Friday 30 October 2020

Corbyn. Bear-traps. 100% Predictable.

Ordinarily, conspiracy theories are to be avoided like the plague.  But when you know for certain that factions (roughly speaking, the Marxist Labour Left and the Starmerists) are on large-scale maneouvres, it's much more reasonable to attempt to fathom what's happening.  Having now seen 36 hours of Labour Party mayhem being conducted in public, I think we can piece this together quite easily.  

1.  Both sides had a lot of time to prepare

Publication of the EHRC report has been in everyone's grid for many months, and always had the potential to be a pivotal event.  We know Starmer and his people think in these terms, witness how superbly well-prepared they were on the very instant GE 2019 was seen to be lost (several days before polling, maybe more).  Likewise, Team Corbyn has never disbanded and will have been just as seized with the potential of EHRC day.

2.  Both sides have a big agenda

We've been surmising that Corbyn may have trashed the entire Labour brand: polling data and a sense of history probably reinforces this to Starmer in spades.  From the very start he has been looking for opportunities to make it obvious that he is the anti-Corb: but that's just a part of it.  Additionally, he wants to expunge the Left from the Party: no mean ambition, given the left's tenacity and how much the last six years has rallied them within the Labour Party itself, with (at one point) tremendous morale and impetus (not to say momentum ...).  

On the other side, being the narcissist (© Elby-t-B 2020) he is, Corbyn is extremely keen to self-justify and exculpate.  But it's far more than that.  Much of the Left that still absolutely, religiously dotes on him, see him as their rallying point.  (Frankly, like Christ, Mohammed and Wittgenstein he'll still be that, long after he's gone.)  They want his named cleared so that he can continue as the grit in their oyster until their pearl reaches critical mass.

Both sides want to use the Report, the pivotal 'predictable moment' of 2020, to further these aims.  How could they not? 

3.  The EHRC gave both sides (some) advance notice

Lots, for Starmer: and he knows how to use it.  Maybe a lot less for Corbyn - a disadvantage, for sure: but his people are quick-studies and would have mastered it very quickly indeed.  Both teams were absolutely primed and ready for the media from 10:00 Thursday onwards.  They'd certainly be getting all the airtime they wanted. 

4.  Corbyn is totally predictable ...

5.  ... ergo, a sucker for bear-traps

Cummings is the one that has deployed this to most dramatic effect, to date, in the run-up to GE2019.  But now Team Starmer has, too.

6.  The Report contained a bear-trap!

And here it is: 

Article 10 will protect Labour Party members who, for example, make legitimate criticisms of the Israeli government, or express their opinions on internal Party matters, such as the scale of antisemitism within the Party, based on their own experience and within the law. 

Team Starmer must immediately have recognised that Team Corbyn would highlight this to him, and that he'd not be able to resist using it as a shield from behind which he could make the extremely, studiedly point remarks he did.  And here's where the mind-games start.  Would Team Corbyn let their man make such a blatant provocation on Day Zero?  Many on the Corbyn-supporting Left have expressed surprise and dismay that he would do such an insensitive, tactically naive thing.  

But that's after he's had his legs chopped off.  Would they have been equally dismayed in vaccuo?  I suspect not.  Rather, I believe Team Corbyn thought they were being tactically adroit, and were looking for the maximum defensible provocation to perpetrate on Day Zero, in order to set the platform-for-comeback as far above the level of abject apology as possible.  With the Article 10 paragraph in hand - plus the EHRC's diktat that the LOTO should play no part in cases of individual party discipline, they assumed they were bullet-proof, from behind the cover of the EHRC report itself.  They'd already been told the EHRC was not calling for his head on a pike and nor, it seemed from their 'negotiations' with Team Starmer, would the boss.  Could their man possibly be disciplined?  What, being an ordinary Party member, would be the charge against him?  Starmer could dismiss a member of his ShadCab; but the Party couldn't discipline an ordinary member sheltering behind Art 10.  They felt they were staying just about on the safe side of the line. 

Corbyn himself would be champing at the bit, up for anything they were willing to let him say.  

And so, into the bear-trap he threw himself. 

7.  Team Starmer predicted this to a fine degree of accuracy

... at very least, as one of the possibilities.  (Who knows, they may even have fed the Article 10 stuff to the EHRC ...)  They know their man!  Who in the Labour Party doesn't? 

The trap snaps shut.

8.  Immediately, everyone sees what must happen next

Corbyn was lured into issuing a mortal insult (as hastily defined by Starmer).  In a practised move Starmer took off his gauntlet, slapped Corbyn swiftly across the mug with it and threw it on the floor, reaching at once for the duelling pistols.  Corbyn's seconds rush in, fearing that there is no way to avoid a fatal showdown.  "It's not an insult", they shriek, "he's just a very silly boy!   Where's your sense of proportion?  Resort to brute force isn't how lawyers settle disputes!"  And they hope Starmer will think better of what he's done, or notice that his pistol may not be terribly reliable. 

