onsdag 28 januari 2009

Severn barrage - boon or bane?

Severn estuary and bridges
Originally uploaded by net_efekt

The proposal to construct a Severn barrage to generate tidal power has come up for active consideration again. If it works as intended it will generate a significant proportion of Britain's electricity. But there are many questions to be asked. What of its effect on wildlife? How long will it take to pay back the cost of construction? What is the overall energy balance, when the embodied energy in the structure is taken into account? What will be its effects on water flows? How much dredging will it need to keep it free of silt? How useful is the electricity, bearing in mind that tidal flows are small for 8 hours in 24 and that peak flows vary according to the monthly lunar cycle. I hope someone will ask these searching questions.

tisdag 27 januari 2009

Fatness is caused by a virus

Checking out

So said a headline a few days ago, and some scientists claim to have the evidence. Perhaps, but what then needs to be explained is how come it is so prevalent in the UK but less common in countries like Norway, Sweden, France, Switzerland and Italy?

Surely a better clue is what is on the shelves of the supermarkets and in people's shopping baskets?

måndag 19 januari 2009

Hamas in their own words

But who can tell if the subtitles are a true translation?

Bin tax idiocy

Ministers have quietly adopted powers to impose pay-as-you-throw rubbish taxes of £50 or more around the country without the need for a parliamentary vote. Article in The Daily Telegraph

What is it about the British government that makes them jump at probably the most stupid policy imaginable? How can they be so out of touch? Over and over again, the wrong action is taken.

If people are made to dispose of rubbish, many of them will just dump it anywhere. It would be difficult to think of a better way of encouraging the dumping of rubbish.

If the prices of goods included a tax to cover the cost of disposal, then this would give a price signal: that buying rubbish costs money. It would also provide the funds for getting rid of it at the other end of its life cycle, no-questions-asked. And if there were incentives for re-use such as deposit schemes for reusable containers, they would cease to be a problem too, as people would collect them to get the money back.

How is it that British policymakers can have failed yet again to grasp the fundamental principle that if one wants people to act in a particular way, the best method is to give them an incentive to do that?

I despair. Anyway, only three weeks to go before I am off again.

lördag 17 januari 2009

Rockets that hollow-out the soul

A friend sent me this piece from a Swedish journalist who has visited Israel. This is a translation.

I have visited Sderot, the Israeli town which has been worst affected by the Kassam rockets from Gaza. Around 7000 rockets have fallen on Sderot during the last eight years – two or three rockets a day on average. When the bombardment was at its heaviest, 70 or so rockets could fall on one day.

It was in September last year that I and a group of Swedish journalists was guided by a student, Agi Venkiet, a 25 year-old girl. We drove round in a bus while she explained. Or rather, tried to explain.

19,300 people live in permanent fear in Sderot. How can one call it living?

Agi explained that she had no idea of the prevailing reality in Sderot when she moved there to study at state high school a few years ago. The shock was not so much the rockets as that the situation was so little reported in the media.

It is seldom that anyone dies because of the Kassam rockets in Sderot. They are neither accurate or powerful. But it does not mean to say that they are harmless.

A rocket that frightens the hell out of a whole family is not worth noting when so many more dramatic events happen in the Middle East. But when the the family has been woken up night after night by rockets which fall nearby, the nerves begin to give. The children shit themselves and have nightmares. The adults have trouble sleeping and begin to take pills. Certainly it is hard to get one’s job done.

Little by little, life falls apart from fear.

The thing I remember most clearly was Agi’s fear. She talked rapidly and seemed far-away, and with hardly ever a look in the eyes. She wanted us so much to understand, but suspected that we did not. Perhaps she wondered if our sympathies lay with the other side – with those who were firing the rockets.

She pointed out the play area which was rebuilt so that the climbing frame in the form of a writhing snake serves also as a shelter. Under the cheery colours is one made of reinforced concrete. She explaned that many children continue to wet their beds until they are quite old. That 60% of the people take tranquillisers. That is it hard to complete lessons in school because all the time they are disrupted by the bombardment.

She tried to describe the feeling when the alarm went off and that there are only a certain number of seconds – I have forgotten how many – perhaps twenty – to take shelter. This experience of panic characterises the whole of life in Sderot.

And the inhabitants realised then, in September 2008, that everyone had forgotten them. Their own government as well as world opinion. Their disrupted life was a non-event which just went on without anyone taking notice.

