Thursday, 3 January 2019

It's Electric!

I had an electric car once. The range was pathetic... the cord only stretched about 50 feet. An oldie but nevertheless still illustrative of a truism, that although electric cars may be the future, it will be a future quite different from the one advertised. There may yet be inductive charging while in motion, kerbside hook-ups every fifteen feet and the opportunity for some to charge up for free at work, but the electricity has to be reliably generated somewhere.

And about that reliability thing: until we get 24/7 sunshine, or constant, not-too-weak/not-too-strong wind we have to generate that electricity by, you guessed it, fossil fuel, because much of the world has turned against nuclear. So, the real power behind electric cars is not clean, fresh, free-to-harvest renewables, but good old coal and gas. Add in the cost of mining all that toxic cadmium and other expensive, exotic metals and it is almost certain you can show that cough for cough, electric cars are more environmentally harmful than diesel

But long before we get to the stage when environmentalists begin to campaign against electric cars we need to spend a whole bunch of cash just to make electron-propelled transport viable. Where do you live and where do you work? Do you have a nice driveway where you can recharge? Or, like far more of the population, do you need to park across the road, in the next street, or just in a different spot every evening because, muh, congestion?

Who is going to build all the power stations needed? It has been widely reported that China builds a new coal-fired power station about every three seconds, yet in the UK we get one new nuclear plant every fifty years. And how is all that electricity to be distributed; who is going to build the infrastructure? You guessed it, not us. The Germans and the French already seem to own our power market anyway, so hey, let’s throw more of our capital away in pursuit of what still seems, to me, to be an improbable dream.

Why the push for all-electric transport then? Well, obviously it is whatever form of climate change we are trying to reverse this week. And if energy usage is the bogeyman, why increase it? Turning fossil fuel into motive power, heat, light, etc is more effective if you cut out the middle man of costly (to build, maintain, manage and bill for) energy networks which merely increase complexity. This introduces efficiency losses at each stage of the process: extraction, transport, conversion , distribution, etc  and adds administrative costs as the bureaucracy of the systems involved each take their slice.

Drax power station in South Yorkshire converted to the ‘carbon neutral’ wonder fuel known as biomass some years ago. Not only is this more expensive, but it is ultimately more polluting, especially when you take into account the supply chains and deforestation involved in the base fuel. Drax is built pretty much on top of a massive source of coal, which it used to burn. If the Chinese and the Germans are allowed to get away with coal-fired, why do we have to pay for what they produce from afar when we have it right here?

Faced with rising costs, British consumers of electricity have been economising and their adoption of more efficient devices, low energy lighting and a bit of common sense is paying dividends. The electric car might be a shiny carrot of a pseudo-incentive, but we have always responded quicker to a beating and the big stick of electricity tariffs has been pushing our usage down for years. It was reported this morning (BBC World Service news) that we are now using less electricity in the UK than in the eighties and that our thrift has been more influential in this than the combined ‘contribution’ of both wind and solar power.

Plug into a nearby taxpayer's wallet and she's ready to go... 

So, the experts’ solution to our future energy needs is to increase our demand for electricity? And to do this they will add extra taxes into your electricity bills? Doesn’t this sound rather like the sort of things a drug baron might do - increase dependency, push up the price? Are those in control really a part of the solution at all, or rather the largest part of the problem? By all means buy an electric runabout today, but suggest your kids look into coal, oil and gas for future careers... just in case.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

The Company Store

Money. It’s a funny old thing isn’t it? In an ideal world we would all have work which suited us, paid enough to allow us to spend our non-working time as we wished and have enough left over to fund the nicer things in life. Free, world-class healthcare for all, decent roads, affordable public transport , a legal system accessible and fair to everybody and an education system which produced balanced, thoughtful, useful future contributors to this blissful status quo, whether academically gifted or not.

But we don’t live in such a world and money, well it’s a tricky blighter, isn’t it? Where does it come from, for a start? And who does it ultimately belong to? This, I believe was the crack into which the otherwise sane and grounded Labour MP, Jess Philips, inserted her crowbar in a late entry to the most stupid tweet of the year competition.

Now, such a statement is not only factually incorrect in so many ways, it is also laughably naïve and ordinarily, you would expect the masses to descend, hooting and laughing, but an alarming number of players leapt in to defend her. She was trying to say – I generously think – that we all put in and we all take out and that it is entirely fair that some put in much more than others and some, deservedly, take out more, but that only works in the imaginary world of the first paragraph. David Vance challenged her assertion and was offered this myopic explanation by somebody else who clearly doesn’t grasp his brief:

It is an entirely rosy view of socialist style economics whereby the failings are hidden behind flowery words and peace and love and all the stuff you just can’t make a profit on, yet sound like the sort of lovely things we should all say to each other. But here’s the thing: If all that you receive is paid from the state coffers – not just benefit claimants but every single public sector employee – including MPs like Jess – then anything you pay back out of that makes literally zero contribution to the coffers.

