Archive for February 17, 2012

Who’s paying for MPs’ lunches? We are!

By   Wednesday 15th February 2012.   Find Article Here:-


the House of Commons

Bargain dining … There are 28 food outlets at Westminster. Photograph: Graeme Robertson

It is just after prime minister’s questions, and it’s all rather lively in the Strangers’ Dining Room in the House of Commons. Sir Peter Tapsell, father of the house, is at a corner table, burbling contentedly. Tory and Labour MPs are rigidly segregated. A doddery staff member with Charles Darwin’s beard spoons out crumble and custard. Down the corridor in the empty bar they are serving “Top Totty Blonde Beer”, with its bunny-eared model. By the following day this will be withdrawn, after a complaint from the shadow equalities minister, Kate Green.

I am here as a guest of MP Kerry McCarthy, having read recently of the appalling hardships our Honourable Members endure in their dining rooms and refectories. “Literally uneatable” was Tory MP Laurence Robertson’s verdict on the food served in the Commons last year. Another member bewailed their “bucket” of chips, adding that while such presentation is “no doubt trendy”, it makes the chips “soggy”. (“The tower arrangement is better,” this gourmet claimed.) Packets of crisps from Commons vending machines are 10g too light. The beetroot is “tasteless”, the eggs are “watery” and the salads are “cold”. In all, despairs one MP from the wood-panelled dining room with its sweeping views of the Thames, eating in the mother of parliaments is “a dismal experience”.

There are, remarkably, 28 different food outlets in the Westminster complex. The grandest and most traditional are the adjacent Members’ and Strangers’ Dining Rooms. These share a menu, the former’s being heavily subsidised. Only MPs and officers of the Commons are allowed in the Members’, the Tea Room and various other places. “I don’t like the food and can’t eat most of it,” says McCarthy, who is a vegan. “I think it’s generally pretty OK – though some of the combinations are a bit bizarre.” Starters at the Strangers’ include rabbit and apricot terrine or roast partridge breast, both £6.75. I have chicken with cabbage and black pudding potato cake: tepid but tasty and, at £13.55, cheap compared with many central London restaurants.

In their private dining room, MPs enjoy the same dishes for a fraction of the price. On that menu last month, according to political blogger Paul Staines – AKA Guido Fawkes – a braised pork belly with black pudding bonbon and apple salad starter was £2.70, while a rib-eye steak with béarnaise and hand-cut chips (I trust these are now being stacked in “the tower arrangement”) was generously priced at £7.80. Down the road, a lamb main course (though presumably more expensively sourced) at Roux at Parliament Square is £29.25, while decent steaks haven’t cost eight quid in central London since we had a female prime minister.

These prices are only possible thanks to an annual taxpayer subsidy totalling nearly £6m, which has risen almost 20% since 2008 – despite a promise in 2010 to cut it by £500,000 and bring bar prices in line with the high street. For every £10 an MP spends on lunch, the public contributes £7.60.The £7.80 rib-eye in the Members’ Dining Room carried a subsidy of £5.92: the taxes from several hours’ work paid by someone on minimum wage.

Staines, who runs something of a campaign against the subsidy, tells me: “Three courses served by liveried waiters for the price of a KFC family bucket is rubbing our faces in it.” In The Terrace restaurant, open to more or less anyone working full-time at Westminster, cumberland sausage with mash, yorkshire pudding and onion gravy cost £2.95 the day I visited – a cheap lunch, doubtless deserved by the cleaners, security staff and often poorly paid aides and researchers who work to keep the country running. But as Staines says: “The subsidy is greatest in the dining rooms for the exclusive use of MPs. The interns will pay double for the same meal served in a different dining room. What kind of legislature expects low-income, taxpaying voters to subsidise its boozing at all hours?”

Categories: News of the moment

The good ancestors: squatters go back to land to save wilderness centre.

By   Thursday 16th February 2012.  Find Full Article Here:-

Preparing a hazel stick to build a hurdle at Plump Hill wilderness centre, Gloucestershire

Stephanie prepares a hazel stick to build a hurdle while other activists build a roundhouse a hazel stick to build a hurdle at Plump Hill wilderness centre near Mitcheldean, Gloucestershire. Photograph: Adrian Sherratt

The notices the county council has pinned up demanding that Tom and his fellow squatters leave – and threatening legal action – do not dampen the mood.

