Freesteel Blog » 2009 » February

Thursday, February 19th, 2009 at 4:31 pm - - Machining 1 Comment »

Hm. This image didn’t come out quite as badly as I would have expected. Maybe I’ll do more like this.

In the non-axial projection function for a general cutter shape, it’s necessary to find the intersection between a line and a torus — for the case of a bull-nosed cutter against one of the corners of a triangle.

As you can see, there are four points of intersection of this polynomial surface, and no symmetries to simplify it down. Therefore, you can expect to solve a quartic function.

Luckily, I added the Quick and memorable solution [of a quartic] from first principles section in Wikipedia, so I could find it when I finally needed it.

I managed to get this far without it by using offset ellipse technology which gives enough global structure to contain a robust iterative solution (you need to find a point on either side of the curve to begin the algorithm and avoid stabbing in the dark).

Without loss of generality, the torus can be placed at the origin in the XY plane. Its flat radius is f, and corner radius is c (so, csq = c*c). Consider a line that intersects the torus. Without loss of generality, we can rotate the assembly so that the line lies in a single plane parallel to the YZ plane, so its coordinates (for variable x) are

(x + s, d, x * l)

where l is the slope to the XY plane, and (s, d) is the point it intersects the XY plane.

We need to solve the equation:

(r - f)^2 + (x * l)^2 = c^2
where r = sqrt((x + s)^2 + d^2)

So, here is my [PUBLIC DOMAIN] code for doing it, within the function ToroidLineIntersect

I’ve in-lined the quartic and cubic solutions so that some of their partial calculations can be optimized.

I’ll come back to this later and find more of the bugs when we run some tests on it. It’s important to get real world values here. I don’t know if the system is going to want to put in very large values of l, for example. If this is unstable, there might be enough negotiation with the higher order algorithms to ask them to round these cases to a vertical drop-down, which will make almost no difference to the operation of those algorithms, but make a great improvement in calculation efficiency.

It’s wise to steer clear of the weak spots in the mathematics.

// trivial functions
double Square(double X) { return X*X }
double Cbrt(double X) { return (X < 0.0 ? -pow(-X, 1./3) : pow(X, 1./3)); }
#define TOL_ZERO(X)  ASSERT(fabs(X) < 0.00001)  // macro to check things are adding up correctly

// subroutine performing one iteration and commiting the value
void ToroidLineIntersectSubiter(double& x, bool& bres, double lx, double f, 
                  double dsq, double ss, double lsqp1, double lcr)
    double rfr = lx * (lx * lsqp1 + 2 * ss) + lcr; 
    if (rfr < 0.0)
    double rfrL = 2 * sqrt(dsq + Square(lx + ss)) * f; 

    // avoid doing in a loop, since one iteration is almost always enough
    double e1 = rfrL - rfr; 
    if (fabs(e1) > 1e-8)  // the iteration 
        // double der = 2 * (lx * lsqp1 + ss) - 2 f * 0.5 * (dsq + Square(lx + ss))^-0.5 * 2 (lx + ss)
        double der = 2 * (lx * lsqp1 + ss) - 4 * Square(f) * (lx + ss) / rfrL; 
        double nlx = lx + e1 / der; 

        double nrfr = nlx * (nlx * lsqp1 + 2 * ss) + lcr; 
        double nrfrL = 2 * sqrt(dsq + Square(nlx + ss)) * f; 
        double e2 = nrfrL - nrfr;
        if (fabs(e2) < fabs(e1))
            lx = nlx; 

    if (!bres || (lx > x))
        x = lx; 
        bres = true; 

// Main function
bool ToroidLineIntersect(double& x, double f, double csq, double dsq, 
                                 double ss, double l)
    // solve point p = P3(x + s, d, x * l) intersecting the torus (flat=f, corner=c) for max x
    // or: (P2(x+s,d).Len() - f)^2 + (x*l)^2 = csq

    // dsq = d*d
    // r*r = (x+s)^2 + dsq = x^2 + 2xs + s^2 + dsq
    // csq = (x*l)^2 + (r-f)^2 = x^2 * lsq + r^2 - 2rf + f^2 
    //                         = x^2(lsq + 1) + 2xs + s^2 + dsq - 2rf + f^2 
    // 2rf = x^2(lsq + 1) + 2xs + (s^2 + dsq - csq + f^2)
    double lsqp1 = Square(l) + 1.0; 
    double br = 2 * ss / lsqp1; 
    double lcr = Square(ss) + dsq - csq + Square(f); 
    double cr = lcr / lsqp1; 
    double rr = 2 * f / lsqp1; 

    // r rr = x^2 + x br + cr
    // (x^2 + 2xs + s^2 + dsq) * rr^2 = x^4 + x^3 br 2 + x^2 (br^2 + cr 2) + x (br cr 2) + cr^2
    double rrsq = Square(rr); 
    double b = br / 2; 
    double qb2 = Square(br) + 2 * cr - rrsq; 
    double qb1 = 2 * cr * br - 2 * ss * rrsq; 
    double qb0 = Square(cr) - Square(ss) * rrsq - dsq * rrsq; 

    // 0 = x^4 + x^3 4 b + x^2 qb2 + x qb1 + qb0
    // convert to a depressed quartic
    // x = u - b
    // 0 = u^4 - u^3 4 b + u^2 6 b^2  - u 4 b^3   + b^4 + 
    //           u^3 4 b - u^2 12 b^2 + u 12 b^3  - 4 b^4 +
    //                     u^2 qb2    - u 2 qb2 b + b^2 qb2
    //                                  u qb1     - b qb1
    //                                            + qb0

    double bsq = Square(b); 
    double qc = -6 * bsq + qb2; 
    double qd = 8 * b * bsq - 2 * qb2 * b + qb1; 
    double qe = -3 * Square(bsq) + bsq * qb2 - b * qb1 + qb0; 
    // 0 = u^4 + u^2 qc + u qd + qe = (u^2 + p u + q) (u^2 + r u + s) -- factored out
    // multiplying out and reducing the unknowns gives:
    //      0 = p + r,        qc = q + s + p r,    qd = p s + q r,      qe = q s
    //      qc + p^2 = s + q, qd / p = s - q,      qe = s q
    //      (qc + p^2)^2 - (qd / p)^2 = 4 qe
    // P = p^2 gives:
    // 0 = P^3 + P^2 2 qc + P (qc^2 - 4 qe) - qd^2
    double cb = 2 * qc; 
    double cc = Square(qc) - 4 * qe; 
    double cd = -Square(qd); 
    // 0 = P^3 + P^2 cb + P cc + cd

    // now solve the cubic
    double cbsq = Square(cb); 
    double ccq = (3 * cc - cbsq) / 9; 
    double ccr = (9 * cb * cc - 27 * cd - 2 * cb * cbsq) / 54; 
    double ccqcb = ccq * Square(ccq); 
    double disc = ccqcb + Square(ccr); 
    double psq; 
    if (disc >= 0.0)
        double discrt = sqrt(disc); 
        psq = Cbrt(ccr + discrt) + Cbrt(ccr - discrt) - cb / 3; 
        double crho = sqrt(-ccqcb); 
        double cthet = acos(ccr / crho); 
        psq = 2 * Cbrt(crho) * cos(cthet / 3) - cb / 3; 

    TOL_ZERO(Square(psq) * (psq + cb) + psq * cc + cd); 
    if (psq < 0.0)
        return false; 

    // 0 = u^4 + u^2 qc + u qd + qe = (u^2 + pq u + qq) (u^2 + rq u + sq) -- factored out
    double pq = sqrt(psq); 
    double rq = -pq; 
    double sq = (qc + psq + qd / pq) / 2; 
    double qq = (qc + psq - qd / pq) / 2;  

    bool bres = false; 

