Wednesday 30 November 2022

Winter blackouts: more likely now than for years

October was quite exceptionally warm in N.Europe.  November has also been warm, but in the UK also extremely wet; so the heating season really started this month.  And already we've had two 'capacity mechanism' warnings from the National Grid.  I realise many of you won't know exactly what that means: it certainly doesn't mean "blackouts imminent" - the whole point is that it puts providers of standby power on notice - but equally, it's very rare, and there's never been a November with two such warnings.  

Both came about for the same reason: wind generation subsided fairly suddenly, and to a great extent than forecast.  This week's was quite spectacular, in that the wind output fairly collapsed - to zero in the afternoon and for the rest of the day.  We'd been exporting electricity at the start of the day but that switched to importing for a bit of top-up: needless to say, gas-fired generators carried by far the greatest part of the load, with some nuke and biomass, and a tiny amount of shortly-to-be extinct coal. 

And it's not even cold yet.  Granted, Europe as a whole is better placed as regards availability of gas than might have been foreseen back in June.  But we're all in trouble if a serious cold snap comes along, both in terms of wholesale energy prices and absolute energy availability.  Prices are already surging.  Industry will be switched off in many countries, with the UK being better placed than most (FWIW).  

Yet we still find people airily saying we don't need gas.  Possibly the highest profile example, and the most irresponsible, is Ed Miliband, who announced at his Party Conference that we could dispense with gas for all but 0.3% of the time, by 2030.  He's lying through his teeth, his slim defence being that he'd commissioned some "modelling" which told him this was possible.  Well, in the real world, it ain't.

Will this all come to some dramatic, sticky end - if not this year, then shortly thereafter?  I doubt it.  Rather, it'll be years of messy, pragmatic muddling through - which, as it happens, the UK is quite good at.  Targets of all kind will be missed, but it won't have to matter.  Timetables will simply slip, and kit will be refurbished for yet another season.  How much egg will end up on politicians' faces?  Not much.  Greta will be very upset, of course; but most people just want to stay warm.  


Sunday 27 November 2022

Weekend reading: informative essay on Sturgeon's SNP

 Further to our brief Scottish foray after the Supreme Court ruling ... here. Extracts: 

Where [Salmond] imposed his chaotic ego on issues foreign and domestic, [Sturgeon] had more strategic nous, crystallizing the party’s Europhile credentials in the wake of Brexit and consolidating its standing among Scotland’s middle-class Remainer majority ... Sturgeon engineered the destruction of Scottish Labour, lifting support for independence to record-breaking highs. Recently, however ... the semi-biblical belief in Sturgeon’s power has started to fade. [She] saw the 2016 Brexit referendum as an opportunity to de-risk, or de-radicalize, Scottish nationalism. From then on, the SNP moved to the centre in pursuit of liberal Remainers; the Yes campaign began to splinter and dissipate (thanks in part to a controversy over trans rights); and the prospect of a second independence vote receded.

... she will leave behind a threadbare political legacy ... pledges to scrap Council Tax and abolish student loan debt were ditched. In their place came a botched green industrial strategy, record drugs deaths and, potentially ... tens of thousands of public sector job cuts. In 2015, Sturgeon ostentatiously invited the Scottish media to ‘judge’ her on her record of eliminating the class attainment gap in Scottish schools. Nearly a decade later, that gap remains as vast as ever. 

... In 2018, the SNP appeared to concede that the era of petro-nationalism was over was by removing North Sea revenues from its fiscal projections for an independent state. But in her speech to the SNP’s annual conference on 10 October, Sturgeon abruptly repositioned oil at the centre of her vision for Scottish self-government. Tax receipts from remaining North Sea fields would be paid into an investment fund, she said, which would help kickstart Scotland’s economy during the early years of independence. The announcement eradicated what was left of Sturgeon’s meagre environmental credibility and reflected a ‘business-as-usual’ vision for independence.      


Friday 25 November 2022

Gieves & Hawkes: a subaltern's memories

Today I read that Fraser Group (Sports Direct) has taken over Gieves & Hawkes, the "historic Savile Row tailor".  Whatever next?  (or should that be 'Next ..?')

Ah, the memories.  As a newly-minted Second Lieutenant I was told to present myself at G&H - or "Thieves and Sharks", as they were called, for my first dress uniform - and to "Herby J's" for my hat.  These were the regimental tailors.  Well, when you're new, you have to do what you're told.  

