Festive catch up

Great balls of fire!
For Hogmanany I went to see the Fireballs in Stonehaven, best free show in Scotland in my view!…well aside from when I used to live opposite a police station in Glasgow! There was a lot of hanging around waiting, but of course this meant I could try the local delicacies…such as deep fried Mars bar. Incidentally, there’s a dispute at the moment between Stonehaven and Glasgow as to who invented the deep fried Mars bar….only in Scotland could they argue over something like that! These culnary habits also explains why there was an ambulance on standby…not to deal with burn victims but someone getting a stroke from a deep fried mars bar!

Anyway, after the customary bag-piping, the “swingers” arrived (yes they’ve heard all the jokes, you could say I was at a swingers party :DD, the old couple are literally the oldest swingers in town :roll:…), they all went down to the dockside, having the balls lit just before midnight and parading out, starting to swing them just after the stroke of midnight, they then went around the high street swinging, while those of us watching tried not to get burnt! Checking your eyebrows are still intact is customary! After swinging with the fireball multiple lengths of the high street, they would go to the dock side and toss them into the harbour. With the last swinger heading for the water, the whole crowd would follow him and then sing auld-lang-syne, after which there was fireworks. Great night!

Carrauntoohil Dangers
I’d been back in Ireland for Christmas itself. It’s customary for a lot of people in Cork and Kerry to climb Carrauntoohil, Ireland’s highest mountain, on St Stephen’s day (what brit’s call Boox’in dai).

It was pretty wet so as we made our way up the devil’s ladder, which is the main tourist route up the mountain . We were literally climbing a waterfall with the amount of water coming down the gully! Take two bottles into the shower? no I climbed the devils ladder! :))

However, as neither I nor my dad had been up this way for a while it became apparent that the devils ladder is getting downright dangerous 88|. There’s lots of loose rock and increasingly a lot of large boulders towards the top. Some of the boulders being easily car sized in some cases and not attached to the mountain any more. In other words the only think holding them in place is friction and the weight of lots of smaller rock below….which is gradually being eroded by walkers. Eventually, there’s going to be very large rockfall in the devils ladder and I won’t want to be standing in it when that happens.

You may enquire, why if it’s so dangerous isn’t someone from the national park authorities putting up a cordon, or taking some sort of action? e.g. via ferrata the route, blast away the larger boulders, etc.. Well because inexplicably the highest mountain in Ireland isn’t within the boundaries of the National Park. The summit and its approach route up Hags Glen is on privately owned land. The summit itself is owned by three local farmers, with the land below a mix of commonage. Naturally, its asking a bit much to expect a couple of poor Kerry farmers to take on this sort of responsibility or expenses.

As I pointed out in a prior post there is a major problem in Ireland in that much of the country’s wild areas are technically in private ownership, with no right to roam and big question marks about who is responsible for maintaining things.

There was, for example, another safety issue for several years further down in Hag’s glen, where tourists and walkers would have to cross a series of rivers. These crossings were very dangerous when the rivers were in a spate, and there was at least one fatal accident here. With the co-operation of local land owners, the council, Kerry mountain rescue and the Swiss crane company Liebherr (who operate a factory in nearby Killarney as well as owning a number of nearby hotels) bridges were eventually put up. However, this took a good few years to sort out and relied on the generosity and co-operation of many different groups. I would argue, the current situation is too pressing to wait several years.

One obvious short term solution would be to direct people away from the ladder to a footpath that runs up the flanks of the mountain just to the left of the ladder. However, finding the beginning and start of this path (often called “the zig-zag’s”) is a bit tricky. Indeed the only reason why my dad and I were in the devil’s ladder was because we couldn’t find the start of the zig-zag’s path, even tho I’ve been up and down that way several times before!

You may enquire, why hasn’t a sign been put up to direct people? Well several people have done that, one guy even went up a few years ago with a tin of paint and marked a few spots at key points, only for any signs to be taken down again, or marks on rocks washed away. There’s a number of hillwalking puritans who want to preserve what they see as the “wild” nature of the mountain and want to eliminate anything that distracts from that (such as signs or cairns, etc.). A big part of the dispute revolving around routes up Carrauntoohil is the opposition of this lot to anything, even though its needed to help preserve the mountain and protect from erosion that they themselves are contributing towards :crazy:

The excesses of these purtians can be demonstrated by the fact that one of the reasons we were up on Carrauntoohil was to see the restored cross on the summit. Restored? Yes, some flaming vandals went and cut down the cross a few weeks ago. Now while I’d probably kick up stink if someone wanted to put a cross up there now, the fact is this is a monument that’s been on the peak since the 1970’s, and it was erected with the support of the local community, nobody has the right to just go and cut it down. Yet this is the sort of antics we’ve got to put up with in terms of dealing with the devil’s ladder or establishing alternatives, as there’s some crack pots who will oppose anything.

