Saturday, 31 March 2012

... abolish the National Assembly?

Would that be right, should the British Government (Westminster) be able to abolish the Welsh Assembly and its associated government ?

Carwyn Jones thinks not (but what turkey ever votes for Christmas), are there circumstances that it is essential that Westminster is able to abolish the Assembly, after all,Wales is part of that greater Britain, it is part of a democratic whole.

If the governance of Wales became oppressive, or belligerent to the British Government Westminster should have the ability to close Cardiff Bay, much as Cardiff Bay closed democratic (unruly) Anglesey. 

If policing had been devolved, could WAG be trusted to cooperate across forces, would Carwyn have approved of the busing in of the police during the miners strike.

Of course VM has asked a vital question in this political dilemma .... do we have the calibre of leaders that we trust, or the institutions strong enough (Westminster aside) to hold Carwyn and chums to task, I doubt it very much.

Ali Ferzat on ...

... President Assad of Syria

Monday, 26 March 2012

Apple, not a friend of the peoples of ...

... the USA !

This behemoth of technology, which unveiled its first shareholder dividend in 17 years last week, has amassed a $100 billion treasure chest from a string of hit products.  Some $64 billion of this amazing pile of gold is kept from the IRS of the USA using overseas subsidiaries, including one in the British Virgin Islands, a tax haven.

Apple has generated more than $40 billion in profits outside America over the past three years. It has paid only £1.1 billion in corporation tax overseas — equivalent to 2.5% of the earnings. Were it to repatriate the cash pile, Apple would have to pay the difference between the headline US corporation tax rate of 35% and the rate on overseas profits — about $20,000,000,000, tax bill.  How much benefit would this bring to the peoples of the USA I wonder.

Apple has declined to comment on the ubiquitous situation.

Similar things happen in the UK, its time the tax havens of the world were abolished, it should be "pay your taxes in full where the income is earned", only then can a degree of justice be experienced by the peoples of this world.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

A new "Ion" lady who ...

... deserves the thanks of so many people !

The physiologist Professor Frances Ashcroft, 60, discovered the ‘ion channel’ that causes infant diabetes, paving the way for new treatments ..... Interview by Sue Choularton Published: Sunday Times 25 March 2012

Frances’s rural childhood helped inspire her curiosity about the natural world (Tom Pilston)
I get up about 6.15 and the first thing I do is look over the fields behind my house. I live in the countryside in Oxfordshire and I love to watch the seasons change. At this time of the year, if I’m lucky, I might see hares out boxing in the grass. I’ll then have a cup of tea, get ready, grab a banana and drive to the university for about 7.

I’m based at Oxford’s department of physiology, anatomy and genetics, and I lead a team of 12 to 15 scientists who carry out research into diabetes and obesity. The scientists are at different stages of their careers — some are undergraduates and PhD students, and some are post-doctoral researchers and senior scientists who’ve been with me for years.

A lot of our day-to-day research involves measuring the tiny electric currents that flow through “ion channels”. These channels are found in every cell of our body and every organism on Earth. They work like tiny pores, opening and closing to allow ions (such as potassium) to move in and out of our cells. This underlies the electrical signals in our hearts and brains and is the basis of our ability to see, hear, think and feel — everything we do. 

The currents we’re recording are a million million times smaller than, say, the current needed to run an electric kettle, so we need to use specialist equipment — such as amplifiers to boost the signal and filters to allow us to find the signal in the noise. We also use powerful microscopes to see the cells we’re recording from, and a vibration isolation table so people walking past don’t ruin the experiment.

These days, the rest of the team carry out most of the experiments because I spend a lot of time in my office writing papers and trying to get funding. But through the day, I’ve a stream of them coming in and saying things like “Come and see this result”, or, “I’ve just found something exciting!”

