News roundup

Do panic

A few months back the brexiters complained that they wanted the Royal Mail to celebrate brexit by issuing stamps to mark the occasion. Well RM seem to have met them half way by issuing a set of “Dad’s Army” stamps. Clearly someone at RM is trolling the brexiters.

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Inevitably perhaps, others have been creating their own versions of potential brexit stamps.

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Our Brexit, hallowed be thy name

Meanwhile, back in the mad house, Saint Theresa of Maidenhead May suggested that an extra £20 billion would be available after brexit for the NHS thanks to the “brexit dividend.

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This was met with incredulity by many. At the time of the referendum when they made similar claims, it was pointed out that the UK only really spends about £8 billion on its EU membership, once farm subsidies, rebates, research funding, structural funds and other things Brussels pays for are taken into account. Of course the implication would be that, much as I warned might happen prior to the referendum, this could indicate that the Tories do not plan to pick up the tab for these bills. Farm subsidies will end in March 2019, the fishermen and deprived communities in Wales, Scotland and Cornwall will see their lifeline cut off and universities will see research budgets slashed, with a knock effect to the many high tech start ups who depend on that research funding to get them off the ground.

And there’s the not so small matter that the UK will be stuck, not with a brexit dividend, but a brexit deficit. There’s the exit bill the UK will need to pay, £40-50 billion net (depending on rebates and currency exchange differences, since its calculated in euro’s). And then there’s the economic cost of undertaking brexit (about 3-7% of GDP, best guess £72 billion).

Plus, what do you think the EU does with all of that cash? They spend it on hiring civil servants to administer all the EU regulations, that May is trying to squeeze into UK law. It was improper regulation on the British end that led to the Grenfell tower fire. In China, there’s a controversy over baby formula, leading to shelves being emptied in Australia because some mum’s don’t trust the Chinese stuff anymore. So regulations are something you neglect at your peril. And the three immediate areas that will need tackling are nuclear materials, medicines and food safety…..so no pressure then! And in any event the conditions of any trade deal, be it with the EU or other parties, will need to include a budget to account for paying for the regulation of that deal.

In short, never has a UK Prime Minster said something so inaccurate since Lord North told parliament that the Americans loved being part of the UK so much, they’d happily pay a bit more for tea. But as I’ve said before, brexit is now the state religion of the UK.

While May, perhaps sensing what she was implying, did backtrack and mubble something about a tax rise to pay for the extra money until the (non-existent) dividend kicks in. But even this is worrying. Basically what she said was that the Tory party is abandoning its manifesto and sacrificing it on the altar of brexit. And while more money for the NHS isn’t a bad thing, its almost certain that this new tax burden will fall on the middle and low income earners (this is the Tories after all, which is more likely, they give up smoked salmon once a week to pay for hospitals, or they get the plebs to pick up the tab?).

Brexit is now to the UK what Juche is to North Korea. The excuse upon which anything can be sold. A tax rise? Its for brexit (but don’t worry we’ll pay you back later). An end to farm subsidies? Privatise the NHS? Strip workers of their right to strike? Its all to make sure brexit works!

Of course the problem with this attitude is it means they just can’t understand why for example Rolls Royce or JLR would suddenly want to move thousands of jobs out of the glorious thousand year reich British empire mark II (because they are companies with shareholders perhaps?). Nor can they understand why the EU are being such assholes and threatening to cut the UK off from intelligence data and the European arrest warrant (because they have this thing in Europe called “rights” and “laws” and the UK will join Belarus and Kazakhstan as the only non-signatory to the ECHR). In other words, they are blind to the consequences of their actions. Like the suicide pilots flying their plane into the world trade centre they cannot see the obvious insanity of what they are doing and genuinely think they’ll be going to a better place.

Lock em up….by which we mean the kids

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In between picking fights with China, Trump has been busy locking up kids in cages after tearing them out of their the parents arms (what’s the bet he’ll put Roy Moore in charge!). Conditions at the facility where the kids are detained, referred to as the dog kennel, are described as inhumane and equivalent to a prison. Experts warn of the emotional scaring this will inflict. Parallels have been made to concentration camps and the detention of Japanese Americans during world II.

The day you know you’re living in a fascist state is the day you hear your justice secretary (soon to be named ministry for state security) deny he’s running concentration camps. The irony is one of the justifications of the Alex Jones mob for opposing Obama was that he was black was planning to set up FEMA concentration camps.

Oh, and for good measure the US is quitting the UN human rights council. Because clearly the words “human rights” and “America” should not be sharing the same sentence right now, even Trump can figure that one out.

Let’s be clear if you voted for Trump (or voted for a third party in a swing state, which is basically the same thing under the US system) then this is what you voted for. And frankly it shouldn’t surprise anybody, its exactly what was warned would happen if Trump was elected. At least now when reading the history books and you wonder, how could the Germans vote for Hitler, well now you know how and why. And part of the reason why international pressure failed to contain him, wasn’t because Neville Chamberlain was a weak and naïve leader. It was because he was leading a divided Britain, which had more than a few (Daily Mail reading) fascists of its own, who couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about.

Trump, upon realising that this might not look so well, immediately tried to dodge responsibility, blaming the democrats, the immigrants themselves and pretty much anyone else he could think of. Its worth noting that something similar played out during the holocaust, the Yugoslav civil war and the Rwandan genocide, in which often those in senior roles were separated from the actual atrocities and generally tried to avoid taking responsibility for such things, leaving it to a handful of fanatical racist nut cases to do the dirty deeds. This of course made it so much easier to order more of the same and treat as mere bureaucratic exercise. Forget the lessons of history and they will repeat themselves.

The really big short

Trump’s tariff policy has sent stock markets crashing to the point where all of this years gains have been wiped out. And the main losers won’t be in Wall street, they’ll be ma and pa firms across the US, as well as many ordinary Americans who are about to see their living costs rise in response to these tariffs (you’ll be paying them, not the Chinese). It sounds like typical Trump. He’s not doing it because he thinks its a good idea, its an action driven purely by ego…..

Or is it? Given that Trump has not actually fully separated himself from his businesses (which is illegal btw), we need to consider the possibility that he’s colluding with others, and doing a little bit of insider trading. Its possible to profit from a falling market by shorting the market. If you can correctly guess that the stock of a particular company is going to fall, you can bet on the share price declining (by borrowing shares, selling them at a high price and then buying them back later after the price has fallen).

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However, shorting is a risky business. Its the equivalent of betting that Brazil or Germany were going to lose their opening matches. Now while this will happen occasionally (as indeed happened to Germany….guess they won’t be eating Taco’s for a while!), but the odds are you’ll be wrong more often than you are right. And to make matters worse its possible with short selling to lose more than your original investment if the market moves against you. Hence most traders will often hedge their bets (basically bet both ways, but slightly bet higher one particular way). This reduces the risk, but also the profit margin.

Of course if you have access to insider information, e.g. you are the president and you know there’s a big tax cut coming, or you’re going to impose tariff’s on the EU, then change your mind and then impose them anyway. A trader with advanced knowledge of this could easily adopt short positions and profit considerably from this.

But, not only is it illegal for a president to be in any way linked to these sorts of deals, but insider trading is also illegal and for good reason. Because if you get it wrong (and markets can be difficult to predict, even if you have access to insider information) things can go from bad to catastrophic pretty quickly. Consider how rogue trader Nick Leeson managed to lose over £800 million, wiping out Barings bank.

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Indeed one has to look at Trump’s real estate losses in a new light. People laugh and say oh Trump is such a loser he can lose money running a casino. How can you do that? I mean people literally walk into a casino and hand over their money!

Well, not if your running a casino skim operation. Its possibly that Trump, under pressure from his mob connections, was deliberately running the joint into the ground. Its just they miscalculated. Normally you skim just a little off the top, but not enough anyone will notice, nor that might risk bringing down the racket. But Trump was such a balloon head, or he and his co-conspirators just got too greedy, they managed to bleed the place dry. Which doesn’t bode well if this same lot are at the helm of the US economy.

