Wednesday, December 22, 2010

creating an army of slaves

The Conservatives roll out plans to force benefit claimants to work for what was previously their right, but it is actually a scheme set in train by Labour. More, such coercion has existed in prisons for fifteen years.

To make people work for the minimum needed to survive with no hope of improvement or ability to leave is simply slavery. As has always been the case, it's a state of affairs that suits the slave owners very well.

It's the subject of my new Feature article for U-Know, Creating an Army of Slaves.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

lib dems: champions of civil rights. in opposition, anyway.

As we reel from footage of police batoning school children who had the temerity to hold placards, let's skip back 18 months to the G20 protests. A week after the protests the LibDems attacked the

"sickening and unprovoked attack" by police.

Their Shadow Justice Secretary David Howarth expanded on this point

“The ugly scenes of police aggression and intimidation witnessed at the G20 protests and the Kingsnorth demonstrations were a national disgrace.

“Tactics like baton charges, the seizure of personal property and the kettling of protestors for hours on end are fundamentally wrong. They are a threat to democratic rights, they cause distress and injury

Other LibDems decried the use of kettling as

the practice of highly aggressive advances in police lines against the demonstration, often by fully armed riot police or horses, which compresses the protest into a smaller space. It causes fear and tension and appears to have no justification from the point of view of preventing disorder. It is not surprising that being subjected to both these tactics can turn an otherwise overwhelmingly relaxed and peaceful crowd more violent, as people become agitated, frustrated then angry.

Their party conference last year - just last year, mind - passed a motion saying

The use of aggressive or intimidatory tactics against peaceful protesters is provocative, inappropriate, and counter-productive, since it increases the tension and likelihood of violence; the police must use aggressive tactics such as ‘kettling’, baton charges, and attacks with dogs only when they are absolutely necessary and proportionate; the seizure of personal property from demonstrators is not acceptable.

The same conference declared

The state must not be allowed to trample over an individual’s right to privacy, liberty, free expression and association.

and demanded

The immediate restoration of the right to protest in Parliament Square.

All fine words. Then they got elected.

This week we heard the sound of tumbleweed rolling through the Liberal Democrat press office.

Friday, December 03, 2010

hydrogen planes won't fly

The BBC reports that the aviation industry is giving up on its promise of hydrogen powered aircraft.

Millions of taxpayers' money has been funnelled into projects that did not seemingly take on board the the fact that hydrogen power would remain costly and polluting for some time to come.

They knew it wouldn't work. It was never intended to work. The whole point of alternative fuels for cars or planes is to pretend that the answer is just around the corner, so it's OK to keep burning oil today.

Anyone who thinks that there's a readily available sustainable alternative to fossil fuels doesn't understand what fossil fuels are. They are millions of years of solar energy captured and stored. You're not going to get that off a year's worth of plants or whatever.

"Kerosene is a very good fuel and very difficult to compete with," explains Rainer von Wrede who works in Airbus's research and technology department.

But we all want to be able to fly round the world, we all want to be able to take a tonne of metal as a security blanket with us every time we pop down the shops, so we want to think there's an alternative fuel to make it happen.

As one false solution becomes exposed, another rises to take its place. Oftentimes, the public ditching of one will be saved until the next one's ready to dazzle us with.

"The big deal at the moment is alternative jet fuels. Principally biofuels that come from sustainable sources, and do not compete with food and water, ecetera," Christopher Surgenor, editor and publisher of GreenAir Online tells the BBC.

Hate to tell you this Christopher, but all biofuel crops compete with food and water.

Just because we switch from using edible crops like sugar or corn to inedible ones like jatropha does not mean there's no competition. It's not the crop that's the issue, it's the land use. There is already something growing there, either crops or forest. The water supply is already in use. There simply isn't a load of 'spare' land and 'spare' fresh water lying around.

We can safely ignore all the guff about using 'marginal' land. Firstly, there isn't waste land - the harder it is to support life the more fragile and vulnerable the ecosystems we find there. Additionally, much of the land they speak of as 'marginal' certainly isn't regarded that way by the people who live graze their livestock there. But the real clincher is the fact that the gargantuan industrial processes involved want intensive farming and maximum production. That means using high quality land.

When Virgin started using a little coconut oil in its planes it was calculated that it would take a coconut plantation twice the size of France to supply the world's aircraft. And that's what we're facing. Next year Lufthansa begin using 50% biofuel on a (woohoo) short haul service. Wherever you grow biofuels, it puts the squeeze on food production and raises prices.

But the first thing we need to address is the supposed reason they're moving to biofuels - carbon savings. The simple fact is that biofuels usually cause greater carbon emissions than oil. That should be enough to get them discounted before we even look at the food and water issue.

Clearing land causes a huge amount of carbon to be released (and taking over farmland for biofuels causes new land to go under the plough, so either way biofuels are responsible for deforestation), and it takes years for this to be balanced by savings from not using oil - in some cases longer than the global oil supply will last.

In Indonesia the researchers found that converting land for palm oil production ran up the worst carbon debts, requiring 423 years to pay off. Producing soybeans in the Amazon would take 319 years of soy biodiesel to offset the carbon debt.

What's more, everybody knows it

Britain's promise to more than double its use of biofuels by 2020 is "significantly" adding to worldwide carbon emissions, the Government admitted yesterday.

They can power cars with electricity from renewable sources (though those are hardly oversupplied right now) and give us equally fast alternatives on road and rail. But for planes, there's no electric alternative, nothing so swift, nothing but planes and oil and biofuels.

Faced with the decline of oil production, they're moving to biofuels in the full knowledge that it is a climate disaster, yet are dressing it up as carbon savings cos, y'know, it's made from nice green natural plants and stuff.

So the roll-out begins, the carbon emissions increase and millions more of the poorest people on earth are on course for starvation.

Monday, November 22, 2010

ratcliffe on trial

Last April police in Nottingham arrested 114 people meeting in a building on 'suspicion of conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass and criminal damage'.

It seems there was a plan being hatched to shut down Ratcliffe on Soar coal-fired power station. You know, like the people who shut down Kingsnorth and were found to have acted lawfully.

No charges were brought against the majority of the 114 (not surprising, given that nobody was on their way to do anything and 'suspicion of conspiracy' puts you two steps away from any visible deed). They did eventually charge 26 of them. There will be two trials; six defendants say they were not on their way to the action and will be tried in the new year.

The other twenty say they were planning to shut down the power station but were justified as they were acting to prevent a greater crime. Their trial starts today, and is being blogged at

Supporters outside court this morning

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

beating police repression after the student occupation

The trashing of Conservative Party HQ during a student demo last week took a lot of people by surprise, not just the police and public but many of the participants.

Many of them had never done anything like it before. As such, they are largely identifable on the footage, and police have been arresting many.

FITwatch - a site that campaigns about police repression of protest, especially throught the use of Forward Intelligence Teams who film and photogrpah everything - published some advice to protesters.

The police responded by making the webhost take the FITwatch site down for a year. FITwatch nonetheless remain committed to their work.

In defiance of this censorship, and also to assist with the prevention of people who'd only trashed property from getting arrested, the offending post has been republished all over the internet. The more places do it, the more likeoly it is that the Met will give up and leave it be.

So here it is. If you think it should be in the public domain, please republish it on blogs and message boards.


The remarkable and brilliant student action at [Conservative Party headquarters] Millbank has produced some predictable frothing at the mouth from the establishment and right wing press. Cameron has called for the ‘full weight of the law’ to fall on those who had caused tens of thousands of pounds of damage to the expensive decor at Tory party HQ. Responsibility is being placed on ‘a violent faction’, after the march was ‘infiltrated’ by anarchists.

There are an encouraging number of intiatives to show solidarity with the arrested students – something that is vital if they are to avoid the sort of punitive ‘deterrent’ sentences handed out to the Gaza demonstrators. A legal support group has been established and the National Campaign against Cuts and Fees has started a support campaign. Goldsmiths lecturers union has publicly commended the students for a ‘magnificent demonstration’ .