If I’m at the lab I usually have lunch at my desk, but about once a week I’ll walk over to Trinity and eat there because of the glorious gardens — they remind me of growing up in Dorset. I used to love roaming the fields where we lived, to look for wild orchids and watch birds; that’s what first gave me a curiosity about the natural world. My parents were inspirational to me. My father was an art teacher and my mother head teacher at the village school where I went with my sister. She become an accountant and our brother a naval captain. I went to Cambridge to do a degree and PhD in zoology, then post-doctoral work at Leicester University.
I don’t consider what I do as work because the idea of making a discovery is as exciting to me now as it was when I started

The particular ion channel we study is crucial for insulin secretion from the pancreas. Insulin lowers your blood sugar after meals, and if too little insulin is released you get diabetes.
Soon after I arrived in Oxford, in 1983, I discovered an ion channel that prevents insulin secretion when it is open and stimulates it when it is shut. It was one of the most exciting moments in my life — I had to ring everyone and tell them straight away.

The channel turned out to be important as it can cause people to be born with diabetes. Right now we’re still trying to understand how it works and what it looks like. But that breakthrough went on to transform the lives of children with diabetes; in the past they were treated with insulin injections but now more than 90% of them are on tablets.

All scientists hope their work will have an impact on people’s lives, but you never think it will happen in your lifetime, so I have been unbelievably privileged.

Some days, I’m away from my office at a conference or visiting a school to give a talk — it’s always wonderful to be able to inspire young people by what we do. To be honest, I don’t consider what I do as work because the idea of making a discovery is as exciting to me now as it was when I first started.

If I’ve been in the lab all day, I’ll finish about 7. I’m often busy in the evenings — at meetings, out with friends, having a working dinner. But if I’m just heading home, I’ll make something simple when I get in — maybe a salad, poached fish or an omelette. I’ll occasionally watch TV — a good science programme on BBC4 — and usually head up to bed about 10.30 or 11 to read for a while. I’ve just finished a PG Wodehouse, which was hilarious.

I try not to reflect on the day too much because I’ll stay awake trying to figure out something that’s puzzling us in the lab. And as every scientist knows, there’s always something that needs to be solved.

Professor Ashcroft will receive the L’Oréal-Unesco Women In Science European Laureate for 2012 in Paris on Thursday
It amazes me that this story is not today's headline, instead we are subjected to the pathetic nature of politics in Britain where people who contribute so little wish to influence governance to feather their own pathetic and rather squalid nests ..........................

learn Welsh? German would be a better option, or ...

... stick to English and travel Europe for a world class university education, of course you could stick with Welsh and travel to Aberystwyth at how many £thousands a year fees ?

 My advice would be to study German like there's no tomorrow, and forget the Welsh Baccalaureate, a worthless examination except in the head of Rhodri and chums ................

 Look East to Europe but be quick before the European politicians get xenophobic, or you might go West to the USA, if you do travel West take a fat wallet but expect to be treated as kings and queens, the universities want you  ....

Today's "Sunday Times" magazine has tips, trips and traps of the European options, get out and buy it ....

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Thursday, 22 March 2012

The law is an ass, particularly

... the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Last week the court found – in relation to 2001 protests in London - that forcibly holding thousands of people at the one time with no access to food, water or toilets for up to seven hours is not a deprivation of liberty.

When the police arrest a member of the public the force must provide food, water to drink and toilet facilities.

... it must be the rarefied Strasbourg air that has addled the brains of the poor saps we call European judges.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

... leave an independent Scotland, some islanders ...

think so, Orkney and Shetland could vote to leave Scotland but stay in UK during the forthcoming referendum ...

... listen and watch, the SNP caught with his independence pants around his ankles.

... the Orkney and Shetland are much like the Glamorgan's, Gwent, Monmouthshire, Pembrokeshire ....... and many more in Wales, we wear quite different specs ......... without the "rose" coloured tint.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The Crown Estate's control ...

... of 50% of Scotland's coast and almost all the seabed should be devolved to local authorities, MPs have said.
What is The Crown Estate?  It is a diverse UK property business, governed by an Act of Parliament, with all profits going directly to the Treasury.