Enabling fascism

Speaking of fascists, in Italy the populist horseshoe government is split because one of their leaders, looking to emulate Trump, wants to build his own concentration camps….sorry I mean happy camps (I’m sure they’ll come up with a more PC name!). He also wants to count Roma gypsies and presumably make them go around with little stars on them, I mean nothing bad ever happened from doing that. He’s also suggested that an anti-mafia journalist, who criticised him should have his police protection removed.

This has all come as a bit of a shock to a number of 5S voters. But what should it? You enabled a bunch of fascists and helped them into power, now they are enacting fascist policies. What did you think was going to happen? They were going to go door to door handing out milk and cookies?

Its possible that this might bring down the horseshoe government a little earlier than was expected. Which I’d consider a good thing…..if it weren’t for opinion polls suggesting a likely win for the Northern League and Forza Italia (Mr Bunga Bunga’s outfit).

The Glasgow school of art fire

In Scotland the Glasgow School of art burnt down. Designed by Rennie Mackintosh, the Mac, is to Glasgow what the Casa Mila is to Barcelona. This fire occurred just four years after another fire, which destroyed the college library, which was in the process of being rebuilt. Incidentally, lost in the story about the art school fire, was the fact that another important building, the neighbouring ABC theatre, had also burnt down after the fire spread to it.

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Two fires in the space of four years is more than bad luck. Clearly there’s something up with the building in terms of fire safety. My understanding is the contractors for the restoration after the previous fire were on site, so they’ll have some questions to answer.

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The library of the Glasgow school of art, prior to the fire in 2014

But clearly there’s some issues with fire safety that needs to be addressed. And this is not just a problem for the school of art. There’s been several large fires in older buildings in Glasgow and the basic problem is, they ain’t up to current fire codes and need to be modified accordingly. This article discusses some of the issues, although in the context of post-war era buildings, but much of the same policy should be applied to Victorian and Edwardian era buildings. E.g. fitting external fire escapes (as in New York) and sprinklers, fire resistant barriers, etc.

Meanwhile the question now being asked is whether the art school can be rebuilt. Some suggest it might not be feasible, others feel it is possible. We’ll have to see. There will inevitably be a strong desire from the art community and the Scottish government to rebuild it, but some polls suggest there might be opposition from the public, if it costs too much money.

For the moment, given that its basically now a burnt out shell, the best that can be hoped for is facade retention. Which would have to be undertaken quickly, given that its on a hill and exposed to the winds (it probably won’t survive the winter in its current state). Even then if the building were rebuilt, you’d be rebuilding everything inside that retained facade. And as noted, you’d have to modify the design to account for modern fire codes, which would require considerable modification from the original. So it would be more of a replica, rather than the real thing.

The thinking wing nut’s troll

The Toronto academic Jordan Paterson has been in the news recently, largely thanks to an encounter on Channel 4 news earlier this year, which has made him something of an intellectual hero for the alt-right. However, in truth he’s just a slight better inform right wing troll, who engages in many of their same tactics (gish gallop’s, contrarian arguments, weasel words, etc.)

Take this example where he attempts to argue that much as the right is basically anti-liberalism ID politics (his alt-right followers only hearing what they want to hear will have no doubt filtered that out) that the left is basically the same. That many on the left for example only support social welfare programs that they’ll never benefit from due to a similar commitment towards ID politics.

This position combines a number of contrarian arguments based on a falsehoods. It relies on the myth that working class people tend to vote conservative, and its the “champagne socialists” who vote for left wing parties. However, data from both the last UK election and US elections show that those who are working class tend to vote for left wing parties. When those on right try to claim the opposite, they are often forced to use weasel words statements (e.g. focus on white men over 40 in specific states).

But certainly it is true that a certain portion of those on higher incomes do vote for left wing causes. As I happen to be one of those, although real ale socialist would be more accurate, I can tell Mr Patterson my views have nothing to do with ID politics. Its because I understand that I might end up needing that social welfare safety net myself someday. No matter how hard working you are, or how well paid, all it takes is one accident, cancer diagnosis, bankruptcy of your employer or misadventure and suddenly you’re in a world of trouble.

For example (and this is just one of many examples I could give), I know a guy back in Ireland, hard worker, used to lead scouting groups, took a fall at work one day. He seemed to be fine after a few days, but as the months and years passed he developed ever worse back problems (not unusual for these to take time to surface) and eventually he had to give up work. Now if we take the right at its word, he should be dragged to the side of the street and left to die just because he had the misfortune to have an accident that wasn’t his fault (should you wonder why he hasn’t sued, his employer went bust during the crash and it was only a small building firm anyway, there won’t have been any money to sue for).

That’s all it takes to ruin your income. I wonder if Mr Paterson has paused to consider what would happen to him if he, or one of his relatives, were to fall ill and need expensive medical treatment, which his HMO wasn’t willing to cover (pre-existing conditions and all that). In fact I know of a lecturer who found himself in this very situation. A relative got ill and he had to drop everything, give up his well paid job and fly home to Pakistan. Now while last I heard he’d gotten a part time job over there, but I’m going to hazard a guess its paid a lot less than a lecturing post in the UK. And given his likely outgoings I suspect he’s probably only just about managing. Voting in favour of social welfare is not ID politics, its basic common sense.

Indeed perhaps more the question is why is it that some, notably those over 40’s blue collar workers don’t vote for left wing parties. I would argue that this stems from a long instilled ideology of rugged individualism (you’re considered less of a man if you ask for help), as well as the usual right wing lies and propaganda. And more crucially this tendency does tend to be growing (while those on lower income tended to vote overwhelmingly for left wing candidates by at least 80/20, now its closer to 60/40). So its more a sign of desperation and frustration than meaning an increase in support for the politics of the right. Which perhaps isn’t surprising given how the right doesn’t really have a political philosophy anymore, other than “anti-liberalism”.

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The calm rational logic of Trump voters

But either way, the only real difference between Mr Paterson and Alex Jones (and they are both believers in the paranormal, living on wing nut welfare, which kind of makes his point regard social welfare more than a little hypocritical), is that Paterson knows how not to look and sound like a nut, even when he’s saying pretty crazy things.

The Wakanda conundrum

I came across an interesting little video on youtube, which discuss the Wakanda conundrum. For those who didn’t see the movies (Black Panther, age of infinity), or don’t read comic books, Wakanda is a small yet highly advanced African country which has kept itself hidden from the world for many centuries (for reasons we won’t get into right now). It owes its formation to the arrival of a meteorite from space made of a strange and nearly indestructible metal. As a result its now extremely wealthy and century’s ahead of the rest of the world technologically.

So what’s the problem? Well there’s simply no way such a society could exist. No matter how valuable this resource is, without trading with the outside world (and thus sharing ideas and technology) they’d struggle to figure out how to exploit it. And without trading this resource, they’d never be able to earn any cash from it and thus never be able to buy in the stuff they’d need to exploit the resource and develop their economy. In short the economic policy of Wakanda is basically the same as that of North Korea, and they ain’t exactly the richest country in the world, nor the most advanced (I’m sure Trump would tell you differently tho!).

And speaking of which, the government of Wakanda is an absolute monarchy, with kings picked by barbaric fights (okay, if you’ve ever seen a bunch of politicians fighting over whose in charge, its not that much different maybe). The problem with such a system is all it takes is one bad king to ruin everything. And essentially, that’s the plot of the Black Panther film, but they ignore the consequences of that.

Then there’s the matter of the so-called “resource curse”, which means that small countries with valuable resources can sometimes end up worse off than countries without any. While this doesn’t apply in every situation, Iceland and Norway or Bahrain, for example. But generally countries tend to only avoid the resource curse so long as they’ve got open borders, good trade and a reasonably free society and competent government. Inevitably Wakanda would hit the buffers sooner or later and descent into a corrupt, autocratic mess.

And the other problem with having resources is it tends to draw attention to you. African dictators surrounding Wakanda, not to mention western colonists (notably the Belgians), would soon learn of it and be very quick to swoop in and try to take over the country. And given how in the last film the Wakandian army got the snot kicked out of them by a large pack of dogs, I doubt they’d be able to hold off an invasion, regardless of how advanced their technology.

