Wednesday 28 February 2024

Votes - and indoctrination - for politically suspect 16-year olds

There are quite a few on the 'progressive', lefty side of the divide who believe that votes for 16 year-olds is a guaranteed way to lock in a majority for evahh.  

Hmm.  The more rational actors are not so sure: I know for a fact that within Starmer's camp there are those who don't agree.  Maybe they've seen that chilling series of interviews conducted a few years ago by some brave lady in Israel, asking teenagers what they thought should be done with Palestine / Palestinians.  Progressive?  No, their views were not that way at all.  And you just know that a couple of weeks before a GE in any country with 16 year old voters, the progressives would be blind-sided by some virulent populist www-meme that would have who-knows-what consequences.  Even Trump fears the reach of Taylor Swift.

Which brings us to Andrew Tate and the Labour Party.  A friend of mine was recently asked to give a talk to a mixed high school.  On arrival, he was begged by the staff not to engage, if and when some of the boys raised the subject of Andrew Tate.  It's that bad.  

And the Labour Party knows it.  So what's the plan?  This is seriously horrific, as well as being seriously bonkers. 

Labour to help schools develop male influencers to combat Tate misogyny: Shadow education secretary says party would help schools train role models as ‘powerful counterbalance’

Labour would help schools to train young male influencers who can counter the negative impact of people like Andrew Tate ... [she] expressed hopes that some of the young men who became leaders in their schools could then reach more people by becoming online influencers themselves. “I would hope that the young male mentors involved would then also be able to share their experiences more widely, to kind of shift the discussion around what it is to be growing up as a young man today in modern Britain,” Phillipson said. Under the proposals, Labour would send “regional improvement teams” into schools to train staff on introducing the peer-to-peer mentoring programme.

OK, it's doomed from the start because stroppy kids ain't signing up for crap like this.  Generations of well-meaning priests and do-gooders have tried.  Unless you're willing to go the whole Jesuit hog at age 7, it ain't gonna work.  The idea that a Labour-appointed schoolboy "young male mentor" is about to become an online influencer could only have been devised by someone with (a) no teenage children of their own, or never even met one; and (b) with their head squarely up their backsides.  The poor lad is most likely to get a kicking.

But then ...  "regional improvement teams"?  Didn't Mao send them in, during the Cultural Revolution?  The fact that anyone even thinks these thoughts is pretty chilling.

That's 'progressives' in 2024, folks.  Culture War?  We ain't seen nothing yet.


PS:  here's a (relatively) intelligent progressive (not quite an oxymoron) who's also deeply skeptical of this nonsense, sharing some of the above concerns and another of his own - he'd prefer Labour to be expending its energies on something more salient to the state we're in.  From about 30 minutes in.

Monday 26 February 2024

2024 Predictions Compo: Putin Election Update

 One of the questions in this year's Predictions Compo is:

  • Size of V. Putin's share of the Russian vote (as announced)
I have news from my quite-good-but-not-wholly-reliable Russian sources that the answer will be not unadjacent to 87%.

Just saying.


Thursday 22 February 2024

Sacking the Generals

Recently Ukraine's President Zelensky caused a stir (rapidly overtaken by other news) when firing his fairly well-regarded Commander of Joint Forces Gen Zaluzhnyi.  Political machinations?  A sign of weakness?  Well, I don't have any specific insight into what's going on there.  But I do know that firing generals is a perfectly legitimate option when things are going wrong.  You just need to be sure you've picked the right ones for the right reasons, and are not just lashing out in some kind of random scapegoating or personal score-settling.

It immediately brought to mind a recent book on the firing - and non-firing - of US generals: The Generals - American military command from WW2 to today, by Thomas E Ricks.  The author's twofold thesis is that:

(a) when the chips are down, prompt and adroit dismissals are vital to ensure that failure is not rewarded and that the right talent gets to the top, as fast as possible.  The players need to take over from the gentlemen at the earliest possible juncture;

(b) this used to be the American Way in the good old days when George C. Marshall was Chief of Staff: but the the mighty US Army inexorably became bureaucratised thereafter, so that very bad generals have been left in place to wreak havoc in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Well, the US system wasn't perfect - Marshall left Mark Clark, a truly awful general, in place.  But evidently he got through a lot of dead wood in pretty short order, as part of the vast expansion of the US Army in a very few years after 1940.  That's all the more remarkable because, in my experience of ultra-fast-growing organisations (I've worked in a couple), there's a tendency to feel that that hasty firings deplete the numbers just when every more-or-less able-bodied person is needed for the burgeoning task in hand.

