February 28 2013

On the Beach

There has been a record number of comments on the W T's website regarding the identity of the animal washed up on a south county beach.
I an attempt to kill two birds with one stone, and applying Ocham's Razor, which holds that the simplest explanations are always to be preferred, might I suggest that this accounts for the disappearance of the Tiers Cross big cat that made its last appearance on the WT's front page some two years ago.
I suspect this fearsome feline was testing the theory that cats are not very good swimmers.
And, as we all know: curiosity killed the etc.
All fits together perfectly.

On the slide

While big game hunting in Tiers Cross my thoughts turned to the county councillor for Johnston, Cllr Ken Rowlands, whose ward includes the stamping ground of the recently deceased Telegraph tiger [Do tigers stamp? Ed].
About a month ago, Old Grumpy reported on Cllr Ken's elevation to the Cabinet education post; recently vacated by Cllr Huw George
(heads you win).
In a press release announcing Cllr Rowlands' promotion, the leader Cllr Jamie Adams trumpeted that he came to the job "well qualified to undertake his new duties as he has spent a distinguished career in education, spending many years as a head teacher".
Comments on
that other website, and on that of the WT, claimed that he had been a mere deputy head teacher - more Tonto than Lone Ranger.
I did email the WT, pointing out this divergence of views, with the suggestion that, as the county's premier newspaper, it should put the record straight.
When nothing appeared in the following two weeks' papers, I put this attack on Cllr Rowlands' credentials down to disgruntled enemies of "the voice of Johnston".
However I now notice that this week's WT has him billed as "a former deputy head".
Unfortunately, this is tucked away on the bottom of page 26 - hardly the sort of prominence one would expect for such an important correction about such an important person.
What baffles Old Grumpy is how Cllr Adams got hold of this idea about Cllr Ken's qualifications.
Even more baffling is that this inconsistency between the press release and the actuality was all the talk in county hall on the Monday before it appeared in the WT.
More baffling still is why someone didn't ring the WT and correct this error.
Hannah Arendt (see below) would have understood.

On the fence

Yesterday's council meeting was a marathon affair; not surprising seeing that there were 99 items on the agenda.
It started at 10 a.m. and it was nearly 8.00 p.m. by the time we folded up our papers and headed for home.
Matters were not improved by the two-hour break in the middle so that some members could go on what Cllr Tony Brinsden described as "a jolly" to Brawdy.
This rather annoyed Leader, Cllr Jamie Adams, who said that Brawdy was under threat, it played a key role in the local economy and members were going to the visit to show their support.
As if the MoD will be influenced by 30 councillors turning up at the base on a flying visit.
I would have thought that, if the possible closure of Brawdy was the issue, the cause might have been better served if Cllr Adams had put down a Notice of Motion calling on the MoD to keep it open.
But, where Cllr Adams is concerned, suspending belief is required practice as he routinely emulates the White Queen, who, fans of Lewis Carrol will recall, had the ability to "believe six impossible things before breakfast".
Though in Cllr Adams' case it probably owes more to the words of Hannah Arendt in Origins of Totalitarianism: "Authoritarians have an extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of the man who can fabricate it", than the relatively benign world of Alice through the Looking-Glass.
However, when the meeting reconvened at 4.00 pm one of the first items on the agenda on the exciting subject of the new terms of reference for the corporate governance committee.
We needn't delve too deeply into the intricacies of the constitution of this committee except to say that, under the new arrangements, all five scrutiny committee chairmen will be members.
This has implications for both Plaid and Labour in that Plaid's leader Cllr Michael Williams, who presently sits on the committee will have to hand over his party's seat to Cllr Rhys Sinnett, and Labour will be compelled to allocate one of its two seats to Cllr Tom Tudor.
I did email the two party leaders: Cllrs Williams and Paul Miller to alert them to this problem and, when the matter came up for debate, Cllr Miller spoke out very strongly for his right to retain the power to appoint whoever he chose.
I had noticed that, post-Brawdy, the IPPG benches were somewhat depleted and on a quick count I concluded that the opposition could win the vote.
Unfortunately, it was 27-all, leaving chairman Cllr Peter Morgan with little option but to use his casting vote to back the official line.
Then up piped Cllr Sue Perkins (Lab) to let us all know that she had abstained.
As the mathematicians among you will already have worked out, had Cllr Perkins supported her leader, the result would have been reversed.
Regular readers will remember that I flagged up this possibility when Cllr Perkins agreed to take up a seat in the Cabinet.
As I said at the time, she would have to tread the thin line between collective Cabinet responsibility and loyalty to the Labour group.
She seems to have escaped through the horns of this dilemma by opting to sit on the fence.
If Labour wants to be taken seriously, Cllr Miller will have to get a grip.