Let’s do that in simple numbers. I give you a hundred pounds, you give me £30 back in tax and National Insurance, then after you spend the rest I get back another £14 in VAT. You have contributed literally nothing to my stash of cash (I’m £56 down) but Jess and Jonathan will thank you for your £44 contribution. This is the Ponzi system on which our society exists, but we don’t seem academically equipped to challenge; ‘we all pay tax’, my arse.

The thread carried on into the new year with this lucid but incorrect appraisal by the newly minted economist Jess and my reply to it – much as outlined above - attracted all the opprobrium you would expect from the similarly deluded. 


I particularly enjoyed Mark’s contribution, for which I am truly grateful – it can be tricky keeping up the small minded prick persona.

Now, I quite like Jess Phillips. She is down to earth, clearly concerned and engaged and is absolutely a force for good in the world. But the politics she espouses are where it all grinds to a shuddering halt. Labour – under any leader – is a recipe for economic cataclysm. Begin pretending that we are all contributors and it is but a short step to conclude we must also all be entitled to receive. Which brings us back to this: where does the money actually come from and whose does it belong to, really? Go on, ask yourself...

The ones who got rich from the gold rush were those who sold blankets and shovels. In many economies especially that of the EU-run UK, the appearance of success is created by churn, a steady recirculating of cash. We only possess it for a while and we only have the illusion of control over it. So, unless you have savings - real, they-can’t-touch-it-or-devalue-it savings - the reality is that the company store owns it all; in the biggest gamble of your life, the house always wins. It has taken me over forty years of full-time work to finally appreciate the truism that work is, indeed, its own reward. I consider myself one of the lucky ones.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

2019 and all that

The Chinese famously have a calendar which amuses the west – 2019 is the year of the pig, by the way - but more importantly, ignores it. During the Chinese New Year celebrations which officially run from February 5th, until the 19th in accordance with the lunar cycle, many businesses close down as celebrants pay homage to who they are, what they believe in and how they traditionally feast.

This year is the opportunity for we British to redefine our identity. In three short months we will see whether or not we have a strong enough belief in ourselves to force a recalcitrant establishment to do as bid. We will discover whether we have the resolve to come out as independent, or whether, as Remainers believe, we should be ashamed of ourselves and must cower before the might of faceless lever-pullers in Brussels. I’m not holding my breath, but this – despite all protestations otherwise – is why we voted for Brexit.

The last two and a half years have been an unending attempt to convince us otherwise with all the tricks of statecraft, economic prestidigitation and a ceaseless parade of lies and obfuscation brought to bear against a phenomenon they simply don’t understand. Don’t they realise that as much as anything else Brexit is about a rejection of all this chicanery? Among the noise, the one text that both sides have repeatedly used to explain society in 2018 is 1984.

Words can mean whatever you wish them to mean. ‘Lose’, for instance has become defined as ‘we weren’t really ready’. ‘Ever closer union’ really means ‘more rights for workers’. And ‘Withdrawal Agreement’, bizarrely, means ‘associate membership at twice the price with none of the rights’, as far as I can tell. Legal advice seems to advocate both for and against May’s capitulation, entirely depending on what you believed in the first place. We are truly in Newspeak territory here, where every ‘fact’ is also an anti-fact and every ‘truth’ a lie.

The real fireworks are yet to come...

As for New Year resolutions, like birthday candle wishes they rarely come true unless the intent and opportunity is already there, so I have no plan to realise any outlandish ambition, embark on an unfinishable project, or make any doomed predictions as to how the year will turn out. Instead I will simply reaffirm my basic rules for life in the light of recent events:

·         Following Gatwick dronegate and other misreported idiocies I resolve never to believe a mainstream news item ever again.
·         In similar vein I will question the motives and agenda of all news presenters and channels.
·         Until it happens I won’t believe Brexit will happen.
·         And as for work/life balance, it is around 80/20 at the moment. I’m sure, with a bit of effort, I can get that up to 90%!

Have a happy new year!

Monday, 31 December 2018

Currying Favour

The Independent, ever watchful for a story which gives them some form of validation, have found another straw to clutch. This time it is “Brexit Kills Curry” as they try to pin the alleged demise of the UK curry industry on Brexit. The reasons given, apparently supplied by the Bangladesh Caterers Association, are that the price of ingredients has risen due to the fall in the value of the pound and that, post-Brexit, they will be unable to afford to import curry chefs.

Eric Pickles’ famous ‘curry college’ venture of 2011 appears to have stalled because too few sons of existing curry house owners want to follow father into the kitchen to earn third-world wages for unsocial hours. But Brexit? Do behave; the curry community is the architect of its own reported demise and maybe if there were fewer incidences of faecal ingredients, suspect meat, filthy premises or of takeaways being used as fronts for some of the other activities that are now closely associated with said community, the industry might survive.

