Friday, 31 July 2015

Glorious Goodwood

Goodwood Racecourse is a horse-racing track five miles north of Chichester, West Sussex, in England controlled by the family of the Duke of Richmond, whose seat is nearby Goodwood House. It hosts the annual Glorious Goodwood meeting, which is one of the highlights of the British flat racing calendar, and is home to two of the UK's 31 Group One flat races.

Goodwood House = Stunning

Goodwood Estate = Stunning

Goodwood Racecourse 360 degree views = Stunning

Goodwood on a sunny day really is Glorious.

Helps if you win too.



Thursday, 30 July 2015

Is Amazon Prime worth it?

I am on the Amazon Prime free trial. Not yet convinced that it will be worth continuing post free trial.

Their email the other day said - "Welcome to Amazon Prime, the best value in online shopping. With your 30-day free trial, you'll enjoy unlimited FREE One-Day Delivery on millions of items, instant streaming of over 15,000 movies and TV episodes, unlimited photo storage, exclusive 30-minute early access to Lightning Deals and access to over 500,000 Kindle Books to borrow for no additional cost every month. Shop, read, watch and enjoy - it's all included in your membership."

At Christmas online almost nine in 10 of us buy our presents, as evidenced by a PayPal study in 2014. So one way to lower the cost of delivery is potentially Amazon Prime.

As the Telegraph noted last year "Amazon, the online giant with more than 244 million worldwide users, offers an alternative to pricey delivery charges. Its "Prime" membership, which costs £79 a year after a month’s free trial, offers free one-day delivery on millions of items on its website, as well as access to 500,000 Kindle titles to "borrow" free of charge.

Users can also get unlimited "streaming" of 15,000 film and television titles with Prime Instant Video.

A Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (Cirp) poll in 2014 showed Amazon Prime’s popularity. Of 500 Amazon consumers between January and March, 42pc were subscribed to Prime, with 48pc of those owning a Kindle or other e-reader device. Cirp estimated that, as of March 31 2014, around 28  million people in America alone were Prime subscribers."

An interesting side point shows the scale of online ordering - Amazon and Royal Mail created 32,000 Christmas jobs 20 Oct 2014

Mike Levin, co-founder of Cirp, said: "Prime serves as a superb affinity programme for Amazon, as Prime members spend twice as much as the rest of Amazon’s customers."


Super saver works well if you have time and are organised. If next-day delivery matters, Amazon Prime would be worthwhile if you buy more than 13 items each year. One off none super saver or prime deliveries are costly.

Kindle titles

Prime members get access to 500,000 Kindle books to "borrow" from the "Kindle owners’ lending library". You can borrow only one book each month. But there are unlimited e-reader subscription services like Scribd.

So handy for kindle lovers but useless for everyone else who just wants to shop. You would worry Amazon Prime shoppers are effectively cross subsidising the service.


Prime Instant Video

On its own this service costs £5.99 a month, but as a Prime member you get it "free". It gives you access to 15,000 film and television titles. You could, as an alternative, buy the "seasons" of these shows separately to stream online or download. If you regularly watch shows and films online, Prime Membership, which includes Prime Instant Video, is more cost-effective than buying the titles separately.

Amazon’s competitor for streaming services, Netflix, also costs £5.99 a month.

I don't think it's as good as Netflix and I don't think Netflix is much good. Both are good for old stuff and the odd show. That's it and not worth it in my view. Plus I am doubtful it's really 15,000 titles.

Amazon Prime used to be cheaper when it was more focussed on the free delivery. Now expanded to film and kindle it's more expensive.

It's probably only worth it if you are careful to make use of it for deliveries. I suppose it's good for repeat deliveries. But I doubt most of us are that organised.

Plus it's always handy if someone is at home when the delivery arrives which is tricky for most.

On the upside rumour abounds that it's not next day delivery it is next day AFTER Amazon says it's dispatched. If it's late complain and you often receive free months membership.

Verdict - I'll await end of the free trial but am currently sceptical that I can use it enough to make most of it.

Also not a fan of Amazons size and impact on others and wonder about all the tax complaints but don't know enough. I suppose if it is really an issue just use any one of the other many many websites.

Finally it seems Amazon is just another player trying to build an online Eco system like Apple or Google just using free delivery as the USP.



Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Even Unison now back Jeremy Corbyn for Labour Leader!

Are Labour members really going to vote in Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party? It was amusing at first to see him nominated to run in the Labour leadership contest. To me it showed how messed up they were as a result of the general election but now this is getting serious. I would like to see a strong Labour Party that can challange the Conservatives and stop them getting carried away with themselves. A strong opposition is healthy. I do not think Mr Corbyn will enable Labour to be a strong opposition. I think it might just cause a series of internal conflicts and leave the political playing field to the Conservatives and SNP.

But at present it does seem like there is a head of steam for Corbyn. Below is the press release just out from one of the largest trade unions which says they now support Corbyn. Burnham and Cooper must both be shocked. The huge change to one man one vote for Labour leadership elections means that predictions are tricky and this could all be Westminster village/Labour diehard talk and not reflective of the wider world but it is amazing nonetheless that the reaction of the party to losing an election they should have walked is to contemplate a real old school "left winger". That isn't a vote winner in my book but we shall see how it all plays out.

Below is the Unison press release:

UNISON supports Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership

UNISON has decided to nominate Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour Party leadership contest and Yvette Cooper as its second choice at the union’s National Labour Link committee today (Wednesday).

UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis said:

"Jeremy Corbyn’s message has resonated with public sector workers who have suffered years of pay freezes, redundancies with too many having to work more for less.