    // we're solving, which has been squared.  The 
    // 2rf = x^2(lsq + 1) + 2xs + (s^2 + dsq - csq + f^2)

    // solve (u^2 + rq u + sq) = 0
    double qqur = Square(rq) - 4 * sq; 
    if (qqur >= 0.0)
        double qqurs = sqrt(qqur); 
        double u1 = (-rq - qqurs) / 2; 
        TOL_ZERO(u1*u1*u1*u1 + u1*u1 * qc + u1 * qd + qe); 
        double u2 = (-rq + qqurs) / 2; 
        TOL_ZERO(u2*u2*u2*u2 + u2*u2 * qc + u2 * qd + qe); 

        ToroidLineIntersectSubiter(x, bres, u1 - b, f, dsq, ss, lsqp1, lcr); 
        ToroidLineIntersectSubiter(x, bres, u2 - b, f, dsq, ss, lsqp1, lcr); 

    // solve (u^2 + p u + q) = 0
    double qqup = Square(pq) - 4 * qq; 
    if (qqup >= 0.0)
        double qqups = sqrt(qqup); 
        double u1 = (-pq - qqups) / 2; 
        TOL_ZERO(u1*u1*u1*u1 + u1*u1 * qc + u1 * qd + qe); 
        double u2 = (-pq + qqups) / 2; 
        TOL_ZERO(u2*u2*u2*u2 + u2*u2 * qc + u2 * qd + qe); 

        ToroidLineIntersectSubiter(x, bres, u1 - b, f, dsq, ss, lsqp1, lcr); 
        ToroidLineIntersectSubiter(x, bres, u2 - b, f, dsq, ss, lsqp1, lcr); 
    return bres; // actual value is in the x

Monday, February 16th, 2009 at 11:22 am - - Weekends, Whipping 1 Comment »

I went to the Audit and Accounts Committee for Liverpool City last week as the only member of public there to witness the total lack of oversight by our esteemed councillors. I was distracted by the false conviction that Councillor Andrew Makinson was the same man as the bastard barrister Neil Cameron whom I saw perform at the Edge Lane Public Inquiry in 2008 where he acted as a human conduit for converting money into wrong decisions. (“Only doing my job mate. What I’m paid for.”) Everything follows from the decision to pour money into that immoral man’s pockets for the misuse of his intellect. Money then converts into power, and the cycle of vice in the process of our misgovernance is closed.

The councillors, seat-warmers to the last man and woman, ran through the agenda (missing out the presentation of risk management complete with 4-times tables that I was looking forward to) and brought up nothing of interest about the Accounts or Audit that wasn’t in the dossier written by the Council Officers (equivalent of the city civil service) about their own performance.

I worked through it with my head buzzing with ridiculous acronyms — BV (Best Value), PI (Performance Indicator), KLOE (Key Lines of Enquiry), UOR (Use of Resources).

Here’s their report on DQ (Data Quality) which says what BVPIs are going up or down, but doesn’t give absolute values! (Too hard for us, is it?)

What is SIIP? Stuffed if I know. Or is it “Strategic Innovation and Improvement Plan”.

I’ll give you some Strategic Innovation:

Dear Sir or Madam,

At the Audit and Accounts Committee meeting on 11 February 2009 of Liverpool City Council, the attendees were presented with the “Internal Audit Progress Report to December 2008” which said:

“The audit review of the FOI processes concluded that limited assurance could be placed on the control environment. The scope of the audit was affected due to problems encountered with Non Stop Gov software and this limited the testing which could be undertaken. A number of recommendations were made aimed at improving the training and awareness of both the designated FOI Champions and officers involved in dealing with requests.”

Please may I have copies of:

* all documents associated with this audit review of the FOI processes. In particular I would like to see details of what problems were encountered with the Non Stop Gov software and the recommendations made for improving its performance.

* records of payments made for the Non Stop Gov software and any contracts and service level agreements signed relating to the delivery of this product since it was introduced (probably in February 2007).

Further notes:

In case the Council believes it has a duty to protect narrow short-term “commercial interests” of its chosen suppliers, please understand that it is in the public interest for Councils across the country to have access to the most effective and robust computer software possible in their day-to-day administration. Experience has proven that when software issues are declared publicly they are more likely to get fixed, since it provides accurate advice to future potential customers and has the effect of
encouraging investment in software development and excellence rather than in marketing and crisis management.

That’s just FOI tracking.

I’m saving inquiries into their TRIBAL asset management software — which is such a core business of that YAFCC (Yet Another Fing Consultant Company) that it’s parked under their “education products and services section” and is probably an unbelievably trivial closed source application hyped up by some suits to the credulous council officers — about which it is reported:

Whilst recognising the positive steps being taken by the Council to improve its financial statements the Audit Commission highlighted the following areas for improvement for the 2008/09 annual accounts process:

  • That there was still further scope to improve the overall quality of working
  • That the Tribal property database was incomplete and that Officers had already identified that fixed assets were approximately overstated by £4million as a result of duplicate assets. Consequently, the Audit Commission identified that there were still significant weaknesses in respect of the Council’s arrangements for the valuation, accounting and reconciliation of its fixed assets.
  • That the Council needed to strengthen its arrangements to ensure the appropriate accounting treatment for the varied development schemes and partnership arrangements that it was involved with

You can say that again. And I’m not even an outside government auditor able to perform functions of oversight and critique that the City Councillors seem to singularly fail at doing even slightly. This is pretty pathetic.

Every report and action by the Audit Commission is a damning indictment of the whole local democracy council governance system. If the system worked, the councillors and their agents (whom they could insist were hired on the tax payer’s dime) would be going over their own city’s business and discovering all the obvious process deficiencies — like the fact that the city doesn’t keep track of what it owns — and this activity would be discussed in the Audit and Accounts Committee.

Rather than the Council doing any investigation of the city administration themselves, the workflow appears to be:

  • Audit Commission looks at Liverpool City Council’s books
  • Audit Commission makes its reports and recommendations
  • Audit Commission sends its reports to the Council Officers
  • Council Officers implement bits of it
  • Council Offices writes up some excuses and puts them in the agenda of the Audit and Accounts Committee of the Council
  • Councillors who have been assigned to the Audit and Accounts Committee come to the twice yearly meeting and go through the agenda produced by the Council Officers.
  • Councillors do not bring questions arising from their own investigation, or refer to anything in the original Audit Commission’s report directly.

As I said: seat-warmers.

Asset database: Obviously the target is to get this entire Tribal property database of everything the Council owns on-line and onto a mash-up, and tie in every expense billed by the council to a particular asset on the map.

Liverpool airport expansion: Although the LibDem national Party have reasonable environmental policies (eg opposing the Heathrow third runway), the LibDem Councillors in control of the City are blindly in favour of the local airport expansion with whole-hearted unforgiving support of insanities such as air commuter flights to London (back in February 2007):

The Belgian airline (VLM), which originally ran the service five times a day, reduced its operation to two flights a day last month.

Cllr Bradley believes that the air link must be sustained if the city is to prosper.

He said: “Liverpool’s GVA (the measure of the local economy) is outstripping every other North West area and we are powering ahead economically.

“It is vital Liverpool has a direct air link to and from London if we are to attract more jobs and investment. We want to sell our city to the world, a truly international place once again, looking outwards, and a well-used link to our own capital city is a must.”

He added: “A fast commuter route to the heart of London is incredibly valuable and also makes it easy for business people and tourists to travel to and from Liverpool.

