Thursday, July 28, 2011

Seaweed Stories

Up at 6am this morning for a Radio Kent interview on the growing number of unapproved small business advertising signs outside Westwood Cross but I've also been receiving a steady number of emails and phone calls about the seaweed smell along our seafront in the last week and the council has now published a fact sheet on its website where you can find more information on what can and can't be done about this unpleasant problem.

My own understanding of the problem, is that the Thanet seaweed harvest locally goes back many hundreds of years and accounts for many of the gaps cut into the bays so that farmers could collect it for fertiliser on their fields. These days and aside from a very small handful of local volunteer farmers, they don't want it on their fields for a number of reasons. Our shores produce more tonnage of seaweed, by order of magnitude, than any other spot in the south of Britain I'm told and this presents us with a number of visible challenges not least of all being the smell, which I'm informed is actually harmless seaborne bacteria thriving under the warm damp seaweed and not the weed itself.

In recent years the laws have changed in regard to disposing of the seaweed, both through European legislation and our own Environment Agency. My information is that the council can't simply haul it away to a landfill like it did before. So, in relation to seaweed in general the council's aim is to leave it if possible. However, if it can be moved within a bay area to a location where the tide is more likely to remove and not return the seaweed then this is an option and you may notice the council teams at work by 5AM. The success of this can depend on the state of the tide and wind as well as other factors, but is more often successful than is often thought.

The avenues the council has available for the actual removal of seaweed from the coast are fairly limited, especially as the farmer's fields it can use under licence from the Environment Agency are all still under crop. The council of course uses its allotments as much as it can where the seaweed is well received, but the quantities are relatively small.

Other treatment options are not available in or near the district at the moment, and these are all likely to have cost issues as so far nobody appears to be willing to take the weed at approaching zero cost. Previous figures that exist had for sites in the west of Kent are reportedly unaffordable.

The council's aim of seeking a broad range of alternatives, is to avoid the need to try and move seaweed to other locations but when faced with such a huge innundation of weed at the start of the summer holidays the local council has to manage with what it can and with the resources it has available; taking a variety of actions all around the coast to and with a primary focus on removing weed from the main advertised and awarded beaches.

Finally, Dr Alasdair Bruce and I will be meeting with our local MPs Roger Gale and Laura Sandys on Friday to discuss the problem and potential solutions.

See BBC South-east Today news video.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Age of Rage

I've mentioned in the past that I've a number of stored comments from an individual that never appear here because they breach my acceptable content rules. He has a number of identities and if you happen to follow the history and content of some of our other weblogs, then you may recognise his tightly-wrapped intellectual style; sometimes running a conversation thread between his different aliases, acting as a kind of 'agent provocateur' to move the conversation in the direction or towards the political agenda he wants.

Apparently, this kind of behaviour isn't unusual in the internet's 'Age of Rage'  and I found a good article today which describes the psychology that underlies this modern phenomenon.

The psychologists call it “deindividuation”. It’s what happens when social norms are withdrawn because identities are concealed. It is what motivates a responsible father in a football crowd to yell crude sexual hatred at the opposition or the referee. And it’s why under the cover of an alias on a website or a blog – surrounded by virtual strangers – conventionally restrained individuals become 'trolls' ignoring the rules, shouting loudly and using bad language.

"Trolling is a game about identity deception, albeit one that is played without the consent of most of the players. The troll attempts to pass as a legitimate participant, sharing the group's common interests and concerns; the blogs members, if they are cognizant of trolls and other identity deceptions, attempt to both distinguish real from trolling postings, and upon judging a poster a troll, make the offending poster leave the group. Their success at the former depends on how well they — and the troll — understand identity cues; their success at the latter depends on whether the troll's enjoyment is sufficiently diminished or outweighed by the costs imposed by the group."

Tom Postmes, a professor of psychology writes:

"Trolls aspire to violence, to the level of trouble they can cause in an environment. They want it to kick off. They want to promote antipathetic emotions of disgust and outrage, which morbidly gives them a sense of pleasure.”

Postmes compares online aliases to the tags of graffiti artists: “Trolls want people to identify their style, to recognise them, or at least their online identity. But they will only be successful in this if an authority doesn’t clamp down on them. So anonymity helps that. It’s essentially risk-free.”