"They have been penalised for too long by a government that keeps on taking more and more from them. Their choice shows a clear need for change towards a fairer society where work is fairly rewarded, and where those living and working in poverty supported.

"Today’s decision is a recommendation and our members are of course free to cast their vote as to who they think should lead the Labour Party."

Notes to editors

UNISON represents 1.3 million workers in the UK.
430,000 have actively opted-in to the union’s political fund.
In the region of 28,000 UNISON members are members of the Labour Party in their own right. And around 15,000 are registered to vote in the leadership contest.

The union’s National Labour Link Committee has 23 elected members from across the UK. The decision was taken following a thorough consultation with all the regions.



Top Emerging Tech 10/10: Digital genome

To my mind the potential of digital genome tech is awesome and truly terrifying. We could all end up on a tiny chip. It could be the Matrix for real.

Health care for an age when your genetic code is on a USB stick

Whereas the first sequencing of the 3.2 billion base pairs of DNA that make up the human genome took many years and cost tens of millions of dollars, today your genome can be sequenced and digitized in minutes and at the cost of only a few hundred dollars. The results can be delivered to your laptop on a USB stick and easily shared via the Internet. This ability to rapidly and cheaply determine our individual and unique genetic makeups promises a revolution in more personalized and effective health care.

Many of our most intractable health challenges, from heart disease to cancer, have a genetic component. Indeed, cancer is best described as a disease of the genome. With digitization, doctors will be able to make decisions about a patient’s cancer treatment informed by a tumor’s genetic makeup. This new knowledge is also making precision medicine a reality by enabling the development of highly targeted therapies that offer the potential for improved treatment outcomes, especially for patients battling cancer.

Like all personal information, a person's digital genome will need to be safeguarded for privacy reasons. Personal genomic profiling has already raised challenges, with regard to how people respond to a clearer understanding of their risk of genetic disease as well as how others—such as employers or insurance companies—might want to access and use the information. The benefits, however, are likely to outweigh the risks because individualized treatments and targeted therapies can be developed with the potential to be applied across the many diseases that are driven or assisted by changes in DNA.

Source: Scientific American

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Top 10 Emerging Technologies of 2015

Once a week for the next ten weeks I shall publish a top ten emerging tech for 2015 as compiled below in reverse order. It's the future innit.

Source: Scientific American - An American popular science magazine. It has a long history of presenting scientific information on a monthly basis to the general educated public, with careful attention to the clarity of its text and the quality of its specially commissioned color graphics. Many famous scientists, including Albert Einstein, have contributed articles in the past 170 years. It is the oldest continuously published monthly magazine in the United States. Circulation 462,875 - Not bad ehh.

SA Forum is an invited essay from experts on topical issues in science and technology.

Editor's note: Today the World Economic Forum's Meta-Council on Emerging Technologies, one of the organization's networks of expert communities that form the Global Agenda Councils, released its Top 10 List of Emerging Technologies for 2015. Bernard Meyerson, chief innovation officer of IBM and author of the following essay, is chair of the Meta-Council. Scientific American editor-in-chief Mariette DiChristina is serving as vice-chair.

Technology is perhaps the greatest agent of change in the modern world. Although never without risk, technological breakthroughs promise solutions to the most pressing global challenges of our time. From zero-emission cars fueled by hydrogen to computer chips modeled on the human brain, this year’s Top 10 Emerging Technologies list—an annual compilation from the World Economic Forum (WEF)—offers a vivid glimpse of the power of innovation to improve lives, transform industries and safeguard our planet.

To compile this list the WEF’s Meta-Council on Emerging Technologies, a panel of 18 experts, draws on the collective expertise of the Forum’s numerous communities to identify the most important technological trends. In doing so, the Meta-Council aims to raise awareness of their potential and contribute to closing the gaps in investment, regulation and public understanding that so often thwart progress.



Garlicky chestnut mushrooms on toast

So simple and tastes great.

  • Serves: 2

    Prep time: 10 mins

    Cooking time: 10 mins

    Skill level: Easy peasy

    Costs: Cheap as chips

    Chestnut mushrooms are good for you. They are packed with Vitamin B (which acts against stress and fatigue), Vitamin D (which helps keep your hair, skin and nails strong and healthy) and minerals such as potassium, selenium, and copper. They taste good, too! Especially when cooked with a little garlic and popped on a piece of buttered toast...



Monday, 27 July 2015

Car Park in Kensington and Chelsea

Source: The Times


War is Boring Blog: Awesome Tech; Drone Destroyer

An article from the war is boring blog illustrating the new anti drown and anti RAM idea. Those drones won't stand a chance:-

The U.S. Army Wants to Blast Drones Out of the Sky With a Huge Chain Gun


Just a few years ago, the United States had a near-monopoly on drones. No longer. As the tiny, unmanned aerial vehicles become ubiquitous on battlefields around the world, the U.S. Army is studying how to shoot them down with a chain gun.

Since at least 2007, the ground combat branch has been working on the so-called Extended Area Protection and Survivability program, or EAPS. Originally expected to just shoot down incoming rockets or mortar bombs, killing small aircraft is now a key part of the project.

Drones have “exploded,” Manfredi Luciano, an EAPS project officer, explained to Army Technology magazine. “It has kind of almost sneaked up on people.”

“It’s almost more important than the counter-RAM threat,” Luciano added, using the acronym for rockets, artillery and mortars.

These threats and the EAPS program both fit in with the Army’s new focus on countering so-called “hybrid” warfare. Highlighted in the Pentagon’s 2015 National Military Strategy, this type of war arises from the intersection of conventional military forces, insurgents and terrorists; and less traditional factors such as economic pressure and media campaigns.

