Tuesday, September 29, 2020
It's my proud boast that although I have deleted posts from this blog and my Facebook page which I thought were libellous, offensive or childish insults, I do not remove from debating spaces under my control the comments of those who are making a reasonably polite and constructive attempt to express views I merely happen to very strongly disagree with. Or even things I know to be wrong if, as is nearly always the case, a polite and constructive correction is far more appropriate than pretending that his or her views do not exist.
Someone who had made what I consider, and had written, were some completely wrong statements on Facebook asked this week why I didn't just unfriend and block her. The answer is that nobody has a monopoly of wisdom and I am determined to avoid the social media trap of constructing an artificial bubble around myself in which I engage only with people who completely agree with me or are at least in a comfort zone of carefully limited disagreement.
Sooner or later even the cleverest person who allows that to happen will find that they have insulated themselves from discovering an important but unwelcome truth that they needed to learn.
I heartily recommend a piece by Ali Miraj on The Article called "Long live the contrarians" which makes the point very well that we all owe a debt to the people who are willing to stand up and express unpopular opinions.
John Stuart Mill put it very well:
The latest round of Brexit negotiations with the EU began today.
The latest briefing from HQ reads as follows:
"We continue to work hard to bridge the gaps that remain without compromising on our fundamental position of being an independent country.
“If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.”
(I believe this quote actually comes from former US president Woodrow Wilson though I have also seen this or very similar statements attributed to Winston Churchill and Mark Twain.
I was reminded of it last night when I spent the whole evening preparing my comments to the DC&R meeting on Friday. It took me an hour to prepare the first draft of what I wanted to say - and four hours to cut it from eight minutes to five.)
Monday, September 28, 2020
It is even more important than usual that we all get our flu jabs this year. Free for everyone over 50 (rather than the usual 60) and vulnerable groups.
The Health Secretary has announced that large stockpiles of PPE items, such as face masks, visors and gowns, will be in place from November to provide a continuous flow of protective equipment to the frontline, helping to ensure our NHS and social care heroes always have the equipment they need.
"All humans are stupid but the smarter ones at least have a handle on their own ignorance."
(John Cleese, quoted in a Sunday times article by Matthew Syed, "When dogma beats data, reason s lost."
Syed added "It is perhaps fitting that one of our greatest living comics has so perfectly summarised our darkly comical age.")
Sunday, September 27, 2020
Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee will meet online a week tomorrow, Monday 5th October 2020. The meeting will be live-streamed.
The main agenda items will be
- Urgent and Emergency Care & Elective Care (To consider a report from the North Cumbria Integrated Care Trust)
- Winter care plans from both NCIC in the North of the county and from Morecambe Bay health trust in the South (which also covers part of Lancashire.)
"A GA GFED C# D
And she responds, "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Bach."
Took me a moment to work it out but the letters on the card do indeed represent the notes of the first few bars of that Toccata.
I'm having great difficulty at the moment persuading blogger's server to upload new images but here is the Toccata and Fugue.
Saturday, September 26, 2020
Cumbria County Council' Development Control and Regulation committee (DC&R) voted unanimously to grant planning permission for the West Cumbria Mining planning application for an underground metallurgical coal mine on 19 March 2019. The decision was reaffirmed on 31 October 2019. A large part of the works involved in the application are in the area I represent.
I repeat that this was a unanimous vote. After being presented with an 188 page report giving details of two years of work looking to all aspects of this application, and hearing hours of presentations and representations, every Conservative councillor present, every Labour councillor, every Lib/Dem and the Independent councillor backed the application.
Since then the government spent some months considering a request from an MP on the other side of the county - who was, I am told by a colleague in that party, strongly rebuked by them for not consulting members of his party in West Cumbria before making it - to "call in" the application. They eventually decided that there were no grounds to do so.
There was then a court action by objectors seeking a judicial review of the decision. This action was dropped when the modifications to the application which are to about to come back to committee were submitted by the applicants. These modifications will be considered by the DC&R committee next Friday (2nd October 2020) at an online meeting.