Inevitably, I see two outcomes, either the council or the government steps in and does something about it. Or eventually there’s going to be a large rock fall, possibly leading to some fatalities. This will of course, scare away many tourists (impacting on the local economy) and perhaps lead to the local landlords withdrawing access to the mountain. Keep in mind that while farmers should be safe from being sued in this situation, the legal limbo that exists means some might not want to take the risk anymore if there was a major accident.

Teaching economics after the crash
I heard an interesting piece on BBC R4 recently about something of a student rebellion brewing in several universities over how economics has been taught in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

Several student groups across many prestigious universities have accused their professors of doling out the same tired old economic models and ideology, even though a glance at any newspaper has shown how such economic theories failed and led to the biggest economic crisis of the century. Even Alan Greenspan now accepts there were failings in how neo-liberal economics models functioned, that contributed to the crisis, yet this seems to have sailed over the heads of leading economists in their academic ivory towers. And indeed, lecturer’s who’ve taken up the student’s position and tried to change the syllabus or propose alternatives complain that they’ve been ostracised by their colleagues and even lost their jobs as a result.

This too me is precisely why I’ve long argued that economics isn’t a proper science or subject and that universities or departments engaged should not be given the same credibility as the rest of academia, and indeed that they should be excluded from bodies such as the Russell group. I mean can you imagine what would happen if lecturer’s in aviation, ignored the lesson’s learnt from plane crash investigations and insisted on rolling out the same aircraft designs for 50 years without any changes?

Or how about if car designers failed to learn the lessons of car crashes? As this IIHS crash test shows, vehicle safety has improved massively over the last 50 years, or even just the last ten years, as this video (from Channel five’s “fifth Gear”) shows. And this has come about because in a “real” science such as engineering we challenge old ideas by critically analysing them and coming up with new ones. Look at Dyson, he took the humble vacuum cleaner and pretty much redesigned it from the ground up, often relying on new technologies such as CFD (computational fluid dynamics) to drive the design process.

Similarly to publish in an engineering journal, you need to have some sort of “evidence” to support your claims (experimental data for example) and your paper needs too discuss something unique or new, not trot out the same old clap trap (conference and journal editors know the engineering community aren’t going to waste time reading a paper that tells us something we already know). And outside of certain journals that deal explicitly in issues relating to politics (e.g. energy policy journal) mentioning of the P-word is generally discouraged. And even then, you must frame such discussion as part of a wider technical point.

Economics papers by contrast tend to rely heavily on politics (indeed one particular interpretation of politics), with little if any supporting evidence, other than a lot of maybes and wishful thinking. Reading an economics journal is like reading something published by the church of Scientology. And keep in mind, given that the physical laws governing engineering (e.g. Newton’s laws, Bernoulli’s theorem, Hooke’s law, etc.) are reasonably well established and proven (merely how we utilise them is what’s changed). The bar is set somewhat higher in areas such as physics, chemistry and/or maths, where new discoveries are being made.

So in short if the economics profession wants to be taken seriously, they need to realise that economics history didn’t end with the appointment of Margaret Thatcher and there is a need to reconsider old ideas and maybe try and come up with new ones. Otherwise, as things currently stand an education in economics is less an education and more a £9,000 a year lobotomy.

Another Greek Tragedy
Speaking of economics, we’ve got the story of an election in Greece, which raises the prospect of a euroskeptic party of the left, Syriza, coming to power. The fear is that this could ultimately lead to Greece defaulting on its debts and being kicked out of the Euro, if not the EU.

On the one hand, I’d argue that there is a need to shake the largely neo-liberal dominated EU leadership out of their reverie. As Robert Peston points out (and as I’ve been saying since this crisis started), the major threat to the eurozone isn’t economic, its political. Or more to the point a lack of political will to take certain actions. The threat of Grexit could well be what’s needed to do this, as well as promoting the idea that Dickensian policies of austerity need to be replaced with something more practical, humane and fair.

On the other hand, Syriza, like many populist parties across the EU, have made various outlandish promises that can’t possibly be fulfilled. It’s probable therefore that Syriza will be forced to compromise, row back on their promises, alienating both their supporters and the supporters of other populist parties across Europe. In short, a victory for them could serve to scare straight both the euroskeptics and the Junker Brigade.