The strategy singles out drones as a particularly tricky problem. Unmanned planes are among “technologies designed to counter U.S. military advantages,” according to the official policy.

Since this trend isn’t likely to change any time soon, troops are going to need something to deal with future enemy drones.

To meet the EAPS requirements, engineers settled on a large cannon firing special guided ammunition at relatively short ranges. This is a more practical way to shoot down low-altitude drones, compared to missiles, which need a long lead time to successfully hit their targets.

“The gun system has certain logistics advantages,” Luciano explained. The current prototype uses a readily available 50-millimeter Orbital ATK Bushmaster III cannon. Denmark and the Netherlands already have CV-90 armored vehicles in service toting the 35-millimeter variant of this weapon.

Powered by an electric motor, the gun can fire up to 200 rounds every minute — or single shots if required. The design is basically a larger version of the 25-millimeter Bushmaster used the M-2 Bradley armored fighting vehicle.

Neither Orbital ATK nor the Army have offered any specific details on how far away the gun can hit and kill its targets. Engineers described the weapon’s “battlespace” as reaching out to just over a mile, according to one 2011 briefing.

On the ground, a radar points the guns in the right direction. Then once the shells leave the barrel, a computer beams guidance instructions, telling them where to go and changing their course mid-flight. Once near the target, the shells explode into a cloud of metal shrapnel.

If it works … no more drone

Above—an EAPS test gun. At top—the older Phalanx-based C-RAM system. Army photos

The Army’s plan is to eventually mount the weapons and gear onto a single truck. Four years ago, the ground combat branch considered strapping everything to a Stryker eight-wheeled armored personnel carrier.

But at its most basic, EAPS isn’t anything particularly new. In the 1950s, the Army designed the first ever radar-directed anti-aircraft gun, the M-51 Skysweeper. In 2005, the Army — in partnership with the U.S. Navy — sent a more advanced gun system to Iraq to protect bases from rocket and mortar attacks. This consisted of Phalanx Close-In Weapons Systems and accompanying fire control radars.

Also known as CIWS, the Phalanx is principally deployed on warships as a desperate, last-ditch defense against missiles. After a successful trip to the Middle East, the Army experimented with the idea of putting this weapon on a large truck.

But combining guided shells with a large gun puts a new twist on this old idea. And unlike most guided projectiles, these shells get their orders from the equipment on the ground. “All the ‘smarts’ are basically done on the ground,” Luciano said. “The radio frequency sends the information up to the round.”

Four months ago, the Army says a 50-millimeter test gun knocked out its first drone with a single shot.

A diagram showing the components of the Army’s proposed final setup. Army art

We don’t know what type of pilotless plane served as the target, but unmanned aircraft of all shapes and sizes are potential and widespread threats. The Pentagon’s definition of “hybrid” warfare also pretty much describe tactics in development right now in Russia and China.

The Kremlin’s Orlan-10 drones are flying over eastern Ukraine, helping out separatists fighting Kiev’s troops. Flying over that battlefield at high altitudes is extremely dangerous due to proliferation of anti-aircraft missiles. But at low altitudes, drones rule the skies.

In May 2015, Chinese plane spotters snapped pictures of the new Divine Eagle drone. Beijing reportedly use this massive twin-bodied aircraft to scout for stealthy planes at high altitudes — probably out of range from a short-range gun like EAPS.

With limited resources, smaller nations are making or developing drones, too. Many unmanned aircraft types can be cheaper to build and operate — and require less extensive pilot training — than high performance military jets.

After years of American strikes in its territory, Pakistan claims to have its own armed type called Burraq—after a beast mentioned in the Koran. Iran regularly shows off numerous drones, including some that Tehran claims can destroy enemy planes.

Terrorist groups have also taken to the skies with pilotless craft. Tehran has sent some of their military types to Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Islamic State bought toy-like quadcopters.

For the most part, these are tiny, unarmed spy machines. But they can be dangerous in their own way. On July 17, 2015, officials briefly called off water-bombing planes and choppers fighting a brushfire in California’s Cajon Pass because videographers had clogged the airspace with drones.

“It was the third time in recent weeks that firefighters were grounded because of drones,” the Los Angeles Times reported. “The devices could collide with aircraft that fly at low altitudes.”

So while quadcopters lack the range and other capabilities of military drones, terrorists could just as easily use one to disrupt aircraft landing or taking off at airports or military bases. And while American authorities debate the legal implications, an amateur flyer in Connecticut showed an individual can rig up their own gun-toting version with relatively little effort.

Army engineers hope their gun truck will be able to protect American troops from all of these pilotless enemies, big and small.


Sunday, 26 July 2015

R Shaw: What now for the criminal law strike?

The last stand - The criminal justice strike by lawyers -excellent summary of the situation so far by Raymond Shaw on his blog - see below:

We have arrived at one of those critical moments in the epic series that is The Fight to Save Legal Aid, (or the Fight to Save Criminal Justice, or the Independent Bar, or the High Street firm, or the Junior Bar, or the duty solicitor..). Our overlapping but not always shared objectives have recently converged as for many on both sides of the profession, it is now simply about survival of all the above. The new rate cuts herald the end of any pretence that publicly funded defence provides sufficient resources for quality representation. The sheer madness that is 2-tier will so devastate the high street solicitor as to reduce the independent Bar to a dwindling band of specialists at the top and daily advocacy will be the preserve of the employed in-house advocates and HCAs of the mega-firms.

