The Song Rising – Samantha Shannon

The Song Rising (The Bone Season, #3)The Song Rising by Samantha Shannon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found this book to move at a faster pace then the previous two in the series.

Paige’s character has progressed with each book. There is a lot of emotion in this book showing characters who can become beloved, no matter how briefly they were mentioned. For it was not just Paige who sought my affinity. Side characters, both new and old, battled for dominion over the reader’s heart. And, in true Shannon style, it was those with the cruellest pasts and the bleakest of futures that won.

Despite this emotion it also delivered on the action front. This book sees Paige and her motley crew traverse Britain in an attempt to thwart the construction of the new technology that could eliminate them. Scrapes, scuffles, and strife thwarted their quest, and each skirmish was as pulse-raising and breath-taking as the next.

The most bone-chilling was saved for the finale, however. Former villains returned and some of them were de-masked to reveal something other than what they first appeared to be. One thing remained and that was that you can never rely on Shannon to deliver the expected!

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UK Elections Bill – Pros and Cons

The recently published Elections Bill in the UK Parliament is an attempt to rig our electoral system to favour the Conservative & Unionist Party. It will makes changes to the administration and conduct of elections with the stated aim of ensuring that ‘UK elections remain secure, fair, modern, inclusive and transparent.’ How this will impact elections in Scotland is unclear. But given this dysfunctional, discredited, bunch of people led by the great discombobulator anything can happen.

Part of the proposals weaken the power and independence of the elections watchdog. It will also make it harder for individuals to vote in person and by post. It has the potential to open up our politics to a new wave of big money overseas donors.

As for the Electoral Commission the proposals are aimed at:
– ending the independence of the Electoral Commission – the Commission will have its priorities set by a Conservative-dominated committee of MPs;
– take away the Commission’s power to propose criminal prosecutions for serious wrongdoing.
These proposals are the culmination of years of attacks by the Conservative & Unionist Party on the Electoral Commission. These changes will make the Commission answerable to the very people they are supposing to be investigating.

With the election watchdog effectively muzzled, we could see far more rule-breaking by political parties and campaigns moving forward. It’s the kind of move you expect to see in a banana republic, not one of the world’s oldest democracies.

The proposals to neuter the Electoral Commission join a growing list of proposals in the forthcoming bill. The areas of most concern include:

Dropping more proportional voting systems from English elections. Mayoral, GLA and Police Commissioner elections will all be held using First Past The Post.

Expensive mandatory photo ID at polling stations – despite 3.5 million people not having photo ID and there being no evidence of electoral fraud. This is a highly controversial policy, which has rightly been met with condemnation by many organisations and parliamentarians, and would see potentially millions of voters being disenfranchised at a general election. (While this author believes ID Cards can have a role in society, they have to be voluntary and people given control on what information is recorded on them and how they use them, not something that’s up for discussion in this bill).

Ending the Fixed-term Parliaments Act – taking the power to call a General Election away from Parliament and giving it back to the Prime Minister.

The bill also proposes limits on the period for which a person can apply for a postal vote to three years – once these have elapsed, a voter will have to re-apply. (It is right that a person who has signed up to this is able to review their request as personal circumstances may have changed. People can change this at the moment anyway but implementing a review process should be welcomed.)

It also explicitly bans political campaigners from handling postal voting documents, by introducing a new criminal offence for this, and introduces new rules for the handing in of postal votes (e.g. limiting the number of postal votes an individual can hand in). (This is something to be welcomed, East Lothian Liberal Democrats will always direct people to the official website to obtain the registration forms and refuse to handle completed ones in any way.)

With regards to proxy voting, the bill limits the number of electors for whom a proxy can vote to four. The bill also simplifies and clarifies the electoral offence of undue influence, and introduces new requirements to enhance the accessibility of polling stations for voters with disabilities. (Again something East Lothian Liberal Democrats can welcome.)

The Elections Bill is a significant piece of legislation which, in some areas, will make considerable controversial changes to the conduct and administration of our elections, including forcing voters to have to prove who they are in order to vote by presenting photo ID at the polling station. Despite its stated ambitions, however, the bill does not tackle the fundamental issues with our electoral law and still leaves open the possibility for loopholes to be exploited.

Repeated calls have been made over the years, not just by the ERS and other civil society organisations and academics, but by the Law Commission and, most recently, the Committee on Standards in Public Life – to name but a few – to consolidate, simplify and modernise electoral law.

We can’t continue tinkering around the edges – there’s no point in complicating our Victorian election rules even further with new requirements when it is the foundations themselves than need rebuilding. Rather than rushing the Elections Bill through parliament, the government must take heed of the many recommendations that have been made with regards to our election law and ensure it is fit for the 21st century.

