Open Primaries – Crap idea

Right, I think I’ve stated my position fair and squarely on this issue then. Let’s get down to business of why?

I’d intended to pen this post but I’ve been pipped to it in many of the aspects I was going to cover by the venerable Luciana Berger over on her new blog who covers the main points well. So in addition to reiterating them I’d like to concentrate more on the dynamics of what would actually go on in such a case.

The argument for open primaries goes something along the lines of it engages the unwashed masses in politics by letting them choose a candidate for a political party as opposed to the opportunity they have at present to actually elect someone to be their MP which they get anyway every 4 or 5 years. So the question is what exactly does this add to the political process? Advocates like David Lammy MP will tell you it’s all about concert hall style speeches the likes of which politicos romanticise about from the 50’s and 60’s. Suddenly all these people who can’t be bothered even voting in elections that determine the future of our schools, hospitals, tax rates, defence, are suddenly going to turn up to listen to people talking ‘at’ them in some big venue and British democracy is suddenly saved from apathy and disengagement.

The other argument that I picked up on today was the statement that it cost nothing to knock on doors which is a lovely quaint idea of the way an open primary system would work but completely lacking the cold hard reality that is politics. We should also note that yes, financially it costs nothing to knock on someone’s door but it does cost time so those who’ve got spare time to indulge their political asperations are straight away at an advantage over the poor buggers of us that have to work long hard hours to feed our kids and pay our mortgages as opposed to, lets say, the independently wealthy.

So are we going to see a massive flood of people suddenly enthused to engage in open primaries? No. The Tories got a 24% turnout for their little headline grabbing stunt which puts in on a par with the turnout you’d expect in a local government by-election which are usually pretty miserable examples of British democratic involvement in action.

Who is it that open primaries actually benefit? I think we can assume it’s not the time poor wage slave average Joe type. Those ‘normal’ people we’re always on about not getting enough of in Parliament. Is it the single mother with two kids living off benefits? Probably not either. The “Party Political” structure isn’t perfect and it too can be criticised for having a middle class bias but if there’s one sure fire way of excluding working class people from entering Parliament then it’s open primaries.

Let’s run through the dynamics of this.

Constituency, let’s call it Walsall North as it’s mine needs to find some candidates for the next election for the three main parties. Barring a by-election loss in the 70’s, Walsall North has been a Labour seat for as far back in time as it’s likely to matter. Odds on, even in a really bad year for Labour, it will return a Labour MP and the majority of seats in the UK rarely change hands under our current voting system which means if you fancy knocking about the corridors of power representing the people of Walsall North, there’s not much point standing for Tories or the little Libdemmers round here.

So pretty much, in a seat like this, it’s all about the Labour open primary and anyone with designs on the seat will be going for the Labour nomination. We’re going to assume there’s some sort of qualifying criteria like actually being a member of the Labour Party and so the only real difference amounts to lots of people choosing the candidate versus local party members. Those lots of people, not necessarily being Labour supporters so we hit our first obstacle. What stops large swathes of voters or an organised operation by another party picking a really crap candidate in an attempt to damage the prospects of that party in a particular seat?

Then we have to address how people put themselves forward and campaign with particular reference to costs involved. Assuming just anyone can put themselves forward then the ballot paper is going to get very long indeed. What is the timescale involved in such a process? This is important because it takes a bit of time to knock on 30-40 odd thousands doors in a constituency after people’s support. Which brings us to the most important element. Campaigning.

If a candidate wishes to obtain, let’s say our hypothetical Labour nomination for Walsall North then they’re not going to knock on everyone’s door because they can’t – at least on their own. Even if the old style concert hall address is being set up then how are people going to know about it to come along? We’re back to the main focus of political campaigning; publicity. Anyone who has ever done campaigning knows it’s not easy and it certainly isn’t cheap. We rightfully have limits on spending during election campaigning in this country but they’re not exactly hard to circumnavigate. Advocates of open primaries think that there can be effective controls on spending but anyone who witnessed the Tories key seat strategy at the 2005 General Election will tell you what absolute rubbish this is. Guess what? The Tories won seats off Labour where they outspent us massively. Whether you like it or not, money talks in politics and it doesn’t matter if you tell candidates they can’t spend more than X amount of money during a 4 week primary campaign if they’ve spent half a million quid on campaigning in the two years prior to that, and spend it they will. Especially if they happen to have backers with deep pockets.

Which brings us nicely on to our next subject.Who’ll be behind the candidates with the chequebook? We don’t have to look far to realise where this leads. A quick glance across the Atlantic to the US and we know. The lobby firms. Big companies with vested interests all willing to bankroll candidates. British democracy isn’t perfect by a long way, but it’s a damn sight better than anything that we’re likely to get copying the Americans.

