Spiralling Teenage Pregnancy Crisis.

Sex education initiatives are failing to control the spiralling teenage pregnancy crisis, ministers have admitted for the first time.

Sounds bad, eh? So, how much has the pregnancy rate risen?

The Government committed itself in 1999 to halving the teenage pregnancy rate among 16- and 17-year-olds by 2010, compared with 1998 figures.

However, by 2005 – the last year for which full figures are available – the rate fell by only 11.4 per cent. The same figures show that between 1999 and 2005 the overall number of 16- and 17-year-olds becoming pregnant increased from 39,247 to 39,804.

Err, the rate has fallen: what\’s risen is the number of teenagers.

This is a spiralling crisis?

Even the Japanese…

….get sucked into silly government subsidy boondoggles.

The Japanese Government is secretly hatching plans for a huge underwater treasure hunt in the depths of the East China Sea in an urgent effort to secure supplies of the “vitamins of industry”.

The ambitious project, which could begin as early as next spring, will probe the seabed for deposits of ultra-rare metals used extensively by Japanese electronics manufacturers and other cutting-edge technology players.

In a briefing with The Times, senior officials at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) described plans to tap “huge, black submarine boulders” for possible deposits of rare metals extruded from the Earth\’s core. If the state-sponsored quest is successful —and its multimillion-pound budget seems certain to win parliamentary approval — Japan may realise an old dream of resource independence from its sometimes troublesome neighbour China.

The metals they\’re looking for? Gallium, germanium and indium.

They are indeed essential to the electronics industry, but going prospecting for ore on the seabed, risking a clash with China, is insane.

Gallium is extracted from the Bayer Process, the method we use to turn bauxite into alumina (on the way to making aluminium). I don\’t have the exact numbers at my fingertips but there\’s some 35 such plants around the world and fewer than 10 of them have the necessary (and relatively cheap) extraction equipment. Spending a few million (each) on adding a capture circuit to a few more of them would make better sense.

Germanium is similarly extracted from other ores. If that\’s not enough, fly ash (the residue from a coal fired power station) is a decent source: we know how to extract it too. Indeed, the mines at Vorkuta are famed for having 1 kg of Ge per tonne of coal. I\’m a little out of date here but the last time I sold Ge scrap I got $500 per kilo for it: meaning that the waste from burning certain coals is worth 10 times the coal itself. You could stick a capture circuit on the side of Drax and supply the world.

Indium, I can\’t remember which it is, lead or zinc….but again, it\’s there in ores that are already being processed and not every plant doing such processing extracts it.

Better to process ores lready being consumed than to go rootling around the seabed, don\’t you think?

What a Guardian Leader!

Rare is the good news story on the environment; rarer still does it come from the private sector.

It is to giggle, isn\’t it? Good news on the environment has been bombarding us from every side for centuries, almost all of it coming from the private sector. Farming becomes ever more productive, reducing the amount of wild land being ploughed up. Energy is used ever more efficiently reducing both fossil fuel consumption and CO2 emissions needed to create a certain level of wealth. Wealth itself, lifespans, increase, leading to falling fertility rates.

Good news about the environment from the private sector is rare?

So today\’s report in the Guardian of a possible breakthrough in solar power is to be celebrated. If all comes good, it will mean photovoltaic (PV) cells can be produced nearly as easily and quickly as on a printing press – and rather than being confined to the roofs of smart homes, PV cells could eventually be put on a variety of small surfaces.

This is indeed good news and to be welcomed. However:

To get there, however, will require a lot more government support.

Err, no.

Nanosolar, the company making today\’s announcement, had among its financiers the US government. That\’s right: Kyoto-busting President Bush is funding this green innovation.

Yes, this is true.

The UK government has a subsidy for renewable energy – but it is clearly not set high enough, because alternative-energy use in the UK is way behind target.

And this simply shows that the UK government aimed its subsidy in the wrong direction. Spending the cash on basic science, something which is a public good, rather than on subsidising Jeremy Leggett, which is not a public good, turns out to have been more effective. Really, who would have thought it?

By successfully fostering green technologies, the UK could become a centre in this fast-developing business. But doing that means spurring companies on with subsidies and firm targets.

Again, no. There\’s two possibilities here. One is that this new technology does not work as advertised. Thus the argument for subsidy fails, as we don\’t have an example of its being successful. The second is that it does work, in which case we can stop subsidies altogether. For we now have a technology which makes solar cheaper than coal, which was our aim. OK, so we\’ve done it. No more cash subventions needed.

We do have  phrase which describes the stupidity of continuing such spending after we\’ve succeeded. For who bothers to reinvent the wheel?

