Saturday, 29 November 2014

Celtic Energy and restitution

Private Eye no. 1380 reports that Lord Justice Fulford has rejected an attempt by the Serious Fraud Office to restore charges against directors of Celtic Energy and solicitors and a QC advising the company. The proposed prosecution centred on the sale of freeholds of four opencast sites to British Virgin Islands (BVI) companies, "Oak Regeneration and its subsidiaries, secretly controlled by two Celtic directors, to avoid or reduce the required obligation to restore the sites and to free up cash reserves held by Celtic for that purpose."

"After the sale Celtic's owner Richard Walters and finance director Leighton Humphreys were paid bonuses of £6.9m and £1.7m by a BVI company they owned."

"Celtic continues mining operations at three of the four sites. At two it is believed restoration will take place at no public cost, restoration of the other two sites remains under negotiation."

Friday, 28 November 2014

Phillip Hughes

Tributes have been justifiably generous on this side of the globe, but the Australians must have the last word about the tragic, one-in-millions chance, loss of one their own:

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Local Income Tax

Now that the principle of devolving some income tax powers to Scotland has been accepted, notwithstanding the question of taxpayers being domiciled in one jurisdiction and employed in another, can the UK government now look seriously at the replacement of council tax by the fairer Local Income Tax?

Liberal Democrats have long been supporters of LIT, but we have not been alone.
Will Plaid Cymru include this is their general election manifesto, as they did in 2005? Will SNP revive their interest in the measure?

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

What bombs did George Orwell plant?

There is a Wikipedia page ( listing, at the time of writing, 64 names of British people who volunteered to take part in the war in Spain which was a curtain-raiser for the Nazi takeover of continental Europe. Not all were on the Republican government, anti-fascist, side. Roy Campbell, for one, was vigorously anti-communist and supported Franco's Falange. Many more ordinary people joined. Some never came back, like the three memorialised in Neath's Victoria Gardens.

None that I know of imported the terror they had seen in Spain onto the streets of Britain. Indeed, the experience was an eye-opener for most. Orwell famously became a vociferous critic of Stalinism as a result. Many resumed left-wing political activity on return, but by democratic means. One at least - Sir Alfred Sherman - swung so far the other way that he finished as a cheerleader for Margaret Thatcher.

Communism was then as big a bogey as militant Islam is today. Great difficulties were put in the way of the British volunteers for Spain, but it seems that repatriation was easier. It would be surprising if local police were not advised to "keep an eye" on known supporters of either side in the Spanish conflict upon return, but there was nothing like the official demonisation of volunteers for Syria proposed by Mrs May.

To some extent the coalition has brought the difficulties on its own head. If it had not been so outspoken in favour of the forces opposing President Assad, making the anti-Alawite revolution respectable, maybe fewer Sunnis from this country would have been encouraged to join.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Neath Market at Christmas Time

Thanks to Mike Davies and Neath Guardian for this:

Neath General Market is a traditional covered market for top quality local produce. It is housed in a building dating from 1837. Renovated in 1904, the market is an eclectic place where you can find a hyper trendy posh hat and bag boutique next to a butchers' counter.

Fresh fruit and vegetables, florists, children's fashions and welsh crafts vie for attention - while your hunger pangs can be eased in one of the cafes selling traditional Welsh food along with other modern classics.

The Victorian Market is in the heart of the town and is one of very few of its kind left in Wales, situated in Green Street, it has been providing goods and visitors for 170 years. It was built in 1837 at a cost of £1650 and for a number of years it was a series of covered stalls around an open space.

In 1904 the present building was completed at a cost between £7000-£8000. In 1999, a new roof was built and the frontage improved for the Millennium retaining the Victorian features and the unique atmosphere in this ancient borough. There is a wide range of stalls - more than 50 in total, ranging from the traditional faggots and peas to flowers, butchers to books and clothing and Welsh craft. Many of the businesses operating in the market have been handed down from generation to generation.

Again this year the traders have put up Christmas decorations and is well worth a visit to bring Christmas cheer. to all who visit this historic market.

View the Video

That recommended pay rise

Liberal Democrat AM Aled Roberts said it would be "very, very difficult for me to look friends and neighbours in the eye" if he accepted the rise recommended by the independent panel. The reason for the recommendation is apparently to reflect the increase in work and responsibility following further devolution. I have a better idea: spread the load by increasing the number of AMs (elected by STV in multi-member constituencies, doing away with the party list, naturally!) and keep the pay the same. The overall pay bill will still go up, but AMs will not suffer the opprobrium following an increase equivalent to the total earnings of some people on less than full-time contracts.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Another good reason for Liberal Democrat MPs

This last week, a step was taken towards undoing the harm to pubs created by the Thatcher/Major governments, and allowed to continue under Blair/Brown. It is hard to see what a revolt by Tories or an amendment by Labour alone could have done what Greg Mulholland has achieved by sheer persistence.