This moment is critical because the disparate solicitors’ army has finally awoken from the stupor of more than a decade of post-Carter lacerations and for nearly a month now we have been refusing new work, turning away our clients. The Police have bailed unrepresented suspects without interview. Duty solicitors grind their way through the ever lengthening Magistrates’ Court list. Legal aid forms lie blank and the unrepresented in the Crown Court are starting to cause a problem. Their numbers will grow daily.

Local papers report the chaos but events in the police station and Magistrates Court are near invisible nationally it seems; even our new Lord Chancellor as he discussed the importance he placed on advocacy standards and lauded the Bar, managed to omit any clue as to the existence of Magistrates Courts, oblivious or unconcerned as to what is happening where the vast majority of justice is daily dispensed. What wasn’t invisible to Gove was that next week, the Bar was coming to join the solicitor’s fight. After "the Survey" and "the Vote", the Bar had rejected the calls of its leaders and now stands there, clearly visible on the horizon, with all readying for the Bar cavalry sweeping in to join the great fight to save legal aid (or criminal justice…). And last week, nearly one month in to the #lawyersrevolt, with solicitors creaking under financial pressure but continuing the fight and with the Bar action imminent, talks got underway with the new Lord Chancellor.

This weekend should feel like a seminal moment of strength and unity when solicitors and barristers have the potential to exercise the power we have always held to fight for and preserve a criminal justice system in chaos. In its place on all sides, I see nervous lawyers seeking unity and fearing betrayal. Others seem to seek and fear neither. And some, interestingly, fear unity.

Be in no doubt. To all seeing in unity an opportunity to save the criminal justice system, the timing of the move to the 2nd protocol was disastrous. It has been spun as an end to the solicitors’ action and a placing of the burden on the bar; this change of tactic and focus has been called a ‘game changer’ and voices at the Bar are calling for a revisiting of the decision to support solicitors’ action. I did not seek a new protocol but I do not for a minute accept that it represents what those seeking to undermine our new found unity with the Bar profess.

Financially the action continues to be devastating. Please check out Stephen Nelson’s explanation of the costs position of solicitor’s firms and why the new protocol still means real pain to solicitors: And to understand the scale of the latest cuts, way over 8.75%, see Steve Bird’s brutal analysis:

But the solicitors’ action is much more than a financial hit. This is gut wrenchingly painful. It involves having multiple conversations with frightened family members explaining why this time you cannot act. On a daily basis solicitors have been turning away people who rely on us, and whose trust we have built up over decades, letting down families where we have acted for multiple generations and to whom we now say "no". This is incredibly difficult. And we are doing this while all the while knowing that another firm is trying to poach them and may do so. And we are still doing this, every day. Will these clients ever return? Will the relationship ever recover? Will the business survive the loss of goodwill? In the main, Barristers have had the support of their clients – the instructing solicitors - when taking action. But solicitors’ clients are the suspects and defendants. These relationships may never recover.

In all of this the LCCSA and CLSA have I believe fought the good fight. We represent individuals not firms, and our members include owners of firms of all sizes as well as solicitors within those firms, and solicitors operating as freelancers. The associations have risked their financial security on the JRs and the committees have freely given up hours worthy of a VHCC. What do the associations want? Our members are clear in their opposition to the cuts as unsustainable and to 2-tier as an unrepairable disaster: a recipe for the closure of hundreds of high street firms now competing on quality and reputation and their replacement by factories for whom repeat business is not a requirement. The finest criminal justice system in the world, is being daily traduced and distorted into a conveyor belt system, processing defendants and increasingly serving up McJustice.

My understanding of last weeks’ events includes the following. A number of the Big Firms Group indicated that they could not sustain the action. Financially some of their group were in a perilous state and they had to move to the new Protocol. Huge effort was put into persuading them to wait until the Bar joined with no returns, to wait until after the Gove meeting, to give things a little more time. When those efforts were clearly failing the LCCSA/CLSA sought to maintain unity by working on the new protocol together with the BFG. The 2nd protocol was provided to the CBA earlier in the week by email and in hard copy. The associations understood that the CBA viewed this as a matter for solicitors. There was no reaction of any sort to suggest this was in any way a "game changer". No warning was given. Like the associations, the CBA may have felt that this was a fait a complit and that retaining unity of action between the various solicitors groups was clearly essential. A less generous view would be that the No Voters in the upper echelons on the Bar couldn’t believe the gift it had just been handed. Describe it as a cut-throat, sit back and watch the carnage.

And what of the BFG? Was their action a) carefully designed to keep the show on the road, to encourage more firms to participate, to allow the action to continue for longer, or was it b) a Machiavellian move designed to send a message to government that the BFG could call the shots – that dealing with their concerns is what really matters? (These may not be mutually exclusive, and the agenda of one BF isn't necessarily the same as another).

And what of the Bar? Some voices seem to be endlessly engaged in the war on HCAs as if it offered a genuine panacea to all the problems faced. Siren songs from Gove will not solve these problems and the independent Bar likely to be in place post 2-tier will not be worth the name. The Bar is not a natural agitator and I understand those Bar leaders who maintain that working quietly with government has been a success and wish to continue in that way. The Bar is part of the establishment and politicians sees it as such; its leaders have always had the ear of the senior Judiciary, ensuring key messages were conveyed to government at times of need. But the storm of words on protection of the Bar from solicitors, instead of focussing on the destruction of those solicitors – the Bar’s clients – is telling. The endless steps to delay action or at least not offer it wholehearted support send a clear message. The leadership did not choose and does not want this fight. It appears to remain entirely focussed on sweetening Gove re referral fees/HCAs and the battle to keep control of CC advocacy. In this light the Bar’s absence from the Gove meeting was bound to cause a similar storm, and inevitably did. (Note: I have read the explanations offered. With the leaders working round the clock, not checking that the MOJ had issued a formal invitation and who the Bar were sending is entirely forgiveable).