But who cares? We used to cook curry in Britain long before there were what we insist on calling Indian restaurants (even though the majority are actually staffed by immigrants from Pakistan or Bangladesh, a good number of whom are illegally in the country anyway). And that was back when the only easily accessible ingredient was ‘curry powder’ whose formula was something of a mystery. Now, however, pretty much anybody with a grasp of basic cooking can rustle up a meal fit for a Raja.

Many anti-Brexiteers love stories like this, where they can claim that leaving the EU will effectively be time travel, turning the clock back to *insert-decade-that-most-represents-your-contempt-for-Britain*. But you can’t easily erase people’s memories, remove their more recently acquired skills, or alter their tastes; all the scare stories about cuisines being lost are bunk. Sure, we will probably struggle to produce proper French bread, but we’re not going to have to subsist on spaghetti hoops on toast.

Industries rise and fall all the time – how many coopers are still in business in your neck of the woods? And does anybody remember when you rented your television set? Floppy discs, analogue photo film, typewriters, encyclopaedias... the list goes on and on and while nostalgia may impart warm, fuzzy feelings for some things lost, once they’re gone, they’re usually gone for good. And have you seen what you can do with your telephone these days? Once you work out that you can make your own curry, to your own taste, whenever you wish and cheaper... without the added shit, contempt and corruption, there may be no going back.

Fried chicken shops, Pizza parlours, kebab emporia, the whole takeaway industry is among the symptoms of the sickness that has taken hols in this land. Fundamentally it is the belief that we can’t do things for ourselves. Our governments have lied to us that low-paid immigrant labour is essential for the economy and because education has become propaganda too few people are competent to do the maths and uncover the lie. We can’t live without coffee on the go, it seems, for which we need to fund an entire high street of Starbucks and Costas, all of them staffed almost exclusively by foreigners. What is wrong with us?

Curry - as British as the Raj

Stop using Brexit as an excuse. If you want expensive coffee and the full, flock wallpaper, slightly racist Punjabi experience then good luck to you. But stop pretending that every little thing that goes wrong is because of people you despise expressing their wish to be independent. And stop imagining that the British are incapable of finding solutions. Go on, prove yourselves wrong and cook yourself a curry.

Monday, 24 December 2018

Peace on Earth...

And lo from the east came three wise men. Wise, for they knew that in the west their every demand would be met. Followed they the twelve shining stars until the land that is milk and honey revealed itself in the form of fiction-free handover arrangements between the people traffickers of old Galilee and the world AD (Africa Depopulated). Their cups runneth over and their fatted calves be slaughtered, for none in the new world would lift a hand to stay their every desire.

Came they to a stable. Well, a converted stable, in a London mews, with no comfort save for central heating and a rent-free roof... and a nearby Starbucks. And they saw that it was good. And so it came to pass that the magi ended their long journey with gifts of gold, which caused the neighbours to be frankly incensed and cry myrrh-der. Whence forth came such ire, asketh they; and with such passive aggressive politeness? How little they understood of this strange new land.

So it was that these three wise elders – though their new passports identifieth them as children - sought out others of their kind to spread the message of great joy through diversity. Soon they had gathered as great and diverse a crowd as this island could provide and all within three streets of the local foodbank. What wondrous world of plenty was this that could feed and house so many and what sacrifice was made by the natives, many of whom gave up their own homes thus to provide?

Answers came there none, but curiosity was piqued and they sought out the truth, for it could be no accident that the stars had surely appeared to them and to them alone. Asking a well-fed Somalian they were told that he had three wives and three houses and the tributes paid due to his many offspring each moon were four-score and many times his annual expectation in his home country. Cameth them next upon a jolly Sudanese who regaled them with tales of great comfort and joy, the state bringing forth bounty beyond all dreams.

“But where are all the native folk?” asked the magi, to which came the reply “They’re all out at work!” And while they laughed and raised their faces to the sky their gaze fell upon a great many banners and lights and shining baubles. “What is this?” they asked, “Why is this miraculous land thus adorned?” At which the Eritreans and the Ethiopians and the Ghanaians regaled them with tales of an old man with a beard who bestowed his bounty on good little children everywhere.

The wise men looked at each other, then grinned. They broke out into belly laughter and hugged each other heartily. “Oh my!” spake they and “Woot!” for great hilarity fell upon them . Eventually, after much thigh slapping and gasping for breath the leader of the trio spake to the small crowd. “Taketh us though for naïve, uneducated dullards? Thinketh that because we are recently come from foreign lands we know not when we are being taken for fools?

The onlookers knew not what to say; this was surely heresy, for here in the land of Tower Hamlets, one gospel was preached above all others. And wasn’t the evidence laying all around? They tried to explain their word, in all sincerity but the wise man feared for their sanity. He sayeth “Pull mine other one, brother. We may have all just disembarked from the boat, but green as we are, even we don’t believe in Jeremy Corbyn!”