That’s not to say that money is the be all and end all of the situation. Exposure doesn’t necessarily require vast sums of money because some people will be able to achieve publicity without it although odds on, these people will then attract the money as a good bet by those currying for favour. We’re talking celebrities here folks. From those with national exposure down to the local celeb or even journalist type who are already in a position to command personal publicity in their own right. Odds on they’re not going to be particularly poor working class people either if they’re in that line of work.

There’s a final group of people who open primaries would benefit. Although again, they’re unlikely to be poor or working class but those who work in ‘the business’. PR people, marketeers. People with the technical savvy involved in publicity.

So just so we can recap. Open primaries benefit the rich/independently wealthy, celebrities who can get publicity and professional PR and marketing people. Anyone who complains about the current stock of people sitting on the green benches might want to consider how much they’d like them being populated by people from those backgrounds instead.

The Party Political system isn’t broken. It’s taken some heavy knocks recently which haven’t been essentially its fault, more that of a select minority of politicians whose actions have tarred both others and the Party Politics system in general.

Party Politics isn’t about a select group of people sitting in smoke filled rooms secretly deciding the fate of the prols at the door (The Labour Party banned smoking in meetings years ago). Anyone who wants to take part is free to do so if they wish and only in exceptional cases would an application for membership be turned down of which there’s a full right of appeal process. The point is that in general people aren’t paying up to join political parties so they can be involved in deciding candidates.

There’s a valid argument about why people should pay to become party members to have a right in selecting a candidate. However we have to look at how and who would run primaries?

Assuming it were run by individual parties who have to somehow be able to ballot everyone in a constituency and more importantly afford to do it. This is not cheap and someone’s got to pay for it somewhere along the line. There’s not a party in the country that could afford to run open primaries in all constituencies, it’s simply too costly so we either end up with it being run by someone like the local authority on their behalf which equals council tax monies being spent on what I’m sure the right would describe as a waste of taxpayers money (of which I’d actually agree in this case as I’d rather it be spent on stuff that benefits society like youth services and schools) or the state nationally bunging the political parties enough money to run them which equals state funded parties and well yes, someone’s got to pay for that too. However unlike the present system where those who wish to participate can sign up and pay their dues to a political party, the whole population ends up paying so probably a small minority of voters can do the same.

What we must also realise is that in our multi-party system we can’t discriminate against any party if they were to decide to run an open primary for their Parliamentary candidate. So although there is obvious attention given to the main two parties, what is there to stop a minority party, and lets pick a horrid little one at random, say the BNP from saying they want an open primary and dear Government funding person, can we have X amount of thousands of pounds to run one and mail everyone in the constituency while we’re at it? Wonder how a load of ballot papers and freepost candidate literature for the BNP would go down in David Lammy’s constituency?

Right, that’s enough food for thought for tonight. I may well come back to this issue when I’ve got a bit more time.

I’ll also note that I asked David Lammy MP via Twitter if he would put himself up for an open primary. He didn’t respond.

A final note for those in any party advocating such a system but expecially to my fellow comrades. Anyone can go out and campaign for a political party. I don’t think any party excludes people from campagining for them because let’s be honest, all parties are desperate for help doing things like leafletting and knocking on doors. If selecting candidates doesn’t require party membership then short of perhaps the people who want to be candidates (who we’ll presume will have to be party members to put themselves forward) and the terminally meeting obsessed masochistic. What’s the point in being a member anymore? How do you think membership of political parties and their funding streams are going to be affected by all this?

Moon – Review

Popped of to the pictures the other day to catch the film Moon while I was trying to kill some time waiting for a train and thought I’d do a little review on it.

I don’t go to the cinema a great deal which is a shame but I’m rather glad I dropped in to see this film on nothing more of a basis than having seen a trailer for it a few weeks previously and thought it looked interesting.

A brief synopsis of the film pretty much goes like this. Sam Bell, played by Sam Rockwell is the sole resident of a mining installation called Sarang on the moon where he generally keeps all the automated harvesters (they really do resemble like combine harvesters) running smoothly while they plough up and collect ‘Helium 3’ from the lunar surface which is a revolutionary energy supply that has solved the Earth’s energy problems. His routine follows driving out to pick up the canisters and then shooting them off back to earth.

He’s coming to the end of a 3 year mission where he has only had a robotic companion Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey) for company and can look forward to returning to Earth to see his wife and 3 year old daughter when things start getting a bit strange.

That’s about all that can be said about the plot without giving anything away and there’s a great deal of other things of note in the film so I’ll go through the main components of what makes a film special.

