Wednesday, March 21, 2018

How can we cleanse our oceans of plastic?

All it took was David Attenborough's excellent Blue Planet 2 programme covering plastics in the ocean for it to become a major concern. Today's news is that the amount of plastic in the sea is set to treble over the next 10 years unless something is done.

So what can be done?

This is a huge subject, and this blog post aims to take a broad look at the subject, from cradle to grave, setting out principles and pointing out opportunities.

The full negative impacts of plastic pollution, including on human health, are summarised here.

The first thing to realise is that plastic pollution can only be controlled if most people stop believing in the dominant paradigm of our age, namely, free market fundamentalism, the ideology based on the slightly dodgy notion that enormously wealthy individuals running corporations that are answerable solely to their shareholders, competing against each other for filthy lucre, and entirely free from legal rules, will inevitably produce the best of all possible worlds. 

We have to shift from this neo-liberal ideology to an evidence-based green economy, where economics and ecology are seen as sister disciplines, where it is recognised that indefinite expansion into a finite space is impossible, and a transition is made from a linear economic model to a cyclical model, and where the inter-connectedness of all things on the surface of our planet is recognised.

It is exciting to think that we are living in a time that may see a huge reduction in the production of oil-sourced non-biodegradable plastic goods. 

We must take the whole view of plastics, from cradle to grave, looking at the possibilities for cleaning up our act.

First, we must look at the production of plastic. 

Bisphenol A is a plasticiser commonly used in production of plastic, and is known to have hormone disruptive properties. Its use should be reviewed and monitored. In particular it should be avoided in plastics which may come in contact with food, particularly babies' drinking vessels.

We need to review the utility of plastics, which range from the frivolous to the useful to the  necessary. We need to restrict single-use plastics as far as possible, either by bans, or by placing levies and taxes on their production.

Some applications, such as microplastic beads used for trivial purposes, for instance in toothpaste, can be banned outright.

Dog waste bags should always be of biodegradable plastic, because of the habit of irrational dog owners to bag the waste, then hang it from trees or leave it on the ground.

We need to favour alternatives to plastics, established or emergent, with subsidies.

We need to remember that the deeply anti-democratic firm Ineos, wants to frack the UK in order to make more plastic.

Plastic Litter

Plastic litter is not only aesthetically unpleasant, it also has an ecological and economic impact. For instance,  polythene 6-pack rings can entrap wildlife. If a storm picks up a plastic bag and it catches on a power cable, the increased wind drag on the cable may bring the cable down. Land based litter can get into rivers and streams and thence onto beaches and the sea.

In the past, glass bottles carried a deposit. It is perfectly possible to bring this system back, so that every bottle has a small economic value that will be repaid when it is handed back in to shops, who will receive a further handling charge when it is transferred back to the distributors. This simple measure turns small boys and girls into litter scavengers.
Volunteers often go out doing litter picks. This is great, but volunteers can only be called on to go out once or twice a year. So we need paid litter squads to go our on a regular basis. How can this be paid for?

The way forward is to carry out a pilot study in two or three areas, to find how many hours are needed to clear an area, what the costs are, and what the haul consists of. If we find one tonne of plastic, half a tonne of newspaper and a half tonne of cigarette packets, the producers of those items will be charged to pay a proportional litter-levy for the full clean-up across the whole country. 
This will persuade them to educate their customers to stop littering.

This suggestion will of course provoke a hysterical reaction from Tory tabloids as indicating the end of Western civilisation and its collapse into a pre-Stone Age condition, but in fact it will be a fairly short-term measure, because when the environment becomes more tidy, and as the unacceptability of litter sinks into the public mind, littering will decrease overall, and the litter-levy can be reduced and even stopped.

The cost of labour for litter picks can be reduced by means of the Green Wage Subsidy, where JSA and ESA claimants can take their benefits into work with them, as is the case with Basic Income.

Another cost-free option is to use Community Payback offenders to do the work.

Beaches are particularly important places to pick up plastic jetsam, because they give us an opportunity to screen off water-borne litter. High tides can pick up beach litter and take it further along the coast, or fully out to sea.

Much litter retrieved can be recycled, but some is non-recyclable.

Although the UK produces only a fraction of a the total plastic litter in the ocean, it is vital that we complete the fullest possible clean-up of our beaches, in order to set an example to the rest of the world.

Ocean garbage
An exciting new venture, the Ocean Cleanup, aims to remove half of the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in five years. It uses a huge drifting filter, using sea anchors, to collect sea borne plastic. It is just moving out of the pilot project stage at the moment, but it deserves a massive boost.
A just and effective boost would be to use the Polluter Pays principle, imposing a tax on oil and plastics industries which is passed to the Cleanup project. 

In short, we are at a turning point in history where not only will we turn our backs on the trivial over use of plastics, but also will transform our whole economy into a cyclical, rational, green system.


World Poetry Day; Plastic

It's World Poetry Day. 
And the news today is that plastic in the oceans is set to treble in the next  10 years. 
I wrote this about 15 years ago:


trembling in the gutter
a bougainvillea blossom

lies by a castoff yoghourt pot

if I fell off a cliff
there would be plastic by my corpse

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

BBC issues false statement in response to their altered image of Corbyn

I have received an inadequate  response to my complaint to the BBC. They did not respond to my point (see previous post), so this is my complaint no 2:

Your response included the line, "Mr Corbyn has been photographed wearing this particular hat and coat many times, and they were not in any way altered or ‘photoshopped’ to appear ‘more Russian.’ "

This statement is false.

As I wrote in my original complaint,  I have closely examined the two images, the original and the Newsnight version, and measured precisely the dimensions of the face and hat, deriving ratios of the breadth and height in four different cuts. (I can show detailed workings if you wish). The ratios of the Newsnight version is 2.9% more narrow than the original, but the height of the Newsnight hat is 13% taller than the original. Therefore the image *has* been altered, and the effect is to make it look as if he is wearing an obviously Russian fur hat.

