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6095 days since mission accomplished and the US starts another war

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Its being argued, ironically by some on the alt-left (the so-called anti-anti Trump left), that Trump isn’t so bad, Hilary would have been worse, after all he’s too incompetent to start any wars. Well that theory just got blown out of the water last week, with the assassination of a high ranking member of the Iranian government by Trump in Iraq. Too say this is going to lead to blow back is to put it mildly. Already the Iraqi parliament has voted to request all foreign troops leave the country.

Trump may be choosing to follow the standard play book of many US presidents, if in trouble at home, bomb somebody. However, the problem for Trump is that attacking almost any of the likely Trump targets comes with severe blowback and repercussions. And Iran has to be the worst of them all to target.

Firstly, the US and Iran were essentially allies in the war against ISIS (as well as America’s former allies the Kurds). The worse thing Iran could do is down tools and let it be known to ISIS (and the Kurdish militia in Turkey) that they have a free hand and suddenly all the work of the last few year is undone, bombs start going off and US servicemen start disappearing (yet he can’t attack the Iranians in retaliation as all the evidence will point to them not being involved). And that’s before Iran, or their allies (HAMAS, Hezbollah, etc.) start attacking US, western and Israeli interests around the world.

And the most likely target would be oil tankers passing through the straits of Hormuz. Indeed the mere threat of this is causing all sorts of problems for the global economy, both pushing up oil prices, while pulling down the value of oil companies, notably Saudi Aramco, which may not go down well with one of Trump’s key allies in the region.

Oh, but if they attack the US I’ll bomb them says Trump. Ya, that’s kind of the Iranian plan! The Iranians have acquired a number of advanced weapon systems recently from Russia, most notably the S-300 air defence system (known to NATO as the SA-12). The US has the military capability to overwhelm these defences, but now without taking losses. In other words, some US aircraft will be shot down, US pilots will end up in Iranian custody, provoking a damaging hostage crisis in an election year (assuming they don’t get lynched by an angry mob before the Iranians can arrest them, footage of which will of course appear on social media).

Worse still, given that much of this new hardware was acquired from the Russians relatively recently, its reasonable to assume that Russian military personnel and/or contractors will be on site. Its also well known that China and Iran are co-operating on a number of industrial projects, as well as some military cooperation. Meaning there will be some Chinese citizens (including potentially some military personnel) in Iran. If any of them get killed in a US bombing campaign (which will of course be an illegal act under international law), then events could escalate quite quickly. There’s a good chance of retaliation from them in some way.

This could be either economic measures (such as a mass sell off of US bonds), or military (as in an attack against a US ally, Estonia, Kuwait or Taiwan and basically giving the US an embarrassing bloody nose)…or they could just release a certain pee tape. Either way, it just shows how events could very quickly spiral out of control.

And where was the UK in all of this? Well nowhere, Trump didn’t even give the UK a heads up. The UK was left to meekly cheer from the sidelines, even thought its quite possible they might be the target of Iranian (or Russian) retaliation. In fact, UK warships are having to be rushed into action to protect UK oil tankers. As one newspaper puts it, the UK post-brexit has gone from being America’s poodle to being its lapdog. That’s taking control alright!

Paradise lost

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Meanwhile bush fires rage out of control in Australia, in no small part due to climate change. And one of the towns destroyed happened to be called Eden. Paradise has literally been lost to climate change. And least we forget, the current Australian government does contain more than a few climate sceptics, most notably the Australian PM himself, who once even once took a lump of coal into parliament to complain about “coal-phobia”.

Does this mean people have woken up to climate change? Ya and in other news a leopard has changed its spots. No, the Australian PM has refused to answer any such questions and the media instead has focused on dealing with the immediate problems caused by the fire, or the short term factors that led to them starting. I mean who could know that plants will burn when they get extremely dry. And who could’ve anticipated that Australians might have barbecues around Christmas time.

Like the soviet union after Chernobyl exploded, the climate change deniers will stick to the party line. Climate change can’t cause bush fires, you didn’t see burning kangaroos, take him away he’s delusional, its only 3.6 Roentgens (which is technobabble I know, but its become something of a meme now), not great, but not terrible.

For the same reasons, conservatives are utterly incapable of accepting the reality of climate change. Because much as Chernobyl exposed how rotten and dysfunctional the soviet system was, climate change would mean deniers having to accept the need for urgent action. Which given the atmosphere is a global commons, would mean international co-operation and government intervention….which means putting the coal companies who bankroll their campaigns out of business.

Of course, much as I warned in a post a few years ago, the downside to all of this is that the politicians themselves end up taking the blame. And quite rightly the Aussie PM has found himself being heckled as a result of these bushfires. And this should come as a warning to all right wing politicians. Ignore climate change and you’ll end up in a scenario where you will be completely out of your depth. The public will throw their support behind your most extreme opponents on either the left (Extinction rebellion types) or the extremists on the right (who will blame climate change on migrants, foreigners and poor people).

The assassination of Jess Philips by the coward Jeremy Corbyn

Speaking of ideologue’s who can’t handle the truth, much as I predicted, any opponents to the golden child, who’ll succeed Corbyn and lead labour to the socialist workers paradise, will be vilified and condemned, regardless of their suitability for high office, nor how left wing they are. Rebecca Long Bailey is the chosen one, endorsed by the supreme soviet Corbyn’s advisers (you know, the ones who’ve led labour to historic defeat after defeat).

And sure enough, Jess Philips announces she’s throwing her hat in the ring, mentions the possibility of maybe labour maybe campaigning to rejoin the EU at some point, post-brexit (the one thing Corbyn absolutely doesn’t want), and the labour/momentum blogs come alive with negative messages against her.

Too be clear, I’m kind of neutral on who should be the next labour leader. My guess is that either Scotland will be a separate country, or I’ll likely be back in Ireland, or somewhere else in the EU (taking advantage of the privileges being an EU citizen grants me!) by the time who is the leader of the labour party becomes a relevant issue. But yes, Jess Philips strikes me as one of a number of potential candidates who could reverse labour’s fortunes. And not because she’s anti-Corbyn (she’s actually fairly left wing in truth), but because she’s from a working class background, she is able to connect with working class people, she’s shown herself quite capable of taking on the Tories and (unlike Corbyn) she had a proper job before becoming a politician. But yes, there are others in labour who fit this bill as well (just nobody who Corbyn is backing!).

However, as the opposition to her should show, this is not what the Corbyn faction want. A sensible politician who will oppose the Tories and might actually win an election, hold a 2nd referendum and re-join the EU? Don’t be crazy! We want someone who is ideologically pure…and a secret brexiter (leading a party whose 90% remain supporting), who’ll make a tit of themselves for the next 5 years, provide no effective opposition to the Tories, lose the next election and become another martyr for nihilism, but who’ll still be celebrated by the Corbynites for “winng the argument” (ya like that will be a great comfort to all those screwed over by the Tories).

Changing trains

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I happened to be out on a post-Christmas walk, when I saw a train go past, clearly an ex-Virgin Pendolino, but without the Virgin logo on it. For those who don’t know, Virgin lost the contract to operate, after they were forced out by the Tories for political reasons.

Now too be clear, I’ve never been a fan of Virgin trains and had my fair share of bad experiences on their trains. However, I fail to see how changing the logo on the side of a train changes anything. This is the problem with the Tory privatisation policy, its a game of pass the parcel from whichever billionaire bribes them the most, or commits the latest act of politician patronage.

And the rail users be damned. In the same week another fare rise is announced, we hear that Deutsche Bahn is slashing fares by 10% to help fight climate change. Of course, the counter argument is that the reason why the Germans can do this is because they have spent many decades investing in their rail service to provide a better more efficient service. This is something the British simply haven’t done.

And yes privatisation certainly hasn’t helped, but its not like Corbyn’s plan to spend several billion buying out the railway companies, just so he could peel off those same Virgin train stickers and put a British Rail sticker in their place isn’t going to magically change everything. Only investing large amounts of money to offset decades of under investment will change things for the better.

Chaos reigns at Disney

Disney likes to claim their theme park is the “happiest place in the world”. Well it seems like the production of Rise of Skywalker certainly wasn’t a very happy experience for many on set (some of the actors are saying they don’t plan to come back for any future movies). And we’ve had more leaks coming out, as attempts are made to pass the buck for what went wrong with the new trilogy. In fact, somebody has run the numbers and concluded that overall Disney may have lost over $2 billion on the Lucasfilm purchase, once you add up all the costs and subtract from revenue.

The latest leak, which seems to come from someone close to director J.J Abrams, claims that the previous plot leaks came from Disney management, not a disgruntled staffer, as part of some effort to paint Abrams in a bad light (while the leaks are undoubtedly true, as they match the released cut of the film, I find it dubious that Disney would undermine their own box office just to make Abrams feel bad). It also claims that a 3 hr long directors cut exists, which was allegedly co-written with George Lucas himself (again, I’d take that one with a pinch of salt), which was dropped by Disney at the the last minute (just weeks before the new movie hit theatres).

To me the key point here to take away is, there was no plan for how the new trilogy should unfold, no management nor oversight, everybody was just winging it as they went along. By contrast other franchises (such as Marvel) will plan several movies ahead, years in advance, before they even start filming. Lucasfilm CEO Kathleen Kennedy was too busy being a Hollywood icon to bother even goggling her own job description, Disney CEO Bob Iger was to busy writing his own book (and apparently he wants to run for president!) to monitor what Kennedy was up too. Meanwhile J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson were in boat pulling oars in opposite directions, leaving them spinning in circles, while George Lucas looked on in horror.

I mentioned before, the the recent Cats movie might be a good case study of the dangers of groupthink. But the new star wars trilogy might well be textbook example of what happens when you design something by committee. Having people with overlapping responsibilities but nobody in overall control (and no forum for them to sort things out) is never a good idea. Rather than several people doing the same job, instead nobody does the job. In short, too many cooks spoil the broth.

Arise lord Poverty

The Tories assumed they won’t have it all their own way, prior to the last election. After all, it was reasonable to assume they’d catch some blowback from everything. Hence several veteran MP’s in vulnerable seats didn’t stand. Well, now Boris Johnson’s simply made them lords, giving them the ultimate in golden parachutes. Some have even been invited to join the cabinet.

Chief among them is Ian Duncan Smith, whose system of universal poverty credit has thrown many in the UK into dire poverty of the sort you’d normally associate with developing world countries. More than 247,000 people signing a petition objecting to the award for a man “responsible for some of the cruellest, most extreme welfare reforms this country has ever seen”.

And Johnson ally Nicky Morgan, has been made a life peer and asked to join the cabinet. Yes, they’ll be deciding who get medicines and food after brexit and not a vote cast in their name. But apparently we had to leave the EU because it was so undemocratic.

My solution, how about we the public get to vote on their new title, which they will be required to use at all times. So IDS could be come Lord Scrooge. Nick Morgan can become Lady Arse-licker, etc. Can you imagine the Queen’s next garden party “I announce the arrival of Lord and Lady Taxdoger, Sir steals-a-lot-from-disabled, Dame Priti Racist and Sir Jeremy Cunt

The Boris bridge

We’ve been warned that Boris Johnson can be prone to indulge in megalomaniac obsessions with big ticket vanity projects, which he tends to railroad through without proper oversight. There’s the infamous garden bridge, which fortunately never got built (but still cost the taxpayer £37 million). Or the £60 million cable car system that unfortunately did get built (and is hardly ever used). Or “Boris Island”, the planned new airport for London (which would be the wrong side of London, as everyone else in the country would have to travel through London to get too it, in an estuary with a large bird population and thus high risk of bird strikes and the small matter of a World War II munitions ship with a few thousand tons of unexploded bombs on board).

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However, as PM he now seems to be planning on the ultimate folly, a bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland…presumably so that, once both are out of the UK and back in the EU, they can trade more easily with one another. I recall joking how the DUP would be looking for an extension to the giants causeway off Theresa May. Well it would seem they are actually going to get one off Boris. Reality is out-running satire in brexit Britain.

