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Saturday, May 14, 2011


This letter in today's Scotsman 
The question of whether we should spend another £100 million, assuming that is sufficient, to produce a very shortened tramline or to quit when we are £440 million down is becoming urgent.
Some time ago (letter 24th November 2009) you published a letter of mine pointing out that, if prices of our public projects were similar to those in the rest of the world (making a particular comparison with Australian projects) the full original scheme should have cost no more that £105 million. So spending more than that extra to get, if everything goes without hitch, a truncated version is poor value.

Perhaps the best use of the time of politicians and contractors would be spent by them explaining why our government projects cost up to 13 times what they do in the rest of the world, something they sadly did not do after the Parliament building fiasco or in relation to the Forth crossing, when the previous one cost only £320 million in today's money.
If, as I suspect, it is mainly due to government bureaucracy they could then even try reducing it.

I have never heard a reasonable explanation of why trams, which are inherently less flexible than buses and in the case of double deck buses, seat fewer people per square foot, are better at reducing congestion.
You don't have to dig up roads for buses.
Previous letter also in the EEN mentioned by me here. Editing slightly toned it down and removed the reference to the Forth Bridge cost which I regret.
apparently it was once easier to put in tramlines

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Friday, May 13, 2011

A taxi driver has died almost two weeks after his cab collided with a police van on its way to tackle disorder at an unofficial party in Kelvingrove Park.
The 65-year-old was critically injured when his Fiat Doblo and the police Ford Transit collided in Glasgow's west end at about 1740 BST on 29 April.
Strathclyde Police said the man, who has not been named, died on Wednesday.

An investigation into the circumstances surrounding the incident is being conducted by Fife Constabulary.

The crash happened at the junction of Dorchester Avenue and Great Western Road.

Two passengers in the taxi and two police officers were treated at the scene for minor injuries.

At the time, the police van was travelling towards Kelvingrove Park, where about 6,000 people had turned up for an unofficial party on the same day as the royal wedding


I wrote about the police response at the time. I see no reason to change my opinion. The police car I mention there was not close to the one involved here.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011


  It has been announced that Newt Gingrich is announcing his candidacy for President today (that's politics).
"Be sure to watch Hannity this Wednesday at 9pm ET/8pm CT," he posted. "I will be on to talk about my run for President of the United States"

"Gingrich has been befuddling political analysts since he first won Georgia’s 6th district in 1978.

Long regarded as a backbencher, Gingrich is widely credited with the “Contract with America” — a mission statement of sorts that propelled Republicans to the House majority in 1994 for the first time in four decades.

Touted as a strategic genius in the wake of that election, Gingrich quickly wore out his welcome within the party — losing a game of political chicken with President Clinton over the budget in late 1995/early 1996 and leaving office entirely after his predictions of Republican gains in the 1998 election proved incorrect.

“If you added up all the IQ scores of all the other GOP presidential candidates, they might equal the IQ of Newton Leroy Gingrich,” said one unaligned Republican consultant granted anonymity to speak candidly about the Georgia Republican. “This is an extremely mixed blessing. Not only does Newt have a huge range of knowledge, experience, and ideas, he also has the huge ego to match.”

That dichotomy is the essence of Gingrich the politician and has led many people who follow his career closely to think of him as two people: Good Newt and Bad Newt.

Good Newt can wow a crowd with the depth and breadth of his knowledge — on virtually any topic.

Bad Newt disappears down intellectual rabbit holes while speaking, losing the crowd in the process. He also tends to go for a rhetorical grand slam when a single will do. One example: His suggestion that President Obama had a “Kenyan, anti-colonial” mindset."
  So the good news is he is very intelligent and the bad news is that he looks like he is very intelligent. Perhaps intelligent leadership might be a welcome innovation.

    I have written previously in support of him, and of an alliance with Sarah Palin. His biggest problem seems to be that as a 3 time divorcee the Christian right don't like him and that he was driven from office by false ethics complaints but false mud sticks nearly as well as the real stuff. Palin is solid on family values and, having been subject to similar but even more obviously false ethics complaints, in none of which she was ultimately found guilty of any wrongdoing but still cost enormous amounts. That is why her endorsement would be so valuable.