 9.  And indeed it must 

Starmer has a machine that does his bidding - rather willingly, since they are all on the same mission.  They couldn't but avail themself of the bear-trap, not least because it pivots around a blatant, incendiary provocation.  They'll seek to finish Corbyn off, and dare the Left to follow him out of the door.  

*   *   *   *   *

Is the outcome wholly predictable?  No more so than any duel, really - and Starmer's pistol does seem a bit suspect if Corbyn were to litigate.  I said that the Left is hoping this will all go away.  More than hope, though: they're desperate, because there's a massive downside, namely that Corbyn sets up a new party.  Much as they've toyed with that idea for months, they've always come down on the side of Stay and Fight.  They know their history, when it comes to breakaway parties in the UK.



UPDATE:  after early exchanges on the Today prog on Friday, when Starmer showed his fangs again, Team Corbyn are being studiously emollient.  Clearly coordinated.  "We're backing off, now Starmer must back off" - an attempt to get away with the provocation.  One key will be what they can get their man Corbyn to say.  It'll need to be abject in the extreme, positively and personally humiliating - indeed, probably scripted by the other side.  If he's as obdurate as he's been throughout the whole five-year anti-semitism saga, he won't retract.  And if Starmer remembers his history - the failure to make Saddam Hussein personally abase himself before Norman Schwarzkopf - he will only accept something ingeniously destructive for the morale of the Left.    

UPDATE 2:  we always knew the press read C@W ... Elby's verdict of a day or so back, now retailed by Rarely-original Rawnsley in the Observer 

Mr Corbyn’s vanity simply will not allow him to accept responsibility. Many things have been said about his character over the years, but one thing has not been said enough: he is a narcissist.


Thursday 29 October 2020

The undead return - what to do about the ex-boss.

Like a bad dream, Jeremy Corbyn continues to bring nightmares to the Labour Paty. Poor old Keir Starmer showed his true lack of CEO metal today. 

In any corporate business, the boss going is a big deal, especially if they are a wrong 'un. New management is always quick to blame ("Kitchen Sink" is the preferred business term) the past "loser" whoever he or she was, take a huge write-off and fix some big issues in the company. All the better to start the new term with some heavy-lifting done for no political capital expended. 

In politics, life is not so easy. Your predecessor can hang around making trouble, like Theresa May, or leave the scence like Cameron (and Blair for a while). It is not up to you, unless you foolishly promote them to the Lords too soon. Occasionally, in business you have the old boss continue on, like Stelios who of course stills owns huge parts of easyjet and can make mischief at will, but in the round, once out the door they are done for in terms of influence. 

With the horrifying anti-semitism case in the news today, the left has managed to gorge itself on its own righteousness around political correctness. If it was for the nastiness of the beliefs behind it, it would be very funny.  Starmer could at last takehis chance for a clearout. Yet with this open goal to boot Saint Jez out, he pulled his punches, defending him this morning in a typically studioulsy lawyerly way. Only when the Sainted one refused to repent his sins, word for word rejecting Starmer's defence, has he suddenly found the courage to suspend him. 

A real leader would have used this opportunity to not only kick-out St Jez, but to make sure a few other reprobates went with him. Alas, Starmer has proved only a bit part player and with it shown he lacks the true metal of leadership. if there is one thing May and Covid have shown us, it is that strong leadership qaulities are needed in a Prime Minister and hard decisions must be made and acted on.


Wednesday 28 October 2020

Greta T may not "vont to be alone", but ...

Notwithstanding her much trailed return to being an ordinary school student, Greta seems still to pout in public quite a bit.  Must be very tempting, I guess.  She may not vont to be alone.

So what plans do her NGO handlers have for further exploiting her enormously successful global brand?

I'm rather repeating myself here, having written about the shift in climate-change response several times, and can't stress enough how the whole thing has now gone 100% mainstream, as of mid 2019.  The NGOs did their job too well !  As such, they risk being completely swept aside by Big Business / Big Banking, as it swings into full action mode.  Yes, we really get it, we're really doing it - now just piss off!   (We don't take advice from people in sandals.)

They never really knew how business worked, and they don't know how to intervene in a genuinely purposeful business dynamic such as is happening everywhere now, except as spectators and way-behind-the-curve cheerleaders.  They'd be gobsmacked if they saw the detail of what the heavy-duty, truly purposeful reengineering of whole, real, steel-&-concrete sectors of industry actually involves.  (I'm working on a hydrogen project right now - it's mind-boggling in its ambition.)  They have nothing to contribute! 

