is full of terms for those who don't follow your particular cult - gentile, unbeliever, infidel, heathen, heretic - all pointing to those outside your religious 'family' with an alien otherness. It's fortified with lessons that those who don't believe in your god and follow the rules are going to spend the afterlife in an eternity of torment, whilst believers and martyrs will be rewarded with an eternity of infinite bliss in paradise.

Sounds pleasant, but from such ideologies killers are created, comforted and confident that their god approves of and rewards their atrocities.

We could point fingers and select religions for particular criticism. Suicide bombings by Muslim extremists are a recent manifestation of killing in the name of religion. But Muslims who have lost their marbles don't have all the fun to themselves. Scratch the surface of an atrocity and chances are religion is somewhere underneath.

The cash to run faith schools comes from tax payers, who are funding the ignorance and indoctrination of next generation of religious bigots. Schools should be where we teach our children how to think - not what to think.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

WOT, no War On Terror?

Gordon Brown's avoidance of the phrase "War on Terror" confirms that the term will no longer be used by UK government officials. It's seen as a change in direction where terrorism is redefined as a purely criminal action, stripping any context which might prompt examination of motives.

With an election looming Brown will want to avoid any terms linking himself with Tony Blair's handling of terrorism, so changing the landscape of the language used is a key tool.

This is a common marketing technique - rebranding. It's a bit like changing the name of the Marathon bar to Snickers. The product hasn't changed, just the name.

But the ghouls of extremism are still there, and Brown is going to stoke the fear of them to keep the rest of us terrified. Despite the change in arse keeping the PM seat warm, our government continues to invoke 'terrorism' and 'security' in order to control.

Move over Poodle, here's Scottie.

Conjuring the spectre of 'rogue states', the government's announcement that it is going to allow the USA, without any debate in Parliament, to use the listening station at Menwith Hill for it's nuke treaty-busting 'missile defence system' indicates that Brown views democracy with the same contempt as Blair. It also shows that Brown, like Blair, puts Bush's interests before that of Parliament. In a world teetering on the edge of a new cold war, Brown happily helps Bush to tip us into a new arms race.

Corporations are getting in on the 'security' act to quell protest, as is seen in BAA's attempt to stop climate protesters enjoying their liberty to demonstrate peacefully.

Like the Marathon rebranding, the War On Terror market repositioning exercise is being used by Brown and his chums to continue to sell us something that is as sticky and nutty - the erosion of our freedom and democracy.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Lazy press

Last week's Riverside CAF meeting promised to have it's fair share of controversy and political sniping. And it didn't let those present down, with some rather enjoyably acerbic exchanges between councillors John Anglin and Jane Branley.

However, there was no Gazette reporter present. The Gazette had been forewarned that the Riverside CAF meeting would be an exceptional one. Unfortunately the Gazette declined to send someone. Perhaps the Gazette's ace reporters were on holiday.

This is just one example of a local journalistic decline. The Gazette prints (copies and pastes?) council press releases without question, making the newspaper appear part of the local New Labour PR machine. It's difficult for the Gazette to deny this when you consider South Tyneside MPs Miliband and Hepburn, and Labour council leader Waggott, all have regular spots in the Gazette.

It would be naive of me to expect no political bias. However, the feeling that the Gazette is excessively council-friendly was reinforced in the run-up to the local elections when the paper was bursting with Labour councillors gurning in photo ops and taking credit for mediocre successes, which coincidentally all happened to be resolved just before the elections.

The Gazette has started to fill space with stories from Sunderland. Page 2 of the Gazette should be referred to as the 'Sunderland Echo Echo' page, since that's where the pieces are lifted from. There's no shortage of news in South Tyneside, just a lack of willingness to dig out the stories. Tuesday 24th July's Gazette is a case in point. There are massive issues currently facing the borough, but the centre pages feature an airhead two-page spread plugging the Gazette 'spook' reporter's (if there is such a thing) new book on imaginary friends.

We get the basic luck news stories, but there's no real accounting taken of local politicians and comment is left to the letters page.

If the Gazette fails to adequately cover what's really going on politically in South Tyneside then it's failing it's readership. The paper's editor should be ashamed that local bloggers are reporting and analysing the news that the Gazette can't be arsed to do.