    He, like her, is in favour of improving America's energy supplies, by building nuclear plants an drilling. This is absolutely vital if the American economy is to be allowed to grow and something Obama has, in practice though he has occasionally pretended, been absolutely opposed to.

   Gingrich has also been in favour of space X-Prizes (and non-space ones) since long before any other politician had ever heard of them. Most of them still haven't. Almost all of ours still haven't and our government has deliberately decided not even to think about them. If Palin supports him, must be virtually a certainty to get the Republican nomination without an acrimonious Primary fight and extremely likely to beat Obama.

    UK politicians will, yet again, be shown to have no vision whatsoever and simply involved in "managing decline" - something which, with the probable exception of Thatcher, they have managed to successfully achieve for the last 67 years.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

HOW TO RUN A CAMPAIGN SUCCESFULLY - against electoral reform, for catastrophic warming

Global Warming
   From an interview with the guy who organised James Hansen's testimony to Congress:

Believe it or not, we called the Weather Bureau and found out what historically was the hottest day of the summer. Well, it was June 6 or June 9 or whatever it was, so we scheduled the hearing that day, and bingo: It was the hottest day on record in Washington, or close to it. It was stiflingly hot that summer. [At] the same time you had this drought all across the country, so the linkage between the Hansen hearing and the drought became very intense.

Simultaneously [Mass. Gov. Michael] Dukakis was running for president. Dukakis was trying to get an edge on various things and was looking for spokespeople, and two or three of us became sort of the flacks out on the stump for Dukakis, making the separation between what Democratic policy and Republican policy ought to be. So it played into the presidential campaign in the summer of '88 as well....

... What we did it was went in the night before and opened all the windows, I will admit, right? So that the air conditioning wasn't working inside the room and so when the, when the hearing occurred there was not only bliss, which is television cameras in double figures, but it was really hot. ...

So Hansen's giving this testimony, you've got these television cameras back there heating up the room, and the air conditioning in the room didn't appear to work. So it was sort of a perfect collection of events that happened that day, with the wonderful Jim Hansen, who was wiping his brow at the witness table and giving this remarkable testimony. ...

Voting No to Electoral Reform

Tim Montgomerie on how public opinion was turned round, in a few weeks, on AV

1 - After being convinced that a Yes vote would endanger his relationship with his parliamentary party David Cameron gave the order to fight the campaign with all available resources

2 -The pundits scoffed at the No campaign’s argument that AV was costly and complicated but market research suggested that these were the right messages and the Westminster bubble’s desire for a more sophisticated campaign was rightly ignored 

3 - AV could only be defeated if a large number of Labour supporters voted to keep First Past The Post and from the earliest days of the campaign huge efforts were made to ensure the No campaign was genuinely cross-party

4 - A massive Get Out The Vote operation by CCHQ that saw the Tory vote harden decisively during the campaign 

5 - An arms length relationship between the Tory leadership and the No campaign that meant Cameron was unable to stop the targeting of the politically toxic Nick Clegg and his broken promises 

6 - The No campaign also worked hard from day one to expose the Yes campaign’s funding and its attempts to enlist charities in support of AV

Only four months ago it all looked so different. The Yes campaign had all of the money. It was ahead in nearly every opinion poll brandishing a message of modernity and change.
Mark Pritchard was the first Tory to publicly warn David Cameron of the consequences of a Yes vote but the important work to get the Conservative leader to realise the seriousness of the situation was carried out behind-the-scenes. ..reported that a Cabinet Minister and senior aide to the Prime Minister backed AV. There were suggestions that some leading Tories – notably Michael Gove – should back AV to help build a new Liberal Conservative era....Cameron walked into George Osborne’s office to tell him that he’d just been told that he’d lose the leadership if AV passed. Cameron thought it funny that MPs could be so melodramatic. Osborne’s face didn’t move. We can’t rule it out, he said, staring at Cameron in a moment where the gravity of the situation dawned on the Prime Minister.....

Matthew Elliott, the Chief Executive of the No campaign and founder of the hugely successful TaxPayers’ Alliance, presented a ‘Plan B’ for the campaign at No. 10....
Cameron had given an undertaking to Nick Clegg that the campaign would be fought properly. At this point, a switch was flicked. Peter Cruddas became No to AV’s Treasurer and the money started flowing....

