Tuesday, 31 March 2015
As part of my recovery from poor health I set myself the target of posting on this blog at least once a day for a month.
It helps put a bit of structure in my day regardless of what's going on. For example I am currently back in hospital with a small complaint but posting.
Today with this post my target has been met. I think it has been quite useful and I may continue it.
Monday, 30 March 2015
“This system is being decimated, and by discouraging practitioners one wonders how the judges of the future will be selected”
Sir, Last Wednesday the Court of Appeal rejected appeals by the Law Society and criminal solicitors’ associations against the draconian reduction in criminal legal aid. This will result in the closure of 1,000 firms of solicitors, and a reduction in advice for those in need.
There are still vast differences between the wealthy and others. A few days after the acquittal of journalists who were represented by experienced, and presumably expensive, lawyers, an MP, Sheryll Murray, asked the solicitor-general how a constituent on meagre means could obtain necessary legal advice. The astonishing reply was to refer her to a pro bono website or to the local Citizens Advice Bureau.
For more than 56 years I was proud to participate as solicitor, circuit judge and Commonwealth Supreme Court judge in a system which through legal aid provided skilled representation to all who needed it, with no distinction based on wealth, and where those able to reimburse the system were ordered to do so. This system is being decimated, and by discouraging practitioners one wonders how the judges of the future will be selected.
Would teachers, doctors or any other professional be invited by the government to provide their services free through pro bono or CAB? Certainly not MPs.
His Honour Barrington Black
Sunday, 29 March 2015
Well I wonder how this will work out -
Arab leaders on Sunday announced a tentative agreement to create a joint military force to combat violence and extremism in the region. "We recognize the clear challenges in the Arab world and the need to take measures to combat them," Nabil al Araby, chairman of the Arab League, said on the final day of the group's summit in Egypt. The announcement came days after a Saudi-led coalition began launching airstrikes in Yemen against the Houthi rebels who have overrun the country and forced President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee. [The Guardian, USA Today]
Robots are doing more of the work in warehouses and factories than ever before, but there are still things humans do better. At Amazon’s massive warehouse facilities, human hands are still the ones picking up and packaging the items you order, but maybe not for long. An upcoming robotics competition run by Amazon’s Kiva Systems subsidiary could move us closer to the age of the fully robotic warehouse, as about 30 teams from academic institutions square off to see who can build the best robot for packing a box.
Successfully picking up those Oreos after you spot them is an entirely different problem. A package of Oreos is actually one of the possible test objects in the Amazon Picking Challenge, because people expect things to be shipped to them mostly un-crushed. An unforgiving metal grasper might be able to move solid objects around or choke the life out of humans in the robot apocalypse, but these robots need finesse. As such, most teams are developing special graspers to deal with the variety of objects the robots will need to handle.
Saturday, 28 March 2015
Friday, 27 March 2015
Thursday, 26 March 2015
Wednesday, 25 March 2015
Tuesday, 24 March 2015
Monday, 23 March 2015
Open Europe notes - No Spanish party won an absolute majority in yesterday’s regional elections in Andalusia. The Socialist Party had the highest support and secured 47 of 109 seats in the regional parliament – unchanged from the 2012 elections. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Partido Popular won 33 seats, 17 less than in 2012. The anti-establishment party Podemos finished third with 15 seats, followed by centrist party Ciudadanos with nine seats and the United Left with five.
According to Wikipedia - The peerage is a legal system of largely hereditary titles in the United Kingdom, which is constituted by the ranks of British nobility and is part of the British honours system. The term is used both collectively to refer to the entire body of noble titles (or a subdivision thereof), and individually to refer to a specific title (and generally has an initial capital in the former case and not the latter). The holder of a peerage is termed a peer.
Sunday, 22 March 2015
Letter To The Daily Telegraph
During Tony Blair’s tenure as Middle East “peace” envoy, Egypt had a military coup, Libya collapsed into anarchy, Syria fell into terrible civil war, Iraq fared little better, Islamic State created itself, Iran more or less developed a nuclear weapon, and Israel made it clear with its settlements that it does not contemplate a
Whoever appointed him must have had a sense of humour.