I speak to trusted and honourable counsel and have personally worked with many leaders of the CBA who I both like and respect but I can only speculate about the Bar leadership’s true current agenda.

I hear things similarly re the BFG but again, I am not privy to their meetings and I do not know the extent of their divisions on 2-tier.

I do know the position of the LCCSA. In the more than a decade in which I have been involved I have seen committee members support policies that were not in their personal financial interests but for the good of the profession as a whole. I know what we are fighting for. Most solicitors want to maintain a system that allows for firms of all shapes and sizes to flourish. Most want to be able to rely on and to brief a thriving independent Bar. We are fighting for that. We see standards plummeting, and we fear what will happen when the incentive that we currently have to do the job well, to gain a reputation for quality and therefore further work, is removed. Massive duty beasts will be safe from reliance on repeat work. McJustice will prevail.

I know there are good large firms and bad, good small firms and bad, and my complaint is not a simplistic attack on BFG law firms but the proposed future of 2-tier will see the destruction of the fabric of our criminal defence system as hundreds of firms close. Anyone supporting such a system is fighting a different fight to me.

If we lose this fight, I do not believe there will be another like it. The cuts now in are unsustainable. That is why solicitors have taken this unprecedented action. Ultimately, the dismantling of criminal legal aid is not about money or austerity. Now is the time for like-minded lawyers to join together and demand a reversal of the latest cut (more are still planned), the end of 2-tier, and to start to work together to forge a joint agenda to preserve what is best in our criminal justice system.

Unity between most solicitors and most of the Bar is a powerful thing. I see brave but nervous lawyers seeking unity and fearing betrayal. Others seem to seek and fear neither. And some, interestingly, fear unity. Only unity will defeat two-tier.



BBC Briefing

Brilliant summary of BBC Charter Renewal battle by The Week:

The BBC’s precarious future

Lord Reith: to "inform, educate and entertain"The Government has begun a "root and branch" review of the corporation, questioning its funding, scale, impartiality and purpose

How popular is the BBC?

According to the BBC, 46 million people in the UK watch, listen to or browse its services for an average of 18 hours a week (about two-and-a-half hours a day). Since it was founded – in 1922, with just four employees – the BBC has grown to become the world’s largest public broadcaster: it has nine TV stations, ten national radio stations, a workforce of 21,000, a huge online presence, and programmes, films and news channels reaching every corner of the globe. On a weekly basis, it has a total international audience of 308 million: one in 16 adults gets their news from it. The BBC’s mission, said its founding director general, John Reith, is to "inform, educate and entertain", and its supporters insist it’s done this brilliantly for the past 93 years. "The BBC… remains one of the reasons to live in Britain," says Jason Cowley, editor of the New Statesman.

Does it need to persuade politicians to share that view?

Every decade or so, the BBC must have its royal charter – first granted in 1927 – renewed by government. There is no fixed term for the charter (it’s usually ten years), or fixed process for how it should be updated (it can "take months, or an afternoon", say officials), but negotiations normally involve some soul-searching about what "Auntie" is for. There has often been enmity between the broadcaster and government – Margaret Thatcher found the BBC "left-wing, monopolistic, anti-her"; Tony Blair disagreed with its coverage of the run-up to the Iraq war – but its essential purpose and funding model, which now brings in about £5bn a year, has been left untouched for decades. However, the next charter renewal – which the Government began debating last week, to be agreed by the end of 2016 – may be very different.

What is the main reason for that?

Technology. The rapidly changing way we consume TV, films and digital content – ten years ago, iPlayer didn’t exist, and Facebook had just 5.5 million users: it now has more than 1.4 billion – is posing questions about what the broadcaster should be doing, and how that should be paid for. Since its founding, the BBC has been funded through a licence fee (the first, radio, licences cost ten shillings a year – £43 in today’s money), which made for a straightforward, mutually beneficial relationship with the British public. The more people who tuned in, the more funding the BBC got. But these days, with viewers increasingly watching entertainment on computers (currently not covered by the licence fee), that no longer applies. The very definition of a "broadcaster" has become fluid, with the BBC now competing with newspaper websites, and tech companies such as Netflix, Amazon, Google and Apple.

Is technology the only issue?

No: Britain’s first Tory-only government since 1997 also contains a number of ideological critics of the BBC. They believe the broadcaster has an institutional left-wing bias (see box); that it lost valuable credibility in its handling of the Jimmy Savile scandal; and that it has outgrown its original public service mandate. Culture Secretary John Whittingdale, who’ll be leading the charter renewal negotiations, has called the BBC "the most wasteful, bloated organisation on the planet". He has also criticised it for paying presenters such as Chris Evans millions of pounds, and for making big, splashy programmes, such as The Voice and Strictly, the likes of which are already available from commercial TV companies. And Chancellor George Osborne has criticised the BBC’s website, a publicly funded rival to newspapers, as becoming "imperial in its ambitions".

What is the Government’s plan?

Ministers have already shown clear signs of wanting to cut the corporation down to size. Last week, Whittingdale launched the charter debate by appointing an eight-member "advisory group", largely made up of critics and industry rivals, to carry out a "root and branch" review of the BBC, examining everything from its purpose to its funding. Earlier this month, Osborne ordered the BBC to pay for the free TV licences for the over-75s, at a cost of £650m. Meanwhile, the law may be changed to decriminalise non-payment of the licence fee (for which around 30 people a year are jailed), a sign the Government may consider axing the BBC’s main source of income entirely (last year, fees accounted for £3.7bn of its £4.8bn income; the rest came from worldwide sales of shows such as Top Gear and Sherlock).