Naturally, this ridiculous idea has been widely criticised by many experts. It would cost at least $15 billion and face numerous technical challenges (as in there’s a massive hole  in the middle of the Irish sea…which the British have been chucking munitions, chemical weapons and nuclear waste into for decades!), quite apart from a big question mark about its economic feasibility.

For those not from this part of the world, there are a host of good, high speed ferry links between Ireland and the UK. And the most popular is the Wales to Dublin route, which is served by multiple ships (including both one of the world’s largest ferry’s and one of its fastest). If you are travelling from England to Ireland (north or south) its simply a lot easier, quicker and cheaper (plus it burns less fuel) to take this route across, rather than drive all the way up to Scotland, and then down the B roads to Stranraer and take the ferry across from there.

And this apparently is one of a number of ways that Westminster aims to get powersharing back up and running (still deadlocked over the Irish language). Basically it looks like they plan to simply start bribing politicians up North with promises of loads of dosh.

Now the problem with this is that Northern Ireland’s parliament is one of the most corrupt, dysfunctional and incompetent bodies in the whole of Europe. This is largely because Stormont is split on ideological lines. Its completely tribal. The primary goal of politicians on both sides is to grab as much money for their community as possible (which will of course be squandered) and rub the other sides face in any mess and try to score political points. And the end consequence is NI is an economic black hole, with a GDP much lower than either Ireland’s or the rest of the UK’s. The UK’s GDP per capita would actually go up if they could get shot of NI, while Ireland’s would go down significantly.

However, what perhaps what this does demonstrate is that Northern Ireland might well be the template for future Westminster governments, which too is becoming little more than a similar tribal body, focused on scoring ideological points, rather than actually fixing the mess the country is in.

Musk v’s astronomy

I’ve mentioned Musk’s Starlink system before. But one aspect of its operation, which does not seem to have been considered, is its impact on light pollution. It threatens to make astronomy, both the professional kind and the amateur, nearly impossible to do, given the large number of satellites with their large solar panels. Even the small numbers launched so far (a few hundred out of the 12,000 he wants to launch) are enough to cause problems.

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Musk has suggested, he’ll make the satellites less reflective, perhaps even paint them black or something. However astronomers have pointed out that that’s not how astronomy works. That density of objects in a low orbit is going to cause all sorts of problems, there’s really no way around that without changing one or other of those parameters (i.e. less satellites or move them to a higher orbit, neither of which Musk can do).

You may enquire well where is the US government on all of this. Asleep at the wheel of course! The FTC rushed through the application without any sort of proper checks, or even talking to astronomers first. Such is life under Trump. And while this libertarian approach might seem to benefit Musk, he might feel differently if people start boycotting his services (or stop buying his cars) until he de-orbits these satellites. Sometimes companies do want big government on their back.

Trump’s wall

Of course Trump’s number one priority was going to be his wall. How’s that going? Well to date under a 100 miles has been built out of the 2,000 needed! And most of that is fencing, covering areas which already had a fence. In fact the main component he’s added is some addition vehicle barriers (so they’ll mildly inconvenience someone looking to cross for a few minutes maybe). And all of this after the massive tizzy he pulled early last year shutting down the government for weeks just so he could get his precious wall. And recall that Mexico isn’t paying for it, he’s funding it by robbing money out of the pension fund for US veterans (how very Patriotic!)

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What Trump promised….

But at least once its there (and at this rate it will take over a decade to complete) its done, right? Well ya if we ignore how much it would cost to maintain and staff it…..so they can watch helplessly as migrants come in, with the wall making little real difference. Because far from being impenetrable, people have already managed to climb over it, or cut truck sized holes in it, and in some cases its actually being cut up and stolen by locals!

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….reality

Does this mean it will be abandoned? You’re joking right! Republicans don’t care if it works or not, nor how much money gets wasted. Its all about ID politics. Its a big totem symbol as to how racist America has become under Trump. Frankly they’d be just as happy if he blew tens of billions planting a line of burning crosses along the southern border. Facts do not matter to republicans anymore.

New year news roundup

The anarchy of the populists

I had a debate with someone over drinks during Christmas and they argued we shouldn’t worry about populists like Trump, Bolsonaro or Boris because they are quote “too retarded to be dangerous”. They can’t do anything spectacularly bad because they are just too dumb to figure out how to do that. And they will be easily outmanoeuvred by their opponents of the mandarins within their respective governments. The Trump impeachment fiasco being a case in point.

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I’d counter by pointing out that yes, this lot are as thick as a railway sleeper, but there’s plenty of people around them who are not and actively hope to exploit the chaos that follows. And as I mentioned in a prior post (with regard to the fall of the Roman republic), even stupid people can get the better of smarter people sometimes.

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And there are many pressing problems in the world that aren’t being adequately addressed. For example take climate change and the recent failure of UN climate talks. And this despite numerous red flags being raised by scientists, for example the fact that Greenland’s ice sheets are now melting seven times faster than in the 1990’s.

Okay, one has to acknowledge that recent advances means renewable energy and electric cars are now a thing. And yes many are investing in them for not just environmental reasons but good financial reasons too. So change is going to happen anyway. However, there’s still a need for nudges from government, as the pace of change just isn’t anywhere near fast enough. Not least because even small changes to an individual government’s policy can have dramatic changes to this fledgling industry (e.g. changes to UK government policy last year led to a 56% drop in investment).

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Even in Trump’s America, renewables are cheaper than coal and expected to fall below the price of NG eventually

This is why it was crucial that the latest UN talks addressed the so called article 6 rules for future carbon markets. So kicking the can down the road (as happened in Madrid, same as last time) is a major blow. In essence without a plan as to how you are going to cut emissions, then any sort of targets are kind of meaningless. I mean why don’t they just adopt Extinction Rebellion’s ludicrous target’s while they are at it, at least then they’d stop gluing themselves to trains and electric vehicles.

In short, the problem with populists is they’ve put the world into a holding pattern, with many global issues being left on the back burner. A situation which dictators as well as the greedy and corrupt are all too keen to exploit.

Labour in denial

Meanwhile we have another form of denialism at play within labour. They’ve formed a committee to try and figure out how it was they lost the recent election. In other news the US national parks service has launched a research project to determine if bears sh*t in the woods and the RSPB have commissioned a panel of experts to assess the water tightness of a duck’s colon.

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Back in the real world polls have been conducted of voters and the number one reason given for voting against labour was they didn’t like nor trust Corbyn and secondly they didn’t like his manifesto…you know the one based on Foot’s 1983 manifesto, aka the longest suicide note in history. Naturally this flies in the face of Corbyn supporters claims that their leader was popular, everyone liked the manifesto and (don’t laugh) they won the argument (presumably the argument was who was least qualified to be PM, him or Boris Johnson). No, the real reason they lost apparently was brexit.

Well firstly, how is that a surprise? this was a brexit election after all! Did it not occur to Corbyn that this might come up! And secondly those same polls say it wasn’t so much that Corbyn took a strongly remain or leave position that was the problem (he lost about 2-3% from both sides because they thought he supported leave/remain). It was the fence sitting that put off a large chunk of voters (about 15%). If he couldn’t make up his mind about something this important, how could they take seriously anything else in his manifesto. Ultimately the buck stops with Corbyn and his team of toxic advisers.

So to be realistic, such an investigation is a waste of time. After all labour may have lost but Corbyn and his cabal achieved all of their objectives. A big Tory win means brexit goes ahead (which he wants). By diverting resources away from northern seats towards seats in the south he prevented the lib dems picking up any seats, notably any of the ex-labour defectors (splitters!).

And besides the northern labour voters where never going to support Corbyn and his left wing manifesto, so why bother defending those seats. They want to throw their lot in with the Tories, fu*k’em. They’ll soon learn the hard way when their benefits and health care disappears. He and any future labour leader can thus focus all resources on southern or city based seats instead, where such policies do have greater support.

And of course Corbyn’s key goal is to ensure that the Chosen one, Rebecca Long-Bailey (aka Corbyn without a beard or Foot 3.0) wins the leadership electionsurrounded by the same toxic advisers who lost the last election and led labour to ruin. And what do the polls say? Well only 2% of the UK public think she’d make a good labour leader, with moderate Keir Starmer topping the polls.

Now one has acknowledge the effect of name recognition in such polls. Hence other candidates who’d make good leaders such as Jess Philips or Angela Rayner don’t currently fare too well. But this isn’t an excuse for the golden child given that she’s been following Corbyn around like a faithful hound for the last year or so as Corbyn groomed her for leadership. And she was prioritised in interviews during the election over other more experienced party members (even on issues related to their shadow ministry) to increase her media exposure. And despite all that she’s still only about to get 2% of the public to back her.

Keep in mind that to win the next election, labour need to achieve a swing equal to that of Tony Blair in the 1997 election. Which clearly isn’t going to happen if labour just repeat the same mistakes from this election, with basically the same people and the same policies. Which will only encourage the Tories to do their worse, as they’ll know there is no chance of labour defeating them, no matter how badly they screw up.

More billionaire’s join the Brexitous

And while Corbyn and his team are playing their games of thrones, the rest of us are left to deal with the consequences. NHS services are now on the verge of collapse (which is of course exactly what the Tories want, after all the NHS has to fail and become massively unpopular before they can privatise it). And it seems clear the Tory plan is to force through a hard brexit/no deal at the end of 2020. And the country is still unprepared for Brexit (go to the UK government’s own website and you’ll come away with more questions than answers, fu*ked if we know! seems to be the official government position).

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And predictably we have more stories of brexit supporting hedge fund managers scrambling to get EU citzenship and register their assets in the EU before the inevitable crash happens (while betting against the UK of course). Similarly many Tory party donors, peers and ex-MP’s are all signing up for EU citizenship. And the Tories are proposing a slush fund to make sure that their allies and supporters who can’t move their assets get bailed out. Its disaster capitalism and the hardest of hard bexit’s for the rest of us. With socialism, lavish government spending and all the perks of EU citizenship for the very people behind brexit in the first place.

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Of course the thing is that, Tories being Tories, they won’t see the hypocrisy here. While they won’t admit it, as they see it there’s one rule for them and the aristocracy (just look at prince Andrew) and another for the plebs. We have to know our place, pay taxes, obey the laws and deal with the consequences of brexit. But the elites don’t. I mean how else are they supposed to get to their private yacht in Monaco if they aren’t an EU citizen? You seriously think we’re going to spend an extra £350 million a week on the NHS! LoL!

Booze and dash…

Speaking of politicians who don’t face up the consequences of their actions, its been reported that Irish politicians and government officials have racked up 20,000 euros of unpaid bar bills in the last year and a half. Now when you consider how small the Irish government is (only about 160 or so TD’s), you’ll realise that’s some pretty heavy going (this is just the bills left unpaid, so they’ve probably been going through a lot more sauce)…or “lightweights” as the rest of the country would call them.

…or bribe and dash

And in another story about runaway’s, it turns out that the ex-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn has done a runner and ended up in Lebanon, where he and his family have substantial investments. He was previously living in Japan under house arrest facing bribery and corruption charges.

Which leads one to wonder who had a hand in helping him skip town. His passport was being held by the authorities, so theoretically he’d have needed a false one, or the help of some government to get out of Japan and all the way to Lebanon without being detected. Inevitably suspicion must fall on the French, as they may have not wanted too much said about the inner workings of French politics in a court room.

And there may also be a brexit angle to all of this. While none of these charges specifically mentioned the UK (i.e. that he may have taken a backhander off the Tories to delay the announcement of Nissan moving production out of England after brexit), its quite possible this might have come up eventually in court. So who knows, maybe he got help from the Tories. Either way it shows there’s one set of rules for the rich and another for the rest of us.