Charles D.B. Pugh, London
Saturday, 21 March 2015
This is just advice, listen if you will
Every single day you're liquor sipping when you chill
Livin' with your parents, never chip in for the bills
You need to scrub the dirty dishes in their kitchen off for real
This is just your life, listen if you want
Don't just spend your whole day on the sofa hittin' blunts
You are in the back of the line right now
You gotta progress, you gotta move, you gotta work, so we can get you to the front
Put the nuggets down, put some veggies on your plate
Exercise a bit, feel incredible and great
You're addicted to your iPhone, saying that you're lonely
Use to speak English, now the language is Emoji
Be on time to work, don't upset your boss
Every single day you gotta brush your teeth and floss
If you can get eight hours of sleep at night
Or mentally you'll be lost
Consume a lot of food and water before you go drink
Lots of alcohol or you'll be puking in the sink
Break-ups really freaking hurt let me mention
Before you fall in love, know the persons intentions
Listen to this twice, this is just your life
Even if you're not religious live it like you're Christ
Gotta just accept that there will be days where you wake up feeling crappy
It don't matter make it your mission to be nice
[Mac Lethal starts speaking]
Look kids, I know that adulthood is a little scary
But trust me, follow these words and you'll be just fine
Also, drink coffee
Lets speed it up
Pay your freaking taxes every single year in April
Buy a little bit of property and build yourself a home, man
You should probably start a company cuz paying off those student loans is difficult
But either way do something with your life
Don't spend every paycheck that you make on Micheal Kors and pairs of Jordans
Invest your money, save it for retirement
And wait until you're 30 to get married and before you go have children
You should travel with your husband or your wife
If you have a conversation look the person in the eye
And if you shake their hand then you should do it with a firm grip
Don't make fun of people cuz a lot of them are going through
Depression, pain and sorrow they're not telling you about
Be an individual with principal and character and try to treat the people
That surround you with respect
You gotta try to lose your ego if you wanna gain momentum
Now go out and show the whole entire World what you're about
Friday, 20 March 2015
Thursday, 19 March 2015
Wednesday, 18 March 2015
Tuesday, 17 March 2015
Wild lynx, extinct in Britain for more than 1,300 years, could be released on to privately-owned estates in the UK.
The Lynx UK Trust is launching a consultation to sample the public's reaction to bring the big cats to Norfolk, Cumbria and Aberdeenshire. Thetford forest is one possible site.
Thetford Forest is the largest lowland pine forest in Britain and is located in a region straddling the north of Suffolk and the south of Norfolk in England. It covers over 19,000 ha (47,000 acres) in the form of a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
I really like the idea. There will be worries about its cost and potential for failure, indeed the National Farmers Union has already been vocal in its concerns. However I say give it a go. They are not a threat to humans and will be a much needed natural biodiversity tool. In human speak that appears to mean they will help control the deer population naturally.
Monday, 16 March 2015
There are several blog sites that keep tabs on all the betting speculation and odds. The main one being politicalbetting.com run by Mike Smithson. It is one of the largest political blogs in the UK and gets millions of page views.
Their are plenty of other sites. The oldest seat predicter site is the electoralcalculus.co.uk site which was set up by a then Cambridge maths don, Martin Baxter, in the mid 1990s and which he has maintained ever since.
Here are the current predictions -
Political betting is a mine field it seems. For example at present the betting punters seem to have completely different expectations than the pollsters. At the last election the punters were well beaten and the pollsters didn't do brilliantly. It was the bookies that nailed it.
Under our first past the post voting system, general elections are decided by 650 separate constituencies, rather than simply national vote share. Predicting this tally is the key successfully betting on the result but which seat converter should we trust? See here for Mike Smithsons view.
Sunday, 15 March 2015
In this excellent article Mark Urban, Diplomatic and defence editor for the BBC wonders how many Russians are fighting in Ukraine? - Short answer - lots.
Western arguments about how to counter President Vladimir Putin's support for east Ukraine separatists are leading to clashes over the question of how deeply involved Russia's military is in the conflict.
The latest salvo between Nato allies came in a German government briefing to Spiegel magazine that accuses the alliance's supreme commander (American Gen Philip Breedlove) of disseminating "dangerous propaganda" on the extent of Russian military involvement, trying to undermine a diplomatic solution to the war.
The Kremlin has denied its forces are directly involved in combat, but the latest estimate by US Lt Gen Ben Hodges, commander of the US Army in Europe, says 12,000 Russian troops are operating inside the neighbouring country.
