Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Too Interesting for the Newspapers

I'm still reading last week's New Scientist magazine. Here's half a dozen items I found interesting that I haven't seen in any newspaper:

....In their editorial the magazine highlights the evidence about the increasing strength of hurricanes. "The good news is that there is no rising trend in the overall number of hurricanes , nor any sign that the worst storms are getting fiercer. But there is bad news too: [since 1970 ] there has been a near doubling in the number of the strongest categories of hurricanes - the category 4 and 5 storms exemplified by Katrina."

....The first extraterrestrial sea may have been discovered on Saturn's moon Titan - a sea of liquid methane, cooled to below -179 degrees C. May be good news for BP and Shell !

....There was an unprecedented hurricane off southern Brazil in 2004 - the scary thing is that this is the first and only hurricane recorded in the south Atlantic, where the textbooks say hurricanes shouldn't occur. Looks like Global Warming is having an effect.

....The inventor Ray Kurzweil writes about his prediction of a singularity occuring in artificial intelligence: "By the mid 2040s the non-biological portion of our intelligence will be millions of times more capable than the biological portion" (To find out more , have a look at

....There is a quote from 1998 from Zbigniew Brzezinski, US National Security Advisor during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan:"What is more important to the history of the world? Some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of central Europe and the end of the Cold War?"

.....There is an article about Tanzanite. Never heard of Tanzanite? It's the newest of the precious stones, considered fifth in line after diamond, emerald, ruby and sapphire. It was only discovered in 1967 by Masai herdsmen.


1)That global Warming and the Singularity look like being big issues that will swamp politics - its possibly pointless to come up with policies for more than 10 years ahead.

2) To really understand what's going on, you should read New Scientist. But if we dumb down and run down science in the Uk, fewer people will be able to.

3)That, as Brzezinski shows, it's easy to miss some of the wood for the trees, so that maybe my first conclusion is wrong....

Thursday, September 22, 2005

How to mention the next Harry Potter Film on a Political Blog

Lib Dem MP Ed Davey is quoted as saying : "With the fierce debate about discipline in Britain's schools, perhaps the most important lesson from Hogwarts is its traditional "House" system"

Well, thanks to Ophelia , I've seen the trailer for the next Harry Potter Film.

It looks fantastic.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Jonathan Calder has reported on how Durham Councillor Paul Leake has left his Lib Dem group - because of his blog.

Paul said:

Behind the scenes there has ... apparently been some disquiet from some of my Liberal Democrat colleagues who feel all communication with the electorate should be politically vetted – this has come to a head today with a rather brusque email from the Leader of the City Council, Fraser Reynolds telling me to remove all mention of City Council decisions and any comments on them as soon as possible and refrain from commenting further, and that all comments that are placed in the public domain should be agreed by the press secretary

I stood for election on a manifesto of openness, fairness and honesty, and have always tried to deliver on this. While the Liberal Democrats have run the Council much better than Labour did (particularly the finances), I have had growing concerns about the failure so far to deliver on parts of the manifesto people elected me under, but felt, on balance, I stood a better chance of achieving it working within the group of Liberal Democrat councillors. This is however is the final straw – I will not do a poorer job as a local councillor in order to do better for the party. I remain 100 per cent committed to the manifesto I was elected on – but I can best get that manifesto delivered on as an Independent, able to speak my mind and hold the council leadership to account.

I don't know the background to this and I suspect there's more to this than just the issue of the blog. But it does seem sad. Tensions and stresses can easily develop within a council group. I remember when I was leader of a group of about 20 Lib Dems (before I stepped down from the leadership to really spend more time with my family). One chap phoned me up at 6 a.m. to say "I've had enough, I want to resign" , and I talked him out of it. So I have some intrinsic sympathy for almost any group leader.

On the other hand , blogging should be quick and a direct link between the writer and the reader. When the day arrives when any large group of councillors will have a dozen or so bloggers, nobody is going to be able to enforce any external discipline or editing on them. The leader of that hypothetical group is simply going to have to trust them. (although I can imagine in the seemingly bitchy world of North-East political blogging, there will be scavengers out there ready to seize on any scrap of disagreement or poor choice of words that can be found.)

If I was in hot water with the Lib Dems over something on a website - and I suppose it could happen, I'm sure that I wouldn't quit, I'd just carry on regardless.

Meanwhile , if you look at Don't Blog - "Blogging Headlines from the Future Backlash" you will find cases where people have been dooced (sacked because of their blog) or have karshed (quit their job because of their website). I hereby coin a new word:

Pleake (vb.) - to leave a political party because of your blog

Anyway, good luck to everybody in Durham.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


I've seen that there's a lot of controversy in the US about a proposed memorial to the victims of flight 93. which crashed during the 9/11 attacks. The design is of a crescent of red maples, indeed its official name is "The Crescent of Embrace" and some observers think that, however beautiful it may look, it has too close a resemblance to a symbol of Islam to be appropriate. Some people are campaigning against it.

