La la brexit land


Post-brexit, the UK now has lower growth than Italy and a higher inflation rate than Sweden

I happened to catch the movie La La Land recently and it occurred to me that the brexiters seem to inhabit more of a fantasy world than the characters in the movie. A fantasy world that should have by now been shattered as the cold hard realities of brexit sink in. An interesting Guardian article here about the folly of the brexiters and how all of their promises have come to nothing. Which is exactly what everyone told them would happen before the referendum.

The brexiters promised “new and exciting trade dealsin “emerging markets (what on Pluto?), which they could sign up to quickly. The EU, faced with the prospect of losing trade with the UK would agree to let us have our cake and eat it. The Americans under Trump would lavish gifts upon us, some even envisioned British Empire 2.0, with the UK at the heart of a new trading hub to rival the EU, US and China.

Well its becoming obvious now that any new trade deals, even those with the US, Canada or Australia will involve long and protracted negotiations, not least because the UK simply doesn’t have the staff to negotiate these deals in any sort of a hurry. And with a 220% tariff imposed on Bombardier imposed by supposed UK ally Trump, even despite the direction and personal intervention of the PM, its clear that the US will (surprise, surprise) put its own interest first.

And who is the white knight riding to Bombardier’s aid? It would appear to be Airbus (no doubt acting with the blessing of the EU). Although its worth noting they are taking a 50% stake in the company for which they will not pay a penny…..which is kind of metaphorical for the whole brexit process. The Brexiters get themselves into an awful mess and the Europeans lend them a rope with which to help themselves out of the quagmire….for a price!

Certainly the UK can get a trade deal with the US or its other trading partners reasonably quickly, if you don’t mind conceding heavily to the other side. Or in other words if you’re okay with the idea of UK farmers being driven to the wall, chlorinated chicken, growth hormones in beef or GM grains being sold on supermarket shelves unlabelled and the NHS ending up owned by US HMO’s.

And a key step in the UK’s future post-brexit trading relations is to rejoin the WTO. The brexiters have assumed that this will merely be a formality, they can just self-invite themselves along to the first post-brexit WTO meeting, joining on the same quota terms as the UK currently enjoys via its EU membership. However, that position has been rejected by several WTO member states, including the US, New Zealand and Canada. So it would appear Empire 2.0 is a non-starter.

But then again, why should anyone be surprised. If you represented these governments wouldn’t you try to negotiate the best position possible, particularly as for all three countries it is their farmers who would stand to gain the most (or lose the most) from any WTO quota agreement with the UK, farmers who represent a key political demographic. Its ironic how so many neo-liberals, such as the brexiters, who talk a lot about rational self interest can fail to appreciate that others will put their interests first and the UK’s second.

But we’ll be able to grow more food after brexit, the government says (although in the same breath the minster in question also said we would import more, so obviously he doesn’t understand the concept of supply and demand), right? Utter tripe” is the response from farmers, who live in the real world and understand that with their costs going up and likely to prove difficult for them to hire staff, not to mention trade deals that will see them wiped out, the opposite is more likely.

And the brexit talks are deadlocked because the UK is intentionally playing brinkmanship with the EU. The assumption is that German industrialists worried about the implications of a hard brexit with no deal will put pressure on the EU to back down and allow the UK to cherry pick what it wants. However the actual word from German industry is that they don’t want the integrity of the single market threatened by the UK being allowed to cheat the rules. And they are already advising any firms doing business with the UK to start preparing for a hard brexit. Which, to be fair, is the sort of thing you’d expect a German trade body to say (the Germans are well known for their dislike of unfairness and wanting everyone to stick to the rules, if you don’t believe me try to give away a free train ticket at a German railway station sometime!).

Now I suspect that behind the scenes one or two CEO’s of the companies directly in the firing line (e.g. Airbus, BMW, the financial services industry) are having a quiet word with the EU and Angela Merkel to try and limit the damage to themselves of a hard and messy brexit. But given the UK government’s position at the talks, the best way for the EU to cushion the blow would be to offer a carrot to these companies to relocate out of the UK, as is already starting to happen.

And the EU has to represent everybody, one man’s loss from brexit will be someone else’s gain. For example, UK based car makers, who are already laying people off, will see their tight Just In Time manufacturing process ruined by any sort of border controls at Dover and facing potential tariffs on exports back to the continent. But there’s plenty of companies with no UK manufacturing bases who will do rather well out of this. And even those that will suffer the worse, such as BMW (who own Mini and have a stake in a number of other UK car makers), can simply scale back production in the UK (sacking thousands of British workers in the process) and move production to Europe.

The airline industry will also be severely effected by a hard brexit. Already the bankruptcy of Monarch makes the UK owned airline functionally extinct (BA are already registered in Spain and Easyjet are applying to become Austrian). Certainly those airlines based in the UK will face disruption, regardless of where they are registered (which includes Ryanair). But its unlikely to bankrupt them, they’ll just sack a load of UK based staff and move their main hubs to European airport. I don’t know, maybe the Brexiters never realised it but airplanes can fly!

Indeed, another interesting story, Easyjet recently teamed up with Lufthansa to try and take over the Italian national carrier Alitalia, one of the world’s most in-efficient and incompetently run companies. Yes, they could have used the same money to rescue Monarch and buy it for a fraction of its current value. But instead they decided, in the context of brexit, Alitalia looked like a better deal.

So in short the people who are going to get royally shafted by a hard brexit, isn’t the EU, its UK workers, in particular those on lower incomes. Much as was predicted and warned about prior to the referendum. So it begs the question, why are the brexiters still committed to a policy that clearly isn’t going to work? Given their public school education and decades of xenophobic bigotry they’ve been exposed to in their little privileged home counties bubble, that they didn’t realise any of this would happen prior to brexit is perhaps understandable (although not forgivable). But they have no excuses now, they have literally been told to their faces (or been laughed in their faces) by the EU and foreign governments that their clever little plan is a deluded fantasy. So they have now got no excuses.

One is forced to assume its one of two possibilities. They really are that stupid. A bunch of idiotic black knightesque morons who think that if they never give up they can never lose. Or alternatively, they know their plan isn’t going to work, but they don’t care. To them chaos is a ladder, the whole reason why Boris, Davis and Liam Fox are pursuing it is solely for the goal of career advancement. They don’t care how much of the country they have to burn down to get to the top in the process.




hqdefault (1) Musk gives a technical briefing on his latest big idea

I recently looked at the hyperloop system proposed by SpaceX founder Elon Musk and highlighted a number of problems with the proposed system, notably its likely very high costs, the technical challenges involved in building it, the barf enduing ride and the safety issues. Recently vlogger Thunderf00t (aka Phil Mason) paid the hyperloop prototype track a visit and I thought it would be interesting to review some of his findings.

Firstly he noted that several of the brackets on the hyperloop system are absent and levelling rubber pads have been used here and there to prop up the brackets that remain. He also got out a thermal imaging camera and noted a temperature variation between the top and bottom of the tube. I suspect these two factors are related. Basically the tube is buckling due to the differential…

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Game of Thrones review: Jumping the shark


One of the features of the Game of Thrones TV series, based on the J.J. R Martin’s novels, that I find most interesting is its attempt to create a medieval high fantasy, but one grounded in a bit of realism. A flaw often made within fantasy settings (such as the Tolkien novels, the D&D gaming system of Gray Gygax or computer games, notably the World of Warcraft series) is to a failure to consider the consequences if you start to introduce magic or dragons into, say a medieval world.

For example, as this vlog post from Shaduniversity points out, if you end up in a world with dragons or wizards who can melt castle walls (or dimensionally travel inside them) then, unless a counter measure can be created (e.g. blocking dimensional travel, defences capable of resisting such attack), castles become pretty much useless and nobody would bother to build them. Similarly if an army has to face off against dragons or spell wielding wizards, it would be suicidal to do so using the sort of tightly packed infantry formations commonly used during the medieval period. And magic would have an impact on the economy, to the point where the feudal system wouldn’t really work any more. In short a medieval high fantasy world with magic won’t exist, because this ignores the essential reasons of how the medieval world worked.

GoT and J. J. R. Martin’s books do attempt to try and address this by toning down the magic element a lot (spell casters are so rare many doubt they even exist), aiming more for “low fantasy rather than high fantasy genre. However, that said, the GoT series has kind of gone off on the odd tangent which I feel which does kind of let itself down, particularly in the latest series.

How to loose allies and alienate your subjects

Let’s start with a major plot hole, how is Cersei still on the throne after blowing up the great Sept of Baelor with a large numbers of the nobility inside? A feudal society is held together by its religion, so such a blatant attack on the church, as well as the nobles and the common folk, would generally guarantee immediate overthrow. Part of the role of the church is to get the peasants to accept their place and not roast the nobles on spits (as did happen more than a few times in our history when the church was unable to restrain them). Even if Cersei could pin the blame on some outside force, in medieval times people interpreted misfortune as proof that the divine mandate rulers relied on had been withdrawn.


Sometimes the peasants can be revolting in more ways than one!

So if something like that ever happened in an actual medieval society, there would be a massive uprising shortly thereafter. But Cersei could just put that down with army right…..which army would that be? Medieval rulers did not maintain large armies, they might have a few hundred knights, maybe a thousand or so men at arms at most. This was kind of the whole point of the feudal system. Without all the labour saving technology later societies enjoyed, it required massive amounts of manpower to harvest crops, manufacture goods and keep the wheels of the economy going.

Instead rulers looked to the nobles to administer their lands and raise troops for them, with each noble typically commanding a few dozen to a few hundred full time troops, as well as being able to raise larger armies from among their peasants on a temporary basis as and when needed (and usually only on a seasonal basis). In short, feudalism was just a giant protection racket, which the church legitimised.

This has two consequences, firstly raising armies is expensive, simply because by taking people away from the fields you are making labour more expensive, which means everything else in the economy gets more expensive, which means sooner or later a ruler runs out of coin to pay them (and no, a foreign bank isn’t going to be able to bail them out, as the issue here is we are trying to defy the laws of economic gravity).

