venerdì, luglio 30, 2004

Big Brother Award

The 6th Annual Big Brother Award winners have just been announced by Privacy International, which were 'presented' as a special ceremony at the London School of Economics (LSE) on the 28th July.

This sounds like the television 'reality' series, Big Brother, known and apparently loved by millions of bored Brits - to say nothing of the many other national flavours of Big Brother around the world. THIS Big Brother is more in the spirit of the Orwell classic, 1984, however.

From a motley selection of intrusive people and organisations, the shortlist included such erswhile people as The Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, jointly with Katherine Courtney and The Rt Hon Charles Clarke MP. Organisations shortlisted included Lloyds TSB plc, FollowUS, British Gas plc, Vodaphone plc, National Health Service (NHS), Department of Transport (DOT), Office of National Statistics, US Department of Commerce and the US VISIT programme. An interesting collection of intruders into personal privacy - it almost seems a shame that winners had to be chosen.

giovedì, luglio 29, 2004

Holiday Time is nearly here.

It is holiday time here in Italy, which as many of you will already know, closes for August (well, almost!) Along with everyone else, I will be vanishing into the sunset next week for a few weeks of relaxing, sitting back and enjoying the wonders and beauty of Italy. No - no trip to Barbados for us this year! I thought that you might enjoy a very quick tour of the Italy that we will be driving, slowly, through on our way to Puglia (Apulia if you are English) and the wonderful shores and beaches there.

Our first port of call will be Bologna,

heading towards Firenze (Florence to the Brits),

then on to the towered town of San Gimignano where we will stay for a couple of days.

Next stop will be Siena

before heading for Perugia

and then Assisi, where we will stay for another couple of days.

The next leg will be toward Terni,

followed by Avezzano,

on our way to Sulmona, where we will spend another couple of days.

The last leg will be heading toward Benevento

and then to Matera, where the famous Sassi are,

ending the long drive in Puglia,

where we will spend the next couple of weeks lying on beaches, visiting restaurants, trulli, grottos and castles, before lying on the beaches again.

Isn't Italy a wonderful place!

Cin, cin!

mercoledì, luglio 28, 2004

Baby, It's (not so) Cold Outside.

Following on from my earlier items about weather changes and global warming, here is an interesting item from the BBC discussing the Greenland ice-melt 'speeding up'

Fish Tonight?

The EU has criticised several Member States for over-fishing and various other breaches of the CFP (Common Fisheries Policy). The rogue states, if they can be termed that way, are Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands, with infringement procedures being initiated against both the UK and France as well.

The CFP has long been a thorn in the flesh of the UK, with it carrying the blame for causing the decline of the fishing industry in the UK - particularly in Scotland. The WWF (World Wildlife Fund) is speaking out strongly against the policy, with the Fund's Marine Fisheries Policy Officer, Louise Heaps, saying; "After 20 years under the CFP, many of our commercially important fish stocks have been fished beyond sustainable levels". She goes on to say; "The European Union currently subsidises its fishing fleet to the tune of 1.4 billion euros (£868 million) a year, much of which is invested in expanding fishing capacity instead of recovery plans for many of our important fish stocks".

The UK has long been reliant on fishing for the survival of a great many communities around the coasts of England, Wales and Scotland, with the largest fishing fleets being historically on the Eastern side of the country. The fishing industry in the UK suffered from the vast overfishing of Herring in the north sea as long ago as the early 20th century, with many of the herring fleets disappearing in the space of a very short period of time due to the absence of fish caused by the overfishing. In the 1950's, 1960's and 1970's there were the so-called 'Cod Wars' between the UK and Iceland, after Iceland imposed, finally, a 200 mile exclusion zone around its shores, thereby preventing the, by now, large British deep water fleet from fishing for its staple target, cod.

That resulted in large numbers of large, deep-water vessels being scrapped and massive unemployment in the fishing ports that had harboured them. It is interesting to see that the original Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior, was one of those laid-up trawlers - I recall it being sold to them for around £8000 at the time - the normal asking price at the time for a decommissioned deep water trawler.

The loss of the cod fishing grounds forced the deep-water boats to move closer to land as well, forcing the mid-water trawlers even closer to shore, leaving the inshore fishermen, usually with much smaller vessels, to complain that they, in turn, were finding reduced fish due to the larger, more efficient boats competing for the ever dwindling fish stocks. I recall myself that the Scottish mid-water boats were all heading for the south coast of England, fishing with large Purse Seine nets and Pelagic trawls to the intense annoyance of the local English fishermen.

The Scottish boats were soon joined by large Spanish trawlers and even larger Russian factory ships with their fleets of smaller feeder boats that were very soon clearing the waters of just about every living thing - big or small made no difference to them - especially the Russian ships that processed all of the fish on board into a fish paste for shipping directly back to Russia.