Tom – who prefers to be known by his first name – has found a decent-sized mushroom in the forest that will liven up the evening’s vegetable stew and is looking forward to getting on with building a cob “Celtic roundhouse” that will be either a henhouse or a sauna.

This is the Wilderness Centre at Plump Hill in the Forest of Dean, formerly a council-run scheme that taught children and young people about the environment, nature and the woods. As part of the public spending cuts, Gloucestershire county council shut the centre and intended to sell it off – until Tom and others turned up and squatted.

It is a sort of rural Occupy and some of the squatters at the Wilderness Centre are veterans of the movement. But they say they have more specific aims. Tom and his friends dream of maintaining the centre to inspire young and old to create communities that live in a more sustainable way.

“We’re here to make sure this centre remains open and in use,” Tom said. “The council looked likely to sell it off. It could be turned into houses, flats, a big hotel, a leisure complex. Having this place turned into a Center Parcs or a retreat for corporate team-building is wrong.”

The squatters have invited specialists, from horticulturists and farmers to blacksmiths and basket-weavers to share and exchange skills with anyone, young or old, who cares to come along to listen and learn.

Tom and the others believe that within a few years it will be impossible to guarantee food security in the UK. It will become important, they believe, for people to know how to grow their own food and to live in a more environmentally friendly way.

Iran oil exports: where do they go?

  Monday 6 thFebruary 2012.  Find Full Article Here:-
Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz through which 20% of global oil supplies pass through. Which countries does Iran export to and how much of their crude oil supply does it make up?
Get the data

Iran has threatened to cut oil exports to the West and threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz through which one fifth of global oil supplies pass through – in bitter retaliation to the Iranian oil embargo agreed by the European Union.

The warning from Tehran comes after EU ministers agreed on Monday to stop any further oil contracts with the country with existing deals being allowed to run to July. The latest threats have added to an already tense relationship between the West and the Islamic Republic. Ian Traynor and Nick Hopkins have written:

Tehran threatened to respond by closing the strait of Hormuz, through which a fifth of global oil supplies pass, while a senior US official vowed that the west could use force to keep the route open.

The decision by EU foreign ministers in Brussels raised the stakes dramatically in the standoff between Iran and the west over Iran’s nuclear programme.

The closing of the Strait would impact heavily on oil exports from not only Iran but also from Saudi Arabia – the largest exporter of crude oil in 2010. As the third-largest exporter of crude oil, Iran is also of major importance as would be the closure of the Strait of Hormuz which provided the route for 17 million barrels per day (bbl/d) in 2011 – totalling 20% of oil traded worldwide.

But where does Iran export its oil to? And how does Iran compare world-wide for oil reserves? The U.S Energy Information Administration (EIA) provide a thorough breakdown in their country analysis brief on Iran showing the top export destinations of Iranian oil, production and consumption over time and details on refinery capacity.

Iran crude oil and condensate exports for key countries, January to June 2011     Download this data

% of Iran’s exports
Total Volume of Crude Imported from Iran (‘000 b/d)
Iran as a % of Total Crude Imported


European Union 18 450
Italy 7 183 13
Spain 6 137 13
France 2 49 4
Germany 1 17 1
UK <1 11 1
Netherlands 1 33 2
Others 1 22 1
Japan 14 341 10
India 13 328 11
South Korea 10 244 10
Turkey 7 182 51
South Africa 4 98 25
Sri Lanka 2 39 100
Taiwan 1 33 4
China 22 543 11
Categories: News of the moment

Oil’d – a video about the facts of the 2011 BP Gulf oil spill.

by Chris Harmon  May 2011.   Watch Video Here:-

In April 2010 a massive oil spill began in the Gulf. The entire country was glued to the news until the well was capped, and then we forgot about it.

As the year anniversary was approaching I became curious, just how much oil was that exactly? Where would it have gone? What I found was shocking.

So in an effort to further our discussion on oil dependency I created this short animation to help illustrate just how dependent we truly are on oil.

