Torturing slave owner, a ‘hero’ no more

Contractors in Cardiff, Wales encase a statue of slave trader Sir Thomas Picton (left) and (right) a portrait of the slaver

From daily The Morning Star in Britain, 24 July 2020:

Statue of ‘sadistic’ slaver who tortured a 14-year-old girl removed from Cardiff city hall

A CARDIFF statue of a “sadistic” slaver who had a teenage girl tortured was boarded up today following a vote to have it removed from in front of the city hall.

The marble memorial to Sir Thomas Picton has stood there since 1916, when it was unveiled by future prime minister David Lloyd George as part of a series depicting “heroes of Wales.”

Picton was the most senior British officer killed at the Battle of Waterloo but was also known for having used the slave trade to amass a considerable fortune.

He was the colonial governor of Trinidad from 1797 to 1803, during which “highly brutal” time he had a dozen slaves executed, and in 1806, Picton was found guilty of having ordered the torture of a 14-year-old mixed-race girl.

The torture of Louisa Calderon, which involved her being suspended with rope by one arm above a spike in the floor, was an attempt to get her to confess to stealing from a businessman she lived with as his mistress.

Picton was never sentenced and the verdict was overturned following a retrial two years later.

Cardiff’s Lord Mayor Dan De’Ath, the first black person to hold the post, called for the statue of the “sadistic 19th-century slave-owner” to be taken down.

The council voted to remove the statue from the Marble Hall of Heroes on Thursday night with 57 in favour, five against and nine abstentions.

Mr De’Ath said: “I’m delighted. I think the way Cardiff has gone about the whole thing has been the right way. We’ve used democratic means to take it down.

“Most people were incredibly supportive. They recognise the significance of the statue and what an affront it is to black people. Black lives do matter.”

Welsh, Icelandic puffins use tools, new research

This 27 December 2019 video says about itself:

Watch a puffin use a stick as a feather-scratching tool | Science News

A remote motion-sensitive camera captured a puffin on Grimsey Island in Iceland picking up a stick and using it to scratch its feathers in July 2018. It’s the second time researchers studying puffins have spotted such tool use and the first time it’s been documented in seabirds.

By Jonathan Lambert, 30 December 2019:

Stick-toting puffins offer the first evidence of tool use in seabirds

Two birds observed four years and a sea apart turned sticks into feather scratchers

Annette Fayet was scanning a colony of Atlantic puffins off the coast of Wales when something caught her eye. A puffin, gently bobbing on the sea, held a stick in its orange-black bill. Then, the seabird used it to scratch its back.

“I was surprised and excited,” says Fayet, an ecologist at the University of Oxford who studies puffin migration. Puffins (Fratercula arctica<) had never been seen using tools. In fact, no seabird had.

Fayet recorded the unusual behavior in her notebook, but it would take four more years before she got photographic evidence. In 2018 on Grimsey Island in Iceland, one of her motion-sensitive camera captured a puffin snatching a stick from the ground and using it to scratch its chest feathers.

Those observations, described December 30 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, represent the only known example of a bird in the wild using a tool to scratch itself.

Scientists have long known that some birds use tools, mostly to extract food. Stick-wielding crows wow biologists with their ingenuity  (SN: 9/14/16), some parrots grind down seashells with pebbles and Egyptian vultures can crack ostrich eggs with rocks. But seabirds, which tend to have smaller brains, were written off as prospective tool users, Fayet says. The puffin discovery suggests that tool use in birds may be more widespread and varied than previously thought, she and her colleagues say.

“I’m not surprised that seabirds can use tools,” says Corina Logan, a behavioral ecologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who wasn’t involved in the study. She says so many creatures’ cognitive abilities remain undiscovered because detecting them takes so much time and energy.

Despite the small sample size, Logan says she’s convinced puffins can use tools in part because the behavior was seen in two populations four years and 1,700 kilometers apart. Most tool use in birds revolves around eating, but this study “expands our predictions about which species engage in [tool use] and why they might need or want to do so.”

The puffins might be using sticks to flick ticks, a common puffin parasite, from their plumage, Fayet and her colleagues suggest. Summer 2018 in Iceland, when the behavior was caught on video, was an especially bad tick season.

‘Fit for work’ Welshman dies at jobcentre

This 26 June 2019 video is called I, Daniel Blake. Full Movie in HD.