On the march

It would seem that my decision to classify PAP (Pembrokeshire Alliance Party) as a non-runner may have been a bit premature because I am told hopes still exist that a new group will eventually be formed - maybe even as early as May.
However, this story has already made several excursions into the columnar territory - the first back in February last year (The grapevine) - so I am not holding my breath.
It seems that the promoters have finally given up on me because I have not been approached during these latest negotiations.
But, from what I have heard, it would appear that my earlier estimates of 6 - 10 members may not have been entirely fanciful.
Other than the obvious candidates, it is not clear who the potential members are so I am having to resort to a form of Kremlinology.
Who hasn't emailed or telephoned during the past three weeks? Why was so and so avoiding me in the tea room the other day? Did so and so blush slightly last time the subject was raised?
But, for the moment, I am keeping my conclusions to myself.
My particular problem is that I can't see the point of this group, or how it can avoid being the IPPG Mark 2.
There are, in my view, three possible grounds for forming a political group.
They are in descending order of democratic credibility:
1. The members share a common political ideology the promotion of which they believe will be best served by collective action. It is inevitable that members of such a group will occasionally have to vote the party line against their better judgment in order to advance the greater good.
2. To game the political balance rules which penalise members who are not affiliated to a group.
3. To acquire power and the Special Responsibility Allowances that go with it.
The last time my support for such a group was canvassed, I was provided with a seven-point statement of aims and objectives.
These included large quantities of motherhood and apple pie including: "That a group position is arrived at through debate and not imposition and that members who disagree can vote accordingly."
Which sounds fine until you ask yourself: what is the point of arriving at a "group position", by whatever route, if nobody is expected to vote for it?
So until someone convinces me that this, or any other group, serves the interests of the people I represent, rather than those of its members, I will be remaining cussedly independent.

On the fiddle

Last Friday I toddled along to a seminar on climate change conducted by the West Wales Eco Centre (WWEC).
As regular readers will know, I am a bit sceptical about anthropogenic climate change, formerly known as global warming.
It is my great misfortune to have spent three years doing hard sums at university, so I understand quite a bit of the science.
This is unfortunate because it prevents me accepting many of the fashionable "truths" that infuse the modern world.
I am fully conversant with the fact that Carbon Dioxide absorbs certain wavelengths of the light reflected from the earth and re-emits some of it back to earth, producing a warming effect.
I am also aware that basic physics leads to the conclusion that, all other things being equal, a doubling of the concentration of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere will raise average global temperatures by approx 1 degree C.
After that it gets a bit tricky because the climate is, as the scientists like to say: a non-linear chaotic system, and some of the fancy figures bandied about in the press depend on what are known as positive feedbacks.
To take a simple example, the1degree C increase caused by doubling of CO2 will allow the atmosphere to hold more water vapour (not to be confused with clouds) and as water vapour accounts for some 70% of the greenhouse effect that effect will be correspondingly enhanced.
Add to that the fact that warm water can absorb less CO2 than cold water and the heating of the oceans caused by the doubling of CO2 will cause the out gassing of even more CO2 from the seas making the problem even more acute.
And before you know it the tundra will be melting releasing large quantities of methane - an even more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2 - which will cause global temperature to rise even further.
Inevitably, the ice caps will begin to melt (floating ice doesn't count - ask Archimedes) and sea levels will rise to the extent that New York will only be habitable above third floor level.
On the other hand, there are scientists who say that the feedbacks will be negative.
For instance, the increased concentration of water vapour in the atmosphere will produce more clouds which will intercept the incoming heat from the sun and reflect it back into space.
Even the UN body the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which draws together the science on the subject, admits that "the effect of clouds is poorly understood".
But to return to the seminar which kicked off promisingly with a slide showing a photo of of Einstein and a quote.
Not only was Einstein a great thinker but he was also a master of the philosophy if science.
It was, I think, Einstein who said that scientists don't set out to prove their hypotheses, but to test them.
The quote used by the WWEC's "education officer" was the following. "The supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience."
This was a promising start and when he went on to explain the difficulties in actually measuring global temperatures - urban heat islands, lack of reliable weather stations over large parts of the globe etc, etc - I was rather regretting my earlier doubts.
However, it wasn't long before the scales fell from my eyes when a "graph" flashed up on the screen showing global temperatures for the past 100 years.
This showed a steep rise from left to right.
Now, I should say a word or two about graphs at this point, because there are graphs and graphs.
To a mathematician, a graph is a pictorial representation of a mathematical function.
So, if you plot a function such as y = 2x +2 you will always get a straight line of predetermined slope.
On the other hand, there are graphs which are nothing more than diagrammatic representations of data.
And while mathematical graphs usually have the same quantities (numbers) on both axes this second type of graph does not.
That gives scope for squeezing and stretching the scales to give the desired effect.
For example, if you plot temperature (vertical axis) against time you can , by squeezing the horizontal axis, or stretching the vertical axis, or both, make the slope of the line much steeper to give the impression of a much more rapid increase in temperature than actually exists.
And the graph we were shown had been so manipulated to give a slope of roughly 45 degrees.
There was another interesting thing about WWEC's "graph" in that the time series ended in 2000, though the data is available up to the end of 2012.
The problem is that temperatures have remained flat since about 1998, and the Met Office says they are likely to remain so until at least 2017.
So I asked the "education officer" how Einstein's dictum about not leaving out a "single datum of experience" could be reconciled with the omission of the most recent 12 years.
An embarrassed silence followed.
Of course, one reason could be that no amount of stretching and squeezing of the axes can change the slope of a horizontal line.
And this recent pause in global temperatures strikes a serious blow at the the anthropogenic warming theory because CO2 levels in the atmosphere have continued to rise throughout the period.
So, at least, we can say that there is no linear connection between CO2 concentration and global temperature.
But, as I pointed out in an earlier post, that doesn't directly disprove the theory because there could be other things going on that are masking the warming effect of the extra CO2.
However, what it does show is that the computer projections on which much climate change alarmism is based are not very skilful in representing the climate.
In fact, the latest temperature data fall below the lowest bound of all the computer projections.
If, as the Met Office suggests, temperatures remain flat until 2017, the gap between the computers and reality will become even more pronounced.
And that leaves us with the question of whether we should prefer the computer simulations, or the data.
Anyone who is in any doubt about this might like to consider the difference between the forecasts for economic growth spewed out by the Treasury and Bank of England computers and the real data i.e. the amount of cash in their pay packet.
I am afraid that this educational exercise was propaganda masquerading as science.
And what made it even worse was that it was paid for by the taxpayer, as were the travelling expenses of all the members present.

