Sunday, July 05, 2015

Bonehill behind bars.


The photo above was taken by me on Tuesday evening; it shows a pile of illegally fly – tipped old and worn out lorry tyres that was dumped in Appold Street, off Manor Road by persons unknown. I spoke to a couple of the residents in the road, and none of them heard or saw anything suspicious. I suspect that the fly - tipping may have been carried out in the early hours of the morning, when most locals would have been asleep. I reported the matter to the Police and to Bexley Council Environmental Crimes Unit. To their credit, the unit got the tyres collected for proper recycling within twenty four hours. Appold Street has proved a favourite location for illegal tipping for many years – hardly a week goes by without some scumbag dropping a load there. I know that a number of Appold Street residents would like to see CCTV cameras installed to record such illegal activity. This is despite concerns about personal privacy – they feel that things have become so bad that the stopping of fly tipping is more important to them than any intrusion into personal privacy.

I don't know about you, but I get an almost incessant stream of junk mail through my letter box; much of which is delivered by the Royal Mail. Sometimes I feel that I would like to fit an electric paper shredder to the inside of the front door, and I am certain that I am not alone in that sentiment. The news that a scheme that would have allowed households to stop billions of items of junk mail has been secretly ditched by government ministers after a series of objections from Royal Mail and other delivery companies has leaked out. The Times reported earlier this week that after a freedom of information request was submitted on the subject, it became clear that the junk mail blocking proposal was quietly shelved after a row between the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Direct Marketing Association about which companies were joining. The scheme had the potential to cut thousands of tonnes of waste by letting households opt out of receiving both addressed and unaddressed junk mail. The current scheme only applies to addressed mail. Every year in the UK an estimated twelve billion items of unsolicited marketing mail drop onto doormats around the country; this is equivalent to roughly five million trees. In 2014 Royal Mail revenues from delivering junk mail increased to more than £500 million, with the company delivering over three billion items of unaddressed post. The deal with the Direct Marketing Association to stop sending junk mails to people who opted out soon broke down; The preference scheme was known as the Door Drop Preference Service was ready to launch in 2012. Unfortunately the arrangement soon fell through, as the Direct Marketing Association accused the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs of not doing enough to sign up other organisations who send junk Email to the scheme. The trade body argued that if its members joined, advertisers would switch their junk mail to free newspapers. This analysis was rejected, and the deadlock was never broken. Earlier this year the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs finally admitted that the scheme would never materialise, but somewhere along the line a decision was made that no public announcement would be published. All in all the situation is a mess; there are two existing non – addressed junk mail opt – out schemes, but very few people know about them – one is run by Royal Mail, and the other by the Direct Marketing Association – both schemes have to be joined by post, and registration on both expires after two years, when households have to reapply. The figures suggest that less than one in fifty UK households is signed up to these schemes. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.

Last week I wrote about how local residents were losing confidence on the recently launched Dart Charge system at the Dartford River Crossing. It would seem that things are even worse than I described. This week MP for Dartford Gareth Johnson has called for the government to withhold payment to Sanef, the company that operate the Dart Charge system. In an interview in the News Shopper, Johnson said “Since the Dart Charge system was introduced it has been woefully inadequate. I have had hundreds of people contact me who are deeply frustrated with the system. I have already called on the Department of Transport to withhold payments to Sanef, the company which operates Dart Charge, and I urge them again to do so. I don't want to see any tolls on the crossing let alone a toll system that doesn’t work correctly. Motorists need to be able to trust the system and yet that is not currently the case." The number of complaints about poor service, incorrect charging and fines being sent to people who had actually not used the bridge or tunnel has increased markedly. These were initially explained as “teething troubles”, but it would appear that they have not improved since last November when the service was launched. On top of the MP for Dartford getting on the case, now Edmund King, the President of the Automobile Association has become involved. He recently said “It is particularly galling that any toll remains at Dartford. The tolls and charges were supposed to be lifted in 2003 when the cost of the scheme had been met.  The new scheme has undoubtedly eased the congestion at busy times but, for some, there is a new concern regarding the behind-the-scenes bureaucracy that accompanies this supposedly high-tech, non-stop tolling. We expect many drivers to incur penalties through not being aware of the scheme.  And those who seek help with problems they have experienced with the 'back office' may get frustrated when problems are not resolved quickly or easily enough.  We believe that, so far, only around 400 appeals have been considered by the Traffic Penalty Tribunal and thankfully, because of the teething problems, the vast majority of drivers are winning their cases.  We expect appeals to ramp up in the coming months and if the authority does not act quickly to reduce errors it could be embarrassing. With the scheme now into its seventh month, the AA calls for a transparent review of customer service standards and the performance of the electronic processes so any needed improvements can be made.  The AA also believes a complaints system and 'users group' should be established to ensure users have a voice. The AA welcomes Dart Charge’s decision to issue warnings not penalties to first-time non-payers and hopes that this continues until awareness of the scheme increases”. Quite. Now that both Gareth Johnson MP and Edmund King are backing travellers who use the Dartford River Crossing, hopefully the public attention the issue gets will increase. Back in November last year when the Dart Charge scheme was launched I predicted problems of exactly the type that have since been experienced. It is much to my regret that I have to say that I told you so. Not only does the Dart Charge system have trouble reading vehicle number plates, but it is clear that the number of cloned plates is higher than many had anticipated – this seems to be one of the contributing factors to the warning notices and fines being sent to entirely innocent people, so the blame for the failure of Dart Charge to work properly cannot be put solely at the feet of Sanef – your common or garden local crook also has a hand in this.