It'd be like a 1930's refugee, fetched up in America, who'd been writing to her congressman for a couple of years urging him to drop his isolationism and get the USA into the war.  Then along comes 1941-42.  What does Roosevelt or Ford or Bethlehem Steel or Boeing need to hear from her on the subject of how you build tanks and ships and aircraft by the thousand?  

I'm guessing the NGOs (the ones with the really devious world-government plans) were hoping, or planning, that their Big Chance was if business continued to dig in against change, and would need ongoing and detailed cajoling / direction / manipulation / hand-holding / external interventions of all kinds, by self-appointed green missionaries. 

Too bad, Greta - it'll be Goldman Sachs in charge, as ever.


Monday 26 October 2020

The Wales Syndrome

Much merriment can be drawn from the situation in Wales this past, amongst the darkness that stalks our lands otherwise. 

I have throughout the last few months grown tired with two aspects of "Covid Control" that are at once contradictory. On the one hand, I get bored with the media (and also immediate family and acquaintances) finding every tiny loophole to exploit in any suggestions from the Government about restrictions to our lives to help prevent the spread of the Virus - it is just a series of sad little gotchas. We do know the Government is trying to restrict the virus spread and not just wind up directly Mrs Lilliput from no.23 who wants her hair done on a Tuesday. I find these conversations a tragic waste of time.

On the other hand, the ridiculousness of the micro-management by the Government and the pseudo-Governments of the regions also frustrates me. The latest idiocy in Wales over the sale of non-essential items is the most hilarious example yet. Since when in the the UK anywhere has a Government decided what items in a shop you can or can't buy on any given day? This is like something out of a Solzenhyitsen dystopia. But it is also very funny, to see a Labour Government, do exactly what we all  would predict and get even more micro-managing than the Tories - all for your own good of course. 

Overall, the Government's have lost the communications battle as they listen too much to the scientists. The current message "hands, face, space" is pretty good - it makes the case for simple social distancing. Throw that in with curtailing some activities where the virus is spreading fast and we have a policy easily understood and abided by. It is the extra craziness of specific venues being open or not, or groups of people gathering or not, that ruins this message. Governments cannot seem to help themselves gorge on the minutia of interference. But better that they focus on bigger things like reading NHS beds and testing and leave out the insane micro-management. 

Saturday 24 October 2020

Tories' Persistent Poll Lead: Two Theses

 There must be many a leftie tearing their hair at this:

It's rather bigger than some recent Tory poll leads, but by no means an outlier.

WTF?  Boris has screwed up the Covid / national economy challenge almost as badly as Trump (albeit with none of the FlatEarth numbskullery, so it's pure incompetence and bad judgement), putting the UK right up there with the worst performers.  It would be laughably easy to compile a list of colossal and very public mis-steps, ranging from the catastrophic, through the corrupt, to the comical.  Johnson hasn't put a foot right since the long-distant Greenwich speech.  How come polling like the above is even vaguely possible?

I think we may rule out any supposition that the populace is being swayed by some purposeful 'subliminal influence' media campaign of breathtaking subtlety and genius being mounted by Cummings who, original as he may be, is also plainly what my father's generation would have called a four-letter man.  Conversely, the Labour Party has not advocated a policy of Covid house arrest for obese BAME diabetes sufferers, nor otherwise lately perpetrated anything universally repugnant.  So - WTF?

I offer two broad theses and, being fairly puzzled meself, invite the C@W faithful to pitch in with others.

1.  Natural Loyalty In Time Of War

This one barely needs elaboration.  You stick together when the chips are down and, as in 1945, if you have reservations about the mob you've thereby lent support to, you can always heave them out.  When Starmer wants to sleep at night he'll be comforting himself with this one: let's face it, the evidence is, it's all he's got.  So pure is his strategy, he won't even risk tapping the ball occasionally into any of the gaping open goals Boris specialises in.  Hey - this is Strong Human Instinct we're talking about: let's not mess with that.  (Pipe down at the back there, Burnham.)

2.  The Labour Brand Is Utterly Trashed

All through the Blair years in power, long after the Bambi-fresh appeal of Blair had evaporated, the more innocent of my Tory friends were continually perplexed.  Whatever outrages the Blair/Brown regime came up with, and however well successive Hagues / Duncan Smiths / Howards / Camerons spoke to wrongness of what was being done, Blair sailed on regardless to electoral victory.  And I used to say to them:  that's a measure of how much people truly despise the memory of the Major and the later Thatcher years.  

So here's the polar-opposite Thesis #2.  In the 30 months following GE 2017, Corbyn so trashed not only his own reputation but the entire Labour brand, that the electorate will spurn the People's Party for a decade.

Yes; judging by what happened 1997-2015 (or indeed 1951-1964) it could be argued that the wasteland wilderness period could even be longer.  I suspect some of the more reflective lefties fear as much.