I have returned to this many times in my thoughts after Israel’s offensive in Gaza. The brutal ground-offensive, which has caused so many deaths of Palestinian civilians, is indefensible. And the situation for the inhabitants in Gaza was of course at least as bad as for the inhabitants of Sderot, even before all this happened.

But the fear of the rockets is the explanation why Israel has hit back so hard. To live in constant fear hollows-out the soul. In the end, one can expect anything.

If it were my child or yours who woke, sweating, from nightmares, or it was our sense of life’s pleasure that was ground down daily – how far would we be ready to go to put an end to the terrror?

It is impossible to give an answer unless one has lived in fear for eight years. But before one condemns Israel’s assault in Gaza, one must at least have asked the question.

Niclas Ericsson

Link to original article

fredag 16 januari 2009

Jewish editor sacked for publishing article

This article was sent to Debbie Ducro, a American-Jewish journalist with the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle. She published it, and was fired the next day.
Quest for justice
By Judith Stone

I am a Jew. I was a participant in the Rally for the Right of Return to Palestine. It was the right thing to do.

I've heard about the European holocaust against the Jews since I was a small child. I've visited the memorials in Washington, DC and Jerusalem dedicated to Jewish lives lost and I've cried at the recognition to what level of atrocity mankind is capable of sinking.

Where are the Jews of conscience? No righteous malice can be held against the survivors of Hitler's holocaust. These fragments of humanity were in no position to make choices beyond that of personal survival. We must not forget that being a survivor or a co-religionist of the victims of the European Holocaust does not grant dispensation from abiding by the rules of humanity.

"Never again" as a motto, rings hollow when it means "never again to us alone." My generation was raised being led to believe that the biblical land was a vast desert inhabited by a handful of impoverished Palestinians living with their camels and eking out a living in the sand. The arrival of the Jews was touted as a tremendous benefit to these desert dwellers. Golda Meir even assured us that there "is no Palestinian problem".

We know now this picture wasn't as it was painted. Palestine was a land filled with people who called it home. There were thriving towns and villages, schools and hospitals. There were Jews, Christians and Muslims.

In fact, prior to the occupation, Jews represented a mere seven per cent of the population and owned three per cent of the land.

Taking the blinders off for a moment, I see a second atrocity perpetuated by the very people who should be exquisitely sensitive to the suffering of others. These people knew what it felt like to be ordered out of your home at gun point and forced to march into the night to unknown destinations or face execution on the spot. The people who displaced the Palestinians knew first hand what it means to watch your home in flames, to surrender everything dear to your heart at a moment's notice. Bulldozers levelled hundreds of villages, along with the remains of the village inhabitants, the old and the young. This was nothing new to the world.

Poland is a vast graveyard of the Jews of Europe. Israel is the final resting place of the massacred Palestinian people. A short distance from the memorial to the Jewish children lost to the holocaust in Europe there is a levelled parking lot. Under this parking lot is what's left of a once flourishing village and the bodies of men, women and children whose only crime was taking up needed space and not leaving graciously. This particular burial marker reads: "Public Parking".

I've talked with Palestinians. I have yet to meet a Palestinian who hasn't lost a member of their family to the Israeli Shoah, nor a Palestinian who cannot name a relative or friend languishing under inhumane conditions in an Israeli prison. Time and time again, Israel is cited for human rights violations to no avail. On a recent trip to Israel, I visited the refugee camps inhabited by a people who have waited 52 years in these 'temporary' camps to go home. Every Palestinian grandparent can tell you the name of their village, their street, and where the olive trees were planted. Their grandchildren may never have been home, but they can tell you where their great-grandfather lies buried and where the village well stood. The press has fostered the portrait of the Palestinian terrorist. But the victims who rose up against human indignity in the Warsaw Ghetto are called heroes. Those who lost their lives are called martyrs. The Palestinian who tosses a rock in desperation is a terrorist.

Two years ago I drove through Palestine and watched intricate sprinkler systems watering lush green lawns of Zionist settlers in their new condominium complexes, surrounded by armed guards and barbed wire in the midst of a Palestinian community where there was not adequate water to drink and the surrounding fields were sandy and dry. University professor Moshe Zimmerman reported in the Jerusalem Post (30 April, 1995), "The [Jewish] children of Hebron are just like Hitler's youth."

We Jews are suing for restitution, lost wages, compensation for homes, land, slave labour and back wages in Europe. Am I a traitor of a Jew for supporting the right of return of the Palestinian refugees to their birthplace and compensation for what was taken that cannot be returned?