And secondly if the nobles withdraw their support, that ruler is screwed. The nobles (the made men in our medieval world) wouldn’t support Cersei in this a scenario because she’s broken the code (you can’t kill your fellow nobles, they’d worry she might have them killed on a whim as well). They’d also fear the consequences of their own people rebelling if they backed her. And, all to aware that her goose was basically cooked, why back a lost cause? Better to sit on their hands and do nothing and then pivot behind whoever comes out on top later. This happened time and again throughout medieval history. Most of said rulers military strength will simply disappear (or worse turn on them in the middle of a battle) along with most of their finance.

And to make matters worse in a large city (such as King’s Landing) they’d rely on local militia (basically the medieval equivalent of community support officers) to keep the peace, who would not be reliable in a scenario such as this (most would join the uprising and the rest would stay out of the mob’s way).

So balance of probability is that in such a scenario, there would be an uprising, she’d lose control of not only the city but the entire country and while she could barricade herself in the Red Keep, that would be a risky strategy as she’d be trapped when her enemies showed up. So her best option would be to flee.

Meanwhile the nobility would rally around some obvious challenger. And in GoT that likely be the surviving Tyrell’s or the Dornish houses (incidentally, a major plot hole in season 7 being how they can go from having an army of at least 100,000 one episode to both armies vanishing the next) who would advance on the capital, picking up allies as they went and arrive to essentially find it an open city. The Queen would facing a toss up between being handed over to them on arrival (then executed), killed by her own guards (fun fact, one of leading causes of death for Roman emperors was to be killed by the Pretorian guard, there’s been plenty of Kingslayer’s throughout history) or hunted down afterwards.

In a high fantasy setting, where the ruler is for example a powerful magic user, or perhaps a dragon rider (such as Daenerys) then they can get away with things a normal medieval ruler couldn’t do, simply because overthrowing them isn’t as easy. However, even they would be limited in what they could get away with as they would be bound by many of the same limitations as any feudal ruler. This actually something that GoT did cover rather well in the 5th and 6th series where Daenerys tried to do the right thing in Meereen, but soon found that this wasn’t an easy thing to do.

Right to rule

A significant plot hammer element of series 7 was establishing Jon Snow as the rightful ruler of the Iron throne, presumably because he ends up on it at the end of season 8. Because the person with the best credentials always ends up on the throne, don’t they?….ummmm…no!

As this BBC article discusses, ya he might well have the most credible case, but as its experts also point out that might not matter diddly squat in a medieval world, where possession is 9/10 th’s of the law. The Lannister’s and Baratheon’s have almost no credible claim, yet they’ve been on the throne for 7 seasons and there’s plenty of similar examples in history.

Take Queen Matilda. After the white ship disaster killed her brother she became next in line for the English throne. Her father went out of his way to ensure her succession won’t be challenged. He arranged a strategic marriage, got all the lords and nobles to pledge to her….only after the king died those pledges were broken before rigamortis had even set in and his bastard brother Stephen of Blois, a French noble who barely spoke a word of English, ceased the throne. That said, William the Conqueror’s claim to the throne was also fairly dubious.

As I mentioned above, the likely outcome of Cersei’s actions in series 6 (if the Lannister/Baratheon’s had managed to last that long, i.e. the nobles hadn’t ousted them after the red wedding) would be to unite the whole country against her, allowing the surviving Tyrell’s and Martell’s to take over. They might well invite in Daenerys afterwards with a suitable marriage pact to legitimise their claim (this was a theme explored in the novels). But either way, they’d be the ones calling the shots.

The problem with Jon‘s claim, as outlined in season 7, is its meaningless. His only evidence revolves around a vision his brother Bran had (which is a bit like saying, the bloke down the pub told me). There is some documentary evidence of a marriage annulment, but no mention of him, nor any living witnesses who can verify any of it (which is the problem with GoT’s murderous habit of killing people off). Its a medieval world, its not as if they can take him down to a clinic and run a paternity test.

Indeed, the likely outcome of such a plotline would be that the Southern lords would laugh him out of the room, pointing out that by breaking with the seven kingdoms he’d invalidated any claim to the throne (it would be like Nicola Sturgeon getting Scottish independence and then a few years later trying to become PM in Westminster). Meanwhile the northern lords upon hearing he’s a Targaryen and not a Stark at all, would kick him out and he’d end up back at the wall. And we know what happened last time he was there.

Defensive architecture

One rather annoying feature of GoT is that they don’t seem to know what a moat is, something that Shaduniversity also mentions in this video with regard to Casterly Rock.


Moats are kind of important

A moat is kind of essential around any keep because you want to keep attackers away from the base of your walls. Otherwise a bunch of guys with sledgehammers can just stand there and pound a hole in it. Note that a moat doesn’t have to be filled with water. Any sort of defensive ditch will do. In some parts of the world they’d just fill it with lots of large polished boulders ( or dragon’s teeth or wooden stakes), the whole point is to stop the enemy approaching your walls in any sort of organised formation.

And this becomes doubly important when we are in a high fantasy setting with magical beasts, wizards or giants. You absolutely want to keep such creatures as far away from your castle walls as possible, given the enormous damage they could inflict if they get close enough. If anything, the likely response (if, as noted, we still bother to build castles at all) would be to make moats even larger or wider. Or add further layers of defence (as was the case once cannons appeared).

Perhaps the worse offender of these rules is “the wall” in the North. Without any sort of a moat or defensive ditch all the Wildlings (or undead) need to do is basically pile timber at the bottom of it and light a fire. The Night’s watch, 300ft up on top of the wall could not effectively target them or defend the wall from such a distance. So in addition to a moat, you’d want a second set of battlements further down, close enough that they could target the attackers below.


The undefendable wall

Also the gate out of the wall into the north, the obvious weak point, has no gatehouse or barbican. Normally in a medieval castle you’d include such a structure, as this creates an additional set of barriers between an attacker and the gate. They now have to overcome a moat and at least two sets of gates and portcullises, all the while they’ll be coming under fire from the troops inside the supporting towers and on the walls above.

Oh and when winter does come, Winterfell is screwed.

Anti-dragon defences

In GoT large crossbow’s are used to defend against dragons (in the novel’s this is how the Dornish were initially able to hold off against the Targaryen’s). Now if we were to put several of those on the tops of a castle, in well reinforced positions, where they could mutually support one another (i.e. provide covering fire while one or other is being reloaded) then that could work, as they’d effectively function much like a flak tower from World War II, creating a zone of immunity from dragons, or flying enemies, around the castle.

However in an open field its not going to work as well, as there’s various way’s it can be countered. Simple combined arms tactics (where dragons and ground forces mutually support one another) is one option. In world war II pilots would fly a figure of eight attack pattern over targets, often pairing up with a wing man. It was hard enough to defend against such tactics with anti-aircraft guns, with a crossbow (which is going to require a crew sometime to reload after each shot) it would likely be impossible (unless, as noted they were built into a well reinforced structure). So in short, Bronn should have gotten fried.

…And since we’re talking about Jamie should have drowned (while armour isn’t as restrictive to movement as many think, the one thing you can’t easily do is swim in armour)….. And also since we’re talking about it, how is Daenerys supposed to be able to hang on to a dragon while its cruising along in a 60 mph jet stream? Or is one of those Targaryen superpowers having Velcro like skin? Presumably she should be using a saddle.

Jokes aside, in any high fantasy setting this would drastically change how battles would be fought. Unless an army had its own magic users (or dragons) to counter the enemies, they would not engage in large field battles, preferring instead to fight from well defended keeps (with moats presumably!).

And in a high fantasy setting with magic users, defending against flying enemies does become a lot easier, as those magic users will be able to sling spells at a dragon at a considerably longer range than it can engage them. One of the most effective tactics probably being to use mind effecting spells to confuse, stun or paralyse the dragon while its in flight, hopefully causing it to crash.

Just one guy

A common trope in high fantasy which isn’t realistic is where you have one guy who is so hugely strong or so brilliant in battle that they can single handedly take on an entire army. Now while this might apply for someone with an unnatural advantage (e.g. a dragon rider with three two large dragons or a very powerful wizard, etc.), otherwise its a bit silly. One guy is still one guy. I would argue the D&D gaming system is mostly to blame for this (and I suspect you’ll find a large number of high fantasy writers have played this system before), as its possible under the game’s rules to create ubra powerful Munchkin’s, which wouldn’t be realistic, even in the context of a high fantasy setting.


Munchkins….complete with a +12 chainsaw

The mountain”, or whatever he’s called these days, would be a good example of this. The thing is, its easy to overcome such an enemy. Just have a dozen guys rush him all at once, knock him off his feet and then basically sit on him. Its essentially how prison officers deal with some out of control crack head and how the whole sport of rugby works. Okay, unless they catch him off guard, he might get his sword out and maybe take down one or two of them, but that’s about the best he could hope for. A suitably determined bunch of attackers (e.g. the faith’s militant) would still be able to overcome him. Its certainly a better strategy than attacking him one by one while the rest hop around him in a vaguely threatening manner.

Indeed, the D&D system compensates for itself by including overbearing” rules to counter this very problem, giving a mob of relatively weaker attackers an opportunity to rugby tackle an stronger individual and pin him down.

Undead are kind of crap at fighting

It worries me that series 8 seems like it will be entirely based upon the fight against the undead attacking from the North. If GoT hasn’t already jumped the shark, this certainly suggests it will in series 8. And that’s even before we consider the debacle of episode 6 of series 7 (okay, so you want to lead a banzai charge north with the goal of abducting an undead creature made of ice and take him south to somewhere warmer, hope he doesn’t wind up as a glass of water on the way, to convince a queen, who by all rights is wholly untrustworthy and cannot be relied upon, to send her army north, hoping that said undead doesn’t break free in the process and create more undead out of the 500,0000 people in King’s Landing, I mean what could possibly go wrong!).


Episode 6 season 7 in a nutshell

The reality is that while undead might seem scary, but even in the context of a high fantasy setting, they are kind of crap. The key feature that has led us humans to dominate this earth is our intelligence. The idea that undead, who share all the essential features of a human except our intelligence are going to someone win is just plain silly. In fact, even within the confines of the D&D gaming rules its not going to happen. Indeed back during my DM’ing days I’ve saw one or two scenarios where large hordes of undead got beaten fairly easily, usually because those fighting them adopted clever tactics (e.g. such as those deployed by the Romans used during the battle of Watling street) or took advantage of any known weakness or vulnerability they had.

