Azara Blog: January 2011 archive complete

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Date published: 2011/01/25

Cambridge City Council wants to throw 200k at trees (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

A city council planning budget cuts is to spend £200,000 planting trees over the next four years.

Liberal Democrat-controlled Cambridge City Council wants to replace all trees on council land cut down last year.

Rod Cantrill, executive councillor for arts and recreation, said trees were important for future residents.

"It's not just about current residents enjoying these trees and open spaces, we are investing for future generations and we need to get it right."

This is unbelievable. The city's Tree Department has spent the last couple of years destroying dozens and dozens of perfectly healthy trees for no good reason, no doubt also at great expense. And Cantrill is happy that as a result of the city's own vandalism, another 200k of taxpayers' money is given to the Tree Department to spend to make up for it. Instead heads should roll. It is especially ridiculous in these times of difficult budgets that the city is willing to spend 200k in this way, and without any regret expressed about the situation, or indication that it will not be allowed to happen again.

Yet another pointless government report, this time on the future of farming (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

A UK government-commissioned study into food security has called for urgent action to avert global hunger.

The Foresight Report on Food and Farming Futures says the current system is unsustainable and will fail to end hunger unless radically redesigned.

It is the first study across a range of disciplines deemed to have put such fears on a firm analytical footing.

The report is the culmination of a two-year study, involving 400 experts from 35 countries.

According to the government's chief scientific adviser, Professor Sir John Beddington, the study provides compelling evidence for governments to act now.

The report emphasises changes to farming, to ensure that increasing yields does not come at the expense of sustainability and to provide incentives to the agricultural sector that address malnutrition.

It also recommends that the most resource-intensive types of food are curbed and that waste is minimised in food production.
The report adds that new research can play an important role. It also says that the use of any particular technology, such as genetic modification, cloning and nanotechnology should not be ruled out. But it acknowledges that there is resistance to the application of controversial technologies.

"Achieving a strong evidence base (of the safety or otherwise) in controversial areas is not enough. Genuine public debate needs to play a crucial role," the report says.

It is unfortunate that so much time and money is wasted on such reports, which are almost universally ignored by government (in terms of concrete action) and which are likely to be completely forgotten a few weeks after publication.

And it is obvious, to all but the anti-technology zealots, that "genetic modification, cloning and nanotechnology" have roles to play. But it is impossible to have "genuine public debate", because the anti-technology zealots (Greenpeace, FoE, etc.) are not open to debate. These people do not accept 20th century food technology, never mind 21st century food technology. It is basically a matter of (religious) faith for them. There is very little scientists can do to change this situation, except to work to deploy the technology in countries where these zealots have less power and influence.

Date published: 2011/01/17

One politician wants to introduce road pricing in Cambridge (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge News says:

A campaign is being launched today to levy a new charge on motoring in Cambridgeshire. The radical scheme would cover nearly every road in the county and be monitored by meters fitted in vehicles and a network of cameras - drivers would be charged accordingly for using the roads. Cllr Nichola Harrison, architect of "charge and spend", believes it can generate the substantial income required to bankroll much-needed improvements to highways and public transport.

If the tolls are introduced, it is expected 60 per cent of drivers would pay £3 or less a week, and nearly 90 per cent would pay £10 at most. The heaviest users might be billed £30.

Cllr Harrison thinks the tax will prove more popular than the proposed Cambridge congestion charge, which was dumped when a bid to the Government for £500 million ended in failure last year.

She believes it will be perceived as being fairer because, rather than covering a confined area at peak periods, it would apply around the clock on all routes apart from trunk roads managed by the Highways Agency - the A14, M11 and A11.

The tariff would be highly variable, based not just on distance but also on the time of travel, the route used, carbon emissions, and the availability or otherwise of a viable alternative to driving. And all profits would be spent on transforming transport across the area covered by the charge.

Total annual revenue could total £120 million, according to Cllr Harrison, who represents Petersfield and resigned from the Liberal Democrat group on Cambridgeshire County Council to launch the project - which would be the first of its type in the world. It is her personal campaign and she feels it would solve the county's transport issues.

It is not often that an article in the Cambridge News produces 23 pages of comments (and the News probably gave up, after awhile), mostly hostile. So Harrison is already rather deluded to believe that this "tax will prove more popular than the proposed Cambridge congestion charge". On the other hand, at least she has set up a website to promote her proposal.

Her business case is incredibly vague, really a back of the fag packet type of calculation. She knows how many vehicles there are in Cambridgeshire, and she knows how much revenue she wants, 120 million pounds, so she just creates a few categories of usage and plumps down a figure of how much each category would pay per week.