We now need an amendment to planning law to require change of use from the new category A4 (which covers drinking establishments) to other retail categories to be subject to approval from local councillors, who are alive to the place pubs occupy in the social fabric. Since the minister responsible is Liberal Democrat Stephen Williams, I have high hopes.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Two depressing by-election results

The Rochester and Strood details can be found elsewhere. The most worrying part of the outcome is that in a campaign which (apart from the Liberal Democrats) all contenders vied for the title of "most beastly to foreigners" the most extreme policy of forced repatriation - repudiated by his party leader! - was proposed by the UKIP winner.

The other disturbing by-election result was closer to home, in the Uplands ward of Swansea City. On a turnout of 20.9% the winner was ex-Conservative, ex-Liberal Democrat, "Children Need Fathers" campaigner Peter May standing as an independent. The detailed figures:

Independent 671
Labour 553
Janet Thomas, Welsh Lib Dem 215
Green 179
Independent 158
Tory 154
Plaid 104
Socialist 31

Independent gain from Labour

Dispiriting though it is that Janet Thomas failed to regain the ward for the party which put Swansea back on its feet in 2008, and lost only in the national anti-coalition swing in 2012, it must be even more frightening for the Labour Party. If their well-funded and union-backed machine can be defeated by a one-man band, and this still linked in the minds of local electors with anti-Labour politics, then their Swansea West MP must be under threat. If their failure to hold the ward is a result of disenchantment with their national leader, then the implications for Labour nationwide are grim.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

What if there's a real war?

Now that formal hostilities involving British forces are virtually over, it is surprising that the MoD should be short of air transport. But that is what this story implies. Military tents, surplus to requirements in Helmand province, are being supplied to the Barnabas Fund in order to house refugees in northern Iraq. (The charity has not been given the tents; they cost £450,000 via a commercial agent.) However, the RAF has said that it is impracticable to fly them to Iraq and the charity is having to pay up to £300,000 to ship them overland.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The rights of minors

The second part of Virginia Hughes' Personhood series is here:

Perhaps I missed it, but the evidence that the teenage brain is not fully developed - in particular, the part that inhibits risk-taking - has not been cited in the debates in England and Scotland about voting at 16. For me, the danger of being too bold is cancelled out by the ability to absorb information and analyse it, which in my experience is never higher.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014


There must be a record number of comments attached to a National Geographic online posting in this article by Virginia Hughes. It is not unexpected, since it deals with the vexed question of: when does a person become a person? To most people who believe in a personal creator, there is little doubt; it's at the moment of conception. It is not a view shared by the law in England and Wales, though a case currently before the Court of Appeal could put a dent in that.

Objectively, the clump of undifferentiated cells which immediately results is not recognisable as a human and even after the foetus takes shape brain activity begins only at 28 weeks. It seems that we should regard becoming a person as a process, rather than a moment - just as dementia takes away individuality at the other end of life. No doubt Ms Hughes will deal with this at the end of her series.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Two per cent rise for council workers in England

ALDC is reporting that a settlement between the Local Government Association and the unions has been reached. Seven years ago, a rise of two per cent would have appeared derisory. Today, it seems the unions were able to clinch a good deal, on the eve of warnings that we have reached the peak of the current business cycle and that there will be low economic activity for a year or so. Will government in Wales be able to afford a similar settlement?

Ched Evans needs to lower his head

I maintain that Ched Evans has a right, having served his time, to ply his trade. I also hear him when he continues to protest his innocence. But it would be good for him in so many ways to look abroad for his next job.

When people in public life say that the offence is unacceptable in a civilised society, I must agree. I hear them when they say that five years is a light sentence and definitely agree with complaints that too many convicts are let out early purely to reduce gaol over-crowding. But the same rules have to apply to everyone. Nor do I completely buy the rôle-model argument. Before his conviction, and the stupid attempts of his "friends" to influence matters, I doubt if more than a hard core of Welsh soccer fans and one half of Sheffield - which is represented only in the lower divisions of the Football League, not the Premiership - were aware of him.