I will stress that this is a measurement, not an impression or a perception.

Therefore the original photo was indeed altered or "photoshopped", and your response is not true, either because the respondent was just repeating something that they had been told, or with a deliberate intention to mislead. Which was it?

By issuing a false statement, you have compounded the original insult.

Please admit the truth, that someone in the BBC altered the original image.
Reveal who ordered it to be done, and reveal why it was done.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Numerical proof that Newsnight altered Corbyn's image

There has been outrage because of a backdrop of Corbyn put up by Newsnight a couple of days ago. Owen Jones rightly pitched in with an eloquent speech on Newsnight condemning their anti-Labour bias in altering the image to make Corbyn look like a Russian stooge.

The excellent @JohnClarke190 tweeted thus:

A Twitterspat followed, with outrage met by Putin-like denial, led, unfortunately by the normally reasonable Evan Davis who claimed that the hat was not photoshopped. @BBCNewsPR are making the same claim.

I got unpleasant flack on Twitter from a trio of right-wingers one of whom claimed that the change was a Keystone effect, which happens when a projection is done at an angle to the screen. This would have narrowed Corbyn's face. The contemptuous tone of their arguments persuaded me to take things further.

A Newsnight editor explained that "our excellent and hardworking graphics department had merely changed the colour tones".

So, as it was coming down to perceptions, I decided to do some measurements. 

I downloaded John Clarke's image, put it in MS Paint, and set some reference points (see figure at head of this post) in order to measure the width of face (a), height of face (b), height of hat (c) and width of hat (d)  in both versions.

I counted the dimensions in pixels, and then derived ratios of height to width. The ratio is necessary, because the images are different sizes.

Apologies that I did not include error estimates. Life is short, and in the 51 years since I was taught how to do error bars, I have forgotten how to set about it. If you want to repeat my measurements and calculations, you are welcome to go ahead.

Note that I used the mouth as reference point for (b, bb) the height of face, as it is a more definite point than the beard. I have nothing against beards btw.

Note also that in (c), height of hat, I made a conservative choice of reference point in the original, because Newsnight used the shadow of the original cap on Corbyn's forehead to help create the Russian fur hat.


Ratio of height of face to width of face (H/W):
     Original version       0.448
     Newsnight version   0.461

The difference is 13, or a 2.9% increase in the Height/Width ratio.

This shows that the width of the Newsnight version has effectively been lessened. The face has been compressed sideways, (width is less, so the ratio is greater). which is consistent with the keystone effect, if this was in fact in play. This in itself will contribute to making the height of the hat seem greater in relation to the face.  

But is this enough to explain the change?

Let us look at the dimensions of the hat itself.

Ratio of height of hat to width of hat (H/W)
     Original version     0.423
    Newsnight version  0.488

The difference is 65, which means that there has been a 13.32% increase in the width/height ratio compared to the original. Although the width will have become less, like the width of the face, the height of the hat has definitely been increased.

This proves that the apparent transformation of the hat appearance is not down to the colour tone changes, nor to any Keystone effect, but that the hat has been deliberately stretched vertically to convert it from a cap to a more Russian looking fur hat. 

The irony is that Corbyn has been critical of Putin and his machinations, while the Conservative Party is awash with £3 millions of Russian money, and is resisting Labour's attempts to tighten controls on Russian money.

In coming out to deny what had been done, the Newsnight editor and team not only altered an image to make Corbyn look like a Russian stooge, but also put out a false account of why the image looked different.

The response will come back from Newsnight defenders and their political supporters , "Why in the world are you spending hours measuring cap pixels and ratios when there has been an attempted murder by Putin and a subsequent serious international dispute?"

And the answer is, precisely because this is the kind of media distortion that the likes of Putin will carry out against his opponents, using State controlled media to alter perceptions of political reality. Democracy only works properly if there is a healthy, balanced media, critical of Government and opposition in equal measure.

What Newsnight has done is a serious departure from BBC even-handedness, and the person who took the decision to roll out that image of Corbyn must answer for his or her actions.

Click here to place your complaint:

If you find that this application of measurement to a point of political controversy useful, please join in campaigning for use of Interruption Rates in evaluating bias in political interviews.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Is Putin reponsible for Salisbury?

Bing images

Is Putin responsible for the attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury?

Probably, but we do not yet have incontrovertible evidence.

The best evidence would be forensic analysis of impurities in the Novichok used in the attack, which would provide a signature of its origin. This has not been forthcoming, either because Porton Down does not have enough material to get an answer, or for some other reason.

All we know is that Russia invented the damn stuff, and holds an amount of it. But so too do a number of other countries, including us. Craig Murray is looking in detail at this aspect of things.

The next line of evidence is that Putin has form. At least nine of his political opponents have died mysteriously, Litvinenko, Khordovski and Berezovski being the best known, with other less familiar names, and another nine journalists beginning with Politsovkaya. This is a strong pattern, made stronger by the threat that Putin made about his opponents "eating poison" recently.

Then there is the smug, sarcastic, "Prove it!" tone of Russian denials when asked about Salisbury. Innocence would call out a more anxious denial, a roll out of how it could not have been them.

Putin has another flaw, namely his support for Assad and his merciless war in Syria.

So the evidence is pretty circumstantial. If the Government has stronger evidence, they should take Putin to the World Court, the UN's International Court of Justice, and present the evidence. This would take time, but in the time, we could amass more evidence, and the wait, and the court process, would all the time weigh against Putin's character and credibility in the eyes of the world. Legal action can be in addition to any other measures that the Government might want to use. If we believe in the rule of law, we should take this matter to a court of law.