“I urge business leaders to support VLM instead of alternative train services. We spent a long time campaigning for this link and VLM showed confidence in this city by launching the service. It is essential we repay their faith by making the most of it.”

The fight to set up the London air link was spearheaded by the Daily Post’s successful Fight for a Flight Campaign.

Cllr Bradley further believes that the significance of the Liverpool/London air link will be realised during the next 18 months as the city continues to celebrate its 800th birthday and welcomes Europe to Capital of Culture events in 2008.

Chief executive of BusinessLiverpool Mike Taylor added his weight to the increasing importance of the air link.

He said: “While at this moment the existing VLM service may well be viewed by the airline as uneconomic, we have some major drivers about to come on stream in Liverpool, which will add significant demand to the London/Liverpool service.

“I believe we should all be working more closely with VLM to ensure that this additional demand is understood, evaluated and anticipated so that a long term, sustainable, high frequency service can be secured.”

The Mersey Partnership, which lobbied for the launch of the VLM service, has also backed the “Use it, or Lose It” plea.

TMP chairman Roy Morris said: “This route is clearly under threat, as we have stated a number of times in recent months each time the timetable is reduced.

“The city council is right to renew our warnings over the future of the route. We believe there are more passengers using the flights on the revised timetable and that has to be an encouraging sign. We’re constantly reminding our 440 private and public sector members that the route is under threat.”

There was a question posed about this policy disconnect by the Green Party councillors at the last general meeting. I am unable to find any reference to it in the meeting minutes. (The answer is reported only on the Green Party website.) If anyone doubts that they’ve got their heads screwed on over this, watch carefully:

John Coyne: The [City Council] Leader will be aware that Susan Kramer leads the Liberal Democrats’ campaign against the expansion of Heathrow and a third runway there.

Does he agree with her statements on 11th January that “The Government’s credibility on climate change depends on this decision.” and that “Pushing ahead with Heathrow expansion will show up ministers’ warm words on the environment to be nothing more than hot air.”?

If so, why do Liberal Democrats in Liverpool support the continuing expansion of Liverpool airport?

Response: There was absolutely no strategic reason why Heathrow requires a third runway, or further expansion, and I fully endorse Susan Kramer’s comments.

To compare Liverpool John Lennon Airport with London Heathrow is nothing short of lunacy, and I wonder when Cllr Coyne is to ask the question as to whether Liverpool can become a one horse town again.

Fact: A large proportion of Heathrow’s capacity is taken up with internal flights from cities where there is a perfectly good rail link. This is a symptom of the long-term lack of an integrated transport policy, which has proven to be a very profitable state of affairs for air and road business lobbies who demonstrate an effective ownership of the government.

Weekend caving: On Saturday I did the Maskill Mine to Oxlow Cavern connection, which didn’t involve as much caving as it did rope. I need to get some new rope climbing gear that isn’t so frayed. Most of the rest of the caving gear stank beyond all possible use due to the presence of a cat that had been locked in our garage for several days pissing all over our stuff. On Sunday we cycled around the Peak district in the rain.

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009 at 9:36 pm - - Whipping

Probably not. But we now know that they don’t know what they can do.

Last year the Government suddenly cut the VAT rate to stimulate the economy, which was quite controversial. I blogged about editing the Parliamentary vote description here, speculating that the Government politicians didn’t care about whether it was going to make a difference or not, if they could use it as part of a General Election campaign against the Conservatives.

I got curious while looking into how the tax rate was able to get changed at the stroke of a pen using powers granted to the Treasury under the Value Added Tax Act 1994.

I wondered what other powers lurked in the Acts of Parliament which the Treasury could use to alter parameters in order to manage the flows of money around the State, and whether they had a clear dashboard overview, or some kind of simulation of the economy that they could run with different tax rate settings that could be varied under the powers that they knew they had in order to have some semblance of optimizing their values.

You know what I mean.

So, here’s my FOI request to the Treasury:

On 24 November, the Treasury made an Order exercising the powers conferred by sections 2(2) and 21(7) of the Value Added Tax Act 1994 to lower the VAT rate from 17.5% to 15% for one year.

Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, may I have a copy of any documents or databases held by the Treasury that summaries or lists all available powers conferred to the Treasury by the Statute Law (including the powers I mentioned above) to make orders varying the rates of tax, duty, spending, and anything else within the jurisdiction and business of the Treasury.

Included with these documents, I would like to see the speculative range of predictions on record of the implications of each of these orders that are available to be made by the Treasury at any time it pleases.

I look forward to an early confirmation that such a complete summary of the Treasury’s statutory powers exists in a form that ready to advise the Chancellor of the wide array of options available, and its eventual disclosure.

The reply from the Treasury was quite striking:

Following a search of our records I confirm that we do not hold any document or database summarising all such powers.

If we interpreted your request as covering any information itemising any such power, it would exceed the cost limit under the Act to address that… As an indication, a search of our electronic records for “statutory powers” returned over 10,000 instances. In any case, I do not think that approach would yield what you are seeking.

In terms of the second part of your request, I can point you to the Direct effects of illustrative tax changes published by HMRC. Although this does not address the complete ambit of your request and does not provide the link to relevant legislation, it does illustrate the fiscal effects of a range of potential changes in similar fashion to the way actual changes are summarised in the Budget Report.

The illustrative tax changes [2 page document] gives a cost yield for a 1 percentage point in VAT of £4.6billion in 2009-10 and £4.8billion in 2010-11. I don’t know where these numbers come from, and how back-of-the-envelopy they are, but the sums of 13 months of 2.5% reduction gives a value of (4.6+4.8/12)*2.5=£12.5billion exactly, which exactly matches what the Chancellor announced to Parliament last November.

One can reasonably assume that his number was based on this one line in this thin two-page document, meaning that it must be based on assumptions such as that the response to the tax change is linear– and that there really is no sophisticated computer model of the Government taxation economy that they run policy options through to make predictions that they could then quote in Parliament. They’re just flying blind on no information, responding only to politics and special interests, and making less of a deliberate attempt to make things actually add up properly in the long term than when I calculate the rate of return for installing a new central heating boiler with insulation.

Perhaps they’ve learnt everything they know from the bankers, who we now know for sure did not care whether their numbers added up in the long term either– they only needed to cover things up for long enough to cash in their end of year bonuses. That was their time horizon. These bankers make politicians who see only to the next election look like paragons of far-sighted wisdom.

Shame they take all their advice from bankers and similar-minded consultants. Might explain why every policy takes exactly a year to explode these days. The advisors move on. The politicians also move on. And anything that ought to stick to their reputations in terms of decisions that they took — knowing that they were ill-informed — which have caused long-term lasting damage that could easily have been (and probably was) predicted, doesn’t.

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009 at 1:48 pm - - Weekends, Whipping 4 Comments »

I was cycling down through Garston last Sunday and encountered this astonishing behemoth.

Obviously I thought it had been built for some massive stuff distribution corporation, like, based on some insane business plan of air-freighting hardback books into Liverpool airport from China and then sending them out to all corners of the country by HGV — before they came to their senses. But no…

THE VAULT was developed by Gladman, the only major distribution developer to incorporate an internal building contracting division

As a result, the costs of returning to the site to retro-fit items and carry out bespoke alterations are minimal in comparison to traditional speculative design and build contracts utilising external contractors.

This enables the warehouse floor to be retro-fitted, allowing customers to vary the floor specification to suit their own requirements, saving the significant cost and time implications of adapting or replacing a standard floor retrospectively.

