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Saturday, December 24, 2005


I will continue from my previous text. There has been a certain amount of discussion on the blog re Mr Barrie's letter largely unimpressed with the letter but ranging from supportive of me to calling me "repellent". Thats ok my purpose in this blog is to move the world (as per the title) not to be loveable. However the things I have said about Yugoslavia & Mr Ashdown have obscured my main aim.

It is, of course, difficult to say exactly what "illiberal" letters of mine caused me to be, provisionally, kicked out because they refuse to say. However the prime subjects on which I have written have been nuclear power & the need for the Scottish Executive to adopt a low tax, low regulation regime, which while tending to put the blame on the Labour part of the Executive, could not disguise that the Lib Dems shared blame for our abysmal 1% growth rate. In Ireland the regime I suggested has lead to a 7% annual rate of growth. For 3 years now I have proposed an Enterprise Motion to the party conference (the search facility here will reach it) & seen it passed over despite the fact that the former leader & a currently serving minister both promised that they wished to see it done. I have no doubt that if this worked in Ireland it would work at least equally well here.

The point is that what Ireland did is to cut business taxes & cut regulations. These are virtually the essence of classic liberalism yet it is now impossible to get the party to even discuss such things. At the last autumn conference I spoke alone & voted almost alone against 2 motions - 1 which said that free trade was innately a bad thing & another that the party should commit to having government political correctness inspectors through industry with power to ensure that businesses are run according to the "expectations" of every passing "special interest group" (& they do pass). The previous autumn I spoke alone against a smoking ban on the grounds that, the evidence being what it isn't, such a ban would an intrusion on freedom. I suspect that these are the prime reasons for the present action. Free trade, it should be remembered is the single strongest thread that held liberalism together yet, despite the fact that it has repeatedly proven to bring societies to prosperity, it is now politically incorrect in the party to support it.

The tragedy is that, with the SNP having adopted a very similar policy & the Tories unlikely to be outflanked, there could be, if the Lib Dems were to be truly liberal, a majority in favour of economic success.

Note that a 7% growth rate means that we double everybody's income in 10 years. I would be immensly proud to be able to have even a small role in such an entirely achievable project. I have never chased office - I am more ambitious than that. To play even a small role in bringing about such an increase in the standard of living of everybody would be an achievement which all but the greatest Prime Ministers could not match.

Such a policy would also work south of the border, indeed if it worked here it is difficult to see a party supporting it not being given at least a hung Parliament. However instead of allowing such the party leadership have decided that there will be, as with every year since devolution, no primarily economic motion (there was one once titled "Sustainable Economy" but it was an environmental motion). Time has been found for motions calling for more subsidies for bicyclists, a lower speed limit in towns & a requirement for all new built homes to include windmills (truly I am not joking - this is what liberalism is now supposed to be about).

I had nonetheless best deal with the Ashdown matter. I could weasel by saying that the blog entry calling Ashdown a Nazi was posted on the 15th & Dr Barrie's letter on the 12th so it cannot be relevant but I will not. I stand by what I said. Mr Ashdown had been a member of the SBS & in Indonesia when they were carrying out a guerilla campaign against Indonesia. He was subsequently a member of the diplomatic corps with an unspecified function. He is not a lawyer fast tracked to leadership to stupid & lazy to know who he was killing, Mr Ashdown has seen the elephant. He must have known that the people he was supporting, Alia "there can be neither peace nor co-existence with non-Moslems" Izetbegovic & Franjo "genocide is commanded by the word of God""Hitler's new european order can be justified by the need to be rid of the Jews" Tudjman were unrepentant ex-Nazis openly committed to genocide & that the KLA were drug dealers, sex slavers & secret police torturers openly engaged in genocide. Mr Ashdown is not the worst western war criminal here - that honour goes to Kohl & Genscher of Germany & very very few western politicians & journalists involved come out of this as members in good standing of the human race, though unstereotipically most soldiers did..

If anyone thinks I have been illiberal about Yugoslavia may I point out that in 1880 Gladstone won, against the odds & by pure moral force, an election fought purely on the fact that the Conservative government had been indifferent to Turkish massacres of Bulgars. To win such an election on a policy so unrelated to any self interest of the electorate is, I believe, unique among nations & is the sort of liberal Victorian value we should aspire to.

Our policy towards Nazi genocide of Serbs would be unjustly ennobled by the term "indifferent". If William Ewart Gladstone is not acceptable as a being sufficiently politically correct for our party today then it has sold its sole to buy windmills.


& I will be back next Friday or Saturday

Thursday, December 22, 2005


Yesterday I received the following letter, without any warning whatsoever:

Membership of the Scottish Liberal Democrats

I am writing to you on behalf of the Executive Committee of the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

At its most recent meeting held on this month in Edinburgh the Executive Committee unanimously passed a motion put to it by Executive Member Norman Fraser of Greater Glasgow Regional Party that you should be expelled from membership of the Party as the Executive was of the opinion that your continued membership would be seriously detrimental to the interest of the Party. This was under the terms of Clause C11(b) of the Scottish Party Constitution.

The main arguments in favour of the motion related to postings on your website and letters to the press regarded as illiberal & irreconcilable with membership of the Party.

Under the terms of Clause C11(c) of the constitution I am required to inform you of the decision and advise you that you are entitled to send me a submission in writing as to why the Executive Committee should not proceed at its next meeting to expel you. As the next meeting is on 21st January 2006 I would appreciate any letter of submission you would wish to make by Monday 16th January 2006.

At its meeting on 21st January the Executive Committee will hold a secret ballot which will require a 2/3rds majority to terminate your membership.