This is all much needed, as the establishment is clearly on the march with this one. The Torygraph has published an irresponsible and frenzied ‘shop-a-student’ piece and the Met are clearly under pressure to produce ‘results’ after what they have admitted was a policing ‘embarrassment’.

51 people have been arrested so far, and the police have claimed they took the details of a further 250 people in the kettle using powers under the Police Reform Act. There may be more arrests to come.

Students who are worried should consider taking the following actions:

If you have been arrested, or had your details taken – contact the legal support campaign. As a group you can support each other, and mount a coherent campaign.

If you fear you may be arrested as a result of identification by CCTV, FIT or press photography;

DONT panic. Press photos are not necessarily conclusive evidence, and just because the police have a photo of you doesn’t mean they know who you are.

DONT hand yourself in. The police often use the psychological pressure of knowing they have your picture to persuade you to ‘come forward’. Unless you have a very pressing reason to do otherwise, let them come and find you, if they know who you are.

DO get rid of your clothes. There is no chance of suggesting the bloke in the video is not you if the clothes he is wearing have been found in your wardrobe. Get rid of ALL clothes you were wearing at the demo, including YOUR SHOES, your bag, and any distinctive jewellery you were wearing at the time. Yes, this is difficult, especially if it is your only warm coat or decent pair of boots. But it will be harder still if finding these clothes in your flat gets you convicted of violent disorder.

DONT assume that because you can identify yourself in a video, a judge will be able to as well. ‘That isn’t me’ has got many a person off before now.

DO keep away from other demos for a while. The police will be on the look-out at other demos, especially student ones, for people they have put on their ‘wanted’ list. Keep a low profile.

DO think about changing your appearance. Perhaps now is a good time for a make-over. Get a haircut and colour, grow a beard, wear glasses. It isn’t a guarantee, but may help throw them off the scent.

DO keep your house clean. Get rid of spray cans, demo related stuff, and dodgy texts / photos on your phone. Don’t make life easy for them by having drugs, weapons or anything illegal in the house.

DO get the name and number of a good lawyer you can call if things go badly. The support group has the names of recommended lawyers on their site. Take a bit of time to read up on your rights in custody, especially the benefits of not commenting in interview.

DO be careful who you speak about this to. Admit your involvement in criminal damage / disorder ONLY to people you really trust.

DO try and control the nerves and panic. Waiting for a knock on the door is stressful in the extreme, but you need to find a way to get on with business as normal.

Otherwise you’ll be serving the sentence before you are even arrested.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

what would you do if i sold out a song?

Well, I think I'd stand up and walk out on you.

We always have to wonder not only about actions and deeds, but about what they normalise and what they point the way to. I just watched TV for the first time in months. On one channel in less than two hours, Gimme Shelter and Children Of The Revolution advertised computer games, Pretty Vacant advertised betting, the Lightning Seeds advertised a bank, and Lemmy actually appeared in the advert where there's a specially re-recorded Ace of Spades advertising beer. This is what we feared when The Clash advertised jeans in the 90s.

This has an anti-encouragement effect on me, it makes me feel soiled and hate the products. Then again, I suppose I'm not exactly the target audience.

But this is normal for most people isn't it? Like living next to a sewage farm, you stop smelling the stench of commerce after a while.

The average Briton watches four hours of TV a day. People who watch more than seven hours a day are more common than those of us who watch less than an hour.

Doomed. Deservedly.

Monday, October 18, 2010

andrew marr doth protest too much

The BBC's venerable Andrew Marr has seriously laid into blogging. In a speech at Cheltenham Literature Festival he said

A lot of bloggers seem to be socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed, young men sitting in their mother's basements and ranting. They are very angry people.

OK – the country is full of very angry people. Many of us are angry people at times. Some of us are angry and drunk. But the so-called citizen journalism is the spewings and rantings of very drunk people late at night.

This is someone in a glass house firing numerous stones of various sizes in all directions.

Firstly, and most obviously, attacking people for their appearance is cheap and low, and that goes doubly for elements of appearance that are not of their choosing. It's a cornerstone of why we oppose racism, sexism, homophobia, disability discrimination and so on.

Within that, however, consider the fact that Marr himself is not what many of us would think of as a looker. I'm willing to bet he was that mercilessly abused jug-eared lad at school that everyone called FA Cup.

He is perhaps outstripped in these stakes by the phenomenally ugly John Sergeant. Yet this has nothing to do with the quality of their reporting, even though they're on telly. With bloggers, they don't show you what they look like so it makes no odds whatsoever.

And because we don't see bloggers, we get to the serious point about Marr's charges. He doesn't actually know this stuff. He's just listing a variety of things we say about people we don't like, without any evidence. So much for his implied moral high ground of authoritative opinion.

It's notable that these accusations of warped male friendless nerdiness are exactly the same things that were said ten years ago about anyone who used the internet. They were ways for the people who saw the rise of online communication as alien and threatening to pretend they were above it.

By the same token, the mainstream media is feeling the ground shift under its feet, hence these outbursts from Marr and colleagues. Their old certainties, their aloof position, their power to publish where the only available space for retort was a Letters page controlled by the same publisher, it's all been swept away.

Which brings us to another problem with what he says. Yes, there is a lot of ill-informed, vile, misanthropic, intrusive stuff on blogs. Of that material, much of it is intentionally written that way. In this respect, it is no different to the tabloid press.

For Marr to talk as if reporters only write things that are considered, beneficial and true is to pretend that the best selling newspapers in this country have never existed. Such vitriolic, speculative, seedy tittle-tattle is the public's preferred flavour of reporting.

But to look at The Sun and use its standards as grounds to attack the likes of Charles Moore and Nick Cohen is ludicrous. So it is that our repulsion at the putrefying mass of tabloid-equivalent blogging is no basis for attacking the medium as a whole, let alone making Marr's snidey snipes. The lack of real facts in his criticism only underlines that point.

The stuff I love in blogging is the way that, every day, there are news stories dismembered. The bloggers walk you through their reasoning and cite sources that are credible. It's like a forensic version of The Day Today, teaching you to use your critical faculties with news media, keeping your bullshit detector at full power.

All those stories about how 'they're trying to ban Christmas' and making people call it Winterval in case it offends muslims? Not one of them is true. Likewise lots of the stories about immigration. But you wouldn't know that if you only read the papers and watched TV. It's when bloggers look into it that we get the truth.

There are large elements of crossover, because responsible reporting is essentially the same endeavour whether it's bloggers or professionals. Channel 4 News' Fact Check blog does a superb job of correcting what we're told, and conversely news broadcasters pick up rumours from blogs and turn them into stories. Last year there was something going round about Gordon Brown being on certain pills. It didn't appear to have any real foundation, but that didn't stop it being inappropriately being included in an interview by one Andrew Marr.

It appears that, fingers burnt, he's blaming bloggers for telling him to put his hand in the fire.

Friday, October 08, 2010

a bottle of fight the world

A website about Buckfast's source locality, Dartmoor, informs us that

a popular Scottish phenomenon is the 'Buckie Commando' who is an intoxicated, aggressive, fearless consumer of the Buckfast Tonic Wine... There now are numerous aliases that the wine is known by, some printable examples are; 'Commotion Lotion', 'Wreck the Hoose Juice' and 'Bottle of Fight the World'.

Strathclyde police confirm that there were

448 mentions of "Buckfast" in reports of murders, attempted murders, serious assaults and common assaults in 2008-09, out of a total of 7,483 violent offences. That equates to 6% of the total.

Of these 114 involved the use of a Buckfast bottle as a weapon. This equates to 1.5% of the total

A BBC investigation adds

This echoes a study carried out in 2007 at Polmont Young Offenders Institution. It found that of those offenders who had been drinking immediately before their offence, more than 40% had been drinking Buckfast.

The man who conducted that research, Alasdair Forsyth, says the findings were remarkable. "This is a product, a brand which unusually for any product, is always trumpeting how few units they sell, that they sell less than half of 1% of all the alcohol in Scotland," he says.

This has led to moves within the Scottish parliament to ban Buckfast in the country.