Designed, animated and written by Chris Harmon

Voice Talent: Kim Estes

Music: Billy Perez & Todd Stambaugh

Special Thanks to Daye Rogers and Christy Kurtz


Environmental Protection Agency

U.S. Energy Information Administration

Rubber Manufacturers Association


20 Times More Japanese Earthquakes in the 6 Months Following March 2011 than in the Previous 9 YEARS.

February 15th, 2012 by WashingtonsBlog   Find Article Here:-

Quake May Have “Awakened” Fukushima Fault.

Pandora’s Box?

We have extensively documented the fact that engineers knew that Fukushima was built in an area which was highly-susceptible to giant earthquakes, and that it would fail in a large earthquake.

Unfortunately, Pandora’s Box may now have been opened.

Specifically, Japanese scientists have published a scientific paper in European Geosciences Union’s journal Solid Earth saying that the 9.0 earthquake last March has apparently “awakened” the Fukushima earthquake fault, making it likely that a large earthquake will occur this year right near the stricken nuclear complex.

Scientists studying readings from Japanese seismic sensors have determined that there have been 20 times more quakes in the 6 months after March 2011 than in previous 9 years.

As AFP notes:

The picture points to a low-activity fault that was jolted furiously into life by the big quake.


The seismic tomography also says that after March 11, the Iwaki fault suffered a dramatic change in the direction of stress from the overriding Okhotsk plate.

A shock change in horizontal thrust, helped by the weakening effect of the ascending fluids [which act like a lubricant], are what made this previously untroublesome fault to rip open, they theorise.

The worry is that something similar could happen at Fukushima because it shares a similar subterranean topography, although such an event is impossible to pinpoint in time, they say.

“There are a few active faults in the nuclear power plant area, and our results show the existence of similar structural anomalies under both the Iwaki and the Fukushima Daiichi areas,” Zhao said in a press release.

“Given that a large earthquake occurred in Iwaki not long ago, we think it is possible for a similarly strong earthquake to happen in Fukushima.”

Here is a graphic from the report:

RTEmagicC Fukushima 20 Times More Japanese Earthquakes in the 6 Months Following March 2011 than in the Previous 9 YEARS ...  Quake May Have Awakened Fukushima Fault

The study area is indicated by a black box. The purple star shows the epicenter of the March 2011 earthquake, the red star the epicenter of the recent 7.0 Iwaki earthquake, the red square shows the Fukushima nuclear complex, and the black triangles indicate active volcanoes.

Scientists say that there is a 70% chance of a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hitting Fukushima this year, and a 98% chance within the next 3 years.

The Biggest Danger: The Collapse of the Fuel Pools at Reactor 4

Given that nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen says that an earthquake of 7.0 or larger could cause the entire fuel pool structure collapse, it is urgent that everything humanly possible is done to stabilize the structure housing the fuel pools at reactor number 4.

Tepco is doing some construction at the building … it is a race against time under very difficult circumstances, and hopefully Tepco will win.

As AP points out:

The structural integrity of the damaged Unit 4 reactor building has long been a major concern among experts because a collapse of its spent fuel cooling pool could cause a disaster worse than the three reactor meltdowns.

See this for background on why the fuel pools are so dangerous.

Gundersen (who used to build spent fuel pools) explains that there is no protection surrounding the radioactive fuel in the pools. He warns that – if the fuel pools at reactor 4 collapse due to an earthquake – people should get out of Japan, and residents of the West Coast of America and Canada should shut all of their windows and stay inside for a while.

The fuel pool number 4 is apparently not in great shape, and there have already been countless earthquakes near the Fukushima region since the 9.0 earthquake last March.


Swiss create ‘janitor satellite’ to clean up space.

By    Wednesday 15th February 2012.  Find Article Here:-

Scientists in Lausanne devise CleanSpace One to sweep up debris orbiting Earth at almost 18,000mph.

CleanSpace One satelite

An artist’s impression of a CleanSpace One satelite chasing a piece of debris in space. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

More than half a century of sending objects into space has left the Earth surrounded by junk. Bits of long-dead satellites, spent rocket stages and other debris orbit the planet at almost 18,000 mph, each chunk a potential hazard to working satellites or astronauts.