 We must all have been pondering on this one: what do we think?


Thursday 22 October 2020

IAG - BA part 2

Another day, another report of how badly things are going awry for the airline industry.

As discussed last week, I can really see huge changes afoot for the airline sector. Here is BA reducing its rather heroic 70% capacity next year forecasts in favour of a 30% capacity next year forecast. this is much more in-line with the rest of the industry. 

But it does show capacity overall in the sector being reduced by over 66% in total for the next six months at least - and which of us knows really how long this will last for?

BA have made a billion pound loss for the quarter, in reality they can sustain this for over a year in terms of pure financing. However, when do they press the button on permanently halving the size of the business? it is only but hugely cutting capacity that they can give up leases, reduce staff and other maintenance costs as well as slots at the airports where they operate. Reducing capacity will also allow them to charge more for the fewer flights that they are offering as it will bring back pricing pressure. 

A reason I am obsessing over this though for you, readers, is that this is a cast iron example of how things have changed in the world for a long time to come due to Covid-19. 

At this rate, no 3rd runway will be need at Heathrow or Gatwick - indeed, we may not even need all of Stansted, Luton and Gatwick airports with 50% reductions in capacity. Soon conversation will turn to mothballing one of these at this rate. 

There can be no swift return from here to what existed in travel infrastructure terms in January 2019 - lots of business case for travel has gone too - who among us wants to go to a 20,000 person trade show in Nice or Berlin in the next few years for example? The covid scars are going to run deep.

Wednesday 21 October 2020

Burnham in "Blazing Saddles" Covid Revolt: What's Going On?

With a government as bad as Boris Johnson's, piecemeal stuff going badly wrong in random places is pretty inevitable.  But the whole Manchester fiasco is pretty strange.

What are we to make of Andy Burnham?  Compare and contrast with Sadiq Khan (always a 'transactional' politician) who has quite graciously praised the collaboration he's been getting from central government and is evidently in daily, and broadly constructive, dealings with HMG.  Burnham, though, is threatening the equivalent of a hunger strike and inviting the authorities to force-feed him.  Which they are doing.  He's an unlikely leftwing firebrand-hero, and comes across as just a sad, angry, frustrated individual which - given his responsibilities - he can be forgiven for on every count, at the purely human level, even if Not Very Statesmanlike.  But even some of his neighbouring council leaders seem to think he's gone too far in playing hostage games with his constituents' (short-term) well-being. 

And we're not hearing quite so much from Sturgeon just lately.  Maybe the rigours of winter will make everyone just retreat into a huddle of confusion, aimless resentment and slow economic disintegration.  

Of course, it all feeds into one of our current themes, namely, what next for bankrupt local authorities?  I can report another developent in my local Croydon saga: the (Labour) leader of the Council has gone the way of the Chief Exec and others.  The incomer is Sturgeon to his Salmond, as Sturgeon would have been viewed when she first took over, i.e. just an acolyte.  Is she any good?  We may find out quite rapidly.  The council has requested permission from the government to use capital resources to plug the gaping hole in the revenue account - the 'Northampton' solution - and there's an enquiry being held into the really outrageous conduct of the council's wholly-owned housebuilding company, a blatantly political and thoroughly incompetent project the details of which I won't bore you with.  Unhappily, the council's other vast "investments" are mostly in commercial property ...

Finally, what are we to make of Kier Starmer?  His '100% Sniper' strategy of never engaging with the enemy on the field of battle is strikingly clear and ruthlessly disciplined.  He is obviously betting everything on it.  Where is his support for Burnham and a general anti-government upsurge?  Will his sullen and increasingly rebellious troops stay in line?   Is Transactional Khan mapping out a clever central course of constructive engagement with reality that will serve his own long-term plans?  Is Angry Andy Burnham exactly the "everyman" leader Labour needs?  Questions, questions.


Saturday 17 October 2020

Saddam's Sortie (Pt 6) - President Bush the Greater

Reading a philosophy blog the other day, I found the following sentiment:  "George H. W. Bush was a temporary throwback to an earlier era of responsible conservatives".  Maybe not exactly how I'd have phrased it, but he was certainly the right man for the job in 1990, when Saddam Hussein made his land-grab for Kuwait.

Bush Snr was of course the consumate professional politician / administrator who'd done a string of top jobs before succeeding Ronald Reagan at the very top in 1989 - one helluva juncture in world history at which to take over.  I doubt if anyone would make a case for his having been a top-10 president overall: appointing Dan Quayle as VP, and losing (to Clinton) after one term, don't feel like qualifications for the shortlist.

But he had a couple of vital qualifications for the job in 1990: he'd been Ambassador to the UN; Director of the CIA; and he'd been on active combat service as a naval pilot in WW2 - 58 missions, DFC.  One way or the other, he'd learned some very significant lessons that were to prove extremely important for the conduct of the (First) Gulf War, both before and during the fighting.

