For the attention of Douglas Carswell MP (and you)

Dear All,

The Hon. Member for Harwich and Clacton recently wrote on his blog that this summer, he would be reading Ian Pilmer’s book Heaven and Earth. This is a book that claims to challenge climate change orthodoxy and prove that man has had little effect on the global climate. It’s also discredited, and this review in The Australian is the best I’ve come across. Despite this, The Spectator went ahead and used it as their front page story.

I contacted the author of the review of Pilmer’s book in The Australian, Professor Michael Ashley. In an email he said  “Plimer’s book is certainly not worth reading, unless you are trying to understand the illogical minds of the people on his side of the ‘debate’.” So what should Mr Carswell read?

As a public service, I’ve been in contact with climate change scientists to find out what would be a good starting point for someone interested in finding out more. It appears the debate sometimes tends towards noise, not evidence, in determining our effect on the environment.

Professor Ashley said “I suggest that you head over to http://www.realclimate.org click on the ‘start here’ button, and then browse through the links. At some stage I suggest that you have a look at the IPCC’s AR4 document itself, since it will give you a good idea of just how much work has gone into the consensus position.”

The IPCC’s AR4 document is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent document outlining the scientific evidence for man’s affect on the global climate. It includes the arguments of sceptics within its findings, hence why he calls it the “consensus position”.

I also contacted the Met Office to find some recommended reading. They also said they would be happy for me to contact them for “further suggestions, eg suggestions that are more / less technical.” So if this isn’t enough, ask me to and I will. Or contact them yourself, I’m sure they’d be delighted to point you in the direction of serious scientific evidence and away from sensationalist garbage. They’ve also got their own online guide here.

Here’s what they suggested as a starting point:

Global Warming – The Complete Briefing
4th Edition (2009)
John Houghton
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
CUP
Paperback
ISBN: 9780521709163

The very comprehensive volumns of the IPCC AR4 can be downloaded from
URL
http://www.ipcc.ch/

I also found this book very useful, although it also deals with more general atmospheric issues:

Atmosphere, Weather and Climate  Roger G. Barry (, Richard J Chorley)
Publisher: Routledge
Binding:Paperback Pages: 528
Publication Date: 2009-08-27 (not yet published)
Edition: 1 (or 9)
ISBN: 0415465702

So if you’re scouting around looking for an informative read this summer, why not try these? Alternatively, read Ian Pilmer and believe what you like. Just be aware that most of its argument has been discredited and it proves nothing.

Sincerely,

Josh

PS. Don’t go crazy with your comments until you’ve read the books. It’s not about who can shout the loudest.

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Surely Nick Clegg reads JCPR?

Keen for Coverage Clegg is back: MPs scandalously haven’t reformed the House of Commons before their holidays.

His attack on his Commons colleagues coincides with a big push from his press team. First, an interview in The Independent about the need for fiscal restraint and how the Lib Dems are cutting down their manifesto. Then, a new website that shows their 3 policy priorities at the next election. Both position the Lib Dems further to the right as public opinion shifts towards a desire for public spending restraint.

But the MPs’ expenses issue rings hollow. The piece tends towards partisanship (‘with one eye on the end of the parliamentary session, Labour and the Conservatives have played for time. Only the Liberal Democrats have remained outspoken in support of reform.’) This issue hasn’t been about political parties but individual MPs – all the parties have been embarrassed. For example, who can forget Mr Clegg’s own claims for his garden (over £1,000 of public money, since you ask)?

Mr Clegg was successful in campaigning for the Gurkhas because he saw the need, as a third party, to work with MPs of other parties and to find common ground. Here, he is alienating both parties for political gains at a time when the leadership of the big three are keen to bring about reform (or at least be seen to).

Of course, with a tight by-election campaign this week, perhaps he’s right to position himself alongside an outraged public. We’ll see.

Four articles worth a gander

The New York Times Sunday Magazine had a fascinating article outlining the arguments surrounding national healthcare provision.