The Scottish Affairs Committee said the UK government should commit to having the Crown Estate's marine responsibilities and rights related to Scotland devolved to the Scottish government, on condition the powers were further devolved to local level.

The coast and seabed [and the other assets] around Britain are nothing more than a revenue stream for our government at Westminster ...
For the year ending 31 March 2011 we [the Crown Estate] delivered to the Treasury £230.9 million. For the first time our total property value reached more than £7 billion, our total capital value amounting to £7.3 billion.
So what is this committee of Scottish Affairs doing ...

... muddying the already muddy waters of Alex Salmond's wish to float Scotland free of Britain, it's all bullshit of course, if this group of MP's had the wit they were born with there is no way they would wish to transfer powers of the coast down to local authorities, thus dissipating the bargaining powers that comes with holding all the cards to ones chest.  If they are serious the whole Scottish enterprise should be transferred north of the border, its revenue deducted from the Scottish grant from Westminster, and Salmond and Co told to get on with it.

This is little more than politicians who oppose Salmond's agenda creating indicators of what might be on the table if the Scots folk reject independence ..... but adding a caveat to appeal to the voters directly in the knowledge the gift is only plated with glittering gold, not the solid gold Salmond covets.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Scottish independence and Welsh devolution ...

... is the future, and it's written in stone.

Scotland joined with England and Wales at the behest of Scots politics, joined by a shared the Royal House of Stuart ( James VI of Scotland / James I of England (and Wales) ) ...
... the Union of the Crowns in 1603, when King James VI of Scotland inherited the English throne from his double first cousin twice removed, Queen Elizabeth I. Although described as a Union of Crowns, until 1707 there were in fact two separate Crowns resting on the same head (as opposed to the implied creation of a single Crown and a single Kingdom, exemplified by the later Kingdom of Great Britain) .
... until a hundred years later when the Act of Union was agreed between both parliaments (England and Scotland).  This second Act of Union negotiated by those with particular fiscal interests not representing the popular view which was against the proposed union, a view that has simmered for centuries that has now emerged as the representative view of a possible 40% and growing.
In Wales things were quite different, Whereas Scotland were joined as a nation originally under the rule of  Kenneth MacAlpin (known Kenneth I) king of the Picts and, according to national myth, first king of Scots, in Wales there never was a single unifying leader of any significant period of time, we remained tribal until the day of Llywelyn ab Iorwerth ( Llywelyn Fawr (the Great) ), who was sole ruler of Gwynedd by 1200 and by his death in 1240 was effectively ruler of much of Wales, but not all, he was opposed not just by the English but by other local leaders, he was opposed by the psyche of Wales.

Wales became was assimilated into England, the local rulers looked to London and realised it would be good, not for the people, but for the leadership, it is doubtful that the people looked beyond their local leadership for answers to their impoverished needs, Wales was poor, poor because of geography, whereas in large areas of England agriculture was easy, in Wales it was difficult to prosper.  Eventually Wales did prosper from its agriculture, existing adjacent to England it serviced the markets east of Offa's Dyke with stock for finishing in England.  It was the beginning of its assimilation into that country that would become known as Great Britain, its local leadership embraced the English court, whilst the little people took advantage of the economics of internal trade.

Why the potted history, it provides a clue as to why Scotland must go ( tomorrow or the next day it's irrelevant, go they must ), it's because they were never really a part of Great Britain, Independence is the future, whereas Wales is happy in its relationship within Britain.

To sum up, Scotland is wired to cooperate with its own identifiable culture, whilst Wales is wired through centuries of cooperation, internal migrations, and shared political ideals to the dominant culture that is multi-cultural Britain.

If I might recommend a book to be borrowed (or bought) it is "Wired for Culture" by Mark Pagel, it doesn't give all the answers, but gives clues as to where politics of "Britannia" might go.

