Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Why do environmental pressure groups lie?

One of my obsessions is truth, or rather untruth. It may be hard to know what the truth is, but you jolly well know when you're telling a lie.

I particularly dislike causes I support resorting to lies to support their arguments - it damages them so much in the long term.

Take this from the linked post from Greenpeace:

"Known uranium reserves will last for roughly 50 years at present consumption rates, but the 438 plants operating world-wide produce only 16% of global requirements. If the world's entire electricity needs were to be met by nuclear power, then reserves of high-grade uranium ore would be used up within three to four years..... So as a serious long-term energy source, nuclear power is a non-starter. "

Total and obvious rubbish. No-one has been looking for uranium for a while, and there'll be more easily found. Plus there's thorium to find too - approximately 3 times as abundant. So multiply reserves by ten. Then, of course, we'd move to a breeder fuel cycle which if 50 to 100 times as efficient in its use of ore as current reactor systems - and the truth is, we've got enough around to last us for at least a thousands years. is a useful link.

The real dangers of relying on nuclear power, on which I suspect I and Greenpeace agree, are accidents, radioactive waste and the spread of nuclear weapons. But to be found out in such a silly lie devalues all their arguments, the good with the bad. Why do they do it?

Anonymous has pointed out the counter-arguments to my concerns - The Nuclear Option by Bernard Cohen, online at Have not yet had time to try to pick holes in it.

More on Bailiffs

BBC joins battle

Whistleblower exposes the criminal world of bailiffs.

In a nine-month-long investigation, BBC reporter Jim Wheble went undercover, working for two of Britain's largest bailiff companies. He saw first hand how the public are ripped off, conned and lied to by people who are supposed to be official court representatives.

Bailiffs are entrusted to collect unpaid parking tickets, court fines and other debts but Whistleblower reveals why some describe themselves as "legalised thieves" and how they collect millions of pounds a week.

The reporters in the programme expose some unscrupulous debt collectors who cheat members of the public out of hundreds of pounds for a single unpaid parking fine. It also highlights the plight of people who are tricked into paying debts and fines which aren't even theirs.

In constant fear for his own safety, Jim filmed bailiffs as they lied about their legal powers, threatened to take people's belongings illegally and clamped cars without authority. During his time undercover, one fellow bailiff (and ex-policeman) even took Jim under his wing, teaching him how to break into people's homes.

Jim Wheble comments: "Our investigation highlights how this is an issue that could affect us all, as any one of us could get a knock on the door from these people. The public should ensure they know their legal rights, so they are not strong-armed into overpaying or shelling out for debts which aren't theirs."

With the use of bailiffs throughout the UK booming due to the rise in debt levels and an increase in the number of unpaid traffic and parking fines, the need to highlight their criminal behaviour has never been greater.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Junk culture "is poisoning our children"

Letter to the Telegraph today (see link above): "A sinister cocktail of junk food, marketing, over-competitive schooling and electronic entertainment is poisoning childhood, a powerful lobby of academics and children's experts says today."

This is the academic equivalent of a green ink letter -- a confusion of outrage and opinions without visible means of support. I suspect that there is some truth in there somewhere: my own experiences with the Good Schools Guide suggest that the trend that they are talking about might be a real one. And, like the 110 signatories to the letter, I have my own views on what the causes might be. It is no good, though, letting our educational system being driven by one fashionable opinion after another: we need research.

Research in this area is pretty thin: the article refers to "research by Prof Michael Shayer at King's College, London, which showed that 11-year-olds measured in cognitive tests were "on average between two and three years behind where they were 15 years ago". I will dig up a copy of this paper through the House of Lords library, and see what it says: previous experience suggests that there is a fair chance that the headlines don't match the contents.

We don't have a proper system for commissioning and evaluating educational research. There's so much going on in schools that we could learn from, if only it was documented and tested properly. Lord Adonis (the education minister in the Lords) has hinted that there is something going on in this direction: it can't come too soon.

There's a good BBC comments page on this at

Monday, September 11, 2006

Bailiffs become Enforcement Agents

Give us the money, or the dog gets it!

One delight which is helping while away the weeks of the long recess is the 544 pages of the draft Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill - - , published by the Department of Constitutional affairs on the 25th of July this year. Heavy going, and I find that I’m only able to tackle it in small chunks.

I am getting seriously worked up about the behaviour of bailiffs. Not that they have troubled me, yet, but I see a lot of them and their activities through my involvement with the London Motorists Action Group. It’s a particularly unpleasant effect of fining people for minor infringements, and allowing the people doing the fining to keep the fine, that defaulters are pursued as if they were malodorous foxes. And the huntsmen who are set upon them are bailiffs.

Just like foxhunting, it’s the weak that perish. Bullying, trickery, outright deception – nothing is too low for some bailiffs. Being two minutes late in collecting your car from a parking space, and being unequal to the rapacity of the system which will then track you down, can leave your facing two large and unhelpful young men demanding a mysteriously concocted £1000 with implied menaces. And now we have a bill that aims to make them even more powerful.

To celebrate the continued New Labour transition from the comfortable world we thought we knew to red in tooth and claw modernity, the quaint word “bailiff” is to be replaced by “enforcement agent”, and they will I expect be just as cold and ruthless as this phrase implies. Gone is the last pretence that an Englishman’s home is his castle: you will no longer be able to deny a bailiff entrance – an enforcement agent will be able to smash down the door and take what they want. Including the dog.

Powers like these ought to be very carefully controlled. And an enforcement agent who misbehaves ought to be in fear for his livelihood. People who just aren’t up to dealing with the system should find that it has a helpful and considerate face. The government knows that this is necessary – they admit as much in their introduction – they just have not got around to putting it into law, and seem content with a cobbling together of bits of the old system. It won’t do.