Friday, September 30, 2005

Things we can do to prepare for Bird Flu 

The possible or maybe probable coming of a major Bird Flu Pandemic hit the headlines again. Happily this coincides with the online Pandemic Flu Awareness Week (3-9 October 2005).
There are things we - individuals and public authorities - can do to prepare for such a challenge. I have mentioned before the FluWiki, an exemplary initiative on the Net which works to make information available worldwide, and organises the online week. If you have concerns about what might happen in your area, do look it up.
In fact if you are in any influence with Local Authority Emergency Planning Staff, make sure they access this site - even if it tells them nothing new (unlikely) it is a model on how to explain what is happening and what might happen in rigorous lay terms.

Anyone know of a similar resource for hepatitis C which is also in the news today (30th Sept)

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Soviet-quality justice for Britain? 

My relatives in the 'Former Soviet Union' will be gratingly familiar with the style of justice New Labour is importing to Britain. The "Peoples' Courts of the USSR", the lower level courts, did not necessarily work to laws as such but to 'principles of Socialist Justice'. Condemnation by opinion and administrative convenience was a real possibility, without proper hearings and representation. Apparently Blair wants Instant Asbos, granted to the police without evidence or witnesses having to be heard or the defendant informed. Bans and restrictions would remain in place until a full court hearing. And much more.

Blair in his conference speech said:
"I don't think that the traditional law can give law-abiding people adequate
protection. We are trying to fight 21st-century crime - antisocial behaviour,
drug-dealing, binge drinking, organised crime - with 19th-century methods as if
we still lived in the time of Dickens"
Er actually all these crimes rampantly existed in Dicken's Britain, and in the 20th Century USSR to boot, where the New Labour paradise of almost unfettered police discretions didn't work either.

Tackling these evils in ex-USSR countries after the emergence of the successor states meant bringing in a respect for the rule of law, proper legal proceedures and respect for peoples rights (including the very foreign notion of innocence until proof of guilt). It was, and sometimes still is, hard work to undo the 'super-ASBO approach' mindset lingering in these countries.

'Alice in Wonderland' was an explosive political commentary in Soviet days - 'sentence first, verdict afterwards' rang out as thrilling social comment. Will Blair now include 'Alice' in the corpus of banned tracts 'inciting terrorism'?

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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Australia in Blairs digraceful footsteps 

Seems Australia is picking up its security themes from Britain. The Howard Government is proposing pre-emptive detention without charge of course, but also banning orders which could include house arrest for up to a year. These orders would be issued in secret proceedings which cannot be contested by those under accusation, burden of proof on a civic cases 'ballance of probailities' basis, and with the option to exclude the accused's own chosen legal representatives.

Dont tell Charlie Clarke -it might give him ideas... more victories for Osama without his franchised terrists having to lift a finger.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Dynamic symbol for Liberal Canada 

Just to show how insular we are with our International outlooks, Canada installed a new Governor-General yesterday. I didn't notice either, despite having an interest in Canadian matters, or so I thought. Thoughts - great, Canada, some envy from me, and a plus point for Canada's Federal Liberal government...

Anyway, the new 'GG' is Michaëlle Jean. She is a former refugee from Haiti.

Official Governor-General site here.

This from the Globe and Mail:
The rewriting of the job definition began with Adrienne Clarkson, whose
energy and activism earned admiration among Canadians. She became a patron of
the armed forces at a time when the military was often ignored, visited
regularly with aboriginals and had a general, common touch.But she might have
been an anomaly in the job had Mr. Martin (the Prime Minister) not cemented her
approach by choosing Ms. Jean as her successor.
As a refugee from Haiti, the 48-year-old former journalist symbolizes the
equality of opportunity that is slowly becoming this government's hallmark. That
characteristic is perhaps best exemplified by the legalization of same-sex
marriage, but can also be found in Mr. Martin's embrace of policies that would
increase the number of immigrants.
Ms. Jean is also a Quebecker who comes from neither the French nor the
English side of the debate. While her role is not to bridge that chasm, her
appointment does at least reflect an emerging and different demographic in the
In her ambassadorial role, Ms. Jean laid out yesterday what her personal
crusades will be. While Ms. Clarkson championed natives and the military, Ms.
Jean will be an ambassador for children, Canadian unity and the equality of

"Nothing in today's society is more disgraceful than the marginalization of
some young people who are driven to isolation and despair," she said. "We must
not tolerate such disparities."

