Sunday service

A few stories that caught my eye over the last week……

Blackouts & Newspeak

With Hinkley C now hanging in the balance, the National Grid seem to be waking up to the realisation that its unlikely we’ll be getting any new power infrastructure in time to offset the likely decommissioning of the UK’s ageing coal and nuclear plants. So they seem to be putting their faith in energy efficiency measures instead.

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Keep in mind a few years ago, I was scoffed at for making such a suggestion at a conference by someone from NG, who felt such measures were unnecessary or that they won’t work (he was trying to argue the case for Hinkley C and how the ground would open and swallow the country if it isn’t built). And these very measures were part of the so-called “Green crap” Cameron cut to keep his allies in the fossil fuel and nuclear industry happy, just a few years ago. So there’s a certain “newspeak” element to this whole story as a result.

Now, I’m all for energy efficiency measures. I have long argued they are a big part of the solution. If we can’t build renewables quickly enough (nor nuclear for that matter) to meet the growing need for power and reduce carbon emissions, then we need to cut consumption. However, this road to Damascus conversion ignores three crucial points.

Firstly, there’s a law of diminishing returns in play here. You can make some big drastic savings early on (if you build the right infrastructure of course), but beyond a certain tipping point, you’ll be scrapping the bottom of the barrel. Energy efficiency, by saving people money, can actually encourage further energy use. Think about it, if I could double the fuel economy of your car, you’d probably drive it more regularly won’t you? Ultimately you still need to be producing power, and you will need to build some new power plants (be they renewable, fossil fuel fired or nuclear). This whole crisis is a result of the UK government’s failure to adopt a long term energy policy, throwing one industry under the bus after another, to the point nobody in their right mind would invest in a power station in the UK (renewable, nuclear or otherwise) unless you basically bribe them.

Secondly, a lot of the better energy efficiency measures require changes to how the grid works. They will not go ahead unless the government gives firm signals that it is adopting an appropriate long term energy policy. For example, the most obvious way of cutting carbon emissions is to switch from a handful of centralised thermal power stations, to a network of smaller decentralised CHP plants. Even running on fossil fuels, this cuts carbon emissions by at least 25%. Some European countries get 40% of their electricity from such power stations. They can also effectively backup intermittent renewable energy sources. But again, without building the hardware, you can’t implement it. And they will only work as part of a coherent overall strategy.

And thirdly there’s the ticking clock. Any energy plan for the UK needs action to be taken now. There are no quick fixes, no easy short cuts. Those boats sailed some time ago. The government has to take action asap and put its money where its mouth is, or any energy plan no matter how well meaning it is, will fail.

Irish apple…..and not the fruit!

For years Apple had been playing the double Irish tax dodge, only to recently get caught out. The EU’s just tapped them for 13 billion euro in back taxes. To put that in prospective, that’s about Ireland’s health budget for a year.

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Oddly enough rather than Leinster house cracking open champagne bottles and starting to work out what we’re going to spend all this money on (that’s enough to buy every adult in the country about 900 pints of the black stuff…now there’s a thought…), they are thinking of appealing. Why? Okay it does hurt Ireland reputation a bit, but so what, if Apple was here for the reasons it claims (i.e. to take advantage of a well educated workforce, I know they do a lot of co-funded research with Irish uni’s), then this ruling shouldn’t change anything.

If they were here for the tax dodge then feck em. They want to piss off back to California, fair enough. The Brexiters were dancing a jig about how Apple might move to the UK. That’s unlikely as the rate of taxation in Ireland is still lower than the UK’s. And lets be clear about what the Brexiters are proposing, they think that British tax payers should subsidise the profits of one of the world’s largest and most profitable companies. Seriously? Try selling that one in the middle of the next election! Voting for Corbyn suddenly starts to sound like a good idea.

So I say hang’em out to dry!