As the conflict there has worn, on this intervention has become increasingly hard to hide, growing bigger, with more advanced weapons, and capturing more territory for the nominal "separatist army".
The evidence of the Kremlin's direct military involvement can be gleaned from many different types of sources.
- Russian mainstream and social media
- reporters on the ground
- Ukrainian media
- analysis of freely available satellite imagery by citizen journalists
- information released by the US and its Nato allies
For those distrustful of the Pentagon or Western intelligence agencies, you can set their information entirely aside.
Indeed, there may be some reasons (such as not wanting the diplomatic damage involved in directly labelling the Russian moves an invasion) why Western leaders may have held back when describing the Kremlin's action.
Sustaining the operation in Ukraine and on its borders has, however, required the mobilisation of units across the breadth of Russia, according to a new assessment by Dr Igor Sutyagin, of the Royal United Services Institute.
He believes 90,000 troops were required in late 2014 to provide deployments around Ukraine, inside its eastern (rebel held) districts and in Crimea.
This effort has been so great, he argues, that, "it is obvious that there insufficient resources... to sustain military operations at the current level for over a year".
This intervention evolved in several phases:
- Initially deniable, in the summer of 2014, with perhaps a few hundred special forces organising locals and Russian volunteers.
- Large-scale escalation, during August 2014, when several Russian regular army battalion tactical groups (numbering up to 1,000 each) were sent in to save the separatists from defeat by the Ukrainian military.
- A period of withdrawal and retrenchment, late in 2014, following September's Minsk ceasefire agreement, in which Russian troop numbers dropped.
- The reintroduction of several formed battalions and numerous specialist troops during renewed fighting, this January and February, allowing the capture of Debaltseve and a good deal of other territory from the Ukrainians.
A journalist from the Russian newspaper Kommersant met several young Russian soldiers in Debaltseve who told him they had come from the same mechanised infantry unit after commanders appealed for volunteers.
"Their commanders did not oppose their going," the journalist reported, "on the contrary, they welcomed their enthusiasm, explaining to the soldiers why it was necessary for them to go to those very areas to protect their homeland."
Another Russian paper, Novaya Gazeta, interviewed a badly burned tank crewman in Donetsk hospital who said he had been serving with the 5th Independent Tank Brigade in Siberia when ordered on "exercises", which all the soldiers involved had understood meant they were deploying to eastern Ukraine.
Since last August, when the scale of this increased considerably, the Russian Soldiers' Mothers Committee and other human rights groups have published details of dead soldiers being returned for burial in Russia.
Open Russia, a group funded by Kremlin opponent Mikhail Khodorkovsky, has compiled evidence of 276 Russian soldiers killed there up to late January.
Dr Sutyagin says this is a considerable underestimate and the total is nearer to 800.
During the August fighting, entire Russian units were sent across, a necessity perhaps in view of the crisis faced by separatist forces, but one that produced some tell-tale evidence.
Ten paratroopers from the 331st Guards Airborne Regiment, usually based at Kostroma in Russia, for example, were captured together by the Ukrainian military inside their country.
And in Pskov, home of another airborne unit, several corpses were returned together for burial.
When Russian forces drew down a couple of months later, I was told by a senior Nato official that as few as 1,000 remained in eastern Ukraine.
It was then, evidence suggests, that the Russian army determined a change in the way it would use force across the border, forming composite units of volunteers that would be exercised together so they attained the necessary military slickness, but would come from a variety of garrisons and units so their identity would be harder to prove.
There could be another reason for the use of smaller detachments from far flung units across Russia.
Dr Sutyagin says it "appears to indicate a shortage of badly needed manpower".
Recent Russian reporting makes clear the direct involvement of its combat troops in February's battle for Debaltsevo, something Nato did not even allege at the time.
Indeed much of the Nato or US analysis, however critical German backers of a diplomatic solution may have been of it, may have erred on the side of conservatism.
At a meeting with journalists in London last month, for example, the US ambassador to Nato, Doug Lute, said the Russian military had committed specialists to help crew advanced weapons such as anti-aircraft missiles or electronic warfare gear, and "an alternative chain of command".
That Russian officers are providing the brains as well as co-ordination behind the Donetsk and Luhansk separatist forces became clearer last November, when Lt Gen Alexander Lentsov, deputy commander of Moscow's ground forces, appeared in eastern Ukraine.
