Thursday, February 28, 2008

Back to the drawing board

An interesting and thought-provoking article at the excellent The Lazy Environmentalist - AC or DC for our future renewable electricity distribution? This kind of infrastructure needs governments to get talking to each other and some serious investment applied. Given government's political cowardice over combating climate change I'm not confident that our lot are up to the challenge.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Tremors on Tyneside

Bloody hell! Just before 1.05am I was woken by the house shaking. Not a short burst like a strong gust of wind or what you sometimes feel when they used to blast at Marsden Quarry. A consistent shaking lasting for about 10-15 seconds - long and strong enough to wake me. The radiators rattled on the walls and when I stood up the whole movement was quite disorienting. I can imagine the terror a full blown earthquake must instil.

Now Sky News are reporting tremors felt across central and southern England - Bedfordshire, Norfolk and Leicestershire.

They can add Tyneside to that too.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Saying the wrong sorry

South Shields MP and Foreign Secretary has said sorry. Not for failing to stop the USA's 'Extraordinary Rendition' flights (otherwise known as kidnapping) landing on UK soil. He apologised to MPs for previous statements which suggested UK territory was not being used in such a manner. But now he has admitted that the island of Deigo Garcia has been used for such activity. Then again, it's not the first time that Diego Garcia has been used for dodgy military actions.

Sadly Diego Garcia is no stranger to crimes against humanity and people forcibly removed from their homes. Diego Garcia is the main island of the group of islands known as the Chagos, from which the inhabitants were ejected by the British government in the 1960's and 70s under a dirty deal to provide the United States with a military base in the Indian Ocean. The people were dumped in the slums of Mauritius. After such brutalisation, many committed suicide, turned to addictions, prostitution or crime.

If these had been white Falkland Islanders, there would be outrage. Gordon Brown refuses to talk to Mugabe after the expulsion of white Zimbabwean farmers, yet Brown refuses to acknowledge the plight of the exiled Chagos islanders.

The High Court has repeatedly ruled the expulsion illegal. Blair's and then Brown's government ignored the rulings, hiding behind "royal prerogative" - essentially a decree by the Prime Minister in the name of the Queen. Only a couple of days ago the government forced an appeal into the Lords on the grounds of "problems for how we run the whole of our relationships with other overseas territories". Essentially they are saying the rule of Law should not apply to the government when it comes to abusing British citizens in overseas territories - human rights only apply when the government says so.

The exiled Chagossians have been ignored and blocked by successive Foreign Secretaries and governments. It is a stain on our national conscience, and blunts our international moral credibility. Miliband's apology has been misplaced. It's about time the British Government said sorry to the Chagossians and took them home.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ornery frog

Normally we have plenty of frogs around the area in which I live. In the late spring and summer you can hear them in the field at the back of my house at night. We don't normally see them until about Easter, but this tough cookie is the first we've seen this year, despite the recent cold snap.

tough fella

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

How many deaths is a flight worth?

Yet again, George Monbiot produces a thought-provoking analysis. Today he discussed the freaky way in which economics is used to justify behaviours we wouldn't, as normally morally concious beings, objectively consider as good.

Economics, as envisaged by it's father Adam Smith, should be used as a tool to make existence better for humanity. But instead of a tool, it's used as a weapon, and in the case of Heathrow cited by Monbiot used to hammer through developments which may not just directly damage a minority, but contribute to the erosion of the general well-being of us all.

The 'economic benefits' argument is often used to justify anything from the second Tyne Tunnel to a new runway at Heathrow. There are similarities. Both projects promise (doubtful) 'economic benefits'. Both projects are driven by a Labour government for the benefit of a minority. But both projects also promise significant environmental degradation, and guide us towards a future we should be carefully edging away from - rather than running for the cliff edge at full tilt.

Projected economic benefits are often wholly subjective and dependant on a wide range of wildly optimistic scenarios and unmeasurable factors. But now the economic benefit argument is being twisted further in a sick accounting - a deadly ledger to tot up the value put upon lives of the poor in other countries.

Some (who sometimes falsely call themselves libertarians) cry that this is our 'right'. We pay for the 'right' to consume with our economic success and superiority, blind or uncaring that it comes at a price that is often paid by others. Those rights are allegedly inalienable - irrespective of the damage done to others. Anything that challenges those perceived rights, like laws, taxes or regulations, are derided as interventionist, dictatorial or that lazy old cliché, 'nanny state'. This is mistaking true human rights for an excuse to do whatever the hell we want; free from society, government and civil responsibility and displacing any kernel of guilt with the excuse that "it's my right".

Like a disease, this behaviour has it's own defence mechanisms - even daring to suggest that these attitudes form a core of the anti-social behaviour which haunts our society attracts contemptuous charges of being sanctimonious.

Decisions based upon economic factors will always have a place; after all, economics is still just a tool. But we should all worry when lives are measured in pounds and dollars and our rights in reckless behaviour.

