Freesteel Blog » 2009 » May

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009 at 6:29 pm - - Kayak Dive, Weekends 1 Comment »

22 May 2009 – Trip out from Canty’s Cove towards Dunmanus Harbour to dive along the coast west of the Dunmanus Harbour headland.

cantyscovechange

It was one of the clearer dives we’ve done. The water is deep and the geological layers of rock are aligned vertically like slices of toast parallel to the shore. A better place would be on the back of the headland where the plates are coming out from the land. That’s for another time, if we get the chance.

I have lots of blurry pictures on the bottom of us playing at being a chain gang (Becka carrying the anchor, and me holding a loop of chain), but here is a clearer one on the trip back up to the surface keeping a close eye on the depth gauge.

beckaanchordunmanus

The dive was short because I had just heard a small-craft gale warning on the radio, and was spooked. The wind eased off soon after we surfaced.

Here is a natural arch in Dunmanus Harbour. It may be small, but it’s impressive for being made of mud.

dunmanusmudarch

We pulled up on the side and diver Becka transformed into cyclist Becka (to fetch the car) and completed her own version of the triathlon.

dunmanusbeckabike



23 May 2009 – We returned to Castle Point quay for a long day that brought us back to Schull.

Becka raced ahead to go around Duharrig where the big waves were. Then we headed downwind past numerous spikey reefs until we were wind-tunneled through the narrow channel in Goat Island.

goatislandgap

It’s an L-shaped island with a lovely natural harbour (for us) in the corner of the ‘L’ where we parked, and then walked the whole length of the land to have lunch.

goatislandside

It was one of our more remote kayak dives (going down to the east of the south tip of the island), but it was in a wind shadow and very sunny. Not great viz. We got the anchor line all tangled up as usual during the haul out.

goatislandanchortangle

This map is centred on Goat Island.


View Larger Map

The day continued with a long paddle along the south side of Long Island (which I thought was quite long), visiting some of the caves.

longislandcave

We stopped at the beacon at the east end…

longislandbeacon

… and then headed over to the east corner of Schull Harbour where I’d detected a deep water with my sonar on the first day we had gone exploring. But it was all windy and wavy and I was spooked, but Becka told me to stop being such a wimp, and it turned out to be an excellent spot.

schullstarfish2

schullfriedegg

schullstarfish

After pulling ourselves up, we headed directly into the harbour and straight to the shore in front of the house where we were staying, at Standing Stone By The Sea.



24 May 2009 – Launch from quay at Tranabo Cove, paddled all the way to the other side of Gokane Point and dived in Toehead Bay north coast just past the first cove where the depth suddenly dropped to 20m. (A friend stopped by for a couple of days and took this picture (after having had a nice paddle with Becka all morning while I slept in the sun).)

tragumna

As usual, we got into a big tangle of anchor line and chain. It was a bit silty.

Our second dive used the remainder of our tanks in the notch to the west of Drishane Point in Tragumna Bay. We discovered a wall more than 18m deep running due south out out to sea. Unfortunately I had over-compensated on the length of the anchor line and we ended up hanging off the petals of the anchor at 15m for the first half of the dive.

A blurry photo can be sharpened…

tragumnaanchor

But a very blurry photo has to be totally transformed…

enchoredge

(Mostly I was taking videos.)

Then up Barlodge Creek, through The (what) Rapids and across Lough Hyne to where our friend had moved our car.



25 May 2009 – Walk to Three Castle point, then quick rather swelly shore dive from the intimidating Dunlough Pier, and then a walk over Mizen Peak having arrived too late to visit The Mizen Head Authentic Irish Experience.

It should actually be called “Three Tower Castle”. They’re connected by a wall from the Dun Lough to the sea cliffs. They are quite striking and mysterious.

threecastles

Three Castle Head was extremely colourful in a way that couldn’t be captured on my camera.

On the other hand, I tried quite hard to capture the tasteless colours of these jewel anemones.

jewelanemonedun

Best to end with a nice view from above Mizen Head looking north across Bantry Bay, explaining why I didn’t want to risk putting the kayaks out at Dunlough Pier where we may have been tempted to go for a wander up this fine coastline which is better seen than felt.

mizenlooknorth

Friday, May 22nd, 2009 at 12:13 am - - Kayak Dive

Quite tired in the evenings, not surprisingly. Here’s a few views from the last three days as the weather here in Ireland got better. Consequently we had to paddle further “to make the most of it”.

Here’s an exciting blowhole at the bottom of a tall cliff…

blowhole

…which is centred just about here…


View Larger Map

…in middle of absolutely nowhere.

They call this area — Mizen Head — the Land’s End of Ireland. But it is nothing of the sort. Land’s End is heaving with tourists on every cliff and footpath. There is nobody anywhere here, on the footpaths or on the water. So it’s a bit intimidating.