A free press is important to democracy - but only when it fully reports on the actions of those we put into positions of responsibility. Otherwise it's just fluff and marketing.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Coastline sidelined

Here in South Tyneside, we have one of the most beautiful coastlines in the UK, made more remarkable by it's easy accessibility. In Saturday 14th July's Guardian there was a free magazine featuring the UK's best seaside attractions. South Tyneside featured once in it's plethora of top tens, and that was for seaside pubs, namely the Marsden Grotto. It's a unique and remarkable pub, cut into the limestone cliff face opposite probably South Shields' most famous landmark and natural feature, Marsden Rock (which the Guardian piece fails to mention). But frankly the pub has seen better days.

It's a real disappointment that the massive spread of coast missed out on any of the other 'Top 10' features - the sandy beaches, the excellent coastal path, the impressive Frenchman's Bay, Souter Point and it's lighthouse, and of course, Marsden Rock.

How someone could only mention Marsden Grotto and miss all these other attractions only leaves me to conclude that the reporter visited on a cold wet foggy day, and the pub was the best place to be.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Talking rubbish

Not content in allowing the Progressives to get all the stupid is as stupid does action, South Tyneside's Labour councillors are now also weighing in behind incineration. At the Riverside CAF meeting on Thursday 19th July, Councillor Ed Malcolm threw his reputation behind "Energy from Waste" (yes, I know it's a spin word for incineration) as a 'solution' for dealing with the waste we don't recycle or compost. Councillor Michael Clare assured everyone that "no incinerators will be built in South Tyneside"; but it does allow plenty of leeway for building them in nearby Sunderland or Gateshead. I can almost hear the people of Wrekenton groaning.

Councillor Malcolm seemed anxious to let everyone know that EfW (yes, I know, burning rubbish) isn't as bad as it used to be, and verbally painted a rosy image of free energy and heating for homes. He missed out the less than tinted bits about the carbon dioxide emissions, heavy metal particulates and our old cancer causing chums dioxins. He also missed the point that incineration reduces take up of recycling. Oops, and you still have to find somewhere to bury the toxic slag that's left over.

I'm sure the people from Byker have a lot of good things to say about EfW incineration. Well, the one's who didn't get cancer anyway.

Coincidentally, Ed Malcolm's brother, Deputy Leader Councillor Iain Malcolm, has a financial relationship with rubbish supremos Premier Waste Management, although I'm sure Iain Malcolm removes himself from such discussions in council.

I suppose it should come as no surprise that Labour councillors support burning rubbish. Labour councillors support the second Tyne Tunnel, backed concreting the Fellgate greenbelt and proposed planting a training shed (sorry, 'superschool') on Temple Park. Given that Labour and Progressive are supposed to be at opposite ends of the spectrum, when it comes to incineration how do they both manage to take the same ground at the same time?

When it comes to rubbish ideas our councillors are world class.

Has no-one told them - there's no such thing as a safe level of pollution?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Wasted targets

Further exploration of South Tyneside Council's Draft Joint Municipal Waste Management Strategy reveals another example of target-itis. Here we have the policy aspiration for recycling:

"Policy 7: The Partnership will aim to achieve the following recycling / composting targets:
- 30 per cent by 2010
- 35 per cent by 2015
- 45 per cent by 2020"

Look impressive? Challenging? Compare South Tyneside's aspirations compared with what other UK councils are doing now:

Top 10 recycling councils:
North Kesteven 51.5 per cent
Rushcliffe 49.9 per cent
South Cambridgeshire 49.4 per cent
St Edmundsbury 48.6 per cent
Huntingdonshire 48.0 per cent
Melton Mowbray 47.1 per cent
Waveney 46.6 per cent
Forest Heath 46.1per cent
Teignbridge 45.4per cent
Lichfield 45.4per cent

These councils are beating South Tyneside's 2020 recycling target now.

Like the Council's pathetic 'target' to reduce it's carbon dioxide emissions by 5 per cent over 5 years, it seems the council only like targets which are easily achievable with the minimum output. It looks good on performance target press releases I suppose.

If the council wants to avoid accusations of being cynical and lazy, it (and that includes councillors too) really needs to up it's game and aim higher.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Burning ambitions

South Tyneside Council has launched it's consultation process covering the new Draft Joint Municipal Waste Management Strategy which will take us to 2020. Among the commonsense "three R's" (reduce, reuse, recycle) proposals, the council is raising the subject of incineration.

South Tyneside Council has entered into a partnership agreement with Gateshead and Sunderland councils to establish the new waste strategy.