This is why nationalist politics in Wales is a declining non-event, we see cooperation as the best way forward, this is why having strong links with Westminster will further this road map for a secure and prosperous future, Britannia needs the radical thoughts of Wales, Scotland will always be a thorn in the head of our great country, let them be neighbours without their meddlesome politics.

In Wales politics owes it to the electorate to become pragmatic in its quest for prosperity.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

... if you want wind power, then dam the countryside !

... a call to build a series of dams to store power from wind farms could see parts of national parks being submerged, writes Jonathan Leake of the Sunday Times £link.

Britain’s last remaining wildernesses could be hit by a network of huge hydroelectric schemes, designed to store green energy from wind farms when power is plentiful, and release it when the wind fails, under proposals from a government scientist

The schemes, which would see dams built in mountainous regions of Wales and Scotland, are being proposed by Professor David MacKay, chief scientist at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

Speaking at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IME) last week, he suggested that several such “pumped storage” systems could be built around Snowdonia in Wales and up to 13 in Scotland. Most of the energy generated would be supplied to England.
The idea will infuriate environmentalists. MacKay has suggested some of the schemes could be built in national parks such as Loch Lomond.

The proposal’s attraction, however, is that it is a well-proven technology. Britain has four pumped storage systems, of which the best known is at Dinorwig, in Snowdonia.
It works by pumping 247m cubic feet of water from one reservoir into a second, 1,600ft higher up. When demand surges, this is released to generate hydroelectric power.

Last week’s meeting was private but MacKay has also set out his ideas in print, where he said the new schemes should be much bigger than Dinorwig. “We are interested in making much bigger storage systems . . . We have to imagine creating roughly 12 new sites, each storing 100 gigawatt hours — roughly 10 times the energy stored in Dinorwig,” he said.
Why might Britain need so many new dams? The answer lies partly in the unreliability of wind but also in the scale of Britain’s commitment to green energy. The government has said that by 2030 Britain should have about 8,000 wind turbines with a maximum power output of about 10 gigawatts — roughly an eighth of what the country currently needs at any one time.

The problem is that if wind becomes such a big part of Britain’s power supply, it will have to be backed up for times when winds fail. One answer would be to keep lots of fossil fuel power stations on standby. However, a much greener and perhaps cheaper alternative would be to store energy from low-carbon sources, such as wind or nuclear power, when they are producing a surplus, in pumped storage systems.

In the latest edition of his book Sustainable Energy, Without the Hot Air, MacKay says: “Certainly, we could build several more sites like Dinorwig alone.”

In Scotland he suggests that a huge scheme could be built using Loch Sloy and Loch Lomond, which are already linked by a hydroelectric power system. This would involve raising Sloy’s existing dam by 130ft. He suggests the mountains could easily provide 10 sites for similar projects.

MacKay also proposes even more ambitious schemes. One would see dams constructed across the mouths of “hanging valleys” around Britain’s sea cliffs. These could then be filled with seawater. Another would see a huge chamber constructed three-quarters of a mile beneath London, with water generating power as it pours in from a ground-level reservoir then being pumped out when power is in surplus.

Tim Fox, head of energy and environment at the IME, said MacKay was forcing Ed Davey, the energy secretary, to confront uncomfortable issues surrounding the green energy agenda. “There has been a step change in the DECC understanding of engineering since MacKay arrived,” he said.

Craig Dyke, strategy development manager at National Grid, said the demand for power would increase sharply by 2030 under government plans to replace most petrol and diesel cars with electric ones by 2025, and to heat buildings with low-carbon electricity rather than gas. “We are going to see the demand for power varying a lot more than it does now, so energy storage systems will be important,” he said.

The idea that parts of Britain’s remaining countryside should be sacrificed to Britain’s power industry angers environmentalists. Helen McDade, head of policy at the John Muir Trust, which campaigns to protect Britain’s last wildernesses, said: “These new dams would just be storage systems for wind energy, which is itself inefficient and highly subsidised. This agenda is driven by energy companies who have become subsidy junkies.”
 I guess if we want to be green, this is as good a way as any, begs the question "why not build them instead of using turbines, a prettier solution".