Evans would do well to keep his head down and get away from the poisonous atmosphere of Sheffield. (One recalls that Ryan Giggs, not long after his serial adultery was exposed, took himself off the field of play and into the back-room.) The loutish laddish following of the Blades is only reinforcing any primitive misogyny on the part of Evans and his friends.  He does not need to make public statements to continue his effort to clear his name - he can leave it to the lawyers to do that. A spell on the continent, hopefully in one of the Nordic countries where he might improve his social education, will take him out of the eye of the UK media and reduce the heat of the debate. It would also be good for Sheffield United FC who, though they may be encouraged by the terraces to re-sign Evans, would rapidly lose sponsorship were they to do so.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

William Barnes rediscovered - again

Today's Poetry Please was dedicated to Dorset dialect poet William BarnesDaljit Nagra discovered Barnes only through Thomas Hardy, ignorant of John Arlott's championing of the poet and of the fact that Francis Turner Palgrave himself selected two Barnes poems for the original Golden Treasury.

The latter, which used to be in every literate English household along with the collected works of Shakespeare, was where I first came across Barnes. Surprisingly neither of the poems chosen was Linden Lea which in its version in "proper" English is one of Vaughan Williams' best-known songs. Palgrave actually selected The Wife a-Lost and Blackmwore Maidens. The representation of the dialect on the page was off-putting but the verse was immediately attractive. However, it wasn't until John Arlott, a real devotee and a former BBC Radio producer of poetry programmes, broadcast a tribute that I learned anything of Barnes the man. Sadly, there seems to be no recording of Arlott reading Barnes. No doubt, as a Hampshire man and not an actor, he was unduly diffident about doing justice to the Dorset accent. Jon Pertwee from the other neighbouring county of Devon could have risen above the standard Mummerset, but I can find no trace of his reading the poetry either.

Blackmwore Maidens

The primrose in the sheäde do blow,
  The cowslip in the zun,
The thyme upon the down do grow,
  The clote where streams do run;
An' where do pretty maïdens grow
  An' blow, but where the tow'r
Do rise among the bricken tuns,
  In Blackmwore by the Stour?

If you could zee their comely gaït,
  An' pretty feäces' smiles,
A-trippèn on so light o'waight,
  An' steppèn off the stiles;
A-gwaïn to church, as bells do swing
  An' ring within the tow'r.
You'd own the pretty maïdens' pleäce
  Is Blackmwore by the Stour.

If you vrom Wimborne took your road,
  To Stower or Paladore,
An' all the farmers' housen show'd
  Their daeters at the door;
You'd cry to bachelors at hwome -
  "Here, come: 'ithin an hour
You'll vind ten maïdens to your mind,
  In Blackmwore by the Stour."

An' if you looked 'ithin their door,
  To zee em in their pleäce,
A-doèn housework up avore
  Their smilèn mother's feäce;
You'd cry - "Why, if a man would wive
  An' thrive, 'ithout a dow'r,
Then let en look en out a wife
  In Blackmwore by the Stour."

As I upon my road did pass
  A school-house back in Maÿ
There out upon the belten grass
  Wer maïdens at their plaÿ;
An' as the pretty souls did twile
  An' smile, I cried, "The flow'r
O' beauty, then, is still in bud
  In Blackmwore by the Stour."

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Mind-numbingly banal screenplays

Bravo, Janet Street-Porter. Failing to be swept up in the general delusion that anything to do with Alan Turing is beyond criticism, she writes in her Independent column today that the "problem with [...] The Imitation Game  is not the acting but the mind-numbing banality of the script". I'm glad to have confirmation of the impression I gained from the clips I have seen on TV. It seems that most of the money went on the star leads - who would have been necessary to attract funding in the first place. I see that at least one major studio had previously passed on Graham Moore's project when Leonardo diCaprio backed out. Even so, it was an artistically false economy to rely on his own screenplay rather than call up an old hand.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Gender imbalance

I'm sorry that I was unsuccessful in my pitch for the Neath candidacy, but I couldn't be happier that Aberavon and Neath Liberal Democrats have chosen two sharp young women to fight the two constituencies on May 7th next year. More than that, they will both be local residents.