And why would it want to do that?

To critics, the licence fee is regressive (most of its take comes from low-income earners); full of loopholes (such as iPlayer); and squandered (on inflated salaries for TV stars, for example). It would be fairer all around, they say, to switch to a subscription model, with viewers and listeners paying for what they consume (57% of British households currently have a TV subscription with the likes of Sky and Virgin). The Government could then establish a new fund for purely public service broadcasting, which the BBC could pitch for, alongside other media companies and broadcasters.

Is that likely to happen?

Not in the current charter renewal. Though Whittingdale backs the idea in principle, he says the technology for a subscription model doesn’t exist yet. However, as BBC director general Tony Hall admits: "I think we are at the end of a period of, as it were, unbridled expansion of the BBC." To those holding true to the BBC’s original mission to provide broadcasting of all kinds to all people, abolishing the licence fee, and turning Auntie into just another content provider, is anathema. At the heart of the issue is the principle of "universality": it is this that has made the BBC both a beloved national institution and an unfair competitor to its rivals. Over the next year, expect heart-wringing appeals and furious petitioning as the two sides compete to win your support.

The b-word

One contentious area the Government review will look at is how the BBC meets its "impartiality obligations" – bias, in short. To many people (social conservatives, Christians, free-market enthusiasts, Eurosceptics) the BBC shows evident left-wing, politically correct bias in its news programmes. A 2013 study by right-of-centre think tank the Centre for Policy Studies found that its online news reports were more than twice as likely to quote left-wing policy proposals as right-wing ideas. Critics seize on the BBC’s adoption of Labour language – "the bedroom tax", "the privatisation of the NHS".

But it’s not a charge that can be levelled at many of the senior personnel involved. Nick Robinson, the BBC’s political editor, was once the Young Conservatives’ chairman; Andrew Neil, who presents three political programmes a week, was a Tory party researcher. The BBC has had ten Tory politicians as chairs (most recently, Lord Patten), but only two from Labour. But Auntie’s best defence against all-out attack from this Government is the huge popularity of its programmes and radio stations in Middle England. "If there were ever a real threat to the BBC," says ex-Labour minister James Purnell, now the BBC’s strategy chief, Auntie’s strongest supporters would be "Conservative voters".



Saturday, 25 July 2015

Washington Post - Obama: ‘Africa is on the move’

A good summary of Obama in Kenya from the Washington Post - I hope Africa is on the move. It's economy is booming but from a low base. It's stacked full of innovative people and ideas held back by infrastructure and corruption issues. Energy supply is a fundamental problem. Awful development aid handouts is another massive issue as President Kenyatta noted the other week (One of the many reasons I dislike immensely DFiD). It is brilliant that Obama has gone there on "business" and I hope it helps Africa and Kenya in particular.

Obama: ‘Africa is on the move:-

NAIROBI —President Obama praised Kenya Saturday for the progress that it's made on elections and economic development, even as he said the government needed to do more to curb corruption and respect the rights of minority groups.

In a wide-ranging press conference with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on the State House's lawn, the two leaders vowed to fight extremist groups such as al-Shabab together and collaborate on several other initiatives.

"Together, we are confronting insidious threats to Kenya’s prosperity," Obama said, adding that both terrorism and corruption are now keeping the country where his father was born from reaching its full potential. “This may be the biggest impediment to Kenya growing even faster.”

Kenyatta, for his part, said he was working to address corruption. The two governments launched a joint initiative Saturday under which the U.S. will work to support Kenya in its efforts to develop a a code of conduct for civil servants and a national curriculum around the issue, as well as provide ethics training to government employees.

Shortly before their bilateral meeting. Kenyatta described it as "a key area where we strongly believe that we can learn from your own examples and lessons to help us strengthen our own governance structures and institutions."

The two leaders also discussed elephant poaching, a problem in Kenya and other African nations. Poachers kill an average of one elephant every 15 minutes, and the ivory sales stemming from that slaughter helps fund criminal activity and terrorist organizations across the globe.

Obama said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was proposing a rule Saturday that "bans the sale of virtually all ivory across state lines" in response to widespread poaching. The rule exempts certain items that have already been made, such as musical instruments, furniture pieces, and firearms containing less than 200 grams of ivory.

Ginette Hemley, WWF's senior vice president of wildlife conservation, said the rule was a helpful step but "the exemptions that remain will allow criminals to continue to use legal trade as a cover to smuggle poached ivory."

While the two leaders emphasized the common values their nations share, they sharply disagreed when asked whether Kenya's government and its leaders needed to do more to prevent discrimination against members of the country's LGBT community. Sexual relations between men is punishable in Kenya with up to 14 years in prison.

"When you start treating people differently not because of any harm they are doing to anybody, but because they are different, that's the path whereby freedoms begin to erode," Obama said, adding he was "unequivocal" in his support for LGBT rights. "And bad things happen."

But Kenyatta said his citizens were focused on other matters, and they shared much with the United States,"But there are some things that we must admit we don't share. Our culture, our societies don't accept."

"It is very difficult for us to be able to impose on people that which they themselves do not accept," he added.

In addition to their bilateral meeting and press conference, the two presidents also spent time together at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, where Obama urged a gathering of entrepreneurs to pursue innovative projects to stimulate economic development on the continent, declaring that "Africa is on the move."

