Sunday, 29 November 2009

Beating Domestic Violence

Domestic violence has been the cause of some renewed concern this week.

Paul Robins reported on the case of a husband who has been jailed to 5-weeks imprisonment.

Southcote's James Hendry beat his charity worker wife of 21 years for regularly providing shelter to the homeless. Apparently she provided ad-hoc accomodation to 'an assortment of waifs and strays' to whom no temporary provision could be found at the Churches In Reading Drop-In Centre (CIRDIC) on Berkeley Avenue.

Meanwhile Labour's Women's Officer Rachel Eden attended a candellight vigil and quiz night as part of efforts to highlight the continuing problem.

She also advertises weblinks to Berkshire Women's Aid which provides services for those in need and the White Ribbon Campaign designed to raise awareness about taking responsibility for ones own behaviour.

This coincided with the government's announcement of a new strategy to introduce compulsory lessons into the primary school curriculum to ensure all pupils are made aware of the unacceptability of violence against women.

Maidenhead Conservative Alistair McRonald comments that this is a step too far by the nanny state. He says that when set against this week's  release of a woman after serving 8 years in prison for the murder of her husband it shows how Labour is biased against men.

Elsewhere Newsarse parodies the strategy, claiming it will be an education in the bleeding obvious.


Oranjepan says:
Apparently lessons in geography can be 'bumped' because they are only needed for pub quizzes - which may  explain why Rachel Eden came 5th in hers!

Both state compulsion and physical violence by individuals are examples of the attempt to resolve disputes through force - they are the absolute last resort and we should be wary that using one to defeat the other will prove counter-productive.

Civic Office Plan Overturned

The economic climate continues to take its' toll on local finances, as it appears that the proposed £50m relocation of the borough's civic bureaucracy has been put on hold.

Linda Fort reports the expected outcome of a special session of the council on Tuesday 1st December will be to recommend an interim plan.

She explains this will involve some council meetings moving from the deteriorating asbestos-ridden civic centre to Reading's Old Town Hall, plus the refurbishment of buildings in South Reading to provide space for as many as 700 of the council's 5,000+ employees.

Independent Cllr Tony Jones described the yet-to-be-announced decision as a 'U-turn' and a 'climbdown' by his former colleagues in the Labour party, explaining that 'decoupling' the relocation of council accomodation from the redevelopment of the civic centre site in Hosier Street as a "common sensense" solution.

Howard Thomas of the self-styled Common Sense Party repeated his objection to the £3.7m spent producing the shelved plans (although this figure only covers the period up to March 2009).

Both Howard and Cllr Jones expect empty office property in the town centre to be taken up by council staff, while the central library could integrate the customer service centre.


Oranjepan asks:
If the outcome of special council meetings have already been decided and reported in advance what meaningful business is left? And if there is no meaningful business to be done at council meetings what purpose does the expensive relocation of the chambers serve?

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Update: Reading's New Directions service will relocated to the Central Library from the new year.

Cllr Richard Willis says it was one of the shortest meetings he has ever attended.

He also suggests that by some calculations the total cost of the scheme could have amounted to as much as £120m (when all 'anciliary' costs are included).

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Background: New Civic Centre Discussions; What Shall We Do With The Civic Centre?

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Recommended Reading List #40

@carocat is a one of the tweetiest people locally (over 27,000 to date) and something of a pioneering user of digital communications.

So she is well placed to give an informed view of the risks and concerns of social interactions through emerging media.

In an authoratitive article she offers some fascinating insights as she explores some of the concerns about digital identity - particularly when and where it crosses over into real life!

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Related reading: Discovering The Faces Behind The Name, Geeks Get Organised

Friday, 27 November 2009

Countdown To New Politics: Power2010


The general election in 2010 is widely considered to be a moment for the renewal of democratic debate in the UK. And with the wealth of new communication methods available the general public is taking the opportunity to seize the agenda back.

The Power2010 coalition, backed by the Rowntree Foundation, has called for suggestions on how to reform out politics and is recieving a wealth of ideas.

Guy Aitchison writes for the Third Estate blog explaining how the unfolding expenses scandal which has engulfed Westminster (and local politicians) provides a once-in-a-generation chance which cannot be missed.

Many major blogs are participating - including Our Kingdom, Liberal Conspiracy, Ekklesia and Republic - and local bloggers have been adding their two cents worth too.

Mark Reckons thinks politics is overly formal and not business-like enough.

Over on my other blog I get down to basics and concentrate on the aspect of humanising the whole process.

Bracknell Blog agrees that wholesale changes are needed. Dazmando says technology could help engagement while making bureaucratic systems more efficient, but this wouldn't work without electoral and funding reform.
 
Adrian Windisch also supports electoral reform and making politicians more accountable to the public.

And Tim Trent simply wants representatives to do their job properly - anything which gets in the way of them being able to do so should be stopped.

If you just want to have a look at some of the thousands of ideas have a look at the Power2010 website and blog.

But there is still time to add your ideas for reform of our politics whether you are a blogger or not. The organisers promise every single submission will be read and considered - so what have you got to lose, give it a go - you can make a difference!

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Update: Rob White supports the People's Charter, but it's not a matter of either/or.
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Related reading: Grand Committee Meeting Sparks Democratic Debate, The X-Register

Committed To Copenhagen?

#rdgnews - As the build-up to the Climate Conference continues and China announces that it has set its' first emissions target ever, while locally Southern Electric begins a trial of energy efficient VPhase devices, concerns are growing over whether the deeds of the participants matches the rhetoric, or whether it will amount to warm words over global warming.

Obviously this is a big issue for Green Party activists.

Adrian Windisch says it is "extraordinary" that more than half of UK delegates intend to travel to the ceremonies by air, in a move which he reports many people are already calling 'hypocrisy'. He argues that it is "just another example of the Labour Government saying one thing and doing another".

David Young argues that politicians are ignoring voters, and that it is a problem of political leadership.

In a guest post on Adrian's blog, Chris Keene argues that we are at a climate crossroads, and that the Green alternative is to follow the 'Zero-Carbon Caravan' by cycling and sailing to Copenhagen.
Darren Bridgeman presents a list of issues showing how LibDems are leading and forging coalitions to challenge the current 'leadership.

Meanwhile the Labour administration in Reading has come under attack on similar grounds.

Cllr Daisy Benson reports on a concern raised via the social network Twitter that Reading's Christmas lights are being left on during the daytime, wasting high levels of electricity.

As the conversation grew twitterers said they were also angry that shop windows are left burning throughout the night and that it was the same last year too. It seems members of the public were highly engaged offering plenty of simple suggestions which could make a real difference.

