Sunday, February 22, 2009

Speaking of local MPs

As I said in the previous post, there's been little support for Jim Cousin's EDM. Perhaps it will come.

However, whilst others are trying to save Tyne & Wear's public transport, Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn has been busy sniffing out information for accidents on the A1. It's no secret that Hepburn is one of the cheerleaders for dualling the A1 in Northumberland, and his enquiry through Parliamentary questions over accidents and deaths on the A1 looks like a continuation of his campaign of sucking up to the Journal.

Normally, his Parliamentary questions precede one of his regular Gazette propaganda pieces so don't be surprised if one on A1 dualling turns up soon.

Hepburn dimissed the government's own studies as "multi-modal rubbish", so it looks some like barrel scraping is going on to build a case.

Looking at the figures he's been given, it looks like there's nothing for Hepburn to use to justify dualling the A1 in safety terms, unless he takes a creative view to interpreting them. The figures given broadly support the European Road Assessment Program's (EuroRAP) assessment of the A1 as low to medium risk. The A1 doesn't even appear on the last 2006 report of Britain's most dangerous roads.

Here is a quick picture of the Parliamentary road safety stats:

The long term accident trend is downwards, but what I would find disconcerting is the proportionately higher number of deaths to accidents in Northumberland compared to Tyne & Wear, although this may have something to do with emergency services response times and distances to hospitals in rural areas. If an argument was to be had here it would be for an expansion and public funding of the Great North Air Ambulance Service, instead of it having to rely on charitable donations. That I would support.

But on terms of dualling the A1, nothing much here to see.

Keep Metro public

One of the few Labour MPs with any principles, Jim Cousins, has raised an Early Day Motion, EDM 792, calling for the Tyne & Wear Metro to avoid the greedy clutches of privatisation. The interesting thing about the EDM is the remarkable dearth of North East MPs - only three North East MPs have signed up to the EDM.

The PR bods at Nexus have been desperate to deny there's privatisation afoot, but any effort to move a function of the Metro infrastructure from the public to the private sector is privatisation.

I fail to see any benefit privatisation of the Metro would bring for the people of Tyne & Wear. Given the current economic climate, presumably the financing would have to come from government, either directly or roundabout via bailed-out banks. As the EDM describes, bidders include corporations from Hong Kong, the Netherlands and Germany, which means a key part of our local transport infrastrucure will be in the hands of board room directors in other countries.

Our national rail system is a shambles and the disastrous Metronet farce in London illustrate just how poor privatised rail can be.

Given that public transport systems like Metro also feature heavily in policies aimed at reducing car use and reducing climate changing emissions, it's irresponsible to hand it over to external bodies.

I'm back

After an odd week - a few days poorly feeling sorry for myself and a couple of days away on holiday, I'm catching up with the world. If I haven't replied to you yet - I promise I will!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Police, camera, action

So our cops are getting cameras. The timing couldn't be better. From Monday 16 February 2009, a police officer could arrest you under anti Terrorism laws for photographing them.

This yields a huge irony. They can film you, but after Sunday try to film or photograph them and you could end up having a very bad day.

It's not just police officers. Armed forces personnel and spies are covered too.

Technically, it could mean that at Remembrance Day marches, the Great North Run or any other events where police officers and/or armed forces personnel may be in attendance, photographers are fair game for the cops with cameras. Photographing the army recruitment van at the Sunderland Air Show or on King Street could get you your collar felt.

Given that the identity of those in the intelligence services is secret, you could photograph one of our spooks and not even know it. But publishing an image of them could technically land you in clink.

I'm sick of using the phrase 'police state'. It sounds paranoid, overwrought and emotive, but I can't think of a better term for what our government has taken us into. We've seen similar laws, like the Protection from Harassment Act, worded so vaguely that they can be used and abused by the police time and again.

This needs to be reversed. No government or police force should have these kind of powers.

DUP creationist cretin

Well, I suppose finding douchebags and dumbasses in the DUP is like shooting fish in a barrel. First there was mad Iris Robinson and her Christian 'cure' for homosexuality, and earlier this week we had numbnuts Sammy Wilson (an environment minister no less) joining the climate change denial cult.