Speaking , Obama argued that these business projects could lead to a broader political opening in Africa and improve the lives of women and girls here.

“It’s the spark of prosperity. It helps people stand up for their rights and push back against corruption,” the president said of entrepreneurship, adding that it “means ownership and self-determination, an opportunity to not simply be dependent on somebody else for your livelihood.”

At the start of his speech Obama announced a few new initiatives aimed at spurring new start-ups in Africa, including a pledge that the Overseas Private Investment Corporation’s would support up to $200 million for Equity Bank Group lending of $450 million in foreign currency to small and medium enterprises over the next five years. Half of the money would go to young people and women, he said.

“Women are powerhouse entrepreneurs,” Obama said.

President Obama praised African economic growth in a speech in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. (Reuters)

OPIC also signed a memorandum of understanding to explore financing $100 million in debt investments to back financial institutions supporting women-owned small and medium enterprises, and announced a two-year, $50 million pilot program to help small, early-stage firms that have a social mission.

More broadly, private sector groups at the summit committed to train and mentor more than 1 million emerging entrepreneurs and provide nearly $700 million to the next generation in business.

Saturday’s meeting — the fifth in an annual series launched by the administration as part of its outreach to the Muslim world — amounted to a raucous return for Obama, who last visited Kenya in 2006 as senator. Julie Gichuru, a local TV host and entrepreneur, called Obama a “son of Kenyan soil” and introduced him by his full name, “Barack Hussein Obama.”

The president welcomed the idea of being adopted by the hometown audience, saying, “And obviously, this is very personal for me. There’s a reason why my name’s Barack Hussein Obama.”

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta used the attention that came with Obama’s visit as an opportunity to reintroduce his country, and the rest of the continent, to the outside world.

“Let them know that Africa is open and ready for business,” Kenyatta told Obama, shortly before the American president addressed the crowd. “Behind these statistics is a new generation of Africans committed to a new African renaissance … We have truly embraced the private sector.”

Both presidents also appeared briefly on a panel with three entrepreneurs — two from Africa and one from Croatia. Jahiel Oliver, CEO of Hello Tractor, spoke of how he had moved from the United States to Abuja, Nigeria to start a company that dispatches tractors to farmers after they text for a rental.

“It is completely revolutionizing agricultural in Nigeria — soon, sub-Saharan Africa and ultimately, the world,” Oliver said. Comparing himself to Obama at one point, he said he was pursuing his business “as an African American also returning to my ancestral home to solve big problems.”

During the panel discussion, Kenyatta pledged to pursue structural reforms that would “deal with some of the bottlenecks some of the governance issues” that impede private investment in Kenya. In a decent business environment, Obama said, even small firms in Africa and elsewhere could compete “on a level playing field” because technology had lowered the amount of capital anyone has to invest at the launch of a new business.

“Now you can get a start-up moving and if it’s the right idea, it can travel with the speed you can text,” though the president admitted a moment later, “I can’t text very fast.”

After speaking at the summit Obama toured several kiosks that occupied by business projects funded by Power Africa, an administration initiative bringing together federal and private funding.

At a hut run by the company D.Light, Obama saw solar alternatives to kerosene lamps. About 10 million students are using these lamps to study at night, the vendor told him.

Then, a woman at the M-KOPA display showed him how the solar panels on her hut roof work. The panels allow people to power their home out in villages, she told him, and they pay for it via call phone for forty cents a day--equal to the daily cost of kerosene. Customers own the panels after a year, and they last six to eight years.

"Forty cents a day," he said, visbly impressed. The M-KOPA vendor displayed her cell phone card payment system, prompting him to quip, "I'm not going to give you my credit card number. "

Speaking to reporters at the event, Obama took issue with critics who have questioned why Power Africa has yet to make a dent in the continent's electricity needs. Roughly 600 million Africans, or 70 percent of the population, lack regular, reliable access to electricity.

"And I would just point out that if you wanted to start a power plant in the United States, it doesn’t take a year to get that done," he said. "In fact, what’s happening is, is that financing, the transactions have been completed, plans are underway, and the work is being done -- now we’re going to start seeing thousands, then ten of thousands, then hundreds of thousands, and then ultimately millions of households all across this continent with electrical power that can boost productivity and economic growth all across the continent."

Even as he spoke of how happy he was to return to Kenya on this trip, Obama bemoaned the constraints he was under now that he was president. While dining with relatives Friday night, he said he was "begging for forgiveness that once I am a private citizen I will have more time to connect."

The president also joked about the size of the gathering, which attracted three dozen relatives--some of which needed "lengthy explanations" to detail their Obama family connection.

"I think the people of Kenya will be familiar with the need to manage family politics sometimes in these extended families," he said.


Matt Rudd: The Lost Ark at the Natural History Museum

Below is an excerpt from a Sunday Times feature published on 31st May. I bet it is fascinating in the secret faults. I very much like the idea of having offshoots of the Natural History Museum - especially in the Northern Powerhouse like Manchester.
The Ark: Matt Rudd enters the secret vaults of the Natural History Museum - Millions of people visit the Natural History Museum every year — but they never see its hidden collection. Matt Rudd dissects some of its secrets:

If you spent just a minute examining each specimen on display at the Natural History Museum, you’d need 223 days nonstop to get around the place. Which would take dedication. But if you spent a minute on every specimen in the entire collection, you’d need another 152 years. Which would take a lot more dedication. You’d really have to love your fossils (they have 7m of them). And your lichens and algae (6m). And your parasitic wasps (they have 48 different species).

