Saturday, August 31, 2013
"There is a technical literary term for those who mistake the opinions and beliefs of characters in a novel for those of the author.
The term is 'idiot.'"
(Larry Niven, attributed by S. M. Stirling in the acknowledgements at the start of his novel "Conquistador.")
Friday, August 30, 2013
The clinician told the Whitehaven News that:
“When Northumbria Foundation Trust was selected as a preferred health trust, there was a condition that they accepted North Cumbria ‘as it is’. However, I believe managers of Northumbria are still working to change the way services are provided in West Cumbria without any public consultation.’’
After pointing to the increased number of transfers to Carlisle and expressing a number of concerns including lack of a named consultant to provide continuity of care, poor morale leading to high staff turnover and increasing pressure on the staff who remain, he added that
“Those who are left continue to work against the odds to provide excellent care"
“We want the public to realise what is happening and demand some answers.”
You can read the full Whitehaven News article online here.
It is a good thing for the government of a democracy to be able to put foreign policy to a vote of the elected parliament, particularly if we are talking about a possible military intervention.
However, there is a huge contradiction in attitudes to this, especially on the part of the press and whoever is currently in opposition.
* We want parliament to have a role in ensuring Britain does not get dragged into foreign wars for which there is not public support.
* We want a proper and open public debate including a debate in the House of Commons before we get involved in a war, and we complain bitterly if the government of the day appears to be trying to act without one.
* But if a government does consult the House of Commons, and doesn't entirely get it's own way, and listens to the result, lots of people are instantly ready to accuse the government of being weak, suggest their position has been undermined, etc etc. As is now happening after the Syria vote.
But these two positions are incompatible.
If you want parliament to act as a check on the Executive, and you expect the government to co-operate with this, then you cannot use the fact that the government allowed a vote and respected the result as a stick to beat the government with or you will be sending an open signal to any future government that allowing proper democratic oversight to work is likely to weaken their position.
The House of Commons has made it's position on Syria clear. This will be respected.
That is a sign of the strength of our democracy, not of weakness.
And anyone who uses the fact that the goverment held this vote and have accepted the result as a stick with which to beat them does not have the health of British democracy at heart.
Thursday, August 29, 2013
I am quite sure, however, that Angela Merkel knew exactly what she was doing when she said that Greece should not have been allowed to join the Euro.
Speaking to supporters in Rendsburg on Tuesday, Ms Merkel criticised her predecessor, Gerhard Schröder, for admitting Greece into the single currency.
“The crisis emerged over many years, through founding errors in the euro. For example, Greece should not have been admitted into the euro area,” she said.
I suppose it is inevitable that the remark should have attracted criticism in Greece, but frankly, this was a statement of the obvious. There was not enough convergence between the Greek economy and those of the remainder of the Euro-zone to make it wise to include Greece when the Euro was created. It would have been bettter both for Greece, and for the other Euro-zone countries, if they had waited for a far higher degree of convergence before Greece was admitted. And probably not just Greece, either.
For the avoidance of doubt, I am not suggesting that Greece should leave or be expelled from the Euro-zone tomorrow - they are where they are and have made considerable sacrifices over the past few years to try to get into a better fiscal and economic position.
But it's pretty ridiculous if you can't learn from mistakes. Anyone in Greece who imagines that the former Greek finance minister was correct when he said that
“I don’t really think Ms Merkel really believes what she says – it’s part of the party games played ahead of [German] elections.”
is living in cloud-cuckoo land.
Just hope the lessons are learned when it is being considered whether any of the other European countries which are not currently in the Euro should join.
And incidentally, although I have been opposed from the beginning to the idea that Britain should scrap the pound and join the Euro instead, I do not want the Euro to fail.
The Euro is the currency of a lot of our major trading partners, and what hurts them is likely to also hurt Britain.
It is precisely because taking in too many countries whose economies are not sufficiently harmonised is likely to make it harder for the Euro to succeed that I hope the eurozone avoids this mistake.
Oh No, NOT AGAIN!
If there were a strong and dynamic group of local people who were pressing for the idea because they were really interested in using a Town council as a means of regenerating Whitehaven, I would reconsider my opposition to the idea in a trice.
But there was certainly no such group the last time we looked at the idea while I was a member of Copeland council.
The apathy in response to Copeland's admittedly lacklustre consultation about the possibility of a Town council - that's on top of the existing Borough Council and County Council - could best be described as a deafening silence.
The pressure for this to be considered last time did NOT come from Whitehaven. It came mostly from outside the town, and in particular from two councillors who live in and represented areas twenty miles to the south and who felt that the lack of a parish council gave Whitehaven an unfair financial advantage over the rest of Copeland.
They did actually have a point, though one of them greatly exaggerated it, and there was an alternative way to correct the problem - by declaring what are called "Special Expenses" when setting the budget and council tax - which would not have required creating a new layer of government to put right.
It is possible that a new group of people will come forward keen to use a town council to put right some of the things which Copeland is doing wrong in the town. If that happens I will be delighted to have been proved wrong. But it is far more likely that we will have the same people making the same mess and costing the taxpayers of Whitehaven an extra hundred thousand pounds a year or so.
I thought the idea of a Town Council for Whitehaven was dead and buried three or four years ago. It has risen from the grave but I predict that before very long it will expire again. Let's hope that this time we can drive a bigger stake through its' heart.
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
As explained in the last point, Einstein is often credited, probably wrongly, with having made a statement on the long term impact of compound interest. along the lines of
"Compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe"
Whether or not he actually said this, is is certainly true that the cumulative effect of compound interest over a perid long enough to allow an investment to double repeatedly in real value - which requires a period of some decades and interest rates which are nearly always above inflation - can be dramatic.
Unfortunately the converse is also true and this gives rise to what I shall call "Whiteside's Corollory"
"Negative real interest rates, if sustained continuously for a decade or more, are one of the most destructive things which can happen to an economy."
