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.