We didn’t dive there, even though it was sheltered. We dived back in Canty’s Cove where it shallow and friendly and pretty:

snakelock

Then on the next day we investigated Kedge Island from Trafraska and very rapidly ditched the idea of diving the Alondra once we saw the swell and the exposure. Things look so much easier on the map. Here’s us heading through Kedge Island sound towards home.

kedge

We paddled back to Trafraska for lunch, and headed around the headland into Baltimore for air fills and a new pressure gauge to replace Becka’s leaky one.

This is the beacon on the headland with lots of scaffolding and men working on it. Not sure what they could possibly be doing as these things generally are low maintenance.

baltimorebeacon

As this was obviously too slack for Becka (only 2 hours paddling), today had to be a big day, starting out of the Galley Cove on the left, ignoring the first island and diving to the NE of the second island on the right, Carrigadeavaun, along the cliffs:


View Larger Map

There was a bit of a wind-tunnel effect in the channel, and scary waves on the seaward side from it, but we managed to find a dead space to kit up in. I put out 30m of anchor line and it was still near vertical and taut. We went down to find it had fallen through a gap in the rocks at 26m necessitating a bit of fiddling to get it out. So there was quite a surprisingly substantial drop-off that made it feel alarmingly like a proper boat dive. It’s places like these you use guidebooks to find.

Unfortunately, my camera box kept steaming up, so I didn’t take any snaps. Also, Becka lost the big torch somehow. (My fault of course — the clip wasn’t any good.) Here’s a pic of when we went through the big arch at Streek Head (facing NE).

crookheadland

It’s all a great place to kayak, but sea kayakers in Ireland don’t seem to write up their trips and post them on the web. There was a wind and a current going through it, but no waves. I paddled back to the start and dived through along the bottom, which was very pretty as there were jewel anemones in only 3 metres of water under the arch. Here’s the unedited 3 minute dive from start to finish:

Then we headed over to Spanish Point, had lunch slightly out of the wind and realized that neither of us had brought any water. Luckily Becka had packed cucumbers and sliced beetroot sandwiches as well as two juicy carrots.

Next stop was Amsterdam Reef, which didn’t take long to get to as we were going down-wind. I didn’t think much of the exposure of the site. If I have to abandon ship (or more likely the ship abandons me) I want to feel like I can swim for real land I can walk home on, not some isolated pinnacle. So we went instead to Ballyrisode Point and tucked round the east side of it, still in the wind. It was kind of silty, but there were fish and it was suitably deep, and we came up with the anchor after not very long.

amsterdamreef

(The blue and white flag is my own little diver’s A-flag, not that there’s anyone around to notice it.)

Following this, we let the wind (which was picking up) blow us past Dick’s Island to Castle Point and scrapped the planned third dive owing to being too cold and blown about.

We parked up in the quay:

arrivalcastle

Becka got on the bike that we had sensibly left there on the drive over, and headed back to the car into the wind. It took quite a while. I’d packed everything up, jumped off the pier several times, snorkeled around for at least half an hour, tried to pick up a spider crab, got my finger nipped, and then lay on my back the rest of the time.

Here’s the view from the quay looking back to Streek Head.

arrivalcastleview

Monday, May 18th, 2009 at 10:51 pm - - Kayak Dive

We’ve washed up in Schull for a couple of weeks. The accommodation is cheap, but the food is expensive. Haven’t found out the price of air yet.

Quick trip out directly from the back step of the flat across the harbour gave this view back to town.

dscf0668

Then we got into the strong westerlies. Today we went to the north side of the peninsula and paddled out of some cove until we got scared of the strong westerlies on that side too, but the water was clearer and this time we decided to dive. The camera ran out of batteries, but I got this picture of a big flat-fish which we chased across the sea bed.

dscf0708

There were lots of colours around and also a secret waterfall. No doubt with more strong westerlies blowing in, we’ll return to same place again, and I’ll get some pictures.

We also wound up on the last day of the Fastnet Short Film Festival, and went to the last event, which was hugely crowded and involved giving a lot of awards to the winners for best films — none of which we had seen. We clapped along anyway.

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009 at 6:21 pm - - Kayak Dive, Weekends, Whipping

Some bloggage is occuring over on the straight choice (mostly by copying old Chris Lightfoot posts), so here’s some pictures, some of which belong in the last week’s post, but I didn’t get there in time.

Jack Thurston hunts for some wifi out on the balcony

Jack Thurston hunts for some wifi out on the balcony

I work for food.  In this case it's a stuffed artechoke

I work for food. In this case it's a stuffed artechoke

The hotel rooms were quite nice too, though for me a sofa is usually adequate.

The hotel room was quite nice too, though for me a sofa is usually adequate.

This is the Farm Subsidy press conference.  Yes we are all staring at a URL on the screen.