Since I have been an officer in the local party, I can recall only one previous election when we did not present a "balanced ticket" of one candidate of each sex. Now the Labour party has matched us on that, we have gone one step further.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

A worrying incident

The story about the police spree killer from the 1960s being released recently (presumably to avoid the expense of his dying in gaol) brings back another memory. While he was still on the run, we were travelling north to attend the wedding in Dunfermline of a flatmate. Roddie was driving a borrowed A40 with me as passenger, with our friend Les in his own jalopy in the rear. Somewhere on the A1 we became aware that Les was no longer close behind us but had been stopped by the police, because of some defect they had spotted, if I recall correctly. They seemed to be spending rather a long time for a simple construction and use violation, until we realised that the patrol would have asked his name and received the answer: Roberts.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

The squeeze on public libraries

The latest Private Eye draws our attention to the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 and its requirement for the provision of a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ public library service. With devolution, the task of meeting this legal requirement falls upon a minister in the Welsh government. It would be good to know how they view Neath Port Talbot's sloughing off of responsibility for library services in Resolven, Taibach and Pontardawe, among other townships in the county borough, to volunteers.

There is more about the provisions of the Act here.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

The day the wall came down

It was one of those "where I was" moments, like the death of Diana or for us oldies, the shooting of JFK. In the case of the demolition of the Berlin Wall, I vividly recall watching Olenka Frenkiel depositing part of it in front of Peter Snow (described here in a temporary Newsnight studio in Berlin. That evening twenty-five years ago I was sitting in a flat in Findon Village, in front of a Sony Trinitron recently purchased from a shop in the parade below. (That TV, and a few other goodies I bought from the earnings on a lucrative contract in Worthing, came back with me to South Wales and gave up the ghost only a few years ago.)

The Independent a fortnight ago ran a series of articles - the first of them here - mirroring the events leading up to the breach, reminding me that mechanical diggers had actually taken their first bite out of the wall. However, it was the gleeful way that ordinary Berliners, using whatever tools came to hand, joined in the destruction of the barrier which inspired millions around the world. For those of us who had lived through the fearful days - much more ominous than the Cuban missile crisis in my experience - after the Wall had been thrown up with Prussian efficiency overnight, it was especially uplifting.

That winter was exceptional in another way. The sun-spot cycle hit such a peak that the Northern Lights could be seen as far south as Sussex. Another abiding memory from that time is of leaving the London and Edinburgh buildings after a spell of overtime and being greeted by those shifting green curtains of light, remarkably the first time I had ever seen an Aurora. Now we are in another period of lively space weather - and a leader in Russia is attempting to nibble back what his communist predecessors lost in 1989.

Cadoxton 2014-11-11 11:11

Monday, 10 November 2014

More on the Labour leadership

Chris Dillow explains the superstitious base of personality politics, very relevant to today's Labour Party, and Jonathan Calder sees Alan Johnson as the best replacement for Ed Miliband.

I agree with Calder that Johnson is a genuine person with a real hinterland, the sort of MP we should have more of. Moreover, as someone who is clear-sighted about his own abilities, he would probably delegate the task of acting as party spokesmen to those with more detailed knowledge of particular policy areas, and thus fulfil Simon Danczuk's call for “team politics with strong shadow ministers in the foreground".

However, the (to my mind unlawful) dismissal of a respected adviser on drugs policy when Johnson was Home Secretary betrays a less positive side to his character - a certain rush to judgment and possibly a quick temper, neither of which is good for a leader of a party, never mind the country. If Johnson is quick-tempered that would soon be exposed both in exchanges across the despatch box and in interviews with a largely hostile media.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

The hounding of Ed Miliband

I suppose I should be dancing with glee now that the media are reporting that the Labour party leader is less popular than Nick Clegg, especially as in the only two by-elections* in principal local authorities on Thursday Labour support was virtually decimated and the Liberal Democrat vote increased. If I have reservations, it is not out of sympathy for Mr Miliband who won his position on a dishonest prospectus and whose performance in front of his party has deteriorated rather than improved with experience. Rather it is the sense that I have that the press and BBC News feel that they have the power to make and unmake leaders. Ed Miliband would not have won his election if it had not been for the impression, fostered by Tory and Labour-leaning press alike, that he supported the trade unions, who duly turned out the vote for him. Now having set him up, they are now engaged in knocking him down, selling copies through both processes.

We should be judging parties on their principles and policies, not on the personality of a single person at the top. Unfortunately, a pattern seems to be developing whereby a leader wins by means of a media campaign instead of speaking to the membership directly, then appointing a media guru from abroad and making policy on the hoof, based on the guru's perceptions. I am glad to say that though Liberal Democrats too have a Commonwealth consultant - Ryan Coetzee, who formerly advised our sister party in South Africa - policy is still made by our conference, occasionally uncomfortable though that is for some of our MPs.

