Azara Blog: May 2011 archive complete

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Date published: 2011/05/26

Boris Johnson does not understand what a tax is (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The US government has been sent a London congestion charge bill for Barack Obama's convoy, including his limousine, nicknamed The Beast.

Mayor Boris Johnson said the motorcade was charged, unlike the Popemobile, because roads were not closed.

He and Mr Obama exchanged "points of view", he said, over £5.2m worth of unpaid congestion bills when they met.

The US Embassy said it was exempt from paying "direct taxes" but the mayor maintains the charge is not a tax.
Mr Johnson has said previously that the levy was not a tax but a charge for services.

Boris Johnson is allegedly a clever chap, but here he descends into the usual role of political hack. The so-called London congestion charge is obviously a tax, rather than a charge for services. So the revenue mostly goes to the company that runs the scheme, and what little there is left over mostly goes to subsidise bus and tube services. None of the revenue goes to provide any service to the people who pay it, unless keeping ordinary people off the streets of London counts as a service. Therefore it is a tax.

It is ironic that Johnson is then willing to make an example of the pope. So the pope was provided with a special service (i.e. the closure of roads) and yet in this case one apparently does not have to pay the 10 pounds. If you get a service you do not pay and if you do not get a service you do pay.

Date published: 2011/05/14

The Campaign for Better Transport hates the A14 (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge News says:

Soaring fuel prices mean basing new homes around a widened A14 would lead to the "slums of the future", a travel expert warned yesterday.

Stephen Joseph, chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport, said new communities would be unaffordable to live in and that imposing tolls to fund improvements to the A14 would not work.

He was speaking at a debate in Huntingdon organised by the Institution of Civil Engineers, which asked if the Eastern region had been "short-changed" when the £1.3 billion Ellington to Fen Ditton upgrade was scrapped last year.

Attendees supported the motion.

Speaking against the proposition, Mr Joseph said: "If you build a very wide A14, allowing large increases in traffic, and build housing around it which relies on car-based access to the A14, and oil prices are double what is forecasted, you are building the slums of the future.

"They will be unaffordable because travel costs will be very high."

The Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) is one of the zillions of special interest pressure groups that plague the nation. What the Cambridge News fails to mention is that the CBT hates cars and loves trains. They perpetually want to throw more government money at train passengers, which is about as unsustainable (and so environmentally unfriendly) policy as can be. One of the problems Cambridge faces is that thousands and thousands of people take the train every day to London, which in particular puts pressure on house prices in the city. It would not be so bad if these people actually paid for the service they receive, but they do not.

If Joseph believes that commuting a few miles by car down the A14 is going to be prohibitively expensive, then imagine how expensive it will be to commute 60 miles to London by train. And yet the latter is what he advocates. His argument is also based on a fantasy oil price, and of course if you are allowed to make arbitrary assumptions then you can arrive at arbitrary conclusions.

All in all, the CBT should just be ignored, they are typical members of the academic middle class and they contribute very little to the debate on transport.

Cambridge city council wastes money on yet another bogus survey (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge News says:

Relocation of the Lion Yard toilets to the first floor would be likely to disadvantage the most vulnerable members of the community, according to research published last night.

An equalities impact assessment commissioned by Cambridge City Council concluded moving the loos from the Fisher Square entrance could create "real practical issues" for disabled people, pensioners, and parents with children.

Interviews and a survey responded to by 278 people found the increased length of time it would take to reach the conveniences was the key concern.

The evaluation piles pressure on the council to stop the move and Cllr Sian Reid, its leader, said she would "carefully consider the best way forward".

But the authority cannot force the hand of Aberdeen Asset Management, which runs the shopping centre, because it granted consent for the relocation in January - before any consultation was carried out.