As she followed up, she recieved the astounding response from Labour's lead councillor on environmental issues, Cllr Paul Gittings (a recent candidate for the Reading West selection), who pleaded ignorance but promised to respond.

Cllr Benson notes Labour has been vocal in offering support to campaigns of this nature, but argues it "simply does not make finanical or environmental sense" to have these lights blazing all day, every day.

She asks "what message does leaving them on all day send out about environmental responsibility?" and states the only possible conclusion is that "for all the fine words from Labour politicians in Reading about tackling climate changes there is still far too little action, far too little leadership."

It is particularly relevant since Reading Borough Council only recently signed up to the 10:10 Campaign with unanimous support from all sides.

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Update: Linda Fort doesn't think the environment is worth taking seriously - she says Cllr Benson is playing Scrooge!

Cllr Benson responds.

She notes from the official answer to her query that the decision to keep the light on during the day was taken back in 2006 and asks a few sharp questions:
  • Hasn't appreciation of the issues changed since 2006? 
  • Doesn't the episode highlight the inconsistency of Labour following their championing of other symbolic initiatives? 
  • Can the public trust Labour's commitment to the causes it espouses? 
  • Where is the overarching strategy linking together different aspects of policy? 
  • Doesn't this signal a lack of political leadership and will?
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More on the UN's Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Water, Water Everywhere...

As autumnal rains cause hovoc on the transport system in the Thames basin (railways, roads), the bureaucratic issues behind the problems are starting to float to the surface.


Price Review
The up-coming five-yearly price review of water bills by industry watchdog Ofwat has declared that water and sewarage companies have been drastically overcharging customers.

According to Robin Pagnamenta in The Times, Thames Water is preparing to appeal to the Competition Commission against the regulator's decision to levy record fines and insist on price cuts of 4% when it had been expected to continue a trend of above-inflation price rises (a rise of 17% was reported imminent earlier this year).

Insiders suggest utility companies will argue that political influence had been exerted over the regulator by the Labour government.


Investment Plans
The company may be forced to suspend dividends and make a £1bn cash-call on shareholders to continue massive investment plans.

This is after the company announced record profits in June and CEO David Owens lamented "decades of under-investment have kept our bills artificially low," while still claiming the lowest average charges in the country.

Some suspect this dramatic and unexpected policy shift may be behind efforts to maximise income from other areas of the companies portfolio, such as the extensive property holdings acquired during privatisation.

In Reading local campaigners have mounted a high-profile effort to prevent development of the Bath Road reservoir site, which has gained widespread political backing.

And concern has grown over the possible relocation of Thames Water's call-centre from Swindon where 500 people are employed.


Flooding Bill
Meanwhile, Labour has trumpeted proposals in the forthcoming Flooding Bill which will remove liability from individual householders for repairs on private sewers, with these costs being added to general bills.

Rachel Eden claims the bill will improve the national situation and help prevent flooding in future.

Linda Fort recently investigated the efforts being undertaken to get the Environment Agency, Thames Water and Reading Borough Council to work together. She reports that the council has only started logging gully clearances in the borough's 17,000 drains since summer flooding caused widespread disruption in 2007.

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Update: The Environment Agency's Flood Risk manager Peter Quarmby says being flooded is worse - in monetary terms - than being burgled and argues that "people can do more to protect themselves."

But Mike McNamara says we should keep things in perspective - floods in Britain are nothing likeas bad as in some other parts of the world.

Rachel Eden visits Henley's Museum of River and Rowing and hopes there isn't more rain to come - one thing you can always be sure of.

The Lower Thames Flood Risk Management Strategy, which will see three flood diversion channels created over the next 15 years, has been adopted. A public consultation continues until December 5th.

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Interview with Thames Water CEO David Owens - RRL #31.

More information on the Thames Water price review.

More on the campaign to save the Bath Road reservoir.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Take Your Seats

Resting limbs and taking the weight off our rears is all part of travelling by train, but our comfort is something everybody takes personally and any slight aggravation is can make us sore...

There are never enough spaces to sit, so Diggestive prefers to stand in the buffet car people watching.

A range of animal behaviour is always on display indicating the wide range of commuter species on board. Unsuccesful courtship rituals are the kind of thing which pass under his critical eye.

The feeding habits of fellow passengers preoccupies Elizabeth Thomas, while their personal grooming (or lack thereof) grabs the attention of the Baglady.

But it could be worse.

Robin Smith worries about where to put his load!

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Update: Miffy indulges in some schadenfreude at the expense of an illicit smoker on platform 9.

Kristin is no fan of standing during journeys, which is obviously part of the culture shock.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

PCC Gone Mad?

Media industry watchdog, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) has come under heavy fire over the past couple of days as a new row over freedom of speech has broken out.

At the annual Society of Editors lecture PCC chairperson, Baroness Peta Buscombe, called the use of  so-called super injunctions "a constitutional outrage."

She argued that developments in technology have created an irrevocable shift in favour of the freedom of speech, but this required conscious restraint by those who value that freedom in order that it is protected from future changes in the law.

The former parliamentary candidate for Slough criticised the use of hyperbole and "shouty headlines" by newspapers and warned that they may prove counter-productive and lead to bad legislation as organisations and individuals try to protect themselves from any detrimental impact.

She described it as symptomatic of a 'dysfunctional democracy' that the media was forced to fill the 'democratic deficit' during the expenses affair.

You can read her full speech here (and quite entertaining it is too).

The speech came as Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger resigned from the PPC's code committee after it emerged a parliamentary inquiry was misled during the News Of The World 'phone-hacking' investigation and calls have been made for the Baroness to resign.

Lines have been drawn between the former Conservative party Vice-Chairman and Labour-supporting Guardian (part of the same company which owns our local Reading Post) as this media battle underscores the general election contest.

All this may seem somewhat distant, but it matters for anyone with a blog.

Media correspondent Roy Greenslade explains that the PCC hopes to regulate the blogosphere.

He also reports on the efforts to resist the suppression of free speech, reprinting a draft open letter of complaint which you can sign online at Liberal Conspiracy.


Local reaction

It is interesting to watch how this overtly political debate provides a clear dividing line across the blogosphere - liberals and left-wingers are clearly more concerned than conservatives and right-wingers.

Jane Griffiths is obviously concerned about the potential impact on restricting criticism, although there is clearly a distinction between news reporting and comment.

Mark Reckons is more imaginative - he raises the important point about legitimacy: that all regulation should be matched by representation... so if the PCC wishes to regulate blogs then bloggers must be represented on the editorial board to stand up for bloggers' concerns.

