March 5 2010


Poisoning the well


The Western Telegraph has gone big on the story about my notice of motion calling for its "monopolistic pricing strategy" to be referred to the Competition Commission.
It manages to twice mention the word "vendetta" - a reference to the Leader's claim that that was what I was pursuing against the newspaper.
This is a common theme with Cllr Davies who previously accused me of conducting a vendetta against Cllr Brian Hall, whose travel claims I had had called into question (Time Lord) and of "making political mischief" over his (Cllr Davies) planning consent for a herdsman's cottage even though he had sold the dairy herd on which the need for such a dwelling was based (Herd instinct).(More of the same)
It doesn't appear to occur to him that I may hold the view that would be better if councillors didn't fiddle their expenses or receive favourable treatment from the planning committee.
And, in the present case, he might just credit me with attending to my duty as a councillor to ensure that taxpayers get value for money.
These smear tactics, which are among the Leader's favourite debating tools, are the province of those who lack the wit to construct a logical case that addresses the facts.
Indeed it features prominently in lists of logical fallacies under the Latin tag - argumentum ad hominem, which roughly translated means playing the man instead of the ball.
The ball in this case is the fact that the Western Telegraph charges £7.50 for the council's discretionary adverts such as Choice Homes and £11.27 for public notices which the council has a statutory duty to publish.
And those facts are completely independent of any motive I might have.
As I have said previously, my case is founded on a report by one of the council's own officers in response to a previous NoM on this subject which said "[The WT] is the only newspaper circulating in the area [the whole county] " and that "Newspaper proprietors are aware that all local authorities have a statutory duty to publish public notices in relation to a range of their activities."
The officer concludes that the 50% premium on public notices is the law of supply and demand at work, though, not unusually where the council is concerned, it is an example of the very opposite.
The WT also says that "Claims of a media monopoly were quashed by county councillors last week . . ." as if the council was a court of law, and goes on to record that "... the notice was overwhelmingly rejected by the full council meeting on Thursday by 40 votes to ten, following a previous dismissal by Cabinet".
However, I am undeterred by this apparent setback because I have read the Competition Acts and they haven't.
As I reported previously, in view of the WT's resolute avoidance of the material facts - that they charge half as much again for public notices - I wrote to the editor of the Western Telegraph setting out my case but she couldn't find the space to publish my letter.
So I thought I'd visit the website and post a comment on this this week's story.
For whatever reason, it isn't to be found.
Nothing to do with the fact that the last time they reported on this subject (February 8) there were 20 comments - most of them favouring my side of the argument.
Unfortunately, these have now disappeared.
I concluded that it must be the newspaper's policy to remove comments after a certain time-lapse but a little research revealed that this isn't the case because a comment from Andrew Lye on a story published the same day about the controversial planning consent at Newport's Parog is still there.
However, now that I have been accused of conducting a vendetta in the paper's pages, I shall be seeking the right of reply.

Not me guv

Much has been made of the fact that, I was the "former owner of the Milford Mercury", who sold the paper to the group which owns the Western Telegraph.
The subtext being that I am responsible for the present newspaper situation.
Firstly, I should say that I was not the owner of the Milford Mercury.
It was owned by Devobrook Ltd of which I was a very minor shareholder.
Nor is it true that I was the Mercury's editor, as Cllr John Davies told last Thursday's meeting.
That honour fell to Grumpette, while I busied myself with filling the sports pages and doing a bit of investigative reporting on the side.
What is true is that the sale of the Mercury to Newscom Ltd strengthened the WT's dominant market position in Pembrokeshire.
However, there is nothing wrong with dominant market power; it is in the abuse of that power that the problem arises.
And if I am right that charging a 50% premium on public notices is an abuse of market power, I can't be held responsible for that any more than the seller of house should shoulder the blame when the new owner keeps the neighbours awake at night by playing loud music.

On the ropes


Global warming sceptics are having a field day with "Climategate" and even that most right-on of newspapers: the Guardian, has agreed to avoid the use of the word "deniers" in its news coverage.
If you want to keep up, I recommend the websites "climate audit" and "watts up with that" where you can read a blow by blow account of the developing scandal.
Professor Phil Jones of University of East Anglia was up in front of the Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee this week to explain his part in the leaked emails referring to "tricks" and "hiding the decline [in global temperatures since 1998] " and, judging by what I hard on the radio, he was not terribly convincing.
He was in some difficulty when asked by Martin Salter MP why he had emailed another researcher who had requested access to his data: “Why should I give information to you when all you want to do is find something wrong with it?”
As Mr Salter pointed out, the basis of scientific progress is that theories should be tested to destruction.
Prof Jones claimed that it was "standard practice" in climate science to withhold data.
In that case it should be called climate studies or somesuch.
Of course, none of this demonstrates that the theory of man-made global warming is wrong - merely that it is not based on science as commonly understood.
The problem is that global warming research has become politicised and while the quest of science is to examine the evidence in order to test the truth of the theory , the political method is to shape the evidence to fit the theory.
When I went to university to study science in 1959, the great hate figure among western scientists was was the Soviet biologist Trofim Lysenko.
Lysenko had resurrected Lamark's theory of evolution by the inheritance of acquired characteristics and claimed to have vernalised wheat by growing it under progressively colder conditions until it had adapted to growing in Siberia.
This suited Stalin who not only saw it as a means of feeding Russia's hungry millions but as being applicable to humans who might, over several generations, be "vernalised" into citizens fit to populate the communist utopia.
Lysenko won every award going - hero of the Soviet Union and all that, while countless millions died from Stalin's application of his theories to the Russian people.
As someone said recently: the role of scientists is to establish the truth; not to persuade.

Also rans

A bad weekend all round, with Wales and England now competing for the bronze medal.
Wales have thrown away two of their three games, while England's lack of imagination is painful to behold, at least for me it is.
My decision to relegate my 2003 vintage Grand Slam sweater to gardening duties in 2005 is now looking like a case of optimism gone mad.
The boys in Llanelli Building Supplies had a bit of fun at my expense this week when thy delivered a new wheelbarrow.
I couldn't understand why Paul thought my ordering a new barrow was so funny.
Then it arrived: a work of art with a red body, green frame and a Welsh Dragon emblazoned on each side.
It is so pretty, getting it dirty would be sacrilege

I came across this interesting table of the last ten years' Six Nations' results on the Internet.

Pld W D L PF PA PD Tries Pts Champs GS TC WS
France 50 36 0 14 1372 887 485 138 72 4 2 N/A 0
Ireland 50 36 0 14 1309 993 316 133 72 1 1 4 0
England 50 33 0 17 1511 786 725 169 66 3 1 2 0
Wales 50 23 2 25 1127 1221 -94 107 48 2 2 2 1
Scotland 50 14 1 35 817 1310 -493 61 29 0 0 0 2
Italy 50 6 1 43 768 1707 -939 62 13 0 0 N/A 7

I was rather surprised that Ireland had won so many matches.
Similarly with Italy,
I know they regularly beat Scotland, but who else?
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