This is the Farm Subsidy press conference. Yes we are all staring at a URL on the screen.

Here's the money room for that First European SME week.  It would have made more sense had we been dressed as goldfish.

Here's the money room for that First European SME week with a man looking like he's just been pick-pocketed in Brussels-Midi

When I got home I had to fetch some free wood.

Meanwhile back home I had to fetch some big pieces of free wood.

Then spend three days cycling in this sort of weather on these sorts of roads in Wales merely for exercise.

Then spend three days cycling in this sort of weather on these sorts of roads for exercise.

Through these sorts of towns (Llangranog) -- note the shape of the back garden.

...through these sorts of towns (Llangranog) -- note the shape of the back garden.

Before we could think about going out on the kayaks and shitting myself on the giant waves round the top of Cardigan Island.

...before I could even think about going out on the kayaks and shitting myself on the big waves round the top of Cardigan Island.

I’d forgotten to pack the paddles (very embarrassing). Luckily we could hire some from a shop in New Quay. The person at the local diving business there, SeaMor, told us of the local diving spots (which she will hopefully put up on her website at some point). Unfortunately, with all the wind and waves, the viz was too bad to make it worth it. We also missed seeing any dolphins. We’ll be back at sometime.

In the meantime, there’s our trip to Ireland next week to prepare for. We’ve got wifi in the flat and will be taking only one bicycle. This means when the weather is too windy and the sea is too scary, Becka can go out and exercise on her own and leave me to my own devices.

Monday, May 11th, 2009 at 11:37 pm - - Whipping 5 Comments »

We both exist to promote a new culture of informed political interest and responsibility – paving the way for increased enthusiastic public participation. — an infuriating email response from VoteMatch

This is a story about VoteMatch and VoteWatch, both launched onto the unsuspecting public today 11 May 2009, backed by two different wholly unethical global PR firms (both owned by the same Wire and Plastic Products group), and coded by two entirely different European NGOs — both called IPP.

This is all very confusing, so it’s likely I have some facts wrong. I am, after all, just a blogger, and no one’s going to read post this except for historical interest.

These two projects are not to be confused with VoteWise, a well-meaning website by two citizens who don’t yet believe that the system wants to be broken, or EUprofiler, a rival vote matching site that comes out of a different part of the Netherlands whose shallow information services I discussed during the Israeli election.

There is a dire need for effective information architecture to connect citizens (particularly those who vote) to the decision-making processes in Government so that opinions are not entirely mediated by an unreliable press who often cooperate (and hide) well-managed and unethical PR compaigns.

The usual suspects, including myself and other mySociety affiliates, have been building such information systems (and solving the deep technical problems) with little or no financial, institutional or publicity-related backing for over five years now. It’s tiring and frustrating.

In a functioning democracy help would have come from one of the following sources to either substantially support the work, or consult, engage and seek endorsement for carrying the project forwards. Unfortunately, every avenue has failed:

  • government institutions – usually responsible for publishing the data in an obfuscated form in the first place at great expense using inappropriate technologies and not seeming to care about the inadequacy. Refer to the FarmSubsidy.org stories from last week to realize this prerogative.
  • philanthropic foundations – very stingy when it comes to web technology, and tend to heavily favour those with the skills and connections to fill in good grant applications, but can’t code, while ignoring those who can code but cannot work their tortuous grant processes. They need to either hire head-hunters, or insist that their lazy beneficiaries collaborate with those who align with the objective but can’t buck the system.
  • universities – now virtually devoid of any public interest ethos, staffed by ambitious academics who wouldn’t give the time of day to anyone who isn’t one of their paying students. These staff are often very keen on writing dead tree books, and would like those who advocate for dynamic web-systems for presenting same data to piss off and die — or simply buy their book and shut up.
  • the press – incompetent, disinterested, and prone to blowing all their money and enthusiasm on stupid football porn, and blowing people like us off repeatedly to the point where we’re not going to bother with them any more.
  • celebrity endorsements – PR firms know this works, which is why they pay them to endorse products and front their launch events. Just one loud-mouth with a column in a daily paper could, for example, tell our story, raise our profile and make it cool enough to increase our success rates with the above institutions, but you didn’t did you, Mr. Doctorow.

So the field of internet-informed democracy remains wide open for some dangerously evil PR firm to move in and wreak serious and sustained damage to the information systems.

VoteMatch

The PublicWhip team email was sent the following press release on 28 April 2009 from an over-funded organization I know nothing about called UnlockDemocracy:

This year, we have worked with WPP, Hill & Knowlton and Apple to create an application that will look and feel very smart and very share-able.

Our launch is of course a chance to be one of the first to play with Vote Match (and check that you really do work for the right party.) but it is also our chance to open an engaged energetic conversation on how modern politics can use modern communications technology to engage new audiences.