The officers' uniform allowance didn't go very far in Savile Row.  Mercifully, when I was properly ensconced with my unit, I was told of a jobbing tailor who could run up whatever was needed for around half the price - and better tailored, too.  (This all sounds like something out of Evelyn Waugh, n'est-ce pas?)   So it was to him that I went for my Mess Kit - which needed to be well made and of the best material, because it was subjected to some, ahem, stress and strain in the closing stages of the average mess dinner night.

I quickly learned to tie a proper bow-tie knot, too.  Anyone caught wearing a pre-tied knot (by the simple expedient of tugging upon it) had to stand a round of drinks.  And since the number of these challenges would rise as the evening wore on, you needed to be able to re-tie it drunk, and without the aid of a mirror.

See, if the Russian army was properly trained, they wouldn't be utterly up shit creek in the humiliating fashion they now find themselves.


Wednesday 23 November 2022

Nicola Sturgeon is Mightily Relieved ...

 ... despite what the Beeb says, for the sake of form:

But she's a player.  She knows full well that an IndyRef2 run tomorrow would be a nightmare for her.  

If she "wins", WTF does she do then?  I can't see the EU rolling out the red carpet for her: it'd be cap-in-hand, multi-year negotiations - and with London, too, in parallel, haha! - with adopting the EUR as a red line requirement on the part of Brussels.  And who knows what else besides, with one eye on the Catalans.  Not as if they don't have any other distractions just now.

If she "loses" she's a gonner in Scotland, and the issue really does take a mighty setback.

Nope, she's only too happy to be throwing indignant strops and stomping around righteously demanding consolation prizes.


Saturday 19 November 2022

Musk: the limitations of raw intelligence

Until the ridiculous Thailand cave rescue incident I hadn't given much thought to Musk.  Mostly positive.  Serious achievements; obviously, brain the size of a planet; vision; and a remarkable ability, not only to think & do hard sums, but to be creative (if not original), and - above all - to implement & execute.

That, though, is a dangerous combination if not leavened with some worthwhile character.  Why introduce that negative perspective?  Well, because of the Thailand thing ... and then there's his extraordinary public statements on the subject of Tesla shares.  Writing as someone who's twice been an officer of a publicly listed US company, with all the blood-curdling warnings - plus accompanying training - one gets from corporate lawyers on the subject of Public Utterances in Matters Affecting the Share Price, I can tell you that one rapidly develops great sensitivity on the subject.  Well, mere mortals do, anyhow.  How Musk got away with it, who can say?  Too big to fall? - like US bankers (though not like Enron's Skilling and Lay).

So now he lays hands on Twitter, and what a dog's breakfast he's making of it.  Mass resignations of exactly the people a tech company relies on (leaving with what juicy insider info in their laptops and craniums?); really funny insults being projected onto his offices; obvious prospect of utter meltdown.  Note to CEO: you don't insist on people working ultra-long hours etc etc as a precondition of employment: serious hard work happens naturally enough when you (a) inspire them and (b) send them on a mission that captures their imagination.  (Flogging works as well - but not when they have serious employability credentials and an unimpeded passage to the door.) 

Musk has climbed several mountains in his remarkable career.  This one is entirely of his own making.  Let's see what happens with Twitter.


SUNDAY UPDATE:  an apposite supporting article in today's Observer

Thursday 17 November 2022

Compo: wither sterling?

While we await our fiscal fate ... it seems that placating international markets is the major desideratum of Hunt's upcoming Statement.  Writing as a self-confessed know-nothing about macroeconomics, Sterling must surely be a proxy for international sentiment?  

So:  as of this moment in time (08.23) the pound buys:

  • $ 1.1944
  • € 1.1494
Compowhere will it be at 09:00 tomorrow?  

In my ignorance I shall take a punt at slightly lower.   See - I don't even have a serious view on up / down / sideways.  Any better takes on the outlook than this feeble effort?  A small liquid prize for the winner, adjudicated by a complex algorithm that takes into account numerical accuracy, and time of day the prediction is posted (the earlier, the better).  BBC market data used.


*  *  *  *  *  *

So the outturn was 1.1895 (0.4% down); 1.1488 (0.05% down). 


... is Jeremy Hunt!  (only kidding).  

The winner is Andrew - correct in both direction, and that it would only be small in magnitude.  Not very prompt off the mark, though: so ...

... Hon mention for Shiney (who got in very fast, and in the correct direction, but a bit too far).  Anon was quite fast, and small in magnitude, but wrong direction.

Prizes:  I will stand both Andrew and Shiney a drink, if & when we have our next blog pub session.  It has to be said that we haven't had one since Covid struck, but here's hoping.  In the meantime, enjoy a free subscription to C@W.  