About Gladman:

The Gladman business concept is simple; to provide high quality office accommodation and warehouse/distribution facilities speculatively. We build offices in a range of sizes on one location in a matter of a few months, and then rely on our products attracting previously unknown occupiers to them.

Because we build speculatively, we can fulfill demand wherever it occurs – from local, expanding businesses to foot-loose companies that urgently need space and locate to wherever this is available.

Our sites are located on pleasant business parks, always close to the motorway network and easily accessible. Leases are available from 12 months upwards for certain office products.

Investment buildings are available at many Gladman sites, providing an excellent investment for company directors or pension funds.

About The Vault by Gladman:

The Vault, located at Liverpool International Business Park, is a state-of-the-art distribution facility extending to 618,839 sq ft.

Gladman have sold The Vault as part of a portfolio sale of four million square feet of industrial/distribution space to a US fund. Evander Properties are appointed as the asset manager on behalf of the fund. Gladman, working in partnership with Evander Properties, are ensuring that the buildings meet requirements for each individual occupier.

There’s no indication of this mysterious “US fund”, now the proud owner of a never-used facility designed by a turkey for the old-fashioned, dead-end, fossil-fuel, centralized road distribution economy that we have known for many years cannot continue, but Evander Properties shows four more of them. (A sixth, the Leeds Cosmic Park appears to be the only one doing anything other than zero business.)

A bit of hefty googling produces this 16 March 2007 story:

The US firm [Rockpoint Group] is poised to pay Gladman Developments more than £180m for vacant completed schemes and development sites in Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, Glasgow, Runcorn and Durham, totalling 4m sq ft (371,610 sq m) .

The portfolio represents most of Gladman’s industrial development pipeline. This is the first time Rockpoint has invested outside London and is also its first industrial acquisition. The fund manager started investing in the UK in 2005 with the joint purchase with Catalyst of the ITN headquarters on Gray’s Inn Road in Midtown for £112m.

In the wake of the two big sales, Gladman is set to embark on a nationwide assault on the retirement home and student accommodation markets.

In terms of economic justice, this means that ignorant American investors are therefore responsible for unlocking Gladman’s bad capital constructions in order that they can apply their genius in other parts of the economy where there is greater opportunity to create lasting social harm — a factor no doubt very low on their priorities.

As late as 24 April 2008, Rockpoint closed an oversubscribed $2.51billion real-estate investment fund “as it was comfortable with the amount of capital it had attracted.” What they actually meant was: “they were becoming un-comfortable with the shear amount of money thrown at them that they were now going to have to invest.”

Anyways, that’s where it’s at today. I’ll keep my eye out for the collapse of this particular property investment company and the future of this ridiculous warehouse. Perhaps if I’d seen it before and taken the mickey out of it on a blog, someone in Rockpoint might have googled it, and invested in something actually potentially useful, leaving Gladman out of pocket as they deserve to be. Perhaps this blog post will come up in the future during the firesale of this portfolio item. A little more local immediate geographical on-line information and common sense about future directions could do wonders for these sorts of investments at a distance that are done on the basis of no information.

But where the heck did it come from?

From the Liverpool Council website:

Phase 2 of the Estuary Commerce Park is now well underway – rebranded as Liverpool International Business Park by its owners Peel Holdings. Covering over 154 acres, it will eventually provide 2.9 million square feet of mixed use commercial space and employ 9,600 people during the 15-20 year timespan of the development. Already, it has become home to some of the city’s largest newest buildings. … “The Vault”, a 600,000 sq ft speculative distribution warehouse, was completed in April 2007. With 56 dock levellers and space for 110 trailers, this huge facility has enormous capacity and scope to attract warehousing/distribution industries.

From the Liverpool Echo on 29 May 2007

LIVERPOOL International Business Park is almost full after owner Peel Holdings sold 15 acres to three new tenants.

The developer, which also owns the neighbouring Liverpool John Lennon airport, Mersey Docks and the Trafford Centre, has now sold 145.9 acres of the original 157 acres of land it bought over two years ago.

It is estimated that the latest 15-acre sale will help create nearly 1,500 jobs between the three new occupiers. The park will create a total of 9,000 jobs… Situated next to Speke’s fast growing Liverpool JLA and in close proximity to the motorway network its location has played a large part in the success of the park.

So that’s “full” as in “full of junk buildings flogged off to speculators”, eh?

Here’s some more attractive prospects in that cluster.

Where did the money come from? 15 October 2003 – Eurogrants says:

This latest round of funding shows the remarkable spread of projects that we can help through Objective One, many of which might not happen without European support. These schemes offer long-term benefits – for instance, investment in Liverpool John Lennon Airport will encourage airlines to fly larger aircraft on more routes, helping the airport to continue to develop as a major economic engine for the North west.

AIRPORT EXPANSION: a further grant of £1,895,000 to Liverpool John Lennon Airport, making a total of £7,160,000, towards the £21.5 million cost of improving airport facilities to attract new airlines and services. The airport development plan phase III is designed to increase terminal capacity, upgrade and extend aircraft landing, taxiway and parking facilities, upgrade operational equipment, increase car parking and improve the bus interchange. The work is expected to create 749 jobs.

The Liberal Democrat dominated City Council has been subsidising the Liverpool airport all it can and in many different ways for years, being as they are totally disconnected from reality and unable to get a grip on the future. It gets worse. On 13 July 2006:

Peel Holdings has announced a masterplan for the £600m expansion of Liverpool John Lennon airport by 2030, including new routes and a world cargo centre

Clearly, there’s been some very big bets placed on this stupid airport. This massive expansion is all based on an industry-sponsored very bogus Airport White Paper printed back in 2003 that based its so-called analysis on exponential-curve-fitting of demand growth over previous years that has been so effective at predicting property prices — until the boundary conditions are reached. Just as the property speculation numbers took no account of the finite amount of money people have in terms of income and debt, the air-travel projections took no account of the finite amount of time people had to travel, not to mention the finite supply of fossil fuels available, or the finite carrying capacity of the atmosphere to absorb the products of combustion without leading to dire consequences.

Not that our wise and disconnected business and political classes have any record of taking account of financial bubbles or threats of ecological collapse.

Further long-term clues in “Examples of Revitalised Urban Industrial Sites Across Europe” December 2004:

Speke Garston Development Company was established to develop and promote Speke Garston’s strategic sites in order to attract large-scale investments to South Liverpool. Its main tasks included upgrading the physical environment of all the main road corridors through Speke Garston, improving infrastructure and building appropriate new infrastructure and working with private sector developers, investors, and end users. Company representatives emphasised that working in a small executive team enabled them to work together easily and it facilitated decision-making and communication with the board. SGDC subbed out work to a lot of consultants such as landscape architects, planners, marketing specialists etc. Its aim was to create three million square feet of new industrial and commercial accommodation and 9,300 full-time jobs. The company has fulfilled many of its major objectives for Speke Garston, was reorganised in 2003 and named Liverpool Land Development Company (LLDC). It is now responsible for continuing regeneration in Speke Garston and for several new regeneration projects in the rest of Liverpool.

Speke Garston Partnership (SGP) was formerly set up in 1995 to work alongside SGDC. It was also established after the successful £17.5 million (€ 25.1 million) bid by the Liverpool City Council to the government’s Single Regeneration Budget Challenge fund. SGP is located in the same building as SGDC which facilitated co-operation. The board consists of members drawn from all sectors of the community of Speke Garston. SGP is responsible for establishing training and education programmes for the local population so that locals would be in a better position to take advantage of new jobs created. The agency also addresses other issues crucial in assisting the local population such as community safety, childcare and health thereby empowering the local community. A third programme the agency engages in involves supporting new and existing firms in Speke Garston. The agency also has a time-limited contract until 2004.