Uber scooters

A number of silicon valley based firms have begun to set up dockless bike and scooter hire schemes. The logic is, rather than the traditional bike hire schemes, where bikes are picked up and dropped off at designated spots (which can mean trucks rolling around transporting bikes from docking station to docking station). Instead, the system is more free flowing. You pick up the bikes wherever you find one (a mobile phone app directs you to the nearest one) and then leave it wherever you are when you’re finished. Simple!

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So what’s the problem? Well many of these schemes are being set up by companies without the support of local governments and councils. This is causing all sorts of problems, from people riding bikes and electric scooters on pavements, then abandoning them in the middle of the pavement, where they represent a trip hazard, particularly for blind people.

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I think this is a good idea that needs to be developed more, indeed I’d be curious to see if its possible to marry this idea with current car sharing schemes. However, clearly there needs to be some sort of regulation. Frankly the operators of these schemes are lucky councils didn’t just classify all of their scooters as litter and bin them (then fine the company for waste disposal), which is actually what happened in China. No doubt these rules would specify where the bikes and scooters could be used and that where they can be left (if not at designated docking points, then off the pavement and parked neatly). Presumably a system of fines imposed (and/or penalty points) on those who break the rules might bring some discipline to the situation. So it would be a good idea for these firms to start working with local authorities, rather than trying to go the whole uber.

So long and thanks for all the fish

The one shining reason for brexit we were told was the fish. The fish, dear god will someone think of the fish! Those poor fishermen, Farage said as he cried crocodile tears. Well, aside from the fact that this ignored the realities of how trade deals work, and that the Tories have already screwed the fishermen over, there’s a more specific problem – the fish are moving.

As a result of climate change North sea cod and north Atlantic cod are migrating northward out of UK waters and into Scandinavian waters. You would think the Scandinavians would be delighted about this, but they aren’t. Their preferred fish is the Arctic cod and the increasing presence of North Atlantic cod is not only making fishing difficult for them, but threatens the long term viability of their industry. While I’m not much of a fish eater, I’m told by those who do that there’s a distinct difference in taste between the two types and that as a result, the Arctic cod is considered a more valuable product. So you can see the problem. Its issues like this that underline the need for action on climate change.

One possible temporary fix would be for the Faroese, Greenland, Norwegian and Icelandic governments to agree to let EU boats into their waters (for a fee of course) to catch the North Atlantic cod and basically take em back down south. Of course given that the UK is leaving the EU, its inevitable we’ll be cut out of any such deal. Given that all are part of the single market, its going to make a lot more sense to deal with the EU than the UK. So it looks like the UK isn’t even going to get a smoked kipper out of post-brexit fishing deals.

Free range parenting

I got into a discussion on another blog recently about how parents are becoming increasingly controlling of their kids, so called helicopter parenting, and how this wasn’t a good idea. Well now its official. A study from America suggests that overly controlling parents can lead to behaviour problems.

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I’d argue the problems go much further. We end up with students in university, who are used to having every little obstacle swept out of their way and thus haven’t learnt how to strike a work life balance or think for themselves. Its long been my observation, as both a student and a lecturer, that students from the strictest parenting background tend to be the ones who become complete tear away’s in uni.

They’ll show up in the first week of term dressed like a Mormon, or in full islamic dress, but by the end of the first semester they’re complete party animals (for whom breakfast consists of peeling last night’s pizza off their face before eating it), who start missing classes and falling behind. By contrast those from more “liberal” backgrounds (who’ve already learnt how to manage their time and say no to a night out) are able to maintain focus. And they tend to be the ones more likely to drop out, not least because it can sometimes turn out that their parents picked the course and uni for them, which turned out to be something (or somewhere) they didn’t want to study.

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In contrast to this is so-called free range parenting. Rather than for example, walking the kids to school, parents take the view, well he/she knows what time classes start, they know how to get there, so its the kids responsibility to get up on time and get there. If they don’t, its going to be a steep learning curve. While there are merits to this, there are problems with it, not least of possible legal issues.

But my view is that parents need to think of the long term impact of what they are doing. While you have to have some rules and boundaries with kids, if you don’t give them some level of independence, they’ll never learn it. Then you are stuck with them living at home and you have to get them evicted. Birds won’t leave the nest if they don’t learn how to fly.

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News roundup

Windrush amnesty

The Tories have been distracted from the brexit trainwreck, by a scandal involving the Windrush generation. These were immigrants, most from the Caribbean, who were invited to come to the UK in the 1950’s. Unfortunately, many got caught up in the so-called hostile environment” set up by Theresa May (as Home Secretary at the time) to help appease the bigot brigade.

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And its not just the Windrush who’ve been effected. With box ticking officials chasing targets, people from other commonwealth countries (such as Canada) also suffered under this “hostile environment”, losing access to health care, their jobs, pensions, being unable to leave the country (for fear they’d be denied re-entry permission) or even deported. And its now feared that EU citizens too could face similar problems after the UK leaves the EU.

Naturally this has left the Tories in full back pedal mode. After first denying everything, they’ve now been forced to apologise. Amber Rudd, the embattled (former) Home Secretary had suggested she’ll grant UK citizenship to all of the Windrush and anyone else from Commonwealth countries whose been previously resident in the UK. Boris Johnson went further, suggesting a general immigration amnesty open to all.

This scandal is problematic for the Tories for various reasons. Amber Rudd for example, was a dead woman walking long before she resigned. Given that her’s is an extremely marginal seat (she only got in last election by a few hundred votes), I won’t be surprised if she doesn’t stand next election. The only reason she hung around was because she was being used as a meat shield by Theresa May. Boris Johnson’s reaction is not surprising, he’s in a London seat and given London’s ethnic diversity, this scandal could easily prove fatal to his political career as well. So its possible this scandal could claim a number of further scalps, one of which could be Theresa May, as she is now one degree of separation from this scandal.

However the trouble for the Tories is, they’re now suggesting they’re going to give tens of millions the right to settle in the UK, no questions asked. Rudd’s replacement (in between striking power poses) has suggested he will even roll back existing immigration controls. And the EU is either going to insist on similar conditions for EU citizens. Or by setting a legal precedence, EU citizens will be able to win such rights in court.

So explain to me how you plan to cut net migration down to the “tens of thousands” when half the planet has the right to come to the UK and bypass any checks you bring in post-brexit?

Immigration is not a side issue for the Tories. They can’t ignore it. There’s been various attempts at historical revisionism regarding the brexit vote. Liam Fox will have you believe its because people wanted the UK to become a free trading empire again. Which is at odds with the fact that it will lose access to many trade agreements upon brexit. Corbyn claims it was a vote for his socialist worker’s paradise. Well, no the number one reason for voting leave was immigration. Of the dozen or so I know who voted leave this was the case for all but two of them (who are both now reconsidering their decision, given that they’ve begun to realise the horrible implications of future immigration controls on, amongst other things, free trade).

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And recall, the whole reason why the right have long banged the drum against immigration and the EU, is that this is how they exert control. Scaring people witless with half truths and misrepresentations. They can hardly turn around now and say, bollix to that, if we stop immigration whose going to tarmac my drive? This is exactly the whole reason why the Tories can’t agree a coherent policy on brexit. Any sensible plan would be at odds with the fantasy they’ve sold their voters over the last few decades. And similarly their immigration plans will only work, as currently proposed, if they can stop the bigot brigade from reading any immigration statistics.

Which is why I would take these promises from the Tories with a pinch of salt. My guess is, once the news cycle has moved on, they’ll renege on these promises and the “hostile environment” against migrants will not only continue but be extended to other nationalities.

Where no brexiter’s have gone before

The problem with brexit is that the Tories won’t except reality. Every time a new obstacle or problem is highlighted they either ignore it, or concoct some fantasy solution that clearly won’t actually work.