The London Review of Books have an illuminating article on the problems with strategic planning in Afghanistan. How’s this for a great bit of prose:

‘All these attitudes are aspects of a single worldview and create an almost irresistible illusion.

It conjures nightmares of ‘failed states’ and ‘global extremism’, offers the remedies of ‘state-building’ and ‘counter-insurgency’, and promises a final dream of ‘legitimate, accountable governance’. The path is broad enough to include Scandinavian humanitarians and American special forces; general enough to be applied to Botswana as easily as to Afghanistan; sinuous and sophisticated enough to draw in policymakers; suggestive enough of crude moral imperatives to attract the Daily Mail; and almost too abstract to be defined or refuted. It papers over the weakness of the international community: our lack of knowledge, power and legitimacy. It conceals the conflicts between our interests: between giving aid to Afghans and killing terrorists. It assumes that Afghanistan is predictable’

The World Today (think tank Chatham House’s mag) has a great piece on ‘the monumental miscalculation’ of the Iranian Regime resulting from an ‘intoxication with power’. Provides background info. from a foreign policy professor and isn’t dry.

Vanity Fair columnist Christopher Hitchens, as facebook fans will know (I linked to this there days ago), has written a marvellous article about New Labour and how, like the fruit of the medlar tree, Gordon Brown went rotten before he was ripe.

Become a facebook fan, you’ll see these articles sooner …

Swine flu at the Norwich by-election – an end to canvassing?

The BBC is reporting that the Labour candidate, Chris Ostrowski, has been hospitalised with suspected swine flu. Get well soon Chris.

Presumably, Labour canvassing will now have to end? Lord Mandelson cancelled his visit to the seat because party workers have been in contact with Mr Ostrowski. Surely, party workers won’t then be allowed to come into contact with members of the public?

The same may be true of the other candidates. Mr Ostrowski debated with them last night, he will most likely have shaken hands and exchanged words with them.

Lord Mandelson is sending a message that all those who have been in contact with Ostrowski should be avoided. Is this an official line? Will canvassing at Norwich North end early?

UPDATE July 21: I see from the Norfolk Blogger that Mr Ostrowski is apparently ‘recovering well at home‘. Good news.

UPDATE July 22: Lord Mandelson has stayed away. So too has Gordon Brown, who refused to comment (12.2pm) on the byelection at his monthly press conference today.

Yet Ben Bradshaw, the Culture Minister, is there today:

BenBradshawMP

is campaigning in Norwich21 minutes ago from mobile web

David Cameron and George Osbourne will be there tomorrow from 5.30am.

Why so glum?

???

???

Questions, questions. I’ve got two more for you:

Q. Why are haggis and Damien McBride’s inbox similar?  A. You don’t wanna know what’s in them.

Q. Is Mr McBride’s re-emergence just a bloggers’ story? A. Yes, ignore him – he’s not relevant, he wants to clear his name and earn some cash in the process.

If you remember, he wrote emails to a blogger attempting to spread malicious falsehoods about Conservative politicians and their families. He chose to do it on a blog and that bears further examination, because there is a general impression that blogs are anti-politics.

Perhaps this represents public opinion. Most people in the country at the moment are cynical and disaffected with political parties and Parliament. Expenses scandals, torture scandals, public spending scandals, even going back to the unpopular wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They are all reason to feel removed from politics.

But with McBride it was almost as though we expected it of our government. We didn’t know who McBride was but we were sure someone like him existed and nobody liked him. The McBride scandal was handy because it combined our preconceptions and dislike of politics in one story with a useful scapegoat (‘McPoison’) to cling on to.

Cynicism: a British pastime

Where does this seemingly unconquerable mistrust of big ideas and public figures that is burned into our national psyche come from? Of course, briefly we did allow ourselves to become soppy at Blairism, but its aftermath has left the country weary, drained and almost totally apathetic. It has had the same effect on the Labour Party.