The issue has made me reflect on two public memorials that I know something about, which are both in Rayleigh. The first is a granite obelisk in the High Street, to commemorate four protestants who were burned to death in the 1550s, during the reign of Queen Mary. A curate from Hockley called Tyms and the rector of Thundersley called Drake were executed at Smithfield in London in April 1556. Thomas Causton was burned in Rayleigh High Street early in 1555 . According to John William Burrow's "Southend-On-Sea and District : Historical Notes": "So great was popular feeling that he was led to the place of death bound in a cart for fear of rescue". John Ardeley from Great Wigborough was burned there the same year.

The memorial itself was unveiled on September 23rd 1908 by the local MP Rowland Whitehead (incidentally a Liberal MP, probably the only one so far to represent this area) in front of a crowd of 2000 people. It is a dignified and rather eternal-looking structure and is a familiar part of the street scene.

The second memorial is much more recent , having been commissioned by the District Council in the last few years. It is a memorial to the victims of persecution, in a small open space in front of one of our main public buildings, the Mill Hall. When I first saw the design I though it was ugly, but when I understood the explanation I changed my mind, and now I really like it:

The interpretation of the design, supplied by the Architect, is as follows:
• The stone plinth represents a solid foundation upon which Society rests.
• The three finish concrete slab reflects the ability of man to repair what has
been damaged, i.e. rough to smooth, but reminds us that we can also
destroy the perfect finish.

• The three steel posts in alternative finishes represent the technological
progress of man, and the diverse states of development throughout the
• The rough sawn and smooth posts running through the structure reflects
the ability of man to twin raw products with a finished product, and the
unity of our manmade and shaped society by organic and living materials.
• The Star of David, which would only be viewed in full when standing in
front of the memorial, is a direct reference to the Nazi Holocaust, but
reminds us that looking at it from another viewpoint leads to fragmentation
and separation of this iconic symbol, reflecting persecution.
• The horizontal element of the concrete slab and its relationship with the
constancy of the plinth is to remind and encourage us from the solid basis
of society, man can shape and reshape society, but not always for the
• The vertical steel plates, whilst reflecting a straight line upwards, (the
conventional approach to seeking a higher power regardless of faith or
religion), also create open spaces between them, perceived as people
• Planting to each side, centrally, and the centre plate are intended to
remind us that the living world has the ability to grow i n even the most
barren places, usually the first visible step to reconciliation and
reconstruction following conflict and persecution.
• The orientation of the structure should be on an East-West axis, the
conventional orientation of churches and western faiths with the dedication
stone in the east reflecting the alter position, also recognising that the sun
rises in the East. At the same time, the structure can be viewed from all
points, to remind us that we all have different perceptions.

So what does my small-town English experience tell me about the "Crescent of Embrace"? Well, that memorials are very long-term projects, hopefully with life-spans of centuries. That they don't need to be conventionally beautiful to be effective. Also, that they need public support. For myself, I'd change the design of the red crescent into something with a different title- and a somewhat different shape. Such a project shouldn't be born in the middle of a political argument.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Local rural politics, Florida style.

Most of the American political blogs I've seen have unremittingly partisan rhetoric, which gets rather tedious after a while. You look in vain for a liberal blogger to say "Hey, Bush is right for once", or for a Conservative to write that "The Democrats are making a good point here"

What's more , they seem to avoid the nitty-gritty of politics- how to actually win elections. For example, nobody ever talks about delivering leaflets.... So I was intrigued to find, via political oddsmaker , a blog- Akins Campaign Strategy, which actually deals with some of these issues.

Unfortunately, he's a Republican, campaigning in rural Florida. And his suggestions aren't really useful anyway - for example, he strongly prefers radio ads to newspaper ads (and these are for local elections such as County Schools Superintendent). No actual mention of delivering leaflets.

Anyway, no more posts for a few days. Have a lot of paperwork and residents issues to tackle.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Clock

Susanne Lamido seems to like the clock that I've put on this blog.

I got the idea after seeing one on Mike Oborski's Blog.

Mike has reported that he is recovering from a cancer operation and it is good to see that he is back in action, posting on the blog and attending council meetings.

Monday, September 05, 2005

What effect does an ASDA supermarket have on a town?