On the rack

The Italians have struck a blow, of sorts, for democracy by voting almost 2:1 for parties opposed to German-imposed austerity.
The downside is that they still want to remain within the Euro which will require massive German support.
Having both the penny and the bun, or the centesimo and the panettone, as they say.
The difficulty, to use another cliche, is that he who pays the piper calls the tune, so the Germans will likely have the final word.
Much has been made of the problems that arise when widely disparate economies are locked together in the same currency - the greatest of which is the impossibility of devaluation as a method of countering competitive imbalances.
As Lord Keynes observed, wages are "sticky downwards"; an elegant way of saying that none of us likes to take a pay cut, so, when wage levels and productivity get out of kilter, governments' preferred method of restoring the balance is through devaluation which makes imports more expensive and exports more competitive.
The other problem that besets the EU is that it is not a single political entity.
That means that the all important electoral cycle is out of step and at any one time there will some government or another which is driven more by electoral necessity than the public interest.
Mrs Merkel is facing elections in September and that rather restricts her actions because the Bundestag, under pressure from the German taxpayer, is hardly likely to be keen to be seen to be baling out the Italians, especially as vast amounts of money have already been expended keeping the Irish, Portuguese, Greeks and Spaniards afloat.
So we have a dysfunctional currency union allied to a dysfunctional political union - a recipe for disaster if ever there was one.
As a long-time eurosceptic, it gives me no pleasure to say this because the fallout from a collapse of the Euro will be catastrophic for the UK economy.
The trap that Europe finds itself in is that it has expensive welfare systems that its economy can't support.
In a speech at the recent Davos bash Mrs Merkel pointed out that the EU accounts for 7% of the world's population, 25% of global GDP and 50% of welfare payments.
The problem is that European electorates have come to see these welfare benefits as rights which exist regardless of affordability.
As someone wrote recently: if you knock on a door at election time and say: "Vote for me and I'll raise your taxes and cut your services" they are unlikely to ask for a poster to put in the window.
But anyone who claims you can have prosperity without productivity is advocating a modern form of alchemy.
We are told that if only the banks would lend more, economic growth would resume and the problem could be solved.
This demand-led growth, based on easy money, is all well and good, but it is what got us into this mess in the first place.
Unfortunately much of Europe is sclerotic and over-regulated and is not a good place to do business.
What is needed is supply-side reform that leads to real economic growth through increased productivity.
I remember reading some years ago about a speech by a German president who said that, in his country, if someone set up a computer software company in his garage, health and safety and planning enforcement officers would soon be round to close him down.
He was referring to Bill Gates and the dynamism of the much more open, flexible and lightly taxed US economy.
If we want a dynamic economy that can produce the wealth to support our welfare system we must encourage what Lord Keynes called the "animal spirits"; the entrepreneurs and risk-takers who create real, rather than illusory, wealth.

