Old Stuff Revisted

AOL-UK are closing their blogging service so I’ve decided to transfer some, most or all of my old AOL blogs here.

I was sound in off about Water Metering on 22 November 2006:

I see that there are proposals to force us all to have water meters, supposedly to conserve water. I concede that there is a valid argument to be had that we should all pay for the actual amount of water we use, rather than an amount based on the size of the property we live in but come on, this will not reduce usage by much.

If the Government is serious about water conservation, why don’t they force the water companies to repair their leaky pipes? Somebody leaving the tap running while brushing their teeth might waste a bucket of water per week but the leaky mains lose Olympic swimming poolsful of water per day.

If we must have metering, there should also be meters on the resevoirs to measure the volume of water going into the system. Totalling the domestic and industrial meter readings would tell us how much was actually being used by consumers. It would then be a simple matter to calculate how much is leaking from the system.The water companies should then be fined in proportion to the measured leakage. If this hits share-holders in their pockets then tough!

This subject was discussed on the Bad Science forums (fora?) during the summer. I really recommend this site; it can be found at www.badscience.net/forums

The Reverend Blair set me off with his Apologies For The Slave Trade on 28 November 2006:-

I see Tony Blair has apologised for Britain’s involvement in the slave trade. Typical Blair gesture IMO – seems caring, doesn’t actually oblige him to do anything and costs nothing.

I’m not trying to diminish the horrors of the slave trade here – you’d have to look to the Third Reich to find something worse than the Middle Passage – but a three points occur to me:

1. The people who suffered the Middle Passage are all dead – we can’t apologise to them.

2. I don’t hear any calls for  the North African Arabs to apologise for their slave raids on Western Europe between the 15th and 19th centuries.

3. Britain was the first country in all of human history to abolish first the slave trade and then the institution of slavery itself. If we have to take the opprobrium for the slave trade, we should get some credit for its abolition.


The next two are about The Durham Fish Oil Saga. Most of it has been covered in my entries on this blog but I’m including them just in case I missed anything:-

If you read Ben Goldacre’s column in the Guardian or the commentry on www.badscience.net and www.badscience.net/forum you will be aware of the dubious uncontrolled trial that Durham Council and Equizen, the manufactures of the “Eye Q” fish oil capsules, are carrying out on schoolchildren in the LEA. When Dr Goldacre requested details of previous trials referred to by Durham plus the protocols of the current “trial”, he was refused on the grounds it would be too expensive.

Numerous readers of the blog sent in requests for parts of the info Dr Goldacre had requested. These were refused on the grounds that they constituted a vexatious request, having the effect of harassing the authority and were too burdensome to comply with etc.

My own request was simply for copies of the briefing papers on the trial submitted to senior officials. I received the same refusal as the others. I am currently appealing this decision. Here is the statement I made in the appeal:

It cannot be claimed that my Freedom of Information request has no purpose or value. Dr Madeleine Portwood is making numerous claims that these supplements will benefit mainstream children. It is reasonable to presume that this initiative was approved by senior officers and/or elected members. There is a public interest in knowing the quality of data submitted to these officials to assist their decision making. A well-knownHigh Street pharmacist is using the initiative in their advertising, other schools and authorities are jumping on the bandwagon and as a parent I need to be informed about such matters.

Nor is my request “designed to cause disruption or annoyance”. As I have requested copies of council papers it should be a simple matter of either emailing, or photocopying and posting, them to me. I fail to see how such routine tasks can “disrupt” or “annoy” anyone. I do not believe that it could possibly “have the effect of harassing the public authority”.

It is further stated [in Durham’s refusal] that during 2005 the council received 165 FOI requests but has received 106 on this matter alone and that “This clearly demonstrates that these requests have imposed a significant burden on the council”.

The quoted statement does not follow from the number of requests. It could just as easily be argued that these figures demonstrate that the staff dealing with FOI requests had an easy life in 2005, or that this is a controversial issue which has generated a lot of public interest. Photocopying and posting, or emailing, some council documents cannot possibly constitute a burden. Likewise the request cannot be considered “obsessive or manifestly unreasonable”.