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Update: Matt Blackall is concerned about how the media can be targetted as a means to silence opposition.


Oranjepan asks:
What do you think?

If you have a blog please comment below to say how you feel about the prospect of being regulated and potentially taken to court for what you publish.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Discovering The Faces Behind The Name

Digital Identity was a major issue discussed at the first Reading Geek Night, and it's definitely something which we're interested in here surveying local news from our treetop perch.

While meeting people face-to-face remains the best way to build trust, how we associate with each other as social media gains an increasing foothold in society is growing as a topic of importance.

Previously I raised the subject of the psychological pressure of being a publicly recognisable figure and how this can affect the ability of an individual to do their job.

Mental health experts concluded in a report that stigmatising chosen identities is a political tactic to restrict information and limit freedom of individual expression which can have serious consequences.

However Graham Jones reports on new research showing that avoiding social media as everyone else gets a blog and hooks up to facebook or twitter could be increasing the social isolation which is at the root of many public health problems.

And in a neat coincidence local bloggers have addressed the issue from their own unique perspectives.

Mr London Street writes up a fascinating reflection on his flowering fame as he was recognised for the first time when buying his morning coffee.

It's obviously been uppermost in his thoughts recently since he's been wining and dining a series of classy female writers he's met though their blogs.

Elsewhere Tim Liew also considers the issue of public identity.

He reports on the unveiling of notorious blogger Belle Du Jour and compares her to former US vice-presidential candidate Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. In a powerful statement he asks:
"Who, really, is prostituting themselves here? Who is distorting the truth more? And who would you trust? The established bestselling author recounting her time as a high-class escort, or the soon-to-be bestselling author attempting to rewrite history to further her unbridled lust for higher office?"

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Update: The issue of identity and data security has been brought into focus over the past day as it emerges employees at telecom company T-Mobile have been engaged in one of the biggest breaches of the law ever - selling the personal information they were entrusted to protect.

Information Commissioner Christopher Graham is pushing the case as grounds to introduce prison sentences for serious breaches of data protection laws.

Cruisers Control Ordered

A popular car club has been banned from meeting at the Forbury Retail Park and ordered to disperse after nearby residents complained at the disturbance.

The organisers have struck back saying they cooperate with authorities are being squeezed out with nowhere to go because of an uninvited minority.

Spokesman Rob Strike said "There are unfortunately some people who decide to come to the car park and act like idiots."

And a statement on their website says: "We are working with the Police and the Council to try and come up with a solution that everyone can be happy with so that perhaps we can have an area to use that can be monitored and marshalled to keep everyone safe and sound."

But in an interview with BBC Berkshire's Andrew Peach (from 6.20) he explained that efforts to find a location for the meet have been hampered by council officials who refuse to listen to any plans unless Police are already onboard, so their ability to marshall events is immediately restricted.

Reflecting the perception problem involved BBC editors branded the group 'boy-racers'.

The club for modified car enthusiasts, claims over 1,300 members in total, has 565 fans of its' facebook page and an active forum. This has helped spread the message about club activities and boost the appeal beyond the handful of friends who started things up.

But concerns have been raised about "playing loud music on their stereos, revving their engines, reports of vehicles racing around," according to Thames Valley's Chief Inspector Jim Weems.

Earlier this year the group was moved on from the Reading Gate retail park.

Meanwhile, only a couple of hundred yards away, the next generation of 'rowdy youths' have been targeted by Police for causing public disorder and 'general intimidation'.


Oranjepan asks:
If you keep moving people on without providing any viable alternatives, where will they end up?

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Related stories: Parallels In Parking, Dealing With Kids On Wheels

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Calling Copenhagen!

The build-up to the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change continues as the Greater Reading Environmental Network organised a public debate at the Reading International Solidarity Centre.

GREN spokesman John Hoggett explained that the UN-sponsored talks take place in just over 5 weeks and "could be the most important international agreement in human history."

Speakers included Phil Thornhill, the national coordinator of the Campaign Against Climate Change, leading climate scientist Jonathan Gregory and outgoing Labour MP Martin Salter.

LibDem Cllr Gareth Epps was also in attendance, but while he was pleased at the level of public interest he was disappointed in the turnout from other political parties.

He says he was impressed by constructive discussion following the scientific presentations which recognised the required shift in attitudes and resources will be 'enormous'.

Members of the Local Strategic Partnership (LSP) will attend a separate event at Reading Town Hall on Tuesday 17th November planned as part of the Reading 2020 Forum headlined 'Future Challenge: Future Change'.

Guests will listen to keynote speeches from Chair of the Southern Region Institute of Directors, Chris Dodson, and visiting Executive Fellow of Henley Business School of Reading University Peter McManners (who authored 'Adapt and Thrive: The Sustainable Revolution').

Chair of the 2020 Reading Partnership Board, Labour's Cllr Jo Lovelock, commented:
"we need to start thinking about our vision for the future and turning that into a strategy to bring about practical improvements in the quality of life for local communities."
Elsewhere Bracknell Blog notes recent polls pointing that a majority of the public remain unconvinced climate change is occurring.

Dazmando admits this shouldn't surprise anyone given the often cynical and reactive nature of public opinion, as he says many people think the environmental agenda is an excuse for increasing taxes.

Meanwhile Bracknell PPC David Young launches an attack on his opponents accusing them of not knowing what they stand for and making empty gestures.

The Green Party candidate argues that a 'green tax switch' is an undesirable example of 'greenwash' because it would encourage people to change behaviour patterns and this would damage state provision of services, adding that no 'serious' green would contemplate the possibility of reducing taxes.

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Background on the Copenhagen Summit.

Friday, 13 November 2009

New Venue Is A Vision For Newbury's Future

Film fans have been celebrating in Newbury this weekend after the opening of a dedicated 7-screen cinema.

Over 1,000 people attended the gala evening with local dignitaries to watch 'A Christmas Carol' starring Jim Carrey.

The cinema is an anchor venue forming a key part of the Newbury Vision 2025 project which includes improvement of the Broadway and the £130m Parkway leisure and retail development.

It offers latest technologies including state-of-the-art projection and sound systems which will feature heavily as a slate of 3D offerings are released in the upcoming season.

Vue Entertainment CEO, Tim Richards, said he was delighted with the result and boasted of an "unrivalled level of cinema entertainment in a unique environment".

Pangbourne's Cllr Pamela Bale gave a more formal comment:
"This is an exciting development for Newbury which has received huge public support and will provide great benefits both culturally and to the local economy."
And Conor O’Gallagher, director of development company Alanis, said, "This is a big thing for Newbury, and people have been waiting a long time."


