Monday, January 20, 2020

The Electrification of China, by Nick Drew

Somebody (Lenin?) said that communism is soviet power plus electrification.  Or something like that.  And there's no doubt communist Russia and communist China have historically placed vast importance on electrification, along with developing heavy industry in general.   (It's not just them, of course: India feels it's got a lot to do in this respect, too.)

And ... why not?  As Lovelock says, civilisation is energy-intensive (with electricity increasingly the primary delivery-means of useful end-user energy).  Who doesn't want the material benefits of civilisation?  Who's to tell them 'no'?

So: only internal factors are going to stop China (and India) (and one day, Africa) electrifying to the full.  By which I mean: China may pause, if it chooses, when excess coal-smoke is literally killing their people by the thousand.  India may struggle because of its massive political and economic inefficiency.  But they ain't asking permission of anyone to carry on with their electrification (etc) plans.  Particularly not the Chinese who need not bow, and have no intention of bowing, to anyone else ever again.  When they say the Chinese Communist Party recognises no higher authority than itself, they really do mean it.

And that includes Greta.

Today the Beeb ran an item on how China's coal-burning capacity - and concomitant CO2 emissions - continues upwards ("Is China Addicted to Coal?").  They didn't really sermonise about it; just a little wistful, I guess.  Oh dear, look what's happening here; oh well ...

They said "China's economy is slowing" - which is bollocks, of course, it just isn't accelerating as much as heretofore -  which they offered as the reason why coal remains in vogue.  We can put it more simply (as I have been for more than a decade):  when it comes to GDP vs GHG, GDP will win every time.  And of course that's not just China, BTW - though we well know what's at stake for them, specifically: their tacit political settlement is that the populace will shut up and let the Communist Party have its way, provided the populace gets wealthier all the time.  And the CP has no idea how they'd keep the lid on if they fail in their side of the bargain.

As the Beeb notes, China now effectively accounts for the whole globe's annual increase in CO2 emitted.  So - to the extent you worry about these things - you could say: if we all go to hell in a handcart, it'll be because the Chinese CP is afraid of its own people.


Sackerson adds:

Readers might also like to read this piece by China-watchers, about President Xi, his recent purging of a million allegedly corrupt bureaucrats, and the drive to urbanise China as fast as possible and reduce her dependence on the West for trade profits:

Sale! Sale! Sale! by Wiggiatlarge

Some years ago the Advertising Authority drafted new regulations in regard to the promotion of goods with big discounts in the title: they had to be on sale for a specific time at what was supposed to be the ‘normal’ price for a fixed period before they could be offered at discount.

All that seemed fair, after numerous complaints over many years of items being permanently on sale that actually never had a price other than the sale price.

When the regulations came into effect there was a sort of lull in the promotion of goods with big discounts but little by little this all disappeared as they found ways round the ruling. A revolving catalogue of products is the easy way to side step the regs; that is if they are ever enforced at all - when was the last trader to be taken to court for flouting them?

And in many cases endless sales still seem to be the norm. The recent demise of Bathstore is a good case in point: the local branch of Bathstore said - and I imagine all the others never had a window display that said different - 'Up to 70% off.' 70% is not really a feasible figure for any product unless a genuine clearance and you see little of those these days. This is really misinformation: an invented retail price that is then discounted, making the product appear cheap. Household fixtures seem to be at the forefront of this ruse: bathrooms, kitchens, bedroom built-in furniture, all are in a permanent state of 50% off this January, followed by spring sale of 50% off and summer stock clearance of 50% off, ad infinitum.

Fortunately most of us are fully aware of what is going on and shop accordingly. The problem with this sort of marketing is that there is no benchmark in pricing to gauge by: all prices are false so what is the real retail price? In effect the real retail price is the discounted one; it has to be or the firms would be out of business.

The only time I purchased a new kitchen from one of these firms I was told the ‘offer’ would only last another two weeks, the usual marketing ploy to make you believe you could be missing out. When I stated I had other firms to consider first, which I had, they came back the following week with a further discount, all of course under the guise of a special special offer. Make of that what you will.

Even supermarkets use a form of this with items that almost permanently have an offer sticker or if they don’t they will next week, so in reality no one buys unless the item is on offer. The tactics are so wide spread that it is with some cynicism that you see these prices and believe they are real discounts; they aren’t.

More cynical is the approach of many non-material products such as insurance and things like breakdown cover and broadband,. The latter I have always managed to get down in price from the quote, so either the quote is bumped up or they take a median figure and expect a percentage of customers to barter down and those that don’t, don’t pay the difference.

When I phoned to get my broadband quote down, and succeeded, the girl the other end then said laughingly they would be doing the same thing next year, so the chances of anyone paying the upfront price are pretty slim, except for those who don’t bother to haggle.

Recently “Which” said this about supermarket offers….

“Which?'s Natalie Hitchins said: “Many of the big supermarkets are clearly still in the wrong, with numerous examples of dodgy discounts and never-ending offers.

“These retailers must stop tricking shoppers with deceptive deals and spurious special offers - if not, the CMA must intervene to ensure that pricing guidelines are followed.”

This has of course been said before yet nothing happens and I doubt anything will this time. Which? themselves did a similar report in 2014 !