The photo above was taken in the summer of 1907 (click on it for a larger view), and shows how the residents of Edwardian Erith dealt with a heatwave similar to what we have experienced in the last week. The first public swimming baths in Erith was an outdoor one in Walnut Tree Road; the photo was taken during the opening ceremony on the 3rd of August 1907. The pool cost £700 to build and was sixty feet long by twenty five feet wide. The water was heated using the waste boiler heat from the adjacent Erith Power Station. Bearing in mind that in addition to the power station, the swimming baths were close to the livestock holding pens at Erith railway station - which you can clearly see in the period photograph below - I would imagine the smell must have been eye watering at certain times!


Over the last week or so, the popular press have been getting very excited about artificial intelligence, and the efforts made to progress research in this field by various organisations and academics. This is all very well, but unfortunately the enthusiasm of the journalists (and their lack of understanding of the hugely complex and technical field) has led to some rather inaccurate reporting. According to a Wall Street journal  article titled "Artificial Intelligence machine gets testy with programmer," a Google computer program using a database of movie scripts supposedly "lashed out" at a human researcher who was repeatedly asking it to explain morality. After several apparent attempts to politely fend off the researcher, the Artificial Intelligence ends the conversation with "I'm not in the mood for a philosophical debate." This, says the Wall Street Journal reporter, illustrates how Google scientists are "teaching computers to mimic some of the ways a human brain works." As any Artificial Intelligence researcher can tell you, this is utter nonsense. Humans currently have very little idea how the human, or any other brain, works, so they can hardly teach a machine how brains work. At best, Google is programming (not teaching) a computer to mimic the conversation of humans under highly constrained circumstances. The methods used have nothing to do with true cognition. Artificial Intelligence hype to the public has become progressively more strident in recent years, misleading lay people into believing researchers are much further along than they really are — by several orders of magnitude. We are decades away from anything remotely approaching a sentient computer, if it is at all possible. One researcher once said “If the human brain was simple enough for us to understand, we would be too stupid to be able to do so”. What software engineers at Google have been able to do is to create a synthetic environment in which their software can mimic the responses to questions placed by a human, in a manner which suggests to the human that they are interacting with another human being. They have succeeded in partially beating the Turing Test. The Turing Test is a test of a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human. Alan Turing proposed that a human evaluator would judge natural language conversations between a human and a machine that is designed to generate human-like responses. The evaluator would be aware that one of the two partners in conversation is a machine, and all participants would be separated from one another. The conversation would be limited to a text-only channel such as a computer keyboard and screen so that the result would not be dependent on the machine's ability to render words as speech. If the evaluator cannot reliably tell the machine from the human (Turing originally suggested that the machine would convince a human 70% of the time after five minutes of conversation), the machine is said to have passed the test. The test does not check the ability to give correct answers to questions, only how closely answers resemble those a human would give. Google’s program convinced three out of seven humans that they were interacting with another human – somewhat short of Alan Turing’s own estimates of what constitutes a success. Computers are great at carrying out tasks where the rules are finite and established, however complex that they are; this is one reason why computers are now better than people at games like chess. In open – ended situations, such as a conversation with a person, they are far less successful, and though this will improve, actually creating a self-aware computer is still well in the realms of science fiction, and likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future, despite what certain journalists might have you believe.

