Sunday, 1 November 2020

UK Government obsessions, incompetence and corruption - Covid19 economic and health disaster

This post is a letter to my cousin Ian in California (and my American friends ), we contact each other about once a month on family and other matters. It's to assure him that Americans aren't alone ,we have a parallel obsessive, incompetent and corrupt government that has allowed Covid19 to get out of control.

Ian,

The UK government has a  Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE)  it's composed of a wide  range of people from a wide range of disciplines; scientific, economic, social science etc. Earlier this year SAGE advised a national lockdown to save lives and to prevent the National Health Service from being overwhelmed. The government didn't seem to take this seriously and was more concerned about the economic effects but by the third week of March the figures were so scary that a national lockdown was imposed to restrict the spread of the virus.  It was the right decision but several weeks too late to avoid thousands of extra deaths.

On 23rd March we were confined to our homes ( except for essential workers) in May it seemed that the worst was over and by 10th May we  were allowed out again. 



We learned a lot during and after lockdown but the government seem to have learning difficulties .

They saw the problem as binary;"Save the economy or save lives" it's much more complex than that and you have to be aware that the Conservatives have two guiding principles;

First... All policies must ensure the continued upward flow of wealth and power to those who already have it. Second ....Libertarian-ism or freedom from government interference in our lives is of equal importance to the first notion above

As in the  USA  the loony right take this to extremes and there is a Neanderthal loony right who don't understand the idea of public good.  This is a bit hard on Neanderthals who were rather nice caring people by comparison.

Testing and tracing was to help solve the complexity problem by allowing only those with the infection to be isolated for 14 days. We have  a competent test and trace system at local government level but this was ignored and replaced by central command and control by government. That was in March this central control system is still not fit for purpose and is headed up by an old university friend of the Prime Minister with no experience or qualifications in the field. 


Restaurants, bars and clubs were closed during lockdown and the hospitality industry took a big hit. The solution was to subsidise eating out. £500m was spent on this, lots of people crowded into restaurants and obviously infections soared. A simple solution to a complex problem and as H.L.Mencken said, "there's a simple solution to every human problem; it's neat, plausible and wrong!"

Last night our feckless, out of his depth Prime Minister held a press conference to announce another lockdown, six weeks after SAGE first recommended it. This one will last until December and we all hope that the government might have learned from it's many mistakes before, during and after the last one. viz

  • Make sure that care workers have adequate protective equipment
  • Test and trace needs to be de-centralised and fit for purpose
  • Don't send infected patients from hospital to care homes
  • Government needs to give clear, consistent advice and some leadership would help
Of course you have an even bigger problem that brings another favourite quotation to mind, it's an army promotion reference, " men will follow this officer anywhere out  of a sense of morbid curiosity" for officer read Trump. So good luck on 3rd November.

Stay safe,

Tom



 




Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Scotland's native pinewoods........... an alternative to Munro Bagging for "crumblies"

If like me you feel you are getting too old and slow for "Munro bagging", the obsessive  pursuit of walking all of Scotland's 282 mountains over 914.4m (3,000 ft) there is an attractive alternative. You can visit and walk in the remnants of the ancient pinewoods of Scotland.


These remnants were first surveyed, described and catalogued 60 years ago (Steven, H.M. Carlisle, A, The Native Pinewoods of Scotland, Oliver and Boyd, 1959.). Then in 1975 the woods, their distribution, wildlife, soils, history and management were comprehensively examined at a symposium in Aviemore.

More recently, The Ancient Pinewoods of Scotland by Clifton Bain is in two formats, a coffee table book and a pocketbook with descriptions of 38 pinewood remnants with suggested walks, throughout the Highlands. 

Beware, take an Ordnance Survey 1:25000 map Bain's maps are a rather sketchy guide; or take an excellent, instinctive navigator as in the image below.


Glen Tanar pinewoods 

I am gradually working my way through the list, the latest visit was to Glen Tanar in the north east Cairngorms. The wood like most of the others has been changed over the centuries by felling, fire, flood and grazing but at the western boundary something like the original still survives under conservation management.

To put the whole idea into some historical and ecological context find a copy of Jim Crumley's book, The Great Wood, or my post on a walk in Rothiemurchus Forest at; https://draft.blogger.com/blog/post/edit/8922954556426967855/4090761231834512957




Monday, 21 September 2020

Lynx re-introduction to Scotland ........ Kintyre and E. Aberdeenshire the most suitable landscapes.

Lynx kitten

Fifty years ago on a hot, still, blackfly and mosquito infested afternoon  in northern Quebec I came across two lynx kittens sleeping in the sun on a big flat rock beside the Tonnancourt river. They were about two metres away. I watched them briefly and moved on, not wanting to disturb them. I didn't try to fish out my camera from the pack ....the moment was too precious for photos.  
I still have a vivid recollection of the scene, it's better then any photograph and I've been a lynx enthusiast ever since.