SGDC drew up a masterplan for the former Northern Airfield, which was approved in 1997 and implemented over succeeding years. The first programme undertaken on site was to improve the public realm of the main road corridors. Roads were improved such as Speke Boulevard, the main southern gateway into Liverpool with the construction of new footpaths and cycleways and the planting of 250,000 trees, shrubs and plants. These and other infrastructure upgrades were to support a targeted marketing of the area, because it was the first step toward improving the image of Speke Garston. SGDC had to fulfil several marketing objectives simultaneously: they needed to attract larger industrial office users to the Estuary Commerce Park and Boulevard Industry Park, smaller local and incoming SMEs to the Speke Industrial Estate (Venture Point), and shops for the New Mersey Shopping Park.

Oh, and if you still want to invest in building some more road and air-travel centric property on the vacant lots beside the big empty places, there’s still a chance.

We photographed some of these new cycleways mentioned.

We were very impressed petrol-head inspired “CYCLISTS DISMOUNT” signs at every place where might possibly encounter the rightful owner of the land: a car. Clearly the planners didn’t have a clue. Is it fair to generalize this to the whole mission?

Monday, February 9th, 2009 at 10:22 am - - Whipping 2 Comments »

With the bombing season over in Israel, there is now a brief respite for their General Election. It’s coming up on 10 February 2009, and it’s not going to be anything more than a ratification of the policies pursued, so don’t get your hopes up. That’s why the policies were pursued. Politicians conduct polling to see what effects their plans have on their electoral position, and act accordingly in their own perceived interests. They really don’t have any higher vision these days.

But if you ignore the horror of an election that doesn’t include any votes from the underclass (which means they don’t count), what information do citizens have in relation to the remaining fruit-basket of policies offered by the different parties? I’m referring to the random stuff at the end of a random party platform like:

The Party will work toward lowering Israel’s scourge of traffic accidents by introducing new, innovative solutions spanning education and enforcement.

The Party will work toward strengthening enforcement and standards against polluters, while raising the quality of Israel’s air.

The Party will work toward regulating the installation of cellular antennas throughout the country by prioritizing the health interest of the Israeli people ahead of the interests of the cellular phone companies.

Among other steps, the Party will work to tighten acceptable antenna radiation standards and increase required minimum distance between antenna stations and residential population centers.

The Party will call for the establishment of an independent regulatory body, empowered to levy heavy fines and penalties for every offense and deal firmly with cellular phone companies regarding the placement of their existing and future antennas.

…once you get past the unpleasantries.

And lo, there was the Israel Election Compass, a dead-end (meaning no relevant links out apart from to the sponsors) twitchy (meaning get anything wrong and it goes back to the beginning) website available in English, Dutch and Hebrew, even though the national languages of Israel in which the election is held are Arabic and Hebrew.

It seems to have come out of the Netherlands, and there’s nothing to compete with it. Not even something useful on the bare bones no-links provided mock on-line election for American university students who can win the chance to a Ministry of Foreign Affairs sponsored expenses paid trip to Israel aimed at educating and training university students to be effective pro-Israel activists on their campuses in America.

What is the problem? The problem is that in a party democracy there is a dire need for a dynamic web application to assist voters with comparing and integrating the numerous party policies against their preferences so that:

  • (a) their votes are not manipulated by a last minute trivial issue drilled into their brains by the latest PR dog-whistle blitz, and
  • (b) the points of disagreement between voters and their chosen parties are made known for the purposes of pressing for changes in those policies and for resisting false claims of a mandate when they are imposed.

Quite serious matters.

So… Back to business.

The Israel Election Compass appears to have been commissioned by the 71 year old Professor Asher Arian of the Israel Democracy Institute think tank for the three main goals:

“The first is to help the perplexed voter find his position within the Israeli political map. The second is to encourage parties to be more forthcoming with specifics regarding their various platforms. And the third is to encourage political participation.”

Now, I can’t disagree with those goals. But how can you encourage parties to be forthcoming with the specifics (eg their votes and actions in the Parliament) or encourage political participation (eg normal people joining and getting involved in the running of political parties) unless you provide prominent links to specific Parliamentary activities and to information about party organization from your extremely popular election quiz website! Otherwise it’s merely vacant disempowering eye-candy supplied by a random Dutch company that everyone likes but which doesn’t actually go anywhere in terms of creating debate or disrupting the status quo.

A follow-up review of the use of any of these websites, linked to from the webpage of the Dutch company, would be the minimum.

I don’t care if the Dutch company immodestly claims their work is “based on scientifically approved methods” using a “teamwork of top entrepreneurs and designers [who] guarantee state-of-the-art web applications”. It’s poppycock. It’s no good. Where are the scientific results? What consideration has there been about this or other alternative design? Have there been any experiments and feedback? I can’t find any informed discussion about the purposes and results of this important genre of web-app.

Their Israel Election Compass presents the user with a series of 2-line questions and the options: “completely agree”, “tend to agree”, “neutral”, “tend to disagree”, “completely disagree” and “no opinion”.

The questions include:

  • Under no circumstances should settlements be removed from Judea and Samaria
  • As part of a permanent treaty with security arrangements, the Golan Heights should be returned to Syria
  • Israel should do what is best for its security, even if it means being in conflict with the American administration
  • Businesses and workplaces should be allowed to operate in urban areas on the Sabbath
  • Israel should follow the capitalist approach rather than the socialist approach
  • The state should intervene to prevent the collapse of banks and large corporations
  • The peace process should be stopped, even at the risk of another war
  • If diplomatic efforts fail, Israel should attack Iran’s nuclear facilities
  • Freedom of speech should be ensured, even for people who speak against the state
  • Israel should decrease the emission of greenhouse gases, even if it means closing factories and people losing jobs

Search for text of any of these carefully honed questions on google and you’ll find that no one is quoting or discussing them.

The second section is a very infuriating rating of the Prime Ministerial candidates on the vagueries of “Leadership qualities”, “Trustworthy”, “Puts the country’s interests before other interests”, “Will succesfully[sic] manage the affairs of the country”, “Will protect the rule of law”.

Finally, for “Your position”, you get a three-page political compass map of the parties along the different axes of “Socioeconomic left-Socioeconomic right”, “Hawk-Dove”, and “Religious-Secular”.

If you read the FAQ correctly, and you click on the correct party symbol, and you wait for its description to expand, and you click on that, and you allow pop-ups in your browser, you may be lucky enough to find a page of citations backing up the party positions against the loaded questions of the quiz according to statements by party officers in the media or from content in their election manifesto.

No links to key votes in the Knesset at all.

Oh, and finally you can fill in: “A few extra questions for our scientific research”:

  • Are you: male female
  • Year of birth
  • Considering the average family income in your country, would you say that your family’s monthly income is much above average, above average, average, below average, much below average?
  • Religion: Jewish, Muslim, Reformed, Protestant, Evangelical, Catholic, Hindu, Other, None
  • Religious observance
  • Right/Left (1=right, 7=left)
  • If elections were held today, for which party would you vote?

That’s it. No user feedback box or place to rate how lousy or great you think their website was. Idiots!

As far as I can tell, this particular Dutch outfit appears to be a commercial spin-off from the VU University Amsterdam founded by Dr. Andre Krouwel and private partners. Their Israeli website effort appears to be javascript or flash and doesn’t contain any indications of who wrote it. In an interview about it on Radio Netherlands Krouwel said:

The world’s first election guide – an online internet test which gives participants an indication of where there sympathies lie in comparison to the position of the various parties – was developed in the Netherlands in 1989.