Political Battle At An End

The occasion marks the culmination of a protracted 10-year battle and has been the cause of much heated debate among politicians in West Berkshire since the previous cinema shut its' doors for the last time in 1998.

Back in 2003 the bubbling controversy was stirred when the issue became a key issue during local elections and LibDems claimed their success was a 'ringing endorsement' of public support for the scheme designed under their leadership.

It rumbled on through during the 2005 general election when now-MP, Tory Richard Benyon accused LibDems of "dishonest campaigning" and falling into negativity as he denied opposing the cinema in the town.

Mr Benyon said he "questioned the need for public money to subsidise the operator," even after then-MP David Rendel argued that the finalised plan "would come at no extra cost to the taxpayer."

Yet only two years later after a power shift, as a hold was put on the plans, new Conservative council leader Cllr Graham Jones admitted concerns about the ability of The Kennet Centre to deliver on commitments. He publicly stated his party was considering reopening the planning process by actively investigating other locations as a potential site for a cinema.

The matter nearly descended into farce when Mag Williams, manager of site owners Kennet Shopping, stepped in to accuse politicians on both sides of 'misinforming the public about the plans' just as the first building works were getting under under way.

LibDems had been excluded from a key scrutiny committee by the Conservative council as they sought to renegotiate part of the contract agreed in 2003 to insert a 'timetable for delivery' guaranteeing £1/2m completion payment if the venue was open by December 2009.


'Delight'

Cllr Rendel said attending the opening after years of delay was "a great delight" which will satisfy one of the biggest grumbles among all age-groups locally, but issued a warning about continuing secrecy among Conservatives.

Elsewhere commenters on the Newbury.net public forum have given a decidedly mixed reaction to the cinema: in one thread 'Brian' says he's "actually getting quite excited," while 'Polo' is frustrated that Newbury is getting left behind, but in another people are avoiding judgement until the retail units are filled and open.

Meanwhile Paul Walter sidestepped the politics to have a look at the new building. He thinks a great show will be provided, though not quite the one you first imagined!

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For information on current showings at Newbury Vue visit their listings page.

Gown To Takeover Town

Students from Reading University are stepping up their campaign against unfair funding and will launch a week of events designed to raise awareness of the issues surrounding tuition fees and student debt.

Adam Hewitt previews the events, which will start with a 'sculpture stunt' in the Oracle to visualise the mountain of debt being run up by students and culminate with a debate on the future of funding for Higher Education.

The debate will take place on Thursday at 7pm in the Palmer Building, with local MPs and political candidates facing off in front of what is expected to be a large audience. The meeting is free and open to members of the public.

RUSU President Sinead Brennan explained the campaign is designed to raise awareness of the future of education across society, as it is something which has an impact on everybody's lives.

She said "we want students, staff of the Union and the University, parents of the kids in local schools, anyone and everyone to come along" as this is the best way to "hold our politicians to account on matters close to our heart."

Campaigners have also set up a facebook group to keep people informed of new developments.

They are hoping to build support for Early Day Motion 1085, which calls for a wide-ranging inclusive debate on university and student finance issues.

Meanwhile Linda Fort interviews RU LibDem Society president Mark Whiley.

He points out that many students are already graduating with debts of over £20,000, despite having no guarantee that their qualification will help them get any job.

Since Labour came to power in 1997 the government has colluded with educational institutions to triple the fee cap, he says, and where the official Dearing report recommended students contribute 25% to their education many are now contributing as much as 80%!

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Update: RUSU Student Officers report back on the efforts to raise awareness by their educational activists.

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More stories on Reading University.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Geeks Get Organised

Geeks have recently started reclaiming the term as a means of empowerment.

And now they are using this to create a social movement pressuring for change.

The group has set up its' own blog home to raise awareness of the issues tech-conscious 'geeks' are into.

They advertise their first night, which Katharine Robinson explains has been built out of the success of Twitter in enabling people to make new connections via technology.

However she's more interested in the prospect of being near a bar than in the details of coding and pushing for coding to be introduced into the national curriculum!

Simon May was also in attendance and he got wrapped up in discussions about digital identity and how different media formats can co-exist in a symbiotic relationship.

Both Simon and AmyKate have published albums of photos from the event, just to prove they do exist and what the 'geeks' really look like!

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Update: bennuk provides a summary of his presentation on 'digital identity'.

Reading Geek Night writes up its' own review of its' first night.

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Follow the Twitter hashtag #rdggeek for more information - the next meeting will be on 7th December.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

No Result For Jolly Anglers

Reports that negotiations to reopen the canal-side Jolly Anglers pub have collapsed have been confirmed.

West Berkshire Brewery said it will "remain very supportive of all efforts to re-open the Jolly Anglers," but it was stymied by undeclared licensing variations.

Current owner Enterprise Inns had surrended the property's licenses in the expectation that it could be developed for residential use and applied a restrictive covenant to ensure any future buyers used it for this purpose.

Reading East MP Rob Wilson, who previously announced a deal had been agreed, said
"It's very unfortunate that licensing variations were not revealed before the agreement between the parties was reached. I can understand entirely why this presents an obstacle for those wishing to lease the premises."
In a statement Cllr Gareth Epps (LibDem) claimed that despite the failure for a deal to be reached the lifting of the restrictive covenant was still "a victory of national significance."

He added, "after the great news that Enterprise Inns' restrictive covenant has been lifted, I remain optimistic that this unavoidable hurdle will be cleared."

The cross-party campaign has been the source of a political infight in recent days and weeks as different parties have attempted to claim credit for making the decisive intervention.

Conservative MP for Reading East, Rob Wilson was roundly criticised for preempting the official announcement and misleading journalists that a deal had already been done.

Green Party candidate Rob White joined the chorus of disappointment, and attacked Mr Wilson's 'irresponsible' behaviour, explaining that it may have 'jeopardised' the negotiations.

Mr White was particularly angry with the nature of press releases issued by Mr Wilson and picked up unquestioningly by the local media.

However all sides insisted the fight to save the community hub will go on.

Meanwhile, with a new tenant yet to be announced the pub industry continues to face numerous challenges including wholesale market pricing and aggressive rent reviews.

According to a recent Good Pub Guide report the price of a pint may be as much as 20 pence more expensive in Berkshire than the national average.

Phil Gill, from Reading & Mid Berks CAMRA, explained that while this is partly due to local market expectations and "regional differences depending on the strength of demand," the lower number of independent 'free houses' in the county cannot be ignored as an important factor.

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Update: Commenting on the collapse of the deal Rob Wilson said, "This is really not a massive obstacle" as the pub "has the backing of the local community and is in a good position."