The one that's relevant to our curent narrative on the build-up phase, 30 years ago today, is his enthusiam for building a substantial anti-Saddam coalition of nations.  We could all make the case as to why that would be a clever way to go, in terms of global politics - not least because, well, Middle East.  And then there was Russia, hovering to the north, with more than a passing interest in what was to transpire.

But it's not a no-brainer - particularly when his concept of the coalition extended to asking other countries to contribute troops on the ground.  Getting the UK onside was one thing - trusted ally, Security Council member, useful capabilities (Cyprus was vital, as we've discussed before; and all three services had plenty to offer in those days), on the same NATO doctrinal wavelength, part of the same intelligence community, fought alongside the USA in the Pacific theatre (inter alia) where Bush himself served.  But - as was later to be proved to be all too true - making use of, errr, Egyptian forces always seemed like a difficulty one could do without.  

Still, Bush insisted on it, and there was a motley feel to the eventual lineup in the desert.  We'll maybe get to that next year, when the 30th anniversary of the actual fighting falls.  Apparently he very much whipped in this coalition himself, making many a 'phonecall to monarchs and presidents around the world, doubtless making good use of the contacts he'd made over the preceeding decades.  And a strikingly large number of nations joined the party  - Wiki lists 34 - with additional players like Germany and Japan contributing $$$, on top of the huge financial contribution made by Saudi Arabia for obvious reasons of self-interest.

Bush also had a fine team to execute his orders (this does not include Quayle).  James Baker was a competent Secretary of State.  Colin Powell, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was and is very well-regarded.  And the appointment of General Norman Schwarzkopf to lead the mighty alliance on the ground was an excellent choice.

Next time:  the geo-political context.


Wednesday 14 October 2020

We All Like A Good Explosion

 ... and this one looks like a corker - a WW2 'Tallboy' bomb, recently detonated where it was dropped by the RAF near Szczecin in Poland.

(Interesting how that plume of water describes what must be nearly a perfect Gaussian distribution:  anyone know the maths behind that?)

Szczecin (Stettin) is 600 miles as the crow flies - further from England than Berlin - and getting there in 1945 required overflight of a lot of German-controlled airspace.  To me, even more impressive than the bomber sorties were the pre- and post-bombing recce missions flown (to calibrate the damage with before-and-after photos).  Prior to introduction of the Mosquito, that meant an unarmed Spitfire with a solo pilot - doing all his own navigation.  Its theoretical maximum radius was 900 miles, but they'd never take the crows-flight course, and would generally photograph several targets in a single mission.  After a bombing run, the Germans knew the Spitfire would be coming along shortly ...   

That takes a certain type of cool courage.


Monday 12 October 2020

Can BA (or other airlines) survive in 2021?

I noticed over the weekend that IAG has no replaced its long-standing CEO, Willie Walsh and now also replaced the CEO of main subsidiary British Airways. 

Lots of commentary notes that the huge dispute with staff over the 13,000 job losses was hte root cause of the changes. I recall from day slong gone that Rod Eddington lost his job for the same reasons in the last decade and then Wille Wlash himself was booted upstairs because of staff disputes. Basically, fighting the unions at BA is the main job of any CEO. The company is stuck with a huge historic Union base in a way that competitors like Easyjet and Ryanair are not. It has always made BA a hardship to manage. 

However, the current  effect of covid-19 is having a massive impact. IAG has raised extra finances (€2.7 billion) to help them through the crisis, but the plans for next year are to have flying capacity at 70% of 2019 levels. That feels very optimisitc, with the pandemic accelerating across Europe, India and the US, international travel is going to remain limited well into next year. Plenty of people will have a fear of flying too caused by the pandemic. 

Overall, I would be surprised if they got to 70% by the end of next year, after some vaccines have begun to be rolled out. To make it that far is going to need some epic cost cutting to really slim the airlines down, I can only see many airlines really surviving if  Governments' steps in to help with the blalance sheets. 

Friday 9 October 2020

Decline and Fall of Exxon

What a story.  Exxon, once the greatest corporation in the world, now struck out of the Dow Jones Industrial Average and eclipsed in market cap by a wind-farmer!  OK, every traditional energy stock has received a smacking this year - some reckon that 2019 will prove to have been 'peak oil' - but Exxon stands out from the Shells, BPs, Chevrons and Totals as having been in slow and steady decline for years before that. 

This is the firm that was the triumphant main survivor of the anti-trust purges against the Rockefeller / Standard Oil empire; that for decades managed its stock price carefully through a strategic buyback scheme, so that every pension fund in the USA had more Exxon in it than anything else.  That was AAA rated long after that became a distant memory for industrials.  That was totally self-confident in its own strength and abilities; that would blithely flout US sanctions if it chose**; that had every bank in the world at its beck and call; that remained magisterially above the hurly-burly of politics, domestic and foreign (until Russia expropiated some of its stake in Sakhalin, to the company's utter amazement: that's the kind of thing that happens to the others, but not us!).