By Marcus Barnett in Britain:

Monday, November 18, 2019

Campaigners call for benefit assessment ban after man dies in jobcentre

FILM director Ken Loach backed campaigners calling for an immediate ban on benefit assessments today after a man deemed “fit for work” died in a jobcentre.

The man had been waiting for an appointment to discuss his benefit claims, having been declared “fit for work” earlier this year.

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) called on the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to shelve all personal independence payments (Pip) and employment and support allowance (ESA) assessments, after a 65-year-old man was found unconscious in a chair on Friday morning at the Llanelli jobcentre in Carmarthenshire.

Mr Loach, whose 2016 drama I, Daniel Blake focused on a man’s death at the hands of the benefits system, told the Morning Star that he supported DPAC’s call “every step of the way.”

He said: “What has happened really was disgraceful. The man was only 65 — he only had a few more months to go and he would have been retired anyway.

“Such is the brutality of it, but it’s clear that the Tories have no intention of changing their harsh system.

“We have to vote them out — we may as well start with Iain Duncan Smith, the architect of this misery, who is as callous as he is sanctimonious.”

Although jobcentre staff and fellow benefits claimants called an ambulance and attempted CPR on the man, he remained unresponsive and was declared dead at the scene by paramedics.

A witness said: “I didn’t know him myself, but the man who was sat next to me told me that he had grown up with the guy.

“[He] told me that the poor guy had diabetes and had been declared fit for work by the jobcentre earlier in the year, but he was obviously ill.

“The ambulance came, but he sadly died and they had to take his body out of the jobcentre. It was awful.

“We were all very shook up. It was a horrible situation that should have never happened.”

DPAC activist Jennifer Jones told the Morning Star: “We are beyond heartbroken over the devastating news of the as yet unnamed man who has lost his life in such awful circumstances.

“The saddest and most angering thing is that this man has not died in unpreventable circumstances — far from it.

“He has died in the jobcentre because he was found ‘fit for work’ when he was not, because somebody lied about his fitness levels and abilities and he wasn’t given the support that his individual needs deserved.

“We demand that the DWP impose an immediate ban on Pip and ESA assessments in light of this tragic incident and to open an investigation into the assessment centre in question.

“There must be no more deaths due to the inaccurate reports and lies from Atos/Capita assessors.

“The only way to end this suffering is to end this process altogether. This shouldn’t have happened and must never happen again.”

British police dodgy facial recognition

This 6 August 2019 video from the USA says about itself:

Why Cities Are Banning Facial Recognition Technology | WIRED

A handful of US cities have banned government use of facial recognition technology due to concerns over its accuracy and privacy. WIRED’s Tom Simonite talks with computer vision scientist and lawyer Gretchen Greene about the controversy surrounding the use of this technology.

From daily News Line in Britain:

STATE SPYING: Police launch facial recognition app – UN slams state spying on disabled

9th August 2019

SOUTH Wales Police have launched a facial recognition app which is to be installed on their officers’ phones, prompting human rights campaigners Liberty to exclaim: ‘This technology is intrusive, unnecessary, and has no place on our streets.’

In a three-month trial of the new police facial recognition app which has already prompted a legal challenge, 50 officers will be given the app.

The force’s use of facial recognition technology prompted a legal challenge by a man whose picture was taken by officers while he was out shopping.

Some other forces have already trialled the technology including the Metropolitan Police.

Hannah Couchman, of Liberty, said: ‘It is shameful that South Wales Police are rolling out portable facial recognition technology to individual officers while their so-called pilots are being challenged by Liberty in court. Far less intrusive means have been used for decades by police to establish a person’s identity where necessary.’

Meanwhile, the UN’s investigator into global poverty has said innocent people are being caught up in the mass surveillance system used by the UK’s welfare state to ‘combat benefit fraud’.

Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty, described it as a tragedy that people imagined that ‘the ever-more intrusive surveillance system by the UK welfare state’ was used only against alleged ‘welfare cheats’.

‘It’s not. It will soon affect everyone and leave the society much worse off. Everyone needs to pay attention and insist on decent limits,’ he said.

Alston said the UK’s surveillance system stood the presumption of innocence on its head. He said this was because everyone applying for a benefit was ‘screened for potential wrongdoing in a system of total surveillance’.

Rick Burgess, an activist with Manchester Disabled People Against Cuts, said fears that footage of his members and supporters demonstrating was being passed from police to the DWP had had a ‘chilling effect’ on people’s willingness to protest.