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More on local efforts to Save Our Pubs!

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Issues Of Equality

The mother of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence came to town to deliver a keynote speech at a conference to mark the 10th anniversary of the 'Reading Declaration on race equality' earlier this week.

The conference brought together original signatories to measure and assess progress in this area following the declaration, which was made after the 1999 Macpherson report into the 1993 killing of Stephen Lawrence - these included the borough council, health service, criminal justice services and Reading Council for Racial Equality.

Anna Roberts reports on the series of events at the conference. She notes Mrs Lawrence 'disgust' at the antics of the BNP, on which local bloggers resoundingly agree with her.

Cheif Executive of RBC, Michael Coughlin, said Mrs Lawrence's speech raised issues which still needed addressing, such as low black and minority representation in senior management. Other issues which were looked at in workshops were wealth inequality and inclusive citizenship.

Director of the Reading Council on Racial Equality, Rajinder Sohpal, who is a former Mayor of Reading, made a call "to hear what people think are the points for future progress."

The conference concluded October's Black History Month, which also saw a debate on the issue of Black Representation in Politics, attended by a panel of RBC councillors including Cllr Bet Tickner (Labour), Cllr Chowdhary (Conservative), Cllr Bayes (LibDem) Cllr Tony Jones (Independent).

Meanwhile LibDems held a separate event at Reading University's Palmer Building to discuss the issue of female representation in politics.

Cllr Daisy Benson was joined by her party colleagues Baroness Susan Thomas and Susan Kramer MP and notes some shocking statistics:
  • Only 19% of MPs are women
  • Britain lags behind Afghanistan, Australia, Rwanda, Belarus, Pakistan, New Zealand and 27 other European states (in terms of the number of women MPs we have)
  • There are only two Black women MPs, and there has never been an Asian woman MP
  • 30% of councillors are women (2008 Councillors Census)
  • There are currently even fewer Black/minority ethnic women councillors
She compares the issues facing different groups regarding underrepresentation and makes a strong plea:
"Equality is an important end in itself but I also think [with] a more equal Parliament this would lead to better decision-making and a more appealing political culture: better all round."
She concludes that we can't just "sit at home wishing we lived in a perfect world [because] it ain't gonna happen" on its' own.

And the problem of age and wealth inequality is also being highlighted by the recession as different groups suffer disproportionately.

According to Rachel Williams in the Guardian, "seven of the ten areas that have seen the highest proportionate rises in unemployment are in Berkshire and Surrey" and this is causing the gains made lifting people out of poverty over recent years to be 'wiped out at a stroke'.

Former Labour MP Jane Griffiths notes the efforts being made to allow younger people to speak for themselves about the issues which concern them.

She is critical of Reading West MP Martin Salter's 'campaign' to support youth debates in the House of Commons, as she feels this is designed to control the debate so that the powers that be can avoid listening.

LibDem student activist Neal Brown thinks Votes At 16 is the answer - he points out that 16-yr-olds can already join the army, pay tax, join the workforce, get married and have a family, yet they can't have a say in the decisions which effect them regarding which wars they may be sent to or what tax reforms should be implemented.

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Update: Chairman Bill says there must be an evolutionary basis to the irrational preoccupations which lead to prejudice.


Oranjepan says:
The issues of equality are something that affect everyone - equally!

The X-Register

Election day may be many months away, but now is the time to act if you want to be able to take part on the day.

As many as 20,000 voters in Reading and 10,000 in Wokingham risk losing the chance to decide on the identity of the people who will represent them because they have not completed electoral registration forms.

Canvassers from councils across the county have been knocking on doors in an attempt to track down these missing people, warning that there is a legal duty on every household to ensure they are on the electoral register and that paying your Council Taxes or registering for other services does not give you the vote.

Redlands' Cllr Daisy Benson notes that the official audit will conclude on 22nd November and that this it is important to ensure election fraud can't cheat residents of their real choices.

This is particularly relevant locally, given that postal vote fraud has twice been confirmed in Berkshire in recent years.

In 2005 Labour benefited from vote rigging in central Reading, while a Conservative candidate was sent to prison for committing similar offences in Slough in 2007.

Meanwhile communications guru Neville Hobson advertises a couple of techie solutions:
  • Online at a special website
  • A phone call to an automated freephone service
  • A text message by SMS from my mobile phone
  • Return the paper canvass form in the post
Meanwhile the Electoral Commission answers all your questions (check here).

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Update: Rachel Eden expresses concern that anyone might lose there vote by not registering.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Nuclear - The Toxic Issues

The news that Labour Environment Secretary Ed Miliband MP has given the go-ahead to 10 new nuclear power stations is having some local fallout.

The government hopes that by 2025 25% of the nations electricity needs will be provided from nuclear sources, compared to 13% now.

Mr Miliband responded to attacks from environmental groups arguing that rising energy demand added to the pressures of climate change caused by fossil fuels meant expansion of nuclear energy is the only available option.



He has been leading the charge pushing for a strong agreement at the forthcoming Copenhagen Summit, but last weekend's G20 meeting at St Andrew's (which was designed to set the ground for a smooth summit) struggled to reach any decision. Larger countries were angry at demands they meet proportionate shares of the estimated $100bn restructuring costs involved in avoiding climate change.

Changes to planning laws are controversial, as are claims that nuclear is a cheaper option or a far-sighted solution.

But Conservatives are full square behind Labour - opposition front-bench spokesman Greg Clark MP said the risk of power shortages by 2017 is a national emergency which needs to be dealt with.

Wokingham's John Redwood MP says 'better late than never', while Maidenhead blogger Alistair McRonald says any concerns are just a problem of management.

LibDem Simon Hughes MP said it was a 'collossal mistake' which underestimates the real cost and will leave a 'toxic legacy'.

Along with the 11 provisional locations identified as possible sites for energy plants, a similar number have been identified for waste disposal.

Berkshire's atomic weapons establishments at Aldermaston and Burghfield have both this week been identified as sites where waste from decommissioned submarines could be stored and this could mean waste from nuclear energy is too.

According to BBC Berkshire as many as 15 nuclear submarines are ready for disposal.

Director of the Reading-based Nuclear Information Service, Peter Burt said,
"Most people don't realise that, as well as manufacturing nuclear weapons, AWE also acts as a nuclear dump site for much of the military radioactive waste that it produces."
Mr Birt also raised concerns about the transporting of nuclear waste across the countryside, explaining that it remains a highly sensitive issue because of the "toxicity and the long timescales" for which the material remains radioactive.