Well, what a surprise. The city council offers one of its surveys and the group of people most affected stuff the ballot box. It is a totally meaningless result and the city (like all other forms of government) should stop this perpetual waste of money on fatuous surveys. Presumably the only point of the survey was so that the city can then plead with Aberdeen Asset Management to not go ahead with the move in the end, based on bogus statistics. (Of course it was an idiotic idea in the first place to move the toilets, but that is a completely separate issue.)

Another end of the world report from the UN (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The world is set to consume three times more natural resources than current rates by the middle of the century, according to a United Nations report.

It predicts that humanity will annually use about 140 billion tonnes of fossil fuels, minerals and ores by 2050.

The authors call for resource consumption to be "decoupled" from economic growth, and producers to do "more with less".

Growth in population and prosperity are the main drivers, they observe.

The report is the latest in a series by the UN Environment Programme's (Unep) International Resource Panel.

"Decoupling makes sense on all the economic, social and environmental dials, " said Unep executive director Achim Steiner.

"People believe environmental 'bads' are the price we must pay for economic 'goods'.

"However, we cannot and need not continue to act as if this trade-off is inevitable."

Co-lead author Mark Swilling from the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa, explained what would drive the surge in demand for resources.

"The reality is that there is another billion middle-class consumers on the way as a result of rapid industrialisation in developing countries," he told BBC News.

"If the resources required to generate these goods and services are used as efficiently as they currently are, then you are looking at that massive growth to 140 billion tonnes."
In the report's three scenarios, the most optimistic one would see annual per capita consumption return to 2000 levels, with 50bn tonnes being consumed each year.

But the authors acknowledge that the measures required to deliver that scenario would be so restrictive and unappealing to politicians that it is almost a non-starter.

They also admit that even this scenario is too little for some scientists, who feel it would not cut consumption and associated emissions to sustainable levels.
Professor Swilling said that rapid industrialisation offered another opportunity to improve resource efficiency - urbanisation.

"We are in the middle of what we refer to in the report as the 'second urbanisation wave', which is resulting in three billion people living in cities," he observed.

"The largest growth in urbanisation will be in developing countries; so a lot, again, is going to depend upon how we understand cities in developing nations and how we plan them, and how we accommodate large numbers of people.

"The advantage of cities is that they deliver a quality of life with fewer resources than the same quality of life outside of cities; cities are potentially key for the more efficient use of resources, and they are also melting pots for innovation."

This report is so misguided on so many levels it is ridiculous. First of all, it is always a bad sign when people who consume far more resources than the average human being write a report complaining that human beings are consuming far too many resources. Secondly, and most seriously, to pretend that resource consumption can be "decoupled" from economic growth is like pretending that gravity can be pointed upwards instead of downwards. Thirdly, cities do not "deliver a quality of life with fewer resources than the same quality of life outside of cities". In fact the entire reason that people migrate to cities is because the per capita income (and so resource consumption) is far higher than in rural areas. It is one of the delusions of the academic middle class that city residents are somehow environmental saints whereas rural and (especially) suburban residents are somehow environmental sinners.

Date published: 2011/05/13

Gilbert Road cycle lane is allegedly a success (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge News says:

Cycling on a key Cambridge road has increased by nearly 10 per cent after controversial wider lanes were painted.

Surveys carried out by independent consultants revealed vehicle traffic decreased by 12.5 per cent and the average speed of what remained dropped by 6 per cent after the Gilbert Road scheme was finished.

The number of cyclists has increased by 9.5 per cent since the £150,000 project was completed in January, the researchers found.
Yesterday Cllr Roy Pegram, its infrastructure chief, said: "These surveys prove that installing high quality cycling infrastructure increases levels of cycling.

"It is also pleasing to see that traffic speeds have reduced on what is an important route for many schoolchildren."

These survey results, which just happen to be what Pegram wanted them to be, are suspicious. Well, the amount of cycling ought to have gone up, although whether by 10% or not is open to question. But the alleged drop of 12.5% in car journeys sounds suspicious.

