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Friday, September 26, 2008

Piracy and the reputation of the Royal Navy 

So Somali pirates have seized 33 tanks and associated spare parts with the capture of an Ukrainian ship off the Somali coast..

And Russia is apparently considering sending warships to the Arabian and Red seas to carry out anti-Piracy patrols. This would be alongside the existing international ‘Combined Task Force 150’ (which includes Royal Navy vessels) which undertakes anti-piracy operations in the region. Things seem to be hotting up at sea.

Piracy is no joke in today’s world as noted before here and here.. What I do hope is an amusing misunderstanding is this report in Lloyds List

“British Foreign Office officials are understood to have advised the Royal Navy not to confront or arrest pirates in the region for fear of transgressing human rights legislation or encouraging their seeking asylum once taken to the UK.”

Lewis Page thinks this ‘asylum threat’ is a Royal Navy inspired bit of bullshit to cover up some operational and morale inadequacies of the service. Page’s analysis (he is an ex-Navy man) is rather scathing of the RN. In fact a rather worrying analysis for people who cherish the ‘Nelsonian Aggression’ ethos of RN tradition. In CTF 150 it is apparently the Marin Francais which now shows derring-do and initiative in combating the pirates.

Not the picture Nick Clegg tried to promote in his visit to Portsmouth yesterday. (Clegg praises unsung heroes of the Royal Navy).

And a quick question. What in the name of Cthulu is an Ukrainian ship doing with 33 tanks as cargo off the coast of Africa anyway? One suggestion is that the final destination of the cargo was the south of Sudan. There is a story to dig out here…

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Seven hundred thousand million and counting -find the lady 

So how did the US Treasury come up with the figure of $700,000,000,000 as being the sum needed to buy up bad debts? Well according to the business journal Forbes a Treasury spokesperson admitted on Tuesday that:

"It's not based on any particular data point. We just wanted to chose a really large number".

Oh of course, get a mumble wad of cash and impose a really stringent audit check on it like this delimination of the powers of the Treasury Secretary under the plan:

"Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency."


That really will make sure the financial three card tricksters and leveraged pyramid sellers are put in their place through scrutiny of the outlay of taxpayers money in the bailout.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Le plutonium nouveau est arrive 

So it is going to be four new Nuclear Power stations in the UK under plans floated by EDF (the new owners of British Energy). Good candidates perhaps for an upcoming accelerated protester-neutralised planning system for ‘major projects’?

These reactors will presumably be the French ‘European Pressurised Reactor’ design which is apparently running into considerable technical and economic problems in its showcase export project in Finland (massive safety problems due to mistakes in the foundations, already 50% over budget and two years behind schedule).

France has been trying to sell its nuclear technology to the United States for awhile now (with the support apparently of the likes of vice-President Cheyney). This prompted a posting on the DailyKos newsblog analysing French claims. Well worth a read at this time ( and a by-product, to see also the economic protectionist rhetoric in a lot of US discourse).

France has no real nuclear reprocessing capabilities and has about 80 or so metric tons of plutonium stashed at its la Hogue and discharges from this into the English Channel are causing intense problems. Indeed according to the (US) Institute for Energy and Environmental Research

….The pollution from the reprocessing plant has so rankled other European countries, that 12 members of the OSPAR (Oslo-Paris) convention (a European body whose mission is to protect the marine environment) voted last year (2000) for the elimination of the radioactive releases from the plant with a view to shutting down the reprocessing activity. France abstained. Denmark, Norway and Ireland have called on France and Britain, which runs a similar plant, to shut down their reprocessing operations. (IEER press release 2001)


Not much action there I think in the subsequent years. I wonder if EDF is counting on getting access to Sellafield and thus transferring some of this concentrated pollution to the Irish Sea?

For a sustained assault on the French nuclear power industry, the ‘French Nuclear Myths’ pages on the 'Beyond Nuclear' site seem a good resource. Caveat I have not assessed all these pages so cannot vouch for them as yet.

However one theme looks fairly well established – in the International Trade Corruption stakes the French Nuclear Industry makes the UK Arms traders look like constipated choiristers.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Fanning flames in the Channel Tunnel 

Is the Channel Tunnel the victim of unwise cost cutting as far as fire safety is concerned? Yes, says an interesting post on Eurotrib.

Basically a train fire in a very long tunnel poses big problems for fire-fighters, as it takes a long time to get to the blaze. So the car transporter shuttles are designed as closed compartments, which means that if a fire breaks out the train can be driven out of the tunnel and the incident dealt with in the open air. But the HGV transporters are open-sided so in the event of a fire the train must stop. That maximises chances of damaging the tunnel fabric and generates far higher costs (think closure of one of the tubes for a month) than would providing closed carriages for HGVs in the first place.