As Monty Python observed, 'contemporary government applies one standard to violence within the community and another to violence perpetrated by one community upon another'. There are times when that enhanced, fearless fighting spirit comes in handy. Are you being bombed by Nazis? Bucky will make it all palatable. This advert ran in the British press during the Second World War.

Buckfast Tonic Wine is made by a secret process and to a formula perfected by the monks many years ago. It is still made with the same unhurried care at Buckfast Abbey in the calm of the Devon Hills. Its recuperative properties are invaluable to meet the strain of war time conditions.

Nerves and depression are largely physical, the result of an unaccustomed drain on your strngth and vigour. A wineglassful of Buckfast two or three times a day will quickly restore your energies and help to maintain your strength and mental poise.

They were not the first to spot its propensity for making people confident in violent circumstances. Those commanding the first world war knew that turning petrified shellshocked boys into Buckie Commandoes would be good for the chances of victory. According to Lyn Macdonald's book Somme, British troops were issued with an English-French phrase book sponsored by Wincarnis Tonic Wine with the slogan 'for the relief of nerves in the trenches'.

Indeed, in July 1916 as the Battle of the Somme was raging the British Journal of Nursing listed Wincarnis, saying

the primary effect is immediate stimulation and invigoration of the system, and the secondary an upbuilding of mental and physical vigour, and that as the secondary follows immediately after the primary effect, the upbuilding of bodily vigour occurs before the stimulating effect has worn off

A bottle of fight the world indeed. Wincarnis was originally called Liebig’s Extract of Meat and Malt Wine. The subsequent brand name 'win-carnis' means 'wine-meat'. These days they make it without actual meat, and nothing of Buckfast's altercation-inviting caffeine avalanche, but it's still a right radge tipple.

We should perhaps be grateful that Buckfast only augments its alcohol with caffeine. When tonic wines became popular in the late 1800s, many of them

used potent, poorly understood and often addictive ingredients. These included strychnine, morphine, opium, quinine, lithium salts and cocaine.

Buckfast with cocaine? Imagine the possibilities.

Graham Harding's book A Wine Miscellany informs us that

Coca wine, with cocaine, was already flourishing in late nineteenth-century America when Dr. John S. Pemberton created his “French Wine Coca” in 1886. He was a latecomer to the market, which was dominated by Angelo Mariani’s Coca Wine. This product, conceived and marketed by a French priest, added cocaine to wine.
Pemberton added both kola nuts and damiana (a natural aphrodisiac) to his drink and marketed it as an aid to overcoming morphine addiction. It was advertised as an “intellectual beverage” with the capacity to “invigorate the brain.”

Cocaine was removed from the drink in 1904, though the Coca-Cola Company continued to use “decocainised” coca leaves as flavoring for some decades. It is possible that they may still do so.

In 2002, the Bolivian authorities authorized the export of 159 tons of coca leaf to the United States “for the manufacturing of the soft drink, Coca-Cola.” The company was equivocal in its response to inquiries. “The formula for Coca-Cola is a very closely guarded trade secret. Therefore we do not discuss the formula.” Make of that what you will.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

20% off the bnp

When people talk about the BNP membership list, who exactly do they mean?

The BNP's mailing list goes out to anyone who's ever had any contact with them. Every couple of weeks there's another letter, usually four pages long, always full of random use of capitals, italics and underlines (and assorted combinations thereof), references to Agincourt and the Somme as reasons to be proud of ourselves, plenty of personality cult stuff about Nick Griffin, and always the appeal for money.

It's that last aspect that's most interesting. Before the general election you'd expect fundraising, campaigns don't come cheap after all. But now, after Griffin failed to make good on his promises to march through the doors of the Commons (the BNP voteshare actually went down where he stood), they're not only still begging but are getting ever more desperate.

After several months of pushing their life membership scheme, the newest letter drops the price from £500 to £395.

(Contact details have been pixellated out, everything else is, in all its tacky glory, absolutely real).

This honour is being extended to a carefully selected group of British citizens, stalwart BNP members like you, and I would like to be the first to personally congratulate you for being among that special chosen group of people.

Special, chosen, stalwart 'members' who haven't been in touch since they once asked for a membership pack or poster three years ago. An 'exclusive' offer that only excludes people who decide for themselves that they aren't interested.

Even our brave young soldiers, heroes all, cannot have a homecoming parade without being spat at on our streets by Muslim fanatics or Marxist UAF traitors.

Cannot? I can find an incident where one person is alleged to have once spat at one soldier. I can find lots of reports of parades without spitting.

And oh, woe is me, those Marxists in the UAF like Ed Balls and Diane Abbott.

We have set the fee for LIFE MEMBERSHIP at £500, but if you respond to this personal written invitation right away, you can take advantage of this offer for the special invitation price of £395. This massive reduction is a token of my deep appreciation for your loyalty and hard work for the party.

But there is more good news for you. If you accept my invitation today - you'll receive all the valuable benefits only available to LIFE MEMBERS, FREE!

FREE top quality, exclusive, engraved watch, his or hers.
FREE exclusive LIFE MEMBER pin badge to wear with pride and dignity.
FREE lifelong subscription to Identity magazine 64pp. (£4.99)
FREE lifelong 'annual party reports'. (£6.95)
FREE complementary copies of the party's magazine, Hope and Glory, for your friends.
FREE prestigious LIFE MEMBER certificate parchment scroll for framing.
FREE limited edition 8x10 signed portrait of party chairman Nick Griffin MEP.

You will also receive a highly desirable GOLD embossed LIFE MEMBERSHIP card.

Mmm, I just love a gender segregated watch. And a limited edition signed photo of Nick Griffin? Limited to how many? Does it come with presentation dart flights?

And that prestigious life member parchment scroll (wouldn't want a non-prestigious one), is it available in perforated 2-ply with aloe vera?

The desperation to get the dosh in, banking on a lump sum today against the prospect of steady revenue streams in the years to come, speaks clearly of their motivations. They either don't expect members to stay for long, or else they are very strapped for cash indeed. Recent reports suggest a bit of both.

Concern about the BNP's finances has been exacerbated by news that the Electoral Commission is investigating the party's 2008 accounts and that its 2009 accounts are already late.

The BNP faces further legal action from the Equality and Human Rights Commission over allegations that it has failed to remove potentially racist clauses from its constitution. Lawyers say the case, due to go before the courts again in November, could see Griffin landed with a fine or even imprisonment for contempt of court.

The BNP refused to comment on reports that the party is more than £500,000 in debt or to confirm how many members had been suspended or had resigned.

Yet still they extravagantly add an extra sheet to the begging letter.

Like some Saga insurance or Littlewoods catalogue junkmail, it not only uses lots of positive terms for the gaudy cheapo free gift, and 'come on, what are you waiting for?' (ie 'please don't think about it or you'll decide not to'), but the punchline for these supposedly desirable watches is that spivvy disclaimer down there in the bottom right hand corner - Watches May Vary. It'll be these, or some other shit, we dunno.

It appears that there's a sort of ceiling for fascist parties in the UK. People feel scared by economic instability and immigrants, they feel ignored by the entrenched power of the big parties, so they vote fascist. But then once they've got a modicum of power and become a real threat, there is a big turnout to defeat them. The party then tears itself apart with in-fighting.

It happened to the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s, it happened to the National Front in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and now it seems poised to happen to the BNP.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

bnp tolerance

The comments sections of news sites seemed such a bright idea at first. Democratising journalism and creating a new system allowing debate, challenge and correction to be on the same page as the article. This would surely lead journalists to draft their pieces more carefully, and to a better understanding and level of engagement for all.

It rapidly became clear that nothing like that would happen. Out there on the comments pages it's survival of the shoutiest, with access favouring those who've got the internet in front of them all day and nothing interesting to do. Shielded by anonymity, the need for civility and accuracy wither to nought.

Last year I pondered why news sites get this crap much more than Wikipedia.

Wikipedia's a reference tool, the Guardian is a news site. If you manage to skew the first wave of comments on a news article, you've effectively neutered the ability to debate. Who goes back to a four month old news article to start a discussion?

Most posts on this blog only get a couple of comments, if any. I've deleted very few, just the ones that were solely comprised of insults. I've let ones from climate deniers, Simple Minds fans, BNP supporters and people even further right stay up.