Star wars: the fall of Disney

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So the Rise of Skywalker (aka the Star Wars Holiday Special as some are calling it) is out and it turns out that all the rumours that leaked out on the internet were true, the movie is kind of sh*t (with a Rotten tomatoes score of 54% and an IMDB rating of 7/10, the lowest ever for a star wars movie). It basically undoes every bit of established Star Wars canon going right back to the first three movies. I think the memes say it all.

Of course the very fact there were such leaks in the first place, notably of the disastrous test screenings (where people actually walked out before seeing the ending) was a serious warning sign. Many of those who work for Lucasfilm are fans themselves. And just like the disgruntled GoT fans, when they saw the abomination that was being created, they decided to start leaking details online.

But one little fact alone can probably explain a lot about what went wrong for Disney Star Wars. A notable absentee at the Rise of Skywalker premiere was one George Lucas, who hadn’t been invited. Apparently this was by mutual agreement (rather than a snub), as George didn’t feel comfortable saying nice things about a final movie cut he feels “betrayed by (rumours are there were 8 different endings filmed, including a George Lucas cut, which Disney passed on).

When Disney bought Lucasfilm and the Star Wars rights they also inherited a massive pile of source material, notably the novel and comic book series such as the Heir’s to the Empire series, or Yuuzhan Vong invasion saga. These followed the adventures of many of the main Star Wars characters after Return of the Jedi, as well as introducing a host of new characters, such as Admiral Thrawn or Mara Jade, as well as the offspring of the Solo’s and Skywalkers (who become the next generation of Jedi). Apparently Lucas himself had drawn on this source material (as well as material from the six existing movies, the clone wars and video game stories) to come up with an outline for how the next three movies should progress. And when Disney bought him out, these were included as part of the purchase.

However, Disney decided to pass on these plot outlines and much of this source material. Likely the reason why was that they’d have been movies for an older audience, while they wanted to make kid movies with a PG or U rating (ironically, quite a number of the Disney star wars movies have ended up been rated PG-13 in regions outside the US anyway!).

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Keep in mind Disney weren’t simply interested in bums on seats and selling movie tickets. What they paid Lucas $4 Billion for was the merchandising rights, the happy meal tie-ins, the toy lines, the product endorsements, the new rides in their theme parks. And as kids would be the main target, it stood to reason they needed kid friendly movies. Hence the order went out to essentially copy the original three movies (i.e. IV to VI in the series) as closely as possible. After all, very few of the target audience had probably even seen the first three movies.

And this of course is where the problems started, as the more mature fans (aka the Fandom Menace) quickly noticed this plagiarism and began pointing to the obvious contradictions in the the new plots. The consequences of this fan backlash wasn’t fully understood by Disney. They failed to appreciate that a large chunk of their revenue was dependant on these fans. They were the sorts who not only went to see the film once, but several times, they bought the toys (for themselves or their kids), they bought the DvD collections, etc. So they were in effect shooting themselves in the foot by killing off the golden goose.

Much of the fan criticism has focused on the movie producers, notably J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson. Certainly, they do deserve some criticism, most notably Johnson (director of the last Jedi), who seemed to take a perverse delight in winding up star wars fans. And while arguably Abrams had some vague idea of how he planned to end the three movies (maybe not a very good one, but at least he had a plan), these efforts were sabotaged by Johnson for purely selfish reasons. At the time he was in talks with Lucasfilm about directing an entire new trilogy of his own. So he reasoned that the best way of becoming the next George Lucas was to put his own mark on the franchise by basically crapping on everything.

That said, it was Lucasfilm CEO Kathleen Kennedy and Disney chairman Bob Iger who hired Johnson and Abrams. They gave them their instructions as to the direction the films should take. They signed off on the scripts and approved the final cut. So this is a mess of their making. The buck stops with them above all else. And with Disney’s share price now falling, they both might want to start updating their CV’s.

Because while yes the movies have been profitable, they haven’t been nearly profitable enough to justify the initial $4 billion investment (plus in addition to production costs, there’s marketing, distribution and financing costs to consider, which are often equal to or greater than the initial production costs). Consider that outside of the US, box offices have been dismal. And the toy’s have not been selling well either. And while Disney plus took a healthy uptake thanks to the Mandalorian series, as its now over, people are cancelling their subscriptions in droves.

All in all, it will not be lost on Disney that for every dollar they’ve ploughed into star wars they could have made far more money investing in other projects instead. Going against George Lucas advice and pissing off fans was a very bad idea.

A stinking cat litter tray of groupthink

One consolation for Disney executives has to be that okay, at least we didn’t spend the money on some coughed up furball like Cats the movie. The most entertaining thing about this movie has been reading the truly awful reviews its getting, both from critics and movie fans. Some of the memes have been pretty good too:

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For the sake of comparison, Cats has a rotten tomatoes rating of 20% and is now rated at 2.5 in the IMDB movie ratings, putting in the bottom 40 movies ever made, alongside Battlefield Earth, Manos the Hand of Fate and Santa Claus conquerors the Martians (all candidates for worse movie ever made and all made on a smaller budget).

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Oh and this is what a cat actually looks like

You do have to wonder what was going through the movie producers heads as they proceeded with this steaming pile of catnip. And the minds of many A list actors who appear in the film as well (I’m presuming their agents will be joining the exec’s behind star wars in the New year job hunt!). I mean being associated with this fiasco and having images of them dressed up like a cat is exactly what their career needs! Its not like there’s anyone mean on the internet who’ll keep bringing this up every time they post to social media or anything! It short its an excellent example of the dangers of group think.

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Never underestimate the stupidity of large groups of people working together….

Brexit update: Running down the clock

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Recently the Guardian’s business editor Nils Pratley asked the question, when does the no deal panic start? One could ask the same question as regards Trump’s trade policy and the recent shutdown. Well in some respects, its already happening and in another respect the panic will not be televised, or at least it will be kept as quiet as possible.

While companies are quick to advertise good news, they try to keep any bad news out of the media. After all, good news means the share price goes up. Bad news, sends the share price down. And if you want to destroy employee morale and reduce productivity, let the staff know you might be considering job cuts. And furthermore the economic issue with brexit is more the long term impact it will have, not the short term shock. As the saying goes its not the stag investors who take fright at the first sign of trouble you worry about, its a long protracted bear market. Because bears have claws.

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Beware the brexit bear!

And already we have seen several worrying signs which shows the economy flat-lining. P&O for example has announced its re-flagging its ships under a Cypriot flag (Rule Britannia….Cyprus rules the waves?). Barclay’s is one of a number of banks to announce plans to move £166 billion and hundreds of jobs to Ireland, with others are planning to set up in Paris or Frankfurt. Dyson has moved to Singapore, which apparently is nothing to do with brexit (and if you believe that I’ve got some magic beans I can sell you). Meanwhile, the construction industry, which was just about recovering from the EU referendum result, is now reporting a decline in building projects due to uncertainty over brexit.

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So far Germany seems to be winning the race to house bankers post-brexit

Now in any normal economic times any of these indicators would send waves of panic around Whitehall, but it would now appear that the UK government’s official motto seems to be “fuck business. Which probably explains why up to a third of UK companies are actively considering relocating out of the UK post-brexit. Hell, we have the Norwegian government now advising students not to go to university in the UK.

But probably the biggest blow by far recently was Nissan announcing its u-turn, that they will not locate X-trail production at Sunderland. This is a huge blow, given the very public backing Nissan gave to brexit, thanks to a letter they received from Theresa May. While the current jobs are safe (for now!), the problem is that once a company stops investing in a factory, its not long after that when the job losses start.

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While there’s still be some direct investment in the UK car industry, its clearly on a downward trend and going to turn negative relatively soon

And with the publication of that infamous letter, it seems that Nissan were offered a very substantial bribe to stay in the UK, with up to £60 million in direct investment and several hundred million indirectly (via investment into electric vehicle research, charging points, etc.). Of course, given that the former Nissan chairman is under investigation for corruption, its entirely possible that a brown envelope might have been involved as well. After all, May is currently trying to bribe MP’s with peerages or promises of slush funds to their constituency. In short her government is now guilty of the sort crony politics we’d have expected in the days of the Regency. But even that doesn’t seem to be working, as she literally can’t pull off a bribe successfully!

Of course what this highlights is that Nissan have decided that whatever promises May has made, they can’t believe her anymore. After all we now have the absurdity of a backstop that was her idea in the first place, which she got parliament to vote against, and she’s going to go to Brussels to see if it can be removed. But then a few days later she says the backstop can stay, but she’s going to insist on some unspecified changes to it, which will make everything okay…!?!

Its becoming rather obvious that May is winging it, something she’s been doing since day one. And while she is clearly running down the clock, I’m not sure if this is a deliberate strategy or just a coping mechanism to get her through to the end of the day. You would be a very foolish MP (or car maker) to stake your future on any promises made by her, because 24 hrs later she’ll have not only have broken them, but forgotten what it was she’d promised.

And this letter to Nissan might still come back to haunt her. It implies tariff free access to the EU (which as things currently stand isn’t going to happen). If she doesn’t deliver on that, Nissan might sue the UK government seeking financial compensation. And if that sounds far fetched, its looking likely the owners of the channel tunnel are going to sue the government over brexit. To be blunt, the only winners in a no deal brexit will be corporate lawyers, who’ll be having a field day.

And while May’s act of looking utterly pathetic to the point where the EU feels sorry for her, has allowed her to get some concessions, its doubtful it will work this time (and in any event, the EU will want something in return). The EU needs to consider whether they can believe a word out her mouth anymore (or anyone else from Westminster). Can she be trusted to deliver on her side of the bargain? And I seriously doubt, even if she got some significant concessions, she’d get her party to back her deal. They’re making a big deal about the backstop because they can. If it goes away they’ll find something else in the 500 pages of the deal to moan about. Ultimately they don’t want to take ownership for what they know is going to be a deal that leaves the UK worse out than in.

Meanwhile Corbyn can’t be seen to back it either, preferring to do his usual Humpty Dumpty and stay sitting on the fence, even as his party disintegrates around him. Labour party membership has now fallen by 10% in just two months, about 360 members per day are now leaving.

Meanwhile, across the pond, we’ve heard the first rumblings of discontent as the US congress wakes up to the consequences of a no-deal brexit. A resolution has been introduced in the US Congress opposing the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland. This was something that was always going to happen. Firstly, the Good Friday agreement was brokered with the help of the US. If the UK were to renege on it, this would be hugely damaging to the US and its international reputation (if the US can get its oldest ally to back a treaty it brokered, what are the odds of North Korea or Russia sticking to any?). And secondly 33 million US voters identify themselves as being of Irish descent. That’s a voting lobby no politician in the US can ignore, particularly as it includes many swing voters in key swing states (a significant number voted for both Obama and then Trump).

Of course the problem here is that Americans understand the politics of Northern Ireland even less than the Tories. Expect them to make several perfectly reasonable suggestions over the next few months, but ones that May and the DUP have already ruled out. e.g. “why doesn’t NI just stay in the Single market?” “Say, why don’t you guys just leave the EU but stay in the EEA, that’ll avoid a hard border?”. In short good luck to May trying to explain NI politics to Trump and then get the US congress to support a US/UK trade deal in an election year. Notably because one of the key committees that will approve or veto a US/UK trade deal just happens to be led by an Irish American senator with strong pro-republican sympathies.

But isn’t the EU going to blink first? Well stranger things have happened. However, the fact is that the UK has to make its mind up pretty soon (Greg Clark suggested as early as the middle of next week), otherwise the trickle of companies either hitting the panic button or heading for the door will become a flood. And we’re assuming no deal is even an option, because the institute for government says it would be impossible, given that almost none of the required legislation has passed, nor will pass in time.

So the UK can’t really wait for the EU to blink, while the EU can wait not only until the 29th of March, but even beyond it (i.e. wait for the UK to come crawling back after descending into chaos). I’ll say it again its May’s original deal (and probably staying in the customs union or single market long term) or no brexit, you have to chose one.