Recycling Idiocy

Sadly, another indication that we are ruled by idiots.

With pilot schemes already going well, within two to three years she is determined to see pails of rotting food routinely collected along with the rubbish, then processed at local plants to generate electricity. She foresees a day when every town will have its own anaerobic digester.

The aim of all of this is to stop food going into landfill where it rots and produces methane. "She" is the head of WRAP, the organisation trying to get us all to recycle more.

But why is this idiocy? Why not do this?

Well, the thing is that food that goes into landfill goes through anaerobic decay to produce that methane. Which is then collected and used to generate energy. The proposal is that we should all have rotting food in our houses, waiting for the weekly collection, have a new and discrete collection system (with all of the associated emissions) and new plants, one in every town, where the food wastes can go through anaerobic decay so that the methane can be collected and used to generate energy.

That is, that we\’re going to do what we already do, just in a new and vastly expensive manner, a method with higher, not lower, emissions.

As I say, we\’re ruled by idiots.

The Anglosphere

There\’s a simple answer to this:

That raises a painful question. If Australians, Indians, Canadians, and even Americans can recognise the Anglosphere as a new factor in world politics, why is it something from which the Brits themselves shy?

It\’s that Brits themselves don\’t shy from dealing with the Anglosphere. As the very article itself points out, what creates the thing itself is that we all engage with it. However, the political classes are hesitant to even admit that it exists. There\’s been a 50 year "campaign" (not the right word, I don\’t mean to imply that everyone involved is consciously working towards this aim, rather that it\’s a general assumption) to detach the UK from that Anglosphere, from those cultural links, and attatch the country to Europe.

The stupidity of the aim itself becomes clear if we consider trade. The idea of barrier free trade across the continent is a good one. The larger a free trade area, the more specialisation there will be and thus the greater the wealth created. Unfortunately, at the same time we were told that we must raise barriers to our trade with the wider world, that Anglosphere. Again, the thought that places geographically close to each other should trade with each other is a reasonable one. But the decision to raise the barriers to long distance trade was signed up to only 6 months after the invention of container shipping: something which completely changed the economics of such long and short distance trade. As long as you\’re on the network (Brad Delong\’s done an excellent review on this) geographic distance now means very little: Bristol to Brindisi costs about the same as Bristol to Brisbane.

So the political move to more local trade began just as the very concept of "local" with respect to trade became moot.

Politicians are like Generals, always ready to fight the last war. Which is, of course, why we shouldn\’t allow them to plan the future for us.

Joy! Joy

More bansturbation!

Motorists could be banned from smoking behind the wheel of their own cars while driving them as part of their job, it has emerged.

Isn\’t that wonderful? Your car, with no one else in it, becomes another place where you may not smoke. It gets better too:

Prof Richard West, the Government\’s leading smoking adviser, has called for a complete ban on smoking at the wheel.

He said: "It may seem draconian but the Government should legislate."

Not even the fig leaf about passive smoking is there. Just, I\’m agin it so it should be banned.

Now, where did the wife put that festive length of hempen rope she bought to lower my blood pressure….

Iain Dale\’s Sex Life

The last thing I do before my head hits the pillow is check email or approve blog comments. You might think that\’s sad, but there you go. And it takes me approximately one minute to fall asleep.

Exciting, isn\’t it?

Shock, Horror!

The latest entry has the results of a ComRes Poll, which shows that 44% of MPs now favour Fixed Term Parliaments. Sadly only 25% of Tory MPs have seen the light. Meanwhile 41% of Labour MPs and 88% of LibDems are on the side of the righteous.

44% of parasites want to know how long they\’ll keep their job for.

Excellent News!

Teachers are leaving the profession in increasing numbers, with a quarter of a million no longer working in schools, according to figures published by the Conservatives yesterday.

w00t w00t!

So we\’re training too many teachers, which means we get to close down a few of the teacher training colleges!

Great, anyone got a list?

Errm, OK, Zoe

This is female sexuality packaged up as a product geared to generate profit: capitalism with tits, basically.

In a society where sex and sexuality are still oriented from a sexist, capitalist perspective, it\’s almost normal then for women to place value on how they are viewed by men, simultaneously objectifying and undermining their own sexuality in the process, as Ariel Levy highlighted.

This viewpoint is now practically ubiquitous: many women\’s attitudes around sex stem from the profit-driven perspective and they see and describe their own sexual desire as just an adjunct to the male experience – just like that young woman at the party.