PS - anon is welcome too, but sadly we need to know what you go by before you get a prize ...

Tuesday 15 November 2022

The adult bullying thing (again)

While we await Hunt's Thursday offering, it seems the whole "bullying of adults" thing is a live issue again, be it (allegedly) Raab, Patel, Williamson, Braverman etc etc.  We've discussed it here several times before, and for me there's still some mystery involved.

It's plain enough that workplace bullying by those with genuine career-breaking authority is (a) a real thing; (b) dreadful; and (c) quite difficult to deal with.  If, as seems to be the case (and indeed, seems quite likely) there are bullying politicians who make life intolerable for Civil Servants - particularly junior ones - then that is, in turn, intolerable.  (The obvious fix is only to expose juniors that are of a robust disposition, and never in 1-1 situations.  Needless to say, politicians are hardly unique in such matters.)

What I don't understand is how the average MP ever gets to be brow-beaten by a shit like Gavin Williamson - though it seems they do.  This extends to other whips who didn't like his conduct but seemingly didn't rein him in at the time.   Now if you are, not an average MP, but one who's deeply in debt and other kinds of trouble and who has already thrown themselves on the mercy of Williamson (when he was Chief Whip) - well, that I understand.  But the average MP of my acquaintance, male or female, is pretty self-confident & thick-skinned.  And Williamson is transparently, errr, what he is.

So how come, the very first time he tried this stuff on, he didn't get an immediate f***-off, accompanied by a metaphorical slap round the chops and an explanation of what might follow if he tried to take matters further (in this day and age of easy recording and publication), such that he was disinclined to try it again?

Ambition?  You swallow that stuff because you're a junior MP and he's tacitly threatening to kill your career in its infancy?  I see the argument, but I don't buy it.  If you are a really junior MP - say, first term - but you win a carefully-chosen battle with someone like that, there's nothing but long-term kudos coming your way.  Nobody was going to make you a cabinet minister next week anyway.  We're back in Sadiq-Khan-bullies-Cressida-Dick territory: how's it possible? 

Any thoughts on this distressing facet of human existence?


Friday 11 November 2022

COP27: Contradictions Foretold

The other day I was looking back at the C@W "predictions 2022" compo.  En passant, it seems that back in January, none of us could believe Putin would actually invade ...

Anyhow, I offered "it's not a prediction, it's a cert; 2022 will be a year when the contradictions in energy policy will truly make themselves felt" - and now, as then, I claim no credit because it was already obvious for all to see.  You could argue - certainly in the case of Germany - it had been obvious for years.

Anyhow, fast-forward to COP27, and much blathering about the wicked oil and gas producers limbering up to produce ... more gas!  And - shock, horror

The push is coming from the host Egypt and its gas-producing allies amid a global energy crisis compounded by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Well yes.   And of course benighted Germany is well to the fore in stimulating the producers' revived development activity.  As the Grauniad callously puts it

Panic over keeping people warm in winters to come, and keeping the lights on from gas-fired power generation, has led governments in Europe that previously relied on gas from Russia to push for new supplies from a range of other sources.

Well, errr, yes again!  'Panic', of course, is a loaded term in progressive circles, generally coupled as "moral panic", which is always a thing to be derided.  That really is a nasty little insinuation.

Yup, gas it is.  Nature's most all-round effective off-the-shelf fuel offering, certainly in the context of today's technology - while we patiently await practicable nuclear fusion, and/or serious electricity storage capability.  What wailing and gnashing of teeth there will be if Egypt engineers a COP27 resolution which labels gas as "sustainable" ...


Wednesday 9 November 2022

Voting at 16: unintended consequences?

It's been a bit of a thing on the left to militate for the voting age to be reduced to 16.  It was in Corbyn's ill-fated 2019 manifesto.  Without doubt, they assume the 16-18 cohort would be a big boost to their vote.

Really?  There's a thoughtful essay here by Aaron Bastani  - the epitome of a thoughtful leftie, though some of his many thoughts are daft - in which he notes that this is by no means a given. 

No, Younger People Aren’t Always More Progressive - just look at Brazil and Israel ... There is no reason reactionary politics can’t flourish this century given the multitude of challenges humanity faces.   

His thesis is indeed firmly centered on Brazil and Israel, which is convenient for someone whose readership probably prefers to think of UK youth as inherently progressive.  But he could have found evidence for what he's saying in many a European country, including hereabouts. 