News roundup

The Pedo party

Is it just me or does it appear like the major qualification you need to get ahead in the Republican party is to be a pedo, kiddy fiddler or sex offender of some form or another? Since Trump took over we’ve seen a long line of dirty old men going into the white house. I mean they even set up a dating site (for straight blue blooded republicans) and the male model they chose in the ads turned out to be a sex offender. Its like Trump is some sort of magnet for this sort of thing.

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Consider that evangelicals, who overwhelmingly vote GOP, have gone from being 80% likely to say that a president should resign for having an affair (and quote a bible verse), to being 80% likely to say, ah it doesn’t matter, the bible? Well that says lots of things, I mean its not as if we have to take it literary!

At least it does go to prove my theory of conservative flip flop syndrome. In essence the Republicans, much like the UK Tories, aren’t really a political party anymore. They have no actual policies, no direction. They are just a cult devoted to follow which ever random nutty sex offender/tax cheat happens to be in charge at the time. And once he loses power in disgrace, they’ll shrug their shoulders and say so what, then forget about him. Recall how back in the Bush days, or Romney in 2008, they were the true messiah, failing to support them was treason again the US….until they criticised Trump! Of course, like any cult, the GOP needs funding, so they’ll happily sell their services to whichever random billionaire can afford to bribe them.

What this shows is that the democrats need to take the gloves off. The GOP won’t fight fair and you won’t win a fair fight when they’ve stacked the system against you. I’d propose that as soon as they get power back, prioritise shoring up the checks and balances. I’d federally mandate how electoral districts are organised (the states draw the line, but according to rules set by the federal government, overseen by non-partisan officials) and introduce proportional representation. Both would guarantee that the party that wins the most votes gets the most seats (the only reason why the GOP get so many seats is gerrymandering). It would also open up the possibility of smaller parties getting representation.

As for this Brett guy, once a democratic president is in charge, I’d give him and any other Trump justices a choice, resign or we stack the supreme court. There’s nothing in the constitution that stops a democratic president/congress either setting term limits on supreme court justices (which would force all but two to resign and be immediately replaced) or say appointing a few dozen twenty something women (and card carrying members of the ACLU) to the supreme court (this incidentally is what FDR threatened to do). Suddenly its likely he’ll remember some important yard work in needs to catch up on and retire.

Jacinda and the peacocks

At the UN there was controversy when some delegations showed up with babies, but at least the NZ PM’s baby didn’t make a speech and crap all over the place….unlike America’s baby (who got laughed out of the room).

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Much was made of the NZ PM’s speech and the contrast between it and Trump’s. She spoke of unity and fixing global problems, he spoke mostly about himself and blaming others for his problems. I was reminded of something a military officer once told me about the traits that the military look for in a good officer (good judgement, leadership, team player, etc.) and there are red flags which signal that this guy should never be given command, as he’s likely to become a dangerous liability (who’ll march his unit into a minefield and get them all killed).

Well we see a lot of those red flags on display at the UN summit. Selfishness and putting oneself first is always a worry (note to Trump, there’s no “i” in team….although there is a “u” in c*nt!). An officer like this is likely to send in his boys, then take off in the other direction when the shooting starts. I recall Oliver Stone once mentioning that on his first day in Vietnam his officer put him out on point!

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Other worrying red flags include impulsive behaviour (Trump again, he who dares….usually walks straight into an ambush), or equally bad, indecisiveness (Theresa May). Its important for a commander to be aware of what’s going on around them, so a detachment from reality (Trump or the brexiters) is very dangerous. And a good commander needs to listen, a bad one ignores advice (Trump again) or even punishes (Corbyn) those who offer it.

However of all of the traits you want to avoid in a commander, its one who blames others for his misfortune (such as foreigners). He berates his own men for disloyalty (have you given them reasons to be loyal, or plenty of reasons to question everything you say?). Or worse, blaming the enemy (if the enemy isn’t co-operating with your plans, well that’s kind of supposed to happen!). In short, the buck stops with the commander and any who is unwilling or unable to accept that is unfit for command.

All in all, this populist wave has left us a world led by strutting chest puffing peacocks, all of whom won’t be so much as put in charge of anything more dangerous than a stapler if they joined the military. All we can do is hope there isn’t some sort of crisis in the next few years, because I have very little faith in the majority of the world’s leaders. And its no wonder NZ is becoming the bolt hole of choice.

Hilary would have been worse

How different it would have been if the person who got the most votes had won. Mention this of course to Trump voters (or the Bernie or bust brigade) and they’ll mumble something about “Hilary would have been worse”. Really?

Would Hilary have appointed a long list of sex offenders to senior positions? (granted she’d have had to lock Bill in the basement or put him in a chastity belt). Would she have appointed a bunch of incompetents (purely on the basis of loyalty rather than ability to do the job) to senior government positions? Would she have left hundreds of important posts vacant? Would her aides have to brief her using cue cards and take stuff of her desk in case she did something stupid? Would she have gone to Russia and buried her tongue up Putin’s a*s?. Would she have started rolling back environmental protections and workers rights, or given a massive tax cut to the super rich? Would she have started a trade war for no good reason? Would Chelsea Clinton be jetting around the world acting as the defacto foreign secretary? Would she have started to use the US treasury as her own personal piggy bank, striking deals with countries on the basis of what most benefited her personal businesses? Would America have fallen from the world’s most respected nation to the butt of the world’s jokes?

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As I said from the beginning, Hilary would not have been my first choice as President. But in the election you had a choice between her and the pus*y grabber in chief. I know which of those two is the lest worse scenario. This is why I do worry about the mid terms. The democrats seem to be at war with themselves. The only condition that should apply is are you willing to oppose Trump and if possible get him impeached? Anyone who meets that criteria gets my vote.

On which point btw, I strongly advise voting for republicans, even the moderate ones critical of Trump. As recent events have shown, they can be leaned on by the party and made to toe the line (probably because having had their snout in the feeding trough for so long the GOP and its donors have a lot dirt on them that they could easily leak to the media).

To draw an analogy its like the US was this town out in the old west and the position for sheriff was open. The choice was some guy in a black hat, who had a English accent (despite being German), a large scar and an evil laugh (and when he laughs birds drop dead out of the sky). Or some other guy (the man with no name), who while not being necessarily a good guy, he clearly ain’t the baddie. But no, some of the town want to vote for old man Bernie, despite the fact he’s been pushing up the daises up on boothill for the last couple of months. Well now they’re getting bull whipped by the black hat, while he burns down the church (with the preacher inside) and they are trying to console themselves that might have been worse.

Musk out at Tesla

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So Musk managed to get himself banned from running his own company. Well to be honest this was a train wreck that was going to happen sooner or later. There’s a certain discipline that comes with being a CEO, not unlike some of those qualities I mentioned earlier. However, they are really only optional. There is in fact one key skill which a CEO must have above all else – keeping your big mouth shut!

A CEO is the face of his company. Anything he says is going to have an impact on the share price. This is why most tend to be fairly guarded about what they say, often taking the view that if you don’t have anything good to say, then don’t say anything. Hence why some of the statements from CEO’s regarding brexit should be setting off alarm bells.

Musk got himself in trouble thanks to his efforts to stop short sellers driving down Tesla’s share price. Yes, this was unfair, but on the other hand, he was kind of making it easy for them. What with calling a British diver a pedo, refusing to answer questions at a press conference because “they weren’t cool” or smoking pot live on the internet. As his downfall should show, the markets are decidedly unfair. They are a bit of a wild west. Yes the corrupt sheriff can send out his one spurs to rob your farm. Yet when you set out to take revenge its you who ends up swinging from a rope, regardless of whether or not you shot the deputy.

Which is slightly ironic given his, and other tech billionaires, affinity for libertarianism. In a libertarian world it would be even worse. Ford and GM would in fact have likely crushed him along time ago, same as Standard oil would destroy its competitors. So I suppose what goes around comes around.

Minister for starvation

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Its difficult to avoid talking about brexit. Firstly we have the story than given the difference between where the UK would be if we hadn’t voted for brexit and where we are now, the UK is now 500 million a week worse off (you’ll recall those ridiculous promises of an extra 350 million a week!). The UK has been forced to appoint a minster of starvation supply (for the first time outside of a war).

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Meanwhile, back in fantasy land, at the Tory party conference, they were trying to outdo each other with their different brexit fantasies. It was less a conference and more of a unicorn horn measuring contest. Brexit to the Tories is more about who they want to be the captain of the Titanic as it sinks and whether or not they should burn the lifeboats before anyone can use them. Meanwhile, a bunch of young Tory activists got caught with racist and classist slogans on their T-shirts, but of course that’s allowed, yet a labour supporter did it, the newspapers would be wanting Corbyn to be hung.

On a positive note, it was noted that Theresa May never mentioned her Chequers plan in her speech, which could hint that she’s going to roll over and accept whatever the EU offers her….Or it could be because she knows that if she so much as mentioned that word, it would be like playing the rains of Castamere at a wedding. Within seconds they’ve have all started stabbing one another. So probably more of a survival instinct than anything.

Increasingly it looks like we’ll just have to wait for all the brexiters to die off and vote to re-join the EU….which probably won’t take too long, ironically thanks to brexit. The NHS (which again the bus ads promised would be better off) is already in crisis, with a Breixtus of EU staff leaving, not surprising when brexit threatens to turn them into 2nd class citizens. The government’s solution? Oh, we’ll just have the nurses train as doctors or shorten their training time. I mean its not as if people die if hospitals make a mistake or something.

Making rent

Housing The Homeless

I’ve come across quite a few stories over the last few months about homelessness in California, one of the largest concentrations of wealth in the world. And we’re in many cases talking about people with jobs who are homeless, as its become difficult if not impossible to make rent in California, to the point where some are sleeping in their cars or living out of campervans. Let me repeat that, we’re talking about people with jobs, who work hard, who have kids and a family living in their cars. Welcome to Trump’s America.

Now too be fair, this is part of the hangover from the financial crisis. And we really have to pin the blame for that on past US presidents (notably G. W. Bush). And of course Obama’s recovery was a rising tide that didn’t lift all ships. Governors of California (who have come from both parties since the crash) also have to take some share of the blame. That said, Trump has cut federal housing aid, and who did he appoint in charge of housing? Ben Carson (the first person to conduct brain surgery on himself).

So there’s plenty blame to share out, the question is how to fix it. Well clearly a lack of rent control is part of the problem. If you let landlords charge $2000 a month for a flat (with a two month deposit on top), then nobody except the better off will be able to pay that. And there’s a lack of good affordable social housing. In Europe for example, try to get planning permission for a hundred luxury condos and you’ll be told nope, not going to happen, unless you add in a few dozen affordable homes or council houses.

Of course there’s an elephant in the room here we’re ignoring, one you can clearly see if you’ve ever flown over California and looked out of a window – urban sprawl and low density housing. While we’ve got problems with urban sprawl in Europe yes, but never to the same extend as it occurs in the US. Developments that would be refused in Europe are routinely approved in the US.

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In fact, government policies intended to promote car ownership are a major contributory factor, by for example legally requiring large parking lots everywhere. By contrast, getting planning permission for car parks in Europe is tricky and will often be refused (we’ve a long standing issue in my block with parking, long story but the bottom line is the council will routinely turn down applications for parking lots, unless you’ve got a damn good reason for having one and even then they’ll insist its underground).

The end consequence of this is vast spread out cities where you need a car to just get around. Case in point, the population density of LA is around 1,000 per sq km, while in London is closer to 5,000 and Paris 21,000. If the oil ever runs out LA is going to starve to death, given in some LA neighbourhoods you can literally get picked up by the cops for just walking. The US has legally mandated a country full of vast parking lots, now its got them filled with homeless people rather than apartment blocks.

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And, as always, this highlights the shortcomings of the libertarian politics of the tech billionaires. Their lassie-faire approach amounts to them amassing vast fortunes and living in huge mansions, while the serf’s who toil away making all that money have to steal food from work, then find a quiet parking lot to catch some sleep in and hope they don’t get mugged. This is what a libertarian world looks like.