We expect high press coverage – and would welcome your involvement.

It promised to be a really interesting group of people – with representatives from the Taxi Drivers Association through to party politicians and new media companies like facebook and spotify. I hope it will be excellent opportunity for you to find out more about the application, represent your users among the invited audience – and gain momentum from our publicity.

The launch is 6pm Monday May 11th – at the very sleek Apple Store on Regents Street. I really look forward to hearing whether you’ll be able to join us.

The launch was fronted by Stephen Fry (a celebrity who twittered the wrong URL), and seems exactly the same as the the 2008 votematch for the London Mayoral elections: some kind of StemWijzer voting indication tool “pioneered by the Dutch Centre for Political Participation (IPP)” that’s over five years old.

The current website is a bit broken. It also links to the very similar votematch.eu site with a different set of questions. I have no idea what could be going on here.

This site, and many like it, has no objective, no educational value, no links (for example) to the official party web-pages, no connection to the political infrastructure, no stimulation of debate, and shows no evidence of development and evolution towards achieving a result. It’s a thorough waste of time.

Hill&Knowlton, famous for the massive deception of the US Congress and the public with the Nurse Nayirah case (for which it has never been prosecuted), are presently incompetent in this area, but it’s no surprise:

hillkdemoc

In the meantime they’re not a threat; they’re too unimaginative and without any vision.

On the other hand …

VoteWatch

I saw and heard of VoteWatch for the first time last week during the FarmSubsidy Open Data Summit when Sara Hagermann came into the room and demonstrated it.

From what I can gather, this seems to have been coded during the past year by the Institute for Public Policy (IPP), a Romanian NGO.that has nothing to do with the Instituut voor Publiek en Politiek (IPP) in the Netherlands, and it’s a major piece of work.

In a letter she wrote last December, she explained:

Our VoteWatchEU project will provide updated information on all 785 MEPs’ voting records, presenting details on how they have voted within various policy areas…

All of this happens on the basis of a multi-sponsor approach, whereby a network of interests and expertise provide the necessary professional input to develop a highly sophisticated website and related activities….

It is by giving the citizens a choice between representatives of different political platforms that interest can be generated in any political system.

The other co-founder of VoteWatchEU is Professor Simon Hix, who works in the London School of Economics and has been palling around with Hell’s Public Relations firm Burson-Masteller since at least 2004.

Clearly, it’s wealthy benefactors like this which these university fellows turned to in order put their expertise towards refloating an earlier IPP (Romania) EU Vote Watch project that had closed due to lack of funds when none of the aforementioned legitimate institutions (government agencies, educational establishments, philanthropists, celebrity publicists, or the press) had taken an interest.

The other two benefactors of the project are ElectionMap.com, a flashy full spectrum political campaign managing software system, and Open Society Institute. George Soros’s fund (about which I know nothing).

Francis reports meeting with Professor Hix in 2004 to talk about the cluster maps on Public Whip, but nothing since then. There are a lot of good new ideas for finding, visualizing and analysing voting data that we’ve come up with in the last five years, so it’s a shame he never had any time to talk to us and pick them up and do something better than produce lots of huge tables of numbers no one knows how to read.

But anyway, the designs will get better with sufficient funding and work and humility.

What won’t get better is the damage that can be caused by the involvement of a PR firm with a long history manipulating public opinion so that it acts against its own interests by using fake front groups and illegitimate access to the press. Such a business shouldn’t be allowed within a million miles of this project. They will turn the on-line situation to one that is as screwed as American TV network news for informing the public.

Here’s a statement from the CEO in 2003:

Question: There is much talk about integrated communication PR/PA. Is this the latest hype or a sustainable trend? Will it have an impact on the consulting industry structure?

Jeremy Galbraith, CEO, Burson-Marsteller Brussels: We have been doing this for years – probably since we arrived in Brussels in 1965. It is obvious that there are numerous communications tools that can be used to influence the public policy debate. Direct lobbying is one way but so is getting the FT – or even EurActiv – to write about a particular issue. Mobilising third parties to take a case to politicians or officials is core to much of what we do at Burson-Marsteller and can be so much more effective than direct lobbying. Internet campaigning is increasingly important as a mechanism for influencing debates.

So that clearifies their available tactics.

Just imagine what’s going to happen.

All the academics and politicians are going to be happy that the private sector has funded this piece of poilitical infrastructure, and maybe it’ll even be unbiased and trustworthy. But there’s power there that goes beyond simply having this tool acting as a beacon of prestige.

Let me explain.

In the time we’ve run PublicWhip (our similar site) we’ve used it to host campaigns against the European software patent directive (an existential threat to the free software we depend on), the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (which would have made Parliamentary voting pretty irrelevant and was intended to ease the passage of wonderful things like further financial deregulation), and the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill — about whose purpose and voting procedures MPs were lying about (and we now know why).