I do not disguise the fact that my interest in this matter is brought about from reading Ben Goldacre’s column and the commentry posted on the “Bad Science” website. However, I requested copies of council documents not the trial data referred to in the column and on the website. Hence my request can neither be cosidered as part of a campaign nor vexatious.

After my successful Freedom of Information Act appeal on this matter it all went quiet for a month. Last week I reminded Durham that I still existed and still wanted the information.

Today I received an email from Peter Dinsdale in which he said, in part:

“I am informed that the requested information is not held by Durham County Council, as no written reports or papers were prepared for senior officials or elected members in relation to the fish oil initiative.”

I have worked within a local authority bureaucracy in the past and based on that experience, I find Mr. Dinsdale’s statement very hard to believe. It may indeed be true that that is what he was told but the implication, therefore, is that the relevent decisions were taken on the basis of orally presented information, or were made by middle-ranking or junior staff. Both of these scenarios are extremely unlikely.

Next stop, the Information Commissioner. To be fair to Mr. Dinsdale, he gave me the address, phone number, fax number and email of the ICO.

Then the fact that we appear to be Sliding Into A Police State set me off on one on 4 December 2006:-

My colleague got a parking ticket last week when her car broke down on Fortess Road. She’s justifiaby angry that she has to fight with Camden’s bureaucracy in order to get the ticket rescinded but to me the most disturbing aspect of all this is that she wasn’t issued with the ticket on the spot. Her car was spotted on CCTV by some plonker who’s reaction was to read her number plate, find her details from DVLA and post her a ticket. Is there any hiding from these cameras?

And how’s road pricing going to work? You’re going to pay per mile, the amount depending on which road you’re on. And how wiil the DofT know that?

By a black box in your car that will allow the Government to track you by sattelite, that’s how.

You’re always being watched.


I expanded on this a bit on 7 March 2007:-

My colleague got a parking ticket November’s end when her car broke down on Fortess Road. She was justifiably angry that she had to fight with Camden’s bureaucracy in order to get the ticket rescinded but to me the most disturbing aspect of all this is that she wasn’t issued with the ticket on the spot; her car was spotted on CCTV by some plonker who’s reaction was to read her number plate, find her details from the DVLA and post her a ticket.

Some might think that a woman on her own at night in this situation was in a vulnerable position and send someone to assist, but not this twunt. This gives the lie to the idea peddled by the powers that be that this surveillance is for our protection. Plainly they are not.

And they are everywhere, there’s no escaping them. You’re always being watched.

It’ll get worse when road-pricing comes in. You’re going to pay by per mile, the amount epending on which road you use. How will the DofT know that? By a black box in your car that will allow the Government to track you by sattelite, that’s how.

In an insightful letter in the 5 January issue of New Scientist, Derek Storkey of Hampshire points out that petrol tax also serves the purpose of a price per mile levy which is unavoidable and requires no hi-tech means of collection and enforcement. He concludes:-

“If we are going to implement road pricing, let us be honest about the motives. It is either a way for rich people to use the tax revenue to make it harder for poor people to clutter up the roads or a way for the security services to be able to keep tabs on the whereabouts of anyone who uses a vehicle any time, anywhere.”

And that’s because they think Everybody’s A Suspect:-

I read earlier this week that the Government intends to fingerprint all 11 to 16 year olds by 2010. Now I always thought that fingerprinting was only done to arrested suspects and that until they were actually charged with an offence, they could refuse to be fingerprinted.

Evidently that is no longer to be the case. If Judge’s Rules haven’t already been abolished, they soon will be.

Why have we got so scared of our children that they treated as felons, as guilty until proven innocent? I know their are problem kids, there’s more than a few of the at the school in which I work but they hardly a majority or even a substantial minority nationally.

The Government already wants to fingerprint all new passport applicants for the biometric passports. Once they’ve got most adults and all secondary schoolkids fingerprinted it’ll be pretty hard to resist a proposal to fingerprint
the entire population. And why stop there, if you’re going to regard the entire citizenry as potential criminals? These days the police take DNA samples from everybody charged with an offence – and retain them even in the event of an acquital. How long before some apparatchik in the Home Office decides that DNA should be taken from everybody?