We have a history of cynicism – and it’s been useful. Britain didn’t succumb to fascism, communism, despotism, tyranny or anything really. It has remained a steady constitutional monarchy manned mostly by ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ politicians. They all go in the end, even Thatcher – and whilst her ‘ism’ encompassed something concrete it’s taken decades for us to get over it. Blairism was supposed to be bland, it was a huge shock when it involved a war – before then it was just photo-ops and mild increases in public spending.

It’s often noted that America is more comfortable with outbursts of political pride and hope. Before Obama (if we can indeed contemplate such a time), there was a wave of pro-Bush sentiment. Mostly, this was misdirected patriotism to the Commander in Chief following the September 11th attacks, here in the UK arguably the monarchy soaks up patriotic sentiment.

18th C Satire/ filth

18th C Satire/filth

Our cynical national mindset can also hold us back: we fear big projects and developments (in ‘The English’, Paxman blames our indecision for making us lag behind the French in building the Channel Tunnel). Change is generally seen as a bad thing and we identify with past glories. In England it is the Second World War, in Scotland and Wales it is Celtic heritage and traditions. Nowhere in the UK do we idolise now. Gordon Brown’s attempts to define Britishness have been seen as a perfidious ploy to mask his Scottish identity and whenever such a discussion emerges it is always greeted with our trademark cynicism.

We can see as much in cartoons, British cartoons have always been more hostile, more cynical, more rude than those of other countries – especially in the 18th Century.

Blogging

But I am a blogger so I want to talk (briefly) about blogs.

I started this post noting that McBride was now only a ‘bloggers’ story’. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so cynical, but it’s notable that there are many blogs that attack politicians. The comments of most blogs and even newspapers are often appalling. This weekend Sarah Brown guest edited the News of the World’s fashion magazine to highlight a women’s charity she works with. The comments were rabid in their anger: how dare she campaign for something? It was obviously a hateful ploy to boost the popularity of the Prime Minister! Often the commentators seem to think that they alone have spotted something hateful, a conspiracy of some sorts. As a rule, they are wrong.

No journalist nor blogger is a moral arbiter, and most would not claim to be. Guido Fawkes doesn’t, and that’s one  of the reasons why his blog is so successful: it mostly attacks politicians’ hypocrisy, not their reasoning for entering politics. Fawkes himself is an ideologue – he is a libertarian – so he does not attack politics completely, although he does give Parliament a hammering.

It was the downfall of Damien McBride that he thought he could publish smears against politicians on the internet – and he was found out and brought to task first by bloggers (Mr Guido Fawkes no less).

And now there’s a campaign been launched this week by 38 Degrees that wants the public to send in pictures of MPs on holiday, just to prove to those who already knew it (doubtless our friends the insatiable web commentators – and not you, you’re very nice, why not comment below?) that MPs don’t do anything but take expenses and live in second homes.

They’ll publish these photos … on a blog. You already guessed that, didn’t you? But not all blogs are like that, and not all politicians are bad. I’m trying not to end this sounding smug, patronising or like I’ve got a big idea so …. stop being so damned cynical all the time. Most times it’s ok but take a break every now and then. How’s that?

Denis MacShane MP intimated that Aspergers Syndrome was ‘a ruse’?

Oh dear. Last Wednesday (15th) there was a debate in the Commons on the 2003 Extradition Treaty. It sounds dry but it affects the case of Gary McKinnon and is stirring public sentiment. Many MPs have spoken out in favour of McKinnon, yet many of these didn’t turn up to debate his case. The Daily Mail, who are running a slightly sophomoric campaign for McKinnon, haven’t treated these MPs kindly. Denis MacShane has now set himself against the Mail by giving his informed opinions on the topic. Unfortunately (for him), he also allowed his uninformed opinion on Mr McKinnon’s Aspergers Syndrome to slip out, and opened himself up to attack.

Guardian columnist Marina Hyde has written that ‘lowlights of the afternoon, they would include Rotherham MP Denis MacShane intimating that McKinnon’s late diagnosis of Asperger’s was a ruse.’ She goes on to vehemently attack Mr MacShane for his comment. Take a look at this from Hansard:

Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): … Regrettably, those who do not fit in with the system—those who are vulnerable or mentally ill, or who have special needs—often cannot get justice, although they deserve it as much as anyone else.