The original application described the purpose of the proposal as being to mine "Metallurgical coal" which is also commonly known as ‘coking coal’ and is used in the process for the manufacture of steel. This would predominantly mined from under the sea off St Bees and then brought to the surface for processing indoors, within a new facility located on the former Marchon site in Whitehaven. Processed coal would then be transferred by underground conveyor to trains using a new loading facility and sidings in the Pow Beck Valley South of Mirehouse in my division.
Under the original scheme it was expected that seven-eighths of the coal produced would be coking coal for the steel industry - with what amounts to a by-product of one eighth "middlings coal" for general use.
The main difference in the revised proposal is that West Cumbria Mining, on the basis of the further investigations and drilling they have done on the site, no longer think it will be necessary to produce "middlings" coal and are now proposing to concentrate entirely on coal for making steel.
If this application was for coal to burn to generate electricity I would not be supporting it. But you cannot currently run an advanced economy without steel, and we do not yet have an economic process to make steel without coking coal. Without steel you cannot make many of the things which our society desperately needs - including things like the wind turbines and hydro turbines required for our principal sources of renewable energy. At the moment the UK steel industry mostly uses coal strip-mined in the Appalachians and shipped a substantial fraction of the way round the world, doing far more damage the environment than mining it from under the sea off St Bees head would.
That argument applied to the original application. For those who object to burning coal for fuel to now object to the revisions to the application is utterly perverse. Cumbria County Council has already given planning permission for the mine.
If I had been an opponent of West Cumbria Mining's proposal, I would still be have supported the amendment on the basis that it removed the most objectionable element of a development which already has planning permission.
My actual opinion is rather stronger: what this amendment does is remove the one aspect of the proposal in respect of which their previous objections had any basis in reality.
Details of Friday's meeting including the officer's report and how to log on to watch and listen to it can be found on the County Council website here.
"A tad slow" even for second class post but "better late than never."
(Extract from the response of Zoe Fierro who on Tuesday received a letter from her late grandfather Ronald Smith, 22 years after he posted it and 21 years after he died.)
Friday, September 25, 2020
Our police officers put their lives on the line for us every day. It is something we must never forget or fail to be grateful for.
"Dishonest statistics really are toxic, because if we want to use numbers to see the world clearly, we need to be able to evaluate them calmly. We must allow for our emotional reactions, our preconceived ideas and our political leanings.
"At the risk of sounding like Yoda with a calculator, one must resist the fog of anger, denial and wishful thinking if we are to keep the numbers straight in our minds.
"Even when a computer is calling the shots, softer human skills are needed. What has distinguished science from alchemy is not skill or the experimental method but the fact that science has a culture of discussion, scrutiny and the public display of evidence."
(Tim Harford, writing in the Sunday Times)
Thursday, September 24, 2020
"Boris Johnson’s politics and personality do not appeal to everyone. There will be many who have cogent criticisms to make of his inability to acknowledge past mistakes that cost lives and his failure to explain present reversals of advice. Some loathe his face, his voice and his character so deeply that they will have barely taken in a word he said."
"Yet for many more people, the person delivering these grim tidings is neither here nor there. Boris was elected less than a year ago and he is simply doing his job. What they do care about is whether he knows what he is doing. The prospect of a return to lockdown terrifies them and they will be relieved that this danger has been averted, at least for the moment.
"When Johnson claims that “this broad approach is shared across the whole UK”, most would not dissent. Indeed, it is striking that neither the other parties nor the devolved administrations, all of whom are led by enemies of the PM, have publicly denounced his policy."
"Boris Johnson has had to take tougher decisions than any of his recent predecessors in office. The economy has been damaged, the NHS has struggled to cope, children’s education has suffered, the weaknesses of British society have been laid bare, but so far we have avoided chaos and kept our nerve.
"The moderate course that is now being steered — neither laissez-faire nor authoritarian — commands general, if grudging, support.