Case in point, the EU has indicated that post-brexit the UK will be excluded from certain secure aspects of its flagship Galileo programme. This is the EU’s answer to the American and Russian GPS systems. Both are technically military projects, so in theory they could turn off the signal tomorrow if either superpower chose to do so.

However, the EU says its system will be predominantly a civilian system, which they will not turn off, save certain emergencies. Its these aspects of Galileo that the UK risks losing access too. For the UK military, reliance on American GPS signals has long been a bit of a sticking point. The UK nuclear deterrent depends on American GPS signals (and US build and serviced rockets), so in theory this give the US a defacto veto over the UK’s use of its deterrent.

And the Tories response to this? Oh, we’ll just set up our own GPS system. WTF! Firstly that would take the best part of a decade to do and cost a good few billion in development costs. And that’s just the costs of getting the satellites designed and built. There’s the small matter of how do you launch them. The UK has no launch vehicles and has not attempted to build such a thing since the 1970’s. The UK is literally decades behind North Korea when it comes to rocket technology.

Furthermore, the UK mainland is a poor location from which to launch a satellite. These are best launched from equatorial locations (hence why the EU operates out of French Guiana), ideally well away from any major population centres (almost any track out of the UK by a rocket will come dangerously close to major cities). So the UK would need to partner up with someone else, likely the Australians. However they might be reluctant to involve themselves in an ostensibly military project (thus risking retaliation in the event the UK is drawn into a conflict). And besides, they can just pay the EU an annual fee and get access to Galileo for a fraction of the cost.

Can’t the UK just ask that nice Mr Musk to launch them for him? Well A) An order for 30 satellite launches is a pretty tall order, it would take some time for him to be able to do that. B) he’s a business man and will quickly tire of the brexiters antics, likely he’ll demand a large pile of cash up front. And more importantly C) the US military has essentially a veto over any launches he undertakes which might have military implications. As noted the US won’t want to lose its defacto veto over the UK’s nuclear arsenal.

Keep in mind that if any country sees a Trident missile coming towards them they have no way of telling if its a UK or American launched missile. They will likely respond by retaliating against both countries. So the US has good reason to want to maintain this veto. As the UK might well soon learn, its special relationship might not be long for this world.

The Trump/Macron bromance

And speaking of which, Marcon, “the Trump whisperer”, spent last weekend schmoozing Trump. Trump even went so far as to suggest this was the start of a new special relationship, which will have had Whitehall officials spitting in their tea cups.

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Now granted, its possible Macron and Trump will have a falling out over something (likely because Macron got creme brulee and Trump didn’t). As he laid out in his speech he represents everything Trump is not. But the mere fact that he and Trump are on speaking terms, proves one of the points I’ve long made about brexit. The UK had, from the American point of view, one job and one job only. To be America’s ally within the EU. With the UK leaving, the US must cultivate a new ally and clearly France is one of the more likely candidates.

And if the UK thinks things are bad now, this is as good as it gets. Once Trump is out of the way, regardless of who is in charge, its likely to get a lot worse. Members of both parties have made it clear that any future trade deal will require the UK to make some significant concessions (as in get rid of Scotch whiskey, Cornish pasties, bans on GM foods, Chlorine washed chicken and opening up the NHS to competition). And that’s assuming they even give the UK the time of day.

Calm Canadian justice

One question that came out of the tragic events in Toronto last week is, how is the suspect still alive? How is it he didn’t die in a hail of bullets? In the US people have gotten shot for so much as talking to the police or touching a police car. I mean I know the Canadians are very polite, but I’m assuming that cop’s are allowed to shoot someone without using the word “please” first (in fact come to thing of it, the suspect asked to be shot but didn’t use the magic word).

Well as I mentioned in a prior post, cops in the US are a lot more on edge, largely because of the unregulated nature of gun ownership in the US. This is not to say that Canadians don’t have access to firearms. As this video from Vice news discusses it is certainly possible to buy guns in Canada. Its just they make sure you know what you are doing first and that you aren’t a raving nutter (or a criminal). Go into a Canadian gunstore and ask to buy their deadliest gun and they’ll likely throw you out (while in the US they’ll sell you whatever you want, no questions asked).

As a result, Canadian police aren’t at the same level of risk as American police, and are trained to approach such situations differently. The worst thing you can do with a suicide attacker is give him what he wants. That what we call “letting the terrorists win”.

Churchill’s buzzsaw

Speaking of guns, I mentioned before how some 2nd amendment types in the US are trying to use 3D printers to circumvent gun laws. Their logic is that if the gov’mint “comes for their guns” they’ll just defy the law and make their own ones.

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Well it was pointed out to me recently that they ought to read a history book (then again reading isn’t exactly a known strong point of gun nuts). Home made guns have long been used by criminals. And in 1940, still recovering from massive equipment losses at Dunkirk, the British even took it a stage further. The Sten gun, was designed to be simple to manufacture in lots of smaller workshops around the country, using just basic machine tools, thus freeing up the bulk of arms factories for other projects. And they were produced by the hundreds of thousands. The Sten was extensively used by insurgent groups, who maintained them in back alley workshops across occupied Europe.

So given that assault weapons were banned in 1994, why aren’t these NRA types running off and building Sten guns? Well possibly because they’ve googled the terms “Sten gun” and “reliability”. As with any improvised weapon, the Sten was notoriously unreliable (prone to jam at the wrong moment while also being prone to accidentally discharge!). Indeed, the very fact they were built in such large quantities should tell you just how desperate the UK was during this period. And of course 3D printed guns have also been shown to be very unreliable. So much so, you’d be as well off throwing the 3D printer at someone!

Also, trying to circumvent the current assault weapon’s ban is illegal, as it will be illegal to circumvent any future bans on, say, semi-automatic weapons, large capacity magazines or a gun register. The ATF can arrest you simply for trying to build such a weapon, nevermind actually getting one working. And your 2nd amendment rights ain’t going to protect you from a big guy called Bubba in the prison showers.

Hand it all back

Trump and his supporters want to end immigration and stop anyone else coming into the US. What they don’t seem to understand is that this represents a profound change in how the US works as a nation, which has serious knock on implications.

The first resident’s in the US were of course the native Americans. Should you be wondering why they don’t own all the land, its because of (racism) a historic series of rulings by the US supreme court in the 1830’s which essentially said you couldn’t call “dips” on US land by virtue of being here first. The US was an immigrant country it ruled, everyone has the right to come in and claim land. So by effectively changing America from a “immigrant” country to a native country, then those 1830’s era rulings are rendered null and void, meaning the land rights go back to the native Americans.

So maybe yes Trump is going to make America great again…..for the native Americans!

Anti-science in Iran

When Hassan Rouhani was elected Iranian president, many progressives hoped that this represented a shift in Iranian policy. He encouraged quite a number of scientists, who had fled persecution by past regimes, to come back to country, including a number of environmentalists.

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However, many of them are now leaving the country again, in the wake of mass arrests of environmental activists and the death in custody of an Iranian-Canadian environmentalist, Kavous Seyed-Emami.

While the president might be sympathetic, the trouble is that many members of the revolutionary guard, and others within the Iranian regime, see environmentalists as troublemakers asking awkward questions. And with Iran in the grip of a drought as well as numerous other environmental problems, this means that no action is being taken on these issues. Trump and the Iranians are perhaps closer to one another than they might think.

Stolen valor

If there’s one thing that seems to rub Americans up the wrong way, republicans in particular, its “stolen valor”, individuals either impersonating military officers, claiming to have awards they didn’t receive or making false claims about their military service record. They’ve even had laws passed forbidding it.

So its more than a little ironic when Republican nominee for the State Department, Mike Pompeo is caught out doing this. And keep in mind, Trump specifically highlighted his “military experience” “as a gulf war veteran” as reasons for his appointment. Will he be punished for this? You’re joking right? He’ll almost certainly be confirmed without a problem. Expect Gina Haspel, aka “the torturers apprentice” to be confirmed also. I mean what’s a little war crime between friends.

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And he’s hardly the first Republican, Trump, Bush, Romney, John Wayne and Rush Limbaugh all dodged the draft. Hell, you wonder why its not a key requirement for Republican nomination (we can’t vote Mc Cain, he actually fought in a war!).