Cinematography:

We all have things we look for specifically in films that attract us. For some it’s the way the actors interact, for others it’s the scripting. Personally myself, I’ve always been a bit of a cinematography kind of guy which may in some way be attributable to a bit of a background in light engineering, or quite possibly not.

In the case of Moon I was pretty impressed. We’re not talking about a film with a huge budget, we’re talking a low budget British flick here but it’s done extremely well. There are probably only around half a dozen actual sets in the moon base that are used for filming but the usage of those spaces with the camera are well done. As are some beautiful camera panning work. Although it was a little strange at first and I’m moving more into the realms of special effects but the film has effectively already started before the credits are finished at the beginning. We know the usual routine is some introduction section, possibly involving landscapes or a generated background but the way various people’s position and names were superimposed onto various wall panels I thought was a particularly nice touch even though they were still appearing as the film was obviously already underway.

If we move on to special effects and sets in general then there’s some really good stuff but just a few seconds of the film don’t quite clinch it convincingly. If we’re talking the internal sets then there’s a lot in there that wouldn’t look out of place as a mixture between Kubrick’s 2001 – A Space Odessey and Red Dwarf series 3 onwards (when they got a new set). It does however work wonderfully and there’s nothing in there that would make anyone think that a mining station on the moon wouldn’t look like that. When the film switches to external shots, lunar landscapes, the harvesters and the ‘rovers’ for lack of a better descriptive word that Sam uses to travel about in then there’s a few slips. Think Red Dwarf series 1-2 and you’re not far off the style that you’ll experience. That shouldn’t in any way be taken as a criticism, it’s just the style which is very well executed. However there are a few seconds in the film when little things like how you would expect the interaction between the rover and lunar surface taking into account the differential in gravity that it just doesn’t quite look right and gives that “I’m looking at a model here aren’t I feel”.

As I also used to dabble a bit in the old sound engineering I do like a good score to a film and in the case of Moon, it’s not disappointing. The vast bulk of which takes the form on simple piano music to set the various scenes with perhaps only one instance where I felt it was a little overdone. It is also notable the one (I think) exception to this which is the introduction of a bit of a track by Katrina and the Waves which represents possibly the funniest scene in the film. That said, this is a rather serious film so there’s not much that’s funny in it apart from possibly the varying smiley faces (we don’t call them acid men anymore do we) on the digital display of the robot Gerty.

Acting wise there’s not much to really mention as the film has (barring the odd flashback to Earth moment and the very long distance telephone call scene) effectively only one actor in it and he plays the role brilliantly.

After catching the trailers I’d thought there’d be more interaction between Sam and Gerty in a sort of patient therapist kind of interaction but Gerty doesn’t play such a central role and hense there’s not exactly a massive amount of dialogue to analyse coming from Kevin Spacey. This film is first and foremost about one single character and I quite like that as a bit of a change from the usual run of the mill movie.

That’s about it for Moon apart from I’m going to do a bit more but it will involve spoilers but you’ve been forewarned about it so if you haven’t seen the film don’t scroll down. If you have or don’t mind then do scroll down. Final point. Go and see it, it’s good.

Moon – Review (this section contains spoilers, do not read if you don’t want to know various bits of the plot that could ruin the surprises or outcome of the film)

As I noted, I’d expected a lot more of the interaction between Sam and Gerty but upon actually seeing the film, you realise it’s the interaction between Sam and Sam which at first has you wondering whether you’re just seeing him going a bit mental and imagining things through to the realisation that there’s something a lot dodgier going on involving cloning.

I like the way almost from the outset of the film you can tell something is not quite right from in particular, the slight glitches in the recorded transmissions from Sam’s wife back on Earth. The way there is a certain element of mistrust in the Gerty robot character right up until the end of which the ‘kick me’ post-it note touch was good.

Things that I didn’t understand about the film:

This is a one man lunar station – why the hell does it have a ping pong table?

Labourlist and and vaccination woo-mongering

I don’t frequent Labourlist very often but was led there today on account of this article which I’ve reproduced in full below. I even registered to leave a response but just on the off-chance it doesn’t get through I thought I reproduce it here as I’m really quite bewildered to understand how such an article would appear on a ‘Labour’ site in the first place.
Bill Dewison wrote:

If I offered you a cocktail which included in its ingredients formaldehyde, aluminum phosphate, ammonium sulfate, washed sheep red blood cells, embryonic fluid from chickens and thimerosal, what would be your initial reaction? Would you gladly accept this concoction of animal byproducts, heavy metals and chemicals without question?