The Jewish dead cannot be brought back to life and neither can the Palestinian massacred be resurrected. David Ben Gurion said, "Let us not ignore the truth among ourselves...politically, we are the aggressors and they defend themselves...The country is theirs, because they inhabit it, whereas we want to come here and settle down, and in their view we want to take away from them their country...".

Palestine is a land that has been occupied and emptied of its people. Its cultural and physical landmarkshave been obliterated and replaced by tidy Hebrew signs. The history of a people was the first thing eradicated by the occupiers. The history of the indigenous people has been all but eradicated as though they never existed. And all this has been hailed by the world as a miraculous act of God. We must recognise that Israel's existence is not even a question of legality so much as it is an illegal fait accompli realised through the use of force while supported by the Western powers. The UN missions directed at Israel in attempting to correct its violations of have thus far been futile.

In Hertzl's 'The Jewish State' the father of Zionism said: "We must investigate and take possession of the new Jewish country by means of every modern expedient." I guess I agree with Ehud Barak (3 June 1998) when he said: "If I were a Palestinian, I'd also join a terror group." I'd go a step further perhaps. Rather than throwing little stones in desperation, I'd hurtle a boulder.

Hopefully, somewhere deep inside, every Jew of conscience knows that this was no war; that this was not G-d's restitution of the holy land to it's rightful owners. We know that a human atrocity was and continues to be perpetuated against an innocent people who couldn't come up with the arms and money to defend themselves against the western powers bent upon their demise as a people.

We cannot continue to say: "But what were we to do?" Zionism is not synonymous with Judaism. I wholly support the rally of the right of return of the Palestinian people here.

onsdag 14 januari 2009

Promoting social mobility - more hot air

So the government is trying to promote social mobility again. Never mind that the number of unemployed graduates is at record levels. Just a few observations

Many of the seafront cleaners in Brighton are highly qualified graduates. They do the job out of preference, rather than sit in a office doing some well paid though pointless and ultimately unproductive job with someone breathing down their neck. What is this telling us?

Many working class children do not want to work at school. Those that do are marginalised by their peers. The way to be admired is to muck about in class. I have seen this as a pupil, as a teacher and with colleagues who had wasted their educational opportunities, such as they were. It is a long tradition. At one time, classes were streamed so that children who do not want to waste their time in class could be put together and they would learn. Now we have mixed-ability classes, everyone's opportunities are lost. Which has widened the social divide as one can not get a good education unless one pays for it, either by moving into an area with a middle class catchment or going private.

The underlying cause of social division is land ownership. There are those who do and those who do not. The latter must work for wages and pay rent to the former. Long term it is soluble, through the collection of the rental value of land, in replacement of other punitive taxes. Only then will there be genuine equality of opportunity. Otherwise future generations will be condemned to the same wage slavery as has been most people's lot since the beginning of the industrial revolution. But once this reform has been implemented, the hopelessness of most people's situation will be a thing of the past and everyone will be in a position to do the best for their children, without recourse to what the state grudgingly, expensively and incompetently provides.

Scandinavia is sometimes mentioned as an exemplar. I wish people would not do that. It is another planet. But long ago, in Sweden at least, the king took back the nobility's land and just left them with their titles.

fredag 9 januari 2009

What we should we do about Gaza?

The Palestinian cause gets lots of support from well-meaning people in the west, who stand outside shops like Marks and Spencer and ask customers to boycott Israeli goods. The intensity of anti-Israel protest has naturally stepped up in reaction the Israeli action in Gaza in response to the ongoing rocket attacks.

At its inception in 1948 Israel was about one third of its present size and was immediately attacked by Transjordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Syria - ie all its neighbours. Their aim was to get rid of Israel entirely. Holocaust phase II, it would have been. They very nearly succeeded and from the point of view of the Arabs and their sympathisers, the fact that they did not is regrettable. But one result was that Israel ended up bigger than it would otherwise have been and this was the beginning of the Palestinian refugee problem, which remains to this day as other wealthy Arab countries have barely lifted a finger to help. At the same time Jews from Arab countries migrated in large numbers to Israel to get away from centuries of oppression (dhimmitude). So there was in fact an exchange of population.

The Israeli government at the time was left wing and socialist and desperate for co-existence. But none of the Arabs would sit down in the same room and negotiate and there were repeated and sporadic attacks. Then came the 1956 war, with Franco-British collusion, after which Israel was returned to its 1949 armistice line borders and a United Nations force put into Gaza. In 1967, Egypt conducted a military build up in Gaza and the UN force was asked to leave, preparatory to an invasion of Israel. This led to what was probably a pre-emptive strike, but Jordan and Syria joined in and the result was that Israel ended up in occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and the Golan Heights., as well as a tract of Egypt extending to Sharm-el-Sheik.