Okay, having the Night King on a dragon does kind of change things (of course he only has one of those because of “banzai” Jon’s charge up north), but not by much (one guy is still one guy, indeed, it suggests a strategy of throwing the kitchen sink at him, a combined attack with dragonglass crossbow bolts & two dragons, take him out and then his army is literally toast).

Breaking the wheel

Daenerys (Ms Velcro) & Tyrion spend quite a bit of time talking about “breaking the wheel, essentially breaking the feudal system. Reading between the plot lines the implication is that of having some sort of democratic system afterwards. However, that would be a bit implausible, democracy won’t really work in a feudal world where most people can’t even read or write. The likelihood is the people would vote for some Trump like figure, who promise to rebuild the wall (and make the night king pay for it), then blame liberal bleeding hearts like Jon Snow or Wildling migrants for it falling down in the first place.

As I discussed in a prior post, one of Plato and Scorates arguments against democracy was that it only works if the voters are well educated and put some serious thought into their decisions. The minute voters start voting for someone “for a laugh” or start using ballot boxes as a urinal in which to vent their personal frustrations (e.g. voting for brexit to get back at Tories for austerity), you quickly end up with a system which isn’t much better. Indeed, given that kings are two a penny and can be easily overthrown, while a president with a democratic mandate is a lot harder to overthrow (even if the public now realise they were lied too and hate his guts), you could end up with something worse (as Trump may well be in the process of proving).

And worse still, in a high fantasy setting where magic can be used to influence the outcome of an election (and inevitably the greedy and corrupt will do so), democracy could become downright dangerous. Furthermore, if you are familiar with the novels there’s already a system in Westeros to deal with a succession crisis democratically, by calling a great council and the lords electing a new king.

Looking back at human history, one would argue that a far more effective strategy would be to create an independent judiciary. Once the law is out of the hands of nobles and in the hands of magistrates it means the days of fighting and pillaging are over (because the aggrieved party will just go to a magistrate, get a court order, the property will have to be handed back and the perpetrator gets a to serve time at his majesty’s pleasure for his trouble). Promoting education, science and medicine will generally better society, but it also means the more people who can read, the more know about their rights and how to exploit them.

And science means developing new technologies to increase productivity, meaning more can be spared from work in the fields to take up the increasing number of new jobs which require an education, which means you’re starting to create a whole new class of people between the nobles and the peasants. Democracy and elections would presumably come much later.

And sooner or later in such a society one of these newly educated people is going to invent a printing press and then its game over, because now every new idea can be copied and distributed thousands of times over in the space of a day. The process from this point onwards becomes unstoppable, any attempt by the nobility to push back would likely result in a violent revolution. Not unlike the French revolution, which was started not so much by the peasants, but by the third estate (i.e. the educated, merchants, minor nobles, etc.) who had done rather well out of earlier reforms and worried about the nobles rowing things back.

Running out of steam

In short, GoT started off well but they’ve painted themselves into a corner by killing off characters who were kind of important to the plot and its thrashed their storyline. A situation not helped by missing out key characters from the books (e.g. Arianne Martell, Quentyn Martell, Aegon (who didn’t die in the novels, oh that might be a spoiler) or Victarion Greyjoy) meaning the story doesn’t really tie together very well.

And other characters, who probably should have been killed off, are still in play, generally because there’s nobody left alive to replace them. Case in point we have Qyburn acting as a regular Mr Haney from Green Acres effectively running multiple government departments and being Cersei’s doctor, spy master & general sidekick/ass licker in his spare time.

I remember reading that originally J.J. R Martin considered making dragons very different more akin to Wyvern’s with all the fire breathing just being Targaryen trickery or smoke and mirrors. That might not have actually been a bad idea, because giving Daenerys an exclusive monopoly on such a powerful resource massively unbalances things, as in effect we are introducing high fantasy elements into what is a low fantasy setting.

Many of the implausibilities and absurd plot holes seen in season 7 are largely borne of the need to get around the issue of an overpowered Daenerys and the fact that so many of the original characters critical to the story are dead.

News review

How to lose a country in one day


Given that the fallout from the Catalan independence vote is still ongoing at the time of writing, its difficult to know which way its going to go, but in some respects the outcome of the referendum hardly matters now. Effectively by violently shutting down the voting process the Spanish government has handed a massive victory to the Catalan’s.


Spainsh taxes at work, beating up old ladies

Usually when I talk to Spanish about Catalan independence, be they from the region or other parts of the country, the response is to laugh, then point out that its very different from the Scottish independence question. They also generally point out how support for independence has traditionally been only about 25-30%, the recent jump to +40% or so is a response to an unpopular right wing government in Madrid and its policy of austerity (now why does this sound familiar?). The assumption has been that once the right wing government in Madrid is forced from power and austerity ended, independence support will slip back to traditional levels.

However, given what’s happened in the last few days I’d argue that’s unlikely to be the case, everything has now changed. This police intervention will have hardened the minds of independence supporters, hence I’d call the +40% supporting independence a pretty solid support from now on, and it will probably grow rather than wane. As a result there are really now only two outcomes. That the Spanish government will have no choice but to run its own legally binding referendum at some point in the future. And with a +40% support level then it basically boils down to turn out (keep in mind that in the brexit referendum it took only 37% of the electorate to back brexit to get it passed). Or Catalonia will become independent in the near future, possibly within the next few days.

The Catalan government might well argue that given the low probability of them being able to hold a free and fair referendum while part of Spain they are now within their rights, regardless of the vote on Sunday, to simply make a unilateral deceleration of independence. The is a precedence here for that, Ireland never had a referendum prior to leaving the UK (although several were held afterwards) and Norway left Sweden first, before a referendum was held to confirm the seperation.

Now the question is, will such a decleration be supported by the people? If a significant portion of the Catalan population for example stopped paying their taxes, or a general strike were to be organised, crippling Spain’s most economically important region (which includes the headquarters of most of their major companies, notably their banks), the Spanish government would be very quickly forced to either grant a referendum or respect Catalan independence.

Fortunately for the Spanish government the Spanish constitution would likely require that a referendum would need a solid majority of support (e.g. 50% plus one vote must back it, as should have been the case in the UK brexit referendum). However, with the level of support behind independence as it now stands the Spanish government are not going to find it easy to win, even with such a rule. The previous plan, to simply get the no voters to boycott the poll, won’t work anymore. They’ll have to fight a campaign and in both the Scottish Indy ref and brexit vote a swing of more than the required magnitude was achieved over the course of the campaign. So its easily doable. And again, if a large block of no voters just don’t show up to the polls (perhaps turned off by the police tactics over the last few days) while the pro-independence lot get the vote out, then the vote could easily be won.

And the way the Tories won the indy ref, the infamous vow (which never really was fulfilled) isn’t an option. Firstly, because after what happened on Sunday, they won’t be believed. And secondly because they’d have to make the same offer to all the other regions of Spain. And once they start doing that there’s not a lot left for the government in Madrid to do. Plus if Catalonia goes, its likely other regions, such as the Basque country, will follow. So by cracking down on this independence movement the conservative government might just have put Spain on the course towards its own breakup. They have now destroyed the option for compromise, leaving the Catalan’s with basically only one alternative.

And there’s a lesson here for the UK. Some have argued that the response of Westminster to dealing with the SNP should copy that of the Spanish government. I would hope that events on the streets of Barcelona, or the quagmire that will now follow, should demonstrate why that’s just a non-starter.

The longest political suicide note in history


At the labour conference delegates were told to prepare for power….is that a pig flying past? The problem is we’ve been here many times before. Take 1992. The Tory party were in disarray over Europe (again, sound familiar?), the economy was in the tank, labour were riding high in the polls, so much so that they made one too many promises to the far left. With the result that a big chuck of the electorate in marginal seats lost their nerve, voted Tory and labour lost to John Major. Let me repeat that, they lost to John Major, a guy so dull his Spitting image character was actually grey.

The problem with the labour manifesto is that much of what Corbyn is promising is going to be nearly impossible to deliver and he is the worst person you could pick to try and deliver it. If he’s in a coalition government, there’s no way the other parties will sign up to much of it, indeed they might well go over to the Tories instead. And even if he has a majority he’ll struggle to hold his party together to support such measures. The right of the party won’t support overtly socialist policies, the far left won’t want to do anything that stinks of compromise and they’ll face pressure from big business who will use the courts to slow things down to a crawl.

Good politics is about good compromise, but Corbyn isn’t good at that. People support him because they say he’s not like other politicians, he doesn’t lie. Really? What about that whole business with him sitting on the floor on a train when there were empty seats? And we all know he really voted leave even though he claims to have voted remain. The only difference between Corbyn and other politicians is that he’s bad at it. He could have deprived the Tories of a majority (even with the support of the unionists) if he’d only taken up the offer of an election deal with the other left wing parties not to stand against each other in marginal seats. Several of those key seats were won by a margin of a few hundred votes.

Just to take an example,, the issue of tuition fees. As a lecturer I see first hand the problems tuition fees are causing all the time. But no sooner had I written an article pointing out how the labour policy, while it would be expensive (but in the long run a cost worth paying), it was a good idea, only for Corbyn to chickened out of it and dropped the idea. So if he’s back pedalling on policies now, how likely do you think it is that he’ll actually deliver on promises once in power?

Re-nationalisation isn’t that bad an idea, given the mess public services are in. But there’s a right way to do it and a wrong way and Corbyn is clearly committed to doing it the wrong way. If he wants to simply buy back all of the assets held by the private companies they’ll demand he pay the full market price, which would be more than he could afford. And if he tries to set the price lower, they’ll take him to court and tie him up in knots with legal challenges. It would literally take the full length of parliament just to untangle the legal mess he’ll be getting himself into over this.

Oddly enough the very thing Tony Blair, or the Clinton’s, were good at was this ability to compromise, to negotiate and do deals. The trouble of course was he took this to its illogical conclusion by thinking he could get G. W. Bush to compromise over Iraq. But even so, you do need to be willing to compromise and negotiate if you want to get anything done in politics, that’s just the way it works.