It is more than possible you lack the relevant knowledge of chemistry, biology and metallurgy to identify what all those ingredients are, as do I, so I decided to look up one of these; thimerosol. It is a mercury-containing compound (an organomercurial) that has been in use since the 1930s. There have been concerns raised regarding its use, or specifically more than a little concern about its effect on the male and female reproductive systems. To quote the OEHHA ‘The scientific evidence that PMA and Thimerosal cause reproductive toxcitity is clear and voluminous’.

Why would any of this be relevant to you? Well if you have children, the chances are you’ve already allowed these chemicals, animal byproducts and heavy metals to be injected into them. They are present in modern vaccines, vaccines given to newly born children right through to the age of 18 years of age. But why should we worry? Surely these vaccines have been thoroughly researched and tested to ensure that they are safe long before they are given to the population?

My wife has recently given birth to our daughter and inbetween changing nappies, cleaning clothes, changing nappies and have I mentioned changing nappies, we are discussing the implications of immunising our child against potentially fatal diseases. It is something I would imagine many parents discuss and with an 18 month old son, it is something we seem to have talked about nonstop over the past 2 years. As a couple we are faced with the dilemma of believing what we are told by the medical authorities or questioning what we give our children in the same way we would question what foods to give them, what the environment around them is and how we go about educating them.

Our primary worry is the sheer number of vaccines contained in a single injection, but also the number of injections our children are given in one sitting. Our daughter can not for instance be injected with the tetanus jab by itself, we can not opt to have measles and mumps seperately or even to have the injections themselves spread out over a longer time period. Considering the age of our children, they are after all still developing, their internal organs are yet to fully form and their immune systems are not operating at full capacity. I feel our concerns are justified, regardless of the scare stories proliferated by our media here in Britain.

The media does tend to rule the roost these days in terms of what we see and hear, and it does seem that everyday we are presented with conflicting health related advice or information, much of which is grossly exagerated to sell the story to the public. For instance, take the measles virus, are you aware that in the past 17 years there has been one death in relation to measles? This death, tragic as it is, was a 13 year old boy who was taking immunosuppresive drugs for a lung condition.  Although this particular case was reported correctly by the media, it led to numerous stories of measle epidemics. It has been noted that the media in general have exagerated figures by as much as 700% to sensationalise their story which does nothing but damage to the messages the government is trying to convey to parents just like me.

That said, it can not be ignored what is happening with regards to immunisation and the serious questions still to be answered. Why, following the injection of vaccines in America, has the American government paid out millions of dollars to parents of children who have had adverse effects to these vaccines, but at the same time accepted no responsibility? If we follow America on things like immunisation and it has been reported often that parents who have refused to sign consent forms for vaccinations have been accused of child abuse for doing so, will we follow America on that one?

Once a child is injected with a vaccine we can not remove that vaccine from their system, so isn’t it about time this was debated with parents in a realistic manner? Before the National MMR Vaccine Catch-up Campaign was launched, providing PCTs (Primary Care Trusts) with additional funding of £30,000 each, wouldn’t it have been prudent to discuss some of the concerns of parents about the MMR? And long before we start to have decisions made about unvaccinated children entering the school system, what is wrong with a discussion about injecting them with a certain vaccines that contains 62.5 mcg of mercury which is 78 times the safe level?

My response:

Bill, this is my first comment on this site, I even registered just to leave it as I don’t come here very often so I’m going to put things in your terms.

Have you heard of the following:

Phosphorus (makes nice stuff like organophosphates and nerve warfare agents), Sodium (one of those alkali metals the science teachers used to put in water at school and it fizzed around), Potassium (another alkali metal from the school classroom, it’s the one that goes mental and really reacts violently when placed in water), Chlorine (used in disinfectants like bleach and handy for keeping the nasties out of swimming pools, the Germans also found a handy use for it during the first world war to gas allied soldiers as when entering the lungs it forms hydrochloric acid), sulphur (used in detergents and fungicides), cobalt (used in Lithium Ion batteries), lead (going to assume you’ve heard how nasty this stuff can be to us humans).

Can we agree that there’s some pretty nasty stuff up there? Good. Apart from all those substances are found naturally in the human body, yours, mine, everyone’s (unless that have a particular deficiency for some reason or another which incidentally usually causes problems).

Going down the route of picking up a list of various nasties and turning it into an argument about ‘you wouldn’t want this kind of stuff in your body would you’ is scientifically disingenuous. There’s lots of stuff out there that’s really rather bad for us fleshies, but it all a question of proportion. Some of it’s no problem at all and completely vital to our existence and good functioning but you wouldn’t want too much of it of course.