News review

How to lose a country in one day

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

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Spainsh taxes at work, beating up old ladies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The longest political suicide note in history

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game of dolts

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

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

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

Ni bombardier/ Trump trade

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

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

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

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

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

Monarch and the brexit effect

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

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

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

The world’s most powerful eight year old

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

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

Lock them up

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

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

Lecturing on the breadline

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

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

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

Death penalty shot down?

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

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

A closer estimate on nuclear energy cost options

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Figure 3: UK Nuclear decommissioning costs breakdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hyperloop hyperbole

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blogging catchup

I’m just back from a trip overseas on business, so I thought it would be a good idea to catchup.

Trump pulls out of Paris climate treaty

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It was perhaps inevitable that Trump would pull out of the Paris climate treaty. He’s rowed back on nearly all of his campaign promises, as inevitably many of these policies were just unworkable or unenforceable. The Paris treaty was one of the few things he could actually change, largely because it will take until nearly the end of his presidency to complete the withdrawal (meaning a few months later his successor might well opt to simply re-enter the agreement).

However it has to be said the main loser is going to be the US. There’s a serious case of deja vu here. When G. W. Bush dropped out of the Kyoto protocol, making the same lame arguments about “jobs” and “growth” the end result was that many of the technical experts in fields such as electric cars, fuel cell research and solar panels all went abroad, mostly to Europe and China and helped investors there found companies that are now worth tens of billions of dollars and employ many tens of thousands of people. And inevitably they then exported this technology back to the US. In other words thanks to Bush America ended up having to buy its own technology back off the Chinese and Europeans. Hardly putting “America first” was it!

History will now repeat itself. If Elon Musk gets into trouble and has to start letting staff go, no doubt they’ll just head overseas and get jobs in Chinese or European renewable multinationals. He himself might well get bought out by some Chinese investors who move production overseas. So how exactly are Trump’s actions going to create jobs?….well aside from more jobs in China anyway!

Furthermore, the US hasn’t really got a choice in the matter. Fossil fuels are a finite resource. As I’ve discussed before, the shale gas boom is eventually going to run out of steam. And there’s already signs of a slow down. Climate change is a crisis that will hit the US hard. So regardless of what Republicans think the US will have to give up fossil fuels eventually. What most countries are opting to do is a slow gradual transition. This means that the positives of a renewables boom (i.e. more jobs, more stable energy prices) tends to cancel out the negatives (higher energy prices, the temporary disruption caused by installing renewables infrastructure). Germany is the poster child for this, but a similar policy is playing out in Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, Norway, Scotland and Portugal to name a few. And yes, in all of these countries the renewables boom has largely been a positive that has greatly benefited the economy.

However, trying to undertake a crash course in fossil fuels phase out, which Trump has now all but guaranteed America will have to carry out eventually, will likely to be very disruptive to the economy. In short there’s a hard way and an easy way and Trump just committed America to the hard way. The country will be forced some day to undergo a dramatic shift away from fossil fuels, likely when supply shortages, high prices and the damage caused by climate change starts to bite. And they’ll be also forced to import most of the technology to do so from abroad. So Trump has more or less signed America economic death warrant.

Leader of the free world

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Indeed, during Trump’s recent European tour it became rather obvious what level of damage he’s already inflicted on America’s reputation abroad. The fact is that Trump is probably one of the weakest president’s America has ever had. Allegations regard him and his families ties to Russia (and the Saudi’s) have crippled his administration. Plus its all well and good making campaign speeches about how much America pays for NATO. However, around the G7 table it will no doubt have been pointed out that most of America’s military spending is on things nothing to do with NATO (while countries like Germany and Poland spend almost their entire military budget on NATO related activities).

And then we have the issue of Trump’s silence over the Portland murders of two men who came to the defence of a Muslim woman being abused by a Trump supporter. It would have been very easy for him to condemn this, but he did not do so until a good week after. And even then the announcement came from the official US government account, not his own twiter account. This could not be a clearer signal that Trump isn’t just saying racist stuff to curry favour with the KKK brigade, but he is actually a racist and a fascist himself.

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The resulting power vacuum means that someone else had to take up the mantle of leader of the free world. Given that May is leading the UK into self imposed exile (and economic suicide) that rules out the brit’s. So it now falls to Germany to lead the free world. This has both positives and negatives. On the positive side the Germans, even right wingers like Merkel, are considerably more sensible leaders than any recent American president. On the downside, Merkel is a bit risk adverse and not really the sort of person who is good at handling a crisis (as the situation in Greece proved). And the end consequence is a Europe and an EU that’s even more dominated by Germany than before.

Playing chicken

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I need to do a more detailed update of the election situation, but suffice to say the Tory lead is slipping. This was always the risk, elections are fickle affairs, even with the massive lead the Tories had in the polls at the start there’s always a danger events will turn against them. Its possible the polls are wrong and that labour support is being overestimated. But of course its equally possible that the labour lead is being underestimated. While the probability is that the Tories will still win, that doesn’t mean a Tory win is guaranteed (I’d say its an 75% chance of a Tory win, 20% chance of a hung parliament and a 5% chance of a labour win). And all it takes is one scandal, one leak of something the Tories don’t want to reveal in the next few days and the outcome of the election could change.

Of course the Tories must also acknowledge that they are doing badly not because Corybn is some sort of popular political genius in charge of a united party. He’s been unable to get basic facts right and most election literature I’ve seen from labour candidates avoids even mentioning him (by contrast the Tory, lib dem and SNP literature does mention Corbyn, so he’s an electoral asset….for the other parties!). So the reason why the Tories are doing badly in the polls is because they are making a pigs ear of an election that they should otherwise win easily.

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Take the recent election debates, where the wicked witch of Maidenhead Theresa May refused to show up. This was a major miscalculation. Granted, given the risk of her reverting to her true form, showing up to a debate with “people” was always going to be a bad idea. But not showing makes her look weak, arrogant and too chickshit scared to face Corbyn. How exactly is she proposing to deal with the EU if she’s too afraid to face off against some bearded hippy? So this decision could well backfire badly. Although given that the main winner of the debate were the Greens and lib dems, so its likely labour will lose support as well as a result of the debate.

The fact is that unless the Tories win by a significant majority this will be seen by her party as a political failure on her part and I’m guessing there will be a move against her. Then again, I’ve a suspicion that the real reason for the election is that the Tories are hiding something, quite possibly that May will be resigning soon for health reasons (or that she’s about to get caught up in some major scandal and forced to go). So that might well be the case anyway.

Living in a different era

One of the problems with Brexit and any Tory election victory is how it has puffed up the bigot brigade, who feel they can now throw their weight around. For example, we have a slum landlord type in England who is now refusing to let property to “coloured people. We have a jobseeker who was dismissed as a “left wing loon tree hugger (in an e-mail sent to her) and the number of racist incidents reported countrywide has doubled since the vote with 1 in 3 minorities now reporting some form of abuse.

One is forced to conclude this lot live in a different world and brexit has allowed them to start acting out their insane fantasies. However, this puts them at odds with reality, which does bode well for the country’s future.

Take northern Ireland, a key potential flash point for the brexit negotiations. Any changes to the status of the NI border will have profound knock on implications both in Northern Ireland and the South and thus effect the peace process. On the other hand a lack of a hard border makes a hard brexit an exercise in futility. Any migrant can simply get on a bus at Dublin airport and be in the UK within two hours. And as I’ve pointed out before, its goods not people that the UK needs to worry about. An open Irish border with different tariffs either side of it would be mercilessly exploited by smuggler gangs, undercutting the UK economy and probably bankrupting the economy in NI.

However whenever this issue is discussed in the media, scroll down to the comments and you’ll get lots of the brexit bigots referring to Ireland by the historic term “Eire” and voicing their deluded fantasies that not only is there no risk of a border poll (and Northern Ireland voting to leave the UK) but that Ireland might actually vote to re-join the UK. That’s how far out of touch this lot are.