From her speech:
Car l’espoir a éclairé tout mon parcours d’enfant et de femme et s’est
incarné dans ce pays aux possibilités illimitées que, il faut bien l’avouer,
l’on tient parfois pour acquis. Depuis la petite fille née dans un autre
pays “barbelé de pied en cap”, pour reprendre l’expression si forte de mon oncle
le poète René Depestre, celle qui a vu ses parents, sa famille, ses amis aux
prises avec les horreurs d’une dictature sans merci, jusqu’à la femme qui se
tient devant vous aujourd’hui, c’est tout un apprentissage de la liberté qui a
vu le jour. Je sais à quel point cette liberté est précieuse et quel héritage
fabuleux elle représente pour chaque enfant et chaque citoyen de ce
pays. Moi dont les ancêtres étaient des esclaves, moi qui suis
issue d’une civilisation longtemps réduite aux chuchotements et aux cris de la
douleur, j’en connais le prix et je reconnais en elle notre plus grand trésor
collectif. "


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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Bella figura or not as the case may be 

If you want to get some handle on the sensational banking corruption racking Italy (courtesy not least of close colleagues of New Labours good friend Berlusconi) take a look at this piece by 'Gilgamesh' in the European Tribune. You wont understand what is happening from the BBC reports unless you read this. Also enlightening in the context of the Dutch bank ABN taking over Banca Antonveneta.

News report will also be trumpeting that Berlusconi has been 'acquitted' of certain charges. Well up to a point Lord Copper. It was very helpful that Italy has in effect made white-collar crime legal, according to this note.


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Monday, September 26, 2005

Hedging things 

Interesting piece on Hedge Funds in Guardian Weekend .. especially as one of the few Hedge Fund managers willing to talk to the press is Paul Marshall, who once worked as a researcher for Charles Kennedy and identifies himself as a LibDem supporter. His personal income last year was £13 million… some of which goes to finance the Centre For Reform which he describes as ‘the only Liberal thinktank’.

One issue is around Marshall also heading the charity ‘Ark’, which supports City Academies. When I last looked academies were still against party policy so some reassurance that his monies have not done an Ecclestone.

Another issue is the very existance of hedge funds on the present scale, which do need some serious discussion. Myself, I would start by reading John Kenneth Galbraith’s book ‘The Great Crash’ and also his later writings on leveraged funds which stress two themes:
1 Financial Genius comes before the Fall – people associated with huge amounts of money get a false glamour which leads others to disaster.
2 It can happen again – the only question is how long it takes for people to forget about the conditions of the last disaster.

Also highly entertaining is Gabraith’s “Money whence it came, where it went” which removes the spurious glamour of cash.

For a professional but very readable look at the history of risk , enjoy Peter Bernstein’s book ‘Against the Gods – the remarkable story of Risk’ which shows the history of attempts to understand and control uncertainties. It also stresses the need for some risk-taking behaviour.

Hedge funds are not necessarily bad things but like everything else they have the weaknesses of their strengths as well as the strengths of their weaknesses. On this I have some systemic thought of which more later.

Meanwhile I will; take an interest on Paul Marshall’s contributions to Liberal Democrat debates.

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Thursday, September 22, 2005

Over the Sea to Skye 

Yes a speech of passion ( a lot more than some I have seen from him) by Charles Kennedy. Excellent points rallying opposition to the Iraq mess... the press may be chortling about 'pressing the right party buttons' but it is still on the right lines...

On the contentuous issues of domestic policy, the sense I got from the deadpan bare mentions of Post Offices and so on was '"I'll be back..." so some democratic debate yet to come...

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Friday, September 16, 2005

Birmingham is Glorious 

So says Maureen Lipman in the Guardian. And OK I have to confess some of my ancient prejudices have to give way. Through gritted teeth ... she has a point.

