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Showing posts from September, 2005

Iraq, Northern Ireland and Birmingham

One of the reasons why the British Armed forces have not been as disastrous as the US Forces in Iraq is their experience in Northern Ireland. That is not to say that in any way they should stay in Iraq, but it is worth looking at conflict in Northern Ireland and gang warfare in Birmingham and using those experiences try to understand what is happening in Iraq. I have uploaded some of the pictures I took of murals in Northern Ireland (not all of which are paramilitary murals) to flickr. These are just two: One is from the IRA, the other is from the UVF. The first thing to understand about these conflicts is that they are strongly driven by emotions. The second thing is that sub-groups amongst each group also conflict with each other. This story about the conflict between the UDA and UVF tells something about conflict within the protestant groups. The main thing to understand is that there is an emotional drive to revenge that frequently goes far beyond a deterrent form of action. Wi

Oil Exporter Switches to Import

This story about the reduction in fuel subsidies in Indonesia (they take a third of the government budget) shows how short term governments can be about such issues. There are two big issues with Nuclear Energy. One is the issue of handling waste. The other is a global shortage of Uranium 235 You can forget fusion and the so-called hydrogen economy. The Nuclear Energy Agency produce a "red book" . The Red Book is something they charge for, but the link gives a summary. In this instance it refers to locations where uranium is already being mined. This article in The Independent is a bit of an odd one. It has Exxon claiming 3,000,000,000,000 barrells of oil still to be recovered. Even the USGS only claim that the total global endowment is 3tn bbl and they accept it could be as low as under 2tn bbl. The problem is, however, that without going back to the source of the quotes it is difficult to be clear as to what they are saying. On Gas there is better news for UK consume

Ofcom delay on Silent Calls

What really surprises me about Silent Calls is how little media attention the issue gets. Hundreds of thousands of people complain about Silent Calls. The issue, however, hardly ever pops above a low level response. When it appears in the media they get a massive response. I am not quite sure why that is. It may be that the issue is slightly more complex. The reality is that in the USA they have been banned (this does not involve banning predictive diallers). In the UK Ofcom could ban them. The reason why those people who do Silent Calls don't want to put out a message is that then people would know who is causing the nuisance. This would enable the whole issue to be sorted out quite quickly. I had a meeting (organised by the magazine CCF) in July where Ofcom attended and promised action by October. They have now delayed to November. The basic problem here is that it is Ofcom's job to control nuisance. That means coming down like a ton of bricks on offenders. This is n

Highlights from the World Toilet Summit in Belfast

The previous summit was in Beijing and most have been held in the Far East. Although Singapore has always taken such issues seriously even in Hong Kong there was a lot of sniggering about toilets until 2003 when SARS came along. When people started dying as a result of an absence of hygiene then public sanitation was taken more seriously. There are lots of opportunities for scatalogical humour, but what is important is that people take the underlying issues seriously even if people laugh about the issue to start out with. MRSA is an anti-biotic resistant bacteria. There are two reasons why we are developing bacteria that are anti-biotic resistant. One is the overprescription of anti-biotics - such as for viral infections and the second is the reliance on cure rather than prevention. MRSA kills people. One way of preventing MRSA is better hygiene. Public Sanitation was one of the most important steps to be taken to reduce deaths from infection. It remains that about half of the

6,000 children a day die in poor countries from poor sanitation

6,000 children a day die in the developing world from diarrhoeal diseases according to the charity WaterAid . These could be essentially prevented through better sanitation. Governmental priorities, however, tend to ignore these basic solutions to basic problems. These two somewhat unusually attired ladies have come to the World Toilet Summit in Belfast to highlight this issue which is not given the attention it needs. Funding is provided, but that funding is not being concentrated on the basic requirements such as better sanitation.