(back to home page)

The two pieces below appeared in this week's Stop Press.

 

I was in county hall yesterday afternoon for a meeting at 5.30 pm.
Arriving early to give myself a chance to catch up on the tea room gossip, I noticed that a meeting was in progress in the committee room at the top of the stairs.
Through the glass in the door at the end of the committee room, I recognised the familiar profile of former leader Cllr John Davies.
One doesn't like to stare, but I also caught a glimpse of the present leader Cllr Jamie Adams.
By the time I reached the double doors 10 metres further up the corridor, I had worked out that what I was witnessing was the IPPG's pre-council secret meeting.
So, walking slowly, I took a longer peek.
Well, if people weren't supposed to look in, they wouldn't put glass in these doors.
What I noticed was that the assembled members were, with one exception, all seated around a big table.
The exception was Cllr Brian Hall who was sitting in solitary confinement at the back of the room.
As I said, one doesn't like to stare, but I couldn't fail to notice that Cllr Hall was in full flow with much arm-waving and finger-pointing.
I continued on my way to the tea room.
Fifteen minutes later, as I retraced my step on my way to my meeting, I had another gander and there was Cllr Hall, red in face and tooth and claw, arms waving, giving the assembled the throng the benefit of his opinion.
Now, you should never go further than the evidence warrants, so I can't be sure whether this was a continuation of the same oration that I had witnessed earlier, or two separate events.
It seems that what was exercising Cllr Hall was the fact that, despite the failings which led to his resignation from the education portfolio, Cllr Huw George remains a member of the Cabinet (environment) and deputy leader of the council, and that this was making an easy target for the IPPG's critics.
He also seems to have an issue with the fact that the frequency with which Cllr George's photo appears in the local papers has not been diminished by his fall from grace.
He might also have mentioned that Cllr Adams appointed Cllr George deputy leader following last May's election, so his promotion came a full six months after the publication of the critical reports by Estyn and CSSIW that led to his eventual downfall.
It is difficult to deny that Cllr Hall has a point, though making the IPPG an easy target for its critics is not one of those things that keeps me awake at nights.
Indeed, the more the light is shone on this anti-democratic, non-political political party, the better I am pleased.

 

 

There are 99 items on the agenda for next Thursday's meeting of full council so it could be a long day.
Prominent among them are several Notices of Motion on the recent pay grading exercise which has left a significant number of staff, especially those on the lower pay grades, facing substantial cuts to their salaries.
This is a very complex area where it is unwise to base strong opinions on weak knowledge.
There is a very fair account of the position regarding member involvement in this process on that other site so there is no need to repeat it here.
What can be said is that the first elected councillors knew about this was when distressed members of staff began to contact us to express their concerns.
A seminar was hastily called to brief members on the situation.
Several members were vociferous in their condemnation of the fact that this seminar had been called after the event and Leader Jamie Adams conceded that we should have been put in the picture before letters went out to staff.
Another area of concern was the ultimatum issued to staff that if they didn't sign up to the new arrangements before the end of February they would surrender their entitlement to hardship payments and, in the final analysis, their jobs.
Labour Leader, Cllr Paul Miller, has submitted a notice of motion in which he accuses the council of holding a gun to the heads of staff and, allowing for a bit of poetic licence, it is easy to see what he means.
Normally, notices of motion are remitted to the relevant committee for further consideration before coming back to the next meeting of full council for determination.
Cllr Miller is calling for this and other notices of motion on pay regrading to be debated there and then and, given the looming deadline, it is difficult to see on what grounds this reasonable request might be refused.
However, the fly in the ointment is that a visit to Brawdy has been arranged for 2.00 pm on Thursday which means that, if members are to be given time for a bite to eat before making the journey, the meeting will need to end by 1.15 pm at the latest.
As the mathematicians among you will already have worked out, dealing with 99 items in the 195 minutes between 10 am and 1.15 pm will allow less that two minutes apiece.
And as one of the 99 items is the budget, which, in a proper functioning democracy would on its own be worth at least two hours , it is not difficult to calculate that the rest of the agenda which, in addition to the NoM of staff pay, includes an important motion on the future of the health service in Pembrokeshire, will be somewhat cramped for time.
I know that several members have emailed the council asking for the Brawdy trip to be rearranged, but all to no avail.
It will be a disgrace if debate on these important issues is curtailed to accommodate this outing.
Though I am given to believe that, at yesterday's secret group gathering , that is exactly what the IPPG decided to do.