Before the scheme was implemented there were allegedly around 300k cycle journeys and around 2m car journeys per year. So an alleged 10% increase in cycling equates to an increase of 30k journeys per year. And an alleged 12.5% decrease in driving equates to a decrease of 250k journeys per year. So where are the missing 250k-30k=220k journeys?

Has the local economy been hit so fewer people are moving around? Has the traffic been displaced to other roads? Have some drivers decided to stick two fingers up to Cambridge and take their business elsewhere (given that the city continually sticks two fingers up to drivers)? Well, these might account for some of the alleged decrease. But much more likely, the surveys just happen to suffer from inconsistent sampling and/or poor statistics.

And the alleged drop in average traffic speed is also questionable, and not just because of poor sampling and statistics. So the average speed is not a very useful number. What is more important is how many drivers go significantly above the 30 mph speed limit (although outside of normal hours Gilbert Road is easily safe even at 40 mph).

It is also unfortunate that the mentality of the Cambridge ruling elite happens to be that "cycling = good" and "driving = bad". It leads to perpetually bad transport planning.

UK astronomy whines that their budget is being cut (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Deep funding cuts could put the UK's prominence in astronomy and particle physics at risk, MPs have said.

The Science and Technology Committee says astronomy funding will fall by 20% over four years - the science budget's average real-terms cut was 14.5%.

The MPs say some of the resulting cuts are likely to deter leading scientists from working in the UK.
Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who is president of the Institute of Physics, gave evidence to the MPs that these projects could be reinstated for a relatively small amount of money.

"It only takes £2-3m to keep several Northern Hemisphere telescopes operating," she told BBC News. "The amount seems to me remarkably little and I observed when we met with the select committee that it would be no more than a banker's bonus."

It is embarrassing that someone like Bell Burnell would make such a pathetic argument. If you take any budget and split it into smaller and smaller pieces then eventually you get to the point that any given piece of the budget "only" costs a few million pounds and so should allegedly remain. It completely misses the point that the total budget is (in effect) being cut and so some budgetary items therefore have to be cut. Astronomy, and particle physics, like everything else paid for by the UK government, has to justify why it should be given the money it is given, and it should do so with real, not fatuous, arguments. (Well, unfortunately with astronomy, and particle physics, there is no really good reason to fund it, other than that it deals with somewhat sexy "fundamental" science, but that argument wears thin after awhile.)

Conservation biologists hate cats (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Should there be a limit on the number of cats you are allowed to keep?
And should this single cat be registered with the authorities, sterilised, and confined to home, or only let out under curfew?
Legislating cat ownership this way sounds pretty heavy handed, draconian even. Would we even need a pet police to enforce the rules?

But I mention them to raise an important issue - to what extent do our domestic pets impact other animals living wild? Is our pet predilection causing a conservation problem, one that we need to address?

The suggestion that it could be, and we should think about restricting or controlling the animals we bring into our homes, appears in a new research paper published by Australian scientists in the journal Biological Conservation.

Michael Calver and colleagues at Murdoch University in Western Australia, and the University of Sydney, argue for why we might consider using the precautionary principle when it comes to cat ownership.

They start by laying out the context.

There is now abundant evidence that feral cats can cause the decline or even elimination of local wildlife. A yet to be published review by ecologist Elsa Bonnaud at the Mediterranean Institute for Ecology and Palaeoecology in France and colleagues suggests they are responsible, at least in part, for 8% of global bird, mammal and reptile extinctions and pose a significant threat to almost 10% of critically endangered birds, mammals and reptiles.

But feral cats are pets no more - and you can't compare a ranging hungry street cat with a well fed pet that spends most of its time indoors or in its owner's back garden.

This is just a typical anti-cat rant by so-called conservation biologists. The problem is not cats, it is people. And the problem is certainly not pet cats. Indeed, they keep the rodent population down (as well as go after the odd bird).

Any paper that quotes the so-called precautionary principle as its main justification for doing anything should just be ignored. And funnily enough the authors here even have the point of the "principle" backwards. So Wikipedia says:

The precautionary principle or precautionary approach states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action.