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Net Zero is Greenwash – Don’t be Fooled

There is a lot of talk these days from people advocating we should be trying to achieve Net Zero carbon emissions as soon as possible to stop the planet heating up even further. However most of this is greenwash, it’s meaningless or deception, it’s a global con being used by fossil fuel industries to continue doing what they are doing. What we should be talking about is Zero Carbon, or as close to it as we can get.

What does net zero mean? The official explanation.

Net zero carbon emissions refers to achieving an overall balance between greenhouse gas emissions produced and greenhouse gas emissions taken out of the atmosphere. It’s like a set of scales: producing greenhouse gas emissions tips the scales one way, and we want to get those scales back into balance with no new greenhouse gas being added. Once we stop emitting greenhouse gases from fossil fuels, we still need to deal with all the emissions we’ve already pumped into the atmosphere over the years. That’s the difference between zero carbon and net zero.

Another way of thinking about it.

You go on a 50 mile journey by motor car fuelled by petrol or diesel. You will emit Co2 emissions as a result of that journey. To make the trip net zero you have to take all those emissions you have created out of the atmosphere. How? It is suggested that you plant a tree. But, trees take time to grow and start taking emissions out of the atmosphere, which will be in about 10 years from planting. That’s a long time to pay back that single car journey and gain net zero.

Many companies are trying to pursue Net Zero using carbon offset schemes, planting trees for example. To do that at the scale necessary will not help people in poorer countries where farming land is likely to be taken over by big corporations for tree planting and will take many years. In addition, global warming and climate change will alter the land available for planting trees and the type of trees that can be planted. Single tree species generic forest plantations anyone?

Getting to net zero means we can still produce some emissions, as long as they are offset by processes that reduce greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere, like drawdown technologies such as direct air capture. The more emissions that are produced, the more carbon dioxide we will eventually need to remove from the atmosphere (this is called sequestration) to reach net zero.

Companies are falling over themselves to tell us they will contribute to net zero and the UK Government is working to persuade more and more countries to sign up to net zero targets before the UN climate talks in Glasgow.

Some of the talk about net zero is well meaning and will indeed drive real emissions reductions. But a lot of it is greenwash, a deliberate smokescreen to delay serious action.

A recent report shows why we should be very sceptical about claims for net-zero plans. These plans can be based on technology that may never develop, offset schemes that could never be big enough or simple ignoring most of your emissions in the first place.

Many of you will be familiar with criticism of governments, including our own two, which tell us that carbon capture and storage and related technical fixes will be the answer, when they are a decade away at any scale, if they happen at all.

As for carbon offset schemes. Those that involve planting trees would need to be rolled out on a massive scale to let companies and countries keep on burning fossil fuels.

Globally, carbon offset plantations would become a new cash crop, with poorer countries displacing people and agriculture to make hard cash from selling offsets. It’s nearly a decade since Interpol warned that carbon trading was ripe for crime and they have helped catch many fraudsters since. But even an honest scheme only works if the trees continue to grow for many years, ironically something hard to guarantee in a world with a rapidly changing climate.

The North Sea oil industry claims they are working towards net zero while blithely ignoring the emissions that result from their customers burning their oil and gas.

Everybody claims to be green these days but what the planet needs is actual zero carbon emissions, not the messy nightmare that is net zero.

You can also read this article for more information:

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UK Government Failing to engage with a “Global Britain”

International affairs are framed as a choice between a country and the rest of the world. This is Nonsense.

Diplomatic failures to resolve problems over many years have created real challenges: of low wages; economic decline; environmental damage and political upheaval in many parts of the world.

Now UK Government’s lack of ambition over a global minimum corporation tax of 21% may result on the UK missing £131m per week in income. That’s money that could be spent delivering net zero carbon emissions in the UK, create 1.7m new clean energy jobs in towns and cities in the UK.

The UK has committed £5b to green stimulus – 7 times less than Germany and 5 times less than France. We need to be bolder.

We should be re-instating research partnerships into clean energy. Leading the effort to vaccinate the world and not hold on to them. Invest in global programmes that save lives and protect our national security which is best achieved by not slashing aid funding.

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The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon

The Mime Order (The Bone Season, #2)The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The story picks up immediately after the first one finished. Paige Mahoney escaped her imprisonment in the Sheol prison camp, under cruel Rephaim leadership, only to return to her former cage, under the guise of protection, of her mime-lord Jaxon Hill. When the underlord of the underground clairvoyant community is brutally murdered, a new mime-lord must reign in his stead. All eyes turn to Jaxon Hill and his renowned mollisher, Paige. But Paige has other ideas. And these don’t involve being ruled by anyone, anymore.

Her morality is what made Paige such a fascinating protagonist. She may be young, impetuous, and volatile but she is also fierce, noble, and brave. This nebulous individual is also mirrored in the setting. There are wonderful evocative descriptions of this futuristic London.

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