I’ve also used it to test for feedback when delivering leaflets that had a unique webaddress on them to determin the result.

Polling and feedback are essential for PR operatives to guide their microsurgical instruments of social engineering and rumour-mongering into the body politic. Like any surgeon, they need to see what they are doing. Can you imagine how valuable this information is: the precise timing and referrers of the thousands of hits on the Gurkha settlement rights Parliamentary vote page, for example, which they could synchronize precisely with known PR actions in order to determine which ones are uniquely effective? (Hint: It’s the celebrity endorsement.)

We won’t stand a chance. Just as we don’t stand a chance against the network news when it is determined to lie.

We’ll continue to be screwed on so many levels, from unnecessary poisoning by bromine products and killer medical implants, to war and existential threats to the species.

This business has proven to have no scruples, no morals, no ethics and no limits. They do not care how many people die as a result of their work. They do it for money; the kind of money you can’t afford unless you get a serious return on investment at a level that rarely occurs on the side of justice.

In ten or twenty years time, when this whole political internet thing is sorted out, and they are systematically misusing the power at the crux of the citizen-governance information systems to be more evil than even I can imagine, there will no doubt be philanthropic donations to academics and investigative reporters for looking into the resulting democratic crisis in a manner that in no way reflects on their institutions’ failure to occupy this space with something more legitimate, when they had the chance, when it was still vacant.

And, in the meantime, politicians will be able to dismiss any and all political pressures from the public that in any way appear to be informed on the details as just some fixed up behind-the-scenes PR campaign — even when it is not — except in the case of conveniently selected issues where friends employed by one of these firms has asked them to choose not to ignore it.

The internet still has made no improvement to democratic politics — a field of human endeavour that is all about knowledge and conflicting views of reality usually based on false information. When is someone with influence going to realize that this is outrageous? It cannot go on.

Friday, May 8th, 2009 at 1:15 am - - Whipping 3 Comments »

I’ve just got back from a 3 day junket in Brussels curtesy of the Hewlett Foundation [Corks! do they have that much money? I better claim for that sandwich I had on the train] organized by Jack Thurston.

As well as the usual long-haired suspects from Britain, there were some computer-assisted journalists, mainly from Denmark, who use this very expensive (they wouldn’t tell me how much) java-based UI-driven web-scraping program called kapow that can’t possibly be versatile enough to do anything much, but supposedly is. (I have to get to grips with the free version at some point to see how.)

The main deal behind this meeting was to support farmsubsidy.org with data that had just been published and was linkable from 27 different websites in 27 different (often very bad) forms.

The work got shared out. Some of us got to grips with interesting webscraping through broken interfaces. And for me, one of the Danes offered the Hungarian data for 2007-10-16 to 2008-10-15 which, for no apparent reason, had been released as a single 13756 page 46Mb PDF file.

Using my technology and skills from hacking the PDF files of the Security Council and General Assembly for undemocracy.com [note: no generous grants whatsoever here, you miserable unimaginative funds], I had a look at it and thought it was doable. Not that my Hungarian is any good. On-line translation webpages were able to deal with the handful of words that I needed.

I got stuck in. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to get it done in time for the press conference this afternoon called who wants to be a CAP Euro-millionaire?, but I finished it off on the train home to Liverpool.

My very clean data is here in comma separated form. Please contact me if you need any amendments to the format. They’re easy to do right now. The details are as follows:

Each farm is written on several lines representing multple payments from both national and EU funds, as well as an overall value (which is the sum of both).

The entries in each row are:

  • page-block – For use as a database-id which can be referred back to the original document by page number, and block number counting from 0 from the start of the page. The first (zeroth) block on a page is missing if it was a continuation of the last block on the previous page.
  • address – Left blank for repeat references to the same farm (where the page-block is the same). The first entry is always the overall sum (for verification).
  • ogcim – Meaning not known. Sometimes contains word “support” or “national”. It is blank for the overall sum case.
  • fund – This is always “EMGA (NVT)”, “EMGA”, “EMVA” or “national”. I don’t know the meanings.
  • source – This is either “overall” (the sum), “EU” or “national”.
  • amount – in (Ft). Sometimes this is negative.

The data I have produced is very clean (correcting difficulties on page 118 and page 8963) and all numbers (the “overall” figures) agreeing everywhere.

Here is the example for one farm (on four lines). The first line is the overall sum. It’s the first record on page 4515 of the PDF:

04515-00,Hortobágyi Természetvédelmi Közalap. 4063 Nagymacs Kastélykert utca 41/B,,,overall,5981187
04515-00,,Területalapú támogatás,EMGA,EU,3972963
04515-00,,EMVA – Kedvezőtlen adottságú területek,EMVA,EU,1606579
04515-00,,EMVA – Kedvezőtlen adottságú területek,EMVA,national,401645

The addresses are not clean (but there are no repeats) owing to my having no idea what a Hungarian address is supposed to look like. I’ll leave it to some Hungarian coder who knows Hungarian to work out how to match it against some phone-book location database and take this data further.