Britain has already had rock bottom interest rates - well below the rate of inflation, and which therefore have the effect of destroying the purchasing power of savings - for longer than the present government has been in office.
This is only sustainable as a short term measure and only justifable in an economic emergency.
I happen to believe that the catastrophic economic legacy left behind by the last Labour government was such an emergency and accept that there are extremely good arguments for the Bank of England's declared policy of not increasing interest rates until unemployment drops below 7%.
Nevertheless a policy of negative real interest rates remains harmful to savers and extremely damaging in the long run.
Britain's long-term economic strategy needs to ensure that interest rates go back above inflation as soon after unemployment drops below 7% as can be achieved without the sort of sudden shock which might choke off the recovery. And thereafter they need to stay there.
There might be a temptation for someone reading this post to ask if I am criticising the government's economic policy.
Actually no, because the most important precondition for getting interest rates back into positive territory is to cut the deficit, which the coalition government is trying extremely hard to do.
But I am sounding a warning why cutting the deficit, and returning interest rates to positive real levels, must remain an economic imperative for this and any future government.
He is, however, often credited with a statements about the power of compound interest. Unfortunately a lot of people who have attempted tp find any proof that he ever said or wrote any of the statements frequently attributed to him have been unable to do so. The earliest attribution of any variant of the quote which anyone has been able to trace was in the New York Times in 1983, and Einstein died in 1955.
So to say the least, it is not confirmed that Albert Einstein ever said
"Compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe"
“Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it ... he who doesn't ... pays it.”
or even some variant on
"Compound interest, not E = M C squared, is the most important mathematical discovery of all time."
But even if Albert Einstein never said any of these things, it is true that compound interest, if continued for long enough to allow the real value of an investment to double repeatedly (which usually means decades, can have trly dramatic effects.
Unfortunately the same is true of negative real interest rates ... (see next post)
Monday, August 26, 2013
Sunday, August 25, 2013
"A male chauvinist, or someone who knows Roman History better than he knows the bible, thinks that 'Whither thou goest, I will go' was said by a woman to a man.
A female chauvinist, or someone who knows the bible better than she knows Roman History, thinks that 'Whither thou goest, I will go' was said by a woman to another woman.
A well informed person knows that both are correct."
Saturday, August 24, 2013
In a huge step forward for those who want to see reform of the European Union, the German chancellor Angela Merkal said this week that she would be happy to discuss creating a looser Europe some time after her country’s September elections.
"We don't have to do everything in Brussels," she said.
This follows on from the publication in June by the Dutch government of a list of things that the European Union should and should not be involved in – proving that the UK is not the only country interested in rolling back power from Brussels.
As the Daily Telegraph put it in an article which you can read in full here,
"The British and German governments agree about the need to trim EU bureaucracy and cut expenses, as well as strengthen the ability of our parliaments to block EU plans. Tory Eurosceptics want to see, in addition, repatriation of powers over areas such as social and employment law, crime and policing. Nevertheless, they should be cautiously pleased to discover that their cause finds a friend in the leader of the eurozone’s most successful economy. The campaign for a reformed EU is gaining momentum."
The Daily Mail wrote a similar piece, called "A German ally in the war against Brussels."
Not sure I like the language on that one but I agree with the analysis.
Friday, August 23, 2013
The revised data confirmed that all four major sectors of the economy - services, industry, agriculture and construction - had expanded during the three months to June.
Exports rose 3.6% from the previous three months, helped by the weak pound and a bottoming-out of the eurozone economy, while imports increased 2.5%, meaning that the country's deficit would have narrowed.
"The expenditure breakdown was positive news," said Philip Rush, economist at investment bank Nomura. "Consumption obviously fairly important to the recovery there but... the recovery in the second quarter wasn't as reliant on consumption as we'd feared."
Most economists agree that for the recovery to be sustained, the UK economy needs to rebalance away from the consumer spending that helped drive the boom in the last decade, with greater reliance on industry, investment and exports.
Chris Williamson, chief economist at data provider Markit, said: "Importantly, the upturn was not simply fueled by surging spending by households. Instead, exports and business investment were key drivers of the expansion, pointing to a rebalancing of the economy away from domestic consumption."
The Treasury, which is hoping a full-blown recovery is under way, after almost two years of weakness, seized on the widespread nature of recovery.
A spokeswoman said: "This data confirms that the British economy is moving from rescue to recovery, supported by balanced growth across the economy. It's particularly encouraging that growth in exports and investment contributed well over half of the second quarter growth rate. There is still a long way to go, but the economy is on the right track."
David Kern, of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "Business investment is still too weak in spite of the modest rise, but the figures support our view that Britain's trading position is improving. Although the rebalancing towards net exports is taking some time, we have seen a significant narrowing of the trade deficit in the first half of this year."
Thursday, August 22, 2013
Christine Finlayson, the Conservative candidate in the currrent council by-election for Yewdale ward in Carlisle, organised an excellent and well supported litter pick in the ward this afternoon.
A dozen bags of litter were cleared up, including quite a bit of broken glass from a field where children play.
Well done Christine
And you'd think wrong.
It's all over the media this week that the soldier who gave lots of information to Wikileaks, Bradley Manning, has now decided that he's a woman and wants to be known as Chelsea Manning. It's probably moot since he'll be banged up in prison in the states for the next 35 years and meanwhile Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for goodness knows how long.
Last week Jeremy Paxman's beard was getting all the attention, and Yougove did a poll, of which you can read the results on "Political Betting" here, showing the relationship between voting intention and propensity to grow a beard (for men.) Apparently Lib/Dem supporting men are most likely to grow beards (so what else is new) closely followed by Labour supporters, with tories much less likely and UKIP least likely of all
But the daftest story of the silly season concerns a scientific report published by scientists at the University of Rochester, who I suspect of having very high IQs and no common sense whatsoever, which purports to prove that atheists have higher IQs than religious believers. An example of a press report about it is given here.