The Home Secretary talked about safeguards. Those safeguards are plainly not in place. Whether we are dealing with one case or a number of cases, and whether we call them high profile or low profile, there needs to be justice and appropriate safeguards for all. That was not the case for Gary McKinnon, who was diagnosed late with Asperger’s syndrome, and it is not the case for anyone else like him who has symptoms of compulsive behaviour, not communicating well, and not seeking to make the case for themselves.

Mr. MacShane: The hon. Gentleman is making a moving plea on his constituent’s behalf. He says that his constituent was diagnosed late; when was that diagnosis made?

Mr. Burrowes: It was made in August 2008 …
Mr MacShane later continues

Mr. MacShane: One paradox of the debate is that many of those who have spoken are convinced pro-Europeans, and part of the debate is about the application of international rule of law. Mr Burrowes made for his constituent a very moving and compelling plea that does him and the cause honour. The hon. Gentleman said that he spent many years as a solicitor practising in criminal law, and were I ever to find myself in trouble I should be delighted, after that excellent speech, to have him defend me.

However, I was slightly alarmed when I heard that the gentleman—who is not mentioned in the motion but about whom we are talking and the Daily Mail is campaigning—was diagnosed with his distressing condition only last year. One gets a slight hint of the famous Ernest Saunders defence: he said that he was suffering from Alzheimer’s to get off a criminal prosecution, but the moment that he was out of court, he somehow skipped off and his memory came back with marvellous vigour.

I can’t help think that this was a spectacular misjudgement by Mr MacShane. He made strong arguments in favour of the extradition treaty and for further international co-operation in criminal prosecutions:

1) the treaty allowed two British citizens to be extradited to the UK to face prosecution recently

2) the same is true in Europe thanks to greater co-operation

3) these treaties have been used to see terrorists face prosecution

4) it is unlikely Mr McKinnon will spend 60 years in jail

5) opposition sends an insulting and arrogant message to America.

These will now be ignored. The debate on the treaty is shaped in terms of the hapless Mr McKinnon fighting an ‘imperial’ US (in the words of Chris Huhne) and the hopeless Home Secretary – who noted a little too freely that he is ‘not a lawyer’ but ‘a hack politician, I go by the advice I get’.

MacShane entered the fray and thus the court of public opinion. As he noted, if he was facing trial he would want to be defended by the moving reasoning of David Burrowes. He’s facing a trial by media now and emotional intelligence is important. Burrowes and the Conservatives are campaigning on a popular issue. If Mr MacShane wants to argue against them, he should steer clear of speculation.

So it’s nearly the Parliamentary Recess, Mr Clegg, and one question remains

Will Nick Clegg be taking a break? Mr Clegg called for the recess to be cancelled to allow political reform. Will he be manning the green benches alone this summer, making speeches to himself?

The Liberal Democrat leader has had a strong few months, making a stand on issues he believes in and is knowledgeable about: the Gurkhas, Afghanistan, Trident renewal. For the most part, he has looked a ‘conviction politician’ (that ever popular buzz phrase) and is making the party more than just the Vince Cable Supporters Club. But his call, not so long ago, for the recess to be cancelled shows that sometimes he gets carried away and in his desperation to garner media coverage is a little rash in his statements.

It’s as though he’s torn between Conciliatory Clegg, Conviction Clegg and Keen for Coverage Clegg. Lib Dems will hope that he’ll concentrate on being the former two, and allow his other side to be toned down. Otherwise, Mr Clegg may become calamitous, as his rival Chris Huhne once allegedly remarked. And Mr Huhne is undoubtedly still keen for a shot at the top: almost every photo of Mr Clegg and Mrs Lumley after their parliamentary defeat of Gordon Brown on the Gurkhas’ right to residency showed Huhne jostling for position just behind.

From here

From the back ...

To centre stage

To centre stage