It's interesting from my own point of view to read that Thanet isn't unusual in having it's small share of an annoying  problem which is widely known across the internet. I first saw this expressed around 18 years ago on a popular dial-up bulletin board system I ran, which attracted such an unpleasant character that the police became involved in tracking his computer, which ultimately led to a raid on desk at Kensington Town Hall. Today, it's a worldwide phenomenon with the same unpleasant spectrum of extremes that one might expect to be expressed across the internet. Perhaps our own frustrated  local troll, on reading this - because I know he will within minutes of my publishing it - will seek a little much-needed help or perhaps a short course in anger management as the number of  loosely moderated weblogs where he can play his games diminishes over time.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Spitfire Museum - Special Event 14th August

One for your diary in August. The Manston Spitfire Museum is holding a special event and here's the poster which they asked me to put up. Please support it if you can. It should be a great day out for the family:

Incidentally and for those who missed it, including the local paper, here's a photo of the banner flown over the Open Golf Championship on Sunday as Darren Clarke won. Fortunately the Daily Telegraph picked it up. I assume the Thanet Gazette's reporter was having a snooze at the time as it didn't even merit a mention in 'Smudger.'!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Westminster Village of the Damned

A complete media scrum at Westminster at lunchtime, so bad in fact that my meeting had to be diverted to the Home Office as an army of press and onlookers blocked access to Parliament.

In fact, it all rather reminded me of another age and all that was missing I thought was a scaffold. Public executions in Whitehall may be a thing of the past but the vicarious interest that surrounded them remains visibly present in a more modern and frenetic form.

Back to Thanet to read more complaints on alleged blogging 'censorship' but on a more serious note, BBC SE News had quite a positive report on the impact that the Turner Contemporary is having on Margate's regeneration. Everyone they spoke to appeared confident, even buoyant and clearly the combination of good weather and the magnificent view helped no end. All without the help of a council press release I'm told.

I've that £2 million cheque to fly tomorrow from Rochester, let's hope the weather holds for the winner at noon!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Blogs and Blogging - Nobody is Special

For the benefit of at least one local blogger, who insists, with a complete disregard for the facts, that the local council is 'censoring' its news releases, here's a link to Thanet District Council's Twitter feed, which pushes these out to the public as they appear.

Many organisations are now turning to Twitter's social media and news publishing capability rather than maintaining email lists because it's much more efficient and those lists don't need to be constantly cleaned as people move companies and change jobs. So if you happen to want news, whether it be BBC SE news or even Thanet District Council's local news, then like me, you simply add it to your Twitter subscriptions and the information, photos, news and links, arrive automatically on the iphone, iPad, PC or whatever other internet device you might be using.

If you visit the Thanet Blog list aggregator, you'll notice that Thanet does have rather a large number of blogs. These include a highly eclectic and often imaginative mix of daft conspiracy theories, cats, photos of naked ladies,  local gay interest,  Real Ale (very important) and even bus driving.

I'm in there somewhere along with everyone else that 'blogs' either occasionally, regularly, compulsively or even obsessively and most of these see no reason to demand 'special' treatment from the local council or indeed the need to issue a stream of expensive, occasionally frivolous and often time consuming FOI requests, that cost the local taxpayer money. Indeed, if someone sent in such a request wishing to know how much these cost by individual, over the course of a year, local people might be unpleasantly surprised.

Now, some of us blog occasionally outside of work and others have rather more time on their hands and see blogging as a hobby, which encourages the investigative citizen journalist concealed in their personality and burning desire to hold local government to account. That's not such a bad thing in an open democracy but only, I would say, when there's a sensible balance and a level of accountability and responsibility achieved  on the part of the blogger.

I wrote before that the press has a code of conduct and like News International remains accountable. Bloggers do not and invariably allow personal opinion and bias to shape their thoughts in such a way that the result can be uninformed and occasionally scurrilous rubbish dressed as fact. In Thanet, we have rather too much of this although the number of blogs that have served this kind of material to the public have diminished sharply over the last two years.

Government, both local and national, is working increasingly hard to encourage transparency and publish information on a timely basis and it's using social media and the internet to help achieve this. Personally speaking, I can't see as a blogger, why I might deserve some intimate relationship with local government, just because I've found a few minutes to knock-up a quick editorial on a Sunday afternoon, particularly as I'm under no obligation to report the facts correctly or even abide by important little statements like 'Off the record.'