Incineration is proposed as one of the possible methods of disposal for the waste which we cannot (or we can't be bothered to) recover. Since the terms 'incineration' and 'burning' aren't easy to sell, the process comes under the wizzy euphemism of "Energy from Waste" (EfW) or "energy recovery".

If incineration is selected there's a rumour that the preferred site is on the site of the former incinerator at Wrekenton, on the border between Gateshead and Sunderland, although it should be noted there is no official documentation supporting this.

So soon after seeing off the industrial park on the green belt at Fellgate, and the rehabilitation of the Monkton cokeworks site it seems that residents in that part of South Tyneside may be faced with another dark environmental cloud. Not to mention the people in the Wrekenton area who thought they'd seen the last of local waste incineration.

Dioxins are a pretty nasty bunch

Incinerators release dioxins and heavy metals, which can cause cancer, birth defects and endometriosis.

The rise of endometriosis – a painful condition possibly afflicting as many as ten per cent of British women – is linked to emissions of dioxins. British mothers carry in their breast milk levels of dioxins which significantly exceed the World Health Organisation’s recommended “tolerable daily intake”, partly due to the widespread incineration of hazardous waste.

Studies have repeatedly linked dioxins to both breast and testicular cancers.

A study by the US Environmental Protection Agency suggested that as many as 7 per cent of all cancers are caused by dioxins, mostly from incinerators.

Progressives - the crazy bunch?

At the East Shields CAF meeting on the 5th July Progressive Councillor and Progressive Party leader Jim Capstick nailed his colours firmly to EfW (yes, that's incineration) as his party's preferred method of disposal for the waste designated as 'unrecoverable'. The Draft Waste Strategy concedes that incineration "will generate additional hazardous waste".

Quite why his party is called 'progressive' is odd. They have lent their support to a practice which will damage the environment and will precipitate a new crisis in public health. The victims will be among the poor and the young. In my understanding this is about as far from progress as you can get.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Human touch

All too often designers are criticised for ignoring the human element. Sometimes it's through poor specification or implementation, or sometimes intentionally to accentuate a design aesthetic.

In terms of usability, design can decide success or failure.

For instance, when designing software user interfaces, poor design can not just define whether a product works or not, if done badly can lead to health problems; unclear text causing headaches, too many mouse movements and clicks leading to RSI. This is called Human Computer Interaction, or HCI for short. When software testers talk about software being 'intuitive', 'organic' or 'natural' in operation, this often reflects the amount of work that the developer has done to ensure the most comfortable user experience.


But when it comes to South Tyneside Council, design seems to have become a function of expediency. The awful fake chimneys on the former Nook public house won a design award for 'innovation'. They were introduced to allow a mobile phone company to hide their telecommunications equipment. Three years later and the appearance of these 'innovations' just gets worse.

quadrus_centre02The Quadrus Centre

The cubist monstrosity of the Quadrus Centre is another example of design which seems to be ugly form more than pretty function. However, South Tyneside Council seems desperate for a signature icon to represent it's aspirations for a thrusting entrepreneurial culture, so if the council feels a couple of oddly placed boxes do the job, then who am I to argue?

'Streetscape' design though, is less esoteric than the concepts behind Jenga wannabe Quadrus.

Street planning, if done badly, can mean the difference between life and death. Streetscape isn't just about green verges and pretty flower planters, it serves a 'mission critical' function.

Walking along the Nook shopping centre I came across what has got to be a beacon of council design incompetence. The road sign to the left has been positioned in such a way that 4 feet of pedestrian space has been effectively removed, also creating a pinch right next to a road crossing point. In this one simple instance, pedestrians have been failed by the road planners.

However, looking at the sign from another angle (image below), from a driver's perspective, and the realisation of impractical planning practice is complete. The sign's position means that it isn't visible to drivers coming out of the lane until they are 7 feet away from the end of the lane, a busy pedestrian crossing point.


I'm sure that the planners have followed all the neccessary rules and regulations and that the sign's position is perfectly legal. However, the sign's position is not sensible, not for pedestrians or drivers.

There are practical alternatives. One could be to extend the 20mph zone to the perimeter of the parking area adjacent to Prince Edward Road, and place the sign at the exit from the parking area onto Prince Edward Road. However, this would likely require changes to road orders and byelaws. A simpler alternative would be to move the signpost closer to the road, a matter of two feet, remove the existing signpost which holds a parking restriction sign, adding the parking restriction sign to the speed signpost.

It seems like a big deal all because of a simple street sign. But if the Council can't get the little things right, then what hope have we for the big projects?