In May I did a post about BNP leaflets and the party's climate denial. Within 12 hours it had about 30 comments. About two-thirds were from BNP supporters, all bar one were anonymous, and none of them about the content of the post (that the source the BNP cited to prove there's no climate change actually shows the opposite).

It was during the period of the European elections when the BNP had clearly got their flunkies to trawl the internet and bombard the comments sections of anything that mentioned the party. The effect is rather like having them run into a meeting with airhorns. Nobody can be heard over the din, and by the time they leave everyone sensible's left the room. I've got another post about the BNP coming soon, and I'm half expecting the same flood of comments, so I thought I'd set out the rules in advance.

Free speech is one of those issues where I strongly agree with opposed sides. I think people have a right to be protected from hate speech, and it is blindingly obvious that extreme actions have their roots in seemingly innocuous incitement activities. We should not allow the fascists credibility and let them march the streets, creating an atmosphere of intimidation, normalising aggressive racism and bigotry. I applaud those who use force to confront and fight fascists.

Conversely, something in that feels a bit paternalistic, like we're saying we don't trust the public to be as smart as us in seeing through facist lies. If we don't trust the mass of people to discount stupid opinions then there is little point in any political activism as a decent future is impossible.

On a more philosophical level, where does the no-platform policy end? I agree with George Orwell when he said

If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.

We can't have this apply to our controversial views but not those of others simply because we disagree with them. Or to put it another way, as Noam Chomsky said,

Goebbels was in favor of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you're really in favor of free speech, then you're in favor of freedom of speech for precisely the views you despise. Otherwise, you're not in favor of free speech.

However, Orwell qualified his point with stuff that makes obvious sense

If the intellectual liberty which without a doubt has been one of the distinguishing marks of western civilization means anything at all, it means that everyone shall have the right to say and to print what he believes to be the truth, provided only that it does not harm the rest of the community in some quite unmistakable way.

So which ones are activities that deserve to be stymied because they 'harm the community'? Fascist attacks on ethnic minorities? Advocating the deportation of our neighbours? Making stupid comments online that inhibit proper discussion?

Here on this blog, I don't have to find definite answers. It's not a freedom of speech issue. If I were the BBC then I would have a duty to be impartial, but really, this place is no more powerful or laudable than a blog anyone could set up in seconds. So if I delete comments it is not shutting down anyone's freedom of speech.

It's my blog, and if I deem comments to be discouraging to the kind of debate and atmosphere I want to see here, stuff full of insults and not even on topic, then I'm free to delete them. And if you don't like that you BNP scumfucks then go cry to your mums.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

alex salmond's renewable coal

Last week Alex Salmond, Scotland's First Minister, announced that Scotland's target of generating 50% of its electricity from renewables by 2020 has been upped to 80%.

This week he went one better, suggesting it could be 100% by 2025.

This is interesting, given the plans for a new coal-fired power station at Hunterston, already dubbed by activists the 'new Kingsnorth'. The new power station would run for many decades, burning coal far beyond 2025. It's not only opposed by Scotland's kickass anti-coal activists, but also such rabid revolutionaries as the RSPBChristian Aid, WWF, the World Development Movement and the Church of Scotland.


Salmond's government aims to fast track the Hunterston proposal by using a new streamlined planning process, bypassing the often lengthy and expensive public-consultation rules that normally apply.

In 2007 Salmond said

Coal is king ... If you can use clean-coal technology, coal has a dynamic future. It means coal, far from being environmentally unacceptable, is becoming environmentally attractive.

The Scottish government will only oblige Hunterston to have 300 megawatts (MW) of production with carbon capture and storage. The station is planned to be 1600MW, in other words over 80% without carbon capture. This makes it more carbon intensive than any other way of generating electricity, except for unabated coal.

The Scottish government has also granted the massive Longannet coal power station an life extension so it can keep burning well past its 2015 sell-by date.

Anyone can set targets, especially ones that are mere suggestions for a time fifteen years hence. Just as every warmongering aggressor talks about peace and self-defence, so every fossil burner talks about the importance of aiming for sustainability.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

red ed

the coalition is losing the argument about its central programme of cuts, even before it has announced them, let alone started carrying them out. The latest Populus polling shows three-quarters of the public oppose both the scale and speed of the planned cuts.

So said Seumas Milne two weeks ago. A Leader of the Opposition who was interested in popular support might see an opportunity to place themselves as a determined, stoic, principled opposer of the cuts. But no, because garnering the support of the majority is not as important as ensuring the wealthy few don't become alienated.

The only red thing about Red Ed Miliband is his tongue, red raw from slurping the collective anii of capitalist scumpigs. He manages to pretend to have been anti-war just because he wasn't an MP when the Iraq vote took place. How we all remember his ceaseless tirades exhorting the prime minister to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan that resounded through the Commons since he was elected in 2005, though. Oh, no, hang on a minute....

He boldly comes forth with his red agenda, replacing Trident and no plans to nationalise anything, not even the railways that 70% of us want renationalised. Instead he says he'll go along with many of the cuts, specifically including the attacks on benefit claimants.

The Tory press has made much of Miliband's support from union votes, implying that this is some sort of con, with additionally strong overtones that unions are something underhand, malevolent and dangerously extremist. Since when did union membership – something a quarter of British employees engage in – become something antisocial?

Mark Steel notes the anti-union element of Miliband's coverage

as if the unions aren’t made up of millions of people but are a pair of illegal bookies and a drug-dealer who, because of a quirk of history, make up 30 per cent of the electoral college. You might as well say the only reason the Tories won the election was they sneaked in with the votes of Tory voters.

But the Sheer Fucking Gall Of The Day Award goes to Baroness Warsi for saying

Ed Miliband wasn’t the choice of his MPs, wasn’t the choice of Labour party members but was put in to power by union votes.

Miliband was elected to leader of the Labour Party by many thousands of entitled voters. As opposed to Warsi, a failed parliamentary candidate who is nonetheless in Cabinet despite having been elected by nobody at all.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

hydrogen zombies from murdoch hell

For those of us who generally spend too much time on news sites, it was curious to see Rupert Murdoch decide to put his papers behind a paywall. Whilst it's cut The Times' website traffic by 90%, there are those who reckon it's nonetheless increased the revenue.

But it's also stopped most of us having anything to do with The Times. Chicken Yoghurt notes the clear air and cheers on the process.

Isn’t the world a nicer place with The Times behind its paywall? If nothing else now only a few thousand hardcore masochists are having their mornings spoiled (either directly or indirectly) by David Aaronovitch’s brainfaeces. Once Rupert Murdoch finishes shovelling the rest of his offal behind the paywall we can get on with finally founding Utopia.

I had occasion to buy a paper copy of The Times the other week. It wasn't for me, it was for a friend. Really it was.

The Greater London Assembly has been enthusiastic about hydrogen vehicles despite the fact that they make no sense in terms of economics or climate impact. Even the Green members support it. So it was no surprise to see Kit Malthouse, Tory member of the Greater London Assembly, trotting out an article for the Times extolling the virtues of hydrogen cars.

Times subscribers can read it here, but you don't have to fork out a quid if you don't want to. Any pro-hydrogen article will have the same old twaddle, zombie arguments long disproven yet still they walk among us.

Fantastic news: by 2015 you will be able to buy a reasonably priced family car that runs entirely on hydrogen

Mmm-hmm. The magic switchover to hydrogen cars has been five years away for about twenty years now. Mr Donkey, meet Mr Carrot.

Nasty 19th-century internal combustion will be out; pure 21st century electrochemistry will be in.

Sexy! Shiny! Space-age! Actually, not. The hydrogen fuel cell is 19th century technology, invented by Sir William Grove in the late 1830s.

Electric propulsion is, of course, the solution. But there is a divide about how to store and release the power: battery or hydrogen?

With a battery, you charge it up and off you go. Perfect for town, where short, frequent journeys are the norm. But there is a teeny problem: instant refuelling... electric cars take between six and ten hours to charge.

No they don't - their batteries take that time to charge. If you have ready-charged batteries waiting at filling stations, swapping your empty one for a full one takes the same time as filling up with petrol, or indeed hydrogen.