Ricks' critique of several postwar US generals is unsparing.  Read it if this is your thing.  I'll just say that the book has told me stuff I hadn't known about the one I worked under (indirectly) - Norman Schwartzkopf - making me think I gave him too much credit in my thread on Desert Storm etc a few years back, which you can find here.  If what Ricks says is correct, I hadn't realised Stormin' Norman's first plan of attack was so lamentably wooden; (I was busy trying to figure out the other side's plans) nor that he so fundamentally misread what Ricks reckons were the strategic significances of the striking initiatives Saddam launched at the Battle of Khafji and his Scud campaign (posts 3 & 4 in my thread).  Colin Powell doesn't come out too well from the book, either.  I could offer a bit of a defence for both men, notwithstanding we all know they didn't manage to decapitate the Iraqi army when with perfect hindsight, we now know it might (possibly) have been achieved in 1991, saving the world a lot of bother twelve years later.  But nonetheless, they did achieve quite a lot.

And firing generals in the UK?  Well, Churchill fired a fair few.  Since WW2 I'm not sure we've been put to the test in quite the same way as the USA.  I once personally witnessed that irascible martinet Peter Inge, when a Lt General commanding 1(BR) Corps, publicly destroy an unlucky (and possibly incompetent) Brigadier in front of the whole Corps staff.  That didn't seem right then, and it still doesn't - and that's not to say the man shouldn't have been fired.  But there are ways and ways.  

I wonder how Zelensky's move will be seen in the years - or even the months - to come?


Monday 19 February 2024

The Sizewell C 'RAB' Abomination

A couple of weeks ago at Mr Wendland's prompting, I undertook to post on the putative Sizewell C contract, currently "under negotiation" with EDF and various financial parties.  I'd said it was worse than the Hinkley Point contract - hard to believe, but true.  We know it will be on a "Regulated Asset Base" footing, which has been used in the USA and elsewhere since time immemorial but in this SZC manifestation has some nasty new twists.  Other aspects are broadly known, but as with Hinkley, the final document will be secret, so there's always a limit as to what we'll get.  (There are aspects of Hinkley we only know because the EC published them.) 

Anyhow, I was duly working up a post; but this morning have been handsomely beaten to the punch by the redoubtable Citizens Advice in their response to a consultation.  Well, a very big hat-tip to them, and here's the link.  Adjusting for the fact that their language is naturally diplomatic, you can't do better than read this to get the full horror of what's being proposed.  It's only 16 pp - but if you're pushed for time, just the first 3 pages gives you the basics.


Wednesday 14 February 2024

AEP on 'Green Boom': not quite the full picture

As oft-noted here, Evans-Pritchard is often amusingly contrarian with an interesting point to make; and equally often just plain bonkers.  His latest DTel offering - fresh from his triumphant insistence that Labour should stick to its £28 billion pledge, hoho - straddles both characterisations. 

This is the year the world’s green juggernaut becomes unstoppable - the greatest economic growth story since the industrial revolution has crossed a critical threshold

Well, we read what he writes and we know what he means: but caveats need to be entered.

1.  2024 isn't the year: it was 2018-19, as explained here several times.  This was the window in time through which shone the dazzling light of expenditure on adaptation / resilience to climate change being classified by the UN as "green", & therefore qualifying for government subsidy / underwriting etc.  At this point, every traditional steel-n-concrete industry and their bankers realised this Green thing really had something in it for them - road repairs, sea defences, flood protection measures, reservoirs etc etc.  At which point - and that's 5 years ago now, Ambrose - the switch was thrown.

(Not all Greens are big fans of this development.  For one thing, dosh for adaptation diverts funds away from what they'd prefer to be spending money on; and for another, it can be portrayed as having given up on outright prevention of climate change, which many of them still cling to.)  

2.  There's a renewal in oil & gas, too.  More than one thing can be true at once, in this complicated world of ours.  The big O&G companies - and not just the Aramcos, ADNOCs & Petronas's of this world; it's Exxon, Shell, Total, BP and Equinor, too - have tracked the spending on renewables, modelled its impact, and noticed that the green trajectory lauded by AEP isn't going to eliminate the need for oil & gas for a very long time yet to come - the tobacco industry phenomenon I've written about before.  It might have been just the NOCs, the Chinese, and the piratical energy traders who benefitted: but now the IOCs have started to reorient.  

So, quietly at first (except Total**: their buccaneering CEO is made of stronger stuff), they've started on strategies that will allow them to carry on with their traditional businesses, while maintaining at least some kind of green front.  An ostentatious readiness to get stuck into the 'S' bit of CCS is one such wheeze; a bit of renewable investment of their own is also in the mix (except for Exxon, which started thinking that maybe it didn't need to change after all, a couple of years ahead of the others).

I'm not sure how the stock markets will handle this, or the pension funds.  But be in no doubt, however the spoils are shared and the shares are held, there's a long-term viable business still there.