The ignorant anti science muffins have now got another contender for the Dumbest DUP Dickwad award. Mervyn Storey chose Darwin's 200th birthday to make a holy scene. He wants creation myths given a platform alongside evolution at Belfast's Ulster Museum. And if it doesn't happen, he's going to sick the law onto them.

There's a host of things that make creationists look stupid, but this is classic theodiocy. Instead of bothering with the earthly courts he should go straight to the big guy; pray for his god to smite, send thunderbolts or a nasty rash to see those pesky scientists and their facts off. Yes. Pray to your god. That's bound to work.


Happy 200th birthday Chuck

Darwin's 200th birthday seems to have generated some interest. As well as the Darwin Day website, the BBC has an excellent resource to follow their BBC natural history series and even a huge Facebook group is in on the act. Even the Vatican is joining the 19th Century and getting in on the evolution loving.

This year is a Darwin double whammy as it also sees the 150th anniversary of On the Origin of Species, which had the most profound and fundamental impact, not just on biology, but for many people on the perception and relevance of a belief in a god.

There's some freebies too. You can download the ebook here, and Open University is giving away Tree of Life posters.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Tory rottweilers

Today seems to have been a day for Guardian commentators to take apart the dishonest and the dodgy. Polly Toynbee, who I normally can't stand, has done a reasonable job of lifting the stone to uncover the Taxpayers' Alliance. The group is used by the Tories as a kind of off-balance-sheet PR group to bash the civil service or just moan about anything where tax is spent on stuff they don't like.

Often, their claims are repeated in the news media and on blogs without the kind of intelligent skepticism that should be employed with such narrowly focussed special interest groups. Their tactics closely follows those used by similar groups linked with the Republicans in the US. Their purpose is to generate media outrage and provide an opportunity for Tory spokesbods to get their mugs on the telly.

Whilst they rightly challenge public sector profligacy, they are relatively silent when it comes to tax evasion. Don't want to get off message with those donors do they?

It's no surprise that the Taxpayers' Alliance has aligned itself with fundamentalist road group the Association of British Drivers. The ABD, another group not unfamiliar with getting itself in the press, is pretty much against anything they consider to be anti driver. The ABD has bought into the religion of climate change denial and rabidly challenges any road safety initiatives which could slow down drivers.

Like the Taxpayers' Alliance, the ABD is named so as to give the impression that they represent a body of society, when in reality they have no such remit. Like the Alliance, their press releases are treated with undeserved reverence and unquestioned trust by the media.

Lobby groups like these are formed, or used by, political interests to build an angry and outraged consensus. They offer simple messages which are easily picked up and cut and pasted into articles, where real context, too complex to fit into the average news story, is lost.

Perhaps many journalists and bloggers don't want to, don't have the ability or don't have the space, to critically examine the output of these groups to an adequate extent. Or perhaps they are so blinded by political allegiances that such material, no matter how badly manipulated, is too good to waste.

Go George go!

Gah! Punkscience and Bryan beat me to it!

This response by George Monbiot to Hazel Blears is probably the finest and most articulately angry piece of political writing I've read this year, and reminds me why the Guardian, for all its weaknesses, is still the best newspaper in the UK.

I follow our local MPs Stephen Hepburn and David Miliband's Parliamentary action on George's comments could equally be applied to our lot here in South Tyneside for their continuing ability to put party before principle and ethics.

And if that wasn't enough, in the same day George reminds us why micro wind turbines are useless on the urban home, and how the Tories tried to sex up their green credentials by putting so much store in them.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Silvio Berlusconi is an evil bastard

The Sunday papers sometimes prove to be excellent source material for illustrating the insanity and immorality of organised religion. In this story of Eluano Englaro I wish it wasn't the case.

Silvio Berlusconi's rationale to keep Englaro alive is terrifying, claiming that she is "in the condition to have babies".

