Saturday, 31 January 2015

A North American continental weather-shift?

Those climate-change sceptics pointing at the record falls of snow in New England as proof that 90% of the world's scientists are engaged in a gigantic hoax should look at the other side of the continent.
There has been a warming trend in the western States and provinces of Canada (the temperature in Alaska did not dip below zero Fahrenheit for the whole of 2014) and a reduction in precipitation. Particularly worrying is the paucity of snow in the mountains. The thirsty state of California depends on the resulting melt-water.

Lost in the post

My second reaction (after the initial paranoid feeling that such data were worth much to certain people) to the story that a disk containing details of three sensitive cases had gone missing after being put in the mail was: what was wrong with "the bag"? It turned out that one of the less publicised coalition government cuts was to the government courier service. From the final report (pdf):

A secure car service for Government Minsters and senior officials was first started in 1946 and an inter-departmental postal service (IDS) was introduced in 1961 to provide a speedy and secure mail courier service between Government buildings. The Government Car and Despatch Agency was formed in 1997 to continue the provision of these two core services to central Government departments and other public bodies. The services and the Agency remained largely unchanged until 2010 when, as a response to changes in the way Ministers travelled and a reduction in the demand for mail services, the Government decided to reform the GCDA. That was largely achieved by closing down the mail service and significantly reducing the cost of providing a car service and by transferring the Agency’s responsibilities to its parent Department.


Having said all that, the Royal Mail is pretty secure. Thefts from it are rare enough to hit the national press when they occur. In my experience, its major failing is in delivering to the wrong address, something which is unlikely to happen in the case of government departments. There is clearly more to this story than we have been told so far.

Friday, 30 January 2015

The other Winston Churchill

The orator, writer and inspirational war leader will be remembered predominantly as London celebrates the 50th anniversary of the progress of his cort├Ęge through her streets.

We will also hear the counter-message that Churchill was an imperialist, a warmonger and a xenophobe - Boyd Tonkin laid out most of the case for the prosecution in last Saturday's Independent. I would only add his fascination with biological and chemical weapons.

Churchill certainly enjoyed military action. Indeed, his reputation as a military officer who was no armchair warrior may have told against him when he was in the political wilderness and trying to reverse successive 1930s governments' refusal to rearm in the face of rising fascism on the continent. We should all be thankful that he finally succeeded in deposing the appeasing Conservative leadership, or we might now be living in poverty in a client state of a European Nazi empire, to which we would have had to yield most of our then empire. Without cross-party support from the two Clements, Labour's Attlee and the Liberal Davies, he might not have succeeded.

But there was another side to Churchill. He may have despised "lesser breeds without the law", but he had a feeling for the ordinary Briton which was rare in his class*. He formed a remarkable bond with David Lloyd George, the aristocrat and the scion of impoverished farming stock together seeing through some remarkable social improvements. Indeed, Nicholas Timmins in "the five giants" quotes Churchill as declaring that Liberalism was "the cause of the left-out millions". Backed by an indefatigable researcher and civil servant, the young William Beveridge, Churchill was responsible in whole or in part for the creation of a nationwide network of labour exchanges, the first UK unemployment insurance scheme and the first minimum wage legislation in the UK. Towards the end of the war, and long after he re-ratted to the Conservatives, he gave RA Butler his head in producing the 1944 Education Act.


* One example is his resistance to deploying the military against striking miners in Tonypandy in the face of overwhelming demands from the local civil authority, as this memo makes clear. It is depressing that senior Labour figures continue to retail the myth that Churchill fired on the miners.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

The Danish blew in again

After bacon, butter, cheese, Mariella Frostrup, Sandi Toksvig and Borgen, we in Aberavon have another Danish import. (I am not referring to the Labour general election candidate who, though married to the Danish prime minister, appears to be Swiss.) According to the Evening Post, the Danish export credit agency Eksport Kredit Fonden is involved in the transfer of ownership of the contentious Margam wood-burning power plant. This has yet to be built and will almost certainly import its fuel - though not from Denmark.

On top of all this, it appears that Viking sperm also contributes to the Danes' balance of payments. According to a BBC TV documentary, it is particularly in demand in Britain.
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It could be only 90 days to the general election

Postal voters should receive their ballot pack about a week before polling day, May 7th. So voting for them could start in the last week of April.

If you want a postal vote, be sure to register in good time. There is advice on About My Vote Web pages.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Syriza

The most encouraging news from the incoming government in Greece is that:

Syriza intends to curb the powers of the Greek oligarchs to whom  [established parties] To Potami and Pasok were close, saying their ability to evade tax and break state regulations with impunity must be ended. 

A major cause of Greece's troubles has been her inability to collect tax.

[Later] They will be assisted by the confirmation of an EU directive against tax avoidance. One hopes that the UK government will cooperate in the closing of loopholes which exploit cross-border financial transactions.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Auschwitz remembered

It is right that Auschwitz should be remembered, but at such length, and on news programmes? I suggest that it is each younger generation, who do not routinely watch the terrestrial TV news bulletins, who should be the target of the details of Nazi atrocities. The rest of us know only too well what was done in the name of purging the master race.

There have been genocides before and since, too. Full marks to BBC reporter Victoria Fritz who asked survivor Freddie Knoller about the genocides which have occurred since the Shoah and what lessons should be learned from the latter. He replied that such things happened only under a dictatorship, and that democracy was the best defence. Unfortunately, this may be true of state-administered genocide, but recent history has shown that nations are capable of exporting genocide to client states.