What happened?  

It certainly wan't a single bad decision.  I know Exxon well, having dealt with them at length in several different manifestations.   On the one hand, they were (let's start in the past tense) totally confident in their own abilities.  They never recruited from outside: everyone started at the bottom of the Exxon pyramid, and at each successive layer a few more would drop off.  Management were trained to be generalists in a laudable programme of assignments to widely varying divisions.  If you'd never worked in the corporate treasury, that was a very good reason for being given a role there for your next job.    For this to be feasible, numeracy was the primary requirement; and training needed to be superb.  In technical subjects, it was.  There was an Exxon way of doing things, in almost every sphere.  By dint of the 'no external recruiting' principle, nobody knew any different anyhow.   By its own lights (share price, credit rating, ability to take on global mega-projects only Shell could match), this all clearly worked superbly well.  If you liked being in a competent, well-resourced, confident, and hence relaxed environment, you could have a very happy career.    

The downside?  Well, arrogance, natch.  And total insularity.  Exxon had no idea what it didn't know.  Like, absolutely none whatsoever.  This even included what else was going on in the oil industry, if Exxon didn't participate in a particular corner of it.  This extended to what were the lastest technical breakthroughs, if Exxon hadn't been involved.  (I was once set on, as an outsider, to conduct a formal enquiry into a vexed distortion in the UK oil taxation regime and the various ways most companies were finding to dodge around it: HMG wanted to straighten it all out.  I was invited to interview any executive in any company I chose and - on the strict basis of 'no names mentioned' - demand full candour from them.  This was forthcoming, and we bottomed out the loophole issue quite easily.  Exxon, naturally, insisted on being one of the interviewees (fair enough): they sat me down and earnestly assured me, with transparent good faith, that nobody in the industry was dodging anything at all, and the whole thing was a big misunderstanding.  Well, they certainly weren't dodging; they showed me their books.  They had absolutely no idea what the rest of the oil patch was up to.)

A subsidiary failing was their total lack of interest in entrepreneurial activity.  They made their money by being (as they saw it) the best engineers with the biggest balance-sheet, who could thereby command a monopoly on the biggest and most lucrative challenges / opportunities in energy.  Anyone piping up with a smart idea for making a few extra bucks was told to get back to their desks: too small to be of interest.  That's an attitude that corrodes the spirit of many of the brightest and best.   

Well, they've had a good run: but for years now it's become obvious this introspective giant was going to stumble really badly if the world moved on.  They'd never realise what was happening outside their frosted windows, for one thing.  And when the need came for nimbleness?  Forget it.  (There was once an Exxon CEO who said he was going to "teach the elephant to dance".  No chance.)  Two years ago they announced they were going to get seriously into trading - as had, for very many years past been Shell, BP, Chevron, Total ... et al, ad infinitum.  What: a massive oil company, not in trading?!  Yup.  Trading was evil.  If you give the toys to the boys, the boys will play with the toys; and then where would we be?  Nope, we'll be self-sufficient, thank you very much.  Well: try changing course in a volatile, fast-evolving commodity market without a good trading division.  Can't be done.  Needless to say, their new efforts have made no impact.

If the world moved on ... and so it has proved.  Exxon is now pretty paralysed, with most discretionary expenditure frozen while they figure out what the Hell to do next, as the rest of the western world heads along different paths towards Net Zero 2050.  (You can see them thinking:  the world will still need oil ... maybe there's a niche for just one unreconstructed old dinosaur ...) Their credit rating is still AA - albeit having been downgraded this year by both S&P and Moody's, and with negative outlook - so there's never any problem raising $$$.  They might still lash out on something left-field (like in the 1980s when they decided to beat IBM at office systems - sic ++).  

Chances of success?  Pretty low.  Still, it's a big corpse for many a vulture to feed off (see footnote) over the coming years.  My name is Ozymandias ...


Update:  I found the "elephant dance" story online


**  yet again, a story for another day (perhaps when the corpse has been interred)

++ from wiki, the story of a highly instructive $1bn Exxon cockup of old: 

Under the guidance of its paid consultants at Boston Consulting Group, Exxon announced in the 1970s, that it would compete against IBM and Xerox. The mantra was ‘Information Is the Oil of the 21st Century’. It launched Exxon Office Systems, which predictably failed, since "the giant oil company failed to fully realize the subtleties of managing small high-tech companies." In the early 1980s, Exxon retailed its fax machines and software through Sears. Exxon announced the closure of the venture at the end of 1984.