For those who don’t understand the controversy, shortly after Ireland’s independence in the 1920’s the UK adopted a policy of referring to the Irish Republic as “Eire” as they felt that using the English word “Ireland” could be interpreted as support for a united Ireland and they didn’t like using the word “republic” as they were peeved at how we’d rejected rule by the crown. The British stuck to this policy rigidly to the point of absurdity. During the 1948 Olympics in London while all the other nations paraded under a banner with the name of the country in English, Ireland was forced to parade under the “Eire” banner, the only time in Olympic history a country has paraded under its native language.

Of course the irony here is that “Eire” is the Gaelic geographical name for the Island of Ireland. So actually by adopting this policy the UK was arguably voicing support for a united Ireland. This explains why in 1949, presumably after someone had lent them an English/Irish dictionary, the UK did an about face and took to referring to the Irish state as “the republic of Ireland” (or ROI for short). So when I say Brexiters live in a different era, I am not joking, they are literally sticking to a UK policy that dates prior to the 1940’s. That’s the sort of attitude you’re dealing with.

Downgrade of Chinese debt

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One story that seems to have been missed by many was the downgrading of China’s debts by the rating agency Moody’s, blaming concerns over China’s growing private debts. This is the first time the Chinese have suffered a downgrade since 1989. This provoked a furious response from Beijing. Although arguably this less than measured and diplomatic reaction did more harm than the actual downgrade itself.

On the one hand I’d say the Chinese have a point. Its all too obvious that the rating agencies are biased. I recall someone from the Brazilian finance ministry once bemoaning the fact that during the Workers Party era they’d pass a new policy on something completely unrelated to Brazil’s ability to service its debts (e.g. health care or employment law) and the rating agencies would hit them with a downgrade. Even though the UK or US government might well have down something very similar a few months earlier yet they didn’t get hit with a downgrade. Consider that the US has elected a president recently who boasted about reneging on America’s debts. If China is in such big trouble that its credit rating should be cut, then fairness would require that America’s (and the UK) should lose its A rating altogether.

That said, there’s no smoke without fire. Interbank lending and lending to local businesses as well as growing credit card and mortgage debts in China represents something of an unknown quantity in the country, with it unclear how much has been lent to who and how safe those loans are and what’s going to happen when those loans are defaulted on.

Now some will react with glee to the news China might get into trouble. Think again. Alot of the debt buying going on worldwide, both private and public debt, is being handled by China. So if China catches a cold the rest of might get Ebola. Any change in policy in China, e.g. they stop buying bonds or raise interest rates, would have a amplified knock effect in the west. Mortgage rates would soar, inflation would skyrocket. A devaluation of the RMB would suddenly make many Western goods uncompetitive and could push Western states into recession. While its often pointed out how much of America’s debt’s (both private and public) is owed to China (and thus Trump supporters seem to feel they can just up and renege on that), they forget that two thirds of it is owed to other Americans, mostly pension funds. So any American default of its foreign debts to China would likely bankrupt the entire US pension system overnight.

So this is something that should concern us all. Anyone urging the likes of Trump or May to play some sort of “great game” with China needs to realise what’s at stake – namely keeping your job and not living out your retirement in a dumpster! The trouble is, as recent events have shown above, there’s more than enough people in both the UK and US who will cut off their own nose to spite their face.

The biggest corruption scandal in history

And speaking of Brazil, operation car wash, the investigation that brought down the presidency of Dilma Rousseff, continues and its quickly growing into one of the biggest corruption scandals in world history. Its becoming clear also that crimes of Rouseff or her predecessor Lula were actually fairly minor and that the main reason why she was removed was more because she refused to try and slow down or halt the investigation. So her impeachment is looking more and more like a de-facto coup.

And the current president Temer and his party have their grubby little paw prints all over this scandal. Its clear that they have been on the take far more than Rouseff’s workers party. And since coming to power, we’ve seen key persecutors fired and replaced with political lackies of the president, judges dying in mysterious circumstances, witnesses disappearing, etc. To say this stinks is to put it mildly. There is a very real risk this crisis could bring down the entire Brazilian political system or possibly lead to a coup.

Ruinair

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Given past experience with British Airways I purposely didn’t fly with them this time and avoided Heathrow like the plague. So I wasn’t entirely surprised by the news that BA had all sorts of IT problems (not that their recent penny pinching cuts have anything to do with that!), nor with news of them leaving passengers in the lurch.

The fact is that the only difference between BA and Ryanair is that Ryanair are cheaper and generally on time. In a crisis BA will just fob you off and abandon you just as quickly as the budget airlines. So you may as well fly Ryanair or Easyjet and save yourself a few bob. And I am by no means alone. I know lots of business traveller who won’t get on a BA flight, even if their employer is paying for it. I welcome the day when BA collapses, much as Alitalia is currently going bankrupt.

The Case for Space?

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Figure 1: Could space travel and eventual colonisation help solve some of the world’s environmental problems?

I’ve been doing a bit of speculation recently on my energy blog about who space policy and sustainability might interconnect. In short, can space colonisation offer a possible solution to resource shortages or over-population? I’ve broken the answer down across three posts below:

Space a sustainability solution? A critical review

In the first article I look at the goals of space colonisation as well as the technical obstacles involved, notably in terms of propulsion technology and launch vehicle design. And to be clear, we are talking about space colonisation here, not space exploration, that’s two entirely different things.

Is it possible to significantly reduce the costs of launching payloads into space? The answer I suspect is, yes, which could make exploration cheaper and easier, but probably not by enough to make colonisation possible any time soon.

Space a sustainability solution – Part 2: Living on the high frontier

Not least because, as discussed in this second article, the problems associated with getting into space are small compared to the issues that come with living in space. Certainly, its possible for humans to live for extend periods on world’s like Mars or the Moon. But its far from proven if permanent habitation is possible.

And its also far from proven that we can sustain life support off earth for any colonists without regular resupply from earth, so any such colonies wouldn’t be a “backup” earth, as they’d be wholly dependant on earth for survival.

And one also has to question the motivations. With the exception of low level extraction of rare earth or precious metals, its difficult to build a credible and economically viable plan for space colonisation. I doubt we’ll be moving large number of people off the planet any time soon.

The case for space – Part 3: Martian delusions

Finally, I look at the recent announcements from groups such as Mars One, the Mars Society and Elon Musk’s proposals for Mars exploration and colonisation.

In short, one is left to ask if Mars one is an outright scam or merely a textbook example of the Dunning Kruger effect.

Bob Zubrin’s Mars Direct plan has some merit, although there are some holes in it, notably as it relies on a number of untested elements.

Unfortunately Elon Musk’s plans, which are based on Mars direct (just on a larger scale) also has a number of possible holes and potential show stoppers. Its possible they might be able to overcome these issues, but my guess is that it will take a lot longer that he proposes to get such a program off the ground and cost an awful lot more. And again, the jury is out as to whether Martian colonisation is even possible, or even a good idea.

The greater fool fallacy and Trump

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There are some who support Trump even though they know he’s a bigot and a racist, but they support him despite this, because they think he offers the possibility of significant change (same goes with quite a few who voted for Brexit). That he can be manipulated into doing certain things other politicians won’t do. Other politicians would feel the need to run things by “advisors” and “experts” and worry about public opinion (or put the idea to focus groups), then realise its not going to work and hesitate. A shoot from the hip type president will do things others won’t, because he’ll act first without thinking things through.

Examples of those looking to exploit a future president include space cadets, the far right and even some elements of the far left (Bernie Sanders types who took all that anti-Hillary stuff way too seriously). I’ve even heard it argued by some Chinese that Trump would be better for China than Hillary because she’ll stand up to China, while he’s such a good business man (the sort that’s gone bankrupt 4 times?), he’d do a deal with them. At the very least Trump undermines the case for democracy, which Beijing likely sees as helpful. In all cases the assumption of these groups is a variation on the “greater fool theory”, in that they think he’s a bigger fool than them and hence can be manipulated. However as I will discuss, this is a dangerous fallacy.

