20
May
08

Closing down blogs, and post offices – Et tu David?

David Wright MP recently silenced a blogger over a parody website. I’d be wary of the approach of the blog in question, (if you are going to parody, it needs to be so far fetched so that no ambiguity can occur), however what I find less appealing is David’s handling of the situation.

Mr Wright said he met police and officers are now examining legislation to see if any criminal offense has been committed.

“This kind of thing debases politics so I have now referred the matter to police because this type of activity needs to be stopped.

This approach, to see whether he can press charges against the blogger, is of wider concern. So in true internet solidarity, I thought I’d have a pop at him too, by publishing this rant, which I’ve been sitting on for a few weeks.

I’m sure that most of you know that the Royal Mail has decided that the only way to keep themselves afloat is to close down 2500 of their 14000 branches. They claim that the service is leaking between £3.5-4 million per week, and the cull should fix the issue. Cue them eying up every small post office in the country, including the one up the road from myself.

The development forces each of these small outlets, and the people who rely on them, to fend off the onslaught. So who would vote for such a thing to happen? Well, David Wright MP for one. And then at every opportunity, voted to congratulate Gordon for a job well done. So from the votes cast, David is happy with taking away this service from the most vulnerable in his community, he doesn’t want a lengthy consultation, and will congratulate the government in doing so.

The audacious part of the plot is when he produced and distributed this letter. (Click for full size)

Letter from David Wright MP

(It isn’t an April Fools, I did wonder about the date.)

The Post Office has announced that…

It’s a thoughtfully crafted letter, raises concern over the closure, and his commit to the fight for saving post office branches. However, it seems more than slightly duplicitous, in light of the voting record in the links above.

If we are to save this branch…

If you are an MP, your gladiatorial arena is the House Of Commons. And when you vote to close schools, post offices, or hospitals, you are voting to close YOUR school. It’s not good enough to vote for a nationwide closure, and then say “as long as it doesn’t happen on my turf”. By not standing against it, you are electing to put your locality forward to suffer the losses. And by implication, that your constituents are happy with it. If that is not the case, you need to be fighting it.

There’s one great thing to come out of this. It is the ability for adversity to mobilise a community into solidarity, and action. There was a highly attended public meeting, and the opinion against the closures was heatedly aired. Representatives from Royal mail were there, as was I, (through gritted teeth, the meeting was arranged by the Conservatives).

The local feeling of hostility towards closing the branch was positively electric. If I were a politician, say an MP, I would have considered it perfect opportunity to show support for such a hot local campaign. Get my face about, show my outrage; easy votes. Stick one to the Tories. Except we have a Labour MP who voted to close it in the first place. David Wright. Best keep the head low eh?

Lets see this one get pulled…. Oh, hello officer..

02
May
08

An open letter to Labour MPs from Labour voters.

I share this sentiment with Mrs SP, so there are at least two of ‘us’.

An open letter to Labour MPs from Labour voters.

Hello,

It’s been a rough night hmm? We’re on TV trying to figure out where it all went wrong. I say we, but I suppose you and “us” parted company a few years back.

Perhaps you’ve forgotten us. We are the tax paying, voting people. Remember the folks who put the X in the box in 1997, and waited with you, fingers and toes crossed, for the results to come in? The ones who sang to D:REAM as Michael Portillo was slumping, shell shocked into the background. We are the ones you said you’d listen to, and would work for. The plan was that you’d go in there, make them behave. Take away the power ball, and give it back to us. We made sure you got the job.

And now 11 years later, to this morning, you’re mulling over the 10p issue, and how big a mistake it was. Perhaps that’s why we don’t love you anymore. But I’ll let you into a little secret. The 10p won’t make a difference, even if you put it right again. This all started to go wrong once toeing party lines became more important than being our voice in parliament. Then you start to vote for ID cards and anti-terror laws, Trident, and Iraq. You even voted against transparency and openness of parliament. What came over you? You should have asked before you started making decisions like that on your own. We don’t need new anti-terror laws, or ID cards. If there’s another attack, we’ll deal with it pragmatically, like we always have. Stop wasting our money on it. And stop wasting our money by being in someone else’s country. They don’t want us there, and we don’t want to be there.