And should it be permissible to transport highly volatile or poisonous products through the tunnel?

See the pictures – what do you think?

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O Canada! O Europe! What is cooking on the comprehensive trade front? 

While the USA seems to be talking itself into all sorts of protectionist corners with its various brands of election rhetoric, a different tune seems to be coming up in the True North.

The possibility of a comprehensive pact between Canada and the EU is in the air, with an economic summit planned for 17 October (three days after polling in the upcoming Canadian General Election).

The proposed pact would far exceed the scope of older agreements such as NAFTA by encompassing not only unrestricted trade in goods, services and investment and the removal of tariffs, but also the free movement of skilled people and an open market in government services and procurement… (Globe and Mail 18 September)

That suggests Europeans could take up employment in Canada without having to go through the Landed Immigrant points procedure (and conversely that Canadians could work throughout Europe). It also implies a huge increase in trade between Europe and Canada. If the US goes protectionist it may find itself out in the cold.

While this plan seems to have the strong support of the defending Tory minority government in Ottawa, it is backstage reporting as far as the current election campaign is concerned.

Because of the election, Mr. Harper appears to have decided not to unveil a full text of the proposed agreement, but instead to use the summit to inaugurate the trade talks with the launch of a “scoping exercise” that will quickly set the goals of the pact and lead to formal
“comprehensive trade and investment negotiations” to begin in “early 2009,” according to communications between senior Canadian and European officials examined by The Globe and Mail.

Haven’t seen the Liberal party of Canada position on this as yet…

But wouldn’t it be nice to get some discussion of this in European countries? What for example do our LibDem MEPs think about this idea and what do our MEP candidates make of it? There are apparently documents within the European Commission which are not in the public domain and yet the issue affects us greatly…

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Friday, September 05, 2008

Bones and 'Switchcraft' 

Switchcraft. A word that alas didn’t get taken up when coined back in the 1950’s. It calls up a concept that might be useful as we attempt to absorb and move on from the Bones report.

Switchcraft is the art of understanding how circumstances change and how to accept and refine necessary adaptations in familiar ways of doing things. It was proposed as a winning entry in a competition (in the old ‘News Chronicle’ newspaper) to find an alternative term for the process of ‘automation’.

‘Automation’ as a frame for change in industry strongly implies some kind of juggernaut of technological inevitability and consequent social disruption that cannot be argued against. ‘Switchcraft’ contains the notion that there are choices to be made and values to be upheld, be the ongoing changes as radical as they may be. It gives a value and dignity to the attempts by individuals to find their own path through the turmoils – and that must be a Liberal approach, surely?

Having been in the ‘Consultancy Game’ for a short time I know that one function of Consultants Reports is (all to often) to act as a frame-setter for decisions the client had already decided were necessary, with the report serving to put discussion onto ‘automation’ tramlines so they appear settled and necessary and easier to push through. Shaping debate so the clients decision makers can act while deflecting criticisms onto the consultants.

But it is possible to have reports that act as stimulants to evolving ‘switchcraft’ in the clients decision community. That can lead to ultimate fruitful decisions that surprise both the clients and the consultants.

Now finally I’ll get over and read the Bones report , thinking about the Switchcraft-stimulation elements if any.

Oh and also ‘Nemawashi’, the other word and concept I have been consistently unsuccessful in promoting in LibDem circles. Clearly my switchcraft is wanting.

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

History eye - on wrecking a political party 

And also just to show how far things have moved in 84 years… the worse Political Convention in US history was probably the 1924 Democratic Party convention which took 104 ballots to nominate a compromise candidate for President and also failed to carry a motion denouncing the Ku Klux Clan in a vote of 543 and 3/20th of a vote in favour and 544 and 7/20th of a vote against.

Now that was a piece of vote-counting excitement. Not surprisingly the Democrats were thrashed in the polls that year.

The presidential candidate selected by the way was John W. Davies who thirty-odd years later was the lawyer arguing in the segregationist side in the landmark ‘Brown vs Board of Education’ Supreme Court decision that forced desegregation of U.S. schools.

The 2008 US Republicans are unlikely to make quite that bad a spectacle of themselves though.

(The story that Republican US President Warren Harding joined the Klan in a White House ceremony appears not to be true).

The reason for the prolonged ballot was that the strongest candidate (Al Smith) was a Catholic. Smith did get the nomination in 1928 and the result was an outpouring of religious bigotry during the campaign that set the cause of Catholic integraton in US politics back a generation. Lets hope for a better result from the Obama candidacy this time round.

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