So let's hear no more of these angry complaints that some local bloggers are more special and deserve greater media privileges than other local bloggers. People choose what they wish to read and what they wish to think about any subject and on my part, 10,000 or so page views each month doesn't put me up there with the Sun or even the Thanet Gazette I suspect!

Friday, July 15, 2011

24 or 48

In terms of a frantic 24 hours the last day or two has been pretty intense.

I dropped into the Imperial War Museum at Duxford to have a look around before doing an evening job and had a good look at the damage done to the SkyRaider aircraft that miraculously survived the collision at the weekend's airshow. The black smear in a barley field short of the main runway marked where the other aircraft, a vintage WWII  Mustang had come to grief.

The evening display I had to do around a wedding at a stately home just north of Stansted attracted another unexpected visitor, an Apache helicopter and it's pilot with a distinctive public school accent. So he orbited and I orbited, keeping well out of his way, wondering who was behind the flying helmet in the pilot's seat.

Thursday started at 4am and a train to London to give a breakfast briefing to twenty-five CIOs at a Mayfair restaurant, then over to the House of Lords to see Toby Harris, lunch at Holborn and a mad scramble back to catch the evening council meeting in Margate running the cordon of polite but vocal animal rights protestors on the way.

I'm sure you will have read reports of the council meeting elsewhere, - James Maskell writes a good summary - so I won't add much other than comment, that the now constant interruptions, quips and disruptive barracking by the Labour group are becoming rather more than tedious and now verge on the juvenile. I've seen better behaved classes in failing schools.

We live in very challenging times and yet the opposition appear quite unable to arrive at workable ideas that don't involve spending money that local government simply doesn't have anymore. Once again, Labour leader Clive Hart, reminded us that the desperate economic situation was the fault of international bankers and nothing whatsoever to do with the last Labour Government; a twisted line of reasoning that even Ed Balls has given up on trying to foist on a public that simply isn't that credulous.

Anyway, I've some Trades Union work to do myself this weekend at the Tolpuddle Martyrs rally. in Dorset. That said, the weather forecast isn't looking particularly good but there's always a big turn-out, rain or shine.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Two Million Pound Cheque.

The driver from UPS delivered a cheque for £2,000,000 today, which was nice! It didn't stop me from buying a ticket for tonight's Euro Millions £160 million rollover, which would come in quite handy, now British Gas has decided to bump its fuel prices.

My daughter didn't believe me at first. "Have you ever seen a cheque for £2,000,000? Well neither have I"

As you'll see from the cropped photo, it's a bit larger than your average cheque. In fact it's a digital image of the real thing, 15 feet high by 35 feet wide and quite what the cashier will say when it's passed over the counter I don't know.

It's now ready to fly and will do somewhere yet to be revealed. I've made a point of cropping the payee's name and the bank account details so I don't give the game away. With Bob Crowe's RMT banner due back in from the Durham Miners Rally tomorrow, which is the same size, I need to make sure I don't get the two mixed-up when I make the flight as that would be rather embarrassing to say the least.  I guess you'll read about it when it happens. Anyway, it was nice to have £2,000,000 in my hands for a while at least. We can but dream I suppose!

Meanwhile, a good friend of mine who's just started flying for a small airline ferrying tourists to the exotic holiday island paradise of Bali tells me there's a vacancy for another pilot with the right experience. I wonder if I could make some small digital adjustments to that cheque before it's too late?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Past and Present

I cycled over to have a look at the Margate Masters volleyball competition on the main beach, a little earlier this afternoon. The weather was clearly smiling on the event this year but other than the immediate spectators, it was hard to work out who was there to enjoy the athletic spectacle and who was there to enjoy the sunshine warming Margate sands.

From Margate, it was over to Quex Park to see how the event there was going. On the way, two police cars dashed out of Birchington towards the Thanet Way at very high speed and so I'm guessing there's some kind of incident up towards the St Nicholas roundabout. By the time I reached Quex Park, it was obvious that most of the crowds had already been and so I drifted back to Westgate to have a coffee at Fredericks by the Carlton cinema before making this small blog entry.

I've deleted some comment from the earlier entry, provoked, I suspect by equally negative comment made on another local Blog. It's not any form of censorship but an acceptable use policy and by all means leave your thoughts here but I encourage a polite level of conversation.