By way of example, let’s take the space cadet brigade. Much of the pro-Trump rhetoric I’m hearing from them is more or less identical to the stuff I was hearing about G. W. Bush back in 2000. The assumption was he was more pro-space than Al Gore, largely because Bush was seen as an amiable dunce. How did that work out? Well within the first few months of office, he gutted the NASA’s science budget to pay for tax cuts to his wealthy donors. Several important projects were cancelled, from space missions to Jupiter (only recently resurrected and flown under Obama), the Helios solar drone project (as I discussed in a recent post), various shuttle replacement proposals and much more, all were defunded. This put NASA in an awkward position after the Colombia crash as they were left with no obvious alternative to the shuttle.

The Colombia disaster did give Bush the opportunity to reset US space policy. And he did come up with something a little more appealing to them. But his policy was completely disjointed. His proposals were a mishmash of whatever he felt would appease the space cadets and the corporate lobbyists, yet without any extra funding attached. The Ares 1 rocket was clearly one designed by lobbyists rather than engineers, whose sole purpose was to make sure the same contractors building and servicing the shuttle kept their jobs. As one commentator at the time put itNASA is being expected to carry out John Kennedy’s space program with Bill Clinton’s space budget”.

Within months critics were panning his plans as unworkable, I was even hearing rumours  of Bush’s plan being referred to as “project Cancellation” within NASA rather than its official title Constellation, as it was widely assumed that such an obviously unworkable project would not survive multiple president’s and multiple layers of congressional oversight. Indeed it was mostly all cancelled by the end of Obama’ 1st term. So Bush (again the supposed champion of the space cadets) score card would show that he ran NASA into the ground and essentially ended US manned space flight.

So what’s likely to happen with Trump in charge? Well my guess is that he too will initially gut NASA’s budget, to pay for tax cuts and various other vanity projects. And as a vain and insecure person who bears grudges he will cut not what’s cutable but what cuts will punish his perceived enemies. If California votes against him (as expected) he’ll likely shut down JPL or Ames. If Virginia votes democrat, what’s the bet that Langley will be closed? Naturally anything with the word “environment” in it will go too, which is a lot of NASA’s budget (often one of the best ways of learning how the atmosphere of Mars works is by studying our own).

While I suspect Trump could be eventually persuaded to back something like a mission to Mars (as a vanity project), he will only be doing so on basis of lining his own pockets. The contracts won’t go to someone sensible like Elon Musk (unless Musk bows before him and kisses his rings and slip him a few quid in the next few months), but to whichever of his cronies promises him the largest cut of the money they skim off the top. Who knows maybe he’ll do what he did with the Trump towers and give the contact to some Mafia front (Goodfella’s Rocket Company?). Which is probably rather fortunate because it will prevent him actually flying any hardware that might kill someone. Any proposal backed by Trump for a Mars mission will likely either be some sort of one way suicide mission (with Hillary and Elizabeth Warren slated as flight crew!) of the Mars one variety, or a two way Banzai charge of the sort the Mars society proposes.

As for those on the left, do you honestly think Trump a wealth corrupt buffoon is really going to promote a leftist agenda? Yes he may pull back from international trade agreements, but what he replaces it with will be written to suit the elites like him. And those on the far right, yes he might build a wall or do something about immigration, but he’s not going to end it or deport anybody. After all some of these Mexicans work in his hotels. Do you think he wants to end up having to hire a load of Americans instead? They’d be asking for minimum wage and paid vacation time, then keep bringing up their “rights”. Trump’s plan will be to control immigration for his benefit, not end it.

As for Brexiters, Trump is not going to sign up to a trade deal with a post-Brexit UK which would put those who funded his campaign or his blue collar supporters at a disadvantage. And as for the Chinese, while I suspect Trump would eventually leave China better off after launching a trade war (or worse an actual war) with China and losing, but this is hardly positive. Its like arguing that Hitler was an all American hero because his actions left America much stronger after world war II. For sure Hillary will be a pain in the ass, both for the UK and the Chinese. But she’s not going to do anything stupid. She’s not going to start a war for the sake of the Philippines (doubly so now they’ve elected their own version of Donald Trump).

And bringing up the matter of Hitler, its worth remembering that he too was a product of this “greater fool” fallacy. Many of those who helped him into power, notably those on the centre right of Germany at the time did so because they saw him as a useful idiot, who could be manipulated and controlled once in power. Of course they soon found out this wasn’t the case. Putin too came to power as a result of being seen as a puppet, who like his predecessor could be manipulated and controlled….just one who could stay sober for more than five minutes. But quickly Putin showed himself to be less a puppet of the Oligarchs and more the puppet master.

Voting for a madman like Trump on the assumption that you can control him is a bit like opening the gate on a lion’s pen and assuming you can control the lion, just cos you saw someone do it on the Discovery channel. Its a logical fallacy and amounts to a tacit admission that whatever you are advocating is basically unworkable. Any plan or proposal that is unable to withstand the rigours of conventional politics and requires a madman in charge to implement is by definition a bad idea.

Weekly roundup

Veto warning

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At a conference to discuss the post-Brexit future of the EU, the UK was warned that the EU would make leaving “very painful”, if any form of immigration controls were included. Indeed, the threat was made of a possible veto of any deal by four Eastern European countries, if the UK refused to guarantee freedom of travel. Its unclear if this applies to just current EU citizens in the UK or future arrivals. However, the message is clear, the Brexit position on immigration is not going to be allowed, it is not and never was a deliverable possibility.

But we do 60% of our trade with the EU the brexiters claim, why would the EU jeopardise that? Well because it might be 60% of the UK’s trade, but its only about 10% of the EU’s trade. And certain countries will bear the brunt of that. Others, such as the Eastern European countries making these threats, will not be seriously effected. There is no way the rEU or the UK can bully them out of a veto. So if the UK tries to stonewall the EU, as the three brexiters seem to plan on doing, they will be in for a rude awakening.

Keep in mind at the point where this veto will be made it would be at the back end of negotiations where the UK has likely just days or weeks away from essentially being chucked out of the EU and EEA if it doesn’t get a deal. In such circumstances a panicked climb down by the UK seems very likely.

As always my suspicion is that cooler heads will prevail long before we get to this stage. Some sort of horse trade will be done, EU citizens will have to fill out some forms and will not be entitled to benefits for a few years (although that could result in a rebate of their taxes back to their country of origin). The swivel eyed loons will be told they’d got immigration controls, but in truth nothing substantial will have changed.

 

Academic poaching

And as if to underline what’s at stake here, there have been warning about how much of the UK’s key science centres are now a risk of being poached. Either individual scientists, or the entire institutes themselves might well move in the next few years.

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As I mentioned in previous posts, a lot of the funding for these institutes comes from the EU. And they also get quite a bit of private sector funding too (often the EU funding is dependant on them raising matching funds from the private sector). And many research centres and university’s in Britain will have a small network of high-tech start ups around them, which will both assist and be dependant on the success of said institute at securing funding. Getting that funding outside the EU gets very complicated very quickly. Freedom of travel is also crucial to science and I can’t see how these institutes could function if that were to end.

So the price the UK could pay, is much of its very best and brightest, everything from Fusion energy research to graphene could potentially move overseas in the next few years. Then again, many Brexiters seem to be the anti-science troglodytes who’d rather go back to the 1950’s. Well be careful what you wish for……

 

ITT Tech

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Just prior to the Brexit vote the Universities minister issued two statements which caused great concern in academia. The first was his intention of allowing for-profit universities in the UK. The 2nd was his statement that “some providers may exit the market”, or in other words, the government is okay with the thought of universities going bankrupt.

Well we had a warning this month of what the likely consequences of such a policy would be. ITT Tech, the parent company of several for-profit universities across the US went bankrupt just before the start of term. This left tens of thousands of students out of pocket and with no university place to start or continue their studies at. Many of them have now been left in limbo.

And the reasons for their collapse? Poor standards of education, well below those of mainstream universities and accusations of predatory practices. ITT tech students were some of the the most heavily indebted students in America. And incidentally some of that debt was owed to the US government. Students are now refusing to pay back these loans, arguing the collapse is the fault of the government for failing to regulate ITT tech properly.