My fear is that Corbyn’s government would quickly get stuck in the doldrums and become a lame duck administration, not unlike that of Hollande’s time in office in France. And what was the end result of that? The traditional left got wiped out and the Blairites took over with a new party.

And given that we don’t know who the Tory leader will be or what the terms of brexit are, then its a bit premature to be declaring victory. Not least because we don’t know how the public will react. They might well blame the Tories for the mess that follows, or they might recognise that Corbyn bares some responsibility too and vote for third parties, meaning another hung parliament, possibly one that might require the Tories and labour to work together (which isn’t going to happen with Corbyn).

And given that the economy will be probably taking a hit from brexit, there won’t be a lot of money to go on a spending spree (again this was the problem for Hollande, he had big plans to change things, but the French economy tanked and he couldn’t implement those changes).

So the danger is that those £3 tories, who joined labour and voted for Corbyn in the hope that he destroys the labour party, might well get their wish in the end. Its just they might have to put up with him in power for 4 years first! And see their own party destroyed as well.

Game of dolts

Meanwhile over at the legion of doom Tory party conference the knifes are already out. Not so much for Teresa May (she”s finished!), but the other leadership contenders are jostling for the top spot. To draw an analogy with game of thrones, the rains of Castamere is on a continuous loop throughout the conference hall, they are all gathered around Teresa and her supporters openly sharpening their knifes or loading crossbows and loudly arguing over her about how they are going to divide up the loot after they’ve knifed her.

Boris Johnson for example laid out his stall arguing for the sort of brexit senile swivel eyed bigots the Tory faithful would want, rather than one that’s practical. Clearly this was designed to box in his main rival David Davis. As he’s actually negotiating brexit he can’t propose something that’s simply not deliverable. Boris, who least we forget promised all sorts of nonsense in the referendum campaign, can promise whatever BS he wants.

Of course the trouble is that once Brussels realises what’s going on, they’ll stall. They know the longer these negotiations drag on the more desperate the UK will be to do a deal. And they know Boris is just the sort of buffoon to dig himself into a pit and they can then sell him the rope to hang himself with. So once again, the future of the country is being sacrificed for the internal politics of the Tory party.

Ni bombardier/ Trump trade


And a perfect example of the mess the Tories have gotten the UK into played out recently with regard to Bombardier in Northern Ireland. The Trump administration, who are supposedly pro-brexit and will do a trade deal “very quickly” hit the Canadian company, which has manufacturing facilities in NI with a whopping 219% tax on its aircraft sales. And this was after the PM raised the issue with Trump personally.

Critics like myself have repeatedly warned that the UK will not get as good a trade deal outside of the EU as it would inside. And that the US will always prioritise looking after its own interests above those of the UK, especially under the administration of a populists like Trump. This serves to prove the point.


The UK has threatened to retaliate by cutting military contracts with the US, but I suspect they are bluffing and the US will call their bluff. The UK has no choice but to buy those aircraft off the Americans, largely because of past Tory mistakes in aircraft procurement (dithering on buying essential equipment because they were too penny pinching, not holding a proper bidding process when in a blind panic they realised they now needed it, signing deals and paying for stuff in advance, etc.) and the obvious alternatives are made where?…in Europe!

And case in point, would the Americans hit the EU with a 219% tax on its aircraft production? Unlikely. A counter tax by the EU would inflict more damage to the US than they’d inflict on the EU. The main rival of Boeing, Airbus, has its own manufacturing facilities in the US, so they could make life very difficult for the US administration very quickly by threatening thousands of high tech jobs. Also while the Americans can laugh off the Tories feeble bluff on military contracts, the tens of billions of annual arms sales the US makes to EU nations is a different matter. These could credibly be terminated and the EU nations source from their own suppliers within the EU. So such a threat from the EU would have to be taken seriously.

But of course the brexiters will carry on regardless oblivious to the obvious warning messages.

Monarch and the brexit effect

And the collapse of the airline Monarch is another example of the sort of blow back the UK is facing. Now Monarch’s problems were multiple (caught in a price war, rising costs, difficulties securing routes, the impact of terrorist attacks on package holidays), however brexit was the final nail in the coffin.

Ultimately the brexit effect caused its costs to rise, notably the cost of fuel (always the Achilles heal of any airline). It could have been saved by new investers coming along. However, the terms of brexit are unknown, in particular the brinkmanship the Tories have been playing means there’s theoretically a chance of many UK airlines being forced to cancel routes or even buy back their own shares. So who in their right mind would invest in a UK based airline knowing any of that?

This is something we’ll likely see a lot of. Brexit is kind of like one of those hospital superbugs. If for some reason you end up in hospital, it can kill you off and there’s not a lot the doctors can do to save you, although it only takes those who by accident or illness have ended up in the hospital in the first place.

The world’s most powerful eight year old

And speaking of Trump, there was a worrying story this week over Trump and his tweets. He had very publicly backed a particular candidate to take Jeff Sessions vacated senate seat, only for that candidate to lose the republican primary. And his response was to start deleting the tweets he’d made in support (which might be illegal!).


This is not the sort of behaviour we’d expect of a president, or indeed any grown adult. It would seem that Trump’s ego is so important to him that he can’t accept the embarrassment of defeat. It suggests he’ll do anything he can just to avoid looking bad…which is not good news when he’s in a pissing contest with another eight year old call Kim Jung-un and they both have nuclear weapons.

Lock them up

You remember all of that chanting during the US election, lock her up, lock her up! Why? Because Hilary used a private e-mail account to conduct official business. Now in the context of wikileaks, which was ongoing as she first took office, with it rather obvious that the Bush administration had left a series of massive security holes in the US intelligence apparatus (Chelsea Manning had simply copied the diplomatic cables off an unsecured server onto a fake Lady Gaga CD!), her actions have to be put in the proper context.

Well, predictably now several of Trump’s inner circle have been caught doing exactly the same thing. The only difference being is that while Hilary at least took some security precautions, they’ve been using the likes of gmail or yahoo accounts. I mean even in my uni, they they advise us and the students not to use such accounts for official university business. And I’m hardly handling state secrets. So are we going to hear calls for Ivanka or Jared to be locked up? Well of course not! Conservatives need to google the terms “hypocrisy” or “irony” because they might find they are a perfect example.

Lecturing on the breadline

A disturbing story here from the Guardian about how some Adjunct professors who are so poorly paid they end up living in their cars or resorting to second jobs or even prostitution just to make ends meet. This highlights everything that is wrong with higher education in the US, a model the Tories are effectively trying to copy over here in the UK.

Under this system universities are run like businesses with a strong emphasis on revenue raising and bringing in money, such that lecturers often don’t have a lot of time to deal with students. In some uni’s its getting to the stage where a lecturer who actually shows up to class to teach is considered by management to be playing hooky. As a result PhD students, Post-docs or Adjunct professors are hired on zero hours contracts to do that actual face to face teaching.

But even if you can ignore the plight of these people (as I’m sure the Tories can! Not exactly “people” persons), think about it for a minute. Students in the US are paying way more for their education than here in the UK. And who is the uni hiring to do the lecturing? Some homeless guy from down the street. If I was a student going to a US university, paying $30k a year I’d want someone to be a bit better paid. In short, if you are a UK student and you think you aren’t getting value for money out of your university, well its much worse in the US and it will be worse in the future unless fees are scraped.

Death penalty shot down?

Finally an interesting piece here about how some US states, all too aware of the difficulties they now face administering death sentences by lethal injection are contemplating switching to using firing squads instead. What is it with American’s and guns? If you’ve ever doubted the lobbying power of the NRA, here’s your proof. I’m surprised they don’t just change the American flag to have 50 bullets and switch the bars for profiles of different gun types.

Of course, the brutality of firing squads is likely to have a generally negative effect on public perceptions both of guns and on the death penalty. The reality is that there is no nice humane way to kill someone, because its not a humane thing to do. If there’s one positive one can draw from this, its that it will likely mean the eventual abolition of the death penalty in the US.

A closer estimate on nuclear energy cost options

I stumbled across a tool from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist, which purports to calculate the full cycle cost of nuclear energy. While it has its limitations, I think does highlight a few interesting points.


Figure 1: The Bulletin of Atomic Scientist (BoAS) costs, baseline & adjusted with various options compared to DoE estimates for renewables & fossil fuels

Firstly, the baseline cost they suggest for nuclear power works out at about a LCOE of $ 84.4 per MWh (the site quotes in cents per kWh, however, I’m converting to $/MWh because its what we usually use when quoting LCOE’s). This is a bit less than the DOE’s estimate of $95/MWh for nuclear. The DOE also quotes costs of $74/MWh for wind, $125/MWh for solar. By 2022 they expect costs in the range of $96/MWh for nuclear, $74/MWh for solar, $56/MWh for wind, with gas and coal between $54/MWh and $196/MWh depending on future prices and whether or not we are sequestering the carbon. Recall we are talking in terms of LCOE so this accounts for the intermittent nature of some renewables.

So first off this would suggest that nuclear might be competitive with coal, if there’s efforts to force CCS on the industry (i.e. no Trump, no climate change denial) and if fossil fuel prices go up. But that’s lot of if’s. It also suggests that nuclear isn’t competitive against renewables, and even if it is, that window is about to close. Indeed, we can use the Bulletin tool to get a better estimate on its current price, given that the cost of the Hinkley C project is known….well it will probably go up, but we at least have some ball park figure. The latest estimate for its overnight cost is £22.3 billion, which is $28.7 bn so that’s $8,696 per installed kWe, and its going to take 10 years and we assume 40% efficiency. So running that through our model gives a figure of $134/MWh, or about £104.6/MWh. You will immediately notice that this is well above the strike price of £92.5/MWh, suggesting that Hinkley C is going to lose money with every kWh it generates.


Figure 2: UK new nuclear costs (E/MWh) compared to various renewable energy options [Source: The energy, 2015]

And by comparison at a recent strike price auction agreed to a price of £57.7 per MWh (approximately $76/MWh) for offshore wind. One of the arguments in favour of Hinkley C was that the high costs of off shore wind, even though many experts warned the government at the time that this would likely be wiped out by future advances in offshore wind technology (which was at a very early stage of development when Hinkley C was first proposed, the widely held assumption is that the price of offshore wind would fall rapidly, as indeed it has).