The next flight home

I have written a letter to the Sunday Times following Michael Portillo's article today arguing we need to continue to occupy Iraq. Michael Portillo's thesis on the continuation of the occupation of Iraq fails to consider perhaps the key issue of the dispute. Iraq is a segmented society. The primary patterns of loyalty are to the tribe and extended family. If a member of the tribe dies as a result of the occupation (and in his article perhaps 100,000 people have died for that reason), then their cousin-brothers are duty bound to obtain vengeance against the occupiers. The longer the occupation lasts the more resentment it generates. This resentment spreads around the world. Al Qa'ida and Al-Sadr's forces both find the occupation as their main recruiting sargeant depending upon the sect that the new recruit supports. The recent events in al-Basrah are not signs of infiltration into the Iraqi security services, but instead the Iraqi security services turning agains

Jumping Jack Flash

I was born in a cross-fire hurricane And I howled at my ma in the driving rain, But it's all right now, in fact, it's a gas! But it's all right. I'm Jumpin' Jack Flash, It's a Gas! Gas! Gas! The developing energy crisis makes me think of these lyrics. Although clearly these lyrics were not written to predict from 1968 what would happen in 2005, it is clear that the problems in terms of supply caused by Katrina and Rita are a precursor of difficulties with Gas supply. The UK has a special problem with Gas because of the "dash for gas". That was the reason why the UK's carbon emissions went down without any action from government - then again the government tend not to act. Remember the figures we have 600 bcm of reserves and use 100bcm a year. There is gas elsewhere in the world, but it will be difficult to get and also cost a lot more. I know a week is a long time in politics, but really we should work on longer timescales.

2-2 and Pebble Mill

This is the current status of the demolition of Pebble Mill. The BBC have moved into "the Mailbox" which is really quite a nice location for the BBC to work from as it looks over onto the Gas Street canal network. Gas Street is the location where my father pushed too hard on the tiller (which broke) and fell into the cut from a narrowboat in the 1970s. 2-2 is the result of the Birmingham City - Liverpool game. I went to meet up with the directors to work with them on the issue of having a regional casino linked with a new stadium. The whole issue is a number of years down the track, but I believe that there is an opportunity of a new stadium. I am not a great fan of increasing the amount of GDP involved in casinos, but if that is happening then we should aim to get the best possible deal for the city.

Kennedy attacks his detractors

"Defiant Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy condemned the critics gunning for his job yesterday - with remarks which appeared to be aimed squarely at Birmingham MP John Hemming." There is a report that Kennedy's Aides have indicated that I have no experience. The question is experience of what. I suppose I only have 22 years experience of running things including having taken part in running the largest local authority in the country as well as a number of commercial enterprises. Admittedly although I fought the 1983 election, I was not elected then unlike Charles Kennedy, but I feel that if people are trying to say I don't have experience then that is not based in fact.

Missing Cables

Rushing up to Blackpool I put my PA in my car. (That can be done (just) in three trips with the TN-7000 Accompanier, Mixer/Amp, 2 1kW speakers, 3 Mikes and various cables). The plan was to use the PA at the Glee Club. Sadly at 10.30pm last night I found that I was missing the cables between the Amp and the armstretching speakers. Still the hotel (The Imperial) provided a PA. This enabled Russell and I to share out the accompaniment to the glee club. The normal pianist is sadly rather unwell so we tend to have to stand in. I have done the accompaniment at the Southport and Harrogate Spring Conferences. It is a bit of a challenge as that is the only time I practise the particular numbers as I tend to play jazz - and have less time for practising out of the ordinary things now. We had a hired piano which was far too quiet for the room - it needed miking up. The length of the cables prevented more than one mike being used (plus a radio mike). Still it was an excellent Glee Club w

Election Geeks lose out

Surprisingly the conference supported the proposed change to effectively reduce the number of candidates in future leadership elections. I don't agree with the argument that we should reduce the number to fit comfortably into the Newsnight studios. However, the decision was made based upon that argument. It is rumoured that an MP can sign more than one nomination paper. Therefore a proper election giving the members a proper choice can still occur. Candidates should be able to get the 200 members' signatures themselves.