Of course, if he didn’t want to mislead you into misreading the false fact that his company was in any way connected with the “world’s first election guide”, he would have mentioned the other Dutch outfit by name. It’s called the Instituut voor Publiek en Politiek (IPP) and it surfaced on my radar last year with their very similar looking vote match site for the London Mayoral election (against which many of my critiques also stand), who was identified by their hosts (but not on their own website) as having been developing vote match since 1989.

That’s all I know about these suppliers and their differentiation. Maybe one gives a better price than the other. There’s commercial competition for delivering this crap to anyone on the world who wants to pay for it in a hurry without thinking.

IPP’s technology appears to be built from scads of in-line javascript copyright 2006 by bellshape software, although their 2004 european vote match website relies on copyright 2000-2002 obfuscated Springsite javascript, even though Springsite is a “company specialised in Open Source technology support and custom eBusiness applications.”

This outsourcing is pitiful. The software behind these election quiz websites is really pretty obvious. After all, I’ve made my own version [type “Glenrothes” into the second text field], which at least makes an attempt to satisfy Professor Arian’s second and third goals, even if it failed to get popular on the back of no institutional support whatsoever.

Possibly this is because — with its clear drop-down boxes, colours, smily faces, instant feedback on the balance of the policies, and links to contemporary newspaper articles written in language which citizens presumably understood on the day they were printed, as well as deep links to the clusters of Parliamentary votes — my site is too unredemably un-user-friendly and cannot compete with a pagenated, bare, content-free website hauled in from the Netherlands in a hurry in the last three weeks before an election.

After all, everyone knows it’s better to retrofit necessary features into a website that looks pretty, than to help make a website that’s got the features look pretty.

There is no preparation. No organization. No open source science. No excellence. No threats of regulations from politicians in fear of them. No international developing expertise in the genre of citizen’s election quizzes.

Concerned citizens seem content with buying in off-the-shelf products from self-serving private companies not interested in inquiry or development (can you see any change or evolution in their products?), as though they didn’t expect an election to happen.

Then they get soundly beaten by the politicians who pull the same old dirty tricks that really should have long ceased to work in the internet era. The politicians do prepare. They do take elections seriously. They do hire in powerful PR companies who import tried and tested tactics from one jurisdiction to another that are proven able to cleanse from the debate all consequences of rationality.

Millions of dollars are raised to fool people into voting for candidates no one in their right mind would choose. And billions of dollars of public money are misspent shoring up the political base with boondoggle “defence” projects in key districts through political engineering. Everything is utterly skewed from the top to the bottom.

In our current political game, power is ratified through our votes. At the moment, we give our votes too cheaply on the basis of too little information and with no collective bargaining. The low quality of the political election quiz websites and lack of a serious supporting movement behind them is evidence of this parlous state. This is not good enough. Someone with resources in an institution has got to do something now. Not just wait around for the next disappointing spectacle of a managed election.

Friday, February 6th, 2009 at 6:27 pm - - Whipping

There was a High Court Judgment handed down the day before yesterday.

Documents widely thought to relate to the torture of a British resident by the United States’ Guantánamo Bay War on Terror extra-judicial prison system are in the possession of our illustrious Foreign Secretary. We want them to be published. The Judges’ opinion of last August was:

P24: [It is], in our view difficult to conceive that a democratically elected and accountable government [the United States] could possibly have any rational objection to placing into the public domain such a summary of what its own officials reported as to how a detainee was treated by them and which made no disclosure of sensitive intelligence matters.

Indeed we [do] not consider that a democracy governed by the rule of law would expect a court in another democracy [the United Kingdom] to suppress a summary of the evidence contained in reports by its own officials or officials of another State where the evidence was relevant to allegations of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, politically embarrassing though it might be.

Since this wasn’t the right answer, our government requested that this other “democratically elected and accountable government” [the United States] fabricate a threat to the United Kingdom’s public interest.

p25: It is evident from the materials with which we have been provided that the assessment of the risk to the intelligence relationship with the United States was made by the Foreign Secretary in good faith and on the basis of evidence including statements made by officials of the United States Government who held office at the highest levels in the period from July to October 2008. Indeed there is evidence for the Foreign Secretary’s further view that the United States Government would perceive making public the redacted passages as “gratuitous”.

How valuable is this “special” intelligence relationship?

p25: It is self evident that liaison with foreign intelligence services, including the provision of information or access to detainees held by foreign governments, lies at the heart of the protection of the national security of the United Kingdom at the present time, particularly in the prevention of terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom.

If the value of information is properly to be assessed by the United Kingdom intelligence services, it is also essential the intelligence services know the circumstances and means by which it was obtained [eg torture].

There is powerful evidence that intelligence is shared on the basis of a reciprocal understanding that the confidence in and control over it will always be retained by the State that provides it. It is a fundamental part of that trust and confidentiality which lies at the heart of the relationship with foreign intelligence agencies. This is particularly the case in relation to the United States where shared intelligence has been developed over 60 years. Without a clear understanding that such confidence will not be breached, intelligence from the United States and other foreign governments so important to national security might not be provided.

The public of the United Kingdom would be put at risk. The consequences of a reconsideration of and a potential reduction in the information supplied by the United States under the shared intelligence relationship at this time would be grave indeed.

Now you have been told. It’s axiomatic. Don’t bother weighing up whether the “protection of the national security… particularly in the prevention of terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom” was served or diminished by our entanglement in the insane, violent US foreign policy of recent years.

That’s just recent years. It wasn’t always like this. In earlier years, it used not to be illegal collect money in the US to buy weapons for the IRA to commit terrorist acts in the UK.

Back then “national security” was all about the Soviet Union. Nowadays, Russia doesn’t need to threaten us with her army. All she needs to do is turn off the gas and wait for our electricity to stop. We’d be helpless. What good is our “Ministry of Defence” now? It could threaten to bomb the pumping stations. Great idea. Obviously, energy security is far less interesting to our government than the next pointless aircraft carrier or nuclear missile system. Who’s going to want to invade a country that can’t even make its own electricity? What planet are they on? Missile defence shield planet? God help us.

The judges explain:

The only relevant considerations are that there is clear evidence that supports the Foreign Secretary’s judgement that the threat is real and serious damage to national security may result and that that judgement was made in good faith.

The powerful submission of the Special Advocate that the position of the United States Government is demonstrably unreasonable or irrational matters not; it is the judgement of the Foreign Secretary as to the reality of the threat not its rationality that is material.

For similar reasons we cannot regard as in any way relevant to our decision on this issue the Special Advocates’ submission that the position of the Government of the United States is evidently only motivated by the desire to conceal evidence of wrongdoing where disclosure would be politically embarrassing.

Nor can the principle that there is no confidence in wrongdoing be relevant to the assessment of the likely damage to national security.

Nor can we accede to the submission that the Foreign Secretary should resist the threat made.

It is both irrelevant and unrealistic.

It lies solely within the power of the United States to decide whether to share with the United Kingdom intelligence it obtains and it is for the Foreign Secretary under our constitution, not the courts, to determine how to address it.

The Foreign Secretary explained:

Our intelligence relationship with the United States is vital to the national security of the United Kingdom. It is essential that the ability of the United States to communicate such material in confidence to the UK is protected. Without such confidence the US will simply not share that material with us.

The same applies to our intelligence relationships with all those who share intelligence information with us. And what applies to them also applies to us. We share intelligence with a large number of countries. We do so to protect British citizens, and we do so on the basis that the material will not be put into the public domain against our wishes. To state the obvious, were our own classified information to be disclosed in such a way, it could compromise our work, our sources and therefore our security. It therefore was and remains my judgment that the disclosure of the intelligence documents at issue, by order of our courts and against the wishes of the US authorities, would indeed cause real and significant damage to the national security and international relations of this country.