So okay, we’ve proved Hinkley C is a crap sandwich, well I think we all knew that one already. What I think is interesting about this tool is what happens when you start playing with the settings. For example, if we increase the efficiency of our nuclear reactor from the baseline of 33% (again industry standard for new build reactors would be closer to 40% these days) to 55% (the best you could possibly hope to get with a Brayton cycle) you only cut the cost of electricity by 2%. This confirms a point I made some time ago, there is no point spending a lot of money on some super expensive Brayton cycle kit, greatly increasing the construction costs only to make a tiny improvement in the plant’s electricity output.

However, if we decrease the capacity factor of our plant, from a baseline of 90% to say 70%, the price goes up by 25%. Pull it down to 60% the price goes up to +50% of the baseline price and at a capacity factor of 50% we are paying 74% more for our electricity. Its is often argued that nuclear can operate without any form of backup, but this ignores how grids work. But everything needs back up not least because demand is not constant all of the time. In the absence of storage, there will be times when some plants will see their capacity fall significantly. Load following power plants will typically operate at between 70-50% capacity factor, while peaking power plants can be less than 50%. At such cost levels it would simply be more economic to build energy storage than add more nuclear plants…so why not just do the same thing with renewables and save some money?

The model doesn’t appear to consider the costs of decommissioning or the clean up costs of fixed infrastructure related to the nuclear fuel cycle, which is something of an oversight. Keep in mind those costs aren’t small, its currently costing more to decommission some nuclear plants than it cost to build them. Including the costs of decommissioning Selafield the UK’s current bill is about £117 billion. That said, it is difficult to quantify this down to the level of an individual plant or MWh.


Figure 3: UK Nuclear decommissioning costs breakdown

What they are able to do is estimate the spent fuel storage costs. Doubling the cost of that (as high as it will go) only increases the cost per MWh by 2%. Now okay, as noted there’s a whole raft of things we are leaving out. But even so, it does suggest that its not a linear relationship between clean up costs and electricity costs. There is a fixed cost we are stuck with regardless (i.e. even if we abandoned nuclear energy tomorrow, much of that bill would still have to be paid) and some small amount for every reactor year beyond that.

However, and here’s where it gets interesting, if we switch from the once thro fuel cycle to the fast reactor based full recycle option, the baseline price jumps by 64% to a whopping $139/MWh. And again, this baseline model, isn’t really accurate. For example, it assumes a capacity factor for the fast reactor of 90%, something that no FBR has ever achieved (most struggle to exceed 40%, the best is closer to 60%). Putting in more accurate values for both the LWR and FBR costs and performance, we get a price of $264/MWh.


Figure 4: Estimated fuel inventories for different nuclear energy options, MOX reprocessing or fast reactor reprocessing means a modest reduction in HLW in exchange for a significant increase in LLW [UCUSA, 2014]

This confirms one of the arguments I’ve long made, fast reactors make no sense, unless you are allergic to money! They’ll end up greatly increasing the costs of nuclear electricity to well past the point where anyone would be willing to pay for it. Yes once-thro does mean throwing away most of the fissile material, but the cost of recovering that material is simply too high. This was essentially the conclusion of both the 2011 MIT report into the nuclear fuel cycle and the Harvard study of 2003. The only situation where either report thought fast reactors (or Thorium) would make the slightest sense would be if renewable costs failed to drop as predicted, energy costs skyrocketed and the cost of uranium soared. None of those have happened, in fact the opposite has happened in all three cases.

Finally, the baseline Bulletin model suggests that using the MOX recycle route will cost $227.5/MWh, although its closer to $254/MWh (£196/MWh) for my “adjusted” model. Some nuclear advocates see MOX recycling as a happy compromise. Yes, we know the fast reactor route isn’t really viable on a technical level, but we can at least get some reuse out the fuel rods via the MOX route and save some money in the process. Well this model suggest no, that’s not the case. Indeed, it suggests that for the UK we’ll be paying more than double the strike price for every kWh of Hinkley’s electricity. And when I say “we” keep in mind that at least half of those costs are being met by the taxpayer not EDF. Indeed, given that the strike price amounts to a subsidy rate of 68% per kWh (paid for by UK bill payers), the actual cost to EDF will be closer to 15% of the cost per MWh of Hinkley….and that still might be enough to break them!

So this model seems to confirm what I’ve heard from one or two in the nuclear industry, who see MOX as the hill on which the nuclear industry is going to die on. As they see it, if and when the dead certificate for nuclear power is written, we won’t be listing “Greenpeace” or “Hinkley” as the cause of death, no it will be “suicide by MOX”. Most of the spiralling costs we associate with nuclear are often those associated with MOX reprocessing (if you think Hinkley is bad, look up the fiasco of Throp or Rokkasho sometime!). Most of the recent accidents have been related to MOX reprocessing and most of the main flash points with protestors are MOX fuel shipments. In short MOX fuel reprocessing is a supersized crap sandwich with a side salad of BS. If the nuclear industry is to have any future this madness has to stop and MOX plants need to close and let us never talk of it again.

So all in all, what this model does show is that the nuclear industry does have some problems. But some of the proposed solutions doing the rounds e.g. making plants more efficient, building them quicker or smaller, FBR’s, MOX or alternative fuel cycles, they don’t make a lot of sense as regards the economics of nuclear energy. In many cases these would actually increase the cost of nuclear energy not reduce it. As I’ve pointed out before, the business model of the industry, that of large LWR’s with once thro fuel processing, might not look great, but there is a reason why the industry has stuck with it since the 70’s. And that because the alternatives are so much worse.

Peak Sand



An interesting video here from the Economist regarding a growing resource scarcity problem, that of a shortage of sand.

Sand is crucial for building projects, notably the production of concrete. Sand is also used for coastal defence to shore up beaches from rising sea levels (thus protecting property behind the beach from storm surges). And with a global boom in construction, as the world’s population both grows and becomes more urbanised, all this means that sand is being consumed at such a furious rate (demand has doubled since 2004, between 2011 and 2013 China used more cement than America used during the entire 21st century) that demand is exceeding supply. And in many parts of the world stocks are now being rapidly depleted.

sand-sales Qatar is one of the world’s leading importers of sand

Now at face value you might well say that this is ludicrous, how can the…

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The Hyperloop hyperbole

I discussed the hyperloop proposal sometime ago and I thought I would be worth updating on its progress. On the one hand, they have managed to build a test track and run some tests. However, the critics argue they’ve barely got started and still haven’t tackled any of the major technical challenges yet.


Figure 1: The first Hyperloop test track [Credit: Hyperloop one]

A structural engineer for example has pointed to a host of challenges hyperloop would face in terms of building the system, protecting it from seismic events, countering the effect of thermal expansion and dealing with NVH issues. The high speeds proposed would mean the system would have to achieve some extremely high manufacturing tolerances, which might not be possible on such a large scale. Certainly if it was possible, it would likely be very expensive. Economic experts with experience of civil infrastructure projects estimate it would cost at least ten times as much as Musk has proposed, perhaps as much as $100 billion, much more expensive than the CHSR project, yet with only 10% of the capacity.

And those NVH issues will make for a very uncomfortable ride. One physicist has suggesting it will be a barf inducing ride (Hyperpuke?). Another points to the enormous technical challenges of maintaining a partial vacuum over a 600 km vacuum chamber, particularly given the needs for thermal expansion joints. And heat represents a particular problem for hyperloop. Aside from the issues of thermal expansion, the compression of air inside the tube, all of that high voltage electrical equipment and even the body of occupants will conspire to create a major cooling problem.

Now while there are solutions to all of these issues, the problem is the complexity of making it all work, while maintaining the sort of tight engineering tolerances needed to do so is going to be a significant challenge, which its likely to take a long time to develop and likely to be very expensive. So when supporters of Hyperloop talk about successful tests being a “kitty hawk” moment, they need to remember how long it took to go from Kitty hawk to reliable long distance air travel.


Figure 2: Hyperloop’s “Kitty hawk moment”….so only 30-40 years to go then….

And then there’s the thorny issue of safety. Phil Mason (aka Thunderf00t) discusses a number of the engineering challenges faced by hyperloop, but also raises concerns, particularly about the consequences if the tube were to be breached. In such an event, a catastrophic implosion across a section of the tube is likely and the shock-wave released by this down the tube would likely destroy any capsules for a considerable distance in both directions (hence why I suspect the media will be calling it the deathcoaster after the inevitable accident).

Similarly, any stray nut or bolt could destroy a capsule, in much the same way a stray piece of metal on a runway destroyed a Concorde on takeoff. Its worth remembering that the most dangerous section of a flight for a plane is during take off and landing, because the aircraft is travelling at speed in close proximity to the ground and the pilots have no time to do anything should the encounter a major problem. Some of the most deadly aircraft accidents have occurred either on the runway, or just shortly after take off. And being in a pressurised cylinder travelling in a partial vacuum raises some safety concerns as well. Not only of asphyxiation if the capsule the de-pressurizes, but the damage that might do to the hyperloop system itself.

Again, while these issues are solvable (up to a point!), the expensive of maintaining a 600 km long partial vacuum chamber at aircraft level standards is going to be horrendously expensive. My take on this is to ask what is the rather obvious question I don’t think those behind it have asked – what specific advantage does hyperloop offer? And is it worth the enormous expense, time and effort needed to achieve this?


Figure 3: The concept of a Vac-train is not a new idea, its been promoted from time to time in the past [Credit: Economist, 2013]

Its supporters claim it will be faster than aircraft. However, given the engineering challenges I mentioned earlier, I would argue that’s far from proven. And the best way of solving those challenges would be to lower the operating speed down to more reasonable levels. Given the dangers mentioned earlier, its unlikely hyperloop can be operated more cheaply, particularly given that with aircraft we only have to maintain a plane and the runways, while with hyperloop we need to develop build and maintain one of the largest machines ever built.

You’d still need to go through some sort of security check in and the current proposal for hyperloop, from LA to San Francisco, won’t actually go city centre to city centre, but from the outskirts of both, so any time gained will be thrown away on a bus crawling into town (obviously city centre to city centre would be even more expensive and raise all sorts of planning issues, given the safety issues mentioned earlier).