There is a planning application for an ASDA (Walmart to you Americans) supermarket on the outskirts of our town. It happens to be in the council ward that I represent. The Rayleigh Chamber of Trade are very concerned about the impact this would have on existing shops. Residents living near the proposed site are worried about traffic. Some other residents would welcome an extra shop to go to.

I'm not allowed under the local government code of conduct to express my own opinions or make up my mind in advance of the planning meeting, which will probably be in October. Like all 39 members of Rochford District Council, I am on the planning committee and will be able to vote on this.

However I'd be glad to hear accounts - from anyone - on what effects an ASDA or a Walmart has had on their community (positive and negative)

"This train was tossed 200 yards. Nobody knew whether there were still chemicals inside.."


Saturday, September 03, 2005

Aren't Some People Lovely?

I have recently found an blog called Oklahoma Hippy - with lots of good stuff there. One recent post links to Agape Press - "Reliable News From A Christian Source". Apparently one pastor, Rev. Bill Shanks of New Covenant Fellowship of New Orleans , seems really glad about what's happened to New Orleans:

“New Orleans now is abortion free. New Orleans now is Mardi Gras free. New Orleans now is free of Southern Decadence and the sodomites, the witchcraft workers, false religion -- it's free of all of those things now," Shanks says. "God simply, I believe, in His mercy purged all of that stuff out of there -- and now we're going to start over again."

Will this chap get to heaven?

Friday, September 02, 2005

What would James White Think?

I've felt angry and disturbed at the prospect of the teaching of "intelligent design" (creationism under another name) creeping into the US schools system. Perhaps the word 'evolution' will be banned in US schools in a few decades time. I'm sure the Taliban would approve.

I can't help think of the late science fiction writer James White. He wrote truly good books - not only were they well-written , but the characters within them tried to do good. Imagine Star Wars without Darth Vader, or Star Trek without the Borg? Well , James White created "Sector General", a vast space station hospital full of medics and technicians of dozens of different alien species, all trying to save lives.

When I say 'alien species' . these weren't just variations on the humanoid form, as in Star Trek. White had a fertile imagination. There were nurses that looked like giant caterpillars covered in beautiful, twitching grey fur, patients as shy as mice but with the size and natural weaponry of sea monsters, surgeons resembling flightless birds who used beaks instead of hands.

White frequently explained the evolutionary origin of these creatures so it's pretty obvious that he accepted the scientific evidence. But he was also a Catholic, and in one of his books "The Genocidal Healer" he looked at the possibility of religious belief in a vast universe filled with sentient beings.

One character says:

"My knowledge of the subject is incomplete , but among the majority of the intelligent species it is said that this omnipotent and immaterial being has manifested itself in physical form. The physiological classifications vary to suit the environments of the planets concerned, but in all cases it manifests itself as a teacher and lawgiver who suffers death at the hands of those who cannot at first accept its teachings. But these teachings, in a short time or long, form the philosophical foundation of mutual respect, understanding and cooperation between individuals of the species which eventually lead to the formation of a planetary and interstellar civilsation...

At one stage some of the hospital staff become concerned that after curing one patient (the one in the cover illustation above), he would return to his home planet and become a teacher and lawgiver himself....

James White knew that if a God does exist, he presides over a universe unimaginably vast and exciting. He would probably pity those so suspicious of science that they can't accept evolution.

PS White also wrote my favourite anti-war story, "Tableau"

Dancing with Katrina

I've just found a new blog "Eye of the Storm" reporting, with photos, of what's happening along the Gulf Coast.

Have a look.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Future Leader?

Political Betting had a post yesterday basically on whether Charles Kennedy will still be Lib Dem Leader at the next general election, and if not, who his likely successor might be.

I'm quite happy that CK stays our leader ; people who normally dislike politicians often melt when I mention his name. However I was pleased to see that the post attracted 214 comments - 50 more than a post the previous night on the Tory leadership election!

I see that one of the possible future candidates for leader is Norman Lamb. He's referred to as being bright, a really nice guy and eurosceptic. This sounds quite palatable to me, but I don't really know enough about him to comment further...

A day full of dreadful news

Not much to be cheerful about today, bearing in mind the news from Baghdad and the USA.

Tonight I stumbled on a blog, Ramblin' with Roger. Roger's going to give a dollar to the American Red Cross for every person going to his blog before next Monday (they don't even have to read it, though he hopes they do!) .

Have a look, and nudge his counter up by one.

And if you have a counter, maybe follow his example?

Chris expresses his own views on this weblog.

I write this blog in a private capacity , but just in case I mention any elections here is a Legal Statement for the purposes of complying with electoral law: This website is published and promoted by Ron Oatham, 8 Brixham Close , Rayleigh Essex on behalf of Liberal Democrat Candidates all at 8 Brixham Close.