Then five or so years ago I was really excited to read that the Lynx Trust was attempting to reintroduce lynx to the UK after an absence of 1,300 years.  Kielder Forest in N. Northumberland, the biggest man made forest in Europe with it's tree cover, remoteness and abundant roe deer was assumed to be suitable habitat. The project failed to get started.

If you are going to re-introduce an extinct species to an area you have to meet two essential ecological criteria; you have to ensure that the introduced animals have a good chance of surviving and multiplying and that the population you take the animals from is not damaged.  Just as importantly you need the support of all of the stakeholders, local and national. The Kielder proposal did not have this essential support.

So it was with some enthusiasm that I set off for Aberfoyle and a public consultation on the re-introduction of lynx to the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park near Loch Lomond.  There was no doubting the enthusiasm of the  organisers (Lynx Trust UK) and the dozen or so members of the public but the whole event was disappointing. ....... An introduction to put the case for lynx on this site would have been helpful along with scientific evidence of the suitability of the habitat;this didn't happen. The venue had dreadful acoustics and the Covid 19 social distancing didn't help.


Meanwhile  some recent research in Scotland on the suitability of three large forests ( including Kielder) has been recently published. This research used computer modelling of lynx population dynamics, ecological, behavioural and landscape factors to rapidly assess the suitability of large predator habitat for re-introductions. The work concluded that Scotland;'s landscape is suitable for lynx re-introductions and tested the suitability of three forested sites; the Kintyre Peninsula, N.E. Cairngorms (Aberdeenshire) and the Scottish component of Kielder Forest. Of the three Kielder was found to be the least suitable, Kintyre and E. Aberdeenshire were most likely to be successful, Queen Elizabeth Forest Park wasn't mentioned. Ovenden, T.S et al Biological Conservation, 234, 2019, pp.140 - 153  

If the Lynx Trust are to be successful they need to take note of this research and to have the support of local stakeholders (farmers, landowners, foresters and the public) plus national organisations, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Forestry and to be aware of the research quoted above. As for "consultation" this needs to be done in a structured way, in a suitable venue with a representative set of stakeholders or it is just a box ticking exercise by the organisers i.e. "we've done the consultation", perhaps?... but not in a fully representative, objective and methodical way.

For an authoritative view on lynx re-introduction have a look at this.......

https://scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk/2019/07/could-we-reintroduce-lynx-to-scotland/

and this........

http://forest-ecology.com/publications/


Summer sunset in Canadian lynx habitat 









Tuesday, 25 August 2020

Was Boris Johnson hiding in a former Youth Hostel on the Applecross Peninsula last week?


 Last week the "Daily Mail" broke the story that our Prime Minister, Alexander Boris de Pfefell Johnson was hiding from the chaos his lack of competent governance has created in a cottage  by the sea on the Applecross Peninsula.  I may be wrong but it looks like the former Scottish Youth Hostels Association hostel "Lonbain" where I spent a summer in !962 as the voluntary seasonal warden.

Lonbain was the former  village school halfway between Applecross and Arina , it was only accessible by  boat or on foot. When the road round the peninsula was built a few years later the building was sold and converted to a holiday home.

In the early 60's there were still families living in "black houses",  the Macbeth family were my nearest neighbours , the post man made his deliveries on a motor bike and we burned peat on the stove. Obviously it has to be quite luxurious now for A.B. de P. Johnson the incompetent, mendacious, narcissistic UK Prime Minister.

Perhaps he's had time to reflect on Abraham Lincoln's advice;

" You can fool all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time but you can't fool all of the people all of the time".  Abraham Lincoln

Johnson  has fooled "some of the people some of the time " for example during his election as leader of the Tory party and then during election to govern the UK.  The electorate chose to believe his lies and to disregard his previous incompetence as Mayor of London, Foreign Secretary and third rate journalist. As Mayor of London he had a string of deputies to do the job for him while he turned up for PR and photo  opps.

He's still fooling some of the people all of the time but the majority of voters  seem to be getting wiser, Those  being fooled all of the time are mainly " golf club Tories"and Daily Mail readers. But he and his anarchist consigliere must realise by now that their inability to govern the country is apparent to the majority of rational voters. (Not all voters are rational, see Brexit)

If you know the Applecross Peninsula and if you stayed at Lonbain sixty years ago you might be able to confirm the the holiday home was Lonbain here's the link to the photo in the Daily Record.


https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/boris-johnson-holidays-1200-week-22559974






 


Thursday, 13 August 2020

How will the Scottish government deal with UK government's no deal?..... Virtual meeting with our MP next week.....

 One of the unexpected side effects of Covid19 lockdown here on the peninsula is that many of us have learned to use video conferencing. So, next week we have a ZOOM meeting with Kate Forbes our local MSP and Scottish Minister for finance.



"Scottish farming will be in dire straits if we crash out of the EU without a deal and no deal seems more and more likely due to the incompetence and intransigence of our parliament in London. How does the Scottish Government plan to deal with it? ".......That's my question.