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Divergence, can we live ...

... with it, particularly when our neighbours are getting better results for the same tax dollars !

Today in the Sunday Times reporter James Charles writes of a £1 billion boost for housebuilding that seeps across Offa's Dyke ...
DAVID CAMERON is to use £ 1 billion of taxpayers’ money to guarantee thousands of risky mortgages in an effort to kick- start a housing market recovery and boost the construction of new homes. Under a government scheme to be launched tomorrow, banks will be encouraged to offer mortgages to borrowers with only a 5% deposit, provided they use the money to buy new-build flats and houses worth up to £500,000.
The housing minister, Grant Shapps, has said that up to 100,000 first-time buyers and home movers will be helped by the Newbuy scheme over the next three years.
However, loans on new homes are notoriously risky, and banks hate lending more than 75% of the value — so the government has had to underwrite the risk to persuade them to take part.  It means up to £1 billion of taxpayers’ money will be used to protect banks against losses if buyers default on their loans.  The scheme is a calculated bet that increasing demand for homes will provide a quick economic boost.
This is Westminster working for Wales.

Then we have Osborne bringing down corporation tax to 20%
GEORGE OSBORNE is to signal more cuts in corporation tax in the budget, setting out a plan to reduce it to 20%, significantly lower than other large western economies. Treasury sources say the chancellor is determined to give priority to business in his speech on March 21, despite political pressure to use it to announce populist tax changes

Osborne has already cut corporation tax. It was 28% when he took power, is now 25%, and will shrink to 23% over this parliament. He is expected to set a new target of 20% for later years.  America has a basic rate of 35%, and France 33.3%. In Germany it is 15% but additional social taxes mean an effective rate of more than 30%. Ireland, which lures multinationals with low taxes, takes 12.5%.
Other business-friendly measures from Osborne will include details of infrastructure and credit-easing plans outlined in the autumn statement. Treasury officials have been working on the credit-easing plan — a government guarantee that will both make available and cut the cost of loans to small and medium-sized firms — and have reached agreements with most of the banks. The scheme is said to be ready to proceed from budget day.
This is Westminster working for Wales.

Now what about business confidence ?
GKN is in advanced talks for an ambitious £800m deal to buy Sweden’s biggest aerospace company.  The FTSE 100 engineering group is set to swoop on Volvo’s aircraft business, which makes engines and components for the world’s largest aerospace and defence manufacturers.  If GKN clinches the deal, it would represent one of the biggest acquisitions by a British manufacturing company since the banking crisis.
.... The move to snap up the Volvo division is a sign of the confidence running through Britain’s manufacturing sector. It could also mark the start of a deal spree in the industrial sector, likely to be led by American giants such as GE, Dover and Honeywell, that have built up huge war chests during the economic slowdown.  GKN employs 40,000 people in more than 30 countries. It is a supplier of aircraft components to both Airbus and Boeing and makes parts for most of the big carmakers.  The company raced into pole position for the Volvo business after MTU Aero Engines, Germany’s leading engine maker, dropped out of the auction. Other bidders included the buyout groups Carlyle and Nordic Capital.
Volvo put its aero engine business up f or sale in November. The division makes the RM12 engine for Saab’s Gripen fighter jets, used by the Swedish military, as well as supplying engine components to the three main jet engine manufacturers — Rolls-royce, GE and Pratt & Whitney.  GKN’S aerospace division is its biggest after Automotive, the car parts unit. It recorded sales of £1.5 billion in 2011.  The group l ast month reported a 15% increase in fullyear pre-tax profits to £417m, on sales up 13% to £6.1 billion. On Friday GKN’S shares closed at 212.5p, valuing the company at £3.3 billion.
And the Welsh Assembly First Minister, he should be remembering that GKN was spawned in 1759 when the Dowlais ironworks opened, he should be asking the question "... how many new jobs will GKN bring to Wales", it would be high value employment ............, the problem is we haven't been growing skills, instead we wasted a decade or more building an impoverished people (nation building) rather than fitting them for the future !