In an ideal world the true rights of everyone - rich and poor - would be balanced through democracy and expressed with the currency of human rights. The need for this balance is acute and will become more so with the effects of a heating planet. Unfortunately in the feudal corporate/consumer system we currently inhabit the shallow 'rights' enjoyed by the affluent will be paid with the lives of the poor.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The most dangerous man in England

No, not Rowan Williams, but Charles Darwin.

Dangerous. That's how one critic described Darwin after his book On the Origin of the Species was published, which vies for the title of probably the most important book ever written.

Darwin's revolutionary idea of natural selection is beautiful in it's simplicity yet it explains life's remarkable diversity and complexity, and has become the guiding principle of biology. Not only that, as an explanation of the origins of life outside the mythic constructs of religion, his work became a beacon of reason.


Charles Darwin, 12th February 1809, to 19th April 1882

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Devil told him to say it

Looking over the net and the media over the past couple of days, some commentators have given Rowan Williams a hefty dose of the benefit of the doubt, variously crediting his comments as being 'naive', incorrectly interpreted, or overblown, and have criticised those comments in response as 'knee-jerk'.

In summary: A kind of slightly batty but benign intellectual cleric, who has been a victim of muddled PR judgement and has been unfairly criticised by detractors who aren't intelligent enough to understand what he was really saying.

It's attractive, but that kind of delusional and revisionist nonsense won't wash.

Williams may have made an idiotic misjudgement of the PR consequences of his words, which could see him out of a job by Easter - but he's an idiot with an agenda.

Williams is an intellectual who measures every single word he writes and says. He's been criticised for citing Sharia law in example, but it's really just a straw man. It's easy to be drawn into arguments over Sharia but it's just a sideshow; this issue isn't just about laws based on clerical interpretation. It's much more fundamental than that - it's about weakening British law to defer to religious sensitivities.

Don't believe me? Then take it from Rowan Williams himself. He said that the Muslim community shouldn't be "faced with the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty". Remember, he's using 'Muslims' as a code. Williams is really talking about the right, under law, for some to follow their own moral code (or whatever passes for one) and be judged by it.

He didn't say it just once though, he reiterated that:

"What we don't want either, is I think, a stand-off, where the law squares up to people's religious consciences."

...and then again:

"But I think it is a misunderstanding to suppose that means people don't have other affiliations, other loyalties which shape and dictate how they behave in society and that the law needs to take some account of that."

He referred to this concept THREE times. That's no misjudgement or coincidence. It's a clear and specific agenda.

It can't be a coincidence that Williams makes these remarks whilst the Catholic church is under pressure to recognise gay rights and the Anglican Church and various other Christian groups not just fight the loss of the blasphemy laws but call for new ones.

Williams' supporters claim in defence that we already have laws which respect religious culture. True. We have laws which permit the mutilation of children's genitals and laws that allow normal animal welfare rules to be bypassed - all for religion. It's a morally subjective and dangerous argument to follow. Just because British law has been already twisted to the tune of religion it doesn't make it right.

This isn't some call for equal rights or cohesion as some of Williams' apologists are claiming - it's a call for different rights, based upon a legally enshrined expectation of respect for religions as philosophical and moral equals (at least in general relativistic terms) to secular laws.

The so-called 'moderates' who have come out to defend Williams have revealed their secret fundamentalist desire to theocratise our legal system, turning justice into some medieval freak show.

Religious laws and courts, whether it be by Sharia, Beth Din or Inquisition are tainted by the religious-cultural bias and agenda of those who would judge others and make a mockery of equality, democracy, liberty and reason.

A truly equitable and cohesive society is best served by one secular legal system which is shared by all participants and which protects everyone. Equally.

Cloistered bubbleheaded fool

Go Pat go!

Friday, February 08, 2008

Rowan Williams - religious loon

Punkscience beat me to it. Rowan Williams is an idiot. Sharia law has no place in a rational society.

If people want to follow a set of philosophical rules that's fine, as long as they don't force those rules on anyone, or demand that those rules require respect, recognition and protection, and the application of those rules doesn't hurt anyone.

The problem with religion based systems like Sharia is that those living in religious communities will be pressured to adhere to the laws and accept 'legal' decisions, even when there is no rational reason to do so other than community peer pressure and diktat from religious authority.

Laws based on the interpretation of ancient myth and rely on the authority of religious zealots have no place in the 21st Century. Considering the influence of Wahabi Imams in British Islamic society - an extreme and fundamentalist view of Islam which has gone a significant way in the radicalisation of modern Muslim doctrine - putting laws into the hands of these medieval nutters is dangerous and divisive.

We should be reducing the influence of religion, not increasing it.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

News from Sunderland

From South Tyneside Friends of the Earth, and with the kind permission of Dan Alliband of BAN Waste, a report on another council revolt, but this time in Sunderland - and how the opposition left the meeting in disgust at the Labour council's undemocratic ploy to keep the Waste Strategy secret:

"About 30 people were on the public gallery at Sunderland Civic on Wednesday evening of 30th January when the council proposed to eject public and press to allow councillors to look at the ‘Business Case’ for the Joint Waste Management Partnership."