He has subsequently been appointed to the committee trying to uphold the latest ceasefire.
As for whether this command structure was actually relying on Russian combat units, Lt Gen Lute would not go that far, saying the Russian military in the east of Ukraine was "not a force in the sense of being an entity".
But reporting from the Russian side of the front suggests that during the fight for Debaltseve, Lt Gen Lentsov won the battle with three battalion groups made up almost entirely of troops originally from units across the border in Russia.
In the Novaya Gazeta interview with wounded tank man Dorzhi Batomunkuev, he said his group, from the 5th Tank Brigade, had been combined with detachments of men from other Russian army combat units during three months of training at a camp near Kuzminsky, close to the Ukrainian border.
The battalion, equipped with 31 T72 tanks, had crossed into Ukraine early in February before taking part in the Debaltseve battle.
The men who had actually joined locally, in the breakaway areas of eastern Ukraine, had made up less than 10% of the unit, he said.
Other reports suggest the local men, as well as some Cossack volunteers from Russia, make up the public face of the separatist forces, manning checkpoints and so on, while the composite Russian army units, equipped with the latest tanks and artillery, are employed for offensive action.
Of course trying to differentiate between these forces (genuine locals, Russians who have come individually to fight alongside them, and trained units of serving Russian army soldiers) is not easy for reporters on the ground - or even it seems for Nato countries with their considerable intelligence resources.
Lt Gen Lute, for example, noted late last month the presence of "hundreds" of Russian army troops in Ukraine. Now, Lt Gen Hodges has raised that figure to thousands.
"If you don't believe Russia is directly involved in Ukraine now, you'll never believe it," he said.
It's possible. But it's also the case that Nato military people I've spoken to have been notably more hawkish on their estimation of the Kremlin role than politicians or diplomats (Lt Gen Lute is something of a hybrid, having previously served as a US Army general and in the White House).
US political authorities have also sought to minimise the gap between their public statements and assessments by Germany and others determined to avoid confrontation with Russia.
President Barack Obama and his team have long sought to avoid painting themselves into a corner over Ukraine, for example by labelling the Russian action "an invasion", something that might suggest tougher action was needed against President Vladimir Putin.
But the odd thing is that the most compelling evidence that his army is bearing the brunt of the fighting against the Ukrainian government is now coming from Russian reporters or the mothers of dead soldiers rather than the West.
Saturday, 14 March 2015
Combe House hotel is lovely. Set in picture postcard surroundings just outside a picture postcard village it is an extremely relaxing place with amazing food.
If you trust "awards" as a guide then in 2014 they had the following accolades:
• Award for Excellence Winner - Condé Nast Johansens
• Listed in Top Best Foodie Hotels in SW England - voted by readers of FOOD magazine
• Listed in Good Food Guide - (cooking score: 5)
• Listed in Good Hotel Guide
See here for a long list of awards.
The rooms are sumptuous, staff friendly and polite. Fantastic ambience. Amazing views. Just go and stay or at least eat there.
Their website is here.
Friday, 13 March 2015
The British Heart foundation was founded in 1961 by a group of medical professionals, who were concerned about the increasing death rate from cardiovascular disease. They wanted to fund extra research into the causes, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of heart and circulatory disease.
It is a major funder and authority in cardiovascular research, education and care, and relies predominantly on voluntary donations to meet its aims. In order to increase income and maximise the impact of its work, it also works with other organisations to combat premature death and disability from cardiovascular disease.
The British Heart Foundation focuses on five areas of cardiovascular health:
1) Research - BHF will continue to pioneer research into the causes of heart disease and improved methods of prevention, diagnosis and treatment.
2) Information - BHF will provide vital information to help people reduce their own heart health risk.
3) Campaigning - BHF will get government to establish policies that minimise the risk of developing heart and circulatory disease
4) Care - BHF will help attain the highest possible standards of care and support for patients.
5) Equality - BHF will reduce inequalities in the levels of heart disease across the UK
In 2013 The British Heart Foundation had an income of just over £133m. In 2013 the BHF spent their income on Research (61%), care and prevention (20%).
Facts and figures
1) There are over 950 BHF Healthcare Professionals caring for patients across the UK.
2) Over 3,500 Heartstart UK schemes to educate people what to do in various emergency situations (not just cardiac emergencies).