The result of all of this overfishing is wholly predictable, of course. The fishing nations try ever-harder to protect what they see as their own rights to fish in waters they consider to be theirs - as well as the fishermen themselves investing in larger, more efficient and technically well equipped boats to help find the increasingly ellusive fish. Not the best way to preserve anything - but fishermen and the related industries are a very strong force, politically.

The EU Common Fisheries Policy was set up in 1982, with the intention of protecting the fishing industries of the Member States. Not, you may notice, to protect the actual fish themselves. The CFP introduced subsidies for the larger ships that had been built to catch the increasingly ellusive fish. They introduced a quota system that was determined not by scientific evaluation, but by political shouting and bullying. The fishermen saw all of this as meddling and continued to ignore the quota's wherever they could - but happily took the subsidies, which they then used to build even more advanced fishing boats for harvesting the few remaining fish.

It isn't as though there are no precedents for what is happening, either. The fishing industry in Canada, in the Newfoundland province, used to be huge, not that many years ago. Their principle fishing grounds were over the Grand Banks, where the main catch was cod. Overfishing caused virtually a complete collapse of the industry there, which even after 10 years of a strict ban of fishing in the whole area, has not seen the return of cod to a fishable level.

I have been talking so far about the Atlantic industry as it is one that I have a limited personal knowledge of (I used to own a fishing trawler back in the 1970's whilst living in Orkney). The situation in the Mediterranean is no different, with rapidly declining stocks of tuna (down 30%) and hake (down 70%) causing anxiety amongst the fishing communities in every country with a fishing fleet reliant on catching tuna, hake, or any of the other threatened species of fish for its survival. The same problems exist there as well, although there is another issue surrounding the 'tuna farms' which are absorbing wild tuna, without having to declare the fish caught under present EU legislation. Amazingly, tuna 'farmed' in this way in the Mediterannean now account for over half of the world's total tuna catch.

It's enough to make one want to be a vegan, isn't it.

martedì, luglio 27, 2004

The Death of Diego Garcia?

The full text of the Approved Judgment of the Court of Appeal in the case of the Chagos Islanders (which includes the island of Diego Garcia) and The Attorney General with Her Majesty’s British Indian Ocean Territory Commissioner is available here. As I outlined some while ago, it is a tragic situation, involving as it does the US Government requirement for a military base in the region resulting in the complete removal of the indiginous population of Diego Garcia by the British Government, in compliance with the demands of the US Military.

Reading the background of the judgment, we see: "During the 1960s the United States administration decided that it required Diego Garcia as a strategic military base. The government of the United Kingdom set about accommodating this request, but at an early stage realised that it and the neighbouring islands had a substantial population". I find the statement "at an early stage realised that it and the neighbouring islands had a substantial population" almost unbelievable in the implication that there was an argument laid by the British Government that they were not aware of the existence of the people that lived on the islands.

The counsel representing the islanders in their plight, Mr Robin Allen QC, had submitted that the British Government were liable for their actions in the eviction of the population of the islands. Lord Justice Sedley, no stranger to controversy himself, in his judgment says of this, however; "The fallacy of his approach is seen most plainly in the contention that to exile people from the Queen's dominions without lawful authority is - because it must be - a tort. Exile without colour of law is forbidden by Magna Carta. That it can amount to a public law wrong is already established by the judgment in Bancoult. But to make it a state tort requires a legal system in which the Crown, in private law, can do wrong; and this, apart from the Human Rights Act, we do not have."

So, we find that Magna Carta gives the state (which was at the time comprised ONLY of England, by the way) the right do do whatever it wishes without being answerable to the people of Britain - save for the more modern provisions of the Human Rights Act, which is not applicable in this case through there being no provable harm to any physical body involved in the action.

The final Conclusion of the Judgment is: "This judgment brings to an end the quest of the displaced inhabitants of the Chagos Islands and their descendants for legal redress against the state directly responsible for expelling them from their homeland. They have not gone without compensation, but what they have received has done little to repair the wrecking of their families and communities, to restore their self-respect or to make amends for the underhand official conduct now publicly revealed by the documentary record. Their claim in this action has been not only for damages but for declarations securing their right to return. The causes of action, however, are geared to the recovery of damages, and no separate claims to declaratory relief have been developed before us. It may not be too late to make return possible, but such an outcome is a function of economic resources and political will, not of adjudication.

So, that's it then, is it? Subject closed?

Is it?

Lord Justice Sedley has been a Lord Justice of Appeal since 1999

lunedì, luglio 26, 2004

The Chamber of Secrets and the UKIP.

I have been very remiss in not talking about the EU parliament shenanigans involving the UKIP recently. You may recall that at the recent European Elections, the UKIP actually won 12 seats - due mainly to the lack of interest shown by the British voters for the election.