As for your use of statistics over one death from measles in the last 17 years, do you think perhaps, there might be a reason there’s only been one death in that time? Vaccination possibly? The death rate from measles is circa 3 in every thousand, pretty low odds but a right bummer if you happen to be one of those three. Not to mention other complications that include varying levels of blindness and if caught in adult males; infertility. You mention about your daughter but not your son. If you haven’t had him vaccinated and he manages to get through childhood without catching it but gets it in his 20’s and then finds out he can’t have kids or you’re not going to get any little grand kids to play around with, how exactly are you or him going to feel based on the decisions that you’ve taken on what looks like taking notice of ill-informed woo-mongering?

As a Labour type, such as myself, don’t you also consider that you have a civic duty to your community/society as a whole? To prevent serious outbreaks of measles we need to maintain a vaccination rate of circa 85-90%. When it dips below that we start seeing it coming back. Just say for instance you child gets it because they’re not vaccinated but they don’t suffer any side-effects and recover fine. Great for you as a relieved parent, but lets just say for instance they pass it on to their best friend at school whose parent also decided not to vaccinate their kid and they die. Hypothetical and an extreme case scenario I know but tell me, how exactly would you feel when you run into your kids best friend’s parents in the supermarket?

You make an interesting point about combined vaccinations, the MMR being probably the most debated on account of a completely useless and hideously flawed/fiddled bit of ‘research’ in 1998 that got the media into a frenzy and probably accounts for the falling levels of vaccination in particular relation to measles. The best example of the use of the MMR vaccine probably comes from Finland who adopted it early and effectively eradicated the diseases from the population with no reports of any side-effects. MMR is recommended by the (WHO) World Health Organisation and for all those paranoid ‘big pharma companies are evil’ conspiracy theorists, WHO aren’t exactly known for being uncritical of their industry’s practices.

On a personal note and as a parent with kids, 3 and 1. We’ve had all their vaccinations done because although there is never any 100% guarantee in anything in life, the alternative odds of complications and even death sure as hell aren’t very attractive to us.

On a final point, I’ve had measles, it’s crap, really crap. It probably didn’t help having whooping cough at exactly the same time when I was 4 years old. My mother sat at my beside for nearly a month nursing me back to health and I had to have daily visits by my GP. If you fancy doing that with your kids then by all means be my guest – I won’t.

Me and my mobile phone

I’ve been tagged by Dave Cole with a meme. The task is to explain why your phone is your phone in exactly 139 words. For me a phone is a tool so my phone is mine simply because of what it does so I thought the best way to explain why it’s my phone is to say what it does/what I do with it. Here goes:

nokia-e90-communicatorThis is my mobile phone. It really is, if you look closely you can see how I’ve worn some of the chrome plating off the D pad through constant use. It is my little window on the online world, I read almost all my news on it, I even sometimes blog from it, I upload photos, geotag stuff and draw funny shapes on maps with it. It does e-mail nicely with html and images and everything.

It’s my default camera and can open all kinds of documents. It’s quite possibly more powerful than the desktop I had 3 years ago. I can watch movies on it and livestream video to the net which is nice. I can turn it into an encrypted wifi hotspot for the netbook. It also does Twitter and can send text messages and even call people.

Disclaimer: No, I don’t work for Nokia but I do truly love this phone which is quite possibly the best phone ever made. I will tag Tygerland and Mrs Penguin.

Do humans dream of electric cars – a review

do-humans-dream-of-electric-carsIt’s book review time folks, and the subject of our delectation on this occasion is a book produced by Sustrans with a lovely little forward by that ever congenial bicycle riding inventor and informer of how easy it is to do self-assessment tax returns online, which incidentally it is; Adam Hart Davis.

Do Humans Dream of Electric Cars? Is heavily focused on the use of cycling as an alternative method of transport which is not surprising given it’s produced by Sustrans but it does provide a few thought provoking arguments. Even though it touches on other wider environmental issues, it concentrates on transport issues in particular.

In particular I like the idea that cars should not be thought of as a necessity but as a luxury. Perhaps that’s because that is the way in which I’ve always looked at them anyway. We didn’t even own a car up until January this year and even though we now do, its usage is pretty light and designated mainly for taking the kids out to places that would be difficult if not impossible to do on public transport which mainly means trips out to the countryside. What it’s not used for is regular commuting or such things.

Herein lies a problem though. We’re blessed with a rather good public transport network in the West Midlands. Outside of London or Glasgow I’ve not come across others that I’d say rival it on our fair little island. Unfortunately large swathes of the country don’t enjoy these benefits, especially when you exit the urban areas so whereas it’s wholly possible to live ones life without needing a car in these parts, that’s certainly not true elsewhere.