‘There are people who are not protesting today because they are terrified by what the DWP might know about them,’ he said. ‘The idea that information the police gather at protests about some of those taking part could be passed to the DWP for welfare fraud investigations is Stasi-like.’

USA: CLASS ACTION AGAINST FACEBOOK OVER FACIAL RECOGNITION A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that a group of Facebook users can move forward with their class action lawsuit challenging the company’s use of facial recognition technology. [HuffPost]

Red kites in Wales, videos

This 3 April 2019 video from Britain says about itself:

Red Kites: Birds Flying in Slow Motion, filmed at Gigrin Farm in Wales UK

Video Produced by Paul Dinning

This 9 April 2019 video from Britain says about itself:

Red Kites Feeding at Gigrin Farm, Rhayader in Wales – Filmed in Slow Motion

Video Produced by Paul Dinning – Wildlife in Cornwall

British Conservative privatised nuclear energy strategy bankrupt

This 17 January 2019 video says about itself:

Hitachi scraps plans for Wylfa Newydd nuclear power station in Wales

Plans for a £20bn new nuclear power station have been suspended, delivering a huge blow to the industry. Japanese firm Hitachi announced it was not continuing with work already under way at Wylfa on Anglesey in North Wales.

From daily News Line in Britain:

Friday, 18 January 2019

British capitalism so bankrupt it can’t provide for energy demands

THE ANNOUNCEMENT yesterday that the Japanese company Hitachi is pulling the plug on plans to build a nuclear power station in Wales has blown a massive hole in the Tories’ energy strategy.

The giant Japanese conglomerate took over the contract to build up to six UK nuclear plants six years ago from the private German utilities company E.ON which had previously been contracted to build them.

At the time, the then Tory prime minister David Cameron hailed the contract with Hitachi as a ‘multi-billion pound vote of confidence in the UK that will contribute vital new infrastructure to power our economy’ and he boasted that these plants would provide 14 million homes with electricity for 60 years.

Six years on and the reality of the bankruptcy of British capitalism has struck home, with Hitachi becoming the second firm in two months to pull out of major UK nuclear projects triggering what is being described as a ‘full-blown crisis’ for Britain’s future energy supplies along with Tory dreams of attracting huge amounts of investments from foreign companies.

Behind Hitachi’s decision to take a £2 billion hit on money already spent on the £16 billion plant at Wylfa on Anglesey rather than carry on with the project was the breakdown of negotiations between the company and the Tories on the amount of taxpayers’ money the government was prepared to give Hitachi to underwrite the scheme.

According to Tory business secretary Greg Clark, they had offered a ‘generous and significant’ amount of money in addition to a whole package of support. This involved providing Hitachi with a debt facility, taking a one third stake in the company Horizon Nuclear Power set up by Hitachi to build the plant and guaranteeing the price of the electricity produced up to £75 per megawatt hour for the next 35 years.

All this money would naturally come from the taxpayer while every energy user would see their bills reflect the price guarantee to Hitachi over the next 35 years. Even this wasn’t enough for the company’s profit margins and they followed another Japanese company Toshiba who scrapped the plan to build power stations in Cumbria last November. Toshiba’s decision to pull out and leave the UK government high and dry as regards its energy strategy came as no surprise.

This private company was forced into a near meltdown last year when its wholly owned Westinghouse was driven into bankruptcy in the US over the overrun costs of building nuclear reactors in America. The entire business strategy of not just these private nuclear plant construction industries but of all these giant infrastructure contraction companies has been to bid low, demand huge subsidies from governments and dump any increased costs back on the working class through exorbitant charges.

If they decide that they cannot make the vast profits they demand then, like Hitachi and Toshiba, they will simply walk away. This leaves the working class to pick up the tab in the form of the hundreds of jobs that will immediately go in Wales along with thousands more in the supply chain. At the same time it leaves the entire country facing an energy crisis in the very near future.

What is clear from this is that private companies, no matter how large or multi-national, driven solely by the demand for profit cannot fulfil the most basic needs of people. We are seeing the fruits of the Tory campaign started by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s to destroy British industry and end publicly owned vital infrastructure services like energy and hand them over to the privateers.