Of the 80m items at the museum, less than half a per cent is on show. The public displays are the tiniest tip of an iceberg. Beyond and beneath the grand halls of South Kensington, there are vast stores where the remaining 99.6%, 400 years of accumulated stuff, is kept. Thanks to the pesky British Museum Act 1963, it’s difficult to throw anything away. Even the 48th parasitic wasp. Even the "sacks and sacks" of stones, ingested and excreted by elephants and collected, enthusiastically I presume, by the nation’s favourite explorer, Dr Livingstone. Deaccessioning, as they call it, is strictly controlled.

Some critics have called it a scandal that such a vast collection is boxed up. Others have demanded a thorough spring clean followed by an auctioning off to fill dwindling coffers. Lot 483: six sacks of excreted stones.

Certainly, you could make a case for opening regional branches of the museum. There is an outpost in Tring, Hertfordshire, but what about Manchester or Liverpool? In the current climate of decentralisation, couldn’t Newcastle show off a few dinosaurs? Couldn’t the Northern Powerhouse plan include a good wedge of natural history?

The rest of the article can be found here.




Friday, 24 July 2015

Is Japan about to find its international voice again?

New defence laws





Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe (pictured) has pushed through laws, in the teeth of fierce public opposition, which would allow the country’s troops to fight overseas for the first time since the Second World War. The measures, which critics say mark a dangerous step towards ending Japan’s postwar pacifist constitution, have yet to be approved by the upper house, but are likely to become law by the end of September. Earlier this month some 60,000 people demonstrated against the laws, in the biggest rallies seen in Japan since the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. There were also rare scenes of physical confrontation in Japan’s parliament, the Diet, as opposition MPs – chanting “no war” and waving anti-Abe placards – tried to stop the chairman of the parliamentary committee approving the legislation.

Source: The Week

It seems both Japan and Germany are trying to find their feet again on the international stage. I hope Japan gets it right as its going to need to play a big and active role in its locality in the not too distant future.

Of further note is the fact the Japanese population fell by 250,000 last year. Yet another huge fall.


Thursday, 23 July 2015

Spain: massive "Ghost Airport" cost €1bn - to be sold for €10,000?

Airport sale - Spain - Ciudad Real

A "ghost airport" that has become a notorious symbol of Spanish hubris in the boom years, could be sold to Chinese investors for just €10,000, despite having cost €1bn to build. The private airport, in Ciudad Real, was conceived as an alternative to Madrid’s airport – despite being 146 miles away – and a way to attract tourists to the region. Originally named Don Quixote Airport, after Cervantes’s delusional hero, it was designed to handle ten million passengers a year, and has a runway long enough to land the Airbus A380. But visitors didn’t materialise in anything like that number (33,000 passed through it in 2010) and it went bankrupt after just four years, in 2012. The regional authorities had hoped to sell it at auction for €80m, but received just the one, €10,000, bid. They have extended the deadline until September, in the hope of getting a higher offer.

Source: The Week

More detail on the Airport here



Thursday, 16 July 2015

Criminal Bar Association votes to support Criminal Solicitors protest

Still too little too late? I think so. But at present slowly but surely there is a growing and organised opposition to the latest round of cuts to criminal defence lawyers fees. Remember criminal solicitors have had no case fee increases since about 1992 AND take a %15 fee cut in the last year and a half or so. The last bit of the cut took effect on 1st July and criminal solicitors have slowly come together area by area and voted not to take on any new representation order work and do only the essential duty work.

The Criminal Bar Asoociation last night voted in effect support their colleagues stand - see the press release below.

For both I think the decade or more of sticking their heads in the sand has meant that it is now too late to avoid a fundamental change in the criminal justice system. Standards will be lowered all round at great cost and for little saving.

However better late than never to give active opposition a go and at least think of putting up a fight before being wiped out.

Let's see if all this gathers momentum with court backlogs etc or just fizzles out alongside the whole criminal justice system.

Michael Gove will need all his skills to avoid this potential land mine as these latest cuts could could could be the straw that broke the camels back. I mean imagine being paid less for work done now than work done over 20 years ago.

CBA Release - 15.07.15

CBA Release

The CBA membership has voted in favour of no new work and ‘no returns’ to support solicitors' action by 982 votes to 795 votes, equating to 55% in favour and 45% against. The executive will meet later today to determine the next steps in light of this result.

Francis Fitzgibbon has been elected to the position of Vice-Chair of the CBA.

The ballot question asked CBA members whether they would be prepared to refuse to accept new work with a representation order dated after 1st July 2015 and to refuse returned work ('no returns'). The purpose of this action is to support solicitors in their ongoing action to reverse the 8.75% cut to LGFS fees imposed on 1st July

'No returns' is a withdrawal of goodwill by criminal barristers. In normal circumstances barristers travel to courts all over the country at very short notice to cover hearings in colleagues' cases where diary clashes arise. Many of these hearings are not remunerated but they are fundamental to the efficient running of Crown Courts.

The CBA Executive has already circulated a protocol for 'no returns' in the light of the fact that some sets have already indicated a desire to adopt the ‘no returns’ policy. Given the seriousness of this action and in order to avoid professional conduct implications, there needs to be an opportunity to inform professional and lay clients, and to make representations to Court Managers and Judges that cases be rescheduled to avert clashes that can be identified in advance. The CBA Executive will consider how best this might be achieved at its meeting this evening.

The AGM will now be held at 18:30 today, to follow on from the meeting of the Executive.

For media enquiries contact:

James Rossiter of Morgan Rossiter

07985117887 or 0203 195 3240

Date added: Wednesday 15th July 2015

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