January 2010 Archives

The conservative case for trams.

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bluetram.jpgIn October Matt Lewis reviewed "Moving Minds; Conservatives and Public Transportation", a book co-authored by Weyrich and Lind, two very senior American conservatives, one of whom cut his political teeth on a public transport campaign.

Typically, as the review says, the case for better public transport is made by us tofu-eating "liberals", not hawks and military strategists. 

But they note that transport in America has been anything but a free market. Socialised freeways (note to Democrats and American Greens: this phrase may come in handy) have competed with overtaxed mass transit schemes.

Furthermore, the blue case for trams goes,* this car-based economy has spawned burbs, a lifestyle which weakens communities, and made us (like them) dependent on foreign oil. Rail, tram and subway lines, conversely, provide certainty to businesses to grow near stops, something a new bus route can't do.

Just because they're probably wrong on so many other things doesn't make these arguments any less persuasive, even though the review doesn't even mention climate change or other traditional environmental issues. There's a film interview with Lind here which does, though. His view, expressed in it, is that even mentioning those issues presses conservatives' "campaign against" button. The graph of public support shown in the film is also particularly striking.

I'm with Kenny Macaskill. A well-implemented tram network "will be the basis upon which Edinburgh can grow and flourish. It is after all the physical arteries that are the lifeblood of the community. Better therefore to take our time to get it right than progress at pace and repent at leisure. Moreover in transport like most other things in life you get what you pay for. Do it on the cheap and you'll get the quality it merits."

Nationalists, Greens, Lib Dems, Labour folk, conservatives, everyone gets it. Well, apart from those whose party in local government have undermined the work they're supposed to be delivering. Callum: get on board.

* yes, I know Americans have gotten their red and blue mixed up, but there's no need to get dragged down by them.

A further update from Greece.

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greek_riots.jpgI passed the recent tale of woe and schadenfreude from Eugenides to my Greek correspondent, Marinos Antypas, and got the following response:

Yesterday our Minister of Economics made a most interesting statement. Asked once again about the debt crisis and the looming prospect of bankruptcy, he said: "The rumours of Greece leaving the eurozone are not precise." 

Note, not false, not invalid, but not precise ... the truth is, sydrofe, that the Socialists could not have chosen a worse time to win the elections. Apparently the economy is in such shit that they have money to pay pensions only till March. 

As the Minister of Labour said: "on Tuesday we run out of money, on Thursday we have nothing to pay you with, there is nothing, nil, not a drop of saliva, how else to put it?". How indeed.

At the same time huge labour chunks are deserting the PASOK unions to form ad hoc militant committees - like the small farmers who showed the finger to the party controlled unions and have closed all highways and even the Bulgarian-Greek railway, as well as Igoumenitsa, the fourth biggest harbour in the country. 

The government would have sent the MAT in other times to smash those stubborn tractors, but who dares to do that now? It would mean an uprising of poor farmers at the symbolic centenial of the Kileler uprising that abolished serfdom in Thessaly (yes, only 100 years since that glorious day around here). 

On a more urban terrain, Athens is keeping warm with its weekly bombs against ministries and even the Parliament's main yard - a total blow to the credibility of PASOK. Nea Dimokratia is lost in a grand move to embrace the extreme right that has alienated everyone who still voted for it, while the SYRIZA people are fighting over some bizarre issue of inner party representation. 

Oddly, in the whole mess the KKE is the only ones to be looking concrete in an "I told you so" way. In one phrase, everyone are holding their breath, the shops are empty (despite the 60% discounts), violence is spreading in weird and often horrid spirals, and the tunnel seems to have no end. Any ideas? If you see our mutual friend the revolution, tell her to hurry up!

I see you.

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penanlogging.jpgDespite the heroic-white-man myth, I loved Avatar: after all, how did our unobtanium get under their tree? It's the classic tale of colonialism, just with better effects. Be blue, go Green.

In South Lanarkshire today, it's the threat of opencast coal, and the locals are indeed getting help from outside - sadly, today the bad guys also arrived in force

I've never before put a press release up here, but by coincidence today the wonderful Survival International (give generously) put one out with the following comments.

A Penan man from Sarawak (above), in the Malaysian part of Borneo, told Survival International:

"The Penan people cannot live without the rainforest. The forest looks after us, and we look after it. We understand the plants and the animals because we have lived here for many, many years, since the time of our ancestors.

"The Na'vi people in 'Avatar' cry because their forest is destroyed. It's the same with the Penan. Logging companies are chopping down our big trees and polluting our rivers, and the animals we hunt are dying."

Kalahari Bushman Jumanda Gakelebone said:

"We the Bushmen are the first inhabitants in southern Africa. We are being denied rights to our land and appeal to the world to help us. 'Avatar' makes me happy as it shows the world about what it is to be a Bushman, and what our land is to us. Land and Bushmen are the same."

Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, known as the Dalai Lama of the Rainforest, said: 

"My Yanomami people have always lived in peace with the forest. Our ancestors taught us to understand our land and animals. We have used this knowledge carefully, for our existence depends on it. My Yanomami land was invaded by miners. A fifth of our people died from diseases we had never known."

Survival's director, Stephen Corry, said:

"The fundamental story of Avatar - if you take away the multi-coloured lemurs, the long-trunked horses and warring androids - is being played out time and time again, on our planet.

"Like the Na'vi of 'Avatar', the world's last-remaining tribal peoples - from the Amazon to Siberia - are also at risk of extinction, as their lands are appropriated by powerful forces for profit-making reasons such as colonization, logging and mining."

Back to South Lanarkshire, Harry Thompson, former chair of the local community council, said:

"Despite massive community opposition to the mine at Mainshill, Scottish Coal and South Lanarkshire Council continue to disregard the interests of those living in proximity to the mines. The particulate matter released in the open cast mining process in this area has caused unusually high rates of cancer and lung disease. Granting permission to a new mine 1000 metres from the local hospital is the final straw."

Update: if you have seen Avatar, or are sure you won't ever do so, and fancy its politics analysed in more detail, the Socialist Unity view is fascinating.

Hail the Caledonian Mercury.

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caledonianmercurylogo.pngSomewhat earlier than planned, the Caledonian Mercury today joined Scotland's media firmament as a proper online newspaper. It's got everything a good newspaper needs, notably a proper chunk of Rab McNeil (or is that Robert?) and Hamish Macdonell writing off the Greens' prospects in Budget negotiations. At the risk of being slightly churlish that was the day we secured £10m for marine renewables through Stage 1.

The Mercury's editor, Stewart Kirkpatrick, was once in charge of the old (and superior) Scotsman website. He explained in August why someone should do what he's just done, and in January he went into a bit more detail on AllmediaScotland.

It's a brave move, even with the low costs associated with being only sparingly in print, and I'm sure everyone will wish them well. Even perhaps those who buy their ink in barrels. Tune in again at 5am for the Mercury's Monday exclusives.

Green soap powder.

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I meant to link to this last month, but hey, things are busy. 360 did some scamps for the IoS, quick advert sketches for the political parties, and they're all up here. Benedict Pringle reviews them here, and the Green ones are below.



Thumbnail image for trumphaircheckinfo.jpgThe improbably couiffeured would-be despoiler of Menie has a blog. It's part of the Trump University, which teaches you both vague self-help bullshit and practical measures to ensure your pipes don't crack in winter.

On Tuesday The Donald used his bully pulpit to announce a boycott of Italy. That same day, the Vatican laid into the Italian government for a shocking record of racism and violence. The Pope's newspaper claimed that "Italians are still incapable of shedding their racist past", although many have.

So was it Berlusconi's incitement of racial hatred that had motivated Mr Trump to launch his boycott? No, it's because an Italian court carried out due process and convicted Amanda Knox of murder. He wasn't in court, but is prepared to say "I followed the trial closely and Amanda Knox is not guilty."

I have no idea about her innocence or guilt, but one thing's clear. Italy has no death penalty, unlike many US states, so if she has grounds to bring an appeal she'll be alive to do so. Clearly one privileged American, even one convicted of murder, is more important to him than any number of Europe's most badly-treated immigrants.

An extraordinary position to be in.

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carolineagain.jpgDon't believe the politicians when they tell you "only X can win here", with or without dodgy bar charts. Proper polling should be listened to, of course, but the bookies are perhaps the most reliable source of intelligence. 

They put their money where their predictions are, after all, which is one of the reasons Political Betting is such a popular site.

When I joined this movement in 1998 I would have struggled to believe that in little more than ten years our sister party would be odds on to win a Westminster constituency. Yet Ladbrokes offer the following national odds:
Green Party to win a seat - 5/6

Despite the prospects in Norwich South, where Greens have topped local election results each year since 2007, most of this is because the bookies rate Caroline Lucas the favourite for Brighton Pavilion. She's at evens, followed some way behind by the Tories at 7/4, then Labour at 3/1 and the Lib Dems at 66/1. 

The party did an ICM constituency poll at the tail end of last year, which gave this result:

Green: 35% (+13%)
Tory: 27% (+3%)
Labour: 25% (-10%)
Lib Dem: 11% (-6%)
Others: 2%

The main local politics blog credits Greens with the momentum, the Independent have today more or less called it for Caroline, and the paper came canvassing with her at the weekend. Political Betting discussed the poll over the holiday too.

There's no sign of local complacency either - the whole constituency gets a visit every month, and Greens from across the UK are helping out. I'm looking forward to a trip down before the end of March, and I know many others are too. Better to win one seat than to come closer in a few more.

If you're looking for betting value on Greens, though, I'd go for Norwich South at 4/1 or Edinburgh East at a whopping 100/1. Robin's represented the area for a decade, after all, and you only have to walk the streets with him to see how well known he is.