If any reminder is needed, this is my diary as well as acting as a place for me to make all kinds of local and national observations, personal and political alike. I use it in conjunction with Memolane which is a great tool for consolidating photos, blogs and social networks into  a single integrated diary, which in my case, goes back almost a decade; I recommend it.

Someone once said and I can't immediately remember who, that: "The purpose of life is to matter, to count, to stand for something, to have it make some difference that we lived at all.” I've been lucky enough to be able to cram a great deal into my 55 years but I don't see why I should have to apologise for reminiscing about the past, the remarkable people I met and the fun I had along the way, just because I happen to be a local councillor, a Conservative and a blogger at the same time.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Breathe Deeply

Just through with our Saturday morning, informal cabinet meeting and I must remember to thank Reg Bell and our local BSAC branch 106 for inviting me over to give a talk on 'Technical Diving' one evening last week at their clubhouse opposite the Turner Contemporary gallery. They quite possible have one of the best Turner sunset views on the island!

It's been a few years since I dived semi-professionally through a specialist company I owned. Times have changed rapidly, as has the technology, since I  made a small contribution to 'kicking-off' the 'tech' diving industry in both this country and the States -with Michael Menduno's Tek 93 show in Orlando - and ironically, was once treated as Satan incarnate by the very same BSAC that somewhat reluctantly 'dived' into the 21st century; dragged along by the demand and interests of its members.

Many highly-skilled friends, like Rob Palmer,  actively involved in the pursuit of the same interest, never made it to my age. Back then, in the early and mid 1990's recreational diving with mixed gases was still considered somewhat exotic and carried a firm health warning. Much of the equipment, such as early re-breathers, was highly innovative and in the relatively early stages of development among the Florida deep wreck and cave-diving community through trail-blazing figures such as Capt Billy Deans at Key West. It was there I first started experimenting with Trimix  after studying  deep air diving techniques with another diving legend, Hal Watts in the challenging 40 Fathom Grotto, cave system in Ocala.

The physiological  science behind the decompression tables required a considerable leap of faith at the time with computers starting to be used for the complex modelling involved. If you recall the movie 'The Abyss' and the topic of liquid breathing, I once wrote a magazine article on the subject which demonstrated through the available research at the time, that it was possible but that among other factors, because the liquid couldn't shift expired CO2 fast enough, the best one could really do was sit still through a very unpleasant experience.

The deepest I've seen a human being down to is 800 metres on an Oxygen /Hydrogen mixture and for that I had to go over to Marseilles where Comex were conducting the experiment using a  saturation diving bell. The poor volunteers would take almost a month to return to the surface!

Here in Thanet, with the Goodwin Sands so near, wreck exploration, archaeology and diving is at the leading edge with some exciting finds and equally exciting stories; almost enough to accept the invitation to come back in the water.

Remaining with the topic of speeches, it's obviously the season for it.  Broadstairs Rotary Club have invited me to sing for my dinner at the North Foreland Golf Club, I've a presentation to city CIOs on cyber crime and espionage at Quaglinos in Mayfair on Thursday morning and a disruptive Quantum computing 'wotsits' talk to give T-Mobile and Orange executives the following week. Somewhere among all this I've some flying to do as well and this afternoon's job is looking increasingly iffy in the strong winds.

As I write this I've another pilot trying to fly an RMT banner for union leader Bob Crowe over the annual Durham Miners rally but whether he's managed to get airborne is another matter.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Noisy Birds

Reading a 'Socialist-worker' style diatribe from Cllr Ian Driver in today's Thanet Gazette letters page, I'm really beyond surprise anymore. I suppose I'm counted as one of 'Cameron's Cronies' because I once 'went to Eton' in an indirect and accidental sort of way. How and why is another and rather long story and I think the Prime Minister and the Chancellor had  left the 6th form by then.

Add to this, a long missive on why Thanet Council should turn Manston airport into a Las Vegas-style amusement park to finally rid the island of all those 'noisy aircraft' and I think the editorial flavour of the week is well and truly set, for me at least.

Where, I wonder, do some of these letter writers think the money to achieve their wild ideas might come from? Tonight's Euromillions £168 million jackpot perhaps or the loose change lost behind Clive Hart's sofa? Cllr Driver reminds us that it 'woz' the capitalist bankers that got us in this mess; nothing to do whatsover with a now exiled recluse named Gordon Brown or even a political party once loosely described as 'New Labour.' But I'm beginning to sound like Victor Meldrew and so I'll give my feelings a rest for now.