That requires new infrastructure at filling stations, but not as much as hydrogen. Additionally, you can recharge your car yourself at home overnight on cheap electricity when you have got hours spare. For convenience and availability, electricity wins because it's everywhere, whereas hydrogen is available nowhere.

Malthouse deftly avoids any mention of hydrogen's cost. There's a reason the protoypes have only been available on lease instead of to buy. As Shell Hydrogen’s CEO Don Huberts bluntly conceded

‘at the end of the day, hydrogen and other alternative fuels will be three to four times as expensive as oil based products, and if no one wants to pay for that, we can't make those fuels’(1).

Or, to compare, Ulf Bossel of the European Fuel Cell Forum said,

The daily drive to work in a hydrogen fuel cell car will cost four times more than in an electric or hybrid vehicle. 

Still, at least Malthouse does mention some other drawbacks.

Don't get me wrong, there are problems with hydrogen too. The main one is that it is pretty inefficient - it takes more energy to produce than it produces as a fuel.

And the understatement of the year award goes to...

In a recent post I mentioned the way the word 'recyclable' is used to imply that a product has no environmental impact so we can just use as much as we feel like, throw it away and get more. This also applies to 'renewable electricity'; it apparently has no impact to manufacture, install and maintain generating equipment, and is freely available in infinite quantity. Kit Malthouse certainly thinks so, and it lets him off the eye-watering inefficiency of hydrogen.

But if we use renewable energy to make the hydrogen in the first place, is this still an issue?

In a word, yes.

To replace our vehicle fuels with hydrogen would take as much electricity as we presently use for everything else combined (2). Do we think we can double electricity generation whilst doing away with fossil burning? Or is renewable-electricity hydrogen a non-starter?

Meanwhile, the Tory market values championed by the likes of Malthouse will see to it that we don't actually use renewable electricity. It is, by a huge margin, far cheaper to make hydrogen from natural gas than any other source. Renewable electricity, conversely, is by far the most expensive. Unless we have a stringent big-government regulatory regime, gas will be the raw material.

Making hydrogen from gas then using it in a fuel cell emits about 90g of CO2 for every kilometre you drive, about the same as a modern efficient petrol car (3). So when Kit Malthouse says that hydrogen cars

emit only water

it's true in the sense of what comes out of the exhaust pipe, but that's because the carbon emissions have happened at the hydrogen factory. The climate, of course, doesn't care where you emit the carbon, only that you do it at all. This use of gas as the raw material means that hydrogen is just another fossil fuel.

Perhaps the maddest scenario we could head towards is shifting from oil to another fossil fuel that's just as carbon-intensive and just as scarce, which then runs out after a couple of decades, leaving us with all this hydrogen infrastructure, making us squander our electricity on making hydrogen instead of the more efficient battery vehicles.

Bank-busting, ash-spewing Iceland has started to harness all that free geothermal power, aiming to be the hydrogen Saudi Arabia by 2060.

This is hardly, as Malthouse wants to imply, a reason for the UK to compete. Exporting hydrogen is very unlikely to happen on any major scale, as it contains a fraction of the energy of oil.

Iceland may produce its own hydrogen some time in future, but that is for several reasons that don't apply anywhere else. It is not only sat on more renewable energy than it can use (a few huge hydroelectric plants and a hell of a lot of geothermal energy); it is also little more than a city state. It has a population the size of Bradford and two-thirds of them live in one city.

Even then, its trumpeted 'hydrogen economy' has been and gone several times. In 2000 Iceland was to be the Bahrain of the North and the big breakthrough was five to ten years away. In 2002 it was touted as the Kuwait of The North with hydrogen cars to be on the roads in 2005. Shell put three hydrogen buses into action in Reykjavik in 2005. Two years later, two were scrapped and the third put in a museum.

The hydrogen vehicles are a gimmick, fluttered about by oil companies so we think the breakthrough is around the corner and therefore we can carry on with our cars. The wonder is that we're fooled by it over and over.

The electric vehicle may be more efficient, but the batteries take a lot of minerals and energy to manufacture. It too is being hyped as a decoy, just the way hydrogen has been.

To think there is an easy and renewable alternative to fossil fuels is a fundamental misunderstanding of what fossil fuels are; millions of years of stored energy. We have to stop thinking every individual can have the energy needed to carry a ton of metal and glass with them everywhere they go.

= = = = = = = = = = = = =

1 . Looking Ahead: Fuel Producers Weigh in on Hydrogen’s Fit in Cleaner Energy Production, Fuel Cell Industry Report, January 2003.

2.Decarbonising the UK – Energy for a Climate Conscious Future, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, 2005, p74.

3. Well-to-Wheels analysis of future automotive fuels and powertrains in the European context, Version 1b, European Commission Joint Research Centre, January 2004, p50, Figure 8.4.1b.

Friday, September 17, 2010

road to nowhere

'Reform' is a word that has shifted meaning in the last twenty years. Like 'modernise', in the mouth of a politician 'reform' now means 'privatise' or 'cut'.

George Osborne told us last week

We are going to reform out-of-work benefits so there's a strong incentive for people who can work to get work.

This ignores the central fact that there are many people who can work, but there is no work for them to get.

There are 2,467,000 people unemployed. There are 467,000 job vacancies. So there are exactly two million people for whom there is no work. And that's before we start kicking people off sickness benefits and out of public sector jobs.

Given the government's plan to cut Housing Benefit for people unemployed for more than a year - leading to debt and eviction for a great many of them - it's also pertinent to know that there are 797,000 people who have been unemployed for over 12 months. So even if every vacancy in the country went to long-term unemployed people, we'd still have 330,000 people long-term unemployed being punished with homelessness for not getting a job that doesn't exist.

Osborne continued;

People who think that it's a lifestyle choice just to stay on out-of-work benefits, that lifestyle choice is going to come to an end.

'Lifestyle choice' implies a preference. It baldly says unemployed people choose their situation. With the unemployed outnumbering vacancies 5:1, unless we start a jobs-for-six-months rota, the only way people will get out of unemployment and into work is by clambering over the heads of others and pushing them back down into the increasingly inhumane and threadbare benefits system.

Nick Clegg defended the cuts, saying

A fair society is not one in which money is simply transferred by the central state from one group to another

One word: bankers.

It also makes me wonder whether this means Clegg opposes taxation in all its forms. He goes on;

Welfare needs to become an engine of mobility, changing people's lives for the better, rather than a giant cheque written by the state to compensate the poor for their predicament.

£65 a week Job Seekers Allowance is hardly giant. But whatever the price, you can only be mobile if there is somewhere to move to. For the overwhelming majority of unemployed people, there is no road out. As they are poor by no fault of their own, it is barbaric and cruel to punish them. A fair society would indeed compensate such people for their predicament.

As unemployment is, if we're honest, a permanent feature of our society, we should see if anyone out there actually does want it as a lifestyle choice. If they can find a way to lead happy, fulfilled lives on £65 a week then good luck to them. Automating their payments would, as Child Benefit has proven, take down the cost of administration. This would free up the job-finding help for those who do want it. Same number of unemployed, lower cost, far greater happiness.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

like a war zone without the dead people

I went to Reading Festival once, nearly 20 years ago. It has none of the character of Glastonbury, none of the quirks and charm of smaller festivals. What it does have is a vast range of top rock bands playing blisteringly loud to massive beery audiences. For some people that's not enough to entice them but for others, like me in 1991, it's a definition of heaven.

It was overwhelmingly populated by teenagers wearing band T-shirts who enjoyed making campfires out of plastic. As I understand it, that is still the case, and their techniques and targets have evolved and expanded. Stories from a few years ago about lines of burning portaloos are truly the stuff of nightmares.

The festival is now so popular that it's held at two sites, Leeds and Reading, with the same acts on alternating nights. This year I helped with the salvage; teams of volunteers get a couple of days after the festival to pick up any decent tat left by punters.

There were people gathering camping tat like SolAIDarity collecting for the camps of migrants at Calais, others for displaced victims of the Pakistani floods, and scouting groups. Other charity collectors like Everything's Possible were looking for stuff to clean and sell as fundraisers.