The No campaign began with instincts about how to defend First Past The Post but with the limited funding they enjoyed at the start of the campaign they tested those instincts to destruction until they knew that they had copper-bottomed messages that would move votes. It sounds the obvious thing to do but it wasn’t the approach pursued at the last general election when the Big Society was floated as the Conservative Party’s main message and it hadn’t even be tested.

The No campaign’s three themes were the three Cs: Cost, Complexity and Clegg.

A fourth argument – that AV was only used in three other countries in the world – was also potent.
The pundits scoffed at these No campaign tactics. They accused No of trivialising an incredibly important issue of voting reform. Matthew Elliott was accused of “knowing the price of everything and value of nothing”....Elliott didn’t panic. Nor did the two ex-Labour MPs who ran the campaign with him; Joan Ryan and Jane Kennedy. They trusted the copper-bottomed research that (1) had been prepared for him
The campaign has shown that the mainstream of the Labour Party does not want to change the electoral system for Westminster. In thirteen years of government Labour didn’t even attempt electoral reform....
Because of the sterling efforts of Peter Cruddas, and Andrew Feldman, more than 90% of No’s funding came from Tory sources. The unions calculated that the Tory cheque books would do the work and never delivered on promises to deliver cash. [It is worth noting, however, that Yes received more funds than No (£3.4m to £2.6m ...
ConservativeHome also argued that Clegg must be targeted. Downing Street worried about this tactic but the Labour half of the No campaign insisted that Clegg’s face and his “broken promises” needed to feature prominently on all literature. Labour voters don’t like Cameron but they hate Clegg. They feel betrayed. The idea that Clegg should gain AV as a reward for his alliance with the Tories stuck in the Labour throat....

The politician who most wanted AV – Nick Clegg – was also Britain’s most toxic politician because of his screeching u-turn on tuition fees.

Yes enlisted a whole series of charities to sign up to the ‘people’s campaign for AV’. The aim was to present the pro-AV side of the argument as a movement for change that was ethical, young, grassroots-based and above politics. William Norton of the No campaign set out to destroy this strategy and succeeded. In a massive letter-writing campaign to the charities, their trustees and to the Charity Commission itself, he put the heat on, questioning whether it was legitimate for charities to become involved in such a political campaign. One-by-one the charities resigned from the Yes campaign and a central plank of the pro-AV strategy was destroyed.....

Tory strategists still wonder why Yes never deployed the anti-Cameron card. Six weeks before referendum day Conservative focus groups found that the only issue that moved significant numbers of the contest’s crucial floating voters into the Yes column was the idea that AV would seriously damage Cameron and the Conservatives.

"The status quo tends to gain ground in referendums on issues where countries are divided. This happened in Scotland in 1979, when a large pro-devolution majority melted away in the final fortnight of the campaign; in Spain in 1986, where the public narrowly voted to stay in NATO after all; and in Australia in 1999, when the apparently dominant republicans ended up heavily defeated in a referendum to replace the Queen as head of state. I would not be greatly surprised if something similar happened here with voting reform.”

    That last point is something which supporters of Scottish independence will have to think about. As somebody who thinks we ought to have 2 referendum votes on it - to vote for the principle of separation and then to vote for confirmation after the terms have been negotiated - I accept that the status quo effect would be diminished, eliminated or even reversed in a second vote.

    Note that 2 of the 3 No arguments, Cost and Complexity, are untrue since the £250 mullion figure repeatedly used is clearly rubbish and for the public, writing 1,2,3 is not a complex act. I also consider the BBC banning of the term "electoral reform" and to censor any mention of the fact that it was the No campaign who refused a debate to have been influential.

   Of course almost everything Hansen said has also been proven wrong, including his prediction that by now the world will be a full degree warmer rather than not at all warmer. They also have the BBC onside.

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Monday, May 09, 2011


 Chinese officials say they find the published prices on the SpaceX website very low for the services offered, and concede they could not match them with the Long March series of launch vehicles even if it were possible for them to launch satellites with U.S. components in them

  To which Elon Musk, the South African born boss of SpaceX says

So when I started SpaceX, it was not surprising when people said we wouldn’t succeed. But now that we’ve successfully proven Falcon 1, Falcon 9 and Dragon, there’s been a steady stream of misinformation and doubt expressed about SpaceX’s actual launch costs and prices.