Newbury MP, Conservative Richard Benyon, argued that the Berkshire facility "has a very good record on decommissioning," adding, that "it decommissions nuclear weapons from other parts of the world as well as our own" and that decommissioning is part of the process that reduces the scale of the nuclear deterrent.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said that they are "consulting widely" on the prospect, but that no decision had yet been reached.

Meanwhile the potential jobs boon comes at a time when AWE Aldermaston has just announced it will be shedding 50 more positions, although some reports suggested it could be as many as ten times that figure.

Spokesman for trade union Prospect, Graham Stewart, played down the potential impact, saying that human resources and administration are under consideration.

LibDem environmental spokesperson on Reading Borough Council, Cllr Glenn Goodall recently blogged about outstanding questions in the planning application for AWE Aldermaston.

He also raises the concern that neighbouring authorities to West Berkshire Council may be being overlooked regarding statutory requirements for consultation.

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Update: Adrian Windisch reports on a recent failed prosecution of protesters accused of blockading the Aldermaston site.

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Background on the Copenhagen Summit

More on issues surrounding AWE Aldermaston.

It Was 20 Years Ago Today...

...that the wall came down.

It has also roused some more personal memories back from the days way back when...

Reading University's Centre For East German Studies has celebrated the occasion with a special event, including documentary films showing the Berlin Wall from the official and underground positions.

Elizabeth Thomas remembers the times well as a moment to look forwards.

She was hopeful then that her new-born baby "would have a wonderful future in a peaceful world."

So too does Conservative MEP Dan Hannan, but he prefers to give the benefit of his hindsight. He was on his gap year at the time and used the opportunity to witness the collapse of the Eastern bloc first-hand - from the refuge of a pub inhabited by drunk British journalists!

He was taken by surprise by the suddenness of the events, but revels in the democratic revolutions which ensued. He drew several conclusions from his vantage point, all of which fed into his negativity towards European integration.

On the other hand I have a look around and feel slightly more optimistic.

Meanwhile John Breakwell is on the spot to provide some photos of some of the sights of Berlin today (here the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial church in the Ku'damm) - looking forward to the rest, John!

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Update: Graham Jones discusses the benefits and consequences of the freedom brought to former DDR residents when the wall came down - he notes that the revolution in the control of information formerly exerted by members of the politburo has recently gone through another cycle as newspaper editors are being swamped by the technological possibilities of Twitter and Facebook.

He says: "Back when the Berlin Wall existed the people of Berlin effectively outsourced their information filtering to the state," adding that the only way to be sure you're not 'being fed a line' is by having a range of "information filterers" to compare and contrast what each are saying.

John Breakwell continues his tour of the sights of Berlin. He describes the celebrations at the historic epicentre of events from a first-person p-o-v.

Caversham's noodle miner has also decided to visit the city. She is a regular to Berlin and took these photos last time there.

Recommended Reading List #39

Caversham's Cyrus Thatcher died on 2nd June and has had his name added to a war memorial.

In a touching tribute Berkshire Humanists reprint his copy of the letter service personnel are advised to write to family and loved ones in the case of their death, interspersed with comments from his mother.

It is the voice of a true tommy.

Sarah Dave notes the tributes paid.

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Round-Up: Remembering

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Round-Up: Remembering

Rememberance Sunday is a peculiarly British celebration - we won't accept defeat by getting distracted from our daily routines for more than the minute we spend marking the moment of Armistice at 11am on the 11th day of the 11 month, so we instead choose the closest Sunday for our rituals.

It's clear from the way local bloggers have marked the date that the way we remember reflects our personal battles and concerns.

Elizabeth Thomas reprints a poem by Wilfred Owen to explain to her international audience that the ordinary sacrifice of the common man was the means by which tyrrany was defeated.

Conservative MP John Redwood is moved to give a recap of his life story in order to give some definition to the fight for freedom and capture the "sense of fear, futility, and enormous bravery against the odds."

It is also interesting how the pictures on different bloggers blogposts reflects their individual perspectives.

Mr Redwood's party colleague Cllr Richard Willis looks at battalion wreaths. He says we owe a debt of gratitude to the dead for putting military history in the annals of education.

Liberal Paul Walter prefers the silence of nature and a landscape of poppies.

Labour candidate Naz Sarkar can't translate his thoughts into a picture.

Ceramix photographs the Finchampstead War Memorial cross and copies out the simple inscription 'for all those who died in the name of freedom'.

Baba Mzungu posts a picture of the mass graves and obviously feels spiritually overwhelmed by the massive scale of the dead.

Baglady was struck by the regimented tributes of official remembrance. She admits she hasn't paid much attention to the services in past years - it's almost like they've been put on a shelf...

Elsewhere, Peter Ashley says he can't remember another year when the the issues were so intensively debated - possibly because the last Brish survivor of the WWI trenches died this summer.

He is almost glad that unobtrusive pins are available for your buttonhole to help avoid slipping into glorification of the massive scale of tragic losses.

Mark Reckons picks up on the stir caused by respected journalist Jon Snow who refuses to wear a poppy.

The veteran C4 frontman has been attacked by Labour commenters for undermining the occasion and diminishing the memory of the heroes who stood up to the forces of evil. But Mr Snow defended his neutrality by saying rememberance is a personal action of reflection, not just a public show to build political unity.

Indeed Rachel Eden spent the afternoon delivering political leaflets as she considered how to mark the occasion. She ladels it on like treacle with a 5minute video, and the announcement that she will force her class of children to observe two minutes of silence.

Meanwhile Robin Smith got into a discussion with a REME veteran who was collecting for the poppy appeal. It got to the more topical issue of why soldiers have been pressed into duty in Afghanistan.

Clive Davis notes the poignancy of The Times. He relates a recent interview with a soldier killed in Afghanistan.

And finally I offer my own contribution in an attempt to draw together both sides of the argument: the act of remembering is more than just something we each do by rote, it is something we do to prevent us from repeating the mistakes of the past.

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Update: Mark Thompson attended the Rememberance Service at Sandhurst Memorial Park with officers from the nearby Royal Military Academy.

He reckons we owe them our today, because they give theirs for us.

It's hard to disagree.

With 13% of all military fatalities in Afghanistan and Iraq suffered by those from the south-east of England the region bears a larger burden than most. Sometimes it does all come close to home.

Lightening and lowering the tone at the same time, Mr London Street peers though his hazy memory and takes a swipe at haters everywhere.

Top Of The Berkshire Blogs - October 2009

Check out the risers and the fallers with Reading List's exclusive chart of the best blogs in the area!