In recent years almost half of Scottish farm businesses have only made a trading surplus at the year end because of European Union farm support payments..... the Single Farm Payment (SFP). On 1st January 2021 that payment will disappear and so far there does not seem to be a credible alternative to replace it. Many farm businesses could go bust next year without the SFP.

Crofters are largely part-time , small scale stock keepers with sheep and cows. All but very few expect to make a living from crofting,they tend to be "multiple job holders or pensioners" they keep sheep because they always have done, they like it and they do receive the SFP which supplements their income.  without the SFP many will find that their sheep keeping is a lot of work and loses money.

If you add up all of the costs (not including overheads including labour) I estimate that it cost roughly £50 for a Crofter to raise a lamb to the point of sale. Then there's £2 for transport to the mart and £3 to Auctioneer for selling the lamb; total costs £55. They average sale price is around £40 and could be much lower in 2021 if exports are disrupted by tariffs . 

The  SFP contributes on average £600 a year subsidy, £60 a head if you only have 10  ewes and a small croft to cover the loss per ewe of £15 and the Crofter's labour. It's an area payment so as stock numbers increase average income per head goes down for Crofters.

On large farms and estates because the SFP is an area payment it can be in the hundreds of thousands of pounds and makes a big contribution to the farmer's family school fees, skiing holidays, shooting, fishing, horses land and lifestyle. They will continue to do well as there are other benefits of large scale land ownership, in particular tax avoidance opportunities and government funded projects such as the "Renewable heat initiative"  The renewable heat initiative






 

Friday, 15 May 2020

Led by donkeys ... Covid19 exposes the truth about incompetent leadership

For the last four years I have been trying to work out how and why Donald Trump was elected President of the United States and why Boris A.B de P. Johnson  persuaded more than half of voters that we should leave the  EU and that they should elect him as Prime Minister of the UK.  For four years I've been trying to discover how any rational intelligent voter could support either of these people? I've decided that voters don't make entirely rational decisions.

Led by donkeys
Today I was reminded of a famous officer promotion reference written  by a commanding officer for a junior........ "Men will follow this officer anywhere; out of a sense of morbid curiosity".

Like the soldiers in the reference voters aren't entirely rational, they want to believe the optimistic stories they are told, from half truths to downright lies and even knowledge of a potential leader's mendacity, incompetence and indolence doesn't put them off.

George Packer, in The Atlantic, explains how the Covid19 virus  has manged to exploit chronic underlying conditions;" political corruption, a sclerotic bureaucracy and heartless economy "and to show up the USA as a,"failed state". Every American concerned about the future of USA should read it, Trump is not going to make America great again.
We are living in a failed state, George Packer.

Andy Beckett in, The Guardian , explains how today in the UK we have the highest Corona-virus death rate in Europe exposing a similar range of fault lines in Britain and why exaggerated  wilful optimism of the snake oil salesman is about to collide with reality. Johnson is just not up to the job of governing the country ; his complacency, misplaced sense of his own exceptionalism, old Etonian privilege and lack of attention to detail has been exposed by the pandemic.  At least those who voted for him are having their sense of morbid curiosity satisfied.
Vote winning optimism and half truths are about to collide with reality, Andy Beckett






Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Lock down week 7; at last the adults are in charge...

On Saturday Tobermory was still and quiet; we were still keeping our distance there were no visitors, no cruise ships, I had the ferry, "Loch Tarbert" to myself again and the inshore fishing boats were tied up in harbour. The economy is in stasis but we are all trying to stay safe.

Back in February The UK government bumbled along complacently despite what was happening in the rest of the World and warnings from health experts here, rather like the Trump administration in the US. We lost the initiative by acting too late.

We are now in week 7 of "lock down" and  have the highest Covid19 death rate in Europe, over 40,000. The government is keen to open up the economy  to get people back to work and on Sunday 10th May the UK Prime Minister (Boris Alexander de Pefeffel Johnson) presented us with a road map showing how  his government would deal with the next phase and open up the economy. I don't think any of us are any wiser or safer.

Inshore fishing boats tied up in harbour
Johnson's prescription could be seen as an attempt to shift responsibility from his government on to us as individuals by exhorting us to, "Be alert" what ever that means in this situation.

Meanwhile... nurses and doctors still don't have the personal protective equipment they need and we don't seem to have an effective testing and tracing system.

In Scotland our devolved government has it's own policy....... no change, we stay at home and only essential workers go to work. There are some adults in charge at last!

The first priority of any government has to be the safety and health of it's citizens ( subjects in our case) the economy although vitally important has to take second place. Unlike in the USA where the Trump administration with the pandemic not yet under control and heading for over 100,000 deaths seems to favour the economy over it's citizens safety. Trump isn't alone in passing the buck;  it also looks as if Vladimir Putin is shuffling off responsibility for Russia's Covid19 problems on to the country's regional governors.