Let me be clear, I am not suggesting this is daft because I think religious believers are cleverer than atheists, I am suggesting it is daft because the idea of trying to establish a correlation in either direction between belief in something and intelligence is a mugs' game which is most unlikely to tell you anything useful.
I have met some atheists and some religious believers who were extremely intelligent, and others in both categories who were lamentably stupid.
There are some statistical statements which, when the wise person hears them, you ignore because whether true or not the information will be so meaningless as to be useless. This is an example.
Even if the Rochester University statement is statistically correct, and there are all sorts of reasons to be wary of it, the difference which the scientists purport to have found - 1.95 IQ points - between the average IQ of believers and non-believers is so small compared to the range within both those groups that knowing someone's religious affiliation would be barely more useful than eye colour in telling you how clever they are likely to be.
I was going to write hair colour in the previous paragraph until I remembered that a large number of people make jokes about blondes being stupid.
Which only goes to show how bizarre some of our preconceptions about intelligence can be.
And now we get to my reason for picking today's quote of the day, Francis Bacon's comment that
"A little philosophy inclineth man's mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion."
To put Bacon's comment in modern scientific terms it is entirely possible that if there were a relationship between IQ and religious belief, it could be non-linear - for example as you go up the IQ scale the proportion of believers might go down at first but then up again. The statistical tools used by the University of Rochester scientists might have serious problems with this and it would make the average all the more meaningless.
The most effective dismissal of the study came in a scathing piece in the Independent by Frank Furedi, himself an atheist, which you can read here. He writes that
"Intelligence itself is a contested concept and it is far from evident what is measured in these studies. Attitudes towards cultural values are mediated through a variety of influences that are relational, context specific and whose meaning becomes lost if it becomes quantified and reduced to numbers. Any attempt to establish a causal relationship between personal belief and raw intelligence is likely to be an exercise in forced abstraction."
"As an atheist I take an exception to the claim that my views are the product of my intelligence. Like many others I exercised my capacity for moral autonomy and made an existential choice. I believe that I made an intelligent choice not to believe. But I don’t think that atheism can be equated with intelligence any more than religion with stupidity. Why? Because the experience of life shows that the ranks of atheists have their fair share of idiots. If you doubt my words – launch a research study that does a content analysis of their tweets."
While I agree with those who would be most reluctant to put UN or NATO troops on the ground in Syria, the carnage of innocent people in that country is getting so dire that it cannot be ignored, and the apparent use of poison gas on women and children was particularly barbaric.
If it is proved that the Syrian government did this, the UN must look for an effective means to dissuade them from repeating this kind of atrocity.
(Sir Francis Bacon, in his essay "Of Atheism"; in the original archaic English this read: "It is true, that a little Philosophy inclineth Mans Minde to Atheisme; But depth in Philosophy, bringeth Mens Mindes about to Religion.")
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Monday, August 19, 2013
An apparently rather ignorant man called Jamie Kelsey-Fry, whose views on fracking do not deserve special attention if he is as badly informed about that subject as he is about history, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that there was "absolutely no difference" between civil disobedience by the suffragettes and the anti-fracking protesters, and that
"It was exactly these kinds of actions hundreds of years ago which gave women the vote."
Apart from the fact that it was less than a hundred years ago that women actually got the vote in this country, most historians think that the more extreme actions of the suffragettes were actually counter-productive. I have heard it suggested that there might have been a natural majority for enfranchising women in the House of Commons from about 1905 but that a significant proportion of potential supporters were unwilling to appear to respond to the suffragettes' tactics.
You could find reputable historians who think that is overstating the case, but what is common to every serious historical analysis I have read on the issue is that the decisive factor in gaining the vote for women was not the suffragettes' campaign of civil disobedience but the enormous contribution made by women to Britain's economy and war effort during the Great War (WW1) which made it embarrassingly obvious that all the arguments for denying women the vote were ludicrous.
However, the suffragettes in Britain, like other disenfranchised groups such as the ANC in South Africa, had one massive justification for using extra-parliamentary tactics which the "No dash for gas" group simply do not have.
The whole point about the suffragettes is that they didn't have the vote.
The "No dash for gas" group do.
There is no urgency about stopping Cuadrilla's current activities before the next election if the real aim is to stop fracking. If Cuadrilla did at some future time decide they wanted to frack at Balcombe it would be several years down the line and would require a new planning application after a fresh environmental impact assessment.
Opponents of fracking have every opportunity to campaign against the policy using lawful, peaceful protest. If the majority of the electorate agree with them, they will win. Only those who fear that the majority of the British people do NOT support them need to use illegal tactics.
Where the suffragettes could legitimately argue that they were pursuing civil disobedience so that their daughters and grand-daughters could use the ballot box to express their views, the anti-fracking protesters do have the ballot box available to them, and that's what they should be using.
To compare the suffragettes, who tried to use civil disobedience to get the right to vote, with people who already have the right to vote and are using civil disobedience to try to get more influence than they could get through the ballot box alone, is frankly, an insult to the suffragette movement.
Until I read what he had actually tweeted - that
"All the world's Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though."
Now whatever else you may say about him, Richard Dawkins is not a stupid man. But this was a pretty stupid statement. What on earth was it supposed to prove?
As Nesrine Malik pointed out in the Guardian here,
"Yes, it is technically true that fewer Muslims (10) than Trinity College Cambridge members (32) have won Nobel prizes.
But insert pretty much any other group of people instead of "Muslims", and the statement would be true. You are comparing a specialised academic institution to an arbitrarily chosen group of people.
Go on. Try it. All the world's Chinese, all the world's Indians, all the world's lefthanded people, all the world's cyclists."