The total EU payments is 204,437,241,549 Ft. (There are 295 forints to the euro.) The total national payments is 104,134,982,548 Ft. In the list are 203,975 farms of which 29 have a zero subsidy and 236 have a negative subsidy.

The top 5 farms (and their funding) are 07518-02 (2,318,593,508), 01389-02 (1,392,871,559), 02734-01 (977,350,267), 04515-01 (906,917,938), so that’s a few more CAP millionaire there.

The most negatively funded farm is 09237-04 (-5,820,172).

todo: upload the 380 line python program here.

During the press conference, some farm lobbyist made a good show of trying to excuse Germany’s lack of publication (it’s complicated, there are legal issues with the constitution) but the representative of the Commission corrected him (“it’s very simple: they agreed to publish it by last week — and they didn’t”).

After the press conference, I spoke to a Hungarian reporter who said how they had cut-and-paste and reformatted by hand the first few pages of the document and calculated they could do it all in 11 hours (plus major RSI to the wrist and the brain).

One of the Danes also kept wanting to know how I made any money. The answer is, I don’t. But that’s not an excuse. Not when across the road from the Commission a huge system of marquees had been set up in honour of the first European SME week whose contents made absolutely no sense whatsoever.

What can you do in a world where there’s loads of money available to create rubbish, but no one wants to pay to clean it up?

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009 at 10:31 pm - - Cory Doctorow, Whipping 3 Comments »

Several days ago I woke up with an awful hangover from ranting all night in the pub atwith Francis, a founder of Serious Change, some kind of campaign action group attempting to get the government and the public to take serious action about converting to a low-carbon economy without mentioning “climate change”, which they have deemed as a green lefty political turn-off.

The theory goes that because the issue gets pigeonholed by people as some sort of hippy-eyed woolly-left-wing radical idea, they then ignore it. So if you try and press the idea of the need for a low-carbon economy from within some other harder category (eg national security), then it might get taken seriously, and may even be adopted by right wing groups who get a lot of media coverage, like The Taxpayers Alliance — whom I think are just there to echo-chamber the extremist views of the newspaper proprietors whose media outlets cite them and lie about their credibility.

Now, I think I remember saying that I thought he had this whole thing backwards. The media and the public don’t categorize the existential threat of climate change as an environmental issue, and then ignore it. What they do is first choose to ignore it, and then categorize it as an environmental issue.

Consequently, it makes no odds what people or politicians say they categorize it as. You can bust your ass getting it out of that category, and they’ll put it into another one equally false and equally ignorable. This happens with all political issues, from financial policy to the procurement of weapons systems for so-called defence. It’s called lying. It sends you away on a wild goose chase for a while so you stop bothering them. Don’t fall for it.

The real way to win a political debate is to split the opposition — which is best done by dividing those who occasionally think from those who are idiots and can’t. In other words, cause them to argue with each other.

I suggested taking on the car drivers.

No. Don’t do that. We don’t want to offend them. Everyone loves their cars. We need them on our side. We won’t get anywhere if we attack them.

Listen, I said, you know all those rows of streetlights on the motorways and places where no pedestrian can walk? Well I want every last one of them off. They burn a huge amount of energy and they do absolutely nothing useful because all cars already have frigging headlights, don’t they?

But they’re good for driving at night when you’re tired, they’re not so hard on your eyes, etc.

Exactly!

Why do we put up with pandering to the comfort of car drivers all the time? Why do only they count? You’ve got David MacKay’s Without Hot Air publication. In the future there will be no streetlights on highways at all. You know that. I know that. And this is something we can do today without any added infrastructure, because all cars have headlights!

I want you to calculate how much energy will be saved by doing this immediately.

And for the rest of the streetlights where people walk about, you can put in this Dial4Light scheme. Here’s the Daily Mail report on this story:

In Britain the Highway Agency has already warned it is researching the safest areas to implement a nighttime black-out which will be launched next year as part of an energy efficiency strategy.

Local authorities including West Sussex, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Essex and Powys are also bringing in similar initiatives – despite motoring groups warning of an increased risk of accidents.

Regarding the motorway lights, it seems I am already behind the times:

That Times article says:

Lighting will be turned off late at night on hundreds of miles of motorway despite an admission from the Highways Agency that a small increase in crashes is the likely result.

