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!