Here it is these so-called conservation biologists who want to take an action (to persecute cats) and so it should be them who justifies their action, not the other way around, if they want to claim to believe in this "principle". (So, their proposal could well lead to an explosion in the rodent population, with all the attendant health problems.)

But in any case, the precautionary principle is junk. It is just used as an excuse by people who want to stop something they happen not to like (here, cats behaving like cats) without having any justification for doing so (other than hatred and prejudice). It is the antithesis of scientific reason.

Date published: 2011/05/10

Breastfed children are allegedly better behaved (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Children who are breastfed for four months or more develop fewer behaviour problems, Oxford researchers say.

The study, involving 10,000 mothers and their babies and in journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, says that may be because of the make-up of breast milk.

Or, it says, breastfeeding may lead to better mother-baby interaction.

Breastfeeding is already associated with other health benefits for babies, including lower rates of infection and less obesity in later life.

Researchers looked at the feeding habits of 10,037 mothers and their babies involved in a large study known as the Millennium Cohort Study.

The mothers were asked to assess problems in their children by the age of five, including anxiousness and clinginess, restlessness, and lying or stealing.

Only 6% of children who were breastfed showed signs of behaviour problems, compared with 16% of children who were formula-fed.

Mothers who breastfeed tend to be older, better educated, and from a higher socio-economic background, which may contribute towards fewer problems in their children's behaviour.

But even after the researchers, from the Universities of Oxford, Essex, York and University College London, adjusted their figures to take that into account, they still found there was a 30% greater risk of behavioural problems among formula-fed children.

The ruling elite has for decades been demonising women who do not breastfeed their babies, and this is just yet another research effort aimed at that. And yet the effect they have found is rather small. So the headline figures sound dramatic: "Only 6% of children who were breastfed showed signs of behaviour problems, compared with 16% of children who were formula-fed."

But that comparison is not adjusted for the fact that "respectable" middle class mothers will breastfeed more often, and it seems (or they will claim) that their children are better behaved. And after controlling for this, there was still "a 30% greater risk of behavioural problems among formula-fed children". Well that pushes the 6% up to 8%. Another way of putting this is that if you breastfeed, then your child is 94% likely to have few behavioural problems whereas if you do not then this is "only" 92%. Should anyone really care?

And this is assuming that they really have controlled properly for other determining factors. And it also seems to have relied on the mothers doing the assessment, which is an inherently flawed idea. All in all, this does not seem to be a very significant piece of research.

Date published: 2011/05/08

Another pointless report by Jonathon Porritt (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The government's chance of being the "greenest ever" - as the prime minister has claimed - is "vanishingly remote", a former adviser has said.

Jonathon Porritt, former head of the Sustainable Development Commission, carried out the review which was funded by Friends of the Earth.

He examined 75 policies, finding little or no progress in 55.

The government said it remains committed to the environment, but the recession had affected its policies.

Mr Porritt said the government had scrapped a planned rise in aviation tax, failed to create a green investment bank with immediate borrowing powers and had watered down schemes promoting small-scale renewable electricity.

He added that Prime Minister David Cameron had failed to curb what he calls the Treasury's fixation with economic growth, whether it damages the environment or not.
Of the 75 green policies examined in detail, 28 were judged to be "moribund", 27 had "very limited growth", 14 saw "encouraging progress" and "the birds were singing" for just six.

On the positive side, the report mentions: "Scrapping plans to expand airports in the south-east of England, agreeing to roll out smart meters to 30 million homes from 2014 and announcing the world's first Renewable Heat Incentive."

Surprise, surprise, the former head of the Sustainable Development Commission (which was closed down by the Tory government, a relevant fact not mentioned in the article, so Porritt has a grudge) and someone who is also a former director of the Friends of the Earth (again, a relevant fact not mentioned by the BBC), is funded by the partisan FoE to write a report whose only purpose is to make a political statement. Needless to say, Porritt obliges. If people like Porritt were better at doing things and spent less time writing politically motivated screeds, the country would be better off.