And besides aircraft can theoretically go faster, Concorde remember went at about Mach 2. Aircraft manufacturers have tried to revive supersonic travel, coming up with new aircraft designs that fly supersonic but with a reduced sonic boom, or fly at high subsonic speeds. However, such projects tend to falter because the feedback they get from the airlines is that there simply isn’t a huge market for such aircraft. Yes there are some people who’d pay more to get from London to New York an hour or two quicker. But the majority of travellers would prefer to just bring a good book and save some cash.


Figure 4: One of a number of proposals for new supersonic passenger planes under development [Credit Boom, 2016]

So aircraft could theoretically match hyperloop for speed. The only difference is that aircraft manufacturers reckon that the few billion in costs to achieve that wouldn’t be economically viable given the likely small size of any market for such a service. Hyperloop is based on the premise that this market (for something a bit faster than conventional planes) is sufficiently big to justify expenditure in the order of a hundred billion or so. And that hyperloop can deliver on the levels of speed advertised. Neither is likely to be true.

Of course the major down side of planes is that there’s only so many people you can squeeze on them at any one time. Although that said, there are single class versions of the A380 and 747 which can seat over 500 people. But generally, there’s only so many people you can realistically move by aircraft without seeing a rapid escalation in costs. This is where trains gain an advantage. While trains come with large fixed infrastructure costs and high maintenance costs for the track and signal infrastructure, once those have been met, the costs of running trains on it is relatively small. So they are a great way to move lots of people aroundd. And as noted earlier, hyperloop will cost significantly more and yet still only be able to support a fraction of the capacity of the CHSR system.

Trains can also make multiple stops, so that makes them much more useful for joined up journey’s. Hyperloop’s all well and good if you live in LA or the Bay area, but what if you live somewhere between the two and you’re destination is somewhere else between the two cities or further afield. For many journeys trains are better. Trains also bring economic benefits to the towns along their routes. Someone living in Milton Keynes can conceivably live there and afford a three bedroom house, yet commute into work in London. A small business who can’t effort the extortionate rents of the city centre, can base themselves out of a commuter belt town, yet still be able to get in and out of the city. This brings much needed business and tax revenue to communities along the route of a train line, which serves to counter the negative impact of having a train line in your back yard.

Hyperloop by contrast will offer no such benefits. Indeed, given the time county sheriff’s will need to devote resources to protecting it from terrorist attacks, it will likely cost communities along its route money. And given the performance issues I mentioned earlier, hyperloop will not have a lot of leeway to alter its route in order to limit planning objections (as it can’t climb slopes as steeply as a train can, nor undertake tight turns). So the likelihood is its going to be even harder to hammer through hyperloop proposals in the face of local opposition than it is to get a High speed railway line built. And ultimately that’s going to have a significant financial cost.

Would tunnelling solve some of these problems? Possibly, but it would greatly increase the expense. And it depends what we are tunnelling through. Some types of rock are porous and water leaking into the tunnel would become a problem, particularly if you are trying to maintain a partial vacuum (remember anything pumped out of the tunnel, including the air extraction to maintain a partial vacuum, must also now be pumped all the way up to the surface). Others types of rock are very difficult to drill through. Its difficult to seismically isolate a sealed tube buried underground, so it might not work in earthquake zones. Drilling tunnels underground is also going to have an impact on those living above the tunnel. And inevitably some will object and demand compensation.

Another disadvantage of planes is the high energy consumption. Hyperloop might be able to offer lower rates of energy consumption, but its difficult to say, given the thorny question of how much energy we expend making sure that air tight seal is maintained. And, as I discussed in a prior article, there are various ways the airline industry can be cleaned up. It is going to be far more technically feasible to convert aircraft to run on hydrogen or biofuels than it is to develop an entire new transportation system and built all of the infrastructure to support it. And of course, trains are generally the most energy efficient means of transport.

All in all one is forced to the conclusion that hyperloop seems to come with all the disadvantages of train travel along with all the disadvantages of air travel, plus a whole pile of other excess baggage, which does suggest it might not be a terribly viable idea. However for me what really gets my spidey senses tingling is the lack of any response to such criticisms from the designers of hyperloop. Now granted, if you went back in time and asked Wilbur Wright how he would deal with the issues of aircraft safety, he’d likely say well I’ll just let go of the controls, slide off the wing and do a tuck and roll the 4 ft to the ground. So its a bit premature to be talking about the nitty gritty. But equally, that means its a little early to be making inflated predictions as to hyperloops level of performance or costs.

But where hyperloop really jumps the shark for me, is in relation to how they plan to initially use the system for cargo delivery. I mean have these guys even done the most basic market research? You do know that freight is a highly competitive business with very tight margins?


Figure 5: Average freight revenue per ton-mile [Credit: National Transportation Statistics, 2009]

But I can order something on Amazon and have it delivered by hyperloop in under an hours its supporters say. Ya, if you’re willing to pay a small fortune for hyperloop delivery and if you live directly opposite the terminus at one end and the seller lives at the other end. Otherwise its going to have to go on a truck either end, which isn’t necessarily going to take a direct route. Likely it will take a circular route with multiple stops….so why not just sent it by truck all the way, save money and get it delivered to your door the next day. Indeed this is the whole reason why trucks are so cheap, they are flexible and can make multiple stops along a route. And aircraft can match hyperloop for speed (as discussed) but probably at a much lower cost.

Air freight is made cheaper these days by using the room in cargo holds on passenger flights for air freight. Its so competitive and cheap these days that some UK supermarkets will fly freshly picked groceries from Spain to the UK so costumers can have freshly picked fruit and veg….well until brexit happens anyway. But its difficult to see how hyperloop can compete with either. And of course for bulk cargo delivery, you can’t beat ships or trains. Its precisely why most of the major industrial areas of the world are built near waterways, ports or they are connected to them by railway lines.

So all in all, hyperloop does not live up to the hype. It doesn’t help that its achieved something of a cult following, particularly from libertarians, as they see a relationship between it and a key plot line in an Ayn Rand book. As with other technologies this is leading to a significant overselling of the proposal by those with an irrational and emotional attachment to it.

There is some potential merits to hyperloop no doubt, but at this early stage to even consider it as a realistic alternative to existing transport options is just silly. Certainly thought there is a need to resist the “grass is greener” syndrome associated with it, as there’s always a tendency to see new ideas as better than existing ones, simply because we don’t know what the real problems with the new proposal are.

Trump the African Dictator

We were warned by Trevor Noah, prior to the election, that Trump sounded a lot like an African dictator. Unfortunately, every day he and his regime are becoming ever more like one. The constant posturing for the sake of his ego, the lavish personal spending, the inability to accept criticism and of course the massive levels of corruption.


Your tax dollars hard at work….

Trump promised to “drain the swamp” but instead, he’s done the opposite, with his cronies and family members increasingly using the assets of state for as their personal play things, be it to go shopping in Europe, holidays, or business trips abroad. The Secret service is at risk of going bankrupt given the huge bill its run up guarding Trump during his trips to Florida every weekend (where the state pays the cost of putting him up in his own hotel) or protecting and providing transport for his relatives on business trips to sign deals abroad, something that is in clear violation of the constitution.

Again, this is all reminiscent of the sort of corruption African autocrats are famous for. However, there is another aspect of African autocracies that Trump demonstrates – his supporters. African dictators maintain their hold on power through violence and intimidation of voters (which least we forget, Trump supporters also engaged in last election), but that only goes so far. A key feature of their rule is the fact that they have a core group of supporters, typically 20-33% of the population who will back them no matter what.

Make no mistake, the supporters of African dictators such as Mugabe or Obiang Nguema are well aware of the corruption and abuse of power that goes on. But they back such dictators regardless of this, because they are a member of the same tribe. Indeed, some even see a silver lining to such corruption as they expect the dictator to “share the cake. They look the other way to him embezzling billions in state funds in the hope that a few crumbs fall from the table which they can scoop up. Indeed, a candidate who actually ran on a promise to “drain the swamp” would probably lose votes.

And this is the role many in the Republican party have now fallen into. Many still back Trump not because they are unaware of the corruption allegations, or because they don’t understand just how serious his abuse of office is. Actually quite the opposite. The GOP is now a tribe, a cargo cult and they see it as necessary that they back their leader regardless of how bad he gets or how big a cliff he dives the country off.

This in of itself suggests that the conventional wisdom, that we must merely wait for investigations against Trump to conclude and see him impeached, or wait for the next election and see the GOP devastated in polls, might not work. If he’s this bad now and a hard core of the GOP are still backing up, its not going to be that straight forward to unseat him. And don’t expect future elections in the US to be free and fair.

Instead, we need to start treating Trump the same way that any African autocrat is treated if he is to be removed from power. And that means recognising that the checks and balances aren’t going to work. It means refusing to recognise his office and refusing to do business with any firm that does business with him or his companies (a list here, TK Maxx and Amazon being the key ones in the UK, along with Uber of course).

Indeed a boycott of US industry as a whole (encouraging firms to re-register themselves abroad and thus threatening a collapse in tax revenue) is really the only way forward. Its exactly how they brought down the apartheid regime in South Africa.

The Battle of Britain, myth v’s reality


One of the defining founding myths that drives many of the brexiters is the early day’s of world war II, “the Dunkirk spirit” and Britain’s victory over Germany at the battle of Britain. However the reality is that there are a whole host of myths surrounding this period that are simply not true. It is therefore important to debunk these myths, as doing so reveals a lot of hard truths that the brexiters seem anxious to ignore.

Dunkirk was a defeat

Firstly it has to be acknowledged that Dunkirk was a defeat and there’s no real way to sugar coat that one. While yes a significant number of British soldiers did manage to escape encirclement and get back to the UK, the British did ultimately lose large numbers of men, the majority of their heavy equipment, and quite a number of ships and aircraft. The word by which we would describe one side fleeing the battlefield while losing a significant quantity of its forces in the process is “defeat”.