Olympic hijackings

And speaking of which, Brexiters have been trying to talk up how great everything is post-Brexit. They’ve picked up on everything from the Olympics, ignoring the fact how most medal winners are mostly young people, i.e. the people who voted remain, plus quite a few are from immigrant families and won’t be here if the UKIP brigade had its way, doubly so if lottery funding was ended, as some on the right have been long calling for. UK sports also receives money from the EU btw.

Speaking of which, Trump has been unusually quiet about the Olympics. Probably because it doesn’t fit into his narrative of a “broken” America, when they are finishing top of the medal table. And if Mexico isn’t sending the US their best, how about those Mexican American medal winners? Or what about the American Muslim and Jewish athletes? How unamerican of them to train hard and win medals! I particularly like Libertarian Gray Johnson’s tweet, he questioned if Trump was only watching the Olympics to see how high the Mexican pole vaulters could go.

Oh and incidentally, while many athletes didn’t want to talk about Brexit or Trump, those that did ain’t exactly supporters.

Brexit blues

But I digress, Brexiters have also jumped on the slightest hint of good economic news, ignoring the fact that things like factory output or employment figures often reflect conditions several months ago, i.e. before Brexit was announced, or can be thrown off by seasonal factors.

The real threat from Brexit was, and still is long term trends. As the saying goes its the bears that get you in the end, not the stags running for cover. Brexiters might want to spare a thought for example to the workers at Catepillar in Northern Ireland, who were told this week, hundreds of whom were losing their jobs. Further job losses appear to be imminent in ICL. Its possible they may follow in Ford and Nissan over the next few months and years, with other car makers likely to follow. Lloyds of course axed 3,000 last month over Brexit.

Solent News

Indeed recruiters argued that they were seeing a slow down in recruitment levels even before Brexit, as companies brought in hiring freezes in advance of the referendum. In some sectors recruitment rates are now “in freefall, as many companies have held onto those hiring freezes since then. Also even if you’ve been given leave to recruit, as my uni’s been finding, its next to impossible to hire new staff. Think about it, if you’ve got a job already would you risk changing jobs in the present climate? If you move jobs and your new employer decides to start down sizing, it will likely be last in first out, so who in their right mind would want to move? They only way we can recruit now is by hiring people on contract and paying them exorbitant day rates.

And yes, I’m aware there are employment laws meant to prevent LIFO type layoff’s, however I think you’ll find the fine print says they are EU laws. And the chances of a Tory government protecting the rights of employees is somewhere between slim and none.

Now all of this was inevitable. As I’ve pointed out before, UK manufacturing is going to take a hit and Northern Ireland is going to have it the worst post-Brexit. Companies aren’t going to rush for the exits, but they will slow down investment in the UK and stop hiring. Of course this will leave UK factories uncompetitive, meaning any time things are looking lean, they will inevitably pull production in UK firms first, particularly those in Northern Ireland. So let’s not kid ourselves people are losing jobs, or the opportunity to get a job as a result of Brexit. And if you think things are bad now, wait a few years!

Ambushed on Brexit

Indeed Theresa May appears to have been ambushed at the latest G20 talks, by both the Japanese and Americans, who are starting to put the squeeze on the Brits. As I mentioned in prior posts a UK government post-Brexit is going to come under enormous pressure, from international leaders, business, the army and even the government’s own civil servants. This means Brexit, actually might not mean Brexit, or it might just mean the UK becoming a sort of side kick to the EU (sorry, hero support!).

A winter of discontent?

The doctors are threatening a 5 day strike, so I hope everyone’s feeling fit and healthy and not planning on getting ill for a while. And southern rail is still in the grip of industrial action by disgruntled staff…while announcing a £100 million in profit! In both cases the employers are blaming the workers for the strikes…or even Jeremy Corbyn! Which is a bit like overloading a donkey with stuff and then getting angry with the donkey when it collapses from exhaustion.