In the meantime I am also required to inform you of a further decision by the Executive Committee under Clause 12 of its constituion. That was to suspend you from the rights & privileges of membership for a maximum of three months from receipt of this letter while the question of termination of your membership is under consideration.

Yours Sincerely
Dr Derek A. Barrie
(Chief of Staff, Scottish Liberal Democrats)
There will be more on this - trust me.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


By Robert Roy Britt
Senior Science Writer

A swath of space beyond Neptune is getting stranger all the time as astronomers find an ever-more diverse array of objects in various orbits and groupings.

A pair of discoveries this month along with a handful of others in 2005 have begun to reveal what some astronomers long suspected: The outer solar system contains a dizzying array of round worlds on countless odd trajectories around the sun, often with multiple satellite systems.

The problem is, current theories of the solar system's formation and evolution can't account for it all.

Several discoveries

What is now called the Kuiper Belt was proposed in the 1940s by Irish economist and astronomer Kenneth Edgeworth and separately by American astronomer Gerard Kuiper in 1951. The first object out there was found in 1992. Now several worlds a third as massive as Pluto and larger are known to roam the solar system's outskirts, including one revealed this year that is at least as big as Pluto and considered by some to be the 10th planet.

Meanwhile, discoveries of binary setups in the Kuiper Belt have led experts to estimate that at least 10 percent of large Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) have moons.

The premier KBO is actually Pluto, considered by most astronomers to be a member of the region rather than a true planet (though many say its historical and cultural significance as a planet suggest it should have dual status). In October, Pluto was found to have two small satellites in addition to its large moon Charon.

A KBO known as 2003 EL61, which is about one-third as massive as Pluto, was found in January to have a moon. This month, researchers led by Mike Brown at Caltech announced it has a second small satellite. Many other KBOs could have multiple moons that can't yet be detected.

"It appears likely, now, that other [large] Kuiper Belt Objects ... might also have multiple satellite systems," Brown said.

Inexplicable path

On Dec. 13, another group said they'd found an object half the mass of Pluto orbiting twice as far from the Sun as Neptune. The object's path has them puzzled.

The faraway world is catalogued as 2004 XR 190 and known temporarily as Buffy. It was discovered as part of the Legacy Survey on the Canada France Hawaii Telescope.

"It was quite bright compared to the usual Kuiper Belt Objects we find," said the University of British Columbia's Lynne Allen, who was part of the international discovery team. "But what was more interesting was how far away it was."

Buffy never gets closer than 52 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun, or 52 times the distance from Earth to the Sun. Neptune is 30 AU from the Sun. Pluto ranges from 30 to 50 AU.

What makes Buffy special is its nearly circular path, which extends out to just 62 AU.

"To find the first known object with a nearly circular orbit beyond 50 AU is indeed intriguing," said Brian Marsden, who runs the Minor Planet Center where all of these objects are catalogued.

Most other known KBOs are on highly elliptical orbits and off-center orbits, typically coming to within 38 AU of the Sun and then soaring out beyond 50 AU. Theory suggests Neptune has acted on them like a gravitational slingshot to produce these eccentric paths.

A passing star?

Other than the KBOs that slice in and out of the zone, the space beyond 50 AU seems fairly empty, as though it represents the outer edge of the Kuiper Belt.

But then there is Sedna, which ranges from 76 to 900 AU.

In late 2004, Scott Kenyon of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and Benjamin Bromley from the University of Utah proposed a passing star long ago may have played a role in all this.

At a distance of 150-200 AU, the star could have stolen objects from the outer Kuiper Belt and lured Sedna into its present orbit without affecting Neptune or the inner planets, the researchers concluded through computer modeling.

Intriguingly, the model suggests some KBOs in our solar system (not including Sedna) are actually alien worlds that were captured from the passing star in a two-way swap of material.

"A close fly-by from another star solves two mysteries at once," Bromley said then. "It explains both the orbit of Sedna and the outer edge of the Kuiper Belt,"

Buffy baffles

The stellar flyby scenario does not appear to explain Buffy, however.

Buffy is too far out there to have been affected by Neptune, at least given Neptune's current position, say its discoverers. Yet Buffy's very extreme orbital tilt, which takes it 47 degrees above and below the main plane of the solar system, raises another question. All of the planets, asteroids, comets and KBOs are thought to have formed from a relatively flat disk that circled the newborn Sun 4.5 billion years ago. Most of them remained in that plane after formation, unless perturbed by something.

"If a star could have affected Buffy so strongly, it should also have disrupted much of the main Kuiper belt as well," write the researchers who found Buffy. "Since astronomers do not detect that strong disruption, a more complex theory is needed to explain Buffy's orbit."

Perhaps, they speculate, the answer lies in some as-yet unknown event early in the solar system's history. Maybe Neptune's orbit slowly grew bigger, as theorists have previously proposed, pushing some KBOs into tilted circular orbits by means that have yet to be modeled, they said.

Answers await technology that can detect fainter and more distant objects, so researchers can make a fuller inventory of the out solar system. That inventory is likely to include many objects in what is called the Oort Cloud, extending 1.5 light-years away and nearly half the distance to the Alpha Centauri star system.

Copyright 2005,
Put this together with the fact that astronomers have no idea how Earth came to have a Moon of the size of ours. The best theory is that, at some time early in the planet's life it was struck by an object the size of Mars which knocked off enough planetary material to form the Moon (we know Earth & Moon are made of related material). Since this (A) didn't knock the Earth into an eccentric orbit & (B) the mars sized object has disappeared (it isn't Mars) & (C) it has a level of improbability up there with winning the lottery.

While the current theory is just about possible it is clearly much more likely that we are in need of a better theory. I find it interesting & refreshing that, in relation to planetary ballistics which is a relatively simple system, we still have so much to learn.

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