Keep in mind that in military terms any losses greater than 10% is considered bad. Losing more than 25% in a single engagement is considered a rout. The charge of the light brigade saw 16% of the attacking force killed (with a further third of the force wounded or de-horsed), while Pickett’s charge during the American Civil war saw 22% of the attacking force killed (and again a further third of the attacking force were wounded). So by any yard stick, while yes a significant portion of the British army did escape, the losses they took were significant. Soldiers and their equipment doesn’t grow on trees, losing large numbers of either isn’t a sustainable strategy.

Its also important to acknowledge how the British and the French (who also were evacuated at Dunkirk) got themselves into this mess in this first place. Both went into the war assuming it would be fought under the same conditions as World War I. The French devoted the bulk of their forces to the Maginot line, so they looked to the British to take the strategic initiative. The British instead took up positions along the Belgian border waiting for Belgium to be attacked, upon which they’d rush into to stop the Germans.

What both sides failed to understand was that developments in combined arms tactics (i.e. the blitzkrieg) meant waiting to be attacked meant waiting to lose. Only a well fortified position could hope to halt the enemy and tank warfare allowed such strong points to be simply bypassed and outflanked. The Belgians (and the low Countries) also have to take some of the blame. It should have been obvious after the attack on Poland and then Denmark that Belgian neutrality would not be respected. And, as noted, it should have been obvious from the early battles of the war that there was no way the Belgian army could hope to defend the country. Hence Belgium’s options were to either join the allies and invite in the British and French forces prior to a German attack. Or conclude that if you can’t beat’em join em.

The German ruthlessly exploited this naivety with their attack through the Ardennes forest, which directly lead to the fiasco at Dunkirk. As one British tank commander confessed at the time, of the month or so his forces spent in France, they spend most of that time in retreat, barely got to fire a shot, other than the odd rear guard action. And his men spent a significant portion of the their time in France drunk. He was then forced to abandon his tanks on the beaches and in some cases the first use of the tanks ammunition was when the crews scuttled them.

Furthermore, the British were only able to evacuate because of a major tactical error by Hitler. Convinced by boasting from Goring that the Luftwaffe could finish them off, he halted his armies. Of course, as with most of Goring’s boasts, the Luftwaffe failed. That said, there was a certain logic to the Germans letting the British forces escape. If the British forces had been captured, then the Germans would have had hundreds of thousands of prisoners to look after, a drain on their resources. By all accounts it looked like Germany had won, the British would be forced to negotiate a peace deal.

And it should be remembered that the Nazis admired the British and their Empire. As they saw it, what Britain was doing in India or Africa (concentration camps remember were invented by the British during the Boer war), they were doing in the East. So even when it became obvious that a significant proportion of the British forces were going to escape, they probably thought no harm done.

Britain did not stand alone

The enduring myth is that Britain stood alone against Europe. Not really! As noted, quite a few French made it over to Britain, including more than a few pilots, crucial given that the British were desperately short of experienced pilots. Also many Polish and Norwegian pilots had made it to Britain, where they played a key role in the Battle of Britain.


A spitfire…..with Polish markings…damn Poles comin over here, defending us from the nazi’s…

The Poles also brought with them most of the their intelligence apparatus. Much of the Ultra code breaking set up at Bletchley park owes its origins to Polish code breakers. The Poles had come up with many of the very tactics the British would later utilise to good effect. Even the design of the first mechanical computers (the Bombe) was based on a Polish design. The problem for the poles is they lacked in terms of resources and had basically run out of time to complete their work by the time the Germans invaded. So their arrival would prove crucial to the outcome of the war.

And of course there’s the role played by the empire, notably Canada, Australia and New Zealand. And there was also the contribution of the Indians, something which is often forgotten. Quite apart from the direct support they offered in terms of men, machinery and supplies, they also took over roles guarding overseas bases, allowing more of the British forces to be moved back to the UK.

And while countries like the US or Ireland were officially neutral, it was a strange form of neutrality. The American blatantly favoured the British, openly shipping military supplies across, in some cases without proper payment. At one point, when the German U-boat attacks proved problematic, US sailors began dressing up as Canadians and served on ships escorting supplies across the Atlantic.

Similarly, while German pilots were interned, the Irish looked the other way while British pilots escaped. They supplied the UK with food supplies and took no action to stop thousands of Irish going to the UK to join the British military (one of my relatives actually came to the UK during the war and worked in an airfield as an aircraft mechanic). Weather forecasts were strictly controlled, with none broadcast over the Irish radio’s during the war, yet weather data was quietly passed on to the allies (a weather forecast from Valentia Island would prove to be crucial later in the war regarding the timing of the D-Day landings).

The Spitfire was, at best, a mediocre aircraft

For the British the spitfire is an almost mythical beast. The best fighter of the war, if not ever made. The reality was a little different. It was certainly fast, however it also came with a number flaws and quirks. The most notable of these was its engine was prone to cut out if the aircraft was inverted, a quite serious flaw to have in air to air combat, not least because the Germans soon figured it out and began exploiting this flaw, forcing the British to develop a quick fix.

The Spitfire design had evolved from a racing floatplane of the 1930’s (which only had to fly in a straight line, hence it had a carburettor engine and hence the problems with the engine cutting out), which made them fast but left them stuck with lots of legacy issues. Faced with a faster opponent, a Spitfire was in trouble. Fortunately, the German pilots were at the limit of their range during the Battle of Britain and could not use their aircraft to their fullest extent.

Also the obsession with the Spitfire ignores the fact that the mainstay of the RAF during the Battle of Britain was the Hawker Hurricane, which equipped the majority of RAF squadrons and accounted for the bulk of RAF kills. The Hurricane was a workhorse next to the Spitfires fancy dressage pony. It was simple and rugged, not particularly fast (but not exactly slow either) and surprisingly nimble for such an old aircraft.

So while the Spitfire wasn’t a bad aircraft, it certainly wasn’t any sort of wonder weapon and its role in the battle is somewhat exaggerated.

Radar wasn’t a secret weapon

Another myth is that the British had a secret weapon the boffins had come up with that the Germans didn’t know about – radar. This allowed the British to have their airforce in their air waiting for the German raiders, acting as a sort of forces multiplier. While the second half of this statement is true, the British did use radar to good effect, the idea that this was a secret is not.

The Germans were more than familiar with the existence of radar, they were working on it themselves. They were a bit behind the British, but by 1939 they had their first working units. They certainly knew the British had radar as well and one of the first things they attacked was British radar stations along the coast.

The problem for the Germans was that Hitler saw radar as a defensive weapon and he prioritised work on offensive weapons. So the technology was never pursued or deployed effectively during the Battle of Britain.

Hitler’s policy did have repercussions later in the war. It meant the Germans sought to miniaturise their radar such that it could be fitted into an aircraft, which they then used to equip night fighters. These night fighters would become so effective as a result that it meant being over Germany at night was just as dangerous as the American daylight raids.

Enigma code breakers played only a minor role in the battle of Britain

The cracking of the Enigma code (code named Ultra) proved crucial to allied victory in world war II, no question. However, its benefits would only kick in much later in the war, notably during the Battle for the Atlantic and the run up to D-Day. During the battle of Britain it played a minor role.

In part this was simply because it was early days, Ultra had limited resources and their successes were a lot of hit and miss. As noted, the Polish code breakers had only just gotten their feet under the desk and their British counterparts were still digesting all that they’d learnt. Indeed, they’d only succeeded in breaking the Luftwaffe code for the first time around the end of May. Also at this early stage, the penny hadn’t dropped with military high command as to just how valuable Ultra intercepts could be.

This debunks one of the great myths of World War II, that Churchill allowed the bombing of Coventry to go ahead in order to protect the secret of Ultra. This is contradicted by multiple sources and furthermore, it makes no sense. British commanders would consider an industrial city like Coventry as far more valuable than some boffin being able to read Goring’s e-mail….occasionally! Now granted, later in the war, when the true potential of Ultra had been realised, that’s a different story (which is probably how this myth got started). But certainly the impact of Ultra on the battle of Britain phase of the war was fairly limited. It had an impact yes, but it wasn’t decisive.

Churchill was not a great military leader…although he was a great drinker

If you believe the propaganda Britain won thanks to Churchill, who personally directed the battle from his war room under the the Treasury. This is simply not true, Churchill knew very little about aerial warfare so he wisely delegated this task to those who did, such as air chief Marshall Hugh Dowding.

And too be honest “great military leader” and Churchill are two things that rarely appear in the same sentence. Its more than usually “Churchill” and “military disaster”. In the first world war the fiasco of the British defeat at Coronel was largely Churchill’s fault, because he was too busy trying to help one of his aristocratic friends (a German) keep his job (for some reason someone thought it was a bad idea to have a German in charge of the Admiralty when the UK was fighting them). Then there was the small matter of Gallipoli one of the greatest military blunders of World War I, which was largely Churchill’s idea.

During the Irish war for independence, the Black and Tans were Churchill’s idea and they ultimately destroyed what support remained in Ireland for remaining part of the UK. And in World War II it is ironic that the defeat of British forces in Norway led to the downfall of Chamberlain and Churchill’s appointment, when it was largely Churchill’s fault things had gone so badly wrong for the British. So during the Battle of Britain Churchill instead did what he did best, he focused on keeping morale in the country up and basically staying out the RAF’s way.

Also it is difficult to avoid the topic of Churchill and not bring up the matter of his drinking, because he was a seriously heavy drinker. Now yes, it is true people drank more in those days that we do these days. And being Irish, me giving out about someone else’s drinking is bit of pot calling the kettle black. But he’d drink me under the table and probably a room full of my fellow Irish too. He’d have a bottle of champagne with his breakfast, beers with his lunch (not sure if that should be “with” his lunch or “for” lunch), and the best part of a bottle of Cognac in the evening, with several Whiskey and soda chasers throughout the day.

Do the maths and that’s at least ten times the recommended daily limit. If I drank that much in one day, I’d need a week’s detox to recover, nevermind doing it every day. They must have had an entire brewery going just to keep Churchill well oiled. Of course this means Churchill likely spent much of the war in a constant state of inebriation. I always thought his slurred speech was a speech impediment, but its more likely that its because he was permanently shitfaced. Which means that his infamous “fight them on the beaches” speech was basically a drunk roaring into a microphone for ten minutes. How very British.

So why did the British really win?