3) More than 3.2 million people have been trained by Heartstart UK in schools (for example via the Saving Londoners' Lives project) and the community.
4) In 2013, the British Heart Foundation had a gross income of over £133m.
5) Every year 1 in every 145 babies are born in the UK with a congenital heart defect.
I suffered from heart failure a condition caused by the heart failing to pump enough blood around the body at the right pressure.
It usually occurs because the heart muscle has become too weak or stiff to work properly.
Their website is a mine of information, their research along with many other organisations helped save my life.
See here for NHS choices definition of heart failure.
In the UK the two main centres of NHS excellence for heart related matters are Brompton and Papworth.
Thursday, 12 March 2015
1) There are around 625,000 children at independent schools in the UK (6.5% of all UK school pupils).
2) The average day fee at Independent Schools Council schools is £4,241 a term.
3) The average boarding fee at Independent Schools Council (ISC) schools is £9,596 a term.
4) More than a third of pupils at ISC schools receive help with their fees.
5) 19.2% of A levels taken by pupils at ISC schools were graded A* in 2014.
Wednesday, 11 March 2015
Fish for Thought is a small Cornish family online retailing business. It rules. It's roots can be traced back many generations in Cornwall. Apparently one family member, a Francis Trudgian, owned half of Cornwall but lost it all after getting himself imprisoned in the Tower of London.
I have ordered fish from them in the past quite a few times and it has always been great. From humble beginnings in a Portakabin they seem to have conquered the online world and now supply many restaurants.
They are now well and truly discovered and have been all over the press in the past.
A good news story and highly recommended.
Tuesday, 10 March 2015
There is still no water!
Brazil is suffering its worst drought for 80 years.
Sao Paolo is the worlds 12th largest city, has a municipal population of nearly 12 million and more than 20 million in the metropolitan area.
Brazil has been called the Saudi Arabia of water, with fully 12 per cent of the world's freshwater supplies yet Brazil's largest city is starting to properly run dry.
We're just now at the tail end of what's supposed to be the region's rainy season, but for this past month, many of the nearly 12 million residents of Sao Paulo have been forced to severely ration what little water they get.
Some go days without water. Others can access water but only at specific times.
How can deforestation, corruption and population growth have been handled so badly in a country normally flooded with H2O.
It's little wonder the local currency (the real) is in trouble, foreign money leaving at an increasingly rapid rate and the Consumer Price Index there is not good reading. The political elite are finding it hard to focus as many are embroiled in the massive petrochemical fraud affair.
Monday, 9 March 2015
An interesting article by Ryan Whitwam writing for Extreme Tech on March 5:
A team of Swiss engineers, aviation experts, and designers is finishing final preparations to launch Solar Impulse 2, a solar-powered plane with a wingspan larger than a Boeing 747. When Solar Impulse 2 gets airborne next week, it will begin a historic trip around the world. If all goes to plan, this will be the first aircraft to circumnavigate the globe powered entirely by the sun.
The Solar Impulse 2 has a huge wingspan, but the carbon fiber body of the plane is quite narrow. There’s only space for a single person (the pilot), and it doesn’t sound particularly comfortable. The design dedicates only 3.8 cubic meters of space for the pilot, which is just enough for the reclining multipurpose seat. It’s a chair, bed, and even a toilet. The cabin is also unheated and unpressurized, so the pilot will need to rely on oxygen canisters and thermal insulation in the cockpit structure.
Solar Impulse 2 will be piloted by the organization’s co-founders Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg. They’ll take turns being crammed into this unpleasant little space for several days at a time, including one five day stretch over the Pacific Ocean. The round-the-world trip is being made in 12 legs over the course of several months, so the pilots will have the chance to trade places after each layover. This also gives the Solar Impulse team a chance to make sure the plane is still in proper working order. Even with years of testing, there’s a lot that can go wrong.
Solar Impulse 2 has 17,248 solar panels covering the wings, which can soak in enough power during the day to keep the four propellers going all night. Power will be stored in the craft’s lithium-ion batteries for use at that time as well. The batteries take up about a quarter of Solar Impulse 2’s 5,000-pound heft. That’s about the same as a midsize sedan, which is light for a plane and good for overall efficiency. Solar Impulse 2 can reach speeds of nearly 100 mph, but the plan is to limit speed to about 60 mph to get a little more distance out of the batteries.
