Archive for October 2011

Time Troubles

As we woke up this morning having once again returned to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) the argument about whether we should shift from this to Central European Time (CET) was once again rearing its head.

The stalking horse for this current push to switch to the time zone used by much of Western Europe is Rebecca Harris, MP for Castle Point and a member of the 2010 Conservative intake, who is championing it as a Private Member’s Bill. As a quick check of her voting record confirms* that she is nothing more than lobby fodder in search of a place on the payroll, it is reasonably safe to say that this bill has had the backing of ministers from the very start.

Firstly some history…

The adoption of a standard time zone in the UK is still a relatively modern idea with GMT only becoming the official time zone of Great Britain in 1880, just a few years before the International Meridian Conference of 1884 established the Greenwich Meridian as 0° longitude.**

British Summer Time (BST) came about in 1916 as part of the amendments to the Defence of the Realm Act and was done originally in an attempt to save fuel (and thus money).

On three occasions since then the UK has moved away from the GMT/BST switch:

  1. During WWII BST remained in force throughout the winter of 1940. This was in the spring of 1941 by an advancement to ‘British Double Summer Time’ or GMT + 2.
  2. The summer of 1947 when, as the result of fuel shortages, the clocks went forward and back twice.
  3. October 1968 to October 1971 when the country stayed on BST rather than reverting to GMT.

And now back to the present…

Harris’ bill opens by saying that it:

Require[s] the Secretary of State to conduct a cross-departmental analysis of the potential costs and benefits of advancing time by one hour for all, or part of, the year; to require the Secretary of State to take certain action in the light of that analysis; and for connected purposes.

One of the first things to note here is that ‘or part of’ is redundant. Thanks to Directive 2000/84/EC we can no longer repeat the Wilson government’s experiment of 1968-70

Article 1
For the purposes of this Directive “summer-time period” shall mean the period of the year during which clocks are put forward by 60 minutes compared with the rest of the year.

Article 2
From 2002 onwards, the summer-time period shall begin, in every Member State, at 1.00 a.m., Greenwich Mean Time, on the last Sunday in March.
Article 3

From 2002 onwards, the summer-time period shall end, in every Member State, at 1.00 a.m., Greenwich Mean Time, on the last Sunday in October.

and as such any change would have to apply all year round.

The body of the bill asks for:

  1. A cost/benefit analysis on switching to CET (we can ignore the request for an assessment on whether the dates on which BST starts and ends are optimal for reasons already stated above) and wants this information published within three months of the passing of the act.
  2. That this analysis is then inspected by an ‘independent’ commission of no more than 12 members plus an item of furniture*** and they must report back within 6 months of appointment.
  3. If the commission concludes that a switch is a good idea then it must be implemented for a trial period of three years. No later than six months before the trial period ends the success (or otherwise) of it must be reviewed and no later three months before it is due to end should the option of making the change permanent be laid before the house.

All of which of course sounds very reasonable.

On Conservative Home this time last year Harris wrote:

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and all the road safety organisations conclude that it will save up to 80 lives from fatal road accidents and prevent many more serious injuries, by adding more daylight to the busier afternoon rush hour. Tourism organisations believe it will increase tourist revenues by as much as £4 billion and create up to 80,000 jobs in the industry, by extending the season and letting attractions stay open an hour longer every day. Environmentalists like Lighter Later and Green Peace say that less use of electric light during the evening peak time will not only reduce energy bills but also help us meet our carbon emission targets.

That really is checking boxes, isn’t it? Fewer deaths, more jobs, environmental benefits, lower energy bills… it truly sounds like a modern miracle!

Lets think about them more closely shall we?

The 80 avoidable deaths is remarkably concise and, going by the 2010 figure of 1,857 deaths, would mean a reduction of over 4%. Sounds good then but what I couldn’t see from a brief scan of the RoSPA website was when this calculation was made and with which year’s road death stats; how the figure was reached, let alone what the margin or error is; and if this is the balance (or not) between extra deaths in the morning and fewer in the evening. If anyone can point me in the direction of answers to these questions I would be grateful.

An extra 80,000 jobs? Attractions open longer? Really? We aren’t increasing the length of the day, just altering which hours are daylight and which aren’t. Ergo tourist attractions, bars and restaurants aren’t necessarily going to be open longer hours and thus won’t be employing more people. Even if they extend their opening hours, I would expect the first course of action would be to have existing employees to cover the extra hours.

It is her final point, the environmental one, which I suspect will carry more weight – depending on how they spin it. If they go for the cost argument, i.e. potentially lower energy bills, then there is plenty of scope for self-interest given the direction of travel of energy bills in this country (one factor in this being the inclusion of green taxes to subsidise otherwise unviable schemes). A cynical person might also wonder if it is simply a cunning plan to extend the life of various plants through reduced usage and thus less yearly emissions?

In the end though this argument boils down to which hours of the day do we wish to see sunlight.

Being London centric for a moment, on the longest day of the year sunrise is shortly before 0445 and sunset shortly after 2120. On the shortest day it rises at shortly before 0805 and sets shortly before 1555. During August, supposedly the height of summer****, sunrise changes from approximately 0525 to 0610 with sunset changing from approximately 2050 to 1950

Move those times forward a hour makes little difference to anyone in the middle of June unless they are early risers but for the best part of a month (mid December to mid January) we’ll have sunrise not occurring until after the working day is generally considered to have started and sunset occurring just before it theoretically ends.*****

Going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark? Been there, done that****** and it isn’t fun. I’ll take the earlier sunrise during the winter months and the bit of sunshine that I get with it before I arrive in the office to lighter evenings throughout the year. And as for waking up in May and finding it is still dark outside? Thanks but no thanks!

For me this seems to be a case of once again trying to fix something which isn’t broken and as such I can’t see the point of it.

* I use ‘confirms’ rather ‘reveals’ because she is my parent’s MP and via them (mother a member of the local association, both of them friends with most of the association’s leading members) I am well aware of how much she sucks up to iDave. Final confirmation (as if it was needed) came when I saw her name on the list of those who opposed the backbench motion for a referendum on the EU.

** The French, being French wanted it to be Paris but they lost the vote. It then took them 17 years finally admit defeat. This is probably close to being a national record for them.

*** “The Commission shall consist of a Chair and no more than 12 other members appointed by the Secretary of State.” This government really is committed to equal opportunities!

**** Recent years to the contrary.

***** I can’t recall ever being out of the office at 1700.

****** A temp job in a plastics moulding factory. 12 hour days from 0700 to 1900 for £4/hour. I lasted 2 days.

Happy birthday sweet 16 M25

London’s ‘Orbital Car Park’, better known as the M25 (or, for those in the know, the sigil odegra*), turned 25 today.

Encircling London, aside from the six mile stretch on the east side where the road crosses the Thames at Thurrock (this stretch is designated as the A282**), the 117 mile behemoth was built over a period of 13 years and is the second longest ring road in Europe as well as being one of the busiest roads on the continent.

The first section of the road opened in 1975 between South Mimms (now junction 23) and Potters Bar (now junction 24) with the last section between London Colney (junction 22) and South Mimms being officially opened by the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on this day in 1986.

Traffic levels on this new motorway were soon far beyond designed capacity leading to plans to widen it to four lanes each way being considered. Those never fully come to fruition but some widening has taken place with the stretch between junctions 12 and 14 being 5 lanes in each direction and that between junctions 14 and 15 having 6. The sections between junctions 16 and 23 and junctions 27 to 30 are in the process of being widened to 4 lanes and this work should be completed in 2012.

For me the M25, for all of its annoyances, is almost unavoidable because there is simply no other road to use if I wish to head south or west. As for going north, it is potentially avoidable but that depends on how far north I am heading.

Join me then by lifting a glass or two of your favourite tipple and saluting the birthday of this most frustrating of roads – before drowning the rest of the bottle as you think of how much hassle it will cause you in the next 25 years.

* If you haven’t read ‘Good Omens’ by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett this will mean nothing to you. MG politely suggests that you may wish to remedy this failing.

** If it wasn’t then non-motorway traffic wouldn’t be able to cross the river at any point further east than the Woolwich ferry. Imagine the fun that would cause.

Filmmaking in Iran

Marzieh Vafamehr, an Iranian actress, was arrested in June and sentenced by a court on the 8th October to spend a year in prison and be lashed 90 times.

Vafamehr starred in the 2009 film ‘My Tehran for Sale‘, the plot of which is given on the IMDb as:

Marzieh is a young female actress living in Tehran. The authorities ban her theatre work and, like all young people in Iran, she is forced to lead a secret life in order to express herself artistically. At an underground rave, she meets Iranian born Saman, now an Australian citizen, who offers her a way out of her country and the possibility of living without fear.

What exactly her crimes were seems to be disputed, which perhaps reflects the limited information available but apparently they include breaches of Shari’a law and the nebulous concept of appearing in a film which casts Iran in a negative light.