For how much longer can we continue to place our trust in those without vision ...........

More good news from Westminster ..........
A GROUP of City financiers has announced plans for a chain of more than 2,000 schools, 10% of the state system, with profits shared among staff in the style of the John Lewis retail chain.  Clarendon Academies, which would be the largest school group in the country, has been given approval by the education department to work with schools and is in talks with three of them.
The schools would be expected to generate a surplus, with half going to teachers in the form of benefits such as additional pension contributions, and help with housing costs. The rest would go to a central charity to fund building projects at the schools. Investors, who include unnamed wealthy individuals, would receive a fixed return on money lent to the venture.Clarendon plans to combine the traditional academic curriculum of independent schools with the centralised administration of former local education authorities (LEA), with efficiencies generating a surplus from government funding. The best state sector anti-truancy policies could, for example, be combined with a private-school approach to sport.
Clarendon has been set up by Nigel Brassard, an investment banker, and Edwin Richards, a private equity investor, and its educational programme devised by Martin Stephen, former high master of St Paul’s, the £18,825-a-year boys’ school in London, and Philip Limbert, executive head of Invicta, a girls’ grammar school in Maidstone, Kent, and Valley Park, a nearby comprehensive.Stephen said: “We are trying to broker a compromise between the ethic of the independent schools, which is very traditional, and the clout of the old LEA.”  Running state schools for profit is controversial and opposed by the Liberal Democrats. A contract won by the Swedish company IES to run a free school in Suffolk is one of the few examples.
... unfortunately the schools will not be crossing the Dyke, apparently there is a red and green line drawn in the political sands of Wales.

... and more good news for tenants of Social Housing ...
A massive £75,000 discount is proposed ............. another red and green line in the sand, England only I'm afraid.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Braised Beef & Shallots ,,,

... a slow-cooked dish such as this one is perfect for cheaper and tougher cuts of beef. Not only will the gentle and steady cooking over a longer period soften the meat, but the red wine will also add a richness that simply melts in the mouth.


Serves 4
  • 3 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 900 g (2 lb) piece stewing beef (such as topside or chuck) (Irish beef is champion), well-trimmed and cut into thick slices
  • 1 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 litre (1 ¾ pints) beef stock
  • 200 ml (7 fl oz) red wine
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 1 fresh thyme sprig
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 12 shallots, peeled
  • salt and freshly-ground black pepper


Preheat the oven to 180℃/350℉/Gas 4. Heat two tablespoons of the oil in a frying pan. Season the beef and fry in batches for 3-4 minutes until golden brown on both sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to a casserole dish with a lid

Add the onion and carrots to the same frying pan and cook for 4-5 minutes until lightly brown. Using a slotted spoon, add to the beef. Sprinkle over the flour, tossing until evenly coated, then place in the oven for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring the stock and wine to the boil in a separate pan. Whisk in the tomato purée and add the herbs and garlic. Pour over the beef and vegetables so that they are nicely covered. Bring back to the boil, then cover with a lid and place back in the oven for about 1 hour or until the beef is tender but still holding its shape.

Strain the beef from the sauce and place in a clean casserole dish. Cover with cling film and reserve. Pass the sauce through a fine strainer and remove the fat. Return to a pan and bring to the boil, then season to taste. Pour back over the meat; reserving some sauce to cook the shallots in.

Heat a frying pan with the remaining oil. Add the shallots and cook over a fairly high heat until lightly coloured. Pour over the reserved sauce until just covered, then simmer gently for 10-15 minutes until tender. Stir into the beef casserole and reheat gently.

Spoon the braised beef and shallots onto warmed plates and serve with the creamy mashed potatoes and buttered swede.