Ironically in view of the fact that Richard Dawkins was the person making the remarks, one of the few groups for whom such a specious comparison could not be used to belittle their contribution to science would be Christians, but it would be as ridiculous to use this as an argument for the importance of Christians to science as it is for Dawkins to use the argument the other way round against Muslims.
There are plenty of instances of Christians doing things that are very wrong, and Dawkins has every right to criticise them, though it is guilt by association to try to blame all Christians for those actions.
Similarly there are plenty of instances of Muslims doing things which are very wrong, and Dawkins or anyone else has every right to criticise those actions, but again blaming all Muslims for the actions of Al Qaeda, suicide bombers, or any other Muslim fundamentalist lunatic is unfair and wrong.
And creating an off-the-top-of-the-head comparison of an elite Oxbridge College with a group of millions of people most of whom have not had anything like the opportunities to add to the sum of human knowledge that academics at Trinity College Cambridge have is not exactly a constructive argument.
In fact Dawkins' foolish comparison reminds me rather strongly of the daft comparison with which UKIP's treasurer, Stuart Wheeler, got himself into equally hot water when he suggested that women are not competitive enough to serve on company boards, offering as "evidence" the allegation that women come "absolutely nowhere" in competive mental games like chess, bridge and poker.
Stuart Wheeler isn't a stupid man either but this was a very foolish comment which was worse than wrong - he was discrediting the perfectly valid position that quotas for either sex on company boards are not a good idea by putting forward a ridiculous argument for a parody of a sensible position.
Companies need the best people on their boards who have the particular skills which are required at a particular time.
Many women have the skills and abilities which would make them superb company directors: equal opportunities for promotion and removing barriers to advancement should be the aim of any well-run company.
However, any arbitrary quota system is likely to backfire, first by creating the impression that people who actually should be there on merit have only been promoted to fill the quota, and second, because there is absolutely no guarantee that the person who has the best fit to the package of skills and experience required when a post falls vacant will be the right gender, race or whatever to fit the arbitrary quota.
According to Wikipedia, there are 27 women among the living FIDE chess grandmasters and there have been women among the medalists in the World Bridge championships and among the finalists in the World Poker Championships. Granted, there are more men who excel at those sports, but describing women as being "nowhere" in the top level of competition in these three spots is open to debate.
And even had the allegation that women were "nowhere" at these sports been true, the idea that the skill at chess or card games of other people of the same gender is an infallible guide to managerial ability or competence in putting a case in the boardroom does not make much sense.
Sometimes even Professors at Oxford University or spread-betting millionaires say things which are really very silly. And what is rather worse than the original mistakes is that neither has had the sense to withdraw and apologise.
"The first may be wise or unwise, an effective or ineffective way to help the disadvantaged -- but it is consistent with belief in both equality of opportunity and liberty.
"The second seeks equality of outcome and is entirely antithetical to liberty."
(Professor Milton Friedman)
Sunday, August 18, 2013
When I was asked about this a few weeks ago at a Conservative selection conference I gave cautious support to the idea of shale gas exploitation in the UK. I declared an interest as I have relatives in Lancashire who live not all that far away from some of the possible sites, emphasised that I thought it was extremely important to carry out full environmental checks and tests to ensure that the process was safe before it went a head, but supported it provided those tests produced a clean bill of health, pointing to the enormous economic benefits that shale gas has brought the USA.
Over the past weeks, as exactly the same type of hysteria, scaremongering, and downright lies have been deployed against any energy company which it is suggested might apply to do "fracking" in the future that we in Cumbria all too often see anti-nuclear extremists and scaremongerers use against the nuclear industry. Including, as in Surrey, protests designed to make a point against "fracking" for gas but are actually targetting operations drilling for oil which do not involve fracking.
In all candour the protests against fracking in recent weeks have made me more likely, not less likely, to support shale gas exploitation provided all necessary environmental assessments and protection measures are taken and after appropriate community consultations.
I respect the right of anyone who is concerned about their local environment to the peaceful expression of those concerns, the right to ask questions, the right to non-violent and non-disruptive local protest.
Violent or disruptive protests are an entirely different matter. They are not acceptable and I note that the chairman of Balcombe Parish Council has asked anti-fracking protesters not to break the law.
The statement by energy company Cuadrilla that they are scaling back drilling activity at Balcombe on the advice of the police is deeply troubling.
I hope and expect that the Police and Crime Commissioner for Sussex, Katy Bourne, may wish to discuss with the Sussex constabulary what advice has been given and how the police hope to balance the over-riding need to protect law-abiding citizens of Balcombe and employees of Cuadrilla with the need to protect the right of Cuadrilla to carry out lawful and properly approved commercial operations.
If there was a scintilla of evidence that Cuadrilla were breaking the law, the appropriate action would be to encourage the authorities to investigate and stop any illegal activity. If there was any hard evidence that anything they are actually doing or currently proposing to do was harmful to the environment, it would be appropriate to campaign for the government to change the law to stop such activity.
But for a company to have to scale back lawful activities because protesters such as the "No dash for gas" group are planning a mass action in which they say they plan to risk their "liberty and personal harm" and which they openly admit is a protest against government policy, frankly, completely intolerable.
What makes it all the more daft is that most of these protesters are telling people that their concern is to protect the environment. If we don't use shale gas, the two most realistic alternatives is that Britain will either have to buy more gas from Putin's Russia, doing as much or probably more damage to the environment in the process, or make more use of coal fired power generation. Coal does vastly more damage to the environment than gas.
Of course there is another source of energy which actually would do less damage to the environment than shale gas, and that is nuclear power. Anyone like to take any bets that the people who are protesting in Balcombe would like to see nuclear power instead?
I thought not.
Two recent articles giving another side from the protesters are worth a read. One is by Matt Ridley who has just written an article in the Times and on his blog debunking The five myths about fracking which you can read here. The "five myths" spread by opponents of shale gas exploitation and a summary of Matt Ridley's responses are:
1) shale gas production has polluted aquifers in the United States
ANSWER - The USA has had "tens of thousands of wells drilled, two million fracking operations completed and not a single proven case of groundwater contamination. Not one."