*Local Authority By-election Results, Thursday 6th November, 2014
Cornwall UA, Mevagissey
Conservative 348 [32%; +8.2%]
UKIP 281 [26%; -1.6%]
Labour 204 [19%; -10.8%]
Liberal Democrat Christopher Maynard 197 [18%; +4.3%]
Green 50 [5%; -0.1%]
Majority: 67
Conservative gain from Labour
Percentage change since 2013 

Rugby BC, Bilton
Conservative 668 [42%; -12.3%]
UKIP 325 [20.4%; +20.4%]
Liberal Democrat Lesley George 280 [17.6%; +8.1%]
Labour 212 [13.3%; -8.1%]
Independent 60 [3.8%; +3.8%]
Green 37 [2.3%; -7.7%]
Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition 10 [0.6%; -4.3%]
Majority: 343
Turnout: 31%
Conservative Hold
Percentage change since 2014  
[Information courtesy of ALDC]

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Norman Lloyd

There cannot have been many performers who have seen a film which features them in their centenary year. Norman Lloyd, actor, director, producer and socialist who managed to side-step the Hollywood blacklist was born in New Jersey on this day 100 years ago. His first feature film appearance was in one of Alfred Hitchcock's best, Saboteur, in 1942, so only a few child actors can be ahead of his record of at least 72 years between first and last movie appearances.

Friday, 7 November 2014

More anti-European bias from BBC News

The Mayor of London's plan for two cycleways to criss-cross the capital were unveiled last September. However, BBC News got round to showing a video report on it only yesterday. The reason appears to be that reporter John Maguire spent some time shooting a sequence in New York City which had installed a few cycle-ways under mayor Bloomberg. However, there is separation of cycles from road vehicles closer to home, in most of the new towns - Crawley, Cumbernauld, Redditch and Runcorn come to mind. It could be, of course, that Maguire felt that a fair comparison would be with a city rather than a town, in which case there are numerous examples in Netherlands, Denmark and Germany (which was presumably the inspiration for our new town architects in the 1950s).

Cynics will point to the mass migration of BBC personnel across the Atlantic whenever there is a big story over there, as if the well-staffed American office of the corporation was not capable of handling it, most marked in presidential election years. They would suggest that Maguire's trip was of a piece with that. Conspiracy theorists like myself suspect that the BBC shrinks from anything that shows the rest of the EU in a good light, especially on a matter where some of our partners anticipated us by sixty years.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

400-year-old common-law right breached

It was not immediately obvious what David Davis was on about when he raised his urgent point of order in parliament this afternoon. However, it became much clearer this evening; this BBC report gives the background. One of Mr Belhaj's lawyers pointed out that an accused's right to confidential discussion of the case against them with their accredited legal representative had been established in common law as far back as the seventeenth century.

Two questions come to mind:

 - is it this practice, rather than the revelation of methods of intercepting digital and telephone conversations, which makes the security services reluctant to bring terrorism charges into open court?

 - are the current and previous independent reviewers of British anti-terrorist laws, including Liberal Democrat Lord Carlile, aware of this breach of legal privilege, and have they seen or heard the evidence so produced?

Mobile phone coverage

The confirmation in a recent report that both 3G and 4G are best in London and worst in Wales did not come as a great surprise. What did was the response of an industry spokesman on Radio Wales, resisting government moves for telecom providers to share infrastructure, blaming the lack of provision on the planning system. Since masts of fifteen metres (about the height of three double-decker buses) and under do not require planning permission, one wonders what more they want.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Legal aid

"What we are approaching, if we are not already there, is a system in which if someone is poor, destitute, marginalised and up against it, they will get no help and no justice and will continue to suffer."

These were the words of Jeremy Corbyn MP in the last major debate in the House of Commons chamber on the subject of legal aid, sixteen months ago. It was scheduled for after lunch on a Thursday, a time when most MPs are already heading back to their constituencies, and not attended by the Lord Chancellor, the responsible minister. It took Sarah Teather, a Liberal Democrat MP freed of government office or the need to contest a further term in the house, to bring the debate. Even then, it centred on criminal legal aid, with occasional reference to some high-profile cases, and the effect of centrally contracting-out legal aid on local solicitors' firms, to the exclusion of civil legal aid.

But it is the removal of funds for a vast swathe of civil cases (details in this pdf), and the institution of an impersonal interface for those clients who do qualify, which is more likely to affect the ordinary citizen. Helen Ceri Clarke, our local party chair, who works in Peter Black AM's regional office, confirms that a huge amount of casework comes from people on the wrong end of decisions from landlords, the DWP and so on, for whom they have to engage lay advocates because they are no longer entitled to free professional legal assistance. It is surprising that more MPs, whose constituency offices must surely handle many such cases, are not shouting about this scandal.