"Orange Book" express train derailed

I was quite pleased that the Lib Dem Conference today derailed the "Orange Book" juggernaut. It quite winds me up that people put forward motions that clearly do not stack up. I am someone who is involved in the private sector, has been a director of a publicly listed company, still has declarable interests in at least one company. However, the party heirarchy decides that creating a private monopoly is a good idea and argues that the advisors who have not actually ever done any of these things have a better idea of how things work. The party conference, however, decided that it needed a proper rethink. This is the second rebellion against the leadership of this conference. I think there is a fair chance there will be a third on the proposed constitutional change tomorrow. There is no sense turning the Lib Dems into a third Conservative Party.

Charles Kennedy

A lot of the media have been asking questions about Charles Kennedy. I have always taken the view that the party should be about more than one person. I explained to the journalists that although I would quite like to be leader of the party (although I am also quite happy to remain a backbencher), I would like Charles Kennedy to remain leader for a while. After all I have only been an MP for about 5 1/2 seconds and it would be far too soon to fight a leadership campaign. There is a rather silly amendment coming to the conference on Wednesday that means any candidate for leadership has to have the support of 10% of the parliamentary party. Last time there were 5 candidates. With preferential voting this is really unfair as it moves the decision as to who is leader from the membership of party into the MPs - much like the tories really. For the situation of the last time to reoccur 50% of the parliamentary party would have to have nominated someone.

Sunny Blackpool

Actually not Sunny Blackpool. It is relatively dreary here. The seaside resorts are used for party political conferences as they can swallow up a relatively large number of people in what would otherwise be relatively cheap empty hotels. The conferences are just after the summer season. There tends also to be quite a bit mediafest. It appears that my amendment on the Royal Mail was a bit too hot for the Conference Committee. I still believe, however, that the proposed approach is not the best way forward.

Guilty until proven innocent

I have been dealing with a complex matter relating to Social Care recently. It is quite interesting to compare this to the Sally Clark/Trupti Patel cases. It seems to be that when a child or baby dies or suffers there is a developing principle that the parents are guilty unless they can prove that they are innocent. Most parents, of course, cannot actually prove that they are innocent as this is relatively difficult. They end up, therefore, being punished by a rather abusive and arrogant system. I am hoping to review the general points with one of the solicitors who worked on the Sally Clark case.

Community meetings

This has been a busy week for meetings in local communities. There were 70 people at the meeting about The Sheldon Pub in Sheldon. Then we had three meetings the "police surgery" and Elms Farm Residents Association tonight plus Sheldon Residents. It is nice to see reasonable turnouts at public meetings. This is nothing like the turnouts we get in the inner cities though where you have potentially 500-1000 people at a meeting. It was rather sad that the "duck loving" Inspector Kay Wallace was moving on, but her replacement Nick Welton seems a good person to run the Sheldon Police Station.

More jobs for export

I am worried about reports that British Gas may be exporting about 2,000 local jobs. The problem is that if we export industrial jobs and then export service sector jobs then we continue to undermine our long term stability. An interesting point was also made about Star City at the Council meeting last night. Many of the jobs there are not people from the inner cities, but instead people from Poland. My biggest concern with all of these things is the rapidity of change and the likelihood of an overshoot. British Gas really should not call themselves British Gas if they have so little commitment to the British economy. In the mean time I have been quite pleased at how receptive the media have been to the issues of gas depletion. The following letter has been written to Malcolm Wicks: Re: UK Gas & Electricity Supply Winter 2005/06 I am concerned about UK provisions to ensure energy security through the coming winter period. I fear gas and by association electricity supplies could be

Club of Rome / Matthew Simmons

Matthew Simmons has done a review of the Club of Rome's book "Limits to Growth". This takes me back to the debates of the 1970s about light and deep greens. As a light green I believed then that it is possible to have economic growth without a growth in the consumption of energy and resources. I continue to believe that and can cite evidence. However, I have continued to take the view that we should focus on improving quality of life rather than increasing the consumption of resources. The review is worth reading (see link).

The Times notes effects of Gas Depletion

I cannot find the article online, but yesterday's Times included a section noting that we may fact gas shortages this winter. Chris Vernon's site has much of the background information. He is ably assisting me to challenge the government on their (lack of) energy strategy. The nub of the issue is that the UK has resources of about 600 bcm (billion cubic metres) and consumes about 100 bcm pa. The UK consumes a lot more gas than other comparable countries as we use it to generate electricity (the "dash for gas"). You cannot "trust the market" when it comes to resource planning. The market has a short time planning cycle and there is a need to plan in the long term. The government should not abdicate responsibility for this. Colin Channen's DTQ system is one mechanism for handling resource constraints and not an unreasonable market based type of system. That light at the end of the tunnel really is a train.

Identity Fraud

A relatively clever identity fraud was found today. Someone re-registered someone else's electoral roll entry from Yardley to Sparkbrook. Then they applied for 3 credit cards. As far as I can tell no money was charged to the cards and the police have been involved. The response of the police appears to be that they are not sure what offence has been created. I would think myself that it is a form of fraud in that credit has been obtained. However, it would be interesting if there is a loophole here that means that unless someone actually spends money on the cards there is no offence. A good candidate for a written parliamentary question.


Having made the promise that my 15 year old daughter could see Opeth in London (with a friend based in London) whilst not remembering the scheduled date was during the school term, yesterday was planned around having to get her back in time for school. This involved seeing the House of Commons Car Park for the first time and sorting out the associated bureaucracy of that. It did mean time to interview potential interns for the future and more time on getting more and more elements of the Treasury Model. I did suggest to the Treasury that I popped in to show them which software I needed, but they were not that enthusiastic about this. The Oxford Economic Forecasting group are also being very helpful. Still as an ex-Heavy Metal Drummer it was reminiscent of gigs in The Odeon, New Street by bands such as Hawkwind - a band which I still think has qualities missing from much of today's metal. I didn't hear the gig myself although I waited for about 800 Metal fans to emanate from

Treasury Assumptions

I have now managed to hack into the Treasury Model programs and get the two key programs to work. The programs are not, however, the whole story. There are also a list of assumptions for external (exogenous) variables and the residual values. The Treasury generate these to produce the budget predictions. They have never provided these to anyone previously, but I have made a formal request under the Freedom of Information Act for that data. It will be an interesting point of law as to whether or not under S35 that information is exempt. The programs are relatively complex so it does not surprise me that very few people (OEF and the Item Club only otherwise) actually run the program other than those in the treasury. The program is written in Fortran which is a relatively rare language these days. I last programmed in it in 1978.

The failure of government

It could be seen as a symptom of moving more things into the private domain that the public squalor that can come with private affluence also appears as an inability to react in circumstances where only government can sensibly react. The US Government's failure to react to Katrina in part relates to the expectation that the State would handle it, but in part it appears that they did not think it was their responsibility at all. The UK Government does not appear to be handling these things well either. There is also a problem in that when there is not "a plan" then governments have a big problem. The delays after the Tsunami when action was needed on the ground were actually worse than the delays in New Orleans and environs. Admittedly they were international delays when one would always expect that to some extent. It is also interesting how government is almost incapable of cooperating with the new medias. Ideally the Foreign Office would work with weblogs and online d

Treasury Economic Model

My research team has been rummaging around the Treasury Economic Model. It is an interesting model based upon some Fortran routines which look at about 600 variables based upon quarterly calculations. Variables I am particularly interested in are 0411 EOIL - Offshore Oil and Gas Employment 0801 TDOIL Total Domestic Demand for oil 0802 NSGVA - GVA in North Sea oil & gas extraction 0803 XOIL - Exports of oil (volume) 0804 PXOIL -AVI for exports of oil Index 0805 MOIL - Imports of crude oil and oil products 0806 PMOIL - AVI for imports of oil Index 0807 NSGTP - North Sea Gross Trading Profits 0809 PBRENT - Brent crude oil price ($ per barrel) 1014 TXFUEL - Hydrocarbon oils duty receipts Alan Greenspan did say that pure economic theory ignores the price of oil (and availability). It is nice to see that the Treasury does not. I haven't as yet got the right instructions on how to run the model although I have also got another model from someone else, but I will give it a few runthr

Kitchens Direct and Silent Calls

The linked story from 2004 shows how big the Silent Calls problem tends to be Kitchens Direct may have reduced the number of Silent Calls (and started using CLI), but that does not remove the concerns. They were doing millions of Silent Calls. This, of course, is partially a symptom of the reduction in the cost of telecommunications which also affects international cold calling. I have just written to Kitchens Direct to ask them to consider providing an informational message to prevent the silence.

American Pie

The only time I had heard the word "Levee" was in the lyrics of the song "American Pie" for which the link gives a good explanation. As the issues unravel in Mississippi it raises a large number of issues for the USA and the world. Firstly, it is clear that Bush was more interested in 3,000 generally rich people dying in New York than over 10,000 relatively poor people drowning in Mississipi. Secondly, what the US is sowing in terms of carbon emissions it has now reaped in terms of a climatic weather disaster (much that Bangladesh has already had this). Thirdly, if the US had spent a proportion of the funds it has spent in Iraq and on the "War on Terror" on building up the Levees then the big disaster would not have happened. It was clearly predicted. Fourthly, and this story is a good basis for this in the USA and probably other countries there are substantial problems with a low social capital, corrupt environment being generated in some urban areas

World Service

I spoke to some trainee journalists from the World Service on Friday Night. They have an interesting opportunity to learn about the varied cultures in the world at some depth. The World Service is a very cost effective way of promoting a positive view of Britain about which so much damage has been done by the government in recent years. With all the rows about Al Jazeera it is interesting to note how Al Jazeera has in some ways developed from the World Service.

Wolf !

Yes it really is a wolf. It is relatively difficult to find a toy wolf. It does, however, illustrate the key conclusion of the story about the boy that called 'wolf'. At the end there was a wolf. It has been clear for some time that the supply of fossil fuels will peak. The real question is why the UK government does not provide its calculations. The UK relies on the IEA which relies on the USGS. The USGS has produced figures which are produced with all the possible optimistic methodologies. The USGS estimates 1,000 bn barrells of oil greater than most other people. Still it is quite a nice wolf. We also have the issue of the government changing their real strategy to one which is based upon the UK national debt being relatively low so we might as well pile on the pounds.

ASPO newsletter 57 released

The link is to an article quoted in Newsletter 57 of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (and Gas) The point is that in many countries fuel has been subsidised (ie not taxed, but subsidised) and the subsidies are being withdrawn - unsurprisingly. From the article linked the following examples are cited: Last week the BBC reported that dozens were killed in fuel riots across Yemen when the government withdrew subsidies resulting in dramatic price increases. All across Indonesia people were lining up at gas stations in response to developing fuel shortages. In one city, half the public transport was inoperable due to a lack of fuel. In Zimbabwe, the government has moved to deregulate fuel procurement in the face of severe shortages: waits of hours for buses, gas lines that are blocks long, and a bread shortage. The black market price for gasoline is now ten times the official rate. Nearly all the poorer countries make their electricity using diesel generators. Nicaragua, one of th

New Orleans - should they go back

One of the biggest questions to face the "Big Easy" is whether they should try to rebuild the city where it was. New Orleans is below water level and protected by the levees (dams). With clear evidence that weather is more volatile there has to be a judgement as to when next it will flood. If they are going to abandon the city for months the big question is whether it would be more efficient to build a "New New orleans" elsewhere (above sea level). There always is a question as to how much man should fight nature. On the flood plains of the UK it is clear we should not be trying to beat the waters. Instead we should simply not build on the flood plains. On the East of the country the cliffs are being eternally worn away. We have to a great extent to live with that because if we protect one area of cliff another one wears away. Worsening weather and greater scarcity of hydrocarbons are two issues nothing can be done about in the short term. Even if we stopped b