In fact, surely what's most likely is that 16-18 votes will go to whatever demagogue comes up with a catchy viral theme, be that "Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!" or something confected on behalf of the likes of a media-savvy Trump etc etc.   And timing will be everything: it'll be whatever sweeps the www at just the right moment.  There's no telling what you'll get, and whether it would be Right or Left (by classical taxonomy) - but it could be ghastly.

As it happens, I can't see ultra-cautious Starmer including this in his next manifesto - though he'll most probably have coalition issues to think about, and you know the Greens and LibDems will want it.  They should be careful what they wish for.


Saturday 5 November 2022

Seneca is better than Truss' lame quote might suggest

What have the Romans ever done for us ..?

Predictably, Liz Truss made a spectacle of herself spluttering out an attempted quotation from Seneca (or was that Sennapod?) as she bad farewell to the cruel world of Downing Street with a neat encapsulation of her brainless approach to political decision-making.  Seneca did however write some really interesting stuff - more interesting than the low-grade self-help platitude that Truss seems to like: the T-shirt slogan material that counts as worldly wisdom amongst people like George Osborne who think that Nudge is a work of philosophy.

We turn, then, to Seneca's blood-soaked Medea - probably most famous for its prediction of the discovery of the New World: 

... in later years a time will come when Oceanus shall relax his bars and a vast territory shall appear, and Tiphys shall discover new worlds, and Thule shall be no longer the remotest spot on earth.

Seneca also had something critical to say about the opening up of the world for commerce and multi-culti exchange - an issue we often find being discussed around here, and indeed which exercises a lot of modern political thought: the benefits, or otherwise, of globalism, free trade (and dependency thereon), supra-national government and more-or-less compulsory cultural fusion.  The Loeb translation runs thus

Our forefathers saw bright eras with crime and deceit far distant.  Homely, touching no shores but their own, they grew to old age on their fathers' land, and, rich with little, beyond what their native soil had yielded they knew no wealth. The covenants of this well-separated world were dragged together by Thessaly's pinewood boat, which ... bade the sea, once alien, become part of our fears.

In other words:  our [very distant!] forefathers knew nothing beyond their own shores, but they were happy, and lived well enough on what they had.  All these happily separate nations, each with its own customs, were forcibly wrenched into a single 'unity' when the first merchant-adventurers started stirring things up: and the seas, which nobody ventured upon before, became a source of troubles.  (Apologies if I'm insulting you by offering a precis.)

Now of course ancient Roman imperialists (Seneca's target here) were very much in favour of globalism.  They had every intention of taking their ships everywhere, with no limits as to whom they were willing and indeed eager to embrace in their world-system: all you had to do was subordinate your culture - and of course pay your taxes.  In return, you got, well, whatever it was the Romans did for us.  And, as John Cleese's Reg ruefully acknowledges, that was, errr, quite a lot.

We have more recent versions of globalist imperialism to think about.  We Brits had a good crack at it, spouting the Roman precedent explicitly at every opportunity.  The French would have loved to (and the Spanish).  The Americans are still in that mode, though less confidently than in earlier decades.  The Chinese are itching to have a go.  Somewhat more regionally, Russia thinks everyone across a pretty broad expanse of the planet should offer fealty to Moscow.  And of course the EC is pretty keen on having everyone in (and indeed adjacent to) Europe subordinate their cultures and pay their taxes, with compulsory multi-culti all round.  Which a majority of us Brits are now quite resistant to.

I don't recall Nigel Farage ever quoting Seneca.  But the golden image of a "well-separated world" of yore, everyone happy with their lot, might sometimes be rather attractive - on both right and left of politics; and for Greens, too.

Still, that list of "what the Romans did" is quite impressive ...


Thursday 3 November 2022

Heat Pumps Ahoy

Green Blob, personified
As we all probably know in the back of our minds, the Green Blob** plans to make us scrap our gas-based home heating rigs in favour of heat pumps, and that one day we shall perhaps need to think about the subject.  For the privileged few, this might be a ground-source HP, but for most (including new-builds, which rarely have enough land, if any, these days) it will be an air-source HP.

I'm starting to read my way into this, and am running into massive promotional propaganda on the one hand, and serious skepticism on the other.  Unsurprisingly, I find myself somewhat averse to the cheer-leading.

Does any reader have knowledgeable contributions to make?  (On HPs, that is: I know you all have definitive views on Ukraine, Covid etc.)



** Somehow, whenever I hear "Green Blob" it's always a vision of Gummer that comes to mind.  I just can't take that man seriously - I know it's unfair ...