Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Morality and money

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It's commonly being said that RBS boss Stephen Hester has done the 'right thing' in giving up his bonus of nearly £1 million. On todays Daily Politics it was even described by one commentator as the 'moral' thing to do. Was morality his motivation? Surely the right and moral thing for this man to do would be to stick by what he believes in - huge salaries and very large bonuses - and work through the consequences of doing this. He has not given up his bonus because he believes it's right and moral to do. Its been widely reported (here for example)  that he did so because he did not want to be a 'pariah'. Its also been reported that his hand was forced by the prospect of a House of Commons vote (see here). For me being motivated by concern about being despised or confronted is not showing much moral spine at all. Mr Hester, who is still very likely to add to his already very large pile of money, has a morality comparable to RBS's directors, who according to the BBC's Robert Peston '...now recognise it would have been far better to delay the bonus decision until after the world had seen what Barclays' chief executive, Bob Diamond, is being paid - because Mr Hester's bonus would not look big in comparison.' They too are more concerned with impressions created than realities.

Other posts relating to Stephen Hester/RBS:

Monday, January 30, 2012

Climate UK

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Climate Change Risk Assessment shows the UK needs to adapt « Defra News

• Hotter summers present significant health risks.
• Increasing pressure on the UK’s water resources.
• The risks of flooding are projected to increase significantly across the UK.
• The number of days in an average year when temperatures rise above 26 degrees C is projected to rise from 18 days to between 27-121 days in London by the 2080s.
• Increases in drought and some pest and diseases could reduce timber yields and quality.
• Opening of Arctic shipping routes.
• Milder winters may result in a major reduction in cold-related deaths and illnesses.
• Opportunities to improve sustainable food production.

Also see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-16730834

Friday, January 27, 2012


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Why conserve? Reasons to sustainably manage, protect resources, eco-services, biodiversity and wild places. Copy of a screencast I made recently.

Caring, compassionate capitalism...contradiction

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Capitalism, favouring private ownership, maximising private profit, decisions made by a free market, economic growth as the primary aim – is currently the subject of many party leader speeches. Reference has been made by Tory PM Cameron, Lib Dem Deputy PM Clegg and Labour Opposition Leader Miliband to making capitalism, as it currently works, more: responsible; moral; compassionate; caring – and thus popular and acceptable. This, at least, is an acknowledgement that capitalism is now operating: irresponsibly; immorally; uncaringly; without compassion – and that its popularity and public acceptability has suffered. However, along comes a chance for action that would send out a strong signal that significant change in the whole system is coming – and absolutely nothing is done, just as nothing was done by previous governments.The already very wealthy RBS boss Stephen Hester is allowed by the Govt to receive a bonus of about £1 million on top of his £1.2 million annual salary. RBS was saved using many billions of taxpayers money and is 82% publicly owned, the PM has said we are all in difficult economic times together, has said he wants to tackle excessive pay and bonuses...words, words, only words. See here, here and here for more.

The solutions offered up by the Tory/Liberal Govt, previous Tory and Labour Governments and the current Labour Opposition are those of capitalism – the very thing they have all described as deficient in some way. Coalition Ministers talk of: the importance of finance; the deficit and its ‘correction’ through cuts and freezing public sector pay; economic growth as essential; how we must remove obstacles to growth; how growth should be led by private enterprise; their pro-market, pro-business, pro-competition agenda. They say high taxes on rich people and companies could send them abroad. Private, market incentives are to operate in Royal Mail, the NHS and Higher Education. Has it occurred to them that solving the problems of capitalism with more capitalism may well be like solving the problems of alcoholism with more alcohol? Show me a version of capitalism that is or can be developed to be socially sustainable because it shares wealth fairly and environmentally sustainable because it does not rely on and run down finite resources and you will get my attention!!   

More posts on capitalism:





BS3 Campus

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Take a look at: http://bs3campus.org.uk/ and consider signing the epetition and getting involved if you can. I'm looking into how Sustainable Knowle might work with those involved in this (we contributed to the public consultations in some detail back in 2009).

Sustainable Knowle: the neighbourhood transition group: BS3 Campus

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Independence initiative

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I'm a strong supporter of independence for Scotland and so am following this debate with interest. Nations should run themselves and determine their own future. I hope Scotland's people vote for independence - or at least for 'devo max'. I've always admired, whilst not always agreeing with, the SNPs Alex Salmond, now Scotland's First Minister, who has today announced the question he intends to put to the Scottish people in a referendum - "Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?". Interesting day to make this announcement, with people celebrating Burn's Night tonight - though the timing may just be coincidence of course!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Car crap

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More than 15,000 motorists a year are caught jumping red lights in Bristol, it has been revealed.

The Avon and Somerset Safety Camera Partnership says a total of 15,500 drivers and motorcyclists were caught on camera going through red traffic lights last year...(more here).