Of course no ranking system will ever be definitive so don't forget to tell us about any sites you think we may have missed in the comments section and add them to the Wikio directory - the more the merrier!

Here's a rundown of the Top10 for October 2009:


1 - #14 (-1) - Mark Reckons
2 - #49 (-28) - John Redwood's Diary
3 - #61 (+8) - Boulton & Co
4 - #162 (+160) The Salted Slug
5 - #180 (+380) - Bracknell Blog
6 - #296 (-12) - NevilleHobson.com
7 - #332 (-57) - Richard Willis's Blog
8 - #421 (-66) - LPUK South East
9 - #459 (+62) - Reading List
10 - #512 (+164) - naws


You can read the full chart for October here.

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Congratulations go to naws for continuing a steady climb and breaking into the increasingly competitive Top10, but the main trend of the month was the rise of the Bracknell bloggers.

This reflects the national interest in the Conservative party 'open primary' selection following the resignation of Andrew MacKay in the ongoing expenses scandal - Cllr Alvin Finch's Stuff jumped over 24,000 places to 2,641 (37th on the chart), while Tim Trent's Marketing By Permission gained more than 3,000 spots to move into the top 2,000 (28th) and Dazmando's series of interviews with the candidates helped push his Bracknell Blog up from 9th to 5th.

Mention must also be given to the Bag Lady (for the second month running) and The Mysterious World Of Matt Blackall as the only other blogs to climb over 1,000 places.

Kudos to all the local writers out there for making this one of the most vibrant local blogospheres in the country - keep it up and watch out for next month's list!

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Click here for last month's Top10.

Click here for the full archive of earlier charts.

And if you still want to know more check out the guide Why It Matters... Blog Rankings

Friday, 6 November 2009

Fireworks

The celebrations surrounding Fireworks night traditionally brings ooohs and ahhhs to match the eeees and occasional ouches.

Wendy explodes in a creative burst.

Christina Jones popped champagne corks to go with her fish and chips supper as she celebrated the anniversary of her wedding, but the ambience in the card shop set off an emotional reaction that found her weeping as pensioners around her discharged cat-calls.

Ngozi Fakeye from the South Central Ambulance service warned people to take extra precautions after announcing 121 injuries and incidents were attended in previous years.

Meanwhile the satirists have been out in force to poke some fun at the 'guy'.

Newsarse noted the anti-clerical celebration by posing the rhetorical question "Isn’t it just typical of the Brits to celebrate a glorious failure?"

And Newsbiscuit breaks the news of further inflationary measures by the government to stave off widerspread recession by suggesting it is all a big plot by higher authorities...

Elsewhere Cartoonist Len complains that the hard-bitten political anger of Bonfire night has been surpassed in popular culture by the imported over-enthusiastic communal tweeness of Halloween and that this has been driven by commercial pressures.

And finally I give you all a song (but maybe that's because the parade was rained on...)

Round-Up: Question Time Comes To Town!

It's always causes a stir of excitement when TV provides a forum for recognisable public figures to go head-to-head in confrontation.

Although this week's event was no competition for the recent controversy caused by the appearance of BNP leader Nick Griffin on the BBC's flagship political debating programme local intrest was piqued because it took place in Reading and a representative sample of local residents were on hand in the audience to give a flavour of public opinion on the issues.

You can watch it again for the next week on the BBC's iPlayer.

Over on my other blog I was bitten by the bug of anticipation and started the build-up by asking what the main topics of discussion were likely to be.

The BBC handily provided a resume of the panelists, who included:
  • Labour's Peter Hain MP (he recently declared he would boycott the programme in the aftermath of the BNP affair);
  • Conservative Nick Herbert MP;
  • Former Veritas MEP and BBC presenter, Robert Kilroy-Silk;
  • Comedienne, Times contributor and Humanist, Natalie Haynes; and
  • Former Metropolitan Police Commisioner Sir Ian Blair.
Mark Reckons provided his usual excellent service and covered it live with his message board - highly entertaining reading it makes too!

Mark's live survey suggested 2-out-of-every-3 people think David Cameron's decision not to offer a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty now that the Czech courts have approved ratification is a climbdown, while 4-out-of-5 think this will upset potential tory voters.

On the deployment of troops in Afghanistan 94% of respondents said our strategy is not working.

But while there was an almost even split on whether MPs deserve a pay rise only 1-in-6 said it was politically feasible.

A similar number (1-in-6) thought the Government was right to sack Professor David Nutt.

For those of you with more patience than me, you're welcome to pick through the BBC Have Your Say forum, home of the widest range of commenters online.

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Update: Reading Forum's commenters are uninspired by the edition.

Piwacket says they were scraping the bottom of the barrel with panelists, while Riverside turns his attention in reverse, noting how the Labour party managed to pack the audience.


Oranjepan says:
Frankly it's amazing how much can be packed into just over an hour of TV time, but for an occasion on a wet November 5th (or maybe because of it) it was more of a damp squib than a display of fireworks.

University 'Green Week' Comes To Close

A prize-giving ceremony today marks the end of Reading University's 'Green Week', which the University hopes will raise the profile of environmental issues facing the country and the local community.

A series of events organised by the University started with a pledge by the Universtity Vice-Chancellor to halve its landfill waste by August 2012 and make 20% reductions in carbon emissions by 2013.

This was followed by debates and lectures as well as a concert, an exhibition and a tour of the new Hopkins building to highlight the challenges and explain some of the ways in which we can deal with them.

Reading University also reaffirmed it's environmental credentials on its' new 'Clean and Green' web-page - advertising the ethical policies of the intitution and it's status as a premier research facility for environmental sciences.

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More about Reading University

Reservoir Repreive - The Reasons & The Risks

News that Reading Borough Council finally rejected the application by Thames Water to build as many as 100 new homes on the Bath Rd Reservoir came through last month, but efforts to stop the company from lodging an appeal against the planning decision were given a boost this week.

The 5.4 acre site had been described as a vital 'green lung' close to an Air Quailty Management Area in an area already notorious for heavy traffic.

Campaign co-ordinator Mel Woodward explained that publication of the full reasons why development is unsuitable for the location would prevent government planning processes from overruling the local council decision - which may result in "potentially similar or worse development."

The campaigners hope to preserve the natural state of the site and turn it into an educational resource where local schoolchildren can lead about the environment and our impact on it (copying the example of the Smallmead visitor centre).

In the end a list of 12 reasons were published.

Anna Roberts publishes the full list.

However she also picks up with deputy leader of RBC, Labour's Cllr Tony Page, who said that the reasons for refusal should be taken by the company as grounds to 're-engage with the community'.

