Monday, 24 November 2008

Where Have All The Sparrows Gone ?

A recent report by RSPB scientists at Sandy has evidence that the population of house sparrows in Britain has fallen by 68% over the past thirty years.

Dr Will Peach says "The trend towards paving of front gardens and laying decking in the back, and the popularity of ornamental plants from other parts of the world, has made many gardens no-go areas for once common British birds."

He said that gardeners could help sparrows "by being lazy, doing nothing and allowing the garden to be a little bit scruffy".

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Transit Camps for the Poor & Needy

That's how Austin Mitchell MP has described proposals by the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH).

CIH are suggesting that new tenants of social housing should be offered fixed-term contracts and moved into private housing if their circumstances improve.

Nearly 4 million people are waiting to be housed, but only 170,000 properties are becoming available each year.

This is of course yet another example of chickens coming home to roost. Selling-off the stock of council houses, which started under Thatcher, was always going to return with a vengeance. It was a policy which New Labour has done nothing to change, despite the protestations of Labour MP Austin Mitchell. He's right to say that a fundamental tenet of council housing was that it was secure.

Contrast this plan for council house tenants, who would be rewarded for working hard to improve their lot by being kicked out of their homes, with the bonuses and 'golden parachutes' of the bailed-out banking bosses, a thank-you for taking our cash and playing the casinos.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

The Empire Strikes Back - 3

The reputation of the banks is in ruins. Public confidence does not exist. But still a couple of the old guard have tried to stage a come-back. They want business as usual.

Sir Peter Burt and Sir George Matthewson (how did they become 'sirs' ?) have written a letter to HBoS. They have graciously offered to take HBoS over, sack the top brass, and avoid the proposed deal with Lloyds TSB. They would keep HBoS independent, and 'protect jobs and bring benefits to customers and shareholders' ........

Wait for it ..... Sir Peter Burt is credited with creating HBoS !

Of course, the kind offer to assist HBoS has been declined by the board.

But with people like this prowling around like rotweillers, it's impossible to imagine anything other than business as usual for the banks, eventually.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

A Breath of Fresh Air

I don't usually stay up into the small hours watching election results. I did last night, until it was clear Barack Obama had made it to the White House.

Even on Day One it seems like a breath of fresh air. A positive optimistic vision for the world and idealism, after eight awful gruelling years of W.

Not everyone is celebrating. Melanie Phillips in the Spectator has been warning for ages of the dreadful consequences of electing Obama, and is still at it today. His election has also made life awkward for the Conservative Right. Their adulation of McCain & Palin, especially Palin, has suddenly and miraculously yielded to singing the praises of Obama.

In order to ease their re-education process, they've hatched a cunning project called 'America in the World'. A director of AiW is Tory Tim Montgomerie, and the show was launched this week in London on the eve of the presidential election, by none other than David Cameron. It's aim is to oppose anti-Americanism ! I suppose the idea is to get the message out to the Tory faithful that, well, we've got four years of Obama, like it or not, so we had better get used to saying he's a good egg after all.

It will be interesting to listen to Tory Tim and AiW as the Obama story unfolds.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Science and the Mud Eruption

In East Java, Indonesia, earthquakes and mud volcanoes are common. But a bitter dispute has raged over the cause of an eruption of the Lusi mud volcano. When Lusi erupted in May 2006, it coincided with both an earthquake and drilling for oil and gas.

A meeting of 74 geologists in Cape Town came down 57% blaming the drilling; 4% the earthquake; 17% both; and 23% said the evidence was inconclusive.

Science is often a matter of probabilities.

Establishing the cause of the eruption is important. Thirteen people died, 30,000 were displaced, and there is a huge compensation claim against the drilling company Lapindo Brantas.

The point I am making is this case illustrates that in geophysical science, as in other fields of science, the evidence is often not clear cut. Careful informed systematic evaluation of all the available evidence is essential; and a willingness to change one's mind when evidence swings against the prevailing view. This point equally applies to the vastly more complex global warming debate.