Remember “education, education, education”? Why are you are cutting funding to science in universities? Don’t you agree that there’s little point in giving the kids the gift of language and mathematics, if at the end of it, there’s nothing for them to get their teeth into? It isn’t enough to make sure that they can read Dick and Dora, or a Dole form. We should be inspiring them to greater things, and then giving them the infrastructure to play so that they become masters of their fields. It doesn’t matter how much this costs, (we could pay for it hundreds of times over with ID card money).

And what’s up with the services? Why do we need to attend meetings to keep the post offices open? The post office you voted to close. We don’t care that it’s losing money. You do realise that services are, by their very nature, going to leak money, right? The trick is to accept that, and get on with it. Just tell us how much, and we’ll put our hands down the side of the sofa.

Maybe you’ve just lost touch with what you are actually there to do. Labour isn’t “everything that Gordon or Tony says”. It’s supposed to be an ethical principle that we all share. Please, stop following ‘the party’, and get back to the principle. We really, really want you to grow a backbone. Stand up to the idiots in the front seats, when they’re doing something stupid. Spit paper balls at the back of their heads, and bully them into submission. We need a government of rebels. Be one of us again, our voice. And if they ask, tell them that we sent you. Tell them if they refuse to behave, we’re taking away the ball. And what’s worse, we’ll probably end up giving it back to the Tories.

Love and kisses

Us xxxx

P.S. Tim Ireland had his finger on this pulse ages ago:

07
Mar
08

Jodrell Bank in jeopardy

Whispers have been circulating about the possible closure of Jodrell Bank, as another fall out from the STFC funding shortfall announced last year. Professor Sir Bernard Lovell, who founded the facility, was interviewed in The Times today, condemning the cut backs, and outlining the threat to the viability of the e-Merlin project.

Science and research facilities, and universities in the UK have been fighting against this shortfall, since it first appeared. Paul Crowther, from Sheffield University, has a page documenting the entire history and development of the issue here.

Curiosity led me to dredging through Hansard this morning, because I was sure that I remember a speech from Gordon Brown (pre the big promotion), outlining his intention to increase scientific spending, and it’s key importance to the UK economy. Sure enough, in last years budget speech:

“My view is that, in all the advanced industrial economies, public and private investment in the great new drivers of growth—innovation and education—will need to rise towards 10 per cent. of national income. As part of our plan to double investment in science, I can announce that in the next four years public investment in science will rise from £5 billion this year to £6.3 billion by 2010—a 25 per cent. cash increase in the science budget of our country.”

So why are university labs, and facilities like Jodrell Bank having to fight for their future? At the centre of all this, there seems to be a standoff between government, and the STFC. For whatever reason, the shortfall was not spotted in the original factoring. But rather than acknowledge the mistake, government are using this as a stick to beat the STFC. In response, the STFC have to start making cuts, but perhaps decided that by putting a high profile facility on the firing line, it will garner more public support. The issue certainly has been understated in the press, which tends to keep politicians off the hook.

In any event, there shouldn’t be a shortfall, and science facilities shouldn’t be under threat. The government can’t be claiming poverty, when they are about to spend £5.4bn on paranoia? (or is it now £4.4bn?) 2% of that could plug the STFC shortfall, and there’d still be 98% of it left over to plunge into other issues.

While I won’t have to face losing a job because of the funding crisis, I am however studying again as a mature undergraduate in physics. I’ll probably never get to the dizzy heights of research, where a move like this has a direct impact on my daily life, but even I can recognise that by withdrawing support for scientific growth eventually the access to education and the quality of the material degrades. That will then filter down to A levels, GCSE, and on. What’s the point in driving people to education, and encouraging young people into science, if at the end of it all, there is nothing for them to get their teeth into?

Finally on Hansard, I found another instance of Gordon talking about the importance of science and education, this time from December 06.

“Let me summarise: Asia is already out-producing Europe. China alone is manufacturing half the world’s computers, half the worlds clothes, and more than half the world’s digital electronics and, this Christmas, more than 75 per cent. of children’s toys. But in the next10 years, the competitive challenge is even more profound. Once responsible for just one eighth of the world’s growth, China and India will soon capture almost half. And increasingly they are competing not just on low cost, but on high skills. Every year, Britain adds 75,000 engineers and computer scientists, while India and China add half a million. Annually, Britain turns out a quarter of a million graduates; India and China 4 million. Economies like ours have no choice but to out-innovate and out-perform competitors by the excellence of our science and education, the quality of infrastructure and environment, the flexibility of our economy, and our levels of creativity and entrepreneurship.”