The waste seems largely to be a product of the mindset of the punters rather than the infrastructure. During the festival, if you bring in a sack of empty cans and/or plastic bottles for recycling, you get a token for a beer. Yet I saw hundreds of full cans of beer lying around, let alone the uncountable thousands of empties.

There are camping gear drop-off points for people who don't want to take stuff home. Yet I would estimate that at least one tent in four was left behind where it was pitched.

This is a spliced together panorama. Bear in mind this is one corner of one empty field, everyone's gone home. There were acres of this.

Almost all the abandoned tents had stuff inside them. Many had just been walked out of, leaving sleeping bags, rollmats, clothes, cosmetics and food. Possessions were seen as disposable, not just by a few who were irredeemably irresponsible or acutely hungover, but as a culture among festival-goers.

Many of the tents and camping gear were clearly new, bought for the weekend, regarded as being as ephemeral as the beer. That was the good bit.  Finding otherwise decent tents slashed, or burned out, or shat in was much worse.


One thing that caught my eye was the vast number of 'Green Tents'.

The words 'green' and 'eco' are, as we well know, meaningless. Vauxhall's new Ecoflex range of cars are eco, even though they emit over 130g of CO2 per kilometre, more than a third as much again as some normal cars already on the road. 'Recyclable' is used as if this means the virgin materials have less impact, and as if the recycling process has no impact at all.

Leeds Festival big up their partnership with Green Tent Company, telling us that buying their gear will

help us to reduce our carbon footprint, thus SAVING THE PLANET

They really do use capitals.

So go on then, what's green about a plastic tent? The makers explain

Traditionally a tent is made up of many different components such as fibreglass poles, metal eyelets and pegs, polyester material and nylon zips etc… which make them uneconomical to separate for recycling. This results in the vast majority of the tents being sent directly to landfill... until now !

The Green Tent Company are the first company in the world to design and manufacture a stylish competitively priced range of tents that are made solely of one product. That product is... polyester.

As if to equal Leeds Festival's jarring emphasis of nonsense, they really do put a three dotted drumroll before telling us their green material is the same non-degradable oil product all the other tents are made of.

Should any of our tents, camping mats or sleeping bags be left behind after a festival ends they do not have to be sent to landfill, instead they can be sent for recycling

They can be sent for recycling. They do not have to be sent to landfill. But, in the main, they are.

A two person Green Tent is £12.99. A full kit of tent, two rollmats and two sleeping bags is £30. You can order online and pick up at the festival, encouraging the throwaway attitude. Why waste precious beer space with camping gear when for £15 each you can get it disposably at the festival, and do the same next year?

The wastefulness is seriously exacerbated - and any potential generosity one may feel toward the company dissolved - by the manufacturer's shoddy quality of work. Some of the material is not fit for repeated use (there's a reason other tents don't use polyester pegs), the rest of it is scrappy single-skin stuff that is barely showerproof. The makers acknowledge this when they boast

If our tents have been well looked after AND fully dried out before being packed away, they could be used SEVERAL times

My tent - reasonable quality, still going strong, and I assure you really not that well looked after - has been to at least 80 festivals.

Put another way, had I bought Green Tent Company tents instead, I would have sent fifty or so to landfill already, or to recycling if I could find where to do it.

How would the eventual landfilling of my solitary tent compare to the energy use and waste of making and recycling a hundred Green Tents? Let alone, as would be more likely, to landfilling a hundred of them?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

swapping health care for death threats

NHS Direct is the latest victim of the Tory cuts. The phone line was, itself, set up as a money-saver. People can ring up with minor ailments and speak to qualified nursing professionals so they don't use the more expensive 999 calls or A&E admissions. The plan is to replace it with a line staffed by people who've had 60 hours training. The opportunities for misdiagnosis - costing more money as well as misery - are vastly multiplied.

This is not like John Major's Cones Hotline that was trumpeted by government yet only handled a dozen calls a day (including pranks). NHS Direct receives nearly a million calls a month. Its abolition is just a further gratuitous dismantling of the NHS. The replacement system is still being piloted, yet they've decided to decided to roll it out nationally and permanently. Andrew Lansley has a novel definition of 'piloting'.

The new government's continual excuse for the cuts as essential cost-cuting is an outrageous decoy. Just as they're axing the Sustainable Development Commission even though it saves tens of times its cost, so they're claiming their NHS cuts all save money and improve efficiency.

They tell us they're cutting layers of NHS bureaucracy, such as abolishing Primary Care Trusts. Leaving aside the fact that the Tories invented the internal market of the NHS and fertilised the culture of outsourcing, the new government is actually bringing in a new layer of NHS bureaucracy in GP's fundholding. Indeed, it seems likely that the bureaucrats we sack from PCTs will be rehired by GPs (doctors are hardly going to do all their own accounting), but with all the added waste of bringing in a new system.

Beyond all these giant cogs and gears of Tory spending cuts, there is a simple test to apply to claims of necessary cuts. They cannot credibly talk of saving money by cutting waste and things that don't get used whilst they're planning to replace Trident.

These WMDs are so terrible that they cannot be used. Their effects would decimate populations and poison land far beyond the target, quite possibly affecting the UK.

Here's the deal; if your enemy knows you won't use a weapon, it is not any kind of a deterrent. Every penny of the tens of billions of pounds spent on them is a pointless waste. The cost of Trident replacement is commonly cited as £20bn - coincidentally the same amount the NHS has been ordered to cut between now and 2014 - though a Greenpeace report estimates £97bn over its 30 year lifespan.

You expect Tory papers like the Mail and Telegraph to toe the government line, but the supposedly impartial BBC and the lefty Guardian use the phrase 'nuclear deterrent' too. That is not neutral descriptive language, it is the militaristic opinion that nucelar weapons deter. Trident is not a nuclear deterrent, it is a nuclear weapons system.

Frankly, I can't see any defensive element to the British military. If we abolished our armed forces, who exactly would invade us? But certainly, long before we reach such issues, there is no credible argument for nuclear weapons. Those who say we should keep them talk of being 'left defenceless'. Take a look at what we've done in Serbia, Iraq and Afghanistan lately, all without nukes. See how many mighty non-nuclear states around the world go about their business unattacked.

Farting around making what are, financially speaking, comparatively tiny cuts to services people actually use and rely on in order to have the cash to spend on something that will never be used would be laughable if it were just an idea. It means we take away quality of life for our citizens in order to pretend to threaten ugly death to citizens of other places.

The fact that such ideas are at the forefront of the minds of the people running the country is frankly terrifying, and makes you wonder with dread what they'll do next.

Friday, August 20, 2010

sharks, ice cream, methane and hot water bottles

Analogy of the week has to go to Gary Younge in his piece about immigration and job losses.

Because two things are correlated does not mean one causes the other. Shark attacks and ice-cream sales both rise in the summer. They're linked by the season. But that doesn't mean ice-cream attracts sharks or people react to fear about shark attacks by eating more ice-cream.

This image outstrips another analogy that I found in the new issue of The Land. It's an obscure yet vital magazine. Produced by The Land Is Ours crew, it always gets into the fundamental cogs and gears of land ownership and use. Intelligent, thoughtful and informative, every issue has a number of things that make you want to read them out loud to people. I lifted their article Can Britain Feed Itself? for U-Know.

In the run-up to the Copenhagen Climate Blahblahblah, I pointed out that the Chinese and Indian use of measuring 'carbon intensity' rather than carbon emissions was a way of wriggling out of reducing emissions. The current issue of The Land has chewed the pencil and crunched the numbers. Check out these graphs.

Elsewhere there's a discussion about the climate impact of methane. It's a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, but it breaks down quicker. The convention is to measure a gas' potency over 100 years. At that level, methane is about 25 times stronger than CO2 [IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, Chap 2, table 2.14]. Some people are arguing that we should pick a shorter term (over 20 years, it's 72 times stronger), as cuts in methane mean greater cuts in the immediate greenhouse effect.