As noted last month by a Chinese government official, SpaceX currently has the best launch prices in the world and they don’t believe they can beat them. This is a clear case of American innovation trumping lower overseas labor rates.

I recognize that our prices shatter the historical cost models of government-led developments, but these prices are not arbitrary, premised on capturing a dominant share of the market, or “teaser” rates meant to lure in an eager market only to be increased later. These prices are based on known costs and a demonstrated track record, and they exemplify the potential of America's commercial space industry.
Here are the facts:

The price of a standard flight on a Falcon 9 rocket is $54 million. We are the only launch company that publicly posts this information on our website ( We have signed many legally binding contracts with both government and commercial customers for this price (or less). Because SpaceX is so vertically integrated, we know and can control the overwhelming majority of our costs. This is why I am so confident that our performance will increase and our prices will decline over time, as is the case with every other technology.

  With the Chinese economy growing at 10% and so many signs that western civilisation is destroying itself through ecofascist controls and government regulation deliberately designed to stop our previous "continuous economic expansion" this may be the best news for western civilisation for years. It proves we still can do it if we try.

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Sunday, May 08, 2011


  Last week I ran polls on how likely people would be to vote for parties they had seen for years, regularly, on TV compared to how likely they would be to vote for somebody they had only heard from in 1 election leaflet. I have excluded one result from somebody who said they would be 100% certain to vote for any party in both circumstances which I can't take seriously.

How likely would you be to vote for a party whose leader and other representatives you had repeatedly seen on TV for years and generally agreed with?

                   Average 67%
How likely you would vote for a party whose representatives you had almost never seen on TV, or favourably reported but liked the election leaflet?

                   Average 26%
A differential of 26/67 ie 39%

I thought this was actually a surprisingly low differential, bearing in mind my experience as the 9% Growth Party and also the fact that if you look at the average election leaflet it consists of a few photos of the candidate often meeting an activist posing as a young person/pensioner etc and about 5 minor electoral bribes - more pension money/police/post offices/insulation amounting to about 0.3% of the budget. I don't believe such posters are designed to convince opponents so much as shore up lukewarm supporters.

   To test this I looked at the previous poll where the 9 of the first 10 points had come from my 9% Growth leaflet and had an approval average of 68% approval. On the other hand 11-20, 24,25 come from the BBC list which is drawn from policies of the 5 approved parties and has an average approval of 40%.. A differential of 28%

    Admitted that we are comparing my policies 4 years ago with those offered now but the old parties haven't changed much so it is a fair comparison. I should also point out that my leaflet wasn't on expensive shiny paper and fell short of going out to anybody. Lets assume that had I had both I would have got 3,000 votes rather than 80, which is pretty optimistic, that would still have been 1% of votes from 28% leaflet approval which suggests the real influence of leaflets, compared to regular media coverage is 1/28th i.e. 4%

   I have previously calculated the extent to which  various parties get under or over reported by the BBC, which the BBC itself has calculated, provides the overwhelming majority of "news" received by 82% of Scotland's population. Basically the Greens get 40 times more coverage, per vote received than UKIP and visibly almost all of the former is supportive and of the latter is critical.

   Taking the geometric average of 39% & 4% is 12.5% (ie 4% multiplied by 3.12 & 39% divided by the same. I think I have been conservative in my assumptions and am confident that parties getting little or no chance to speak in the MSM should expect to have their natural vote cut to 12.5% of what it should be and those getting vast amounts of positive coverage equally see their vote artificially inflated 8 times.

  In which case the Greens would have got not 285,616 votes at the general election but 35,702 if the BBC and those who take their lead from it did not show an overwhelming, and illegal, party bias.

  And UKIP would have got not 919,546 votes but 7,356,368 which is just behind the real labour and Conservative votes but probably ahead of what either would have got if over 7 million of them had gone to another party if the BBC and those who take their lead from it did not show an overwhelming, and illegal, party bias.

   OK all this is seat of the pants estimating and perhaps a professional (and reputable) opinion polling organisation would come up with something slightly different. But I am confident this is in the right ballpark. I would be interested in seeing some other estimate, perhaps from the BBC, to compare but until we have one this is what we have.

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