2) it releases more methane than other forms of gas production
ANSWER - "Study after study has refuted" this claim.
3) it uses a worryingly large amount of water.
ANSWER - Fracking uses 0.3% of the water consumption of the USA - less than golf courses.
4) it uses hundreds of toxic chemicals.
ANSWER - this claim is out by an order of magnitude - more than 99.5% of what fracking uses is water or sand, and the other half a percent uses only thirteen chemicals, all of which can be found in your kitchen or bathroom: things like citric acid (found in lemon juice) and guar (found in ice cream.)
5) it causes damaging earthquakes.
ANSWER - Durham University’s definitive survey of all induced earthquakes over many decades concluded that “almost all of the resultant seismic activity [from fracking] was on such a small scale that only geoscientists would be able to detect it” and that mining, geothermal activity or reservoir water storage causes more and bigger tremors.
The other piece I would recommend anyone interested in the issue to read, again putting the other side of the argument from the protesters, is the article which the CEO of Cuadrilla, Francis Egan, wrote in the Daily Mail a few days ago and which can be read here.
Among the points made in the article is that his company's operations in Balcombe are looking for oil, not gas, and they have no current plans to do any fracking there at all. If they did decide to do any such thing in the future they would need to submit a fresh planning application which would need to follow a full environmental impact assessment and involve fresh community consultation before such permission could be considered.
He also writes that the total area which would be required for enough shale gas drilling operations to supply a third of Britain's need for gas would be two square kilometers.
To answer the other question which people always ask when you are percieved as supporting something - how would you feel if this was proposed in your district? - my answer is this.
If "fracking" was proposed in my district I would want to see a full environmental assessment, appropriate community consultation, and before it went ahead an appropriate community package providing real benefits to local people. If it passed those three hurdles I could support it.
But the reason it would not be my first choice is that, like the majority of people who live in Copeland, I would like to see something which would make an even bigger contribution to Britain's energy needs, and which would release less carbon into the atmosphere than gas: I support a new nuclear power station at Sellafield.
Saturday, August 17, 2013
While driving through Carlisle I did a double take on thinking I had seen a sign for the "Immoral Art Studio."
A second glance revealed that my eyes were playing a trick on me - it is actually the "Immortal Art Studio."
The mind boggles ...
The word "literally" has a highly specific meaning, indicating that a statement is true, or has been understood to be true, in the usual meanings of the words and without any metaphor, allegory, or exaggeration.
In a society which is highly prone to exaggeration and metaphor, it is extremely useful to be able to express by adding one word that a particular statement is precisely correct without either metaphor or exxageration having been employed. E.g. "He was so angry that he literally shook with rage" means that he really did physically shake.
It is also helpful to be able to describe as "literal-minded" somone who is prone to assuming that a statement which had been intended as a metaphor or a figure of speech is actually a precise description of the real situation.
E.g. if someone is taking a comment too literally if they respond to the words "My Dad's going to kill me!" by offering to call child protection when the speaker merely meant her father was likely to give her a severe telling off. And it is useful to be able to describe such a misunderstanding or interpretation as "taking literally" the statement concerned.
Unfortunately for as long as the word has existed a certain number of ignorant people who don't know what it actually means, and people who should know better but have been careless or fallen prey to a slip of the tongue, have made the mistake of employing the word "literally" to give extra emphasis in circumstances where it does not apply. Apparently the first known instance of this misuse of the word goes back as far as 1769.
The common, and appropriate, response to this until very recently from people who know what the work actually does mean has been to laugh at this use as a malapropism, and a frequently amusing one.
For example, Sir Ian Botham said in 2007 that batsmen who were dubiously given "not out" in response to justified LBW appeals were "getting away with murder, literally." He should have been asked - and probably was - who they had killed. (His comment was certainly and entirely justifiably the subject of much amusement.)
However, the press noticed this week that in 2011 the Oxford English Dictionary revised the definition of "literally" to accept this malapropism as an "informal" use of the word on the basis that because so many people make the mistake the dictionary should recognise that the word is often used in this way.
Excuse me? Millions of people every day put the apostrophe in the wrong place when writing "it's" or "its'" or accidentally reverse the order of the letters i and e. Does that mean we're going to change the language to accept their mistakes too?
Admittedly the OED's new wording does recognise some of the problems with this interpretation. After defining the word as meaning "in a literal way or sense" it adds that, informally, it can be "used for emphasis rather than being actually true" and then the dictionary goes on to warn that
"This use can lead to unintentional humorous effects (we were literally killing ourselves laughing) and is not acceptable in formal contexts, though it is widespread."
Now, ninety-nine times out of a hundred I prefer the English approach of letting a language grow and develop in line with the way people actually use it to the alternative approach, of which French is the best example, of trying to have a language which is regulated and controlled by academic language experts. But this is the hundredth time where that does not apply.
To put it another way, this is the one time in a hundred when the pedants and language fusspots are actually right and have an overwhelming case.
There are dozens of other words and expressions which can be used to indicate emphasis.
For example, if "We were killing ourselves laughing" is not strong enough, you can say "We were absolutely killing ourselves laughing" or "We were completely killing ourselves laughing" or "We were well and truly killing ourselves laughing" or "We've never laughed so much in our lives."
If it's really true, you can even say "We literally laughed so much it hurt" - I've actually had that happen to me a few times.
So there are any number of ways of adding emphasis. But here is the serious reason why the word "literally" should not be one of them. It is the one word in the English language - there are no precise synonyms, though "actually" comes close - which has the meaning described at the start of this post, to indicate that what is being used is not a metaphor, allegory, or exaggeration for effect. And the instant you allow it to be used as an exaggeration for effect you wreck the usefulness of the word to be clearly understood when carrying it's proper meaning.