Well, as noted the British were better organised than the Germans. While radar wasn’t a huge secret, the British used it to good effect. They used home advantage, ensuring any pilots shot down were quickly picked up. Any RAF plane that got shot up, so long as the pilot could make it back down, the airfields had a pretty good system in place for repairing battle damaged planes and getting them airborne again pretty quickly, generally (according to my relative) within 24 hrs or less. By contrast German fighters faced a perilous journey back across the channel. And if they made it (and many of them didn’t), they could be waiting several days for spare parts to show up.

And while the nazi’s considered women to be little more than breeding machines for the master race, the British recruited many women (including the current Queen) into a wide variety of roles, land girls, the RAF wren’s, factory workers and transfer pilots (who flew planes from the factory to the airfield). This meant that the Germans neglected 50% of their work force.

So how is it that the Germans were so un-Germanic in their organisation? That was largely the fault of certain fat Prussian meat ball by the name of Goering, proof of everything that is wrong with the German diet. The only way he was going to kill a British airman was by falling on him. I have my own personal theory that Hitler became a vegetarian not long after meeting Goering for the first time. Suffice to say that even when Churchill was laying on his office floor nursing an empty bottle of Cognac he was still doing a better job than Goering was doing awake and sober.

First of all, you’ll recall what I said about the limited range of German fighters. They only had a range of about 700 miles, while a range closer to 1,000 miles (which the spitfire and hurricane’s had) is more appropriate for a cross channel battle. This meant that the German fighters had only a few minutes of combat time over England before they had to turn around and head for home. And they’d have been constantly watching the fuel gauge. And inevitably if the pilot miscalculated, they’d end up in the Channel. And as it was Goering and his air staff who specified the range for those fighters, when they were ordered them one has to wonder why they didn’t consider ordering a fighter with a longer range.

Also many German aircraft were just not up to the task. The attacks on radar stations was handled by Stuka’s, an excellent attack aircraft….so long as the enemy doesn’t have an airforce! The RAF inflicted dreadful losses on the Stuka’s, forcing them to be withdrawn. The Germans did have one long range fighter, the twin engined BF 110. However it had all the grace and manoeuvrability of a large brick. In the end they would suffer the indignity of needing single engined BF 109’s to escort them.

And Goering interfered with the tactics his pilots would like to adopt. Their preferred tactic was to try and catch the British fighters as they were climbing, ideally ambushing them by diving out of the sun. However Goering insisted they stick close to the bombers. Doubly disastrous given the range issues they were faced with.

Its worth noting that when the Allies were fighting for air superiority over Germany they were very quick to realise that needed to hit the German fighter forces while they were still climbing, or even still on the ground. Famously, when American General Doolittle arrived in the UK, on a tour of a base he noticed a sign saying the fighter squadron’s job was to protect the bombers. He ordered the sign taken down and made a new one which said the fighter’s job was to destroy the Luftwaffe.

In short he was saying to his pilots that this wasn’t an aerial jousting match between gentlemen, it was a dirty mean back alley brawl. He was telling his fighter pilots to use every underhand below the belt bastard trick they could think of, such as (as noted) jumping enemy fighters while they were on the ground or still climbing, following wounded fighters back to base and shooting them up as they landed. Or, as the British did during the battle of Britain, shooting down rescue planes as they picked up German pilots in the channel, even thought they had red cross symbols on them (which was against the Geneva convention).

Despite it all, the Germans were gradually wearing the British down with attacks on RAF airfields, by the end of August they were perilously close to succeeding. However, at this point they changed tactics and began focusing attacks on UK cities. There is debate about why Hitler ordered this change in tactics. Some argue that the German attacks on the airfield simply weren’t being effective and they Hitler sought to win through shock and awe tactics. Others content that he was angered by attacks by the RAF against Berlin.

However, what is often forgotten is that the Battle of Britain (or Operation Sealion to the Germans) was a two phase operation. Phase one was to win air superiority over the channel. Phase two was for the German army, with the aid of the Navy, to cross the channel and invade England. Now while the general consensus is that had the Germans stuck to their guns they should have been able to complete phase one. However, a cross channel invasion is a different matter entirely. Many German generals thought it was a silly idea and openly predicted disaster. Amphibious assault is one of the most difficult of all military manoeuvres to pull off. Recall what I said about 10% casualties being bad and 25% being a disaster. With an amphibious assault if you “only” lose 20% and achieve your objectives, that’s considered a success.

For the D-Day invasion the allies assembled a vast armada of nearly 2,000 ships, with lots of special equipment such as landing craft of various types, swimming tanks, obstacle demolition equipment, even a pair of portable harbours and a self assembly oil pipeline. The Germans in 1940 had only a few hundred leaky canal barges that they’d robbed off the French. So throughout the air war there had been quiet lobbying by some generals for the whole operation to be called off. Because even if the Luftwaffe could win (and few had confidence in Goering’s ability to do that), it won’t matter, an invasion in 1940 was impossible, they’d need time to prepare. So in that context, this change in German tactics doesn’t quite seem so crazy. And recall that the allies were also bombing cities, so nobody can really claim moral superiority at this point.

Of course the picture that emerges from a more realistic appraisal of the battle of Britain is very different. It portrays how the British only ended up in this mess because of past military failings and amateurist political dithering. That they were aided by allies and friends from abroad. And that had they done a brexit and gone it alone, they would have likely lost pretty quickly. That if any “boffins” and their secrets were responsible for victory, it was probably Polish immigrants rather than the engineers behind the spitfire. And it shows the allies as being a good deal more brutal and underhand than they’d like to think, and the British won largely because they were willing to fight a dirty war.

The dangers of Trump on Korea


Prior to getting caught by his lies as regards protesters at Charlotteville, and thus being exposed as the racist that he is, Trump was busy trolling the North Koreans. Which isn’t so much a case of waving a red rag at a bull, its walloping the bull across the nose and then calling it gay. Its worth reviewing the situation here, as it reveals the dangers present in having the likes of Trump in the White House.

Firstly its worth looking back at North Korea’s history, or more precisely the North Korean propagandists version of its history. They say, we didn’t start the Korean war, nobody knows which side started it. The controversy over who started this war is only a controversy in North Korea. All other sources agree that it started after Kim Il-Sung, acting under orders from Stalin, sent his armies north.

Stalin calculated that he could achieve a quick and easy victory here and score first blood in the cold war. The regime of Syngman Rhee was not popularly supported, given that he was every bit as brutal as the regime up the north (if not worse). Also there weren’t that many American troops in the South prior to the start of the war because Rhee and the Americans didn’t trust each other. Incidentally, the North Koreans also try to claim that the Rhee & the US were planning to hand Korea back to Japan. The idea that Rhee, who had been implicated in plots to kill the Japanese royal family, would go along with that is obviously absurd.

So by all accounts it looked like a slam dunk, all Kim needed to do was kick down the door and the whole rotten mess would collapse before the US could do anything. There’s an old military saying that all plans survive until first contact with the enemy and this was very true in Korea. Firstly, the South Koreans by and large resisted (they disliked Rhee, but they disliked the Communists even more), costing the NK army valuable time. Secondly, the Americans pulled off an amazing feat of logistics, moving troops first into the path of the NK army to halt its advance, then undertaking a sea borne invasion deep behind enemy lines.

Thirdly, seeing the UN as just League of Nations 2.0 (a talking shop where nations left passive aggressive notes on the fridge for one another), Stalin underestimated the blow back he’d get as a result. The Russians were at the time boycotting the UN (over issues related to Berlin and Taiwan) and thus were unable to prevent the US getting a resolution passed which authorised military force against North Korea.

Now while this UN resolution was clearly taking liberties with the UN, equally it was a corner Stalin had painted himself into. If there’s one positive we can draw out from the Korean war (there ain’t many), it was how countries started to take the UN a little more seriously afterwards. Either way, this put Stalin in a tight spot, as he couldn’t directly assist North Korea, as that would be going against a resolution from the UN (which Russia had helped to found). So as the NK army was routed in the South and forced to retreat, Russia was forced to rely on the Chinese to repel the Americans.

This is perhaps the tragedy of the Korean war, it amounted to two superpower blocks basically blasting the crap out of each other and the Koreans, both north and south, getting caught up in the cross fire. Its a bit like one of those movie scenes where the two protagonists getting into a gun fight in someone else’s home/place of business and basically thrash the place, then move on and leave him to clean up the mess (if he’s still alive).

If North Korea has a motto, it would have to be “with friends like ours, who needs enemies”. Its “allies” have repeatedly screwed the country over, so it probably explains North Korea’s isolationist policy of Juche. The trouble is, that Juche doesn’t work. Consider that prior to them adopting this policy, back in the late 1970’s the North Korea economy wasn’t in that bad a shape, there GDP was significantly higher than in neighbouring China and not that far behind South Korea. Since then the Chinese economy has grown eight fold while the North Korean economy has contracted (with a slight recovery in recent years). North Korea has gone from a net food exporter with good modern farming methods, to one which can’t feed itself and is dependant on welfare from abroad. It merely serves as a poster for everything that is wrong with isolationist economics of the sort Trump or the brexiters peddle.

The other major policy of North Korea is what CIA agents refer to as the crazy gang” gambit, often expressed using the acronym CFC for Crazy, Fearsome and Crippled. The logic is that nobody will attack them because, while there is little doubt the NK army can be defeated, the cost of that victory will be high and the winner will face the enormous costs of essentially rebuilding the country from scratch.

However there is a fatal flaw in this combination of Juche and CFC. It means the North Koreans, have to be constantly playing brinkmanship with their neighbours. THey need to do this for reasons of domestic politics and to ensure that the supplies that China sends that keeps the regime going continue to roll in. And they must be careful not to be seen to back down as that could leave the regime vulnerable on the domestic front. The trouble is that this is simply not a long term sustainable strategy as it requires everyone else to be the grown ups and naturally with Trump, that’s unlikely to be the case.

Also the danger with Trump is he might intentionally try to start a war with North Korea to distract from domestic politics (his impending impeachment for example). However, as I discussed in a prior post, this could escalate very quickly and end very badly. The Republican’s concept that they can safely leave Trump in charge and then quietly knife him at a time when it is convenient for them to do so is simply not a sensible strategy.