Having lived in Warwick for a quarter-century I have some of the prejudices of that place and one of the is that 'we' were not 'near Birmingham' . Apart from the notion that everywhere else around us (except possibly Stratford-Upon-Avon) should be defining themselves as 'near Warwick' the feeling very defininitely was that our Big City was Coventry and that we sympathised with the unfortunate folk of Solihull who had to put up with the innuendos arising from being in the circulation area of the Birmingham Mail. And sixties Birmingham redevelopments, Bull Ring and all, really just reinforced that. What a dump!

But the modern rebuild of Brum is something else. And looking now from the distance of Milton Keynes I can say ... yes .. perhaps not Glorious, but something good coming up there.

Mind you Milton Keynes is sometimes seen as the modern reincarnation of (old style) Birmingham by its neighbours. The habit of the company that owns the MK City Shopping Centre of plastering towns like Northampton and Bedford with billboards saying 'Milton Keyenes - a better place to shop' does not really win friends. maybe MK and Birmingham should get together and talk about the problems and opportunities of being regional commercial centres...

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Thursday, September 15, 2005

New Zealand Liberals may actually exist 

No New Zealand organisations that I can see in the Liberal International listings.

However I have located an interesting BLOG in NZ which seems to be taking about the same landscapes as we do, with the engaging Blogname of Idiot Savant.

One item on the impact of this upcoming election result on the Maori as an example of his contributions.

Also his comment late last year on the Labour Governmen's failure to protect basic human rights. Yes thats NZ Labour they are talking about. What gets into the heads of Labour people worldwide when human rights questions arise?

The wooden spoon for this NZ Human Rights failure goes to one Phil Goff who is Foreign Minister AND Justice Minister AND Minister for Pacific Island Affairs and in the words of 'Idiot Savant'...

(as to who is) the person who did the most to undermine human rights in New
Zealand in 2004, I think the answer is obvious. One name features prominently in
the above litany of shame: Phil Goff. His utter lack of concern for procedural
safeguards, the rights of the accused (or convicted), actual guilt or innocence
- for justice, in other words - really speaks for itself.

Idiot Savant's latest comment on voting intentions may be helpful to us outsiders trying to make sense of the NZ poll.

What attempts are being made to get NZ participation in LI? Should we Liberal Bloggers take a lead?

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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Where the stray votes might be.. 

I think Philip Pullman had part of his tongue in cheek when he wrote this piece on New Conservatism in the Guardian. Ideas without a champion he says.. but some of them sound a little like LibDem notions. maybe (cough cough) we havent been quite as successful as we might in saying what Liberalism might mean...?

(Pullman)... I've noticed that the Conservative party has been rather at a loss recently. It doesn't know what it stands for or what it ought to be proposing to do in government. So in a friendly spirit of helpfulness, I thought I'd point
out some policies that resonate with old-fashioned ideas of the sort that a
truly conservative party might well feel at home with. By good luck, these
policies are without a current champion, and any party taking them up would find
a natural body of support ready and waiting.
To start with, then, there's the notion of noblesse oblige. For those who can't remember, this is the very good and centuries-old idea that privilege imposes obligations. That was ditched over a quarter of a century ago, and since then we've suffered under the revolting principle that we should all be intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.
A genuinely conservative idea would be to restore the principle that the wealthiest people should bear more financial responsibility than they've been required to do under the filthy-rich system: so income tax for the rich should go up.

Flat-Tax that one... and so on to this.

.... another conservative idea: that of the autonomy of the professions - the
teaching profession, for example. The notion is very simple: you employ good
people and then leave them alone. What you don't do is interfere all the time,
and tell them they can't be trusted, and set them targets for every tiny
activity, and regulate every minute of their lives, and put pompous and callow
government ministers on platforms to tell them how to do their jobs.

Ideas for someone here no doubt.


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New Zealand hears the Dog Whistles calling 

General Election in New Zealand on Sept 17 th....

Looks like it will be a cliffhanger in NZ - polls split on whether National or Labour are in the lead. BBC today has report and TVNZ has roundup.

Major issue seems to be national's promise to downgrade special status of Maori population, which is attracting support for national (compare this to the poll tracker issued on 7th Sept) but also causing alarm. Some constructive contercampaigning caought out the Nats at least once...

US-style 'lifestyle'politics seems to have hit the Kiwis by the backdoor with the Exclusive Bretheren church funding leaflets attacking Labour and the Greens. Labour accusing National of being aware in advance of these leaflets and of indulging in Australian-style dogwhistle politics.