On so many grounds - fairness, civil liberty and localism - Liberal Democrats are the most fitting instrument to reverse not only the changes brought in not only by this government but also the previous one. I hope that there will be a manifesto commitment to do so.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Norman Baker: a principled decision

Norman Baker's decision to leave the government was a courageous and principled one. No doubt more sidelights will be revealed in the broadcast media coverage during the day, but the Independent was first with the main detail. In fact, he should be applauded for two decisions, the first being to take on the brief at the Home Office in the first place. Both he and Nick Clegg clearly thought he could be an effective liberal presence in a very conservative department of state. Sadly, he was to be disappointed as the exchange of letters printed in the Indy shows. (It is refreshing to see a resignation letter unredacted by the mandarins in the light of the Woolf affair.) Things seem to have come to a head over drugs policy and Mr Baker was ready to go several  months ago. He was persuaded to stay on and possibly anticipated a LibDem reshuffle just before the Glasgow conference in which he could depart. It is good to see that Nick would welcome him back into government after the next election if there is a new coalition.

There are a couple of other LibDem ministers who have taken on briefs with which they ought to be uncomfortable, given that Tory policies have more and more predominated in the last year or so. I trust they will be searching their consciences now. It will be interesting to see if another LibDem really wants to take over the Home Office job.

[Later] Lynne Featherstone returns to the Home Office - see At least she knows what she is in for! Presumably she still carries her responsibility for women's matters. There will be no diminution of activity on international development with the appointment of Lindsay Northover, though it is a pity that a MP has been replaced by a peer. In a coincidental move, Lorely Burt moves in to the whip's office as Jenny Willott moves out. Although we have lost a Welsh MP in government, Lorely maintains a Welsh connection through her graduation from Swansea University. Overall, I make it that there has been the minimum move towards sex equality.

Monday, 3 November 2014

You believe what you want to believe

James Randi (Randall James Hamilton Zwinge), retired illusionist and vigorous debunker of fake psychics, spiritualists and other quacks who  use the techniques of conjurors to extort money from the public, was himself taken in. Last night's Storyville presentation on BBC-4 of Randi's career and campaigns, without laying on the irony, included his 25-year relationship with an artist who had felt compelled to adopt someone else's identity in order to escape his native homophobic Venezuela. Randi seemed remarkably philosophical when the deception was revealed and the programme ended with their civil marriage. The programme is worth watching for the life story alone, but I was most hooked on the snippets of Randi's performances and the consequent authority with which he revealed that the phonies were not gifted with supernatural powers but with finely-honed magicians' skills. I had known about Randi's campaigns for many years through the pages of New Scientist, but this was the first time I had visible evidence of his skills.

Even in his eighties, Randi via his Educational Foundation continues to fight the good fight. This recent posting relates to the reinvention of a notorious fraud who he spectacularly exposed towards the end of last century. By clever programming - or just good luck - Channel 4 the previous night showed, and will repeat next Friday, "Red Lights" a film following the work of a fictional academic team exposing psychic fraud. The major set-piece which dominates the first half of the film is a virtual recreation of the Popoff exposure.

Fifty years ago today

Lyndon Baines Johnson, a US president who more than most divided opinion, was elected.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

A few ecological links

AECB, the Association for Environment Conscious Building, is a network of individuals and companies with a common aim of promoting sustainable building:

STIR magazine features articles and interviews on the international co-operative movement, commons and collaborative networks, and other community-orientated alternatives:

 Green Building magazine delivers useful, practical and honest information about sustainable and healthy building:

- and of course there are & (the Ecology Building Society, whence I obtained the above links) and (the Centre for Alternative Technology).

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Climate change predictions do come true

In spite of what sceptics claim, better data mean that predictions of the effects of global warming have become more accurate in this generation. However, I doubt that John Dora, speaking to a Railfuture conference around this time last year, believed that his warning about rail lines in south-west England would be vindicated so soon. He is a fellow of both the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Royal Meteorological Society, so Network Rail should have been listening when he asserted that weather-related incidents restricting access to the main line along the sea wall at Dawlish could increase by a factor of six between now and the year 2080. He went on to explain that computer modelling suggested that climate-related events occurring once every 100 years would increase to once every 14 years.

Within months of his talk, this happened: