There are massive skeletons floating over crowds of humans while Charles Darwin looks on approvingly. As he would.
Also, I have an event tonight at Forbidden Planet here in London at 6pm which you should come to if you happen to be in the area.
That is all. Tomorrow in Budapest!
Message to Extinction Rebellion: Flying is here to stay – but we need to reduce its carbon footprintApr. 25th, 2019 02:40 pm
It was 13 July 2005, and I was sitting in an office in Madrid when I got the dreaded phone call to tell me that my father, who had been suffering from cancer, was slipping away. By that evening I was by his bedside in Surrey, and held his hand as he died the next morning. I am very glad, to this day, that I got back in time.
Extinction Rebellion had the intention on Good Friday of disrupting flights at Heathrow. ‘Terribly sorry’ – they said – ‘if your Easter getaway is delayed’ – fortunately none were. Delaying an Easter skiing break might be annoying, but not the end of the world – is how their argument goes.
…Except for the fact that not everyone flying is getting on a plane because they want to. A flight delay or cancellation can have enormous ramifications. – Consequences which Extinction Rebellion seem to be blind to. Aside from the example of when my father died I am reminded of my good friends whose holiday abroad ended in tragedy when their 9 month-old son died from cot death. After dealing with an unhelpful British consulate, eventually they were able to repatriate his body to the U.K. Further delays thanks to a few climate change protestors would have rubbed salt into their wounds.
On a wider level, how do Extinction Rebellion think that international aid workers get to their place of work on the ground to deal with humanitarian emergencies like the Ebola crisis, famine in Africa or floods in Bangladesh to Puerto Rico? Not on the back of Santa’s sleigh.
There is no doubt that aviation is a big contributor to climate change and that flying a lot isn’t good for the planet. However when your job requires it or you have family abroad (I fall into both categories), then to suggest, as one pro Extinction Rebellion friend did, that flying is a privilege, is simply not true.
Local MPs in South West London have quite rightly opposed Heathrow expansion but we have to be clear that, like it or not, flying is here to stay.
There is nothing to stop governments anywhere from incentivising the aviation industry to reduce its carbon footprint. It is possible to have much higher landing charges at airports for older, and more fuel inefficient planes or planes which fly virtually empty. It is also possible to give tax breaks for research and development into manufacturing aircraft which use less fuel.
Other countries could follow the lead of the U.K. and levy higher passenger duties. Airlines are also able to do their bit for the environment by minimising the use of disposable plastics – just as some hotels do by asking you to think twice before asking for your towels to be washed every day.
In the U.K., we can also easily improve public transport to our airports – especially Heathrow, or make the cost of it more competitive compared to taking Uber or a taxi. Indeed, one of the main arguments against Heathrow expansion is the impact it would have on air pollution related to surface transport in West London.
Politicians and their parties who support immigration and the idea of accepting refugees also need to remember that those refugees surely have a right to go back and visit their families. Do we tell the Syrian family, who made their way to the UK via a rickety dingy, that because of climate change we shouldn’t allow direct flights to Damascus to land in London one day in the future ?
Rather than trying to make life miserable for the flying public, Extinction Rebellion and those of us concerned about climate change should see the world as it is, not just how they would like it to be. They should be sitting down with airlines, aircraft manufacturers and politicians and demanding change.
They should also avoid being accused of hypocrisy – for example, certain parts of the media quite rightly called out Emma Thompson for flying into the U.K. to protest against climate change.
If we are serious about climate change then let’s work to find ways to make aviation less polluting. Not ruin the lives of people for whom stopping flying simply isn’t an option.
* Chris Key is dad of two girls, multilingual and internationalist. He is a Lib Dem member in Twickenham who likes holding the local council and MPs to account.
Kids, you're all right
The American education system has always been the envy of Brit schoolkids – if only because it's easy to glower across the pond at their freedom to wear whatever they want from the prickly tomb of Teflon uniforms.…
So the weird interstellar asteroid/comet/MegaSnowflake/
Remember 'Oumuamua? Discovered in 2017, it quickly became apparent that it was no ordinary space object; its velocity was so high it must have come from deep interstellar space. It was thought to be a comet at first (an icy body from some other solar system, since those are the easiest to dislodge and eject into space), then reclassified as an asteroid when no cometary activity was seen — that is, gas blowing off it as any ice warmed when it neared the Sun— then re-reclassified as a comet when its motion implied it was leaking material, just too weakly to directly detect.
Then some folks thought it might be a spaceship — still going with "nah" on that one — and then (and this is my favorite thing) others concluded it might be a huge porous fractal snowflake. As odd as that sounds, it actually makes sense given what we know about it.
It's still unclear where it came from or, more importantly, how many others like it might be out there. It's a little bit tough to extrapolate from a single case, but given its path and brightness, and how good our surveys are (meaning how big an object we can see at a given distance from Earth), it's possible that the galaxy is littered with as many as 1014 'Oumuamua-sized objects per cubic light year! That's a hundred trillion objects!
That's a vast number. And in a galaxy the size of ours, that means there could be — and this gives me the heebie-jeebies just to type this number out — a thousand trillion trillion 100-meter class interstellar rocks out there!
You'd think this would have some effect on the galaxy… and a pair of astronomers think it very well might. They suspect that interstellar objects like 'Oumuamua help planets like ours form.
Oh, I dig this idea.
Stars form from huge clouds of gas and dust called molecular clouds. Clumps in the clouds collapse (perhaps disturbed by the wind of a nearby massive star or a supernova), start to spin, and flatten out into a disk. The star forms in the center of that disk, and planets form farther out in the disk itself (which we call the protoplanetary disk for obvious reasons).
But it's not that easy. Way out in the disk there are teeny tiny grains of material, microscopic bits of silicaceous (rocky) material and ice. First these stick together, slowly growing. Eventually they become millimeter sized, then centimeter, then growing into objects about 100 meters across. At that point we call them planetesimals. These then collide, stick together, and grow to become the cores of planets, which then have enough gravity to accelerate the process. They actively draw in material, and a planet is born.
From what we understand of physics, it takes a lot of time for this to happen. It doesn't take too long, maybe 10,000 years or so, to start seeing pebbles in the disk. But it takes up to millions of years to form planetesimals 100 meters across, and tens of millions of years for them to collect themselves into planetary core-sized objects.
But that's a problem. In general, protoplanetary disks tend to disperse in about ten million years! We've actually seen quite a few of these disks around other stars, and the newly born star's wind and radiation evaporates the disk pretty rapidly once the star switches on.
So, oops. How can it take several tens of millions of years to form a planet when the disk itself is gone in less time than that?
Enter 'Oumuamua. Literally.
The astronomers' idea is that interstellar objects like 'Oumuamua kickstart this process! If space is filled with objects in the 100-meter range like our own interstellar visitor, then there should be a lot of them inside a molecular cloud. As the cloud starts to collapse the gravity of the condensing clump will help collect them, possibly increasing their density in space by thousands of times or more. Maybe millions.
That means they're in the protoplanetary disk even before the teeny grains themselves are just starting to stick together. And there are so many of them that planetary formation just skips several steps, going right to them collecting together to form planetary cores in far less time than it would take the process on its own.
Boom! If this is correct, it solves that planet formation timing problem that's been plaguing scientists for many years now.
So is it correct? Well, that's a different issue. The authors go through various scenarios that can both accelerate and hinder the process, finding that the numbers work out fairly well. But their work is an introduction to the idea, doing order-of-magnitude back-of-the-envelope type calculations. That's very important work, essentially announcing an idea so that more research can be done. This is the first step, so we'll see where this idea leads.
If it turns out to be correct, then it has some profound implications. For example, we'd owe our existence to interstellar interlopers like 'Oumuamua… and in fact may have quite a few of them literally mixed up into our star, our planet, and ourselves.
And if it's wrong, that's OK too. It's an interesting line of reasoning, and may lead to other insights. Science is all about figuring out what could be wrong about an idea and moving on from there, so this is still a good thing. I'll be very interested to see further work done on it.
As a lifelong active member of the Dutch party “Democrats 66” (D66), I know how difficult constitutional, structural and cultural improvements of state (and European) democracy can be. My party had both improving national democracy (example: direct election of the prime minister who would lead the formation of the post-election coalition government) and direct European elections in its 1966 founding manifesto,
As anybody consulting Wikipedia can read, D66 was founded by a coalition of both members of existing parties (including an orthodox Marxist one) and unaffiliated, new citizens who’d become concerned that Dutch politics was stagnating and becoming oligarchic. (From 1963 until 1967, there were three different coalition governments on the basis of the 1963 general election results).
So, I can sympathise with the pride of Chuka Umunna over assembling a similar British party (wanting to renew the existing party democracy, solidly pro-EU feeling; assembled from active party members and concerned unaffiliated citizens) in Change UK.
We entered the Dutch parliament in 1967 with a spectacular 7 seats (of 150) thanks to proportional voting, but struggled to be heard for years.
With the first European Elections in 1979, we tried to enter the European parliament (EP) outside the existing party groupings like the Socialists, because we refused “backroom deals” with other Dutch parties to have a better chance to get in. We wanted to reform European politics from within, but got exactly nowhere. Having failed in our profiling aim, we lost both EP seats in the 1984 EP elections. We re-entered in 1989 after joining ELDR/ALDE with the more Eurosceptic (and car-loving; we’re environmentalist) VVD Dutch liberals in it; and we went from strength to strength. One of our MEPs, Sophie in’t Veld is a British TV celebrity and EU politics analyst.
D66 is a Social-Liberal, pro-European party, so we abhor it when at decisive elections, like the upcoming European ones, excessive “political renewal” purism risks giving a free ride to Ann Widdecombe as one of Farage’s EP candidates, and foreign parties like Salvini’s Lega, and the Polish jingoist PiS, who in different European parliamentary groupings, totally share Brexiteering jingoism, reactionary social agendas (see LGTBI rights, female church pastors, abortion), and a love for Trump’s disruptive politics. They dearly want to trounce splintered groups of progressive, pro-European parties in their own countries, and to dominate a large share of the European parliament’s seats, key EP and EU jobs, and thus the EU political agenda (EuroCommission, EU Budget; foreign policy, environment). Even if it is only until Brexit in November.
Mr. Umunna and Change UK fear Electoral Commission investigations and punishments if they make deals about which of the Remain parties take the lead in certain regions. I advise him to read Paddy Ashdown’s memoirs: neither the sharing out of votes between the Liberals and SDP in the 1980’s, nor the Ashdown/Blair 1997 deal about sharing, and even letting non-affiliated BBC celebrities like Martin Bell oust sleaze-mired Tories like Neil Hamilton (see: ), ever resulted in big Electoral Commission punishments or scandals.
On the contrary: Scotland, London, Northern Ireland and Wales got devolved government, and despite Gordon Brown’s tribal resistance, Blair operated at the heart of Europe until in 2003 he followed Bush into Iraq. Two Grimondian liberal hobby horses fulfilled.
* Bernard Aris is a Dutch historian (university of Leiden), and Documentation assistant to the D66 parliamentary Party. He is a member of the Brussels/EU branch of the LibDems.
In the last few days we’ve seen rightists attempt to bully Greta Thunberg out of the public sphere rather than engage with her arguments; Tony Blair’s demand for ID cards and that immigrants have a duty to integrate; and rightists (backfiring) efforts to shame Diane Abbott for drinking on a train. These all have something in common. They show that the right and centre are enemies of freedom*.
These are not the only examples, nor the worst. New Labour created thousands of new criminal offences, a trend continued by the Tory government such as in its ban on legal highs, its counterproductive porn block and its "hostile environment" policy. Very many Tories and Cuks voted last year against legalizing cannabis. Chuka Umunna, following the centrist Emmanuel Macron, wants to reintroduce forced labour. And of course demands to end freedom of movement and restrict immigration are by definition demands to curb freedom.
The only reference the Cuks made to freedom in their launch statement (pdf) was that: “our free media, the rule of law, and our open, tolerant and respectful democratic society should be cherished and renewed.” This looks a little like valuing the freedom of corporations more than that of individuals.
To people of my vintage, this illiberalism looks odd. In my formative years anti-leftists claimed to cherish freedom, and attacked the Soviet Union for denying it to their people.
Which poses the question: why, then, are they so opposed to liberty today?
Partly, it’s because they always have been. Many cold warriors were not sincere libertarians, but only appealed to freedom as a stick with which to beat the USSR. Many of them supported Pinochet and apartheid, and the criminalization of homosexuality. The freedom they valued was the freedom to exploit others.
Another reason is that the enemy of freedom is fanaticism. Friedrich Hayek wrote:
Since the value of freedom rests on the opportunities it provides for unforeseeable and unpredictable actions, we will rarely know what we lose through a particular restriction of freedom. Any such restriction, any coercion other than the enforcement of general rules, will aim at the achievement of some foreseeable particular result, but what is prevented by it will usually not be known....And so, when we decide each issue solely on what appear to be its individual merits, we always over-estimate the advantages of central direction. (Law Legislation and Liberty Vol I, p56-57.)
The more confident you are about your own beliefs, the more weight you’ll attach to the individual merits of any infraction of freedom and the less weight to unforeseeable actions. So you’ll be more inclined to curtail freedom. Although centrists think of themselves of moderates, this is often mere self-love: you can be a fanatical centrist just as much as you can be a fanatical leftist or rightist. Fanaticism and extremism are different things.
There’s something else. Centrists and rights have long been naïve about power. Many have been over-optimistic about the extent to which it will be used benignly, no doubt in part because it has traditionally been exercised by jolly good chaps like themselves. It is for this reason that they have long been too relaxed about the coercion that occurs within corporate hierarchies. But the same thinking – or lack thereof – extends to political power. If it is people like you who will exercise power, and minorities or working class people who’ll be on the dirty end of it, you’ll be relaxed about arrogating power to the state.
Which brings me to a forgotten fact. Before the 20th century, freedom was a leftist ideal: think of Tom Paine, John Stuart Mill, the young Marx, Adam Smith’s jaundiced view of the “rich and great”, or the first word of the motto of the French revolutionaries. There was a simple reason for this: they all knew that restrictions of freedom helped the rich and powerful and hurt the poor and powerless. It is time for the left to reclaim the value of freedom – because, let’s face it, nobody else will.
* Of course, rightists are quick to claim to value free speech. But Dawn Foster has a point: the infringements of freedom of which they complain are often no such thing but are instead the hitherto voiceless merely answering back.
With Obama’s former VP, 76 year old Joe Biden, today entering the race for the WH2020 Democratic nomination he does so from a position of strength in national polls of party voters.
The chart shows the latest Real Clear Politics polling average national lead for Joe Biden over Bernie Sanders and Pete butcher Jack compared with the latest surveys in Iowa and New Hampshire. These are, of course, the first two to decide and where all the active presidential campaigns have been paying lots of visits at the moment.
As can be seen from the charts there’s a biggish divide between the national picture and what is happening in Iowa and New Hampshire. This could be the case because in these two traditional starting primary states voters are paying much more attention to the race than those elsewhere.
Both Iowa and New Hampshire take a lot of pride in their status as being the first on the primary calendar each four years with the Presidential elections I just wonder whether this explains the gap.
If so that reinforces the notion that a part of Biden’s polling position is down to the fact that he is the better known. He is of course a regular fighter for the presidency and has failed several times before going back to 1988.
In a letter to Palace staff organising the impending state visit in June, Mr Cable said:
I have taken the view that as a party leader I should not support state visits where the government of the day has issued invitations inappropriately.
I did not accept an invitation to attend a State Banquet with the King of Saudi Arabia for that reason. I hope and trust Her Majesty The Queen will understand that I decline this invitation out of no disrespect to her. I am of course hugely honoured to have been invited.
Following his letter Vince Cable commented:
The Conservative Government has prevailed on the Palace to host President Trump, and they are dutifully doing so. But we should not be beguiled by pomp and circumstance into hobnobbing with a man who is on record as a misogynist and a racist.
If we need to do business with the United States on an intergovernmental basis, we can do that without rolling out the red carpet in this way.
The fact this state visit is occurring at all is a shameful stain on the Government, who doubtless see it as a distraction from the mess they are making of running the country.
* News Meerkat - keeping a look-out for Liberal Democrat news. Meerkat photo by Adair Broughton
Oral argument this afternoon, big dumb movie tonight, so just a few things:
Cool rocks I found while out with the kids this weekend.
The kids making bunny ears with their bunny cake.
Max Gladstone gets meta (no spoilers) in the amusing The Conversation Tony Stark and Thanos Should Have Had.
thefourthvine asks what story you would like to get the Spider-Man treatment—rebooted every five years—with the caveat that you have to watch each version. I'm leaning toward something heist-y like Leverage or Ocean's 8, because I could always use more heists, but I'm still thinking about it. You?
Edit: also please see these pictures and then give me hair style advice?
Over the last few weeks I’ve had the pleasure of participating in some conversations, on a dark corner of the internet, about values-based campaigning. Over the last few days I’ve had the delight of seeing this break out of the dark corner, when Henry Wright (candidate for Cherry Hinton, Cambridge) shared what he’d been creating and why he joined the Lib Dems in the first place:
I joined @LibDems because I saw a party where what mattered wasn't where you were from, what your background was or who you were but what you could achieve. Because in our Britain, who you are should *never* be a barrier to achieving your dreams. #DemandBetter pic.twitter.com/qHjHbtfQes
— Henry Wright (@henrydwright) 21 April 2019
It’s since turned up in a few places, so it’s obviously resonated with some people. But really, this has been part of a wider conversation about converting Mark Pack’s argument that we should talk about our values into practice - and what really excites me is that, at least amongst newer members, this is really empowering.
Another (new) member has started an Instagram to share that they, too, have values - and they want to talk about them (follow them, if you have Instagram, to put a smile on their face). Absent the fear of the more experienced campaigner, they don’t want to talk about just local issues but also how this ties into their personal beliefs - and why you, too, should be a Lib Dem. And honestly? Good on them.
I truly believe that if we are to rebuild then it needs to be on solid, Liberal foundations and with voters that share our values as well as liking our policies. Lots of members are trying this, but what I liked about this approach is the brazen, proud, Liberal standard-bearing. Consider this poster, which explores how Liberal values enrich and empower our identities instead of coming into conflict with them:
Thanks for all the love for this! I never expected something I made to get so far… If you want more where this came from, another one is here showing how @LibDems have strong values we should be more proud of in our campaigns. pic.twitter.com/338iruK4DR
— Henry Wright (@henrydwright) 21 April 2019
I hope this finds a kind, encouraging and welcoming audience amongst their peers – and I believe that, when we speak up, we can find a lot more peers.
* James Belchamber is a party activist currently living in Basingstoke
The reaction underlines something that’s a real problem in the UK media and political establishments: they’re dominated by the voices of mediocre, reactionary men. They’re not clutching their pearls because she says something they disagree with; they’re doing it because she has the temerity to say anything at all.
The Mail has published a leaked memo from Change UK which sets out its current strategy in relation to the Lib Dems.
It is a bit of a shock.
We were hoping that there would be co-operation between Change UK and our party.
However, the one page of the memo (it’s not clear if there are more unleaked pages) makes it clear that the authors want to stamp out the Lib Dems and, basically, replace us. They basically want to grab our money, members and policies. There is only a small measure of co-operation on “certain issues” mentioned at the bottom of the page.
Change UK have not denied the veracity of the memo page, which appears to have been written before they thought of the “Change UK” monicker (they were still calling it “NP” – presumably “New Party”).
We have to hope that the “reality therapy” of the forthcoming elections lead to a tempering of the Change UK view. Given that this memo is perhaps a month or two old, then it suggests that the Change UK strategy/tactics are not working because there has hardly been a tsunami of defectors from the LDs to Change UK, as the memo seemed to have hoped for.
Here’s what the memo says:
Single party, brand, entity and leadership team for progressive politics at the next General Election including all progressive traditions (centre-left, One Nation and Liberal).
No mergers, pacts or alliances.
1. Win over LD activist and members to the TIG/NP cause – to win over as supporters;
2. Attract support and resources from LD backers – to win over and help provide resources.
1. Grow TIG so HoC numbers exceed LDs
2. Illustrate TIG exceeds the support base of the LD
a. Grow supporter list to byond 100,000 (current number of LD members)
b. Grow twitter followers beyond 244,00 (LDs currently on 244,100).
