Saturday, July 28, 2007

Poll for best Political Blogs

Iain Dale is conducting a poll of the best UK political blogs for inclusion in the 2007 Guide to Political Blogging in the UK. Follow the link here to vote.

Friday, July 27, 2007

9/11 'Truth' Bites Back

A while ago I posted on the subject of 9/11 'Truth'. That is the true believers whose faith is that the terrorist attacks of the 11th of September were in fact a labyrinthine government conspiracy. I have had a number of comments on the post, the latest of which was:
U should just remember one thing planes including titanium engines do not vapourise as we are told the ones did that hit the pentagon and the one which crashed near shanksville. And where sis the molten steel come from found under all the towers including building 7 which was not hit by a plane - do u enven know about building 7? Evidence or thurmite has also been found?
The poster was anonymous, but the style was pretty representative of those that buy into the ‘Truth’ industry, and believe me there is an industry with books and DVDs all at very reasonable prices. Leaving aside the poor spelling and grammar, the argument is a series of factoids gleaned from internet sources that have all been proven nonsense at one point or another. No-one has ever claimed that the aircraft involved in 9/11 vaporised, and plenty of debris has been found. There was no molten steel and the pictures that purport to show it have been shown to be artefacts. A few seconds thought is all that is required here as well as persistent molten steel would mean a persistent very high energy source in the ruins of the World Trade Centre, which of course wasn’t there. Building 7 wasn’t hit by an aircraft, but it was hit by wreckage from the collapsing towers and heavily damaged, as were a number of other buildings. The supposed ‘evidence’ for thermite was the presence of compounds with other more mundane explanations, and thermite is not used for demolishing buildings anyway. I could go on but why bother? These people do not apply logic or evidence; they start from a paranoid worldview and a hatred of the US government in general and George Bush in particular and work back from there. I am an engineer by training and an IT Architect by profession, but if I was a sociologist that subspecialised in the taxonomy of cults then I know which body of people would make up my next research project.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Heffer back to the future on Tax, also likes Gordon Brown

Simon Heffer has never been elected to anything as far a I know. Now that is not a complete disqualification to comment on the political process, but you can't help thinking if he had actually spent any time talking to actual voters than he wouldn't spout such bilge. His latest piece in the Telegraph is interesting in two regards; firstly he's impressed Gordon Brown, calling him a 'formidable force' among other things. This is couched in more in sorrow than in anger terms, but basically it reflects that Simon's desire to bash David Cameron far outweighs any attempt to present a, you know, Conservative, analysis of Gordon Brown. Simon's battle is for the soul of the Right, not for the country. What matters Britain when the true faith is in danger? Later on, we get some real insight into what is going on:
It is hard to meet a Tory MP who will not say privately that the Government is wasting epic amounts of public money, and that there is scope for huge spending and tax cuts without harming public services. Mr Cameron cannot bring himself to say that either. Yet these are central issues that should enable him to connect to millions.

For the uninitiated I will translate: a Conservative MP or two has sounded off at Simon, who has obligingly rehearsed their mutterings for the newspaper-reading public. No names of course; that would be bad form in Simon's world. The point itself is, of course, nonsense. The 'central issues' are the ones that the Conservative Party is talking about, the loss of control of our borders, the failing welfare system, family breakdown, the resurrected EU constitution and so on. Of course taxes are too high and of course there is government waste, but how do you run with that argument? You cannot promise to cut taxes come what may, because the economy might not let you when you finally come to power some time in the future. You can point out how money can be saved, and the Party is doing just that, but connecting that directly to people's wallets can only be done in the actual run-up to an election because then is when you have some idea of the real numbers. If the Conservatives did what Simon wanted then they would just sound vacuous, and of course the Labour Party would like nothing better than to portray the Opposition as savage cutters of public services.

It is actually quite difficult to work out where Simon is coming from politically. Right now he seems content enough that Labour are up in the polls, and I think there is a clue there. Mrs. Thatcher described them a 'false squires', Tories who supposedly harked back to bygone days, but who had really intellectually surrendered to socialism and considered their duty to manage an orderly surrender to the ideology of the Left. I reckon she had Simon's number.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Basildon Exemplar at Building Zero Carbon Homes

The government has decreed that all new homes build after 2016 must be zero carbon. This is easy to say, but quite difficult to put into practice for a number of reasons. Some are quite practical, for example getting the new building codes and the new building methods and technologies right. Some are to do with the building industry itself, which will have to change the way it operates in a world where designs have the over-riding constraint of energy-efficiency, but the most important consideration will probably be price. Put simply, how much more would you pay for a zero carbon home? Would you, for example take a new zero carbon three bedroom home over an older, less efficient four or five bedroom property? That would imply that the incremental cost of zero carbon was several tens of thousands of pounds, a price that most people would probably not pay. Of course, the number may be less than that, or technology may make for a better payback from energy efficiency or micropower. At the moment there is no real economic case for the routine installations of things like solar panels or CHP, or other measures that require thousands of pounds upfront and take a very long time to pay back on the investment. That doesn't mean that there are no cases where they make sense, but not for every house on every street. If the technology improves then that might change radically; there are some very interesting things going on in thin film solar for example, and the government must be hoping for such advances in time for 2016.

Here in Basildon we are, as ever, leading the way, with a small development of zero-carbon public housing. We hope that it will be an exemplar to show what can be done today and to explore the economics of zero-carbon with the most up-to-date technology and methods. However, the critical number will be the cost-per-unit of this approach. If it comes out at too high then that will be a warning sign. Houses are unaffordable enough as it is without putting a further premium on new properties, especially as any increase in price will apply after an arbitrarily fixed date. This is probably why the current government put it comfortably far in the future.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Building on Flood Plains is not a very good idea

There is a picture in the Times that sums it up: a flooded field with a sign at then entrance announcing that it is shortly to be the site of an exclusive development of 4 and 5 bedroom executive homes. I'm not in the property business, but I reckon that they will rather more difficult to shift than the builder was expecting. Of course, this does not help the poor people who bought newly-built properties on flood plains from developers who relied on the fact that floods don't happen that often, honest.

The government has a policy of building a great deal of housing, and the events of the last few days will have reduced the amount of potential building land, as the danger and likelihood of flooding is reappraised, even where no floods have not yet occurred. For some this will be the salvation of the character of their communities, as the only bulldozers that they will now see will likely be those shoring up flood defences. Others, protected by chance lie of the land may see much more building. In all cases, there will be much more pressure on available brownfield sites. In the short term, the government is taking a pasting for a lacklustre response to the crisis. The longer-term effects on policy are likely to be more significant.