The measure is being introduced primarily to reduce carbon emissions but it will also save the agency several million pounds a year in electricity costs…

The agency has reassessed the benefits of motorway lighting and found that they were exaggerated. Research 20 years ago calculated that lighting cut crashes by 30 per cent, but the revised estimate argues a 10 per cent reduction.

Convinced yet that this is an issue that can be used to split car-driving-should-be-as-comfortable-and-safe-as-possible-above-all-else lobby?

No point in me putting this idea in a long rambley email which will get ignored, when it can go on a blog for future reference after it gets ignored.

You’re going to have to get all the figures. The only legitimate case people can make against switching off all streetlights that are beneficial only to headlamp wielding cars is the quantifiable increase in safety case. [Get hold of that Highways Agency reassessment and use it]

Fine, you say. If you want to use safety as an argument, and you’re happy with it as it is now, we’ll balance out the extra danger by a reduction in the speed limit to 55 miles per hour on all highways where streetlights have been turned off.

How would you like that!

Get the speed limit reduction safety trade-off numbers from the Highways Agency and use them to split the car driving lobby from their plain and simple love of driving their cars fast and in comfort at all times of the day and night. I guarantee they will shut up about this minuscule crash accident rate increase when faced with a trade-off against their precious danger-inducing speed.

Get them arguing too much about safety and danger on the roads, and the speed limit comes down. They would be wise to keep quiet as we turn off all their unnecessary motorway lamps. Of course, many of the loud-mouth petrol-heads won’t get the message and go on about safety, while the more clever ones among them try to shut them up.

Maybe if driving was less pleasurable, smooth, quick, easy, low-risk and well-lit, fewer people would choose to drive — often to somewhere that they are only going to drive back from after a few hours — and therefore fewer people would die from driving.

Just how do they highway safety these days? Is it deaths per mile per person driven, or is it deaths per day per person, whether or not they choose to drive?

It’s lucky that health statistics work like that — number of people who die per year from smoking related deaths, as opposed to the number of deaths per cigarette smoked — or there would be no point in encouraging people to stop smoking, would there?

Oh, and Cory Doctorow, don’t think I’m off your case, now that I’ve seen you’ve reviewed David MacKay’s without hot air book. How many hundreds of thousands of air-miles did you fly last year to avoid doing book signings over the internet, then?

Friday, May 1st, 2009 at 4:31 pm - - Weekends

Yesterday night Stella and I went to rural Cheshire to shine a torch into some muddy ponds. And traps were stuck into the mud. The traps are home made from empty pop-bottles (the big plastic kind) with the top cut off, reversed and stuck back into the bottle, then speared with a little stick they got stuck into the mud along the edge of the ponds. Somehow these traps are attractive to amphibians, like newts. But be warned: You have to be licensed to use these traps: it is illegal to kill, capture or even possess a Great Crested Newt, or mess with it’s habitat. Needless to say Stella is licensed.

It was really interesting: In one pond we saw dozens of leeches moving about, probably waiting for prey. We did not try to identify them, but reminded ourselves not to forget to wear gloves when reaching into the water. Then we spotted fresh water mussels which were huge and native. Stella identified them as “Swan Mussel”.
We also saw a large bird, probably an owl, hunting in the dark near one pond. I say we, but it was really Stella who has this amazing ability to spot any wildlife, whereas I always miss it. But I heard owls calling out from the field verges.

We left the traps over night (we had set ca. 90 traps) and returned early this morning to check them and count any amphibians that got inside. These traps warm up during the day in the sunlight, and any animals trapped would die if they are not let out in time.

Only one newt was found, a more common, so called “Smooth Newt”. Newts are protected all over Europe, and “Great Crested Newt” enjoy the highest level of protection in the UK. Other animals found included a water scorpion, a few little, very frightened fish, tadpoles of frogs and toads and a few fast moving water boatmen.

No need to say this was a very welcome distraction from the usual day of working behind the computer.

Really sorry I did not take a camera.

Friday, May 1st, 2009 at 1:07 pm - - Whipping 1 Comment »

I am still doing my own public whip editing since no proper professional media organization or Parliamentary “Communications” allowance scheme seems to be buggered to pay someone with the time and expertise to do it properly.

This morning I noticed that Public Whip got a whole load of hits on the Gurkha settlement rights vote, which was the rare case of a Government defeat on a non-binding opposition day motion, so I fixed it up. Not that anyone notices. After all, no one complains when all the BBC produces to help people find out what their MP did in order to hold them to account is this stupid list.

Politics is nothing if it’s not stirring up emotive issues people don’t feel they need to know more about, and then doing stuff that may or may not have anything to do with the issue.

I watch the hits to the website, and almost none are from incoming links. A link is occasionally posted into discussion pages like 40percent.tv, planetalk, ARmy Rumour SErvice, or digitalspy, and I go and read it because I take user interface criticisms (from people who actually try to use the site, as opposed to people who glance at it and say it’s ugly) seriously. I’m looking in particular for any posts like:

oddjob: @pigwhistle I went to that link you showed me on that horrendously complicated site and I can’t seem to be able to work out which way my MP voted. Can you help?