And don’t fall for the “If you’re doing nothing wrong you’ve no reason to object” argument. Would you like Big Brother cameras and microphones in every room of your home to record your every action and every word for analysis by the police? If you’ve nothing to hide, why not?

Because it is a gross invasion of your privacy. And isn’t taking samples of your body without your consent an even greater violation?

Some sloppy thinking in the Love By Numbers column in the Guardian Weekend set me off on 4 December 2006:-

Saturday’s Guardian Weekend contained advice from Dr Luisa Dillner to an Asian woman contemplating marriage to a white man. She quotes the fact that “white people are the least likely to marry outside their ethnic group and she implies that this means they are the least enthusiatic about mixed marriage. It is mathematically inevitable that the majority population will have a smaller fraction of its members in mixed marriages.

Consider a minority group consisting of n individuals and a majority group having m more members i.e. n+m members in total.

Consider that a fraction x of the minority group enter into marriages with members of the majority group. Thus there are xn individuals from the minority group in mixed marriages.

Consider that a fraction y of the majority group enter into marriages with members of the minority group. Thus there are y(n+m) individuals from the majority group in mixed marriages.

If the marriages are monogomous, these terms are numerically the same

ie y(n+m) = xn

ie          y = xn/(n+m)

i.e y is always smaller than x and is due to proportionate lack of opportunity not enthusiasm.

The ignored pre-Norman Occupation portion of English history made me think “Who’s History Is It Anyway?”:-

I’ve been working on an article for an RPG site on Role playing in the Anglo-Saxon period. (A preliminary article and other good gaming stuff can be found at http://firedrake.org/roger/rpg/sharpend) During the course of my researches I’ve come to realise how little of it is taught in English schools.

As I recall from my own schooldays it consisted of :

Romans leave Britain. Hengst and Horsa arrive – behave in sneaky fashion and assassinate British leaders. Jump to Viking era, Alfred burns cakes and defeats Guthrum. Ethelred the “Unready” (actually “Unred” means ill-advised; an Anglo-Saxon joke as Ethelred means “well-advised”), Canute and the tides, Edward “the Confessor” (not a title used until the Norman Occupation began. His contemporaries thought of him as Edward III), Harold II Godwinson, Battle of Hastings and Billy the Bastard. Well, the text books called him William the Conqueror but I prefer my choice. Most apt whatever meaning of Bastard you choose.

And why is six centuries of history swept under the carpet? Could it be because the victors wrote a self justifying history which has been repeated without question ever since, because most of the people who own this country are descendants of the Bastard’s thugs? Of course it is. Wealthy land owners are squatting on stolen property and the theft is justified by their self-serving distortion of events.

The history we are taught claims that Billy the Bastard was the rightful successor to Edward III. What crap! English Kings were elected by the great land owners. All the aetheling (“King-worthy”) were candidates. OK, not a democracy as we understand it today but well in advance of the “divine right by birth” or naked land-grabbing that was more usual in the eleventh century.

Billy had no right to be King of England. He was a usurper and thus the handing out of estates to his followers were illegal acts. We English should take back our rightful history!

I might reproduce the Anglo-Saxon History for role-players articles here. Any historian who doesn’t like them will understand why Ben Goldacre makes his sarky comments about humanities graduates and the fact that they don’t know much science does not prevent them pontificating about it.


The Great Gas Bill Rip-Off from 9 January 2007 remains topical:-

Remember how our gas bills all shot up last year and switch suppliers as we would, our new suppliers followed with increases of their own? They blamed the international wholesale price for gas and claimed they had no option but to pass the increases on to the consumers.

There might have been something to that argument when wholesale prices were at their peak but guess what, wholesale prices are dropping. In August last year, wholesale prices were 80 pence per therm. In November it was 50 ppt and now it’s 30.45 ppt. Are are gas bills dropping to match now? Of course they aren’t. The gas companies want to keep the excess profits they are squeezing out of us and out of industry. I am willing to bet now that if wholesale prices increase again during the year, the price we pay will be increased again.