Anyway, the silver medal analogy of the week comes in a piece about this. The Land's Simon Fairlie argues that the longer-term impact of CO2 is what actually makes it more important than methane, not less. He quotes a piece by Geoff Russell:

a tonne of methane contributes 100 times more warming during the first five years of its lifetime as a tonne of CO2, yet under current Kyoto rules, its comparative potency is set at 21. This is because the relative impacts of ALL greenhouse gases are averaged over the same period 100 years, regardless of their atmospheric lifetimes.

This is like applying a blow torch to your leg for 10 seconds but calculating its average temperature as just 48 degrees because that’s what it is when averaged over 20 minutes, with 20 minutes being used because that happens to be some agreed international standard when measuring heat sources applied to legs. The implication being, of course, that a blow torch for 10 seconds and a 48 degree hot water bottle for 20 minutes have the same effect.

Fairlie then runs with it.

The analogy is potentially illuminating, but it is misleading because the methane blowtorches and the CO2 hot water bottles aren't being applied to anything as sensitive as a leg, but are heating up the atmosphere, as in a room.

Also, it is incomplete because there isn't just one blowtorch and one hot water bottle, there are hundreds of them being brought into the room continuously. Although the blowtorches are individually intensely hot, they go out within a matter of seconds, whereas the hot water bottles keep piling up until their collective heat far outstrips that of the relatively few blowtorches that remain ignited at any one time.

At the point where the heat becomes unbearable, the obvious first course is to reduce the flow of blowtorches into the room. That will be the quickest way of reducing the temperature back to the level it was just before it became unbearable. Reducing the flow of hot water bottles will have comparatively little immediate effect.

But removing the blowtorches won't prevent the hot water bottles continuing to pile up until the heat becomes unbearable again; that will eventually happen even if the flow of blowtorches is completely stopped, and when it does happen it will be much harder to lower the temperature again.

In fact, the shorter lifetime of methane also speaks in its defence. In order to maintain the blowtorch heat, the blowtorches have to come into the room thick and fast. In other words, in order to maintain a given level of methane in the atmosphere we have to keep pumping out regularly otherwise the number of parts per million will fall away rapidly...

On the other hand, if humans stopped burning fossil fuels tomorrow, the burden of CO2 emitted in the 20th century would linger on for several generations.

This means that if the world decided to stabilise greenhouse gases at their current level, we would only need to reduce global methane output by 6.1 percent, but CO2 emissions by anything from 50 to 85 percent.

Any 'targeting' of methane to compensate for the manifest failure to reduce CO2 emissions... would be scapegoating methane to bale out CO2; or put another way, it would be extracting a subsidy from methane emitters for the benefit of fossil fuel users...

Whereas UK and US methane emissions comprise 8 and 9 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions respectively, India's methane emissions, two-thirds of which come from cows and rice, are reported to comprise 35 percent of her total. India, like most poor countries, burns far less fossil fuels per head than the USA or UK, and for many of her poor, a goat or a cow may represent almost the entirety of their greenhouse gas emissions.

Targeting methane emissions such as these to compensate for a failure to reduce CO2 emissions is another facet of the neo-colonialism that has pervaded international climate negotiations.

The Land. Go buy it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

kingsnorth: back from the dead?

The latest in the line of anti-environmental actions from the ConDems is a spectacular U-turn on a central policy promise that, in opposition, they beat Labour round the head with.

David Cameron, 16 June 2008:

We’ll only get the big benefits of going green if we’re really ambitious and really change the way we do things. What I’m talking about is one of the most radical technological and social shifts for generations. I’m talking about reconfiguring our whole economy and overturning our whole hydrocarbon dependency...

So that’s why I can announce today that a Conservative Government will follow the Californian model, and implement an Emissions Performance Standard. This would mean the carbon emissions rate of all electricity generated in our country cannot be any higher than that generated in a modern gas plant. Such a standard would mean that a new generation of unabated coal power plants could not be built in this country.

That's clear, specific and unambiguous.

So, once elected, it was no surprise to see it in the main policy document The Coalition: Our Programme for Government, May 2010:

We will establish an emissions performance standard that will prevent coal-fired power stations being built unless they are equipped with sufficient carbon capture and storage to meet the emissions performance standard.

Again, that's clear, definite and unequivocal.

But three months on when it's time for action, we find out it's actually time to jettison the policy promise, 15 August 2010:

Now government sources confirm they will not be bringing forward legislation in the autumn and will instead spend the summer working on "the larger picture". They will open a consultation on the [Emissions Performance Standard] idea in the autumn with the results being presented to parliament as a white paper in the new year.

You can hear the beast of unabated coal stirring in its lair. See you in front of the bulldozers at Kingsnorth.

Friday, August 06, 2010

on this deity (slight return)

Dorian Cope has relaunched her On This Deity site! I say now what I said when she did the beta version:

This is what I find most encouraging about the writing trades: they allow mediocre people who are patient and industrious to revise their stupidity, to edit themselves into something like intelligence.
- Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut observed a truth there that all of us who write recognise.

Dorian Cope, however, is one of those people who can do it without so much of the revision and editing, she can just lay it out off the top of her head. Look what happens when she's interrupted on her way somewhere by a randomer who asks her about the MC5.

Dorian is the wife of the indefatigable Julian Cope. As he releases an album more than once a year and has written a swathe of effervescent groundbreaking scholarly books on history and music, it must take a mighty intellect and a bold character to keep up with him at close quarters, let alone to encourage, inspire and criticise as he creates. Dorian does all that and more, so it's long past time that she started publishing stuff herself.

Her On This Deity site marks anniversaries of events in history. And not the history of kings and presidents but the other history, the history of dissent and rebellion. It's got the classic Cope mix of vision, fresh interpretation and an understanding of music as central cultural force and key part of radical history.

Each post is an illuminating piece, but there's a powerful composite message too. As we see that these events have gone on - every day, all around the world, year in year out for centuries - so we realise that the daring, imaginative, revolutionary perspective isn't a wacky sideshow or something reserved for mighty superheroes like Mandela, but that it's something that binds us in the millions and, most importantly, is as real and possible a force for change now as any time in the past.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

poor people, poor health

As the new government continues to shift the blame for poor health on to the unhealthy people - arguing that we should further stigmatise obese people as a matter of policy -  a new report in the British Medical Journal studies the disparity in life expectancy between rich and poor.

By the year 2007 for every 100 people under the age of 65 dying in the best-off areas, 199 were dying in the poorest tenth of areas. This is the highest relative inequality recorded since at least 1921.

Elsewhere, Ben Goldacre says male life expectancy in Kentish Town is 70, whereas two miles away in rich Hampstead it's 80.

I know this because I have the Annual Public Health Report for Camden open on the table right now.

This phenomenal disparity in life expectancy – the difference between a lengthy and rich retirement, and a very truncated one indeed – is not because the people in Hampstead are careful to eat a handful of Brazil nuts every day, to make sure they’re not deficient in selenium, as per nutritionists’ advice.

And that’s the most sinister feature of the whole nutritionist project, graphically exemplified by [Gillian] McKeith: it’s a manifesto of rightwing individualism – you are what you eat, and people die young because they deserve it. They choose death, through ignorance and laziness, but you choose life, fresh fish, olive oil, and that’s why you’re healthy. You’re going to see 78. You deserve it. Not like them.

How can I be sure that this phenomenal difference in life expectancy between rich and poor isn’t due to the difference in diet? Because I’ve read the dietary intervention studies: when you intervene and make a huge effort to change people’s diets, and get them eating more fruit and veg, you find the benefits, where they are positive at all, are actually very modest. Nothing like 10 years.

It's worth pointing out that life expectancy is a good tool for measuring public health, but also something of a blunt one. The poor don't just die younger, they fall into ongoing disability much younger.

Fair Society, Healthy Lives was a government report into this issue, published in February.

people in England living in the poorest neighbourhoods will, on average, die seven years earlier than others living in the richest parts of Britain, the study finds.

Not only is life expectancy linked to social standing, but so is the time spent in good health: the average difference in "disability-free life expectancy" is now 17 years between those at the top and those at the bottom of the economic ladder, the report says.