The latter is deeply ironic considering the brief spurt of outrage that occurred when the world found out about the story but as I’ve noted before, the Iranian government manages to do irony quite well, although I doubt that it is ever deliberate.

Hers though is not the first arrest or conviction of a member of the Iranian film industry in recent years – merely the first one to catch the attention of much of the Western MSM. Call me cynical but that wouldn’t have anything to do with her being reasonably attractive, would it?

It appears that this crackdown on the film industry began after the disputed 2009 presidential election, won by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with those who supported rival candidates bearing the brunt of the government’s displeasure.

Two directors who attempted to make a documentary abount the unrest which followed the election, Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof, have been sentenced to a six-year jail sentence and 20-year filmmaking and travel ban, and a five-year prison term respectively for acting against national security and propaganda against the regime.

In September six other filmmakers – Hadi Afarideh, Shahnam Bazdar, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Naser Saffarian, Katayoun Shahabi and Mohsen Shahrnazdar – were arrested for providing the BBC with material deemed damaging to Iran. Two have since been released.

Apposite image of the day

Reflecting on Risk

In the last 8 days professional motor sport has seen the deaths of Dan Wheldon and Marco Simoncelli. I have no doubt that there will be investigations into both crashes to see what, if anything, could be done better in terms of improving safety for the drivers and riders just as the death of Ayrton Senna led to a lot of changes in F1.

This does not however distract from the fact that motor racing is, and will always be, a sport with a high degree of risk. This should not however mean that it should be stopped or banned in any way as some of the more idiotic members of humanity are no doubt suggesting.

Risk is a part of life, as is judging whether or not the risk is an acceptable one. Some times you judge wrong and some times, no matter what you so, external factors will render your judgement irrelevant. The price for making a mistake will vary, but death is not often the card that fate deals. Regardless of outcome however all any of us can do is continue to make the calls as we see fit.

Remember those who have died but don’t stop doing something just because of an accident. That way lies madness.

Feelin’ hot hot hot

Throughout our history humanity has always felt the need to go just that little bit further, jump that little bit higher, run that little bit faster, eat that little bit much hotter curry.

Yes, we’ve conquered Everest, scaled the north face of the Eiger, reached the poles, broken the sound barrier, run a mile in less than 4 minutes and the 100 metres in less than 10 seconds, and now we are pushing the limits of endurance when it comes to how hot a curry the human body can stand.

Being a bit of a wimp I don’t go for very hot curries myself, preferring something of about the Balti level of spiciness, but I have on a few occasions seen a Phall, generally regarded as one of the hottest forms of curry available, consumed.

One was by a former colleague who was rather egged on by the rest of us and you could almost see the steam rising from his ears. The other was by a, sadly now deceased, Indian gentleman who used to play for the cricket team I score for and asked who for it without even looking at the menu.

This though pales in comparison to ‘Kismot Killer’ served up by the Kismot Restaurant in Edinburgh as part of a charity curry eating contest. Made with the Naga Jolokia chilli, which weighs in at over one million Scoville units, this curry can safely be described as rather hot.

So hot indeed that participants were required to sign a legal disclaimer prior to taking part in the competition.

Even given this fair warning, 20 people decided to take part but half of them backed out after seeing the effect that it had on the other 10. Those effects? Vomiting, collapsing, sweating and panting.

So badly were some of the contestants affected that the two members of the Red Cross there to assist were overwhelmed and ambulances had to be called to deal with some of them.

This has, of course, led to the usual weasel words from the powers that be:

Local councillor Gordon Mackenzie (LD) branded the event a “shambles” and said: “The owners owe a debt to the ambulance service, and I hope they’ll find some way of making it up to them.”

A spokesman for the ambulance service said: “We would urge the organisers to review the way in which this event is managed in future in order to avoid another situation where emergency ambulances are required to treat their customers.”

Typically both the councillor and the ambulance service have, in the time honoured fashion, failed to blame those responsible but instead have chosen to attack those who enabled them to do so. In much the same way as shops and bars get blamed for people behaving like idiots whilst drinking.

All those who participated in this took part at their own risk. Indeed they even signed a waiver to this fact. The responsibility for their actions therefore lies with them, not the restaurant. If you want someone to blame, blame them.

Therefore how about asking them if they are going to make it up to the ambulance service? You know, direct your attacks at the correct target for once?

Nah, will never happen.

Sun hack to cause Murdoch more problems?

Given the issues that Sky were having in obtaining permission to broadcast the first one day international between Inda and England today what John Etheridge is suggesting in this tweet may have been true and necessary.

JohnSunCricket: TV execs desperately trying to find the official whose palm needs greasing.