Note - despite several Freedom of Information requests, the Business Case has been withheld from the public.

"Sunderland council's argument was based on the argument that it was in the public’s interest as council tax payers to not disclose budget figures for whatever they were planning, because the private bidders would then know what to bid up to. The independents and conservatives put up a case against this to support ‘freedom of information’ and that it was not in the public’s interest for the discussion to be private. Why should people be denied access to all other information about the plans (e.g. locations and treatments etc).

"There was a vote – and 22 voted against the public being ejected, and 47 voted for, at this point the 22 councillors walked out (the council make up is 57 LAB, 1 LIB, 4 Independents and 13 TORY – so this I think this included all independents & Tories and possibly the Lib, and odd Lab back-bencher!?).

"While the Labour councillors jibed how undemocratic it was that the Tories not wanting to discuss the item while they voted so solidly against Freedom of Information was laughable!

"The mayor adjourned the meeting for 5 minutes while the public were asked to leave, but a handful stayed, including FOE members, and the police were called. The mayor and his labour chums returned to the chamber and declared that the agenda item would have to be deferred to next month.

"The remaining members of the public then left by a side exit to avoid the police who had seemingly arrived at the main reception!"

Monday, February 04, 2008

Real idiots

South Shields discussion forum sanddancers is home to a wide range of characters with a whole spectrum of political tastes which inevitably leads to some lively, sometimes heated discussion.

One member of the forum, a local BNP bigmouth, advised in this thread that Kirklees BNP Councillor Colin Auty will be at the next local BNP meeting on the Wednesday 6th February.

The BNP's own 'lyrical terrorist', Auty is famous for his allegedly crap songs. I've never heard his music, but given that it's popular amongst the BNP knuckledraggers I don't think I'll bother. No doubt Auty would find plenty of business at the meeting of the "one born every minute club".

Recently the BNP has split, with most of the Yorkshire region turning against the leadership of Nick Griffin, and Auty has come out firmly in support of the rebels. So I'm not sure that Auty, as one of the newly dissident BNP members, will now actually turn up for the local stormtroopers - particularly since the North East gruppen have apparently tried to stay "neutral" in the split.

Neutral - it doesn't seem like a word which would be the BNP vocabulary.

If Auty is being welcomed, could it be that he is drumming up support for more groups to join the breakaway 'Real BNP'?

And should that be 'Reál' as in Madrid, or 'Real' as in IRA?

Sunday, February 03, 2008

It's a funny old game (2)

It's been a long run in to the local council elections 2008, which started the day after the 2007 elections with recriminations over the rejected ballots. Over the past few weeks the BNP carpet-bombing of the letters page of the Gazette and the Independent Alliance stunts in the council chamber illustrated that things were heating up.

However, election season doesn't really start until we start seeing election leaflets hitting doormats. Well, I got my first one today, from the Labour candidate for the Harton Ward Neil Maxwell. It seems Maxwell is following Rob Dix's successful campaign tactic from last year: "slag off the Progressives".

The leaflet slams the Progressives as "lazy", and accuses them of refusing to support Rob Dix. Perhaps this is an example of the "Punch and Judy politics" that David Potts finds so distasteful.

I've some disagreements with Progressive Jim Capstick, but his work output hasn't been one of them.

I only hope that the Progressives don't stoop to Maxwell's level.

It's a funny old game (1)

Today's performance on The Politics Show by South Tyneside councillor David Potts marks another entry on the ambitious Tory's media CV. Potts was on the show to condemn the planned closure of Boldon C of E Primary school. The fault was clear: "Labour's consultations [over the school closure] have been a sham" he accused, adding that "Labour's view is extremely short-sighted", and the drive to close schools came from national and "from local Labour-led authorities." Take that pesky Labour-led authorities!

Impressive stuff, and truly the voice of a strident opponent of Labour.

Well, perhaps not. Anyone watching today's Politics Show will have thought that this Councillor David Potts, hammer of Labour-led authorities, is a different Councillor David Potts to the one who prostrated himself before South Tyneside's Labour-led council to kiss the boots of Labour council leader Councillor Paul Waggott.

In the council meeting on 1st February, "Coun Potts was first to stand, and praised Coun Waggott's leadership and skill", according to the Gazette. So not only did the Tory publicly massage the Labour leader's ego, Potts was also given the dubious honour of being the first to get some serious brown nose.

To be fair, Potts wasn't alone amongst 'opposition' councillors bigging it up for Waggott: Lib-Dem Joe Abbott and 'independent' councillor George Elsom also piped up in his defence.

But let's not forget that Councillor Potts is a man of honour. "I refuse to be dragged into Punch and Judy politics", he promised, apparently completely unaware that his showpiece support of Coun Waggot is more of an Orwellian affair.