The answer to this crisis is to put an end to a bankrupt capitalist system through socialist revolution. These companies and every public service privatised must be taken over and placed under the management of the working class – with the bosses along with the bankers expropriated as part of a planned socialist economy. Only by expropriating the capitalist class can the wealth of society be used to provide for all the needs for affordable energy to be guaranteed.

Razorbills help measuring ocean currents

This video from Britain says about itself:

Razorbill and Guillemot Birds in the Sea at Hell’s Mouth in Cornwall, UK

Filmed on May 2nd 2016

Video produced by Paul Dinning – Wildlife in Cornwall

From the European Geosciences Union:

What seabirds can tell us about the tide

November 29, 2018

Summary: Razorbill tag data revealed that, at night, these seabirds spent a lot of their time idle on the sea surface. ‘We saw this as an opportunity to (…) test if the birds might be drifting with the tidal current,’ says one of the researchers. It turns out they were, according to a new Ocean Science study that shows the potential of using seabirds to measure ocean currents.

When the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) set out to tag razorbills, their aim was to track their behaviour and movements along the coast of North Wales. The tag data revealed that, at night, these seabirds spent a lot of their time idle on the sea surface. “We saw this as an opportunity to re-use the data and test if the birds might be drifting with the tidal current,” says Matt Cooper, a Master of Oceanography graduate from Bangor University in Wales. It turns out they were, according to a new study led by Cooper that shows the potential of using seabirds to measure ocean currents. The results are published today in the European Geosciences Union journal Ocean Science.

Using seabirds to tell us about the tide could be especially useful for the marine renewable energy industry. Generating tidal energy requires detailed knowledge of current speeds. Scientists and engineers traditionally measure tides by using radar or deploying anchors and buoys with scientific instruments. However, these scouting methods are challenging and expensive. If tagged seabirds could provide tidal data over a large area, they could help identify sites that would be good sources of tidal energy.

Cooper’s supervisors at Bangor University knew of his interest in tidal energy and data collection, so they suggested he look into seabird data collected by the RSPB to see whether it would be possible to extract tidal information from it. A few years earlier, from 2011 to 2014, a RSPB team had fitted GPS tags on razorbills on Puffin Island, North Wales, to study their distribution and breeding and feeding behaviours. These black and white seabirds, similar to puffins and guillemots, only come ashore to breed. They spend most of their time at sea, foraging or resting on the ocean surface.

The data collected when the birds were sitting on the sea surface for hours on end were interesting in terms of bird behaviour, but the Bangor University researchers saw another potential use. “We took data that was discarded from the original study and applied it to test a hypothesis in a different area of research,” says Cooper. “As far as we are aware, this paper is the first to describe the use of tagged seabirds for measuring currents of any kind,” the researchers write in their Ocean Science study.

The non-invasive GPS tags on the razorbills recorded their position every 100 seconds. With a set of positions and a known time between each of them, the scientists could calculate the speed and direction of the birds’ movements. After the sun set, the birds spent long periods at rest on the sea surface, drifting passively with the current. “[At these times] their changing position would reflect the movement of water at the ocean’s surface,” Cooper explains.

With speeds of more than 1 metre per second, the average tidal currents in the area of the Irish Sea the researchers focused on are very fast, faster than a razorbill can paddle, but much slower than the speeds the birds reach when flying. This means the team could filter out the times when the birds were flying. In addition, the filtered data showed that, when the birds were drifting, the direction of movement changed at the times of low and high tide, when the currents in the area were expected to change from ebb to flow and vice-versa. Therefore, the team could be sure that they were tracking the speed and direction of sea currents rather than the birds’ independent movements.

Using seabirds to measure tidal currents has limitations. “We must remember that these birds are behaving naturally and we cannot determine where they go,” says Cooper. But the Ocean Science study shows there is potential for this inexpensive method to provide crucial tidal information over a wide area. By studying other tagged seabirds, we could learn more about our oceans, especially in more remote regions where it is challenging to collect oceanographic data.

Cooper also hopes the method can reduce the costs of generating tidal renewable energy, “which has been a barrier to the development of this much needed industry.”

Sharks, penguins, turtles and other seagoing species could help humans monitor the oceans by transmitting oceanographic information from electronic tags: here.

A wave energy technology is being developed that could help generate low-cost electricity for thousands of houses. The device costs less than conventional designs, has fewer moving parts, and is made of durable materials. It is designed to be incorporated into existing ocean energy systems and can convert wave power into electricity: here.