Of course if her grand idea to reduce car usage works, then the revenue would decline unless she keeps upping the unit charge. That is the problem with all these kinds of road pricing schemes, whose main aim is to screw motorists for yet more tax money. She has to hope and pray that motorists do not abandon driving.

If the revenue side of her business case is bad, the cost side is far worse. She quotes an annual operating cost of 20 million pounds with literally no justification at all.

With the alleged revenue of 120 million she is going to give 15 million back to motorists in terms of increased road maintenance spend. How kind. Naively she thinks that motorists are going to be satisfied with this.

Apparently she had to resign from the Lib Dems because they themselves, although generally car haters, do not approve of this idea. (Evidently they do not want to lose all their non-Cambridge-City Cambridgeshire County Council seats.) And the Labour Party has already said it is against the idea. And the Tories will almost certainly be against the idea. This leaves the Greens (who hate drivers even more than the Lib Dems do, and who have no County Council seats outside the city to lose) to help her along.

Date published: 2011/01/16

Lib Dem corruption on fuel duty (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said the government was considering offering a fuel discount to people in remote areas.

Mr Alexander, Lib Dem MP for Inverness, told the BBC's Politics Show: "We recognise that this for many families is a serious issue."

But he said a 'fair fuel stabiliser' - lowering duty when pump prices rose - was tricky to implement.
Mr Alexander said the coalition government were also considering the discount scheme to help drivers in remote areas such as the Scottish Highlands, Western Isles, west Wales and parts of England and Northern Ireland.

It is outrageous that Alexander is asking for tax breaks for his constituents (and a few others, often conveniently also Lib Dem constituencies). That is out and out corruption.

Even ignoring this issue of corruption, there is no reason that rural drivers should be given tax breaks. People live in rural areas because they choose to live in rural areas. It is a life style choice. It is claimed by the Lib Dems that rural people have no choice but to drive because there is no public transport. But they do have a choice. They could move to an urban or a suburban area.

Of course rural people already do get subsidised, e.g. with the postal and phone services. But just minutes after the Lib Dems (in particular Chris Huhne) have stuck two fingers up to drivers generally, it is particularly inappropriate that they propose that the rest of the country subsidise rural drivers.

Demos wants more hand outs for families with children (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Inflexible and stressful jobs are leaving parents racked with guilt and increasingly distant from their children, according to a Demos report.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who has promised to do more for hard-pressed working families, will launch the think tank's study on Monday.

It wants the government to do more to encourage flexible working practices.

And it says more action is needed at a community level to give struggling and isolated parents greater support.

Once again some "think tank" wants families without children to subsidise ever more families with children. Of course the clever ploy is to just mention the great benefits that they want for families with children, while ignoring how it is going to be paid for (which of course is mainly by families without children). If Clegg is allegedly interested in the situation of "hard-pressed working families" then he should be looking after the interests of all families (i.e. everyone), not just those who happen to have children.

Date published: 2011/01/13

Viruses and GM chickens (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

UK scientists have created the world's first genetically modified chickens that do not spread bird flu.

Writing in Science journal, the team says their work demonstrates it is possible to create a variety of GM farm animals resistant to viral diseases.

The research team inserted an artificial gene into chickens; this introduces a tiny part of the bird flu virus into chicken cells.

These birds become infected but render the virus harmless to other poultry.

The team believes that the genetic modification they have introduced is harmless to the chickens and to people who might eat the birds.

Professor Helen Sang of Edinburgh University told BBC News that genetic modification is potentially a much better way of protecting against diseases than vaccination because the GM technique works even if the virus mutates.

"It will protect a whole flock from avian influenza infection. This is really exciting because bird flu is a real challenge to poultry production and if it were introduced to poultry breeding it would protect our large scale production flocks from avian inlfuenza," said Professor Sang.

The researchers say that, in principle, the technique could be used to protect any farm animal from any disease. The eventual aim is to develop animals that are completely resistant to viral diseases.

It remains to be seen whether these techniques will ever be used in the UK. For one thing, it takes years to get anything, even non-controversial techniques, introduced into farming. More importantly, the usual suspects, who (fairly successfully) campaigned against GM crops, will no doubt campaign against this GM technology as well, and will try to convince the public (with help from media organisations like the BBC) that this is "frankenfood". The UK (and European) ruling elite is dominated by people who cannot cope with 20th century food technology, never mind 21st century food technology.

The only oak tree on Midsummer Common looks set to be cut down (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge News says:

Residents fighting to save an oak tree from the chop seem to have lost their battle.

Cambridge City Council is pushing ahead with plans to remove the tree from Midsummer Common, insisting there has already been full public consultation about the move.