I have already talked about the avowed objective of the UKIP before they took up their seats - which was duly modified immediately AFTER they arrived in Brussels. However, the story of the UKIP, whilst being of no interest to anyone outside of the UK, has continued unabated.

The first whifff of trouble came on the day after the election results were announced. Mr Ashley Mote, newly elected as a UKIP MEP, appeared at Chichester Crown Court on charges of fraud - NINE charges of fraud, in fact. The charges all originate from allegations of Housing Benefit fraud, which were allegedly commited several years ago. The court date has been set for November of this year, which many people will be awaiting with interest.

Not the UKIP though, as they have already "withdrawn the party whip" from the erstwhile MEP - now without a party. It must be a grave disappointment for Mr Roger Knapman, leader of the UKIP, who has seen the number of "Europe Busters" reduced to the impressive number of 11 now. It is even more of an embarrasment for the UKIP as a whole, as Ashley Mote was the party member whose treatise on EU corruption is still headlined on the UKIP website.

That isn't the whole saga though - wait - there's more!

Of course, we already are aware that the star performer of the UKIP, Kilroy-Silk, has said that he will not now go to Brussels anymore. He is intending to remain in England to continue his "fight" against Europe. But, is that his sole intention? He has a reputation for being an insufferable self publicist and it seems very much on the cards now that he will shortly become the leader of the UKIP in place of Roger Knapman, the official party leader. Opinion about the UKIP contingent is that thay may prove to be an obstacle to the party’s further advance. Exclusively white, male and over 50, many are eccentrics, passionate in their Euroscepticism to a degree that doesn’t make them media friendly. One well-placed UKIP source yesterday described some of the new intake as "not the sharpest knives in the drawer".

Still there's more though!

Godfrey Bloom, member for Yorkshire and the Humber, was proposed for membership of the EU Committee for Women's Rights. He took this golden opportunity to proclaim that he would use his seat to "promote men's rights". He went on to say, "No self-respecting small businessman with a brain in the right place would ever employ a lady of child-bearing age" . He didn't stop there though - not at all - he then stated that "I quite simply feel that they don't clean behind the fridge. I represent Yorkshire women who always have dinner on the table when you get home". None of this has done Bloom, nor the UKIP, many favours whilst they are trying to present themselves as the "Party of the People" in the UK, women included. Nigel Farage MEP, the smooth-talking front man who comes over as the brains behind the UKIP said later in defence of the UKIP: "We believe that 60 per cent of our voters are women". I bet the figure has dropped since he said that!

Protect and Survive......again?

I see that the British Government, through the Home Office, are about to launch a major new anti-terrorist initiative. They are, next Monday, publishing a booklet for distribution to every household in the UK during August, with advice and practical tips for survival including such useful hints as keeping a stockpile of tinned foods, bottled water and batteries (!) The British Home Office tells us that the campaign is in response to research showing that the British public wanted more practical advice and help and has nothing at all to do with any specific or heightened threat of attack. They are reinforcing the publication with a series of adverts on both TV and radio to encourage people to read the booklet and act on the main advice, which is to "go home, stay indoors and listen to the radio for further advice".

Of course, there are already sources of advice for concerned UK citizens from organisations such as MI5, or the Foreign Office, so why is the Home Office taking such a step in publicising the advice to every household. The cost of this excercise is conservatively put at around £20million, so there has to be a good reason to justify this kind of expense, surely.

Well, perhaps the government is following in the footsteps of the UK Civil Defence Programme, which produced a booklet entitled "Protect and Survive" in 1976 - copies of which are now highly collectable, by the way. This was one of several publications produced by H.M. Stationery Office from the 1950's, giving advice to concerned citizens about what to do in the event of a nuclear war. Of course, it didn't dwell for very long on the fact that the best that they might be able to give all of those concerned citizens in the way of warning would be four minutes - and that wouldn't include the actual time to think - go into the studio to record the warning and then interrupt the TV or radio programme to actually broadcast it. Then, it would have come down to an estimated 20 seconds warning. Plenty of time to sort out the shelter and get the family 'safely' tucked away, obviously perfectly safe from a nuclear bomb explosion now.

On reflection, maybe not. But, I'm sure it has nothing whatsoever to do with how the government is failing in the by-elections in the UK - and, obviously, it can have nothing to do with any future elections either, can it. Of course not. Most likely (!!!) the British Government is just following the Australian Government with its own booklet, "Preparing for the Unexpected", which was launched back in 2003. Stranger things have happened - somewhere - before.

Perhaps the best reaction to this kind of publication was made by the author and cartoonist, Raymond Briggs, whose book, "When the Wind Blows" was made into a film in 1987. It is eerily apt in this present publicity drive by HM Government as well, I think.