Let me give a specific example. We sometimes use the expression "You're on fire" to indicate that someone is performing exceptionally well. That's OK as a metaphor. But the addition of the word "literally" as Sky TV commentator Jamie Redknapp once used it when he said that Wayne Rooney was "literally on fire" during a football match is completely unacceptable because that expression does have a quite different literal meaning and listeners need to be able to understand that meaning with no room for misunderstanding through alternative meanings if the real literal case actually applies.
It can really happen that someone stands too close to a heat source such as a coal or electric fire, or holds a candle too close to themselves, and their clothes or hair starts to burn. And sometimes other people are aware of it before they are. At my former church in St Albans a candle once set fire to a server's hair: the vicar displayed lightning fast reactions and quickly smothered the flames before any harm was done.
If you notice that someone's hair or clothes are burning, you want to be able to get their attention quickly so that you can put the fire out. This is the sort of situation where you don't want any risk that a warning like "You're on fire - you're literally on fire" can be misunderstood.
Allowing the word "literally" to be used for emphasis dilutes its' proper meaning and increases the risk of misunderstanding when the word is used in the correct way. Anyone who accepts such a usage as being fit for anything other than mockery is, in a real sense if not a literal one, murdering the English language.
Friday, August 16, 2013
I should make clear that I am not advocating or defending any act of violence or unlawful behaviour and nothing in this post is intended to incite people to throw eggs at other people.
Many years ago after someone threw an egg at him (and missed), the then leader of the Labour party, Harold Wilson made a political point about how many eggs he had evaded in successive elections under Labour and Conservative governments, adding that under a Labour government more people could afford to throw eggs.
The same point was reversed today in a tweet by the Independent's John Rentoul, @JohnRentoul who pointed out
"Ed Miliband's 'Cost of Living' soundbite undermined by demonstration that eggs are cheap."
These people are always guaranteed to blame the person or government who clears up the mess for the pain involved, not the person or government on whose watch the problem was created.
Hat tip to Political Betting where a number of posters such as Richard Nabavi and others pointed out that this article in the Guardian is an excellent example of such a mindset.
Lots of weeping and wailing about how dreadful the cuts are and how Miliband ought to do more to oppose them.
Without the least scintilla of recognition that when an incoming government inherits a situation where it is spending four pounds for every three coming in and that the national debt has just doubled to 1.2 trillion pounds, such a position is completely unsustainable and there really is no alternative to cuts, tax increases, or some combination of both.
The nearest things to constructive suggestions to deal with Britain's fiscal and debt problems in the entire article are the references to a campaign (with which the author of the article is associated) that the government should make it more difficult for people to employ both legal and illegal means of getting out of paying tax (avoidance and evasion). As this is about the one thing that the government, opposition and press all agree on it doesn't get us very far.
While I would be the first to admit that we cannot afford complacency, Britain is showing the first signs of recovery, though things are still extremely difficult for many businesses and familes.
But if attempts to keep spending under control were abandoned and borrowing allowed to increase, it would not take too long at all before this country was in the same kind of mess as Greece or Cyprus.
Thursday, August 15, 2013
In this part of the world you can never rely on the co-operation of the elements - if you only campaigned in good weather then at least half the electorate would never see hide nor hair of you. There was a bit of light drizzzle this evening but nobody paid it too much attention - one colleague said to me that one thing about fighting an election in August, if you get rained on at least the rain is warm.
I was quite encouraged by the friendly reception on the doorstep. Yewdale is a marginal ward so the result will be interesting.
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
It's quite funny but certainly reveals far more about the mindset at the Guardian than it does about UKIP.
There are ten multiple choice questions with three possble answers to each and I would imagine (and hope) that 90% of Conservatives would not be able to find a single one of the thirty possible answers that we agreed with. I couldn't find a single response that I came very close to agreeing with.
In each case your choices consisted of one hopelessly left wing or "progressive" guardianista reply, one reply which is a parody of what many fairly right wing or Conservative people would think but usually with some little touch designed to make anyone who selects it sound like a refugee from the 1950s, and a third reply which is completely barmy.
If you select all ten left wing replies, the Guardian gives you a score of 0% and the response "No thanks. Perhaps your right-on views would be more fitted to a career in Whitehall or the BBC."
If you select all ten "refugee from the 50s" replies, the Guardian gives you a score of 50% and congratulates you on being selected as a UKIP candidate for the 2014 European elections.
If you select all the ten clinically insane replies, the Guardian gives you a score of 100% and says
"I regret to say that the British public are not yet ready for your far-sighted opinions. Please reapply for 2019."
An amusing article but definately says a lot more about the Guardian than anyone else ...
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Monday, August 12, 2013
Sunday, August 11, 2013
Britain is supposed to be, and largely is, a free country and the peaceful and lawful expression of almost any view should be encouraged without any comeback or reprisal.
That includes the right to non-violent demonstrations against any plan to drill for or generate new sources of energy, provided that the demonstration does not include any element of criminal obstruction, and even where the concerns of the demonstrators bear no resemblance to what is actually proposed.
However, where the law has been broken, perhaps the courts should be given the power to make the punishment fit the crime.
Perhaps the courts should be given the power to impose on anyone convicted of a criminal offence designed to sabotage, frustrate or prevent legitimate activities of the energy industry, an order cutting off gas and electricity to their residence for a week.
Or where that might affect an innocent third party, for those engaging in criminal activity which might make Britain more dependent on Vladimir Putin's Russia for gas, another possible punishment would to send them for a fact-finding tour of Siberia.
It's not going to happen. I am not seriously suggesting that it should happen. But we seem to have a serious epidemic of "Stop the world, I want to get off" at the moment.
Saturday, August 10, 2013
There are events all over Cumbria including from Kendal and Millom to Whitehaven - anyone who has been within earshot of Whitehaven harbour yesterday evening of this afternoon has been aware that something was going on.