It did make me think a bit about the viability of cycling more though. I used to cycle a lot and although long distances aren’t particularly applicable on a regular basis; I don’t think I’d cycle from Willenhall to London, it takes 13 hours (I know, I did it once) smaller distances are easily possible.

That said, I do like the idea of sitting down, letting someone else do the driving while I knock about on the web via my mobile phone, or perhaps I’m just getting a bit lazy in my old age?

There’s a nice little bit about the school run in there. I concur on this one. I seem to remember way back in the days when I were a lad that the number of parents dropping their kids off at school wouldn’t have topped half a dozen. When we were looking for a school for the little ones, unlike it seems (if you believe the newspapers) we weren’t hunting out the ‘best’ school for the little ones after hours of studying dopey league tables. We looked on Google Maps (not that we needed to) and found the closest/easiest to access by foot.

Hence we ended up with a school technically not, but sort of on the same road within 300 metres walk of the front door. Here however is where it’s not just about individuals attitudes or practices but that they also have to be supported by those who make the planning decisions and that those people need to be able to see further than a balance sheet.

There’s a particularly good example of this in our locality. Odds on our little ones wouldn’t have been going to the school they’re (very likely to go to) had Walsall MBC not closed down and amalgamated three other schools. When we’re talking about sustainable and practical travel to schools, no amount of good intention from parents is going to counteract bad planning decisions by myopic councillors. (In this case Tory and LibDem at the time). No one I knew argued against the need to combine the schools, they were low on numbers (no sign of the hoards of immigrants clogging up the schools ala Daily Mail fantasies round these parts) and the buildings themselves needed serious and costly upgrading, not to mention the limited access to outdoor recreational areas.

Those of us at the time argued (this was way before I had kids btw) that a school closer to the town centre that could be built on a reclaimed former industrial site (of which there are plenty) would both regenerate, bring people into the town which would help traders and be accessible as regards public transport.

Instead the decision was made to build a school on green belt, (a nature reserve to be more precise) opposite a haulage company (yes, think safety) on a road that has no public transport (not where the school is, one bus runs at the other end but goes nowhere near it) access. Not exactly a school for the 21st century, more a relic representing the knock it up on the cheap and worry about the consequences later of the 1980’s era. They did however make lots of space and indeed a dedicated drop off point for kids being brought by car which to be fair I wouldn’t blame the parents for as they simply built a school in a crap location by not thinking in the first place.

So yes, lifestyle change is important which is where the book focuses on, but equally good planning is just as important and a good amount of fore-thought on behalf of those making the decisions is even more handy, even if it’s lacking round these parts.

Another area of the book that I find interesting is it’s focus on the insular nature of modern child upbringing. I’ve thought about this a bit, from the practical issue of actually being a parent. In some respects it harks back to an era where kids were out kicking balls in the street which I assume did exist although when I was growing up you wouldn’t have stood a chance of kicking a ball about in my parents street (it was a rat-run between two areas and even back then was too busy with traffic). Likewise I won’t be encouraging my kids to play outside the front of the house because, 1. We live on a main road frequented by people who can’t drive, seem to have a problem with the concept of speed limits (although it’s better since the speed camera went up) and 2. Apart from the <15 square metre bit of real estate that constitutes Penguin mansions that has to fit a car and assorted Walsall Council wheelie bins, there ain’t no room to play there anyway.

Again we’re back to planning, not strictly in the local authority sense, but also in the building sense. If we assume that kids playing outside the front of the house is something desireable, which I’d agree it is, we actually need properties where it’s possible. Willenhall could be an odd little isolated example but I’m at pains to think of any of the recent housing developments that have any real playing area at the front of properties. They are dominated by paved driveways and if you’re lucky a strip of grass.  This trend isn’t specifically according to the value of the properties either, even in places like Prince Thorpe Road where the houses would have set you back 300K when they went up, the emphasis on front side recreational area is pitiful.

Compare it with the council houses across the road in the Rose Hill area and they have almost acreage of front gardens in comparison. They were, looking at them anyway, built a fair while ago, they look like typical 1930’s builds but I’m happy to be told otherwise. So once again, it’s poor planning, coupled with economic desire to squeeze as much profit from bits of land by the developers that counteracts this need for frontside recreational space. These aren’t areas where individuals can make a real difference on their own, they require change at levels of governance and decision making which equally require the ability to see past balance sheets and appreciate the social capital that can be built up over time.