A real magic money tree, scientific publishing

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An interesting article here from George Monbiot about the racket of scientific publishing. If you are an academic, in almost all cases you have to publish your research in a peer reviewed journal. Many academics will in fact have it in their contract of employment that they must publish a certain number each year, often in specific journals.

However these journals are owned by private companies, notably Elsevier, which was the brain child of Robert Maxwell. So in essence we academics use public funds to generate intellectual property that we are then obliged to hand over to a private company, who then charge our own university library a small fortune to be able to access it. In essence we are being contractually obliged to participate in a wealth transfer scam from the public sector into the pockets of media billionaires.

This situation could be solved relatively simply. Either the government just nationalises these firms and makes their data publicly accessible free of charge. Or it puts in place a rule prohibiting uni’s from setting targets for staff based on for-profit journals. This would mean we publish in open access journals more frequently. Faced with the risk that the intellectual property they own would quickly become worthless (scientific data tends to get obsolete pretty quickly), the private publishing houses would then likely be forced to go open access themselves……

Comcast buys Sky, Murdoch on suicide watch

.So why you may ask, aren’t governments trying to move towards open access journals? Well because they don’t want to upset media tycoons like Rupert Murdoch of course. The media is something of a closed shop, a forbidden lawn onto which politicians dare not tread….or the Sun will publish an article calling them gay.

However, in amongst all the other stories recently, a little story slipped through that’s actually of significant importance. For many years now Rupert Murdoch has sought to take full control of UK broadcaster Sky. However, while the UK’s politicians are a spineless lot, they ain’t stupid enough not to see the danger with letting him have full control of all the newspapers and half the TV audience. So they’ve been obstructing that process, although more about going through the motions than any real opposition.

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Well the phone hacking scandal forced those plans to be kicked into the long grass for a while. Brexit provided good cover to resume the process, but the chaos it unleashed slowed things down somewhat. However now at the moment of truth, what’s gone and happened? A rival firm, Comcast, has swooped in and bought Sky right out from under Murdoch’s nose. And if to make matters worse, its CEO while republican, is more of a moderate (read a greedy rich as*hole, but at least one whose vaguely sane). So its likely he’ll start to shift Sky more towards the centre ground of politics, rather than constantly supporting the Tories.

Keep in mind that for much of recent UK politics this has been going on in the background. Murdoch has supported this candidate or that and got his newspapers to sing their praises regardless of how nutty or ludicrous what they were proposing was. He’s more responsible for brexit or Trump than probably anything else. And now suddenly, in no small part thanks to Trump and brexit, he’s been pipped at the finishing post. Well, what goes around, sooner or later, it comes around. Karma can be a bitch!

Not so cool news

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I had a bit of a rant before about Game of Thrones season 7. However my main bone of contention was with I’d call the “cool dude” school of film making, that seems to have taken over. This brand of film making views the plot and the script as secondary and merely a way of stitching together various epilepsy inducing CGI sequences (the point of which seems to be to get the audience to say “this is cool dude”).

The trouble is that this is a style of film making that gets boring very quickly. And as its necessary to throw away much of what makes any particular genre appealing to its fan base, it tends to piss off the fans. A situation not helped by hiring directors or producers whose knowledge of say, star wars/trek is limited to whatever they managed to google while in the cab on the way to the studio.

Well it would appear the wheels are starting to come off. On the back of poor box office and bad reviews several leading actors in the latest Star trek film have quit, reportedly over pay disputes (if the film ain’t making as much they need more of those dollars for the CGI budget, which the actors seem unwilling to accept). Its possible the next star trek film might be cancelled. There’s even a crazy rumour going around that the studio is so desperate they’re going to hand it over to Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Romulans? The hateful Klingons? Vulcan fiction? Kill Kirk?).

Also on their way to the job centre are the actors playing superman, batman and Cpt. America. Meanwhile, the star wars franchise is in such disarray after the Solo movie flop (that was a train wreck you could just see coming!), that it looks like any further movies (bar the ones too far into production to halt) are also going to get canned.

In short, the customer is always right. Piss off your fans, they’ll vote with their feet. I mean I’ve not been to say very many of these movies recently because, to be blunt I’d be as well off shining a strobe light in my eye for two hours.

Ultimately the problem is these major studios have a monopoly on the story lines, nobody else can make a star trek film without the risk of being sued, even though its a genre that’s over fifty years old and its original creator has been dead for twenty years. If you left any other company (cars, laptops, washing machines, etc.) with the exclusive rights to produce a product and they’d never innovate, their products would become increasingly bloated and over priced.

So this is probably one situation where we should let the markets sort it out. Let anyone who wants to make a superhero/sci-fi movie do so. Yes some will be dire and laughably bad (the Russian film Guardians for example), but others might well be much better than anything the mainstream studios can come up with.

Katla is isn’t going to blow….for now!

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If you are a tabloid reader, you might have heard that the Icelandic volcano Katla was about to erupt. For those who don’t know, Katlia is the bigger brother of the big E volcano (I ain’t even going to try and get its spelling right!) that erupted in 2010 and disrupted all of those flights. Well Katla is many times larger (with a Caldera 10km’s across) and it erupts about every 100 years. When was the last eruption? About 100 years ago! So an eruption from Katla would be far worse and could last for much longer (possibly months).

However, before you start digging a shelter or stockpiling food (a sensible idea perhaps, but for other reasons!) no, that’s not what the scientists studying the volcano actually said. In fact they pointed out they could see no signs the volcano was in imminent danger of eruption. The study did reveal a lot more about the potential impact of its eruptions. For example, in one past eruption it created a flash flood with a flow rate the Nile, Mississippi, Amazon, and Yangtze combined.

So while its unlikely to go off tomorrow, the warning is that we probably won’t get a huge amount of warning prior to any future eruption. Which given how disruptive this could be, it would seem to make sense to put in place some contingency plans for how we are going to cope, if say transatlantic flights had to stop for a few months…..so not really something the British have to worry about after March 2019 then!

Weekly Roundup

The country that went out into the cold….

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Meanwhile Cameron was in Norway this week to discuss trade. Of course this also led to some reflecting on how much of what is said by the UKIP brigade about how much better off we’d be outside the EU (like Norway) is basically bolix. Does Norway have less issues with Immigration? Quite the opposite if anything in fact! There’s been a recent trend of migrants and refugee’s using a loophole to simply cycle across the border from Russia and entering Norway legally. And of course Switzerland also has many issues with immigration, indeed the swiss are actually a minority in their own country in some districts.

Does Norway have less trouble with them pesky EU regulations?….actually, no they just rubber stamp and sign up to anything the EU passes, they have no right of veto or even a right to discuss such measures. But it costs them less money than actually being a member? Well marginally, the estimate is the UK would still end up paying 94% of what it currently pays, once the costs of EU inspection and regulation are accounted for (like Norway, we’ll be paying eurocrats to come over and make sure we’re obeying the EU’s trade rules). And once the inevitable drop in GDP (of 3-14%) is accounted for, one assumes that would probably make the country much worse off.

Meanwhile Cameron’s secret “negotiations” with the EU seem to have come a little unstuck, after several EU leaders claimed they still hadn’t a clue what changes he’s actually after….presumably whatever cosmetic changes he can get to hoodwink the tabloids into supporting a Yes vote one assumes.

Also this week the US again reiterated the point that Brexit would invalidate all US trade deals with the country. The UK would therefore need to renegotiate such deals, and its doubtful they’d get the same generous terms as the EU has managed. Now to anyone with half a brain this should be obvious. I’ve pointed this out myself several times and this isn’t even the first time the Americans have said this, nor that they’ve expressed disquiet at the idea of Brexit.

However, Farage and the UKIP bigot brigade in Mr Men land don’t seem to be aware of this. They’ve been working under the delusion (one could draw parallels to some of the SNP’s pre-independence delusions, such as automatically becoming an EU member and keeping the pound) that somehow the US will reward Britain’s efforts to destabilise the NATO alliance and harm transatlantic trade by lavishing gifts on the British.

Farage even went so far to accuse the US official in question of being a paid stooge of some shadowy pro-EU conspiracy. Now ignoring the fact that, as mentioned, this is not the first time the US has pointed this out. There is also a certain hypocrisy given that Farage himself is in the pay of various shadowy hedge fund types who plan to profit from the chaos Brexit will unleash.

The Hungry for power games

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The Hunger for power games in the US continues, with the first two cannon’s of resignation fired. This came in the wake of the democratic debate, where it became evident that this is clearly a two horse race between Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton, leading to two of the trailing candidates dropping out.

Meanwhile, in the GOP debate, an attempt by Jeb Bush to cut Marco Rubio down to size failed rather spectacularly. Donald “only a few million” Trump (he’s been telling a story about how he had to work his way up because his father would only led him “a few million” to get started) has now slipped in the polls and is trailing Ben Carson, a retired brain surgeon…..who constantly looks and sounds like someone who conducted brain surgery on himself. Basically if you think Trump is bad, wait till you hear Ben Carson.

The GOP debate has to stand in stark contrast to the democratic party debate (the only time anyone brought up Benghazi et al, was when Bernie Sanders said he was sick of hearing about Clinton’s “damn e-mails”). Which means that on the plus side, its very likely that after the Republicans have finished knocking chunks out of each other, they is less chance of whoever they put forward getting elected.

Argie hypocrisy

You may recall how the Top Gear team were chased out of Argentina over a number plate that seemed to allude to the Falklands war? Well the Argentinians are reopening the case. Are they going to put on trial the “war veterans(many in there twenties who fought in a war thirty years ago!) who attacked the BBC crew and burnt their cars? No, they are going after Clarkson for altering the number plate as they attempted to flee the country. Needless to say this stinks of hypocrisy. One wonders what Interpol will make of it when they ring up. “What you want us to arrest Clarkson for a minor offence regarding a number plate? Ya, why don’t we arrest him for being an arse in a denim free zone while we’re at it?

The imfamous car sporting the offending number plate, several months prior to filming (indeed this source http://jalopnik.com/more-proof-the-original-offensive-top-gear-license-plat-1644835449 points to DVLA data suggesting its been registered to the offending plate since 1991)

The imfamous car sporting the offending number plate, several months prior to filming (indeed this source points to DVLA data suggesting its been registered to the offending plate since 1991)

Also I don’t think the Argentinians understand how this plays out for neutrals. I mean personally, I can’t fathom why the Brit’s nor the Argie’s want the Islands. There is oil in the seas nearby, yes, but I’d argue this is a separate claim’s issue. But instead the Argentinians constantly choose to come across as them being bonkers mad. Ultimately one is forced to ask the question who should control the Falklands, the nutters who foam at the mouth and scream Malvina’s whenever some mentions the Falklands, or the people who are already there (okay, not very sane either, they seem to have this strange thing for Maggie Thatcher…and sheep!)

Every now and then a retired UK Admiral will pop up and say how its impossible now for the UK to protect the Island thanks to recent spending cuts. However I would argue that the Argentinian behaviour on this issue (not just Top Gear, but their defacto blockade of the Island) has now so alienated neutrals that the fact is, it doesn’t matter. Even if the UK failed to protect the Islands they would likely find their western allies taking the UK’s side. Argentina would face sanctions similar to those Russia’s been hit by, except that Argentina isn’t Russia (no oil) and its economy would quickly collapse. No doubt a US carrier battle group would soon show up to conduct “exercises” (Operation Handball?).

In short the British military won’t have to do anything, it would be just a matter of time before the Argentinians retreated with their tail between their legs. And they would have no one to blame but themselves.

Lording it over

Normally the house of lords is the sort of place you expect to more or less rubber stamp the legislation of a Tory government. However this week instead, they chose to reject Osborne’s attempts to emulate Thatcher’s poll tax by cutting working tax credits.