No surprise here. In fact the figure is very likely to be much higher than 15,500 a year - this is only those drivers that have been seen and successfully photographed. Anyone who drives around Bristol a bit, as I do, knows that you dont have to be out on the road for long on any one day before you see all sorts of driving offences and breaches of the Highway Code: overtaking on the inside, weaving from lane to lane, through red lights, driving very close behind you, sudden and sharp braking, sudden acceleration, through zebra crossings when people are waiting to cross or are still on the crossing, generally not allowing space and time to pedestrians and bikes, irresponsible parking eg on double yellow lines and on corners, general speeding -including from one set of red lights to another...Many of these people must have more money than sense because they are increasing their chances of a very costly - and more serious - accident and wasting away their fuel with grossly inefficient driving - some of these may be the first to moan about fuel prices too!   

BBC News - Newsnight - China's appetite for work and wealth

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BBC News - Newsnight - China's appetite for work and wealth

Friday, January 20, 2012

Better Bristol

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We need to talk about Bristol - and why it just can’t get things done like other cities. says the Post. Why can’t Bristol get things done like other cities? Not sure that Bristol is that much worse than the average - this would need quite a bit of looking into to establish properly. That aside however, I do agree that Bristol doesn't get things done. The key reasons as I see them: petty party politics and very poor cooperation between the parties; lack of vision and proper strategic thinking; frequently poor quality candidates coming forward to be councillors, spokespersons and cabinet members; relatively low status of being a councillor; ineffective and inefficient council systems and organisation; lack of joined up thinking resulting in lack of coherence and sometimes contradictory policies and practices; poor attitude towards consulting and involving the public genuinely - and poor attitudes in the public towards getting involved; being stifled and slowed down by the political system as a whole, in particular by central govt. These are pretty fundamental problems that only a large cultural change can solve - and I strongly suspect this is far from limited to Bristol.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

   Stockwood Pete: Transport Planning

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Pete tells about about the council's response to his good sense questions and responds - How on earth can we ever get a fit for purpose public transport network if we can't even find out where people actually travel?

Stockwood Pete: Transport Planning

Overpaid Ormondroyd

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Occupy Bristol protesters question leaders over pay rates.Why have so many comments on this story simply attacked those asking the questions? Its the issue that counts and tactical rather than fair argument is a distraction from the very important matter of who is paid what and why - and whether its fair and deserved. The current Chief Executive Jan Ormondroyd (pictured) is paid £107,000 per year more now than in 1998 - 122 per cent more than her predecessor 14 years ago. This £7600 a year rise every year for ten years, way above inflation and bearing no relation to the performance of Bristol City Council, cannot be right. Less than 10% a year says one person - but this sort of level of sustained increase has only been given to those already well paid and wealthy. Where's the justice in that?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Sound science?

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On badgers the Government and the National Farmers Union state that the scientific evidence backs culling. The Humane Society, The Wildlife Trusts and the Mammal Society amongst others dont think the evidence is there to support a cull. The contrast in views of the scientific evidence is pretty stark eg Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman saying 'We can't escape the fact that the evidence supports the case..' whilst Mark Jones, of Humane Society International UK refers to 'compelling scientific evidence that it will be ineffective...'. See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-16183926. If there are likely to be 'no end of difficulties', as PM David Cameron said on Countryfile last weekend, is the policy of culling trials a good one?

Why the differences in assessing the science? When can we and do we trust science and scientists? Here's my screencast on some questions to ask on this topic:


Friday, January 13, 2012

Talking teaching

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I've been following the debate today about Education Secretary Michael Gove's  'plans to simplify and shorten the procedure for handling inadequate teachers' (see here). Whilst I would not take Gove's line exactly I do think we need to take tough action on the general competence and contribution to school-life of teachers. Before moving on to the higher education sector I spent ten yrs as a full time secondary school sciences and maths teacher and five yrs part-time followed by a spell teaching part-time in a sixth form college. I've seen some very poor teaching in each workplace, including some from those who'd been in the profession for many years and some who were new. I'd say the numbers were a single figure percentage of the hundreds of teachers I've worked with. As it happens my view on the numbers is reasonably consistent with controversial former chief inspector of schools Chris Woodhead's estimate of 15,000 teachers - less  than 5% - not up to the job (see here). 

As a parent I've now seen my daughter go through primary, secondary and college education (she's now applying to uni's) - and my view on teacher competence has hardened. I dont think we have more than a single figure percentage of incompetent teachers BUT when the incompentent teacher or two or three in the school is the one impacting on your child and their school you really experience the huge and wide-ranging effects it has (I withdrew and then home schooled my daughter through seven IGCSE's for the last fourteen months of her key stage four ie age 14-16).

The secondary headteacher emerged as largely a windbag who did not actually listen and respond to you. A few teachers impacted very negatively on my daughter. The local college also had a small number of bad teachers. Most of the school/college teachers were competent though and there were a few gems too - but every school/college I've worked in and every one I've experienced as a parent has had a high ability to close ranks and protect itself as an institution. They have had strong conservative (small c) attitude to change. This has allowed problems to persist and has in some cases magnified them. We thus desperately need genuine, open argument on this issue - but we aren't getting it and there's not much prospect of it because of entrenched attitudes and widespread deployment of a range of argument tactics on both sides (see screencast below).