What\’s the answer to this? How can we teach young women to place value on their own pleasure and their own experience? How can we teach young men that mutual respect and appreciation, not to mention mutual consent, are the pre-requisites to good sex? How can we ensure that sex is seen as something healthy and positive and fun, and not just a means to make money or a way for women to win male validation?

I believe we need to challenge the old-fashioned views of male and female sexuality where sex is something to be obtained by men, from women; we need to reject the sexist and offensive imagery in porn and replace it with a more progressive view of sexuality; we need to oppose the commodification of sexuality and refuse to buy into it; and most importantly we need to properly educate young people about sex and relationships so that they learn the value of each other, as well as the pleasure they can share.

My only question here is how? I\’m rather of the impression that the current state of affairs (sorry!) is a result of the last attempt to replace the prevailing ethos with a more progressive view of sexuality.


The centre cannot hold, and that\’s the good news in the United States these days. Quietly, doggedly, cities, regions, counties and states have refused to march to the Bush administration\’s drum when it comes to climate change, the environment and the war. Some of the recent changes are so sweeping that they will probably drag the nation along with them – notably efforts by Vermont, Massachusetts and California to set higher vehicle emissions standards and generally treat climate change as an environmental problem that can be addressed by regulation. The Bush administration has notoriously dragged its feet on doing anything about climate change, and it will now be dragged along by the states, themselves prodded forward by citizens.

The US is a federal state! Amazing finding, innit?

w00t, w00t!

A drug that reverses severe liver damage could be used to treat disease in heavy drinkers who find it impossible to give up alcohol. Scientists developed the drug after discovering a way to prevent the formation of excessive scar tissue caused by cirrhosis, hepatitis and other medical conditions.

To their surprise the drug not only slowed progression of the disease but also reversed damage to the organ.

Decent present for the New Year, ain\’t it?

Such a Pity

A girl of five who had half her brain removed has taken her first steps.

The careers that are closed to her. She\’s still vastly over qualified to be a politician for example.

Unintended Consequences

There\’s a reason this is happening:

The Chinese town of Guiyu is the graveyard of Christmas past.

It is where presents – game consoles, laptops, mobile phones – come to die.

It is also where they are reborn. In this giant scrap-yard, so dangerously polluted that its children are being clinically poisoned, the electronic objects of desire, a million tons of them a year, are broken apart, melted down, and washed in acid to be recycled into a new flood of imports for Christmas future.

Money, of course.

But no, it\’s not the gross capitalist exploitation of the workers sort of stuff at all. Rather, it\’s the environmental regulations imposed here in Europe that are causing it. A pile of electronics contains a number of valuable metals: copper, lead, tin and gold just to start with. There are a couple of ways to extract it: the hand method these Chinese are using (which allows you to extract the working chips as well) or you can have a highly mechanised operation. Essentially, you chop everything up into fine powder and then separate the metals as if it were an ore.

You can also be more sophisticated, there\’s a plant in Cheshire that recycles the solder for example, by exploiting a certain property of gold and solder. At 280 oC or so, they form a eutectic alloy (ie, the gold dissolves into the solder) so you can run the boards through a bath of the solder you have previously melted, and you get all the solder and the gold off the board. The chips then fall off and you have the copper and the board itself, which you can separate by chopping and flotation tanks. The fibres can be made into excellent insulation, the metals all recycled.

Now all of these methods are roughly comparable in cost….some cost more to do but you get more value from the recyclables, so the nett outcomes are comparable.

Except….except….most electronics waste streams also include monitors. The electronic parts can be treated the same way (there\’s also  nice plug of tungsten in there as well). But the glass on  CRT or TV is 25% lead oxide. There\’s no sensible (ie economic) method of recycling this. The logical thing is to recycle all the rest and stick the glass into landfill. But, of course, you\’re not allowed to stick lead into landfill, are you?

Which is something of a pity, for while metallic lead, or lead oxide, would indeed be dangerous to those in the future, lead tied up in glass is not. Glass is, in fact, one of the most stable materials known to man. The lead does not leach out into the groundwater. Not even acids extract it (which is why we use glass carboys to transport acids of course).

But the environmentalists see "lead" and insist that it cannot be landfilled, it must be treated as poisonous and thus disposed of in a very expensive manner. This then means that the more sophisticated, mechanical, recycling methods do not make economic sense to do here in Europe. Thus the trade to China where people are, as the article points out, killing themselves and their children in doing said recycling.

Wondrous, isn\’t it? By insisting on too much recycling, the rules make certain that not enough is done, by insisting that there should be no landfill, no lead entering the environment, they make sure that more lead does enter it.

Well done, eh?