The neat thing about this tactic is it was also applied over the BAe fraud investigation over the sale of vast amounts of weapons to Saudi Arabia where Tony Blair said:

“Our relationship with Saudi Arabia is vitally important for our country in terms of counter-terrorism, in terms of the broader Middle East, in terms of helping in respect of Israel and Palestine. That strategic interest comes first.”

He said the probe would have led to months or years of “ill feeling between us and a key partner and ally and probably to no purpose” and he was certain the right decision had been taken.

So, if we didn’t let our biggest most politically connected arms dealer off the hook, a major customer of theirs was going to stop informing us of all the terrorists they’re sending our way, and also stop helping with the Israel-Palestine conflict just to spite us. Fine. Anyone believe this? It didn’t matter. The Prime Minister said so, and that made it true.

Why don’t we measure up all that toxic propaganda we got because of the special relationship in support of the Iraq war? What about being used by the NSA to spy on the United Nations Security Council? Was it worthwhile acting as a sockpuppet for false allegations about WMD?

President Bush: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production.”

The reason we don’t tolerate torture with regards to law (when it is concerned with the truth) is that it routinely produces false confessions. That means torture is doubly abhorrent, both in itself, and in its propensity for propagating lies which often go on to result in more damage than the original act of torture itself.

But politics — particularly power politics and war-making — has nothing to do with the truth. Most of the people who have been processed through Guantánamo Bay have been innocent. So if you have to find them guilty in order to demonstrate to a skeptical public just how many threatening individuals were wandering around the plains of Afghanistan making it necessary to cluster-bomb every target in the land, then you’re going to have to torture them to make them produce confessions. It’s all you’ve got.

The War on Terror has demonstrated just how far the joke of “national security” can be stretched to cover the cracks between all kinds of vicious propaganda and lies. Guantánamo Bay has always been just a PR exercise, not intended for any purpose beyond the justification of the war in Afghanistan. It’s the equivalent to the fake intelligence about WMD before the Iraq war. It’s an inconvenience that has to be dealt with, and it turns out to be not as easy as rigging a vote in Parliament every other year to prevent an official investigation.

At the end of it, the responsibility for all these atrocities ultimately rests with the press whose incompetence and conflicts of interest make it possible for such bloody-minded PR campaigns to work.

With a functioning press that cared about the truth, no one would have printed the propaganda associated with conditions in Guantánamo Bay until the International Committee of the Red Cross had visited the establishment, released its report to the US government, and the US government had printed it in its entirety. They wouldn’t have waited for three years for the report to leak to the New York Times. The press knows that the government lies about everything it can. It’s quite simple to demand a second source for the information.

Earlier generations have left us with perfectly useable tools of international norms and legal frameworks designed to prevent cheating and abuse by those who hold political power. Unfortunately, it’s left to the press to wield those tools competently, and that’s where it fails.

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009 at 6:19 pm - - Machining

What a way to spend one’s precious life! Because it is my intention that this will eventually be free software, doing it properly now could save people work a hundred years in the future.

Here at Freesteel Central where the fastest most parallizable CAM algorithms are being written, we’re attempting to code up valley machining which is going to rely on the not-yet-written non-axial tool projection function.

Valley machining, like many other kinds of rest machining, begins with the pencil milling algorithm, which produces an intermediate result like so:

Pencil milling paths are, in fact, double paths that are very close together. Since I’ve been lucky enough to use the same area modelling algorithm based on weave-cells for pencil milling as for Z-slicing, constant scallop, fillet surfaces, and shallow area detection, these pencil paths are like closed contours.

The first step is to chop these closed contours wherever they entered a cell with a junction and collect up the pairs of passes. But in that example I kept getting 14 pairs of paths instead of the 12 that you can see (count the number of paths that go from 3-way junction to 3-way junction or an end).

This was a mystery until I zoomed in onto one of the corners. [ignore the diagonal lines that go off the page; they represent the contact normals]

As you can see, two of the paired paths come in from the left into a regular 3-way junction cell in the middle, but they first pass through the same cell which, to the computer which is counting only the valency of the cell, looks like a 4-way junction. So it splits it off at the entry of that cell, skips the cell, and produces another pair of paths with only one point in each on the dividing line between the 4-cell and the 3-cell. This is done for the top left pair and the bottom left pair, and explains where the extra two pairs are coming from. The cell gap between the pairs is not coloured in, which is why the original white contours are visible.

Hundreds of lines of useless joining up code has been done to glue these pairs back together, and it now means I’ll have complete sequences that associate at their ends at 3-way cells properly, so we can now move on and get the rest of the algorithm done.

5-axis coding I’ve lost my way. It all works perfectly… until someone with experience looks at it and runs machines with it. Meantime, just knocking this valley machining into shape until a point where it can be used.

Monday, February 2nd, 2009 at 9:58 pm - - Whipping

It’s all about the money from beginning to the sustainable end of it. Ideology runs out of steam eventually when the damage it does to public policy takes away the energy and challenges the rightfulness of the beliefs. But when the successful pursuit of profit and money are the cause of the damage, it’s unstoppable. The ill-gotten gains get reinvested in things like:

I always need to point out that the money involved and what is wasted is not as important as the long term losses to public policy and justice caused by these selfish acts.

Complaining about the size of the bribe is like complaining about the cost of the broken window when your house has been burgled. The less it is, the more offended you should be. If the thief didn’t even have to cut themselves on glass, it’s humiliating. The reporter Greg Palast demonstrated that the UK government practically left the door on the latch in the early years of the Blair administration.

What’s a greater loss yet, beyond the size of the bribe and what it enabled to bribe-giver to steal, is the violation of trust. Burglaries don’t usually amount to that much trouble unless there is long term damage, psychologically (if the people lose all confidence that their government is not corrupt), and systemically (the theives leave the skylight unlocked and are able to come and go as they please for the next 30 years — did someone say PFI?)

While the corruption is hard to see, like drug deals, the effects have got to be visible in terms of public money draining out in large quantities into the pockets of dishonest people who give nothing in return (except bribes and lies). With this in mind, the politician Barack Obama brought in the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 to make it visible. On the first full day of his presidency he issued two memoranda:

Transparency and Open Government: My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.


Freedom of Information Act: The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails. The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears. Nondisclosure should never be based on an effort to protect the personal interests of Government officials at the expense of those they are supposed to serve.