You see, I would vote for that. I won’t vote for this.

P.S. For all that they are worth, there is a petition, and I urge you to take five minutes to sign it:

http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/jodrellfunding/

11
Oct
07

Getting into hot water

This doesn’t really fall into the category of junk science. But I’ve got to break the blogging cherry somehow.

On Monday The Diana Alert System ran an article on the selling of solar hot water panels. A colleague sent me the link, and asked me to comment about the story.

The Express Article

As the article stresses, this company is working with Trading Standards, and a resolve was found.

However it is not a unique story. “Little old lady/man” gets a flyer though the door. Something to the tune of “Solar Hot Water! Heat your water for free! Cut down on bills! Good for the environment!”. They think “I need something to cut down on bills” and call the number on the flyer to get some more information. The company then sends out a sales rep. They give the sales patter, say it’s the top of the range, hyper efficient, evacuated tube system, and will cost £6000. A deposit is collected of perhaps £1500-£2000, so that the work can be booked in.

Unfortunately, there may have been a number of things left out of the information given to the client in situations similar to this one.

1. There is no way a solar hot water panel costs £6000 to be fitted. An ethical price for an evacuated tube system is going to be somewhere between £2500-£3500 installed. If I pay £6000, I want it to come with a free car.

2. The question on most minds is “When will fitting this actually pay me back?” An honest approach would be to give typical savings, based on usage and cost of fuel, and apply those to the cost of the work carried out. However the realist answer is, in a lot of cases there might not be a payback period. Some companies will tout £100 or above per year savings, some will simply tell you 8-10 years. However, the Energy Savings Trust suggests that an average figure for saving would be £40 per year. This is congruent with a set of case studies from 2005 by the housing corporation, which noted a figure of £38 per year, (for a flat plate collector system). Even at £100 a year, it would take 60 years for someone to get back the money on £6000. If you want a payback on a solar panel, sell your house with one attached.

3. You have no cooling off period. If someone knocks on your door, selling “Dr Jekyll’s marvelous snake oil”, (to be taken for all ailments), you may find yourself placing an order with them. However, you have a right to a “cooling off period”. This means that later on, when you come to your senses, you can call up Dr Jekyll’s, to cancel the agreement, and they will be obliged to give you back any deposit. But if Dr Jekyll puts a flyer through your door, and you call to arrange for one of his sales representatives to call, once you place an order with them, because you invited them to call with you, there is no cooling off period. You are tied into any contract you have signed, and liable to lose any deposit.

Renewable micro technology used to be the realm of the ultra greenies, but is becoming more mainstream. The majority of issues that new adopters now encounter is through the gaps in common knowledge. The average homeowner has no idea what these systems do, and how well they should perform. It’s not commonly known how much these systems should cost. This gap in knowledge can be easily exploited by pressure selling techniques, and bullshit science. (See how I shoehorned bullshit science in there??) The use of flyer canvasing in this industry, is exploiting the fact that usually the buyer will only research their new system, after they’ve paid the deposit. After finding out the down sides, they have no ability to back out, without losing their £1500. In a lot of cases, it’s no better than a confidence trick.

My advice, if you are over the age of 60, stem the urge to buy a solar panel (water or electrical), or a wind turbine from B&Q, unless you REALLY want one. It will have an impact on the carbon output from your home, (and your Energy Performance Certificate will probably give you a big pat on the back) but it won’t be a financial investment unless you are selling your house. There are better ways to invest your money. If you lie awake, worrying about the carbon footprint of looking at inane blogs all day, switch to a green electricity supplier that uses renewable technologies.

And if you are still seriously looking at getting a system, more power to you (sorry, bad pun). There links on the references below should point you in the right direction.

References

http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/generate_your_own_energy/types_of_renewables/solar_water_heating

http://www.housingcorp.gov.uk/upload/pdf/ESD_Factsheet_Solar_Hot_Water_FINAL_180505hr.pdf (pdf)

Energy Efficiency Advice Centre (0800 512012).

http://www.navitron.org.uk
(Ethically priced renewable technology).




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