This is a rare, but entirely justified action by the upper house. The Tories went through the election repeatedly claiming that they won’t touch tax credits, yet blink and they were cutting them within a few months. Obviously if the Tories have now moved so far to the right that a bunch of hereditary rich guy’s think they are going too far, this should serve as a warning of how far they’ve drifted from the centre ground.

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Cameron is now talking about expanding the upper house to stack it with pro-Tory peers. Already the Lords has over 800 peers, even thought the seating capacity of the chamber is closer to at most 400. What’s he going to do, find a few hundred right-wing dwarves? High ho, high ho, its off to cut we go, with a hovel and a pick pig and a racist shit….

While I agree that there is a need for some serious reform of the House of Lords, this means cutting the number of peers and making it more democratically accountable, not stacking it with more old rich guys.

Tampon Tax

Finally, we come to the “Tampon Tax. While pistachio nuts and Jaffa cakes are subject to no VAT (because they are seen to be essentials) tampon’s are instead taxed. If ever you wanted to see evidence of how chauvinistic this government is its this. Presumably its never occurred to Cameron why his wife is always running to the bathroom and a little anxious about once a month or so.

Weekly news roundup

London’s Parliament is falling down
One has to comment on the announcement from the speaker of the house of Commons, John Bercow, that Westminster would need extensive refurbishment. Decades of under investment in the Houses of Parliament, with much patch repairs, has left the building in an dilapidated state. The only solution he claims is either some major work done on the building (perhaps costing as much as £3 billion), possibly necessitating it being closed and parliament moved for sometime. Or perhaps moving Parliament altogether to some sort of new green field site.

There is a certain irony to the vision his comment conjure, of a bunch of out of touch Etonians trying to run the country, while sitting in a crumbling building. Its a bit like the bunker scene, in Downfall where Hitler and his generals move fictitious military units across a map, while every now and then a Russian shell sends a chuck of plaster raining down onto the table.

This inability of parliament to even, quite literally, put its own house in order, highlights the very issues crippling politics. That politicians are too chickshit scared of bad press to make long term decisions for fear that this might make them look bad in the short term.

I would note that the £3 billion option was merely the gourmet expensive option, the speaker mention several less radical ideas. Although these might carry a certain level of risk (the risk being, the problems won’t be fixed and further more expensive work would be needed later). While it would be tempting to move parliament to some other part of the country, such as the North or Midlands, we need to consider past experience with the Scottish or Welsh parliament buildings, both of which saw significant cost overruns.

In Ireland, we’ve faced similar issues with Leinster House. Again, like the UK its an old ageing building. Its gone through various stages of modifications and expansion. And yes, you guessed it, there’s a call for more changes to stop parts of the building falling down. However, anytime the idea of moving parliament to somewhere else in Dublin, or building a new building outside the capital, the cost benefits have always suggested that staying put and paying for the more cost effective option.

Either way, the UK government, whoever wins the next election, is going to have to make some major decisions, even if the result isn’t very popular with others.

Eurovision
The UK’s new entry to the Eurovision song contest, by Electric Velvet (nope, I never heard of them either), has received mixed views. Some seemed to hate it, notably the Guardian, which in a wonderfully nasty column described it as “Nigel Farage’s new ringtone”. The argument goes, that the UK never wins at Eurovision, because the rest of Europe hates us, so why bother.

Well all I can say is that’s bolix. The UK is in joint second place with Sweden, France and (oddly Luxembourg). Ireland, in the lead with seven wins. Britain also has the most second places at 15.

Admittedly the UK’s been through a bit of a dry patch, it being 1997 since the country last won. This is something which I would in part put down to a certain jealousy among European musicians, at the ease at which some tone deaf moron in Britain can get a record contract, just by letting Simon Cowell shout at them on telly. But either way, the old Terry Wogan chestnut that the UK “always looses” isn’t borne out by the statistics.

Indeed I would point out that the objective of Eurovision isn’t to win. Do well and avoid ending up with an embarrassing null pointe at the end of the night yes, but don’t win. As winning means you have to host it the next year, which means for the BBC spending £100 million in license fee money they don’t have on something they don’t want. In some respects those 15 second place finishes should count as the best Eurovision record.

Its a bit like playing golf with some businessmen from Asia who you’re trying to impress. Going out and trying to win, then run around calling everyone loser afterwards will just get you dismissed as an arrogant westerner…who must now, as tradition dictates, buy everyone a round of drinks in the bar afterwards. A better strategy would therefore be to do well, make whoever wins fight pretty hard for it, but lose and lose graciously…then make sure to order a double of that 20 year old Talisker in the bar afterwards! ;D

Take us Irish, with seven wins, including a four in a row. From RTE (Ireland’s state broadcaster) prospective this means we’ve got the worst Eurovision record. Since then, the Irish have been so “committed” to winning we’ve send Dustin the Turkey and Jedward…..twice! We’d probably have someone sing “My lovely horse” every year if we thought we could get away with it. I mean why do you think the Austrian’s submitted that bearded lady last year? Or why Finland sent that rock group dressed as monsters? Obviously in both cases the plan was to send someone who could perform, but they assumed had no chance of actually winning.

In short Eurovision is like a game of beggar thy neighbour, where the goal is to literally beggar you’re European neighbours by making sure they win rather than you! I mean why do you think they are inviting Australia? We need to bring in new suckers punters to keep things going.

So all in all, I’m actually half hoping this band does win, as that would force many critics in the papers to eat humble pie for their earlier criticism. The tabloids would be faced by the conundrum of how can we say everyone in Europe hates us when we’ve got the second best record at eurovision and the BBC would find their plan (if the plan is too make sure they loose) will have backfired…..maybe they could get Clarkson to do it next year.

Gold bugs
Start talking to libertarians and inevitably they’ll start ranting and raving about gold…then silver. They’ll claim that the money in you’re pocket is worth diddly squat and you need to hold you’re wealth in something more tangible instead (what, you mean like a house?).

I’m certainly forced to agree that recent economic policy does lead you to question the long term viability of fiat currencies. But the gold standard was equally fraught with its own problems, hence why it was dropped. Most leading economists, and I’m talking about the sensible ones here, will generally argue that the downsides of the gold standard far outweighs the benefits, particularly when you consider the existing links between the dollar and the price of oil. This was in part what drove the Nixon administration into abandoning the gold standard in the first place.

Anyway, the libertarians have something to cheer about, one country appears ready to reintroduce the gold standard – ISIL! Yes clearly ISIS have listened to all that sound economic advise from Ron Paul and decided to take the logic step….or maybe its because they think bank notes are too modern and given that they have images of people on them, they might count as idolatry.

Either way, now the libertarians know where to move too, they’d like ISIL, lots of nutty religious people running around with guns, they don’t like writing or ancient monuments or any form of science for that matter, everyone drives around in SUV’s, they don’t like Obama there, no socialised health care….actually no healthcare at all in fact. And they like Christians so much, they even hold crucifixions every night ;D

Squeaky boots
You may have heard about the police officer who stopped a 4 year old from riding on the pavement, suggested she should ride on the road (seriously? I saw a four year old riding a bike on a the road I’d probably call the cops before she got herself killed!) and threatened to confiscate the bike leaving the poor kid bawling.

All I can say is, does this cop not have something better to be doing? I mean isn’t there some drug dealer or thieving tax dodging banker he could be arresting instead? My assumption is that this cop probably was having a bad day, dropped his doughnut or something and decided to take it out on a little girl. How very brave, I hope you’re parents are proud.

Then again one cop once complained too me that too many in uniform are all too willing to cruise. Rather than try to chase down dangerous criminals, they instead prefer to harass law abiding citizens instead. Him and his mates (he was a drug cop) would be planning a big bust of “Madman” Mick and his West side gang, they’d ask uniform for backup and they’d suddenly remember they needed to issue some parking tickets on the other side of town. I mean those drug dealer types are dangerous you know, someone should lock them up…oh, wait! Isn’t that our job? :no:

So my view is, find this moron and transfer him to the roughest scummiest ghetto in the whole country (I’m presuming that would be somewhere near Liverpool or Glasgow? :D). Let’s see him go up to a bunch of pipe hitting crack heads and tell them to quit riding on the pavement, see where that gets him.

Last call for Clarkson?
Then there’s Jeremy Clarkson’s suspension. Without issuing judgement before the facts are in (the media seem to be judging him guilty, his fans see him innocent before hearing the evidence), but he is a controversial figure and in these PC times his days working for a state broadcaster, with the government and Mary Whitehouse types to answer too, has always been numbered.

Its worth noting that when the Top Gear team went to set up Fifth Gear on channel 5 he was one of the few not to go, perhaps because exec’s at Five were reluctant to put him on air (a decision they’re probably regretting given all the money the Beeb has made out of Top Gear).

So even if he doesn’t go now, it will happen sooner or later. He’s wealthy enough that he can buy the BBC out and I’m sure he can convince C4, Sky or various internet broadcasters to pick up the show.

More dog whistle politics
Finally we have the latest dog whistling from Farage. He stated in a C4 interview that he would get rid of all discrimination laws, preposterously then claiming his party as being colour blind…well except those members who’ve been caught saying horribly racist things or who are ex-national front!

We can easily refute this one by considering the consequences. Let’s suppose we get rid of all discrimination laws, Farage walks into a pub in Edinburgh or Cardiff and the barman refuses to serve “his kind” pointing to a sign on the wall indicating “no dogs or Englishmen” are welcome. Would he be okay with that? Discrimination doesn’t sound so bad until you’re the victim of it, that’s why we have laws banning it.

Farage later tried to backtrack, claiming his comments were misrepresented (actually the video clearly shows this isn’t the case) that he was merely talking about allowing employers to hire British workers instead of foreign workers.

Well the law does not force employers to hire foreigners, it merely stops an employer refusing to hire someone because they are Black/Asian/Irish/English. If an employer feels that the one British person who applied is the best person for the job (perhaps because he needs someone with local knowledge) he’s entitled to do that. But equally, if he needs someone who appropriate skills and experience and perhaps some foreign language skills (a common requirement in our globalised world), then it would not be unusual for a foreign national to get the job, but keep in mind that many Brits get jobs in other EU countries for this very reason.

As for any suggestion of positive discrimination, do you really want to be an employer and facing a situation where you’ve got some government bureaucrat looking over you’re shoulder every time you advertise for a job, questioning you’re every decision? As I discussed before this is a national socialist policy, not a right wing or free market idea.

Kraftwerk and the rise & fall of industries

The BBC had a programme on the other week charting the rise of German car makers at the same time as the UK’s car industry declined into obscurity. While the UK still makes cars, some 1.3 million of them in fact and there is a substantial industry in the UK that specialises in making individual components for cars (both home and abroad), this has to be compared to where the UK was a few decades ago. By contrast Germany produces 5.9 million vehicles while the Japanese churn out 9.9 million vehicles. Indeed the top selling VW Golf sells 430,000 per year (equivalent to a third of the UK’s entire car production) while Toyota churns out about 120,000 Prius hybrid cars per year (far more cars than any UK manufacturer).

This begs the question, why did the losers in WW2 succeed where the UK failed? How is it that the UK went from being the workshop of the world, to industrial wastelands now inhabited by chav’s and ned’s?

Anyway, in this programme Dominic Sandbrook attempts to answer the question. In part he puts it down to a difference in labour relations. UK car companies tended to be owned by upper class types how tended to have a fractious us v’s them relationship with the working class workers. By contrast in Germany, were union membership rates are higher (indeed in some industrial jobs in Germany union membership is actually compulsory), there is much greater co-operation between unions and the bosses. Both are required by law to meet and consult regularly and work together for the common good of company and workers.

Naturally this meant the Germans lost a lot less time to strikes. However I think Dominic Sandbrook vastly oversimplifies the situation, as it went beyond a few strike days to give the Germans (or the Japanese) the edge.

Part of the secret to the Japanese and Germans success was their willingness to embrace new ideas and technologies. For example one of the key developments in post war Japan was a management technique called Total Quality Management and later a principle called JIT (Just in Time) manufacturing. Both these techniques led Japanese products, which had been a by-word for poor quality and reliability, to become the very opposite (we now associate Japanese products with ultra-reliability and the latest technology). However it required a significant shift in how companies functioned, right from the board room down to the factory floor.