Thursday 8 October 2020

And The Winner Is ...

And so to our Colonialist Capitalist Quiz.  The amount charged by the RAF to the Egyptian government for the 3rd aerial survey in 1922 was £1,583 13s 5d.  

By my reckoning, the odd change in decimal is £0.6708  (13 x 12 + 5 = 161 pennies, / 240); so in guineas, 1,583.6708 / (1+(1/20))  =  1,508.26 guineas

So the winner is Sobers, with his very realistic stab.  A free lifetime subscription to C@W for that person - plus the first pint on me next time Blog Drinks are permitted.

*   *   *   *   *

Incidentally, if a little schoolboy humour is allowed while we are in robust retro mood  - you gotta admire the QC who told the court this week that the idea children can safely opt for puberty-blocking drugs is "a fairy tale" ...


Wednesday 7 October 2020

How do we live with the virus over the winter?

This Covid-2019 is so hard to manage. After a six months it does not seem that much the Government do makes a lot of difference to managing the outbreak. Despite our breathless media, the same is true in some other countries like France and Spain. 

Heavy handed lockdowns have worked in March and April to reduce in the UK and other Countries, but only at a huge economic cost and also a big cost to wider health outcomes. Excess deaths is the real measure of how badly the epidemic is affecting a country and the UK in Europe (likely in part due to being honest about deaths) is the worst affected. This covers not just covid deaths, but also the more 'normal' killers like cancer and heart disease - both exacerbated by the refusal to treat people in hospital by the Heath Service and Government. 

But we are where we are and there are no silver bullets here to stop the pandemic short of a vaccine which at best must still be 6 months from any kind of roll-out that would have a real world impact. 

However, the Government to me has not got things badly wrong. In March they were unfairly criticised for taking the time to consider how long a lockdown could work. Here we are in October, willfully ignoring the evidence. Matt Hancock I saw yesterday basically threatening the population that increases in local covid cases will see the closure again of cancer treatments. To me, this is totally unacceptable - a punishment on the weak created by the (immune) strong and backed by the Government. It reflects the desperation of the Government to control a bored and frustrated population. 

If I had lost my job, the idea I am going to sit at home and starve is for the birds. Who cares about a virus that you are 99% likely to recover from as compared to losing your lifestyle, home and possibly family?  No chance. 

With the lack of compliance and new evidence showing lockdowns are no longer effective we need a change in how we deal with the virus and one guided by economics and wider health concerns than only covid. 

I would go for:

- End lockdowns of all types. 
- Rigorously enforce social distancing, wearing masks and basic hygiene
- Open all businesses and schools as long as they can create a socially distanced environment. Properly monitor and inspect establishments, with big fines for non-compliance. 

Only in an extreme case of say over 100,000 cases per day would be have a national lockdown and even then only for a couple of weeks to take the edge off the cases. 

The biggest challenge is around shielding, over 70's should be offered voluntary shielding by the Government for a long period, up to a year from now. This is the vulnerable group but they are also adults, if they want to take risks they should be allowed to do so, but if they want to shield they should be supported in that. 

I am no doctor, but I can see psychologically the impact of the pandemic and economically we are having a nightmare - something needs to change and the Government's science only led approach is not working in the wider interest. 

Tuesday 6 October 2020

Tuesday Fun: Quick Capitalist Quiz

 Busy today, so here's a fun quick money question.

At the weekend I wrote of the problems of getting adequate military maps in WW2 for many areas in North Africa; but that a big swathe of Egypt had been covered by interwar surveys - "at the expense of the Egyptian government!".  Yes, the RAF charged the Egyptian government the cost of the aerial surveys.  Well, they were highly beneficial for irrigation planning, with a spin-off benefit of quite revelatory archaeological research.

Here's what happened on the 3rd such survey, conducted in 1922: based, unsurprisingly, on the Nile, it was split into a North survey from the Delta Barrage to the sea, carried out by No. 208 Squadron (Bristol Fighters), and a South survey by No. 47 Squadron (D.H.9s) from Aswan to the Delta Barrage, a total of 850 miles.  So: our colonialist capitalist quiz question -

What was the cost that was passed through to the Egyptians for the 3rd survey?  

Answer in Pounds Sterling, money of the day (1922 pounds, shillings & pence).

Small prize for the closest estimate ... (editor's decision final)


Sunday 4 October 2020

Saddam's Sortie (Pt 5) - Where Are We Going?

30 years ago, the USA having determined that Saddam was to be booted out of Kuwait, Drew had rejoined the Colours and was busily participating in the effort to bone up on two areas of lamentable ignorance on the part of the Staff:  (a) the surprisingly impressive Iraqi Army (see the last three episodes); and  (b) the likely battlezone itself.  