There aren’t any.

Occasionally I get an incoming link from the BBC or The Independent and I get all excited. But it invariably turns out to be a link posted by someone in the comment thread of an article written by a proper reporter who just doesn’t provide the details.

Then there were a bunch of votes the following day about MPs’ expenses.

I’ve returned to this MPs’ expenses topic several times, following the MPs’ brutal attempt in 2007 to change the Freedom of Information Act and lie about the intended effect.

I went through the votes that were passed and was pretty surprised. Just last year MPs’ balked at the idea of reducing the second home allowance for outer-London MPs by 50% and having to provide receipts for expenses of less than £25, but yesterday they voted to completely abolish the second home allowance for outer-London MPs, and abolish the lower limit for evidence of claims.

But there was more.

The Parliamentary researcher allowance is to be abolished and replaced by a system of direct employment in the Houses of Parliament. So instead of getting a sum of money which you could give to your son for pretending to do something useful, the researchers will sign an employment contract with Parliament (like an company office secretary) and be paid directly.

There’s a small matter of their pension rights (they don’t get any if they are employed by the MP), but it’s an interesting idea. I don’t know if it’s good, because it puts the staff under the control of the corporation, but anyway what do I know? During the debate Derek Conway made a speech (for he should know) while the other MPs tried desperately to shut him up:

Patrick Cormack: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In view of the fact that the Member who is addressing the House accepted the punishment of the House, apologised unreservedly and paid back the money that was taken, is not this speech rather an abuse of that?

And so on.

The other thing that passed was this:

Register of Member’s interests regarding directorships and remunerated employment will require MPs to furnish the Registrar with:

  • the precise amount of each individual payment made in relation to any interest,
  • the nature of the work carried out in return for that payment,
  • the number of hours worked during the period to which the payment relates, and
  • the name and address of the person, organisation or company making the payment (except where disclosure of the information would be contrary to any legal or established professional duty of privacy or confidentiality)

This would apply to all such interests, not only those who’s value exceeds 1% of the Parliamentary salary.

This is quite extreme and, though welcome, I’d have preferred there to be a bit more deliberation over it. You can’t tell if there was any thought put into it, or if it’s something that just came up during the morning coffee. I mean, I understand that no good deed goes unpunished, but it would be nice to know who dunnit.

The Guardian story details some of the proposals that didn’t make it, like a daily allowance of the kind that is heavily abused by MEPs in Brussels, and a flat £24k hike in salary to replace the second homes allowance — in other words, just giving them the money no questions asked.

My sense is there’s a lot of panick about suddenly having to change the whole allowance system, just as it’s starting working properly — with added transparency. Once the receipts are published, what’s the problem? We’ve established that a system based on trust doesn’t work (politicians can’t be trusted), so one that is based on us seeing the claims is good. It should be tried out for a year, not scrapped just as soon as we open a window into it.

In a corrupt system, lack of transparency is the means by which they can get paid more, but we have separated the votes into two clusters. I don’t understand why Lembit Opik is against transparency and for pay raises. Perhaps he is trying to tell us something. Why would an MP draw our attention to them like this?

Ultimately, if any of this has an effect, there’s going to be a financial crisis for some of these MPs because they suddenly won’t have the income they have grown accostomed to. Poor dears, we say. Think of the crisis the rest of us are having due to your excellent administration and failed oversight of financial regulation you have been entrusted with. You don’t even know you got it wrong.

But it goes deeper than that. A lot of these MPs are going to complain that the pay sucks and that they can get a whole lot more money working elsewhere in business, and how we need to pay them closer to their market rate if we are to retain their valuable services. After all, they are the best people for the job (so they tell us), and we don’t want to lose them.

Well, actually we do. Just like all those hedge fund bankers who threaten to move to Switzerland if we tax them appropriately. How is that supposed to frighten us? Go on. Don’t let the door bump you on the way out.

Being an MP is a calling, a public service, like sitting in a jury and judging on the trial evidence. No one says we have to pay jurors a huge wages to attract the right type of talent — because the right type of talent would not be right, would it? That’s the issue.

The only reasonable target is for MPs to be paid a wage roughly equal to the people they represent, and for them to be required to live within those means (ie with no outside earnings). If the rest of us can do it, why can’t they?

Oh, and they can also try taking out one of those stupid privatized stock market pensions they decided the rest of us should “invest” in. Maybe if they did that they’d take financial stability a little more seriously.

Anyone else can just leave and go and make money in business or the banking system, law, or whatever. But they’re going to get taxed and regulated properly because there won’t be anyone in Parliament sticking up for their selfish interests.