The Swiss have a plan, however. Scientists at the Swiss space centre at EPFL, the federal institute for technology in Lausanne, want to send a “janitor satellite” into orbit, to sweep up debris and permanently remove it from orbit.

The SFr10m (£7m) satellite, called CleanSpace One, could launch within five years, according to EPFL.

Nasa keeps track of 16,000 pieces of orbiting junk that are larger than 10cm (4in) in diameter. There could be more than 500,000 measuring 1cm-10cm and many hundreds of millions of smaller ones.

Even a small fragment of debris could severely damage (or even destroy) satellites or other spacecraft that collide with them, creating even more dangerous debris. The International Space Station has to regularly alter its orbit to avoid being hit by large bits of junk.

In February 2009, the US satellite Iridium-33 exploded when it accidentally hit Russia’s long-abandoned Cosmos-2251 satellite.

“It has become essential to be aware of the existence of this debris and the risks that are run by its proliferation,” said Claude Nicollier, an astronaut and EPFL professor.

CleanSpace One would match its trajectory to that of its target using an EPFL-designed ultra-compact motor. When it reaches its target, it will grab the junk with a gripping claw. At speeds of up to 18,000mph, this will not be an easy task, especially if the junk is rotating. CleanSpace One will then head back to Earth and burn up in the atmosphere, along with its attached junk.

For its first mission, EPFL will aim to bring down one of two abandoned Swiss satellites: the Swisscube picosatellite, which was launched into orbit in 2009, or the TIsat, launched in July 2010.

Russia’s planned Mars moon probe never escaped Earth orbit after its November launch. Despite the efforts of Russian and European space agencies to contact it, it became one of the heaviest and most toxic pieces of space junk ever to crash to Earth.

“We want to offer and sell a whole family of readymade systems, designed as sustainably as possible, that are able to de-orbit several different kinds of satellites,” said Volker Gass, the Swiss space centre’s director, in a statement on the EPFL website.

“Space agencies are increasingly finding it necessary to take into consideration and prepare for the elimination of the stuff they’re sending into space. We want to be the pioneers in this area.”

Acta loses more support in Europe., Wednesday 15th February 2012.  Find Article Here:-

Bulgaria and the Netherlands join Poland and Germany in refusing to ratify Acta, citing privacy and human rights issues.

Acta Bulgaria

Anti-Acta protestors in Sofia. Bulgaria is the latest European country to back off from the controversial pact. Photograph: Nikolay Doychinov/AFP/Getty Images

Support for Acta in Europe is waning as both Bulgaria and the Netherlands refuse to ratify the international anti-piracy agreement.

Bulgaria will not ratify the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement over fears it will curb freedom to download movies and music for free and encourage internet surveillance, economy minister Traicho Traikov said on Tuesday.

More than 4,000 people marched in the capital Sofia last Saturday calling on parliament not to ratify the act. Similar rallies drew thousands of protesters across eastern Europe, as well as in Germany, France and Ireland.

“I will table a proposal to the Council of Ministers to stop the procedure of Bulgaria’s signing the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement,” Traikov said.

The decision means Bulgaria will not take any action concerning Acta before European Union member states come up with a unified position.

Meanwhile, the Dutch Lower House has backed a motion from the Green Left party which says the Netherlands should, for the time being, refrain from signing Acta, according to a report at Radio Netherlands Worldwide.

The RNW report says that the parliament is seeking clarity about whether the treaty threatens the rights and the privacy of internet users.

Acta aims to cut trademark theft and tackle other online piracy but the accord has raised concerns, especially in eastern Europe, over online censorship and increased surveillance. Some protesters have compared it to that used by former communist regimes.

Many Bulgarians also fear the free download of movies and music, a common practice in the bloc’s poorest state, might lead to imprisonment if the treaty is ratified.

“Bulgarian society is not ready to accept mechanisms which raise suspicions of violation of the freedom of expression and freedom [on the] internet,” Traikov said.

Negotiations over Acta have been taking place for several years. Some European countries have signed Acta but it has not yet been ratified in many countries.

Categories: News of the moment