The team arrived in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates two months ago to conduct the final tests of Solar Impulse 2 before beginning the real flight. The plane has been taken on several multi-hour test flights in Abu Dhabi, and the pilots report no issues. The test flights were less than 250 miles, though. Several of the legs will be a few thousand miles, but Piccard and Borschberg are confident the plane will perform well.
Takeoff is currently scheduled for Monday March 9th. That first leg will be a short one, just a few hundred miles to Oman. Future legs will be longer with stops in Nanjing, Hawaii, New York, North Africa, and more. It would be more impressive if the plane managed the trip in one go, but this is still a huge technical achievement. Future solar aircraft might not need checkups every few thousand miles, but humans will still like to get out and stretch their legs.
Good luck to them!
Sunday, 8 March 2015
Towards the end of 2014 I received a heart transplant at Papworth Hospital in Cambridge. At the moment things are going well. Papworth is an awe inspiring place. They kept me going for years whilst I suffered from heart failure and when things became critical kept me alive via machines whilst I waited for a transplant.
They have helped many thousands of others in many thousands of ways and it all takes place in what started out as basically a shed in a field in the middle of nowhere in Cambridgeshire. It's now quite a few sheds that have grown up in a haphazard way over the decades. It somehow seems a peculiarly British approach.
Whilst in more recent years Papworth Hospital is more associated with clinical excellence in the delivery of cardiothoracic services most notably heart and lung transplantation, its history is rather unique.
1918 Papworth is founded as a colony for people with Tuberculosis - a ground-breaking place which becomes famous for its treatments and for helping people to return to work after convalescence
1948 Papworth becomes part of the newly founded NHS
1962 Papworth performs the first artificial heart valve operation on a patient
1967 First cardiac pacemaker procedure carried out
1979 UK’s first successful heart transplant operation takes place at Papworth Hospital
1982 Papworth starts coronary angioplasty procedures
1984 Europe’s first successful heart-lung transplant is performed at Papworth Hospital; and first in the world for the chronic use of Prostacyclin for the treatment of primary pulmonary hypertension in humans
1985 World’s first transbronchial biopsy is undertaken to detect rejection in lung transplants
1986 World’s first heart, lung and liver transplant takes place at Papworth Hospital
1988 Papworth’s first single lung transplant
1991 First implantable defibrillator procedure carried out at Papworth; and first in the world for the application of Nitric Oxide in humans for patients with primary and secondary pulmonary hypertension; Papworth’s first bilateral lung transplant
1992 Papworth’s first Ventricular Assist Device operation; Papworth’s Respiratory Support and Sleep Centre opens
1994 Adult Cystic Fibrosis Centre opens
1996 Papworth carries out its 1000th transplant
2001 UK National Centre for Pulmonary Thromboendarterectomy surgery established
2006 Papworth performs the UK’s first beating heart transplant, using the Organ Care System
2010 First subcutaneous implantable cardiac defibrillator at Papworth
2011 The UK’s first Total Artificial Heart patient discharged home
At present there are over 1800 people employed by Papworth.
All the modern day facts and figures on Papworth can be found here. They are soon, in theory, to be moving to a site near Addenbrookes hospital just outside Cambridge which is also where a lot of medical research takes place.
On the health front I owe many things to many people. I owe Papworth my life.
You can support Papworth by donating via their charitable trust.
The BBC sums up what we know -
The Malaysian government has officially declared the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on 8 March 2014, an accident.
Despite an extensive international search in the southern Indian Ocean, no trace of the aircraft has been found. Officials have confirmed that the recovery operation is ongoing but that the 239 people onboard are now presumed dead.
Since the end of June 2014, investigators carrying out the search have been focusing on a refined area covering 60,000 sq km 1,800km (1,100 miles) off the west coast of Australia.
Investigators have just released a report updating everyone on where we are at.
Surely we can find the plane. It's just bizarre. It's odd to think it can just disappear like that. It has created a nirvana for conspiracy theorists.
Saturday, 7 March 2015
For decades allegations of political corruption in many European countries has been rife. Interestingly as times change a few of those alleged to have benefitted are now being investigated and prosecuted. It has happened in Portugal, Italy, even a bit in Greece and now a start in Spain. The UK is no saint in the corruption field but it's not Spain either. Below is a good summary of the Spanish situation by Graham Keeley writing for the Times:
Forty members of the Spanish ruling party and a number of prominent businessmen will stand trial in the country’s biggest political corruption scandal since the end of the Franco regime.