"Boris Johnson knows he is no Churchill, but he was right to deploy Churchillian prose in his broadcast. Just as the success of Britain’s wartime leadership depended on solidarity in sacrifice to defeat Nazi Germany, so today he is gambling on our readiness to put aside our personal interests for the sake of the common good. Churchill could appeal to a nation that had been through hell only a generation before, but he repeatedly reminded people of very recent dark times, such as the fall of France and Dunkirk.
"Boris likewise invokes our memories of March, when “we pulled together in a spirit of national sacrifice and community”.
"The idea of togetherness, of a people that is far more than the sum of its parts, is immensely powerful. It is no more a Conservative idea than it is a Labour or Liberal one. It is no more English than Scottish, Welsh or Irish. It is, in the best sense, the idea of the nation. If Boris Johnson can summon up the courage and skill to lead us out of the wilderness of this pandemic, he will not only deserve the nation’s gratitude, but to be remembered as a genuinely national leader."
Extracts from a piece by Daniel Johnson on "The Article" which you can read in full here.
Fascinating article by Fraser Nelson in the Spectator about how an obnoxious anti-free speech outfit with the innocent-sounding name of "Stop funding hate" tricked the Co-op into what could have been a nasty misunderstanding - fortunately now resolved - with the Spectator.
A welcome instance where the argument for free speech was successful.
The Co-op actually has the following excellent policy which some junior employees apparently didn't know about or understand.
'We will not seek to affect the editorial independence of publications or channels. We will not undermine the commercial value of our society for our members. We will ensure our values and principles are clear and undiminished regardless of surrounding content.'
Fraser Nelson learns the following three lessons from "This wee drama:-
1. Cancel culture is now rebounding on corporates who engage with it. The joke – go woke, go broke – contains some truth. Companies wisely stay out of party political battles, so why enter the culture wars and disparage a chunk of your customers? Virgin Rail found this out when they were fooled by Stop Funding Hate into dumping the Daily Mail from its carriages: Richard Branson ended up overruling his marketing department and publishing a personal apology.
2. There is a risk in asking a junior social media person to speak for the whole company. The social media person is asked to respond to complaints on Twitter: was your delivery late? A fly in your soup? Please accept our apologies etc. These statements are issued quickly. It’s a weak link, targeted by Twitter trolls to try to fool the social media team into saying ‘seen an advert against an article you disagree with? Or, sorry, regard as ‘hate speech’? Okay, sorry, we won’t advertise with this publication’. As easily as that, a firm can end up accidentally aligning itself with cancel culture.
3. Publications ought to get together, and stand firm on advertisers who engage in cancel culture. Serving readers ought to be the sole focus of any publication: there’s a longstanding tradition in Britain that advertisers do not seek to influence what is published. This editorial independence from commercial pressures is worth defending – and if that means losing revenue from a small number of social warrior corporates then it’s a price well worth paying. As The Spectator has found. This is not a left vs right battle. One of the trolls’ complaints for us, this time around, was that we ran a piece by Suzanne Moore of the Guardian. A while ago, one of The Spectator’s bigger advertisers had a problem with comments made by Matthew Parris. Let’s just say that they’re not a big advertiser now."
You can read the article here.
Wednesday, September 23, 2020
In a recent discussion on Facebook about the relative merits in the forthcoming US elections of a vote for Donald Trump versus one for Joe Biden, one of my university contemporaries posted pictures representing Scylla and Charybdis - a reference from Greek mythology to two opposing threats, in this case two legendary sea monsters described by Homer as endangering sailors passing through the straits of Messina between Sicily and Italy, one on each side. Any ancient mariner who plotted their course far enough from one of these mythical monsters to be safe from that threat was said to be in danger from the other.
But such an unenviable choice is not just a challenge for US voters this November. Every country in the world is faced with equally unenviable choices about how much priority to give to protecting citizens from COVID-19 and how much to preserving our economies, hit as a result of the coronavirus and the measures taken to control it with the worst recession for three hundred years.
And there is no right or perfect answer.