I'm advised that the "Xarxa Teatre" show, "Fire of the Sea" (El Foc Del Mar) at Whitehaven Harbour was very spectacular and well worth watching when it is repeated at 9.30pm this evening.
El Foc Del Mar involves a fiery parade, with giant characters inspired by the imagery of Miro, a famous Catalan artist, with larger than life moving figures and fireworks.
POSTSCRIPT 10.40 PM
Just arrived home after watching the display, which was very spectacular. Unfortunately the Cumbria weather joined in the party and we arrived home very wet. Nver mind, it was still something quite exceptional to see
Economic Secretary, HM Treasury
Friday, August 09, 2013
This doesn't mean Mike is making a firm prediction that this will happen, although he notes that the Conservatives have in fact topped the poll in every single european election since the present voting system was introduced in 1999, it means he thinks the odds currently available of six to one against the Conservatives doing so are a considerable understatement of the actual chances.
The press seems to almost take for granted that UKIP will top the Euro poll, but Farage's party may have peaked a year early and there has been a steady drip of negative stories about them.
Plus the Conservatives will go into the 2014 European elections with a good story to tell and more united than we have been on Europe for many years.
Birth rates have risen for women throughout the range of childbearing ages. A quarter of births have been to women who were not born in the UK - which is of course another way of saying that 75% have been to women who were.
The Greater London area seems to have been particularly affected as the population there has risen despite significant net migration to other parts of the UK but the consequence of that migration is that this will have knock-on effects elsewhere.
All this is before any additional impact of the new royal baby - and I seem to remember that the births of his father and uncle were followed by minor baby booms, so it is entirely conceivable (no pun intended) that the birth of Prince George will have a similar effect.
Britain is already one of the most densely populated countries in the world and there is significant pressure on our transport infrastructure and, in many parts of the country, on schools and hospitals. It is welcome that people are living longer and all the new human beings who are being born are welcome too, but we need to look again at whether planned capacity in our schools, hospitals, and transport networks are adequate.
This also further highlights the need to reform the immigration system - not to adopt a "fortress Britain" policy but to ensure that migration is brought further under control. Net inward migration has fallen by a third under the present government but it is in everyone's interests, including those of established ethnic communities who will suffer worst from the loss of community cohesion of we get this wrong, to manage it further downwards.
Thursday, August 08, 2013
David Cameron was in the South Manchester area yesterday: went to a very well attended meeting, also attended by fellow Euro candidates Saj Karim MEP, Kevin Beaty amd Joe Barker. PM was on excellent form.
Then today the Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin, has been in Cumbria. Rory Stewart MP has been showing him some of the roads which need investment (we've been asking him to dual the A66).
And yes, he was also asked about Petrol/fuel prices. He gave a reasonbly sympathetic reponse.
Kevin Beaty and myself were among those who attended a reception in Skelton Village Hall, north west of Penrith, to meet the Secretary of State.
Both DC and Patrick were strongly in favour of HS2, and so am I - if this project is completed it will help the North a great deal. But of course no major infrastructure project in this country is ever completed quickly.
"The idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone,
All centuries but this and every country but his own."
For the avoidance of doubt, and before anyone accuses me of being a misogynistic troll, I am certainly not endorsing Ko-Ko's proposed solution for people who take this approach nor even necessarily his characterisation of them as idiots.
But there are a number of journalists and columnists who remind me of those lines when I read one of their articles about foreign affairs.
One such item can be found in today's "Independent" and "I" by Mary Dejevsky, which you can read here and which establishes her as today's colonialist anti-colonialist.
If that criticism sounds like a contradiction in terms that's because this is precisely what her argument is.
After bending over backwards to see Spain's side of the dispute over Gibraltar and taking an ironic swipe at the Chief Minister of Gibraltar which took the form of a heroic attempt to find grounds for sympathy with the totalitarian dictatorship in North Korea, Mary Dejevsky then recommends that Britain should, quote
"summon up what remain of our colonial instincts one last time and overrule the people of the Rock – for their own good."
This appears to mean she wants to impose on the 30,000 people of the Rock of Gibraltar a solution concerning the future of their home which they almost unanimously rejected in a plebiscite ten years ago.
If someone like Margaret Thatcher or David Cameron held a referendum in a British colony or territory which produced an overwhelming result, and then proposed ignoring that result, I am pretty sure that insults like "fascist" and "colonialist" would soon be flying thick and fast. I suspect that the Independent and very possibly Mary Dejevsky would be among those who were quick to criticise.
I would like to see better relations between Britain, Gibraltar, and Spain. That needs to be achieved through consensus and agreement. Over-ruling the wishes of the people of the Rock about the future of their home is not the way to get this.
Wednesday, August 07, 2013
Tuesday, August 06, 2013
David Cameron said the UK was "indebted" to Adm Woodward for his role in ensuring freedom for islanders.
"The admiral was a truly courageous and decisive leader, proven by his heroic command of the Royal Navy Taskforce during the Falklands conflict," said the prime minister.
"We are indebted to him for his many years of service and the vital role he played to ensure that the people of the Falkland Islands can still today live in peace and freedom. My thoughts and prayers are with Admiral Woodward's family and friends at this difficult time."
Daniel Allan, founder of the Falklands United Movement, which represents some islanders, told the BBC that Admiral Woodward was a "modern-day hero".
"We owe him a debt of gratitude and he is in the thoughts of every islander, past and present, today," he said.
Here are some of my favourite examples from a book called "Disorder in the court: Great Fractured moments in Courtroom history" by Charles Sevilla and Lee Lorenz. It is available on Amazon here.
COUNSEL: Did you check for blood pressure?
COUNSEL: Did you check for breathing?
COUNSEL: So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?
COUNSEL: How can you be so sure, Doctor?