The Germans, once they learnt there was a way to make their factories & products even more efficient and reliable, quickly adopted TQM & JIT. However, the British and ironically the Americans (Edward Deming who had developed TQM was actually and American!) were very slow adopters. In part this was due to management resistance, who didn’t like the idea of an empowered workforce (a key element in TQM & JIT) nor the costs associated with reorganising factories. While the unions heard management say “efficiency” and interpreted it as “half of you’s are sacked” and fought tooth and nail against it.

In terms of technology, when robotic welding was developed (leading to faster and more reliable production as well as more lightweight yet safer vehicles) the Japanese and Germans were again very quick adopters, but the British were very slow, in part due to employee resistance, in part because employers were reluctant to pay the very high capital costs to buy the hardware.

Similarly when modular ship building was developed (rather than building a ship from the keel up, you instead build it modular pieces in a factory which is then assembled into a ship), the Japanese and German yards were quick to implement it while the UK yards were very slow adopters.

Furthermore there was a much greater willingness of German, or Japanese manufacturers to take risks and try out new ideas. For example, legend has it that the Sony Walkman was supposedly dreamt up by an executive at the company wondering if he could listen to music while he was playing golf. This led to a whole new class of portable consumer electronics.

When VW brought out the Golf they were taking a bit of gamble. As they were gambling that people would pay a bit more than the cost of a conventional economy car for something with a decent spec engine and a hatchback boot. As we now know, this gamble paid off and created an entire new market we call the hot hatch, of which the Golf is still one of the best selling examples.

Probably one of the biggest gambles in recent automotive history was the Toyota Prius. While people had talked about hybrid cars for decades and the US government had spent considerable sums on the concept, no manufacturer had taken the plunge. Toyota did and in a big way, spending many billions on the R&D to get the technology right.

Indeed when they first launched the Prius the crucial battery technology was arguably not quite at market level maturity, largely because nobody had ever tried to manufacture and deploy tens of thousands of these types of batteries before. Word around the camp fire is that Toyota lost money (to the tune of several thousand dollars) on every single Prius they sold for the first few years.

However, they capitalised on the knowledge gained and by the time the 2nd generation Prius rolled around they were selling at a substantial profit like hot cakes. And they now have almost every major manufacturer trying to copy them or go beyond the Prius towards fully electric cars.

Meanwhile the US automakers, who stuck with gas guzzlers and (according to some sources) tried to kill more fuel efficient vehicles, have gone bankrupt. Indeed Toyota is now not only the largest car maker in the world, but also the largest car maker within the US (in that they design, build and sell more cars in America for Americans that any other company). And the Germans and their subsidiaries aren’t far behind them.

Of course for every Prius and Walkman we have a Ford Pinto, Minidisc or Betamax. But the point is that German and Japanese companies were prepared to take calculated risks, while UK and American firms became increasingly risk averse, often because they feared the short term consequences of a product bombing and the effect that might have on share prices.

And speaking of share prices, one also has to point to financing as another key reason. German companies tended to develop very close long term relationships with banks and financial institutions. Often the shares in German manufacturing companies are owned by long term investors (such as pension funds) who are looking for steady long term growth. The Japanese tended to form these strange symbiotic relationships with banks and investors creating massive conglomerates, which naturally made sourcing finance for major projects very easy to accomplish. By contrast in the UK, Thatcher’s “Big Bang” led to banks and investors chasing get-rich-quick Ponzi schemes rather than investing in long term growth.

And of course the Euro and Yen currencies played their role. While if you read the Daily Mail, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Euro was a disaster, the reality is it’s been generally a success (the current difficulties in the Eurozone are I would argue a lack of political leadership rather than a fundamental flaw with the single currency). Part of the reason why Germany is able to churn out so many cars is the relative strength of sterling v’s the euro. Indeed even Ireland, despite our difficulties, now has a higher rate of manufacturing (30% of GDP at present, although it was closer to 40% at the peak of the Celtic Tiger) compared to the UK (about 20% but as low as 15% before the 2007 crash).

And finally that brings us to government policy. The German and Japanese governments have never been ashamed to admit to their support for home industries. However its often a case of “tough love” were the state will provide bridging loans, or underwrite financial guarantees as well as academic research support (from research institutes or universities) but rarely will they provide outright subsidies and generally any support is at arm’s length (the German government has little interest in interfering in the day to day running of BMW). By contrast UK government support for the car industry has varied between treating them as a virtual welfare-to-work scheme under labour to outright contempt and economic sabotage under the Tories.

So there are very good reasons why German industry has thrived while UK industry went into decline. As Dominic Sandbrook mentioned (and Top Gear also brought up a couple of weeks back) we still do make a lot of stuff in the UK, it’s just the companies doing it are owned by foreign multinationals (Tata, BMW, GM, NISSAN, etc.). It is of course important to identify these reasons if further declines are to be avoided, something which many policies put forward by the Tories or UKIP could easily lead too.

Driven too Distraction

I’ve recently acquired a car here in the UK and I have to confess there is a case of getting use to the UK’s roads and driving habits.

For example, a Sat-Nav is next to useless in Ireland (as we don’t have postcodes and our road networks been changing so much during the boom, its unlikely to be up-to-date and some of our roads you really don’t want to drive down as there’s no guarantee you’ll ever emerge again!), while in the UK it is essential. In Ireland the road network is reasonably straight forward to navigate by map. Well to us Irish anyway, to tourists maybe not, indeed this is why Ireland has no real proper army as we know that if anyone invades they’ll inevitably get lost, run out of petrol and have to surrender to the local postman ;D.

By I digress! In the UK a working Sat-Nav is an essential item, as there is literally nowhere on the UK road network to pull in and consult a map. And of course any map in the UK just shows you a maze of lines around major towns (the streets inside of course being a network of one-way streets with no-right turns in odd places interconnected by roundabouts 88|), so that’s not much good. Asking for directions isn’t much good either as English people don’t speak to each other – if you’re lucky enough to find someone who is local! So you need to have a Sat-Nav. Indeed it should be part of the UK MOT in my opinion….which means my car is currently failing!

Another thing is driving styles, for example, I see a pot-hole, I’ll try and swerve around it (a practiced skill in rural Irish roads that every Irish driver quickly learns). Obviously, I’ll only do this in a way that doesn’t cause any danger, but Brits seem to react with horror when they see you doing this.

Also parking. In Ireland parallel parking is less common and it wasn’t even part of the test when I did it, so my parking skills are going to need some practice. Indeed I remember once seeing this guy double parked in Kerry (worse all the other cars were perpendicularly parked so he was blocking in about 4 or 5 cars). Along comes a cop, I think oh! Here comes trouble. What does the cop do? Parks next to him and wanders into the pub! That’s Ireland for you!

I love this “passing places” you have on narrow single lane roads. We don’t have those in Ireland despite the fact that single lane roads (well you could call boreens “two lanes” as there’s grass growing down the middle usually!) make up a large part of the Irish rural road network. So how do we Irish get past one another? We just play chicken and drive towards the other driver with out any hesitation or sign that you indent to stop and wait for him to pull over. If he doesn’t (or you’d don’t blink first) they you end up bumper to bumper in a bit of a Mexican standoff while ye work out who is going to reverse and let the other pass (note to tourists, if you’re not local then usually you’re the one who has to give way….that is unless you want an encounter with banjo equipped Irish hill-billies |-|)

Also flashing people with you’re lights and haz-lights. Often in Ireland this is taken as a courtesy signal, e.g. “I’m letting you out don’t just sit there!” or “ta for letting me pass” but the brit’s don’t seem to get that.

Please Signal
And speaking of “flashing lights” I’m not sure if some other drivers realise that they have these little yellow lights on the corner of the car. They are called “indicators” and they are used to inform other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians of your future driving intentions.

It really infuriates me when I see people maneuvering without indicating first, especially when you’re on a bike as this can put you in quite serious danger. When I’ve been in a car with someone who doesn’t signal (such as my dad) his excuse is, oh I only do that when I have too/see someone.

That just winds me up even more, as it suggests to me that anytime I’ve seen some maneuvering without signalling they’ve not seen me. Indeed the whole point of signalling is for the benefit of drivers who you haven’t seen, as well as the rest of us mere mortals who lack the clairvoyant powers to know what you’re planning to do next.

Just so we’re clear the rules of the road, in both Ireland and UK state that “signalling is a declaration of intent. It does not confer right of way”. A lot of drivers seem to think signalling means “get out of my way”. No it doesn’t! If I’m going straight on and you decide to turn right across my path the judge ain’t going to entertain the “but I wz signalling guv’nor” excuse for one minute. I had right of way and was entitled to assume you won’t be stupid enough to swerve in front of me (and again the whole point of signalling and rights of way is defence in depth against accidents, I might have been distracted by the actions of another driver and simply not seen you in time….or swerving around a pot-hole! :>>).

Similarly it would be useful for some motorists, particularly those driving Merc’s, Audi’s or BMW’s, to respect it when other people signal to manoeuvre (it occurs to me that these cars must come with a certificate stating that the driver owns the road, as it could well explain a lot of their behaviour). I almost had a bump coming off the motorway the other month, went to change lanes (left), checked mirrors, signalled left, check my mirror again, started manoeuvring only to hear the horn blaring behind me. It would seem some jack ass in a BMW had come flying down the off ram and decided to undertake me (i.e. I did not seem him because he was sitting in my blind spot when I looked in the mirror the second time) and so no reason to stop.

Now I realise that the with car he was driving (a BMW) brake pedals and indicator lights are sort of optional extras (given that I rarely see BMW drivers using them :))). But he would be well advised to learn that other drivers do use them from time to time. Then again, BMW drivers are, according to the Telegraph the country’s worst and angriest drivers.

And I wonder why car insurance rates are so high!

State of Britain’s Railways, Part 3 – High Speed 2

Speaking of building a better network (see parts one and part two), this brings us to the topic of High Speed 2, which was greenlighted this week by the government http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-16478954 . Now I’m not a huge fan of HS2 myself. I’d rather spend the money upgrading the existing network across larger parts of the country to allow fast, but somewhat slower “high speed” trains. For example, by straightening out the existing track network and upgrading signalling, the Pendolino trains could reach their true top speeds of 250 kmph. Not as fast as HS2, but it could be implemented over much more of the country which would benefit a higher proportion of the population. I’d also look at adapting track to take double-decker trains (to ease congestion), electrification of larger parts of the network and re-opening lines closed down by the Beechings Axe which are now arguably viable again, as is currently been applied to the Waverley line in Scotland.

However, I’m not going to throw the baby out with the bath water while looking a gift horse in the mouth. At this rate, any major investment in the UK railway network is better than the default policy over the last few years of no investment. So all I’ll say is “about bloody time!”

Off course inevitably this project has picked up a few critics. Some are clearly just astroturf’s working on behalf of the airline industry and car lobby. Others are the usual NIMBY brigade…or BANANA’s as they’re more often known these days. Noting my own reservations about HS2, but the arguments against it put forward by this crowd are frankly bonkers and need debunking:

HS2 will cut a swathe right through the Chilterns!
Yes indeed it will…but not nearly as badly as the existing railway line and the two 6 lane motorways (M40 and the M1) a few miles either side of the new line! How many of these naysayers drive cars? I’m guessing most, if not all. A railway line, from an environmental, noise and area usage point of view does a heck of a lot less damage than a motorway, So it is extremely hypocritical of anyone who drives to complain about this new line. Any opponents of HS2 who are true to their convictions, you can send me the keys to your car in SSAE :>>

Furthermore, while to Londoners the Chilterns might be an nice lovely spot, its hardly the prettiest place in the British isles. Compared to Wales, or the Lake District or the highlands in fact the Chilterns are pretty dog ugly. If building a railway line across this landscape is unacceptable, then we may as well go back to the caves, as how then can you justify building a nuclear waste dump under the Lake district, new renewable infrastructure (wind turbines, etc.) in the highlands, and go shale gas drilling in and around Morecambe bay? Such a policy is in fact BANANA’s (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything). Of course most of the opponents of HS2 are the usual Chipping Norton set, who just don’t want a railway line in their backyard (so more Not near my Mansion’s swimming pool!)…after all they commute by Helicopter!