I have lost count of the number of times I have had to resist the temptation to write on this blog or on Facebook words to the effect that if person X isn't criticising the government for doing too much harm to the economy then they're not doing enough to protect against COVID-19, and if person Y isn't slagging off the government for failing to do enough to protect against the Coronavirus they are in danger of doing too much harm to jobs, businesses and people's livelihoods.
You can define the "person X" or health libertarian camp as those who argue that because currently the number of people dying of COVID-19 is relatively small, and far less than the number dying from other conditions like cancer or heart disease, therefore the government's restrictions to control it are doing unnecessary damage to the economy and to people's liberty, wellbeing and health. (Covid-19 dropped from being the leading cause of death in England in April to the 24th in August.)
The "person Y" camp by contrast are those who take the hardest line in favour of the strongest possible measures against the coronavirus. You can bet your life that if the "second wave" sends the COVID-19 death rate back up to anything remotely like the thousand deaths per day the disease was causing earlier this year, that camp will vociferously blame every one of those deaths on government incompetence, in the sort of words which Piers Morgan used earlier this year when he accused the UK government of being responsible for sixty thousand deaths (at a time when the highest remotely reputable estimates of excess deaths in Britain were some way short of that figure.)
The reason I have resisted the temptation to write anything along the lines that the fact that the government is getting flak from both these groups means they must be getting it about right, is that we have a Scylla versus Charybdis choice. There is no course of action against which one or both of these groups will not be making some valid points. I do not agree with everything that either group says, but unfortunately neither is wholly wrong.
I don't agree with the "person X" camp in that I think they are seriously underestimating the harm that COVID-19 will do if as the PM put it, we allow it to "let rip." He was also right to warn that if some people take risks it will affect not just themselves but others who may be more vulnerable: in Boris's words, "The tragic reality of having COVID is that your mild cough can be someone else's death knell."
Unfortunately however team "X" are absolutely right to warn that the measures being taken against the Coronavirus are having an enormous cost not just in money terms but in terms of lost livelihoods, mental and physical wellbeing, and indeed deaths (from the impacts of depression lack of exercise and suicide among other things.)
The "Person Y" camp makes a lot of very good point, but I think the best answer to their propensity to go over the top comes, by an enormous irony, from someone with whose views on certain other issues quite a few of them would agree - the former Lib/Dem Leader Vince Cable. He wrote this week that
"Equally baffling are opposition spokespeople who act as if policy should be based on the premise that there must never be a single Covid-19 death. That is a recipe for lockdown forever and everywhere. As a “vulnerable” person in my mid-70s I think I would take my chances in Stockholm."
As the first two words of that quote should alert you, it's his answer to one side of an argument taken out of context and I don't think that in context his last sentence means what you would be entitled to think he meant if he'd said those words on their own. Click on the title of his article below to follow a link to the whole article to see the full context.
Although I disagree with many of the points in Vince Cable's article,
it was a very interesting article and particularly refreshing in that this was an example, sadly quite rare in these times, of someone who was willing to seriously consider and examine the possibility that people who he utterly and wholeheartedly opposes on many issues might be right on another subject.
For what it's worth, although the two polar opposites of the "X" and "Y" camps are shouting loudest the majority of the public do not seem to have opted for either of these positions. A YouGov poll found support for the measures announced yesterday as follows:
Strongly support: 44%
Somewhat support: 34%
Somewhat oppose: 9%
Strongly oppose: 8%
Don't know: 6%.
The same poll found a large minorities for each of the positions that the UK government should have gone further, or had got it about right, while a smaller but still significant minority thought that the measures went too far.
The one thing I am certain of in the debate on how to deal with COVID-19 is that no group, position of faction has a monopoly of wisdom and we will all be wise to continue to listen to one another - however dangerous we may think the ideas other people are putting forward may be.
Tuesday, September 22, 2020
Monday, September 21, 2020
The Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Adviser gave a public scientific briefing at 11am this morning on how the COVID-19 coronavirus is spreading in the UK – and the role that everyone has to play in helping to control the spread of the virus, protect the NHS and save lives.