On the other hand, what if Syriza don’t back down? Or what if the rest of the EU simply tells them to like it or lump it? This could easily see Greece chucked out of the euro and put on the road to economic ruin. It’s a fact of political history that a radical swing in one direction tends to result in the pendulum swinging to the other extreme, particularly if the party of one extreme screws up royally. So the long term risk is that a Syriza victory could eventually lead to the rise of the neo-nazi Golden Dawn party.

UKIP forgery
A UKIP councillor is going on trial accused of election fraud, relating to forged nomination papers. Again, yet another example of the infighting, backstabbing, sex scandals and institutional corruption that UKIP is increasingly notorious for.

Germany discovers racism
Speaking of which, there’s been a number of protests by islamaphobic’s across Germany, revolving around a group who call’s themselves pinstripe nazi’s “Pegida”. The protestors complain about being “swamped” by Muslim migrants, notably refugee’s fleeing conflict in Syria and the Middle East.

Naturally, these protestors…who obviously skipped the bit of German history between 1932-1945…have been condemned by many leading German’s and derided in the German press. Indeed, in many cases the Pegida protestors were outnumbered by counter demonstrators. It was also pointed out to them that in the few cities were the movement seems to have any sort of serious support, such as Dresden, there are actually very few migrants. About 2.5% of the population of the city are foreign born….and only a fraction of them are Muslim, about 0.1%. In the area’s of Germany where there actually are large Muslim populations, such Berlin, Pegida see’s very little support, suggesting its more a case of a handful of bigots who don’t like seeing dark faces.

Even so, given what we’ve seen happen in other parts of the EU, it’s certainly worrying. But equally, we need to remember why these migrants are in Germany and not say Greece…or back home! The unequal spread of the EU economy needs to be tackled, which means raising up the economic standards of countries in Eastern Europe. Also, the failure of Europe to do anything about the Assad regime or ISIS, as well as the train wreck otherwise known as the Iraq war, is one of the key issues driving all these immigrants towards Europe. Tackling Assad and ISIS would be the best way of stemming the flow of migrants.

What the youth vote wants
Another interesting story from The Guardian discusses a poll by The Observer about the political views and voting intentions of many young first time voters.

While UKIP is high in the polls for other age groups, its clear the youth vote ain’t buying their racist rhetoric. UKIP poll at just 6% here, v’s 19% for the whole of the UK population, while Farage is the least trusted party leader at -51%. Young voters are also pro-EU at 19% to 67%. In terms of party support labour tops the poll at 41% with the Green party third at 19%, behind the Tories at 26%. The lib dem’s (aka the party that promised to abolish tuition fees and then yanked them up to £9k) are perhaps unsurprisingly at 6%. So clearly if the youth vote ran the country, we’d have a labour-green coalition, any EU in/out referendum would be an overwhelming vote to stay in…and the lib dem’s would become the liberal democrat (note lack of plural!).

That said, there is something of a traditionalist trend, with for example a large proportion of young voters supporting the continuation of the monarchy. Also devolution and the breakup of the UK tends to gain little support in this UK wide poll, in contrast to the Scottish independence vote, where a large majority of young voters voted Yes.

So I suppose there is hope for the future, we’ve just got to survive long enough for a couple of the old right-wing blowhard dinosaurs to die off…or lock up their zimmer frames the day of the election!

Windfall of a different nature
A wind turbine collapsed recently in Northern Ireland. Looking at the images, the reports of witnesses (who said that they heard grinding noises going on for hours…yet didn’t think to call someone it would seem :no:) and given that the tower appears largely intact with wind speed low, I would guess its an issue with the brake system failing (or a control failure) setting off a chain of events that led to catastrophic failure. Inevitably this has the anti-wind lobby practically foaming at the mouth.

Of course, it ignores the fact that all energy systems are prone to occasionally disruption, for example this last twelve months or so alone there was a major fire in a coal fired station, a power line failure (thanks to high winds) knocked out two UK reactors, forcing them to shut down for safety reasons, while issues with cracking in ageing nuclear plants forced several of them off line again in August.

Meanwhile in the US, Fracking has led to the contamination of the drinking water of many, not to mention the regular health problems and night-time explosions that come with having a fracking operation as a neighbour. The effects are such that leaks from US fracking operations can now be observed from space.

So like I said, its important we put this incident in context.


2 thoughts on “Festive catch up

  1. the young scottish voters did not succumb to the fear politics of the no campaign!
    I hope the next vote for indepenedence is soon….we are all getting poorer under the austerity govt regimes and the old will die quicker what with all the NHs probs and crises so the only good news is the next indyref reslt will be Yes!


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