So: break out the maps!  - the "Going Maps", the ones showing all the obstacles and bridges and tracks; and which of them were unsuitable for tanks etc etc; i.e. the state of the "going".   

Hmm.  There were none.  The MoD had none.  How come??

It's interesting.  From the very start of WW2 this became a major issue for the British Army across much of North Africa where Britain found itself heavily engaged, first against the Italians and then of course the Afrika Corps.  The situation was more-or-less OK in a large swathe of Egypt where extensive aerial photo-surveys and subsequent detailed ordnance mapping had been conducted during the interwar years (at the expense of the Egyptian government!) for the twin puposes of irrigation planning and, as a simple subsidiary task, archaeological exploration.  But other areas gave a lot of grief - all the way across Libya, Tunisia - where French pre-war mapping proved inadequate - AND (amazingly) much of Sicily and Italy!  The requisite high-grade mapping needed to be done almost from scratch in many areas of that conflict, which necessitated a highly unwelcome diversion of aerial recce resources from their primary purpose of intelligence-gathering.

AND: there had been almost no WW2 fighting in and around Kuwait, or even the Persian Gulf at all.  Britain had invaded, firstly Iraq and then (in combo with Russia from the north) Iran, for the triple aims of (a) securing oil; (b) establishing a safe route for supplying war materials to Russia;  (c) both Iraq and Iran were deemed to be Axis-leaning.  But both these actions were rather to the north of Kuwait, and were all over in just a few days.  So there hadn't been any need to conduct military-grade mapping of the area we were now interested in.  Just a couple of years later (1992, from memory), the military forerunner of a Google-Maps type system came into use.  But in 1990 we were stuck.

Fortunately, the cavalry was at hand: the CIA came up with excellent Going Maps of the entire area for us - I think they had the entire planet covered.  

Amusingly, for those of an historical bent, there was in fact a precedent in the shape of some earlier military maps that could be laid alongside the modern American ones for comparison.  From somewhere in the depths of the archives the MoD did turn up British maps of the area - dating back to the 19th Century, the work of intrepid explorers of what was then known as the Great Sandy Desert** of what we now call Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. 

In those C19 volumes were to be found Going Maps of a different era:  "Track, ten miles, almost straight but soft going and gravel, passable for pack mules but not wagons or artillery ... bridge, suitable only for crossing on foot".  The modern version would make equivalent comments - but for trucks and tanks ...

Fortunately we had several months to lay our plans.  And the Royal Engineers are very good at preparing maps.


Next time:   the coalition of George (HW) Bush


**There is another desert region that goes by the same name nowadays - it's in Australia.  

Map: Jeff Dahl / wikimedia

Saturday 3 October 2020

The Mask Slips

To make you fume this weekend (or laugh, according to taste): a regulation Graun article on divesting portfolios of their involvement with fossil fuels etc.  It's full of the usual communistic claptrap: "A vast amount of the financial system is deeply undemocratic...", with entertaining followup exchanges BTL - "Are you presenting that as a bad thing? Should people get a vote on how you spend or invest your money?" / "Above the level of personal expenditure: yes".  

And, as ever, more participating CiF-ers are hostile to this dictatorial crap than support it.  Recall the saying of Nietzsche cited a couple of weeks ago: "You preachers of equality - from you the tyrannical madness of impotence cries out for 'equality': thus your secret desire to be tyrants disguises itself in words of virtue."  Not everyone warms to tyrannical instructions. 

Midway through, the mask slips well and truly as the writer bemoans:

there is a limit to the number of endowments and funds that represent beneficiaries who can be readily organised and are willing to submit to these demands, such as student bodies, religious communities and the constituents of progressive councils and cities

"Submit to demands" might be a form of words to be regretted after due consideration.  And as a student of these things, I can unpack "organise" for you.  It means "give instructions that will be obeyed".  As in: "our problem is, we are good at mobilising the youth, but we are bad at organising them", a plaint made variously by (e.g.) Momentum in the wake of GE2019, and the mobilisers of the Occupy movement.  

Ahh, the frustrating limitations of anarchy ...


Friday 2 October 2020

Trump Friday!

Trump Covid test: Who is Hope Hicks? - BBC News

The man can alwasy steal the scene. This time, he did not even mean it. 

But given he had the debate with Biden on Wednesday I am looking out for Joe Biden to tweet he is negative. 

Imagine if Hope Hicks, pictured, who likely gave the virus to Trump somehow manages to incapacitate both the President and the soon-to-be President elect. 

Whilst personally tragic, from a political point of view it would be pure popcorn. The US consitution can't really handle making changes on the fly given the rigours of the tripartite approach to Government. 

We would end up with Crazy Mike Pence as President, then likely into either Nancy Pelosi or Kamala Harris as, um, unelected female Presidents. Wow.

It won't happen, but then again this is 2020 and stranger things have never happened than this year.