In the summer of 2008, he sponsored: Strengthening Transparency and Accountability in Federal Spending Act of 2008 which would have amended the act to say:

The information on each domestic assistance program shall include a description of:

  • objectives of the program;
  • types of activities financed under the program;
  • eligibility requirements;
  • types of assistance;
  • uses, and restrictions on the use, of assistance;
  • duties of recipients under the program.
  • a unique award identifier that identifies each individual award vehicle;
  • the date that the financial award was made;
  • the date that the financial award requirements began;
  • the date that the financial obligations are dispersed to the recipient;
  • to the extent possible, the agency and department as well as subagencies and suboffices that have authorized the Federal award;
  • in negotiated procurements, the highest, lowest, and median offered price among all technically acceptable proposals or bids;

and also:

After January 1, 2010, for all contracts, subcontracts, purchase orders, task orders, lease agreements and assignments, and delivery orders–

  • both a copy in a format that reproduces the original image of each page and a copy in searchable text format of the request for proposals, the announcement of the award, the contract, and the scope of work to be performed;
  • a product or service code that identifies the general category of product or service procured under the transaction;
  • information about the extent of competition in making the award, including the number of qualified bids or proposals during the competitive process, and if the award was not competed, the legal authority and specific rationale for making the award without full and open competition;
  • the full amount of money that is awarded under a contract or, in the case of lease agreements or assignments, the amount paid to the Government, and the full amount of any options to expand or extend under a contract;
  • the amount and nature of the profit incentive offered to contractors for achieving or exceeding specified goals such as fixed price, cost plus pricing, labor hour contracts, and time and materials contracts;
  • an indication if the contract is the result of legislative mandates, set-asides, preference program requirements, or other criteria, and whether the contract is multiyear, consolidated, or performance based;
  • socioeconomic characteristics of the entity that receives an award including its size, industrial classification (NAICS code), and whether the entity is owned by minority individuals, women, veterans, or other special categories;


The website shall present information about Federal awards and recipients of Federal awards in ways that meet the needs of users with different levels of understanding about government spending and abilities using searching websites by–

  • providing search results for novices displayed in summary form and with top level information such as amount of money received in a fiscal year, basic information about the recipient, purpose of the Federal award, what Federal agencies are providing the money, where the work is performed, and extent of competition, if applicable; and
  • providing more detailed information for more sophisticated users,

Oh, and also:

A simple method for the public to report errors is available on the website created by this Act which should–

  • allow the public to report errors on single records as well as problems affecting multiple records;
  • allow the public to provide contact information, including e-mail address, mail address, or telephone number, to be used for informing the reporter of the outcome of the records review;
  • send copies of the error report to both an official responsible for the data quality at the agency that generated the data and to the Office of Management and Budget;
  • if reported errors are deemed to be nonfrivolous, place an indicator on the records on the website that informs users that the accuracy of the record has been brought into question, until the information is either confirmed as correct or updated to be correct; and
  • maintain a public record organized by agency of the total number of records which have had nonfrivolous reports of errors, the number of records which have been corrected, and number of records for which error reports remain unresolved.

And so on, in perfection.

What other legislation did Barack Obama sponsor in his brief time in the Senate?

That is, after all, one of the core jobs of a Senator.

He seemed to favour very short no-nonsense ones:

As should be obvious, while financial accountability in America is decades ahead of what it is here in the UK (though it doesn’t stop the amazing levels of military-industrial political corruption), their environmental accountability is shambolic. We have been getting all our environmental legislation from the EU where, I suspect, there is a great enough diversity of sovereign environmental agencies to make it less easy to corrupt and hide the data than it does in America where serious toxins are allowed to get into the food supply year after year, and reporters can be sued for investigating it.

Environmental catastrophes cannot be hidden forever or covered up with a quick financial bail-out. People get sick and die from them. Perhaps the difference in Europe is that the national governments can regulate toxins within their own borders, and the EU sets the minimum standards. If the positive effects of stronger environmental standards in the neighbouring nation are visible, and the hypothetical negative effects haven’t occurred (eg their industrial base hasn’t shut down), then there’ll be little scope for the corporate liars to work against it.

In America there is a more perfect union between the states (where the environmental destruction is felt), but the federal government (which is well-insulated from reality) generally asserts absolute authority over environmental standards. This gives an easy one-stop-shop for the lobbyists to enable the continual and unnecessary corporate massacre of their fellow human beings (for financial expediency) in all corners of the land.

One of the new Barack Obama memoranda alludes to this in relation to motor vehicle efficiency standards through CO2 regulations which the Environmental Protection Agency asserts its monopoly authority over (with the intention of doing nothing — as Myron Ebell intends), but which was so politically problematic that they had to grant an annual waiver to California to set better standards — except last year when the Bush administration finally got this waiver withdrawn. Obama has asked the EPA to reconsider this decision.

What’s the lesson?

The lesson is that there are accidental structures of power that have self-reinforcing consequences, some good, some bad. The business lobbyists all know exactly what they are, and will recommend one kind or another kind to the political class in order to maneuver the system into a place where it is more easily corrupted.

A wise politician would listen very carefully to all the advice given by the corporations, and then do exactly the opposite.

I wonder what they think of financial transparency and clarity? Not very much, on the evidence, and given the dispicable state of education and public involvement in these matters.

Wirral Library Closures

Meanwhile, across the Mersey, there is a big upset over the planned closures of a dozen public buildings (aka libraries and leisure centres) to save £4million, and the proposed replacement of them with a brand new complex of buildings costing £20million.

Somehow, even though what they’re doing appears to cost more money, the council leader argues for this unpopular policy on the basis that it would otherwise have to put up local taxes:

WIRRAL’S closure-threatened libraries and leisure centres can only be saved by the imposition of a 4% “cultural levy”, over and above council tax, says Wirral council leader Steve Foulkes.

Cllr Foulkes told the News residents should “keep in the back of their mind” that if £3.8m savings are not made as proposed, the council would look elsewhere.

Education is ring-fenced, children and adult social services remain a statutory duty, “which leaves highways and culture”, the council leader said.

Now, you would think that out of all the campaigning groups and newshounds and general angry people out there, someone would take the time to comb through the council’s accounts and argue against this properly, but no one does.

The clue is in that statement where the council leader is suggesting that discussion about the education budget is off the table. Maybe that’s what people should talk about? Have the costs of that part of the council budget drastically risen? I don’t know. The accounts are as clear as mud. The 2004 and 2005 accounts (unlike the later ones) give a pie chart showing that education is half the budget (about £200m). They also show that the council has got deep into the PFI regime for schools.

PFI, for those who don’t know it, is our very own government imposed sub-prime loan scam waged on local authorities, with predictable consequences.

The deals were rotten and heavily subsidized in the early years with “PFI credits” that were offered as top-up for deliberate cuts in the central government grant.

The long-term financial implications of the scheme were kept “commercially confidential” and the assurances given probably looked serious enough to bamboozle cool-headed council leaders who took the advice of well-dressed serious people seriously. Sometimes disturbing clues leak out, such as the fact that the Wirral council’s PFI deal results in the highest cost for fitting an electrical socket in the country (£302):

The National Audit Office said that very often officials had not checked out the best deal for the taxpayer.

Mr Leigh said: “Public sector contract managers must be a lot more street-wise.

“For all changes, they must be eagle-eyed that the contractor is not charging inappropriately high fees.”

He added: “The public sector has allowed itself to be taken for a ride.

“Public sector contract managers for PFI deals have insufficient commercial expertise to negotiate with and develop effective relationships with their private sector counterparts.”

That’s the official spokesman talking. What he says. Not me just ranting.

But it’s a bit late now, isn’t it, when the contracts are to run for 30 years each.

Can you think of any other cases where there are 30 year irreversible contracts signed between sharp businessmen and relatively novice individuals who have one chance in their lifetime to get it right, with utterly predictable results?

You don’t say.

Like that, and this PFI sham, the ultimate bad guys who have found this amazing way to con the system by luring people into unnecessary financial games which they will inevitably lose, are the banks. Whom we have nationalized.

Maybe if we could track all the money at the transaction level, and down the chain of bogus Special Purpose Vehicles, through all the layers where it mysteriously gets skimmed off by hidden consultants as if from an international bank transfer, the money is returning straight back to the government.

Well, why not close the circle and nationalize all the PFI assets, now that we have nationalized the banks, and we can keep our libraries then.

But it’s not going to happen until people start following the money and working out who and how someone with the power to make bad things happen gets a profit from doing something no one wants them to do.

The trail of money should be obvious and totally visible. It isn’t. And we are screwed.