3. Connect with key LD backers
a. Approach top 6 individually by May
b. Secure public support of previous LD backers
4. Show bona fides on key LD issues
a. Interventions on Electoral Reform
i. Westminster Hall or Adjornment debate led by a TIG member
ii.Op-Ed on a LD online platform
iii TIG EDM
b. Highlight interventions of TIG members on civil liberties issues
i. Example – Shaminma Begum
5. Advertise public pledges of support by LD members/activists
a. Highlight any LD councillors supporting TIG/NP
b. Draw attention to any ex-LD PPCs joining TIG/NP
c. Encourage LD public figures to advocate transferring to TIG/NP
6. Where appropriate, TIG and LD MPs to co-operate publicly on certain issues
a. Brexit – CU/AS/GS fortnightly working group?
b. Mental Health – LB and NL etc
Tim Farron commented wisely:
I’ve been hugely positive about TIG but this is daft. In the 1980s, many of the SDP founders were a) ‘big beasts’ and b) incredibly gracious towards the Liberals. The project helped us get 26% of the vote and turned the UK into a genuine 3 party system. A good lesson to learn… https://t.co/YR5unrPw3D
— Tim Farron (@timfarron) April 24, 2019
* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.
Climate change is hurling humanity towards disaster. There is no more room to question the science, when nearly every climate scientist is in agreement that the implications of a global rise in average temperature will spell drastic changes for human civilisation. In the face of such a rapidly encroaching threat, political niceties and traditional incrementalism and compromise cannot come close to the level of change and upheaval required to solve, or even mitigate, the problem of global climate change.
That’s what they mean by no incrementalism. We get to have the revolution right here, right now. No different from any other sect preparing for the end of the world unless……
The current ineptitude and impotency of the ruling class is unacceptable when the consequences of inaction are so far-reaching. More than ever, it is time for workers – those who will be hardest hit by soaring food and healthcare costs, and by property destruction caused by natural disasters and the rising sea – to exert their power and force the hand of major players (governments and corporations) to avert what is almost certain to be the next global mass extinction.
The workers – Marx and Engels ride again.
Housebuilders are sitting on enough land to build more than 800,000 homes, analysis by The Telegraph has found, raising new questions about efforts to increase the supply of new properties and reverse the decline in home ownership.
The total number of plots in the top nine housebuilders’ land banks has risen by 25pc in the past five years to around 838,000. That is despite a series of Government reviews and policies meant to increase the rate of building.
Land is an input into housebuilding. Land that can be built upon takes some years to put together, gain permission upon. The stock of inputs that take some years to organise will rise as annual production increases.
So additive to stop bread going mouldy fingered for causing diabetes.
In a small trial involving humans, people who consumed propionate experienced temporary increases in insulin resistance, over the space of a few hours, compared with those who didn’t consume the additive.
However, this early research cannot prove that propionate causes diabetes. Larger studies conducted over longer periods are needed to better understand whether propionate contributes to diabetes in people, the authors said. [9 Disgusting Things That the FDA Allows in Your Food]
Still, the findings are concerning given how widely propionate is used, the authors wrote in their paper, published today (April 24) in the journal Science Translational Medicine. They called for more research into the potential metabolic effects of food components like propionate.
“Understanding how ingredients in food affect the body’s metabolism at the molecular and cellular level could help us develop simple but effective measures to tackle the dual epidemics of obesity and diabetes,” study senior author Dr. Gökhan Hotamisligil, a professor of genetics and metabolism at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in a statement.
Entirely happy with the idea that more research should be done. Just wondering whether the idea has nay legs at all is all:
Propionate is “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), meaning the ingredient doesn’t need to be approved by the FDA to be added to food. It’s also a naturally occuring fatty acid, produced by our gut bacteria when it breaks down fiber. But no one had investigated the metabolic effects of propionate when it’s consumed as a food additive, the authors said.
If you eat fibre your gut produces it. Eating fibre has effects upon insulin etc.
So, what’s the difference here between the effect of eating fibre and eating the substance? Is there something about digestion that I’m missing here?