After 17 years in PVS, it's unlikely that Ms Englaro would be in a physical state to carry a child, and will never regain consciousness to give consent anyway. Berlusconi is favouring rape, and possibly borderline necrophilia.

His position is based on advice from the Vatican, although I wouldn't be surprised if Berlusconi's real objective was to leverage other legislative changes to his benefit as part of a package. Yet Italians keep voting for the evil corrupt twat, and he remains a hero of the right.

Many ignore religion on the assumption that it's harmless and doesn't really effect our lives. The influence of the Vatican on this case, which could see a hurried change in Italian law, shows that the Medieval ethics of the stupid and the ignorant is turning Italy into a theocracy, forcing the dogma of faith on those who don't want it.

The UK is different, yet here religion also constantly vies for influence. Constitutionally religion has power. Bishops sit in the House of Lords and our head of state is ordained by God. Our national anthem is God Save the Queen.

Religionists regularly claim that their religion gives them a moral code. The evil bastards that favour such suffering as inflicted on Eluano Englaro and her family can keep it.

Give me humanity and compassion any day.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Pied Piper Peston

Today, BBC journalist Robert Peston sat before MPs and denied any responsibility for the start of the run on Northern Rock.


The BBC reporter's breathless exclusive of Northern Rock's application for a loan facility from the Bank of England started the media frenzy and subsequent run on the Newcastle bank. I remember the Newsnight and early morning Radio 4 Today programme where Peston was wetting himself with glee at the attention. I'd never heard the word 'unprecedented' used so much by one person. And to think the shit the Today programme got for the 'sexing up' Iraq affair.

From then on, if there was bad news in the finance industry, Peston was the man to deliver it.

There's no doubt that Northern Rock's board and executive ran a risky and ultimately unsustainable business model. Borrowing short to lend long is always going to come unstuck, especially when borrowing from the developing basket case that was the US financial sector. But while the money rolled in and share prices were healthy no-one complained.

Peston's mealy mouthed excuse that the run was exacerbated by what he claimed to be poor branch capacity and website infrastructure doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Few, if any, retail banking organisations could stand the sudden onslaught of a media driven panic that Peston wrought. I remember on the morning after that first report television journalists hanging around outside Northern Rock branches asking customers if they were worried and thinking of closing their accounts. This was wag the dog reporting in action.

Peston's evasions in the committee today suggest that he was fed the Northern Rock loan story. He's certainly not facing the possibility that his exclusive was intended to bring Northern Rock down to be picked up by another hungry bank at a bargain basement price.

There needs to be a full accounting of the whole debacle, from the lax regulation, over confident boardrooms and fickle and greedy investors, to the media panic machine fed by the likes of Peston, and the people who fed Peston his exclusive.

Peston wasn't responsible for the run, but he holds some responsibility.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Poopy power

Whilst our local councils are trying to get 'value' from our waste stream, Treehugger has reported on this research for the National Grid which proposes harnessing sewage, animal and food wastes to produce biogas.

Biogas is nothing new. I've got a book from the 1970's by self sufficiency guru John Seymour where he described a design for a home anaerobic digester to produce your own biogas, and he tells of farmers using such simple designs since the Second World War. As well as producing the gas, the digesters also leave solid and semi-solid materials which can be used as fertiliser.

Much of our natural gas comes from foreign lands so such an initiative would be ideal to reduce our reliance on gas imports; a win in political, sustainability and economic terms.

Given the billions budgeted for ID cards, foreign wars and nuclear weapons, not to mention the welfare payments given to the feckless banking and car industries, £10bn seems like a small price to pay and with a tangible return.

Monday, February 02, 2009

North East Top Guns

I've been busy over the last few days so this is a bit belated, so respect to North East Labour MPs Jim Cousins, Newcastle upon Tyne Central, and Chris Mullin, Sunderland South, for having the cojones and principles to vote against the government in last Wednesday's Heathrow debate. Top blokes.

Asshats to those other North East Labour MPs, like our own Stephen Hepburn and David Miliband, who voted for a project intended to increase London's economic dominance at the expense of the regions.