HS2 will cost billions of Taxpayers money!
And how much do we spend per year subsidising the car lobby? A lot more than HS2 will cost me suspects. One also has to consider the economic benefits a railway line will bring. i.e. that it may occur to foreigners that Britain actually isn’t falling behind the rest of the modern world and they’ll invest more money in the countries ailing manufacturing and construction industries. More trade between London and the Midlands means more jobs. And ultimately more trade, jobs and inward investment means higher tax revenue for the government. While again, there’s other things I’d rather spend £17 Billion on, but I’d rather it get spent on something useful. Many of the opponents of HS2 would rather spent it on Caviar and smoked salmon.

HS2 will produce higher carbon emissions!
While this is true, comparing an existing train to a high speed one (if electrified mind!), that is not the case when one compares a HS journey to a flight or journey by car. I refer to this chart from Dr Mc Kay. Although this compares on an energy rather than carbon footprint basis. Also, he only considers “high speed” trains up to a speed limit of 200 kmph. The HS2 trains will go a lot faster, and ultimately use a lot more energy (possibly up to double his estimates). But even so, a casual glance at this graph will show you that the energy costs of a High Speed Train are nowhere near those of a car or plane, i.e. he gives a upper limit for High Speed trains of 9kWh per 100 km’s (probably more like 15-18 kWh for HS2), 68 kWh for a car and 51 kWh for a plane.

Of course this analysis ignores capacity factors (i.e. are we comparing full trains to full cars and full planes, or partially full trains to singly occupied cars?). Incidentally, this is why you will often see such a diverse line of figures on the topic of HS2. I have come across attempts by the HS2 naysayers to portray a HS2 train as worse for emissions than a car….which is true if you compare a fully loaded Prius driven sensibly and slowly to a fraction full train. Of course the reality, a packed train and a singly occupied Mondeo driven above the speed limit, produces a result where a high speed train has about a quarter to a sixth the emissions of a car. Also one needs to consider all the other nasties that come out of the tailpipe of a car, or an aircraft compared to an electric train.

It will run through several sites of special scientific Interest
There are SSSI’s and then there are SSSI’s! You have to understand that essentially anywhere that a guy with a tweet jacket, a grant from a university and a tape measure is doing a study of wildlife can be classified as an SSSI. If I wanted too, Monday morning I could have my back garden declared a SSSI – that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t build on it or I can’t hang up my washing up! Now there are some SSSI that are important and critical, but you need to take each on a case by case basis. And again, we need to balance any environmental negatives for HS2 with the environmental positives (reduced pollution related to transport).

Ticket prices on HS2 will be hugely expensive and it will be the preserve of an elite wealthy few!
Admittedly this is one of the reasons I’d favour spending £17 Billion on something else. But in the interest of fairness, lets put this one to the test. What is the price difference on the current High speed One line London to Folkestone compared to the standard rail rate and how does that compare to prices across the rest of the network?

I just had a play around on a few ticket sales websites and it works out that the ticket price for HS One is around 41-28p per mile about 1.5 times the price on that same line if you opt for a slower “standard” service. Yes, that is a bit pricy, but it’s actually cheaper than the 80p anytime and 40p off-peak prices one would currently pay if going London to Birmingham. So it would seem to me, assuming those prices get transferred over to HS2, then it will not necessarily represent a massive increase in ticket prices. Also, the primary purpose of HS2 is to get trains up north quickly, thus anyone taking a train to say Glasgow, will benefit from the higher speed sprint the train makes through the Midlands. While I’d be the first to argue that rail ticket prices need to come down in Britain (see my past posting for more on that), I don’t see how this “rich elite” argument against HS2 stands up.

We need more local lines for commuters and freight not high speed trains!
Again, this is one of my own arguments against HS2. But I’m sure the supporters of HS2 will counter it by pointing out that by moving the high speed trains to a separate network it will free up space on the track for more commuter trains and freight services. Indeed one of the arguments in favour of HS2, as opposed to my own policy of upgrading existing lines, is that the UK’s current network is under severe strain as it is. Building new lines is the only way to ease congestion on lines, and the West Coast Mine Line is one of the most congested rail routes in the country. Given how much trouble and expense it is in this country to build new railway lines, we may as well build one to the highest standard possible. While I’d still argue my corner on an economics ground (spreading the money evenly around the country), even I have to concede that the HS2 supporters may have a point here.

Summary
So while I’m not giving my unwavering support to HS2, I’m sceptical of its benefits, but as I said at the beginning, lets not throw the baby out with the bathwater!

Bottom Gear

Jeremy Clarkson has gotten a bit of a name for himself attacking all manner of things, from advocating Communist style repression of striking workers that even Joe Stalin would regard as going too far :no:, to insulting disabled people U-(, the families of suicide victims, lorry drivers, caravan’s (welll I can understand that one! they are a strange lot!) and nature lovers. He’s also pissed off the electric car lot by allegedly staging breakdowns of their vehicles |-| (he’s being sued by Tesla motors and Nissan claim to have evidence from a GPS tracker unit that their Leaf electric car was intentionally discharged by driving around a roundabout and the scene of one being pushed was staged).

Now he’s started on Mountaineers, bemoaning the amount of money spend rescuing them each year and the fact that poor prince William is being forced to fly around Snowdon every weekend and pick up commoners :oops:. His arseiness said :lalala::

“But why should I fund the rescue of a rambler?….He or she chose to go out there in the mountains. He or she knew the risks. And I’m sorry but if they fall over and get gangrene, they can’t furtle around in my wallet for assistance.”

Well firstly lets get our facts straight, the key lynch pin of Mountain Rescue is not the helicopters but the many thousands of unpaid volunteers members of Mountain Rescue Teams who co-ordinate searches, ultimately find the people for the helicopter to pick up and as it were do the bulk of the rescuing. They are a shining example of what Jeremy’s buddy Cameron calls “the big society”. And its not just fellow mountaineers that they rescue, but motorists (like Clarkson) whom they helped rescue the previous winters, and on one occasion the crew of an RAF helicopter that actually froze up in mid air during a rescue operation.

Of course if we take Clarkson’s attitude then next time there’s a snow storm you’d best keep a credit card handy :>>. After all those motorists who went out driving in the snow and then had to be rescued by the police/mountain rescue, they “knew the risks” and should obviously be made liable for the cost of their rescue, or drag their frostbitten I-pod deprived kids across the snow for several miles to find help. And how about getting motorists to pay something approaching the true costs of motoring? (about 3 times more than they currently pay!) Or how about a certain idiotic TV presenter who goes by the nickname of “Hamster” who went and nearly killed himself trying to drive a drag racing car and had to be evacuated by air ambulance. Clearly he “knew the risks” and why should my taxes pay for his rescue and treatment? No, if we follow Clarkson’s point of view, his moronic co-presenters should have been forced to carry him while trying to hold his brain damage skull together, to the nearest A&E where a matron should have been waiting for them with a credit card swipe.

There’s also a fallacy here that the RAF/RN helicopter pilots roll their eyes skyward every time they get the call to pluck some rambler off the side of a hill. Actually they are more than happy to do it. Why? Because to them its good training, allowing them and their crew to clock up more of those all important flying hours under challenging conditions (given that rescues are often at night and in bad weather). One of the key things any young aviator needs to do is build up his portfolio of flying hours, as this determines future promotion or the chances of a combat posting (which leads to yet more flying hours in a challenging environment and thus good promotion prospects). It’s no surprise that Prince William has been posted to one of the country’s busiest rescue centres as that will allow him to clock up lots of flying hours very quickly. And at some point they’ll need to promote him to senior rank (as they do to all royals) and to avoid the accusation of “fix” the military will whip out his flying record and show how much flying he’s done under difficult conditions and that its perfectly normal for such persons to be promoted.

Indeed I do note that there seems to be a much stronger willingness of the RAF/RN to commit a helicopter to any rescue in the UK, compared to other countries. So this is good news for everybody; aircrew, mountain rescue, the police, coastguard, those being rescued of course (of which mountaineers are but a tiny fraction). Everybody that is – unless you’re HM Treasury! Who are probably getting a bit sick of all these invoices with the word “rescue” written on top landing on they’re desks. This explains why they want to privatise search and rescue services. Unfortunately as the RAF/RN pilots will still need to train (else you’ll end up with a lack of experienced aircrews and the same Troy lot crying about search and rescue costs will be moaning about how the Irish aircorps have more experience pilots than the UK). So it will just mean two sets of slightly smaller bills landing on the treasury’s desk, one labelled “training” the other “rescue”. My suspicion is that when you add them up, they’ll work out higher than the current status quo, so it’s a false economy.

The fact of the matter is that we all do risky things from time to time. Often the most dangerous time of the day for a mountaineer can be the drive to the foot of the mountain. Do you have any idea how many car accidents and fatalities there are on the roads each year? And what about the pedestrians and cyclists who motorists knocked down? A range of figures comparing different statistics for sports (against other activities) can be found here and here. As you can see they both rate mountaineering (and even rock climbing) with a accident/fatality risk well below other sports such as soccer, watersports or motorsports (these three vive for top place depending on how you do you’re counting) or indeed other activities such as driving in general. Even on a per capita basis (i.e. taking into account that so few people climb against the many more who play football) mountaineering still only rates as “moderately” risk (i.e. less risky that driving!).

Oddly enough this link from America puts cheerleading on top 88| for danger….I’m afraid to ask if that includes the risk of STD’s :no:! Never understood the point of cheerleading other than a form of soft porn…or is American football really that bad :yawn: that fans need some distraction to pass the time!…but I digress!

It’s actually the people who don’t go out and do any exercise on a weekend that have me worried…such as overweight smokers like Clarkson :crazy: himself. We have an obesity epidemic in this country, with rates of diabetes and heart disease soaring. And do you have any idea of how much it costs NHS to treat hundred’s of thousands of these people each year? A lot more than we spend on mountain rescue I think! Indeed I used to know a Pakistani bone setter and he preferred to work weekends (so he could skip the Friday night graveyard shift and not have to deal with drunks). Inevitably most of his “customers” would be people involved in sporting activities who’d “over excreted” themselves or others who injured themselves doing DIY over the weekend. As he pointed out you were better off taking the risk of seeing him on Saturday afternoon, than seeing Dr Brooks in heart surgery on Monday morning, particularly as about 1 in 12 of heart surgery patients don’t last a year! Then again Clarkson would say that they “know the risks” and presumably should be just pushed in a corner and left to fend for themselves (with a donner kebab one assumes), himself included!

So we need to look at the bigger picture here, mountaineering might be risky and yes it might have certain costs to society, but such risks (and costs) must be seen in the context of many other activities we regularly engage in that are even more risky (and costly), such as driving…or eating big macs!…or how about having “affairs”? Can’t talk much about the last one as I think there’s still a super-injunction out >:XX (so I’ve just guaranteed you’ll all go to Google and type in “Clarkson AND super injunction”).

But if we take Clarkson’s attitude, i.e. that mountaineering is an unacceptably dangerous risk that society cannot bare the cost of, well we’d best ban driving then too, and all water sports, jogging, cycling (then again the biggest hazard to the last two is cars so maybe they can stay), smoking, cheerleading (actually that doesn’t sound like a bad idea), DIY, football, Rugby (not that I’m volunteering to tell the players mind, we’ll leave that to the cheerleaders :))), big mac’s and nihilistic womanizing TV presenters. Indeed why don’t we just replace the country’s flag with a hammer and sickle…on a denim background!