Even where we’re faced with roads outside the front door, the least we can do is make them safer. As I mentioned, we have a speed camera on our road. It’s been there a few years now. I’ve never seen it flash so there’s probably nothing in it. However it is better now. Not perfect, but people doing 60mph down the road doesn’t happen now like it used to. (It’s a 30mph limit btw). That said, the local council were on about getting rid of them across the borough. I vaguely remember the argument being that they weren’t cost effective. I know it’s not perfect, but I’d rather have the situation we have now compared to the one a few years back as regards cars speeding along our road. I can’t possibly imagine why local councillors (not strictly speaking local to me as ours are Labour and it’s a Tory controlled council that seems to not like them) but as we’re in the spirit of openness and honesty as our elected representatives go these days, how about making councillors driving records public, see if they’ve got any points on their licences and what they got them for eh?

It’s not impossible, there’s some great examples in the book where it’s happened. None in the UK of course, but some forward thinking continental cousins have managed it. In particular Freiburg in Germany where they only allow cars on a third of roads with the rest for buses and cycles only and the suburb of Vaubon where no cars are allowed at all. It’s a pity it’s on the other side of the country from where I normally go, otherwise I’d love to drop by and see how it works.

Again though, it’s planners with foresight that made it work. 20 years ago it was the same as everywhere else, trying to manage more cars but they changed the perspective and apparently it’s a rather sought after place to live these days with rather lengthy waiting lists so it’s not impossible, it just requires a bit of forward thinking. The question is, is there any sign of this forward thinking planning out there? Would be very interested to know.

Tuesday fun – Walsall Council and interesting statistics

Nothing too serious but one for the ‘surely that can’t be right’ department.

Got the latest edition of ‘Walsall Pride’ through the door today. For those not aware, this is the council funded publication that Walsall MBC knock out to tell us how wonderful the place is with the usual array of smiling Tory councillors. (no sign of a single Labour or LibDem one in this edition, they usually at least throw in the odd token one)

This one appears to be a ‘special edition’ telling us what the local council is doing to help people with the recession, stuff like implementing schemes set up by the erm, *cough* Labour government.

I do like the emphasis in the first paragraph, “In this era of uncertainty created by the national economic downturn” – like no mention of the fact it’s a global recession or anything but you’ve got to hand it to the munchkins at the Walsall Press Office for that neat bit of wording, very clever.

I also couldn’t help noticing the statement from Councillor John O’Hare (leader of the council and a Tory) of course. “Short-term, high impact and easy to implement measures are needed right now by Walsall’s residents and businesses coping in some extremely difficult times.”

‘Short-term high impact” is he some kind of Keynesian geezer or something? I’d hate to think what old Cammers boy would think of Tory council leaders espousing such views. Actually I’d love to know what O’Hare actually means by this.

Are we talking extended public service related stuff like support and all that hideous old dogmatic socialist crap that involved y’know employing people in the public sector to do stuff? Can’t quite see how that fits with the Tories national argument that there’s like, all these public employees sitting around knitting and the like.

Or are we talking about sticking cold hard cash into business through loans and the like (of which there are a few examples contained within the publication) which strikes me as a good old bit of Keynesian economics which I like thought, y’know, the Tories didn’t really dig.

OK, party political things aside and back to the genesis of this post.

On page 18 and you can find it in the online edition here. (PDF) By the way, if that link doesn’t work, do let me know, looking at it they’re on version 3 of the publication so perhaps they may be amending it as they spot errors. If in doubt, you’ll be able to also get it by going here.

So what we’re dealing with is the claim on page 18 that states (in relation to reducing waste and saving energy) “A dripping tap can waste 500,000 litres or £400 a year.”

Let’s just deal with the cost. As these parts are served by private monopolist, Severn Trent water this is easy. According to their charging structure and forgetting sewage costs and standing charges (on a meter the sewage cost would bump the figure up even more) they charge 130.06p per cubic metre of water. So 500,000 litres wouldn’t be £400, it would be £650.30.

So apart from potty prices there’s the original assertion that a dripping tap wastes 500,000 litres of water a year.

In a highly unsophisticated scientific experiment of my own involving a clock with a second hand, a two litre bottle of cherry coke (empty of course) I worked out that I can fill said two litre bottle of cherry coke with my tap on full blast in 12 seconds.

That’s 10 litres a minute, 600 litres an hour, 14,400 litres a day or 5,256,000 a year (not leap year). So with my cold water tap (should say that as the pressure is higher on the cold tap than the hot so therefore more water) on full blast I could get through over ten times the amount of water they state.

The only problem being, a tap on full blast does use a tad more than one that is dripping.

Now I’ve had a look around and there are some differing figures from various energy saving organisations and research from universities and the like into the amount that is wasted by a dripping tap but we’re actually looking at somewhere between 4,600 and 5,500 litres a year.