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The fact is that the government’s policy of squeezing doctors isn’t working, its creating major problems for the NHS. And their policy on privatisation (health care or the railways) is inherently flawed. So their solution is to paper over the cracks and pretend they aren’t there. And likely thanks to Brexit, make strikes harder to hold in future. Will this means things improve post-Brexit? No! Doctors will likely move overseas, we’ll find it even harder to recruit new ones and similarly the situation on the UK’s trains will get even more strained.

You could argue that both junior doctors and the southern rail company are the canaries in the coal mine for problems the rest of the NHS and the rail network will experience further down the line.

Corbyn caught out

And speaking of trains, Corbyn claimed to have sat on the floor the other week all the way to Newcastle, as the train was “ram packed”. But Virgin revealed that actually that wasn’t how things had panned out. Clearly this was a half arsed attempt at the sort of political street theatre other parties engage in all of the time. The trouble is that Corbyn is such a hate figure for many that he can’t pull something like this off. He seems to drive people to a level of maddening hatred. He’s less a party leader and more of a punch bag.

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Consider that I once lost my bag on a Virgin train. I reported it, but they were never able to relocate it. They knew the train, the carriage and the seat number I was in, how much trouble would it have been to go through the CCTV and try to trace the bag? But instead they were quite happy to look at the CCTV footage for several carriages on likely more than one train for several hours to see what Corbyn got up too. This should show you how far Corbyn’s opponents will go to stick the knife in….and how little Virgin cares about its customers.

SpaceX explosion

SpaceX the upstart rocket company founded by Elon Musk suffered a serious technical failure the other day, with a rocket exploding on the pad. They’ve not said why yet, but I could not help but notice that the explosion seemed to start at the upper stage. This suggests some sort of malfunction with the rockets controls (e.g. the upper stage motor fired early), or perhaps a flash fire further down precipitating upwards (think of a champagne bottle…just one filled with rocket fuel).

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Some have started to question if this accident now threatens the future of SpaceX. Well it shouldn’t. Rockets are the very definition of extreme engineering. The most reliable rockets in the world have a success rate of 92%….or put it another way they blow up 1:12 of the times they are launched. SpaceX’s record, if we count this explosion as its 2nd failure out of 29 attempts counts as a 1:14.5 failure rate, well below the best the rest of the industry can manage. Its just that most of the other rockets tend not to fail so publicly, so the media don’t notice.

And SpaceX has pointed that even if the rocket was manned, its escape rocket system would likely have saved the crew. So rumours of SpaceX’s demise are perhaps greatly exaggerated.

Pulling power

One of the first things you notice state side is how much bigger cars are there. There seems to be lots of people who opt for some outrageously large SUV or pick up truck. The perfect thing for towing the boat they don’t own up the mountain they don’t live near. I’ve always felt skeptical of these behemoths feeling they are more pony and less draft horse. Well now I’ve got proof.

truck-vs-landrover

Consider this video of a tug of war between a British Land Rover defender, with a 2.5L engine (at most 160 hp) and a kerb weight of about 1.6 tonnes (they do aluminium bodied versions that weight even less than this, I’m assuming this is the standard steel bodied version) against a Dodge Ram 3500 (Cummin’s Diesel version) with a 5.9L engine and weighing in at closer to 3 tonnes. Who wins?

Well if you watch the video, you’ll see its the Land Rover. Which is not that huge a surprise if you know anything about power to weight ratios. The Land Rover might be smaller and lighter, but that just means its got more power to devote to pulling the Dodge backwards. Driver skill and a manual transmission (with I assume a low torque selector and a diff-lock) also probably makes a big difference.

Plus a lower kerb weight means for lower ground pressure, an important feature in a 4×4 given the need to drive across muddy fields. Hence why real farmers or off road drivers use a Land Rover (or a range of other similar and more practical vehicles, the Toyota Hilux for example). While things like the Dodge Ram are aimed at men, with Trump like small hands, seeking to compensate for something else that’s very small.

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