Aside from Labour wishing to debate next week, a matter, we already have the answers to, namely the controversial issue of Live Animal Exports from Ramsgate, Thursday's council meeting also has an agenda item of real local importance and that's the future of the airport.

Views between the two main parties are firmly polarised, with Labour seeking a motion "The Council adopts a policy of not allowing scheduled, pre-planned or otherwise timetabled flights between the hours of 23:00 and 07:00.

The Conservative view still very much revolves around the subject of seeking proper representative public consultation and the recognition that the airport plays an important economic role in the life of the island, with every sensible effort being made to support its growth and the potential for jobs that goes with it.

In my view, any regional airport that cannot operate any night flights, period, for whatever reason is most unlikely to be able to follow a rapid path of strategic development in a 24-hour economy; particularly if airfreight is involved. That said, most of the people I speak with on on the subject, recognise that an element of commercial pragmatism has to be sympathetically balanced with the local environmental considerations. In this respect, I don't see unilateral political ultimatums being helpful or indeed productive at a time when the island needs to engage with any and all opportunities for the future.

But that's just my opinion!

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The Ramsgate Live Animal Export Argument

It's one of those weeks where the weather can't make up its mind, which gives me an opportunity to write an overdue Blog entry.

Where some of you may have seen me flying around for Heart FM on Monday with a competition banner, I've a more challenging one to tow around in two weeks; a £2 million cheque! Quite how the winner is going to bank a digital cheque image 15 feet fight by 25 feet wide I don't know but I'm sure it will come as a pleasant surprise when it appears overhead.

There is that temptation to change the name on the cheque and keep on flying towards Europe but I think they might catch up with me or cancel it before I got too far!

The very emotive subject of animal exports from Ramsgate is still creating justifiably strong feelings and I share people's moral revulsion. I also see that a demonstration is planned outside the council offices on 14th July, where it will be discussed in a full council meeting. Last time I wrote about this, I expressed the personal view that there's some  cynical manipulation of public opinion taking place for political purposes and this includes focusing attention or an element of blame on our local council, rather than where the responsibility really lies;  the European Union or indeed the last Labour Government, the latter which promised action and then discovered it's hands were tied by the Brussels bureaucracy.

Thanet District Council, which is as unhappy about the animal export trade as the public it represents, has now taken the highest legal advice on the subject. The opinion it has received, is that it may not lawfully ban live animal exports from the Port of Ramsgate on moral grounds,  on animal welfare grounds, on Port bye-law grounds or even on 'sentient being' grounds. ( a completely specious argument proposed by the local Labour group)

I'm told that the only recognised grounds  for refusal,  lies with capacity and unfortunately, in regard to this particular argument, there is lots of that to be found at the Port of Ramsgate.

Going back to what I wrote a week ago, what we do know is that the UK courts have ruled that a ban on live animal exports imposed by the Dover Harbour Board was unlawful and that in a separate private law case, Dover Harbour Board was ordered to pay damages to the trade for loss of profits.

The legal advice does suggest,  that the EU institutions and/or national governments could further legislate in this area on animal welfare grounds; the responsibility lying with DEFRA. However, this would require sustained lobbying of both the European parliament and our own national parliament.

So while I see councillors united in their opposition to this awful trade,  I would ask people, if they are going to protest,  direct their efforts and voices through their MPs and MEPs towards lobbying the national institutions that can make a difference rather than  attack local government, both here and elsewhere, which is shown to be powerless to prevent the awful trade under the law.

Read the council's own press release on the subject here.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Late Sunday

Late Sunday evening and I notice that of late, the local blogs are a little quiet. More likely than not my fellow bloggers have better things to do at the height of summer than tap away at keyboards, hoping, like me for occasional moments of inspiration, which just as quickly fade away as the temperature rises.

I've been flitting about the sky this weekend, finishing today with yet another marriage proposal over Brighton beach. I've now completely lost count of the number of times I've proposed to complete strangers and apparently, they've all said '"Yes", which must be some kind of record.

An early start on Monday morning with the breakfast programme on Heart FM 103.1 & 102.8 , a part of which is running from the aircraft between 8am and 9am. So if you want to win a year's free Sky TV viewing, then watch the skies and listen in,  phone in hand, because if you live in Thanet, you've a really good chance of being a winner, as I'm coming this way.

Bin night tonight.. Oh joy!