WITNESS: Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.
COUNSEL: I see, but could the patient have still been alive, nevertheless?
WITNESS: I suppose he could have risen from the dead and be practicing law somewhere ...
COUNSEL: How was your
first marriage terminated?
WITNESS: By death.
COUNSEL: And by whose death was it terminated?
WITNESS: Take a guess.
COUNSEL: Can you describe the individual?
WITNESS: He was about medium height and had a beard
COUNSEL: Was this a male or a female?
WITNESS: Unless the Circus was in town I’m going with male.
COUNSEL: Doctor , how many of your autopsies have you performed on dead people?
WITNESS: All of them. The live ones put up too much of a fight.
WITNESS: Are you qualified to ask that question?______________________________________________
WITNESS: Did you actually pass the bar exam?
COUNSEL: The youngest son, the 20-year-old, how old is he?
WITNESS: He’s 20, much like your IQ.
COUNSEL: Were you present when your picture was taken?
WITNESS: Are you (Expletive deleted) me?
COUNSEL: So the date of conception (of the baby) was August 8th?
COUNSEL: And what were you doing at that time?
WITNESS: Getting laid
WITNESS: He said, ‘Where am I, Cathy ?’
COUNSEL: And why did that upset you?
WITNESS: My name is Susan !
Monday, August 05, 2013
I suspect there are not many things on which I would agree with New Statesman columnist Martin Robbins, but he wrote a very intelligent article here recently which for me was the most thought provoking thing I have read this week.
He was referring to a court case which the Daily Mail lost against a self-proclaimed "psychic" who they accused of being a fraud.
His point was that, very sadly, they deserved to lose, not because they disagreed with "Psychic Sally" nor because they believe her claim to be able to read minds is ludicrous, but because they had implied that her activities were fraudulent without taking the trouble to collect any actual evidence to back up that allegation.
The fact that "Psychic Sally" won her case does not, repeat not, mean that the British legal system regards her claimed psychic talents as having been "proved." It means that they have upheld the principle that a newspaper, or anybody else, should not suggest that someone of using a hidden earpiece to fool people unless they have actual evidence that the person accused really is using a hidden earpiece to trick people.
There are some more general points which come out of this. Martin Robbins refers to the fact that whenever there is a debate between rationalists and believers it often descends to people making wild accusations they can't prove, and throwing insults. The same thing happens in politics.
Let me be clear - I think it is perfectly legitimate to point to things one's party has achieved or criticise where a rival party has done something wrong. I often get accused of "point scoring" when doing this, but you cannot have a political discussion without looking at the successes and failures of particular policies, and if political candidates or members of a political party don't trumpet their successes, who else is going to do it?
However, criticising someone because they have done something you think is wrong or unwise, and explaining why, when that criticism is based on demonstrable facts is one thing. It is an entirely different matter to assume, let alone to say, just because someone does not share your views or because he or she is a member of a political group that you don't like, that he or she is an idiot or, to coin a phrase, a "swivel-eyed loon."
Nobody has a monopoly of wisdom and there are very few human beings who never make mistakes. It is worth remembering that.
The abandonment of the third test due to rain makes it mathematically impossible for Australia to overhaul England so even if they square the series England will retain the Ashes.
A great result but a shame it's due to rain: both England and the Aussies have produced moments - and ineed hours - of brilliant play and deserved a decision which was not the result of the British climate.
A Russian general once said that his country had two generals on which it could rely - "Generals Janvier and Fevrier" (January and February). Whenever England is trying to save a test match during a home series there is a similar possibility that our weather will intervene.
Let's hope we get some more good cricket during the remaining two matches.
Last time I looked Britain was still supposed to be a free country despite the best efforts of Gordon Brown and Jacqui Smith to the contrary. And the sumptuary laws regulating what people could wear fell into disrepute centuries ago.
So what on earth are we supposed to make of the fact that a list of the top stories of last week on the Friday evening thread at "Political Betting" here included, admittedly in last place, this article in the Daily Telegraph about how Mumsnet, and half the 2,000 people who filled in a YouGov poll, think men who wear red trousers look silly.
Let me make clear: I do not own a pair of red trousers and cannot recall wearing such a garment at any time in the past couple of decades.
But if I did decide to wear a pair of red trousers it would be none of Mumsnet's business, none of Yougov's business and none of the Daily Telegraph's businesss.
As with almost every garment of almost any colour I suspect that there are some blokes, usually those who would look cool in practically anything, who can make red trousers look great and others who would look like idiots in them. Most of the latter would look bad in almost anything but, as David Brin once wrote, "Sic Biscuit Disintegratum." (That's the way the cookie crumbles.)
Do none of the people who posted on Mumsnet, commissioned the Yougov survey, or completed it have anything better to do than answer or debate ludicrous questions about what colour trousers people wear? The expression "get a life" rather springs to mind.
As I say, obviously a slow news week ...
Sunday, August 04, 2013
Badly maintained roads and pavements are one of the worst bugbears of many people and frequently comes up both in conversation and on the doorstep, whether it is potholes, loose or broken paving stones, or weeds growing in the pavement.
I have campaigned to have too many roads and pavements fixed to feel able ever to complain about the fact that a county council or the Highways authority ever finally gets round to doing it, though I might complain that it should have been done sooner.
There is never an ideal time to fix the roads, and it has to be done, but there is something about the rash of summer roadworks which can be very irritating and this summer has been no exception.
Had to take the A596 to and from Carlisle yesterday as the A595 was affected by major roadworks a few miles north of Cockermouth. Appears that this may have finished as it doesn't appear on the BBC Cumbria list of roadworks here.
However, today's work in Whitehaven town centre, including the closure of Flatt Walks near the Castle public house and of Duke Street from theTangier Street junction to that with Church Street has been causing all manner of road chaos an pretty well all the through routes around the town centre this morning. As I say, if you can avoid it, do.