This military success was unexpected from the Israeli point of view and they promptly tried to get rid of these territories, but although the Israelis were anxious to negotiate, nobody on the Arab side would sit down and talk, but adopted terrorist tactics instead. This was the period of Golda Meir and the aircraft hijackings, at the start of the career of Yasser Arafat.Then came the 1973 war with Egypt, followed by the peace treaty with Egypt, initiated by Anwar Sadat after the death of Nasser. Sharm-el-Sheik was returned to Egypt and Sadat then got assassinated for his peace efforts. By this time the liberal socialist era of Israeli politics was no more. The Palestinians had missed the boat. The Israelis remained in the territories they had occupied and Jewish settlers, many of them immigrants from the US, began to move in, especially around Hebron and Jerusalem. The mood amongst Israelis hardened, in part because of the growing influence of Jews whose origins were in Arab countries. The nationalist Likud and religious parties now came to dominate the Israeli political scene.

Which brings us to the present day. The Israelis eventually withdrew from Gaza and the West Bank, retaining only East Jerusalem. The West Bank elected a Fatah leadership, by now reconciled to the continued existence of Israel. But the inhabitants of Gaza voted for Hamas, an organisation that expressly denies Israel's right to exist at all. They knew what they were doing when they cast their votes. In other words, they would like Israel to vanish into thin air. Had they the power to make this happen, they undoubtedly would. It would be a re-run of the Constantinople massacre of 1453, and nobody would come to the aid of the Israelis until it was too late for anything but expressions of regret.

The fate of Israel if it ever lost a war

Fortunately the Arabs lack military power and have had to confine their efforts to firing short range rockets into the towns of Southern Israel. Although these rarely do serious damage, they have nuisance value and constantly disrupt daily life. Unsurprisingly the Israelis would like this to stop, and when a temporary ceasefire came to an end in December, the firing of rockets resumed. This is the reason for the heavy Israeli response, which is widely regarded as disproportionate.

Personally, I would not want to venture an opinion on this, but arguably, Hamas brought this disaster on themselves and their people by not extending the cease fire. If a French government did nothing but give tacit support to groups of irregulars who lobbed rockets across the English Channel towards the south coast towns, it would not be long before there was a demand to use the RAF to do something.

Of course the sooner a lasting cease-fire can be negotiated, the better. But in this situation, there is little reason to give support to either side in the conflict, which in any case is insoluble. Perhaps if this was openly recognised, means might be found so that people could live with their differences in a less lethal manner.

Or should the Israelis just leave? Many individuals have been doing just that. These are mostly the less bellicose of the population, which means that through the operation of natural selection, the Israelis will become increasingly warlike as time goes on. There is indeed a a genuine argument against Israel's existence is that the land was taken by force and they ought to give it back to the previous occupants. But most of the land included in the original United Nations award of 1947 had been purchased by Jews from Arab landowners, and if one accepts that people have a right to buy and sell land, then those people and their descendants have a right to be there. And it is also the case that the areas of land subsequently occupied by Israel had fallen into their hands as a result of wars that the Israelis had not wanted to fight.

But if one accepts the argument land should be returned, where does this stop? The Arabs themselves came into the area by conquest from the Byzantines,beginning a process of decline which culminated in to the foundation of the Ottoman empire from the early middle ages onwards. The latter conquest eventually extended to Hungary and was reversed only in 1683 at the gates of Vienna. Should Turkey return Constantinople to Greece? It was, after all, bombarded by the Turks and the inhabitants massacred in 1453 so this is arguably as unjust an occupation as Israel’s. In more recent times there have been the annexation of East Prussia and Eastern Poland by Russia and the transfer of German lands to Poland. Perhaps the Israelis should offer to depart from their country on condition that the Turks hand back Constantinople? I think they would be safe to assume that the offer would never be taken up. Which demonstrates that we need to remember that we are where we are and can only start from here.

söndag 4 januari 2009

A representation of inflation

Last year's new designs of British coins are now coming into circulation. You can view them on the Royal Mint's website, The New Designs Revealed

According to the publicity, the shield of the Royal Arms has been given a contemporary treatment and its whole has been cleverly split among all six denominations from the 1p to the 50p, with the £1 coin displaying the heraldic element in its entirety.

Each of the coins has a little bit of the shield, much magnified. So it would take a huge coin to fit the whole shield on. Is this a representation of the inflation soon to come?

Ricardo’s Law in brief