Not only are they costing us by squeezing us on our gas bills. These energy price increases increase industrial production costs and you can bet that those prices will also be passed onto us.

The enegy companies should all be renationalised and run on the basis of need not shareholder profit. That wouldn’t protect us from increases in wholesale prices of course but if they were still state companies, unit costs would be decreasing at a time of year when use is at its highest, so our winter fuel bills wouldn’t be the shock they are, in fact, going to be.

Fundies say the funniest things, particularly when they’re playing the victim. As they were when they provoked Human Rights Abuse on 10 January 2007:-

 I’m talking about the bizarre abuse of the concept of human rights by the Christians who were protesting last night against the Sexual Orientation Regulations. They claim that their faith requires them to be ant-gay and that by preventing them from discriminating against gays, the Government is infinging their human rights and freedom of conscience.

They don’t seem to have thought this through. This is a game anybody can play. For example, Muslims believe that Allah is the one true indivisible god and that Mohammed was his final prophet. Al Quaida and other extremist elements further say that their faith requires them to smite unbelievers. If they were to apply the logic of those moronic protestors, being prevented from murdering Christians and other non-muslims (and muslims who don’t share their radical interpretation of the Koran) would infringe Al Quaida’s human rights!

I’m sure the evangelical protestors would see the nonsense in this position but their own position is equally absurd.

Vitamin peddlers in South Africa provoked my thoughts on Deadly Denialism on 21 January 2007:-

Yesterday I read in the Guardian’s Bad Science coloumn that one Anthony Brink has filed an accusation of genocide against Zackie Achmat, the founder of the Treatment Action Campaign, at the Hague international criminal court. In summary, his allegation is that by campaigning for antiretroviral drugs to be administered to South Africa’s five million HIV positive citizens, Achmat is committing an act of genocide.

Brink is an associate of Matthias Rath, a vitamin peddler who claims his nostrums are more effective for treating HIV/AIDS than antiretrovirals. He is the leader of an allied organisation called the Treatment Information Group which claims that antiretrovirals are not only ineffective but harmful. He is the man who is credited with introducing President Mbeki to HIV denialism. These actions have contributed to the needless deaths of tens of thousands of people.

His latest action is clearly an attempt to intimidate Zackie Achmat and the Treatment Action Campaign into silence, to stifle the attempts to save the lives of five million people. Are Brink and Rath really so stupid as to not see their actions will contribute to the deaths of millions?

Well, we’ve since found out exactly how stupid Rath can be: sued Ben Goldacre and the Guardian for daring to tell the truth about him, lost and lumbered himself with a million-pound legal bill.


Finally, on on 7 February 2007, I expressed the opinion that The Archbishop of Canterbury Talks Cack:-

Rowan Williams, Heresiarch/Primate of all England (depending on your view of the Anglican Schism) is obviously angling for a job as a Daily Mail columnist, judging by his latest pronouncements. He accuses “Trendy metropolitan types” of mocking marriage and goes on to say “Fluid, changeable relationships may look fine to the commentating classes of North London but you can see the cost”.

So far, so tabloid. Lovely soundbite but just does not match reality. It may come as a surprise to His Irrelevence but most “metropolitan types”, even in North London, are in stable relationships. He is conducting the usual church propoganda of trying to present themselves as some kind of moral guardians. The hypocricy of the leader of a church founded to give Henry Tudor a divorce when the Pope wouldn’t play ball is quite breath-taking. Perhaps he should lecture his future boss, Carl Battenburg, on the sanctity of marriage and stable relationships.

If we want to see how christian Williams’ church truly is, let us consider the case of Andrew and Gail Wallbank, who inherited a field classified as rectoral property, making them ‘lay rectors’ of the Parish of St. John the Baptist in Aston Cantlow, Warwickshire. The church is making use of the Chancel Repairs Act (1932) – which is based on medieval law – to compell them to pay the £200,000 costs of repairs to the church. The Anglican Church is rich in money, shares and property but rather than pay for the repairs themselves they are forcing the Wallbanks to sell their farm to pay for them.








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