Judge Pablo Ruz, of the National Court in Madrid, yesterday ordered a former health minister and three former treasurers of the centre-right Popular party to stand trial, along with 36 others, on 12 charges, including bribery, cash-for-favours in office, and embezzling €449 million of taxpayers’ money.
The case could cost Mariano Rajoy, the prime minister, the general election in November. He has not been charged in what is being called the Gurtel affair, but the scandal has badly tarnished the party he leads.
Luís Bárcenas, one of the three former party treasurers caught up in the case, has claimed that Mr Rajoy was among scores of party leaders who received tens of thousands of euros from a secret slush fund that was in operation during the government of José María Aznar. The money was allegedly paid by construction bosses to politicians in return for lucrative government building contracts.
The trial, which is expected to take place next year, could not have come at a worse time for Mr Rajoy. His party is two points behind in the opinion polls, which are led by a nascent party that is hoping to win the November elections on an anti-corruption ticket.
Mr Bárcenas claimed he compiled ledgers that listed payments, including one of €42,000 concealed in a cigar box given to Mr Rajoy in 1997 when he was the civil service minister.
After he was indicted in the Gurtel case, Mr Bárcenas said he had received a number of text messages from the prime minister which, he claimed, indicated his support. One, dated January 18, 2013, allegedly read: “Luis. I understand. Be strong. I’ll call you tomorrow. Regards.”
Mr Rajoy has resisted demands for his resignation, has cut links with Mr Bárcenas and insisted that claims of slush fund payments are false.
“His accusations are false and his half-truths are false,” Mr Rajoy told the Spanish parliament. An investigation has begun into the slush fund claims, but Mr Rajoy has not been implicated.
The decision of Judge Ruz to send 40 defendants for trial comes as a poll for the state-run Centre for Sociological Investigations found that corruption was the second-biggest concern for Spanish voters after unemployment, which stands at 23 per cent.
It has helped to spark huge support for Podemos, the left-wing, anti-corruption party that was formed only a year ago but which is leading the polls. Podemos appeals to voters who are angry or disillusioned with the two parties that have run Spain since General Franco died in 1975, and which have been hit by a series of scandals.
The Socialist party has been accused of large-scale corruption in Andalusia, a traditional stronghold where it controls the regional government. It is alleged that €850 million was awarded in training contracts to the unemployed without proper checks and that the money ended up in party hands.
Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Podemos, has labelled Mr Rajoy and the Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez “la casta” — the elite — because they appear out of touch with the demands of most Spanish voters.
A recent poll for the Cadena Ser radio station gave Podemos the lead with 24.6 per cent, with the Popular party on 22.5 per cent and the opposition Socialists trailing on 19 per cent.
Another small, centrist party, Ciudadanos (Citizens), has emerged this year to steal votes from the Popular party, gaining 13 per cent in the same poll.
At the centre of the alleged web of corruption is Francisco Correa, a businessman who, it is claimed, liked to be known as Don Vito, after the fictional mafia don played by Marlon Brando in The Godfather. Mr Correa is alleged to have paid a series of bribes, including new cars and hotel stays, and paid for the birthday parties of politicians’ children. In return, he was allegedly granted contracts paid for by the Spanish taxpayer.
Ana Mato, the former health minister who is said to be close to Mr Rajoy, will stand trial after she was accused of benefiting financially because her former husband, Jesús Sepúlveda, a mayor in a Madrid district, allegedly “favoured” Mr Correa in the granting of public contracts.
The two other Popular party treasurers who will stand trial are Álvaro Lapuerta and Ángel Sanchis. The party itself is named as one of the defendants who unknowingly benefited from the illegal kickbacks scheme, and will have to send a representative to take the stand.
The prosecutors claim that hundreds of public contracts were granted behind closed doors without conforming to Spanish laws on open competition.
The case relates to the period between 1999 and 2005 but, in total, 187 people have been indicted as suspects in the investigation, so a second trial looks likely.
Mr Bárcenas has been ordered to post bail of €89 million. He is alleged to have accumulated €48 million in Swiss bank accounts, which he said was accrued from property and art sales.