A U.S government-appointed panel concluded in a recent report that Americans should eat less red meat and processed meat, and to avoid all fatty processed meats such as Salami in particular. A more plant-focused diet is better for health and the environment, it found. Not exactly a surprise – similar recommendations have been made in the UK for many years.  One problem with telling people to limit total fat is that people end up eating fewer monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats – the kind found in nuts, vegetable oils and fish – which are really healthy, and are precisely what dieticians recommend people to eat. In a recent interview, Penny Kris-Etherton, the Professor of Nutrition at Penn State University, and the chair of the American Heart Association's nutrition committee, says she thinks it's unlikely that lifting limits on total fat intake will be much of a sticking point. "There is a pretty solid consensus now that it's the type of fat that's really important”. Both the British and American Heart Association still recommend "selecting fat-free, 1 percent fat and low-fat dairy products" on their respective websites, but this information is now out of date. Professor Kris-Etherton says that in practice, the association isn't defending the low-fat position anymore. The AHA's new lifestyle guideline implies that it is best to substitute polyunsaturated fats — found in things like almonds and avocados — for saturated fats. "A lot of people still look at how much fat is in foods, and we're now saying don't focus on that: Look at the quality of fat you're consuming”. Another interesting point is that many low fat products (such as low fat yoghurts) tend to have much higher levels of added sugar in them – what is apparently a healthy diet choice can actually end up being worse for you. A classic case of unintended consequences. One possible side – effect of the promotion of awareness of healthier eating options may be hitting high street eating habits.  Fast food giant McDonald's is set to close more stores than it open for the first time in forty years. In a sign of changing consumer habits, as more and more consumers reject fast food chains for more niche eating establishments, the company has been forced to shrink. The global dominance of McDonald's, once taken for granted, has tumbled in recent years. The company announced in April that around seven hundred stores worldwide would close after underperforming. The closures are nothing new, but in the past the number of new stores opening had outweighed those closing. The figures reported may actually be far worse than they seem; the seven hundred stores mentioned only include those directly owned and run by the company. A majority of McDonald's stores are actually franchises owned and operated by private companies or individuals – the numbers don't include these at all. McDonald's has also announced that it will no longer publicly announce its sales figures each month, as it focuses on improving the 'small things' – such as how long it toasts its burger buns. The fast food giant is currently experiencing one of the worst periods of its sixty year history, as US workers hit out over pay and customers turn to competitors such as Subway. The firm's British-born boss, Steve Easterbrook, unveiled an overhaul of McDonald's divisions, including cost-cutting measures, earlier this month - and has now also confirmed that the chain will no longer reveal its monthly takings to its investors. Instead, backers will have to wait for a quarterly report to see if plans to revive the chain have been successful. Whilst local McDonald's such as the one in James Watt Way, Erith seem to be doing decent business, I have heard (unsubstantiated) rumours that the large 24 hour drive through in Plumstead has been struggling for some time. The need for two permanent security guards in the restaurant due to continual problems with violence and drug dealing, plus the less than ideal location near the junction of Pettman Crescent and Nathan Way, mean that it gets little passing footfall – the area is not very pedestrian – friendly. I have heard that a percentage of their business comes from bus station staff from the large garage opposite, and post office workers from the sorting office right next door. Most of the rest of the trade comes from visitors by car. I don't know if any reader has a better insight into this matter – please feel free to contact me at hugh.neal@gmail.com with any related information.


That hate filled and bigoted individual Joshua Bonehill has been in the national press yet again. You may recall that I wrote about him back in February this year, after he sent me a threatening Email. I ignored his threats and published his message in full. If you are new to the Maggot Sandwich and are not aware of the activities of extreme right wing racist Joshua Bonehill, you can read about him hereNow, on top of everything he has done in the past,  he’s been arrested and is now on remand in prison until he appears in court on the 13th July for inciting racial hatred, after announcing plans to "destroy" Israeli flags and burn Jewish holy books.  Bonehill made a series of posts on his blog about an anti-Jewish rally which took place in North London yesterday. Only around twenty of his followers actually turned up, opposed by a far larger crowd of anti racists.  In the online postings, he encouraged people to destroy Israeli flags by hand at the demonstration in Golders Green, which has one of the capital’s largest Jewish communities. He also said a "private ceremony" would take place at a secret location just before the rally, where extremists would set fire to Jewish holy texts. He even had the temerity to create a particularly offensive leaflet with an image showing the walls of Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau and a can of weed-killer. It carried the words: “Liberate Golders Green: An anti-Jewification event. We've become complacent and allowed for weeds to grow in the cracks of London. It’s time to clear them out with roundup and liberate Golders Green for future generations of white people. Join us on July 4 for what promises to be an absolute gas!” I need say no more other than it was high time Bonehill saw the inside of a jail cell. As I have previously written, I have been told by someone qualified, that it is highly likely that Joshua Bonehill is suffering from mental illness, but it has got to the point where he is causing suffering to so many people that he needed to be locked up – ironically prison is the one place where he could potentially get effective treatment for his delusions. We will see what happens when his case comes to court on the 13th. Watch this space. 