He opened the way for new plans to be lodged, explaining that the council recognised that the site was one of a falling number of open spaces in the town, and that they "have always accepted there will be a need for sensitive development."

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More on the Bath Rd Reservoir campaign

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Vegetarian Or Vegan?

Adrian Windisch noted the 'World Vegan Day' on November 1st was a day for raising awareness of 'ethical and environmentally-friendly' food issues. He argues:
"Vegan farming can help to overcome world hunger by helping Global Food Security; help protect our fertile lands and fresh water reserves, and cut greenhouse gas emissions."
Meanwhile Elizabeth Thomas picks up on a recent interview with Lord Stern, who explained that
"Meat is a wasteful use of water and creates a lot of greenhouse gases. It puts enormous pressure on the world’s resources. A vegetarian diet is better."
But while cutting down is realistic she couldn't imagine giving up meat completely.

Elsewhere Robin Smith says that Lord Stern's recommendations are simply not necessary to avert climate change, because current consumer behaviour is so wasteful.

On the other hand Mr London Street is a confirmed gastronomic carnivore - not for him doner kebabs and hamburgers, his taste runs more to confit of pheasant and squid stuffed with haggis - just so long as there's enough to stretch his stomach!

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Update: The Baglady is a big fan of wild mushrooms - especially when she doesn't have to cook them for herself.

And Wendy is also a forager - she provides some helpful (and, dare I say it, accurate) reviews of local feeding stations.

Oranjepan says:
Food - it's all bananas to me!

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Related reading: The Good Food Guide

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

MP Criticised For Media Manipulation

Reading East MP, Rob Wilson (Conservative) is facing an increasing barrage of criticism after he issued a press release prematurely claiming credit for the community campaign to save a local pub.

Local media outlets picked up the announcement and published reports repeating Mr Wilson's claims, which were subsequently picked up by Green party blogger Adrian Windisch.

Adrian notes that it is a grassroots and cross-party effort, but Mr Wilson claims he 'spearheaded' the campaign, despite not attending any meetings of the Jollydarity committee, nor appearing among the 227 members of the 'Save The Jolly Angler' facebook group.



Mr Wilson pre-emptively named the company which he says has already concluded negotiations, thereby putting a potential deal at risk, whilst also stating that the restrictive covenant placed on the sale of the property by current owners Enterprise Inns has been removed - a fact which is yet to be confirmed.

Reading Post removed an article (see here) it published online after receiving numerous complaints, replacing it with a short statement that the Jolly Anglers is 'rumoured' to be re-opening.

They quote West Berkshire Brewery spokesman Dave Maggs, who said, "Negotiations are ongoing and that is all I can say."

Meanwhile BBC Berkshire and Reading 107fm amended their articles after outraged campaigners got in contact, while Reading Chronicle undertook a complete rewrite to change the emphasis.

The Chronicle's Newsdesk quotes Mr Wilson's statement that he was "delighted that this has been resolved and we have saved a great British pub from disappearing," but adds a contradictory statement from WBW director Karen Baum, who said she was 'hopeful' a deal would be concluded, but that it was still too early to confirm anything at this stage.

LibDem parliamentary candidate Cllr Gareth Epps made an implicit attack on the man he hopes to unseat at the General Election, saying that any suggestion of the "pub reopening is only speculation at this stage, and it would be irresponsible to say anything that could put negotiations in jeopardy."


Oranjepan says:
Mr Wilson's desperate attempt to curry favour by providing local news organisations with a cheap and inaccurate headline has damaged his reputation and embarrassed editors.

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Background: Save Our Pubs!

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Round-up: The Drugs Debate

The fallout from the government's sacking of Chief Scientific Advisor Professor David Nutt has sparked a major political debate, which local bloggers have been all too willing to participate in.


Science versus politics

Alistair McRonald is fascinated by it all as he says it cuts across traditional left-right lines and divides opinion between logic and emotion.

Giovanni at Push The Red Button says it highlights the pretence of government policy-making processes and that "it is a sad day for government, science and society" when an emminent British expert who is a world leader in the field is sacked for having the courage to call for more honesty in politics.

Jonathan at Digital Toast calls Professor Nutt a "complete wibbling loon candidate for mistruth" as he accuses him of 'bad science' and 'blatant statistic mangling'.

However Steve Borthwick provides the benefit of his scientific experience - that intuited knowledge may conform to personal moral frameworks, but it is usually contradicted by reality.

Meanwhile I had a look at some of the science behind the debate on Cannabis classification in an attempt to clear up some of the confusion about the reasons behind the legal framework, while analysing some of the political manoeuvering which informs policy-making by this government.

Which only leaves the unsettling question hanging: why bother asking a question when you already know the answer?


The unfolding events

Mark Reckons has kept up a furious pace providing a running commentary on the unfolding debate, which he thinks more accurately highlights the reasons why government is seen to be failing and the choices facing society going into the next election.

Mark immediately picked up on the brewing controversy, asking: would Home Secretary Alan Johnson take the sensible route by listening to his advisors?, before raising the point that Labour wants to dictate scientific conclusions according to their own percieved interests.

He followed up by noting Conservative support for this doctrinaire approach, commenting that
"the most depressing thing about this whole latest drugs policy farago is that it is looking like things will not be any better if the Conservatives get in after the next election."
As the weekend progressed and two further scientific advisors walked out in protest at the Government's behaviour he noted that the rise of Alan Johnson from Berkshire postman to one of the great offices of state could quickly go into reverse as not one member of R4's Any Questions audience supported the action by the government.

He then cited Iain Brassington's biting response to the sacking letter on a Britsh Medical Journal group blog which paraphrased Mr Johnson's own words:
"I cannot have public confusion between scientific advice and policy and have therefore lost confidence in your ability to make decisions as Home Secretary. I would therefore ask you to step down from the Government with immediate effect."
Mark kept it up by noting Downing Street's refusal to accept any dissent on the issue, before concluding with his perspective on the session in the House of Commons when Alan Johnson faced questions from MPs.

He said it was an occasion which made him feel proud to be a LibDem, as the only side which disagreed with the action taken by the government.

Elsewhere Bracknell Blog has a look behind the headlines and advertises the facebook group which has been set up demanding an evidence based drugs policy which calls for Prof Nutt to be reinstated - you can join the group here.


And finally...

Ludicity satirises the farce by claiming the Government will now appoint an official 'Drugs Rasputin' to repudiate all that the former 'Drugs Czar' represented.

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Update: Chairman Bill offers some words of advice from Bertrand Russell.

Jim Beer takes the side of the professor against the politicians, and he's not timid about saying so.
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