The things that Porritt complains about in particular well illustrate the reasons that so-called environmentalists are best ignored, in the UK. First of all, everyone knows that the aviation tax as currently administered is completely idiotic, because it bears no relationship with the environmental damage caused. It is just treated as an excuse for the government to make some money and pretend to be "green". Everyone knows that the only sensible approach is to tax aviation fuel, but for some reason that is deemed impossible to do. It seems that Porritt does not care, as long as he can make sure that a few less peasants fly.

The so-called Green Investment Bank is just an excuse to throw money at problems that are deemed politically correct, and that make no sense economically. You can pretty much guarantee that the only winners with such a setup will be bankers and corruption.

And as even people like George Monbiot have pointed out, the idea that we should be "promoting small-scale renewable electricity" is ridiculous. It is just an excuse for middle class people like Porritt to pretend that they are "saving" the world when in fact they are doing the exact opposite. The feed-in tariffs reward inefficiency (i.e. they are an environmentally bad policy) and are the last thing any government should be throwing money at.

The government was idiotic to disallow any airport expansion in the south-east. But they did not do so for "green" reasons, they did so because some Tories live somewhere near the flight paths. Of course the FoE hates aviation (at least for the peasants) so they are happy no matter what the motivation of the government.

And smart meters might or might not be a good idea. Needless to say, they are bloody expensive to install, otherwise it would have been done already. Of course so-called environmentalists like Porritt do not seem to care how much something costs as long as it looks good on paper. The UK does not need theoreticians like Porritt propounding government policy, it needs engineers and scientists. Unfortunately the UK chattering class is stuffed full of theoreticians instead of engineers and scientists.

All in all, this report is just a press release for the FoE, but of course the BBC obliges as always in giving the FoE their free publicity, without any critical analysis of what the press release says.

Date published: 2011/05/06

Cambridge becomes slightly less Lib Dem (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge News says:

Labour made sweeping gains on Cambridge City Council, halving the ruling Liberal Democrats' majority, as voters punished the coalition Government.

The opposition group gained four seats and claimed the scalps of two members of the authority's executive - Clare Blair in East Chesterton and Mike Pitt in King's Hedges.

Labour also won a county council division from the Liberal Democrats.
The new make-up of the city council is Lib Dem 25 seats, Labour 14 seats, Green two seats, Independent one seat.

What is most interesting about the result is that the Greens picked up no seats, and so evidently many Lib Dem voters drifted towards Labour rather than the Greens. All in all the result is good because a large Lib Dem (or any party) majority is not healthy for democracy if it continues forever.

It is telling that the Lib Dems did best in the academic middle class (i.e. rich) wards like Newnham, Castle and West Chesterton, and fared badly in the wards like Arbury, King's Hedges and East Chesterton where more ordinary people live. But the Lib Dems (and the Greens) are the party of the Cambridge academic middle class ruling elite.

Alternative Vote (AV) goes down to heavy defeat (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The UK has voted overwhelmingly to reject changing the way MPs are elected - dealing a bitter blow to Nick Clegg on top of heavy Lib Dem poll losses.

Officials say 19.1m people voted in the second UK-wide referendum in history - a higher than expected turnout of 41%.

With votes still being counted, the No campaign is on course to get 69%.
So far more than 400 areas of the UK have voted No, while only 10 have voted Yes - six of which are in London.

In Cambridge the AV vote went opposite how the country voted, so 21253 (54%) Yes and 17871 (46%) No. The AV vote (and so-called voting reform in general) is a project of the academic middle class, and the urban elite in general, and it is quite evident that the rest of the country has no real interest in it, although the No campaign vote was flattered because of the anti-Lib Dem vote.

All material not included from other sources is copyright For further information or questions email: info [at] cambridge2000 [dot] com (replace "[at]" with "@" and "[dot]" with ".").