If convicted, Mr Correa and Mr Bárcenas could each face up to 30 years in jail.
All of the defendants deny any wrongdoing.
“This has brought general revulsion towards the Popular party because the longer it has gone on, the more scandalous it has become,” said Daniel Montero, the author of a book titled Correa At Your Throat, about the Gurtel case. He added: “This and other corruption cases associated with the Socialists have helped the rise of Podemos.”
Out of interest you can read an in depth report into European corruption here
Friday, 6 March 2015
The week notes that "the Iraqi government launched a major offensive this week, aimed at wresting back the city of Tikrit from the forces of Islamic State. The mainly Sunni city – best known to Westerners as the hometown of Saddam Hussein – fell to the extremists in July 2014.
The Iraqi forces were being aided by thousands of Iranian-backed Shia militias, as well as troops from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. This caused unease in the US – which was reportedly not informed about the Tikrit offensive – and raised fears that the battle against Isis would only inflame the sectarian tensions that the militants have already exploited.
Last week, footage of Isis extremists destroying a collection of Assyrian antiquities in a museum in Mosul (pictured) caused global outrage. Men could be seen pushing statues off their pedestals and smashing them with sledgehammers. One of them explained: “These antiquities and idols behind me were from people in past centuries and were worshipped instead of God.”
It was not clear, however, how many of the statues were original: curators at Iraq’s National Museum in Baghdad, which re-opened this week, said that at least some of them were plaster casts, and that the originals were housed there in Baghdad and in other collections."
Now remember Iran and Iraq fought a huge and ugly war not that long ago. Iran and USA are at nuclear arming loggerheads, USA has invaded Iraq twice in last few decades, UK and USA almost went on to war with Syria last year. Etc etc.
Yet currently Iraqi forces with overt Iranian backing in the form of Revolutionary Guards and USA acquiescence and with Syrian delight are attempting to take back the city of Tikrit from ISIS.
It surely shows what a mess our foreign policy is in.
And for once - my enemies enemy is my enemy.
Thursday, 5 March 2015
The UK is the 51st most populace country on earth. It's 242,910 km2 with a population of 64,105,700 meaning a population density per square kilometre of 262 as of July 2013. Given most of the countries above us in the list are small like Malta, the UK is in fact very densely populated.
See here for more details.
In short we are like rats in a sack and have a fast growing population unlike anywhere else in Europe at present. This is partly due to immigration levels and partly due to UK birth rates. It's the place where people want to be. Well the figures show everyone wants to go more specifically to London and the South East.
It all places pressure on transport infrastructure, health, education in fact everything. So long term planning is required and decisions need to be made.
The idea of "England's green and pleasant land" left us a long while ago but we have done pretty well none the less in maintaining a bit of green despite all of us cramming in to a small piece of land.
The UK's popularity has its aforementioned issues but perhaps reflects its virtues too such as being a safe place, low levels of corruption, law and order, advanced economy etc.
A double edged sword.
The Stats - Annual Mid-year Population Estimates, 2013 - From the Office of National Statistics.
• The population of the UK grew to 64.1 million in mid-2013, representing a gain of 400,600 (0.63%) over the previous year mid-2012. This growth is slightly below the average since 2003.
• This means that the UK’s population has increased by around 5 million since 2001, and by more than 10 million since 1964.
• Natural change (births minus deaths) contributed slightly more than net international migration to the population gain in the year. There were 212,100 more births than deaths (53% of the increase) and 183,400 more immigrants arriving than emigrants leaving (46% of the increase).
• The estimated populations of the four constituent countries of the UK in mid-2013 are 53.9 million (growth of 0.70%) in England, 5.3 million (growth of 0.27%) in Scotland, 3.1 million (growth of 0.27%) in Wales and 1.8 million (growth of 0.33%) in Northern Ireland.
• There were 792,400 births and 580,300 deaths in the year ending 30 June 2013. The number of births decreased from the previous year but is still above average for the last decade.
The number of deaths increased from the previous year and is the highest since the year to mid-2005.
• The population of the UK aged 65 and over was 11.1 million (17.4% of the UK population) in mid-2013, up by 290,800 from mid-2012. The number of people in this age group has increased by 17.3% since 2003.
• Growth of the UK population in the year to mid-2013 was higher than the EU average and highest of the four most populous EU member states.