If National is returned they will try to 'mend fences' with the USA it seems... (and there's no beating about the Bush really about what that implies though the Nats appear to be trying to avoid mentioning Foreign Policy as far as possible before polling day). But Labour is stressing the continuation of the 'no Nuclear ships in NZ waters' policy.

How are the minor parties faring under proportional represenation then? Interestingly, not well. Voters seem to be congregating around the big two of National and Labour.

The Exclusive Bretheren issue continues to resonate with this warning that this could be part of a worldwide trend. In part it says:

In the United States elections, the Exclusive Brethren spent more
than $US500,000 ($NZ720,670) on newspaper advertisements supporting George
Bush and the Florida Republican Senate candidate, Mel Martinez, known for
opposing gay marriage and hate crimes legislation, and linked to the
Republican strategy for turning Terri Schiavo's 15-year coma into a "great
political issue". Dr Maddox, the author of God Under Howard: the Rise of the
Religious Right in Australia, said with so much money and power at their disposal, it was "no wonder even moderately religious politicians such as Howard and avowed agnostics such as (NZ National Party leader) Brash, are hitching their stars to the conservative Christian comet".

I suppose we are lucky that our Faithful Prime Minister does not do The God Thing.

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Tuesday, September 06, 2005


Just to note what won't be on most Britons mind... September 6th, anniversary of the recognition by the USSR (as then was) of the independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

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Monday, September 05, 2005

Water water on the level 

So New Orleans is (largely) below sea level. Some sneering at the stupidity of building on such a spot (spoken lightly though if in the hearing of the Dutch). But flooding predictions aren't quite as simple as minus so many centimeters under Ordinance Datum or whatever.

One definition to de-mystify some jargon. Ordinance Datum Newlyn is the official Sea Level mark for the UK. This benchmark - a measure taken in Newlyn, Cornwall, is the basis for the 'spot heights' shown on detailed OS maps. If you ever have a flooding case in your area, the official flood height will be quoted as reaching a height of plus (so many) metres above OD Newlyn and not usually as so many metres or whatever over a local landmark.

On a world scale there is the Global Sea Level Observing System.

Sea levels are going to rise in the next few years, no question. And sure we do take more offical and media notice of this than does (say) the current U.S. administration. But we in the UK are also about to do things like invest hugely in expensive sporting facilities in an area of London at higher risks of flooding both from the sea (the Thames Barrier will be ending its planned useful life just about the time of the 2012 Olympics) and from the river Lea system. Get a map and look at the ODN spot heights for the development zone. This may not be an intelligent choice over the perspective of a half-century or so.

There is no ironclad criteria for makes a 'floodplain'. Most of the officially delimited floodplains, in planning maps in England anyway, are based on the areas of inundation of the 1947 floods adjusted for the very differennt experiences of the 1974 floods. Areas that did not flood then may actually be a high risk from flooding. Councillors who sit on Development Control Committees should be very sceptical of precise flood-risk boundaries in planning submissions.

Much of the historic data on floods was lost at the time of the privatisation of the old Water Authorities when people over 50 were compulsorily retired to 'slim down' the workforces and too late it was discovered that much flood information had been held as local lore and not written down... Even the Environmental Agency's Flood Risk Calculator is not the last word.

So good luck New Orleans, seriously, as the US looks to its Gulf Coast developments... and let's think more seriously about flood risks in our own development plans over here.

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Friday, September 02, 2005

Schadenfreude or a few lessons elsewhere.. 

Watching the events in the Lower Mississippi Floodplain is extrordinarily painful. I remember New Orleans and the excellence of Mint Juleps as a means of cooling on hot afternoons from just one visit (in 1972), but thats enough to imprint an unique place.

I worked on the fringes of the UK water industry for years. More on the hydraulics on another occasion.

For now horrors and empathy and hopes for help for survivors. And a start on some reflections on our own disaster preparations here in the UK. It will be as well to look at the mistakes being made across the pond and try to learn from them. We too have unjustified assumptions and hidden catastrophic vulnerabilities. No room to gloat.

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One of the great things about a summer holiday camping is stil being away from mass communications. Back to blog cativity now, anyway...

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