So I would ask anyone in the Tory party or any government minster, do you really want to see this sort of scandal play out in the UK? And before you answer that question, take out an electoral map of the UK, work out how many marginal seats are in (or near) a university town and after you’ve worked out how, estimate by how much you’d lose the next election, perhaps then you might decide to reconsider this policy.

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Tweeting twits in cars

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There was recent talk about increasing the number of penalty points for mobile phone use in cars to 6 . In some respects I can see the point of this. Far too often I’ve seen people driving along, not just talking on a mobile held to their ear, but texting with it. And I mean sometimes when I’ve been cycling or walking along at night I’ve noticed drivers gliding along with their face down at the phone, trying to drive with one hand and half an eye on the road. You do have to worry about some people.

However, the danger with such knee jerk legislation, is that it can often lead to overzealous enforcement by the police. Keep in mind the cops have done people for blowing their nose at a traffic light or threatened to arrest a four year old child for riding a kiddies bike on the pavement. Given the cops an inch in the UK and they will take things to an illogical extreme.

What counts as mobile phone use in a car? For example, I’ll sometimes use my mobile as an Mp3 player. Now I’ll plug it in and set everything up before I start driving, but occasionally I might need to just hit the volume button or turn it on/off (without taking my eyes off the road of course and only when its safe to do so). Does that count? Should I get 6 points for that? Now okay, maybe you say yes it does count, in which case I suppose I’ll just listen to the radio instead, will adjusting the volume on the radio now get me 6 points? Because its essentially doing the same thing. Or how about adjusting the air-con, or the sat nav? Keep in mind that there are time you’ll need to adjust these systems for safety reasons (e.g. its night, the sat nav display is too bright so you turn it off or tap it into night mode, your coming up to a busy junction, you hit the mute button on the radio so it doesn’t distract you, windows start to fog up, you need to clear them, etc.).

And I bring this up because it has a legal bearing for me. I have an Irish license and while the Irish government does transfer points issued by the UK authorities onto Irish license, they don’t give the UK courts a rubber stamp. We have this long standing principle in Ireland of “rights” and “due process”. And any Irish court would likely take a dim view of saying doing such and such a thing with a mobile is enough to lose you your license, but doing the same thing with the car radio is okay. Indeed the Irish government has been having difficulty securing convictions for its own laws against in car mobile use.

And to go slightly off topic, but there’s a Brexit dimension here. While I suspect the transfer of penalty points across the Irish border will continue (its a bilateral agreement and nothing to do with the EU) I’m not sure about other EU countries. I suspect any such rules the UK has with the rest of the EU will end with Brexit. Meaning Polish lorry drivers will be able to not only use their phones while driving without fear, but speed as fast as they like and park wherever they like and there’s basically nothing that plod can do about it other than go whistle Dixie. Keep in mind I already know people from the continent who regularly just tear up parking tickets they get in the UK and put them straight in the bin. Such rules are difficult to enforce at the moment, post Brexit it will be impossible. And again its the tendency of the UK legal system to ignore the basic principles upon which any proper legal system is supposed to work that’s to blame.

But I digress. Clearly one has to wonder how out of hand such measures could get and how difficult it becomes to enforce. Might I suggest a more common sense approach. If you are so addicted to your phone that you can put it down for a few minutes while driving maybe you need to decide which is more important, your ability to drive safely or your phone? Keep in mind that if you travel by public transport instead not only can you text and tweet to your hearts content, but many buses and trains theses days come with free wifi. #OMG

And in much the same way that anyone stumbling out of pub with car keys is likely to be rugby tackled and subject to a citizens arrest these days, if you see someone in the car behaving recklessly with a phone (or turning his head away from the road and trying to tune the radio), point out to them how dangerous this is. #where_did_that_tree_come_from? #Sad face

 

Unsporting behaviour

There was some controversy this week when one of the Brownlee brothers helped the other across the line to win a bronze medal. The British media looked on this as brothers in arms, or good sportsmen ship. Ah, no! I’m afraid its what’s known as “cheating”.

The rules of individual sports like the triathlon are very clear, you cannot assist in any way another competitor, nor can they or should they except such help. Riders have been disqualified in the past just because a spectator (never mind another runner) was seen to push them. Until a few years ago triathletes weren’t even allowed to slipstream during the cycling stage of a triathlon. Giving or accepting aid like this isn’t just against the rules, it violates the very spirit of the sport itself.

Put it this way, if a Polish or Chinese athlete had done the same thing and a British athlete had been denied a medal, would the UK media be reacting the same way? Probably not. We can’t have one rule for those who are popular with the media (and have a good sponsorship deal) and another rule for everyone else. There’s little point in getting worked up about Russian doping, if were going to apply the full weight of the law to one group of athletes and ignore them for others.

So while I hate to be mean, but both brothers should have been disqualified for this. And should another “hand of god” like moment happen in a future football match, I don’t want to hear any English whinging about how unfair it all is. You’ve gain just as much, if not more, unfair advantage in sports as everyone else.

 

Not so fancy bears

And speaking of sports there were more revelations about the medical records of British athletes. Now to be fair, if the Russians are trying to tar everyone with the same brush, they are failing. What these records show is that the sort of massive state sponsored doping isn’t going on in the UK or US. However, that’s not to say all of the UK’s athletes are angels. The revelations do flag up some worrying questions.

Quite a few appear to regularly be benefiting from what’s called TUE’s basically an excuse to use a banned substance for medical reasons. The problem is that known drug cheats like Lance Armstrong were known to use these as a way of getting around tests, when they realised (or feared) they might fail a test. So an athlete regularly getting these, while it doesn’t prove anything, it certainly doesn’t look good. In short, anyone who believes doping begins and ends with Russian, think again.

 

The Empire club

A restaurant in Australia is in hot water after calling itself the Colonial club, a sort of colonial themed restaurant for public school boys who are ignorant of history. Naturally this is causing much offence and there are calls for it to be closed down. One wonders if they do a Jallianwahla Bagh cocktail, or an Irish Famine potato salad or how about the Hola special?

What is it about Empire that the Brit’s don’t get? One of the Brexiters put up a tweet (in reaction to another one showing the EU top of the medal table at the Olympics) claim the British Empire “won” the Olympics. British need to understand that to some people this is the equivalent of going up to a Polish person and saying how much better they were under the third reich. There are only two occasions where bringing up the British Empire isn’t going to get you in trouble:
A) You’re Prince Philip (we sort of expect this stuff from him!)
B) At a memorial for the victims of a British empire massacre, explaining why it was so terrible

 

The joys of Hitchhiking

A French hitchiker in New Zealand went beserk this week after spending 4 days by the side of the road and not getting picked up. To be honest, I think if you are hitch-hiking, you need to have a better strategy. And in a remote area, you need to have a plan B in case you don’t get picked up, e.g. walk to where you want to go and if you don’t get picked up along they way, you’ll get there anyway. Or have a public transport option you can call on.

One of the issues I take with this story was how he was called “a spoilt millennial”. First of all, Millennials are really an invention of marketeers who like to segment people into neatly defined groups. An many of those qualities they ascribe to “millennials” don’t actually gel with the facts, as this Adam Conover video discusses. I teach a lot of “millennials” and I know of just as many who are spoilt selfie takers with a sense of some sort of god given entitlement, as I know similar people from previous generations. It certainly does not fit the description of the average Millennial I know. Indeed it was mostly baby boomers with there sense of entitlement who voted for Brexit, not millennial’s (whom the baby boomers screwed over).

Sunday service

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

Blackouts & Newspeak

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

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

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

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

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

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

Irish apple…..and not the fruit!

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

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

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

So I say hang’em out to dry!

Olympic hijackings

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

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

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

Brexit blues

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

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

Solent News

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

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

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

Ambushed on Brexit

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

A winter of discontent?

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

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

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

Corbyn caught out

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

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

SpaceX explosion

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

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

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

Pulling power

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

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

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

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

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