What would John Muir do?

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OceanWindTurbines.jpgThe recent much-delayed and much-caveated approval given to the Beauly-Denny grid upgrade was met with many predictable responses. The renewables crowd are delighted, and the Ramblers are appalled. So far so obvious. The environmental movement is generally supportive too, as you'd expect, with one glaring exception.

The John Muir Trust. They didn't welcome the unlocking of Scotland's clean energy potential, or breathe a sigh of public relief for the contribution this scheme would make to tackling climate change. 

No, they condemned the announcement in very clear terms. Previously they have even implied that a judicial review might be in the offing

Don't get me wrong, the failures of administrations north and south of the border have made me very fond of judicial review, but is this a consistent position for the JMT to have adopted? Specifically, is it the position John Muir himself would have taken?

The Sierra Club, founded by Muir and friends, has posted a decent concise biography if you want to find out more about this remarkable man, born in East Lothian but who is rightly recognised as the grandfather of the American environmental movement.

Earlier this week I got into reading some of John Muir's works for the first time. Many of them are freely available here. Amongst them is "The Cruise of the Corwin", a colourful set of tales from a voyage Muir took through the Arctic in 1881. It's pretty rude about some of the local people, especially the Aleuts, but is fascinating and well worth a read.

One of the Corwin's stops was on Wrangel Island, claimed by the Corwin's captain for America but more logically now one of Russia's most northerly possessions. While there, Muir speculated that "perhaps the ice does not leave the shore free more than once in ten years." 

He also commented on the opportunities scientists have to study "the magnificent polar bear among the ice - the master animal of the north", and noted that "no portion of the world is so barren as not to yield a rich and precious harvest of divine truth".

Far to the east of Wrangel, the Corwin subsequently visited Unalaska, part of the Aleutian chain. There, while considering the mountains in the area, Muir observed the following before going on to consider the changes to glaciation since the Ice Age:

"The noblest of them all was Makushin, about nine thousand feet high and laden with glaciers, a grand sight, far surpassing what I had been led to expect. There is a spot on its summit which is said to smoke, probably mostly steam and vapor from the infiltration of water into the heated cavities of the old volcano. The extreme summit of Makushin was wrapped in white clouds, and from beneath these the glaciers were seen descending impressively into the sunshine to within a thousand or fifteen hundred feet of sea-level. This fine mountain, glittering in its showy mail of snow and ice, together with a hundred other peaks dipping into the blue sky, and every one of them telling the work of ice or fire in their forms and sculpture - these, and the sparkling sea, and long inreaching fiords, are a noble picture to add to the thousand others which have enriched our lives this summer in the great Northland."

It's clear to me that this was an environment he cared about, a harsh but important place he would have fought to defend if it had been threatened in his day as it is in ours. If he had lived in a world where the choice was climate change or radical changes to our energy supply, where pylons would bring clean energy to the grid and help preserve all the world's vulnerable places, I'm sure he'd have seen the bigger picture and have been on the same side as the Greens, as WWF, and as Friends of the Earth

I challenged the JMT on Twitter about this as the Beauly-Denny upgrade was being announced, and got a response from their official account. It read:

"@twodoctors Two words, Hetch Hetchy http://bit.ly/7KwHGP"

Hetch Hetchy, a valley in Yosemite, was threatened during Muir's lifetime with being dammed to provide water for San Francisco. His trenchant views on the issue are here and here, and although his campaign was lost, others have still not given up. If they win, as I hope they do, they estimate it will take fifty years before the valley becomes an "established, relatively mature ecosystem."

There's next to nothing in common between Hetch Hetchy and the Beauly-Denny line as far as I can see. In one case a beautiful natural environment was unnecessarily flooded, erased, wiped off the map. In the other, some pylons will come down and some pylons will go up, but with no permanent ecological damage. 

If the best way to transmit power changes, or our energy network becomes more decentralised, the pylons will come down and the only mark they will leave will be a stub of concrete, soon covered over, plus some photos of what they looked like. It wouldn't take fifty years like Hetch Hetchy - within fifty days you wouldn't know the Beauly-Denny line had ever been there unless you knew exactly what you were looking for.

The logic of the comparison, as I understand it, is therefore as follows:

John Muir was against the Hetch Hetchy development. Beauly-Denny is also a development. Therefore John Muir would have opposed it.

No, he wouldn't have, not unless he came back as a climate change denier. It's false logic. There's a massive and irreversible threat to Scotland's wild spaces, but it's not from renewables, it's from climate change

The John Muir Trust do plenty of other admirable work, including conservation work parties and all the rest, sure. Sadly this work is undermined by their opposition to Beauly-Denny, as it is by their regular opposition to wind turbine applications. These misguided campaigns no doubt bring in the donations, but they also betray a deep disregard for the defining environmental issue of our age, as it affects both Scotland and the planet.

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This page is an archive of entries from January 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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