However given the trouble News Corp. is in thanks to the ‘phone hacking’ scandal in the UK and the emerging ‘circulation scam‘ at the european edition of the Wall Street Journal, I’m not sure they really need one of their reporters, even if it is only the cricket correspondant of the Sun, openly suggesting bribery.

Would someone who knows more about the Bribery Act 2010 than I be able to say if such an act, if it happened, falls foul of it?

Sometimes letting go is hard to do

In the developed world outliving your children is, these days, considered a tragedy as, thanks to all of our technological and medical advances, mortality rates amongst the young are not what they once were.

This is, of course, a good thing. However it does mean that when such an event does occur the family that are left behind can find it difficult to cope with something that is considered out of the norm by modern standards.

It is perhaps even worse when it is unexpected, occurring because of an accident or suicide, rather than as the result of a known illness.

Having have sat in a room with friends of my parents who were grieving for their daughter (of about my age) who suicided, I saw some of the utter incomprehension that they went through. I won’t even try to describe it and I can’t imagine that it is any easier for those who lose a child to an accident.

We come then to the tale of 17 year old Israeli Chen Aida Ayash. Hit by a car in late July this year she died in hospital on August 3rd. After her death her family decided to donate her organs. All well and good. It is at this time though that the story gets into territory which causes me ethical and moral problems.

Why? Because at the same time the family obtained a court order to allow her ova to be harvested and frozen.

They also attempted, at the same time, to have the court allow that the eggs be fertilised with donated sperm but the court refused to authorise this saying that there was no proof that their daughter wanted children.

Yes, it is sad for her parents that their daughter died before she could given them grandchildren to bounce on their knees but there is no inalienable right to grandchildren, just as there is no inalienable right to children.

I’m sure someone will accuse me of not being true to Libertarianism by supporting the court here but so far as I see it death means death. It is the end of your hopes and dreams – and the end of the hopes and dreams that anyone, including your parents, had for you.

That said I can see an arguable case (whether I agree with it or not) for opposite gender partners who were in a stable, long term relationship with the deceased being allowed access to sperm (indeed this has already happened on a number of occasions) or eggs to allow the chance of procreation but their parents? I’m afraid I have to draw the line at that.

For the life of me I cannot see why parents of the deceased would want to conceive, after the death of the child, a grandchild who will never know its parents, especially when one of those ‘parents’ would be an anonymous sperm donor chosen by the grandparents? A child that would gestate in the womb of yet another party. A child that will some day want to know why its birthday is so well over 9 months after mummy died. A child that, whilst your grandchild, you will have to raise as your own child. A child that you can’t spoil in the way you would any other grandchild.

We may well be able to do this thing but just because we can doesn’t mean that we always should.

NB: It is reported in the Telegraph that the family has had a change of heart of will no longer seek to fertilise the frozen eggs.

A message to Obama from a taxpayer

Some of you may have seen this last week thanks to twitter. If not, well I think anyone who is fed up to their eye teeth with government expenditure will agree with his sentiments even if they wouldn’t use his language.


Testing the Market

With the opening of Westfield Stratford City (a rather posh name for a bunch of former railway sidings) people to the east of London now have three large shopping centres within a relatively small area (the other two being Lakeside and Bluewater).

Theoretically this is all well and good: more competition, more choice etc (or as much choice is possible once all the major retailers have taken up residence). There is however one area in which this new store is different from the other two: car parking.

Or, to be exact, car parking charges.

You see, neither Bluewater or Lakeside, both of whom boost that they have 13,000 spaces, charge customers to park. Westfield on the other hand, with a mere 5,000, spaces will be charging visitors. Anyone leaving a car there for more than 2 hours can currently expect a £2 charge with prices increasing to £26 for more than 12 hours. This is without worrying about the £7.50 surcharge for losing your ticket.

Now, I don’t know about you, but if my nearest rivals weren’t charging for parking, I’d think twice before I did so myself as I’d be sure that such a move would make potential visitors consider going elsewhere.

If I were a car owner and I was thinking of spending the day shopping*, would I choose to go to somewhere that is going to charge me £8 for the privilege or somewhere that doesn’t. Personally I’d go with the latter.

Yes, it is entirely possible that these charges are set solely to dissuade commuters from leaving their cars there of a morning (5,000 isn’t that many spaces) but why then set the entry barrier so low as to charge those only going to see a film or have dinner?

All in all it seems like a rather curious decision to me and I’d be interested to see what effect it does (or doesn’t) have on visitor numbers.

* Male readers feel free to have palpitations at this point.