Goldacre continues, attacking the unqualified media nutritionists like Gillian McKeith for focusing on freakshows rather than confronting the underlying causes of poor diet and poor health.

What prime-time TV series looks at food deserts created by giant supermarket chains, the very companies with which stellar media nutritionists so often have lucrative commercial contracts?

What show deals with social inequality driving health inequality? Where’s the human interest in prohibiting the promotion of bad foods; facilitating access to nutrient-rich foods with taxation; or maintaining a clear labelling system?

Where is the spectacle in “enabling environments” that naturally promote exercise, or urban planning that prioritises cyclists, pedestrians and public transport over the car? Or reducing the ever-increasing inequality between senior executive and shop-floor pay?

However, whilst he says it's a matter of asking 'where's the TV audience ratings?', we can also see Health Secretary Andrew Lansley sweeping free health care and food labelling aside as he and the other Tory ministers ask 'where's the shareholder dividends?'

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

gay immigrant benefit cheats in your bin

In February I unpicked a Daily Express article about dawn raids to check bins with hefty fines for people who don't recycle (back on planet earth: there were no dawn raids nor any suggestion of any fines).

The Daily Mail fought back last week with a headline that surely comes from a spoof generator

Are the race Stasi rifling through YOUR bin?

What next? Asylum seekers make paedophile health and safety muslims?

Refuse collection is, it informs us, no longer about getting your rubbish and taking it away. It is now used for

an authoritarian mix of state intrusion and race-fixated social engineering.

The article delivers everything it promises. There are references to Nazi Germany, Soviet bloc authoritarianism, apartheid South Africa and 1984, all for powers that aren't going to be used to penalise anyone for anything.

Even the article concedes all that's going on is some councils have the right to search through rubbish in order to ascertain what kind of people live there so recycling campaigns can be targeted more effectively. You'll get better response explaining the recycling system in a household's first language.

Are they going to send any financial information they find to HM Revenue and Customs? Will they examine private letters for any potentially homophobic or racist content?

Er, no. Your article already told us they won't.

This is the best bin hysteria article since Grade-A cloaca Richard Littlejohn said wheelie bins were for wusses and old 70s-style binmen were

the kind of English yeomen you'd always want alongside you in a fight

Friday, July 23, 2010

making killing invisible

I wrote yesterday's post about the decision not to charge Ian Tomlinson's attacker pretty soon after the news broke. Later in the day the Crown Prosecution Service published their reasons for not prosecuting

Basically, they weren't charging with Manslaughter because the dodgy first autopsy said death was from was natural causes, and this would be enough to cast doubt on the subsequent two autopsies that place the blame for the death on the assault. A charge of Assault has a time limit of six months, which has passed.

Their explanation for not charging with Actual Bodily Harm and/or Misconduct in Public Office is less clear. They say that they can't prove the officer's push caused any harm. But in this part they don't mention the baton strike - wholly unnecessary and disproportionate for a man walking slowly away with his hands in his pockets - which left patterned bruising. This, then, is surely ABH. It also appears to meet their stated criteria for Misconduct in Public Office.

Today, Dr Nat Cary, who carried out the second autopsy, said the same thing

The injuries were not relatively minor. He sustained quite a large area of bruising. Such injuries are consistent with a baton strike, which could amount to ABH. It's extraordinary. If that's not ABH I would like to know what is.

Even the Independent Police Complaints Commission had said there was enough evidence for a Manslaughter charge. Deciding which one of the conflicting versions is true is supposed to be one of the main reasons to have a trial. Sarah McSherry, a partner at Christian Khan Solicitors, said

The evidence they refer to ought to have been tested in open court in the context of a normal criminal prosecution as with any ordinary member of the public. The court would then have decided on which, if any, of the expert's oral evidence was more convincing. It would also have considered the pathologists' professional reputations.

This last line refers to Freddy Patel. He did the first autopsy, the one that the CPS says casts too much doubt on the other two autopsies. Patel has been officially reprimanded, suspended from carrying out any work for the Home Office, and is facing 26 further charges of sub-standard practices including incompetently carrying out four other autopsies, including questionably ascribing deaths to non-suspicious causes.

My friend David said yesterday,

My new parlour game is to dream up scenarios so extreme a cop would actually get charged with something. I'm thinking sawing off the Queen's head live on TV during her Christmas message wearing a shit-eating grin and a T-Shirt bearing the slogan 'I'm Guilty'. What do you reckon - I reckon its borderline.

I think this would definitely get a charge, though. The queen isn't an ordinary member of the public like Ian Tomlinson, Blair Peach, Liddle Towers, Christopher Alder or any of the other hundreds of people whose deaths at the hands of police have gone unprosecuted. It's all about hierarchy. Police are above us, the queen is above police.

Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur it is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.
- Derrick Jensen

So even when there's the clearest evidence of police violence for all to see, done in the middle of our biggest city in broad daylight on a busy day and clearly filmed, they have to find a way to make it be invisible.

The Birmingham Six were innocent people wrongly accused and convicted of an IRA bomb in the 1970s. They were severely beaten by prison officers and police, confessions and other evidence against them was fabricated, evidence that exonerated them was suppressed. They sued West Midlands Police but in 1980 the Master of the Rolls struck out their case, saying

If they won, it would mean that the police were guilty of perjury; that they were guilty of violence and threats; that the confessions were involuntary and improperly admitted in evidence; and that the convictions were erroneous. That would mean that the Home Secretary would have either to recommend that they be pardoned or to remit the case to the Court of Appeal. That was such an appalling vista that every sensible person would say, 'It cannot be right that these actions should go any further.'

In other words, we cannot bear to even think about the police acting in that way, so we deem it impossible.

Even though the Six's convictions were eventually quashed, no police or prison officers were ever convicted of the documented torture and lies that led to the convictions.

Protection of their power and position takes supreme precedence and makes a foul mockery of any claim to being agents of justice.

As Marc Vallee said, the Ian Tomlinson case teaches this fact to a new generation.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

ian tomlinson's attacker walks free

In April Sergeant Delroy Smellie, a cop who shoved and then batoned a non-violent G20 protester to the ground, was acquitted. At least that case came to court.

Today - five years to the day since the police shot Jean Charles De Menezes - we're told that the officer who attacked Ian Tomlinson won't face any charges. Not manslaughter, not ABH, not assault, nothing.

Watch the video again.

As with Sergeant Smellie, the officer who attacks Tomlinson is not in the heat of a riot but is acting in a calm, slow, premeditated way on a member of the public who poses no physical threat.

I wrote several posts about different aspects of the case at the time. The obscene partisan nature of the 'Independent' Police Complaints Commission, the way the police lied about what contact they'd had with Tomlinson, they lied about protesters trying to hinder gallant cops (when in fact protesters tried to help and cops refused to speak to ambulance services). They lied about Tomlinson dying of natural causes, they lied about there being no CCTV cameras, then had to admit there were but said they weren't working. There was even the suggestion from a senior investigating officer that Tomlinson's attacker might have been a member of the public dressed up as a copper.

It's the same treatment of smear and lies they gave the De Menezes case, and with the same outcome. The officers who did it keep their jobs, those in charge saw a job well done, only the public were beaten and killed.

It's the same story with the Blair Peach case. It's the same closing ranks and protecting their position that we see over and over, be it the Guildford Four or the Hillsborough Disaster.

What would they need in order to prosecute? There can be no clearer evidence of an unprovoked assault than the footage of what happened to Ian Tomlinson. Yet the officer is free, and ready to be policing London once more.


UPDATE 15:02 : The Crown Prosecution Service have published a statement explaining their decision. Basically, the dodgy first autopsy said it was natural causes, and this would be enough to cast doubt on the subsequent two autopsies that place the blame for the death on the assault, so no manslaughter charges. Assault has a time limit of six months, which has passed.

Their explanation for Actual Bodily Harm and misconduct in Public Office is less clear. They say that they can't prove the push caused any harm. But in this part they don't mention the baton strike - wholly unnecessary and disproportionate for a man walking slowly away with his hands in his pockets - which they say earlier left bruising. This, then, is surely ABH. It also appears to meet their stated criteria for Misconduct in Public Office.