The Daily Politics debated the issue today for instance - but based discussion largely on the fact that only a very small number of teachers have been struck off for incompetence over several decades (see here). Much better and more complete to consider this figure and that fact that 40% of teachers have abandoned the profession within three years, not all but some of this due to competence issues in addition to low pay, low status, the poor behaviour of pupils, high house prices and the prospects of easier and better paid alternatives for graduates (see here) . This raises issues of who is training to teach and then entering the profession and why. Many of them should never have taken the step to begin with. Maybe some of the teacher training is not up to the job either. The job can be a tough one, especially early on and this makes early support and action from good school management and leadership crucial - and it should come from all in the organisation, Heads, Deputies, senior and less senior teachers, other school staff, unions, pupils, governors, parents....though especially Heads.

Here's a screencast on genuine argument vs tactics used in arguments. You find these tactics and others everywhere but politics in particular is absolutely loaded with them for much of the time.

Happiness humbug?

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This ('Bristol is 'not a happy city' says poll') is really badly reported, though the issue is an interesting one. If 1 in 5 say they are not happy that leaves 4 in 5 that said something else...from neither happy nor not happy through happy to very happy one assumes. So, how is the Post headline justified? We have a few more people in one national survey who said they are not happy, compared the average - but that's not the same as 'not a happy city'. We need more information!

There's also the issue that this is only a snapshot - and is a self-assessment. Don't levels of happiness go up and down somewhat? What is happiness in any case and over what timescale are we talking? And how are happiness levels best assessed?

The story also mixes up happiness and contentment. The two are not the same. Being content is being satisfied, accepting and having desires that are reasonably restrained. Happiness is thought of as being pleased, feeling gladness or joy, though maybe its not so straightforward as this. For more sense than this article and to explore wellbeing as opposed to just happiness and contentment I'd read Martin Seligman's book 'Flourish'.

Seligman interviewed on newsnight http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-Vhjmdp4nI&feature=related

Proper progress?

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The folly of only adding when producing national accounts aand viewing progress in narrow terms.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Just say no to Nadine Dorries' abstinence education bill!

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Just say no to Nadine Dorries' abstinence education bill!

A Vision For Our Forests | Jonathon Porritt

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A Vision For Our Forests Jonathon Porritt

   Stockwood Pete: Imprudential borrowing

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Stockwood Pete: Imprudential borrowing

People's paradigm

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The idea to get lots of people involved in saying what they want Bristol to be like in the medium and long term is a really good one. See 'Occupy Bristol protesters draw up their vision for Bristol 2050'. There's no meaningful, democratic and effective medium and long term planning in the UK and this clearly needs to change. The intentions of Occupy Bristol are a bit different from the Post headline though - since Occupy advocate wide participation it wont be 'their' vision as such, it will be the visions of the people that come forward to make contributions. So, its over to Bristol's people...send your ideas to occupybristol@riseup.net  I very strongly agree that wider public participation means better decisions, not least because its more likely that local knowledge and good sense is included and people will have ownership of actions that result (as any exercise needs to go beyond ideas) and back them up in their own lives. Here's the story in the Post: 
PLANS to create a vision for the type of place people would like Bristol to be in 2050 will be discussed by protestors on College Green.

The Occupy Bristol camp is planning a series of open meetings to plan a future for the city.

A protester, who gave his name as Luther Blissett, said: "Neither the electoral cycle nor the product planning horizon are far enough away to allow us to be utopian, to hope for better futures. There is very little thinking about the medium and long term.

"The people's 2050 will try to inhabit this vacuum.

"It will not be a top-down document or plan that anyone tries to rigidly enforce, it will not be in that sense 'The Plan'. It will simply be a conversation that develops, spawning hundreds of little plans, counter plans and, crucially, actions.

"We hope that by looking forward 40 years we can provide a platform for the people of Bristol to come up with some interesting ideas about how we want our city and society to be organised."

This project has been inspired by the existing Bristol 2050 project but protesters say that only references the city's business leaders and should include the public.

Mr Blissett added: "There's plenty of evidence that wider public participation in decision-making means better decisions – because it means more knowledge and ideas go into the mix. The people's 2050 is an alternate vision, and we want your input."

The group asked people to send "utopian hopes and desires for Bristol 2050" in word or picture form to occupybristol@riseup.net.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Safe systems?

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The Evening Post headline 'Oldbury deemed safe' is misleading as it makes no sense to declare something 'safe' ie free from risk. This is not what the assessments of UK nuclear power stations have tried to do. What does make sense is to talk about degrees of risk ie the probability occurrence of various hazards. 'No major weaknesses' in UK nuclear stations is not the same as safe - better to say that certain risks have been found to be low probability. The development of life on Earth is thought to be an extremely low probability event - but here we are!