The council is replanting on the ancient common, and the oak, close to the River Cam, was scheduled to be axed before Christmas.

Several local residents mounted a campaign to save it, and the tree has been festooned with messages, urging the council not to get rid of it.

But Cllr Rod Cantrill, executive councillor for arts and recreation, said there had been no change in the council's stance.

He said: "I appreciate very much that people are passionate about trees - I am too.

"There has been extensive public consultation about the tree programme on Midsummer Common, the most thorough I've ever witnessed while I've been on the council. There was a workshop last July, followed by a consultation period in August, and then discussion at the west central area committee in September.

"At no stage in that process did we get any negative views in relation to this oak tree. Were we to go back on things, and not remove the tree, it would make a mockery of the consultation process.

"We want to create a more defined green band along by the river, and the tree in question will never become a mature oak."

Well this tree "will never become a mature oak" because Cantrill is about to allow it to be destroyed.

It is unfortunate that the Cambridge City Tree Department seems to be run by people who are so keen to destroy trees (and replace some of them with species which just happen to be "flavour of the month").

It is equally unfortunate the the Lib Dems have set up the tree procedure so that one person, Cantrill, gets to make all the ultimate decisions. He is just a banker, and he has never indicated any sort of wisdom or "passion" about trees.

There is no reason to cut down this tree (or most of the other trees the council has destroyed the last few years, or wants to destroy now) other than prejudice.

Women ought to have control over pills for early medical abortions (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Women having an early medical abortion should be allowed to take some of their pills at home, a charity says.

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) is seeking a change in the law so women can choose where they complete their treatment.

Women currently have to make two visits and are given pills each time.

The Department of Health opposes the change, which would bring England, Scotland and Wales into line with countries including Sweden and France.

Early medical abortions involve taking two sets of pills. These are taken 24 to 48 hours apart in order to induce a miscarriage.

They are available to women seeking abortion in the first nine weeks of pregnancy.

After an initial consultation, women have two appointments with a doctor and both times are given a set of pills.

In some other countries, both sets of pills are handed over at once and women are given instructions about when they should take the second set.

BPAS said giving women both sets of pills at once would mean women could control where the abortion actually takes place, and could be sure that they would not experience cramping and bleeding on the way home from their appointments.
Under the 1967 Abortion Act, treatment has to be given in a hospital or clinic. The charity argues that treatment covers the prescription of the pills - but not necessarily their administration.

If the court agrees, then abortion clinics would be able to give women both sets of pills at once.

The Department of Health is contesting the case, on the grounds that "treatment" covers both prescription and administration of the drugs.
The Conservative MP Nadine Dorries also opposes BPAS's challenge, claiming it would send out a message that you can use abortion as contraception.

The number one rule about life in Britain is that the ruling elite are complete and utter control freaks, who cannot cope with the concept that the "peasants" should be able to make their own decisions. Hopefully BPAS will win the day. It will be interesting to see if the BMA supports BPAS, because doctors are some of the biggest control freaks around.

Of course people like Dorries will oppose this because they oppose abortion, period. But the Department of Health should be putting the interests of patients above the interests of control freaks and anti-abortionists.

Penguins should not be tagged with bands around flippers (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The standard way of tagging penguins for science - putting bands around their flippers - affects their survival and reproduction, a study has found.

French researchers, reporting their work in the journal Nature, found king penguins had 40% fewer chicks if they were banded, and lived shorter lives.

They say continuing to use the tags would in most situations be unethical.

Flipper bands have been used for decades to identify individual penguins so they can be tracked on land and sea.

They allow for easy visual identification of individual birds from a distance.

Some studies down the years had suggested they harmed the birds - for example, by creating extra drag when they swam, or by reflecting sunlight in a way that could attract predators.

But others had suggested there was no problem.

"There was a debate about whether bands have an effect or not - and you could find studies and some would say 'yes' and some would say 'no'," said Claire Saraux from the University of Strasbourg and the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS).

"So our idea was to try to make sure - instead of doing one-year studies, to try to find out what's going on over 10 years," she told BBC News.
The Strasbourg group is one that has adopted implantable transponders as an alternative tool.
In the meantime, scientists may have to go back to research performed using flipper bands and ask whether the results still stand, or whether they were distorted by the very tools used in the research.

It is only one study, and the people behind the study evidently already believed the result to be true, so one ought to be careful. On the other hand, it is obvious that scientists are no better (or worse) than other humans when it comes to the treatment of animals. For scientists the number one goal is research, not the welfare of animals. The various national academies of science should institute strict guidelines. And it is not just penguins for which there is likely to be a problem. Even the ubiquitous bird tags seem suspect. As do collars on big cats, etc.

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