** This may have awkward consequences for Total, because it has been identified as #1 Bad Guy by the greens who are willing to go violent, and they plan to target it.    

Thursday 8 February 2024

Gas industry and (shrinking) critical mass

It may seem quixotic to pick on any one highly suspect facet of the vague 'Net Zero' plans we, along with every other western nation, have to pay lip-service to these days.  But here's one that occurred to me recently: natural gas is essential for balancing the grid - but what if that's the only use it's wanted for?  Would the industry have critical mass in such a scenario?

The UK gas industry is huge (40% of our primary energy) and has been for a very long time, back into Victorian times.  We're really good at it.  Modern UK gas history starts with the first North Sea gas coming ashore in 1967, and the rapid (if chaotic) conversion of the nation's gas system from town gas to natural gas.  As production ramped up we started importing (from Norway, and a small amount of LNG) and have done ever since, although for a brief period - the absolute heyday of our own production - we were net exporters, the export routes being pipelines to Ireland (now horribly dependent on us as their own supplies dwindle) and the Continent**.  Meanwhile, gas had become an entirely new source of fuel for electricity generation (residential heating had previously dominated gas demand, and power generation using gas had been prohibited!); and in several phases the 'Dash(es) for Gas' brought about a substantial new sub-sector: gas-fired power, which systematically ate coal's lunch over a couple of decades, and still hasn't been squeezed out by burgeoning renewables.

And that's because ... it can't be!  At least, not if we're to enjoy electricity on demand, which most of us are quite keen on.  No other source has yet been devised which can so flexibly, easily, cleanly and at scale give us the balance of what we need when the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine, and the nukes and biomass aren't anywhere near enough to cover the rest.  Yes, there's pumped hydro and an ever growing army of batteries, and a bit of demand-side response: but gas it is, for as far into the future as anyone can credibly see (notwithstanding Ed Miliband's 'no gas-for-power by 2030' blather).

Right now, gas-for-power isn't only needed for 'peaking' - i.e. as a standby resource for days when wind is minimal, sometimes across the whole of northern Europe at the same time - it's needed for a material share of baseload, too.  If (a very big if) government plans for new nukes come to fruition, and the biomass farce is perpetuated, it's fair to say the baseload amounts needed from gas could diminish over time, as reflected in annual total numbers: that's certainly the 'intention' of both Tory and Labour policy-makers.  (I say 'could', but there are other policy-contingency scenarios I'll come to at the end.)   But let's suppose also that in parallel with the (gradual) big increase they all see in nuclear,  wind and solar power come to pass, they also somehow (gradually) manage to electrify home heating, the other massive demand for gas.  They'd still, like it or not, need gas for peaking, by which we mean, stepping into the breach for days at a time in winter.  Batteries just aren't credible for this at the necessary scale; nor (in this country) pumped hydro; nor imports; nor demand-side management.

Today, given the sheer scale of the routine business of meeting residential (and commercial & industrial) gas demand, the entire industry - from offshore production, pipeline and LNG import facilities, storage facilities, vast and flexible high-pressure grid and extensive distribution network, with engineers to match - can take on the task of providing reliable supplies for peaking in its stride.  But eliminate the regular demand for gas - by electrification, de-industrialisation, "conversion to hydrogen" etc - and it's a very different story.  Intuitively, it's not at all clear a rump gas industry maintained purely for the purpose of sitting on its arse for 300 days in the year, then periodically springing into really large-scale action at relatively short notice to cover a vast shortfall in power generation for maybe a week, is remotely viable.  That's an incredibly small small cost-base to sustain a hugely expensive, capital-intensive standby facility.

We've had a variant of this discussion before, in a very different context.  Yes, the UK is famed for the excellence of its Special Forces.  But many don't adequately recognise that this can only be maintained on the back of conventional forces of a certain critical mass.  Shrink the Army too far, and there'll be no SAS.   I contend that the same is true of the gas industry: without critical mass of day-to-day gas throughput for whatever uses, there'll be no peaking when kalte Dunkelflaute sweeps Europe.

What are the other scenarios I mentioned?  (i) Efforts to electrify home heating are a miserable failure.++  This both reduces power demand from the utopian scenarios, and retains critical mass in the gas industry (I disregard dreams of hydrogen entirely).  (ii)  Gas is still needed for baseload power because the nuke strategy comes to nothing, haha!  

Maybe these latter contingencies are so probable that we can rest easy on everything else I set out...



**When indigenous production decline started in earnest, as I've recounted before, the industry  invested in substantial new LNG import facilities and associated infrastructure in a timely fashion (spontaneously and without subsidy - hey, market mechanisms can work if you let them!); so that the production decline, and then the Putin-induced European gas supply crisis, were both managed rather well. 

++Nobody need doubt their ability to de-industrialise further, of course.