So lets pick say 5,000 litres a year as a nice in between and easy to do figure. At Severn Trent’s prices that would be £6.50.

Now don’t get me wrong, saving water, cutting costs are all things I value highly but £6.50 a year odds on isn’t going to make or break any household or business over the space of a year.

There you go Walsall Council, I even did the research and figures for you, feel free to amend, I won’t charge you for my services.

On a separate note, via Twitter, JimboGunn asks the very pertinent question “ask them how viscous water would have to be for a 16ml drop to form every second?”

Nice one.

Links of the week

Another tech link I’m ashamed that I haven’t gotton into before. OpenStreetMap – of which I intend to co my bit by filling in the Willenhall map.

Nokia Sports Tracker. Essential for all Nokia based phones with GPS. Been having great fun tracking my walks here and there.

Something from Tygerland that “everyone must see”.

Nice to know what Daniel Hannan MEP thinks of the NHS. Seems no matter what Cameron does to cuddlify the Tories, these lot keep coming to the surface.

Enjoying very much, the new BBC F1 site. I just can’t work out where the on-board camera streams are, I’m sure they were supposed to be there.

Congratulations to Tory controlled Walsall Council

Actually that really should be the EU who’s legislation has managed to drag an area of UK environmental practices into the 20th century* but we’re dealing with the new recycling scheme we’ve got round these parts.

Bit of background. A fortnight ago we got a new wheelie bin. One of those 120 litre ones that is now designated for non-recyclable waste – it’s black btw. The old 240 litre green wheelie bin is now for recyclable waste only and we’re allowed to keep the old green box that was supposed to be for recycling.

Here’s how it should work. The 120 litre bin should be collected on weekly and the 240 litre on a fortnightly basis. All good stuff although I’m curious as to whether the council would have bothered if it weren’t for the EU threatening to impose massive fines on councils but in general terms I like this arrangement as opposed to the previous ‘system’.

Given that Walsall MBC failed to collect my recycling box for the five years I had it and our genuinely positive attitude towards recycling here at Penguin Central I was looking forward to see how the new system would pan out.

A fortnight in and our black bin was collected last week but not the recycling one which is fine because last week we had a couple of bags in it as an overhang of our rubbish that had accumulated before we were able to actually separate everything out. This week we managed to cut our non-recyclables down to a single bag which is pretty good going for a family of four but the recycling bin was getting dangerously close to capacity.

Today’s bin day in our parts and thankfully the recycling bin was emptied. Oddly though, our non-recyclables bin wasn’t. The bin men couldn’t have missed it, it was sitting next to the other bin they emptied so what exactly is all this about? We were promised by my favourite Tory Councillor Rachel Walker who apparently has responsibility for Environment that weekly collections for non-recyclables were guaranteed. If I was in a particularly sarcastic mood I guess I could say this was a case stealth fortnightly collections by the back door but I’m not, they might just have accidentally missed mine.

There is however an important point to this. In a situation where the ability to put out non-recyclables has effectively halved, a missed collection is even more problematic. It is in the end just a good job that we’ve been so good at sorting out our rubbish here which means we’ve still got plenty of space for this week.

That said, I think there should be a little more care taken in how the bins are put back after they’re emptied. The pavements on our road were strewn with bins all over the place this morning which makes me rather glad that I don’t use a wheelchair or motability scooter because I’d have had no chance. It could of course be a clever method of creating temporary chicanes to stop the kids riding their bikes fast on the pavement though.

Well done Tory Walsall council, after 5 years of not collecting my recycling box you’ve managed now not to collect my new non-recycling bin.

*That was deliberate.

Links of the week

I’ve not been blogging so much once again and against all the other projects and real life things on the cards I’ve made a decision that in the absense of having the time to do some good in depth researched posts then the least I can do is do a regular feature that I can stick to on at least a weekly basis.

So with that in mind, I’ve determined that at the very least I should do a weekly roundup of links to things that have interested me or passed my way.

Without future ado here’s the first batch.

For all the Penguin lovers out there.

More for all the Penguin lovers, wondering if there’s something particular I could get for Mrs Penguin.

As it’s on this weekend, I still think there should be a Team GB in this championship.

An excellent piece by Hopi Sen on how mind numbingly banal political media reporting has become. I wholly concur.

Interesting take on the non-committal nature of Chris Grayling Shadow Home Secretary.

More of a comment than a link, but personally Peter, I’d have knocked the twat out.

Can’t believe I haven’t experimented with this before but it’s ace. Barcode readable hyperlinks for mobile phones.

That’s it for now folks. In the absense of other posts, there will be another little list of interesting links sometime next week.