The new anti-gang Police team set up in Thamesmead / Abbey Wood has a number of serious challenges to deal with. Not least of which is a worrying problem with unlicensed warehouse raves, the most recent of which ended with a murder. A young man called Renea Campbell aged 26, died following a triple stabbing outside the unlicensed London Igloo party in Abbey Wood's Lyndean Industrial Estate in the early hours of June 20th. A group called Igloo organise illegal parties which they advertise via their website. The parties run all night, and usually finish at about 6am. This is despite Greenwich Council going to court to get an injunction preventing such events back in May. That did not stop the £20 a ticket London Igloo event - billed online as "the only party where you can bring your own bottles" - taking place with hundreds of revellers involved, according to concerned local residents fed up with the noise and disruption. I wonder that now that a young man has needlessly lost his life that the problem of the unlicensed events will finally be dealt with once and for all? Currently it seems that whenever a story gets into the local news about Abbey Wood and Thamesmead, it has negative connotations. There have been a number of stabbings, mostly relating to gang territories and the related “rights” to sell drugs. Unlicensed raves tend to encourage gang members to meet where they normally would not – whether they intend visiting the event for fun, or merely seeking new customers for their illegal recreational pharmaceuticals; the mix of gang loyalty, illicit money and knife culture never makes for a good result. I also wonder why the owners of the building where the rave has taken place do not do more to prevent such activities? Surely any insurance covering the building would be null and void if something happened during a period of illegal use?



Malcolm Knight of the “Bexley is Bonkers” blog was the first outlet to break the good news story that Bexley Council’s plan to sell off the Old Manor Way playground in Barnehurst has been dropped after intense public protest. The story is now all over the local press. Whilst this is extremely good news for the parents and children who use the playground, and it paints Bexley Council in a somewhat favourable light, I think that it is probably another nail in the coffin of the campaign to save Belvedere Splash Park. The extremely hot weather that we have been suffering with this week really went to show how much the Splash Park means to local people. I was on the 99 bus from Woolwich on Wednesday afternoon, right at the hottest part of the heatwave. When the bus stopped outside of the closed Splash Park, I saw a mother and a small group of children visibly upset that the park was closed – they obviously did not know about the closure, or the concerted campaign to get the place refurbished and re – opened. Consequently you had a bunch of upset kids and a Mum who did not know what to do with her hot and bothered kids on the warmest day of the year. As Malcolm Knight has also highlighted, the recent arson attack at the play area in Abbey Wood is going to cost the council’s recreation budget a pile of money – although I am not aware of what insurance provision (if any) the council has for damage of that type. Any possible remedial work and possible re – opening  of the Belvedere Splash Park may well fall victim to the non – closure of the Old Manor Way playground, and the fire damage in Abbey ruins. My understanding is that the possible financial grant from Cory Environmental to refurbish and reopen the Splash Park is in grave doubt, as Cory are currently up for sale, and actively looking for a buyer for the business. Cory has long had a somewhat tarnished reputation in Belvedere and Erith, mainly due to the way in which they forced through the creation of the plant in 2007, against the opposition of many local people, and the then London Mayor, Ken Livingstone. Opposition centred round the possibility of emissions from the incinerator, which add to the local concerns about existing industrial risks in Lower Belvedere. There has been a long standing dispute with Thames Water about the smell from the Crossness sewage works, and the ineffectiveness of attempts to force an end to these added to local concerns regarding fumes. A further concern raised is that while Bexley Borough has one of the best recycling records in London, this is offset by the fact that other boroughs evade recycling quotas by having their refuse incinerated in Bexley. Cory have no doubt hoped to create some better P.R for themselves by sponsoring a number of local community projects. This may now be over – hopefully there will be a new incumbent running the incinerator, who will have a strong and active corporate social responsibility programme to which the Belvedere Splash Park can benefit. Time will tell. 

The end video this week is something I came across on YouTube. It has been put together by local resident Lee Ricketts - you can see his Youtube channel by clicking here. This short film shows the demolition of the old Erith Town Centre back in 1969, and also records the construction of the first phase of the hideous concrete monstrosity of the replacement shopping centre that was to blight the town for several decades. Only in the last ten years have things improved. See what you think.