Absolutely none of this is new. However as most are aware, subtle changes to marketing to get round selling real bargains still crop up. The days when stores had January sales with genuine products being cleared for new year's stock have almost disappeared; the ‘special purchase’ has taken its place - items purchased cheaply that are not a normal stock line so no there is retail price of previous sales to go by, but you are asked to accept that the product is a bargain.

Electrical goods change models almost by the month so sales there can be a be genuine bargain as the spec rarely changes, just the outer shell, but you still need to know the original price to be able to compare.

Online buying is slowly killing the high street shop but again all that glistens is not gold: online retailers are having a huge problem with free returns, something that is necessary as faulty goods have to go back somewher. And sizing in the modern world is a huge problem as the Chinese and other Far East sweatshops seem to make up their own version of standard sizes, so customers are buying several items, keeping the one that fits and returning the rest; some returns are not fit for resale and the seller then cops for the lot.

This returns issue is costing £6 billion a year in the UK alone so the situation is slowly changing. A tighter returns policy for most is on the horizon and eventually (as the high street maybe fades into obscurity) online forms will start charging for returns. When that happens of course online shopping will no longer be so convenient or cheap; but just as smaller shops were driven out of business by the supermarkets' use of loss leaders, the sellers will be in the same position online. Personally I have never seen the sense in buying clothes whose quality / colour you cannot judge accurately and more importantly which you cannot try on; but it appears I am in an dwindling minority.

With all purchasing it is 'caveat emptor' - as it always has been.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

The Universe is stranger than we can imagine

On Thursday night BBC4 screened a programme about how the distance between things may be an illusion; maybe there is no such dimension as space.

The idea sprang out of a scientific conference in 1927 that looked at the then-new quantum theory - the behaviour of subatomic particles.

Implicit in a later 1935 paper by Albert Einstein, Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen - and teased out by Erwin Schrödinger - was the idea of 'quantum entanglement', the possibility that a pair of photons might be intimately related even when separated from each other. When one particle is observed, so the theory goes, its characteristics are instantly - no waiting time - reproduced by the other, even if the particles are separated by galactic distances that light would take millions or billions of years to cross. This appeared to break all the rules and Einstein hated it.

Yet a scientific project in 2018 supports this impossible notion. A team studied light - billions of years old - from two widely separated, very distant objects and found much higher correlations between the qualities of the light particles from them than would happen by chance.

The implications are mind-bending. If nothing travels faster than light, how do these particles know immediately what their 'partners' are doing across unimaginable gulfs of space?

We know a lot more about the universe than we used to, but we may perhaps never know everything. As Haldane (a biologist, so not at the 1927 physics conference, but writing in the same year) said, 'I have no doubt that in reality the future will be vastly more surprising than anything I can imagine. Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.'

TV programmes about deep science can only do so much for us - they tend to use visual analogies that give us the illusion of understanding, but we have evolved to deal with reality at our level of the universe and there's no reason for us to be able to visualise subatomic interactions. For example. when I was at school electrons in atoms were explained in terms of solid balls orbiting a central mass, but apparently it would be closer to the truth to say they are clouds of unborn possibilities that only become real and fixed when we observe them.

And we laugh at mediaeval theologians arguing about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.

Which brings me to a different analogy. The programme reminded me of a kids' book I read many years ago, 'A Wrinkle In Time' by Madeleine L'Engle, in which the characters are able to travel across space and time. L'Engle compares their journeys to a pin put through the gathered pleats of a skirt: when straightened out, the material appears to have a series of unconnected holes; yet from the vantage point that sees the universe as folded, all the holes have been created by a single thrust.

So maybe when understood properly, the photon pairs are not separated; there is no such thing as distance or space.

And maybe our perceptions of space and time are illusions, as though we are 3D holograms projected from a 2D ground.

Perhaps we are ready to visit Vedic philosophical ideas of reality and unreality, existence and non-existence. Perhaps we are not separated from one another or the Godhead (is this where the theology of the Holy Spirit has its roots?)

Perhaps we are not meant to understand. Perhaps the attempt is impious, like the Tower of Babel. Perhaps our imagination cannot cope with the challenge and runs out like a river into a desert.

Kurt Gödel's theorems showed that even mathematics (or that part that can generate natural numbers) will always be an incomplete system of proofs.

Similarly, I think there can be no scientific explanation of the coming-into-being of the universe, because everything we use in our scientific explanations relates to things within the universe itself, and so such accounts must be using circular logic.

Which brings us back to the ancient Hindus, with their contemplation of being and unbeing.

We know so much, and yet virtually nothing.

Friday, January 17, 2020

FRIDAY MUSIC: John Coltrane, by JD

The incomparable music of John Coltrane!

John Coltrane; 1926 - 1967

Instead of trying to summarise Trane's music and his legacy I have shamelessly borrowed Wiggia's introduction from his post about jazz saxophone a couple of years ago....

"John Coltrane was way out in front when it came to pushing the boundaries in jazz, so far out he completely lost the plot in later life but fortunately the bulk of his work remains where it should be, at the top of the pile. Influenced by Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins and later Charlie Parker he was playing with Dizzy Gillespie, Earl Bostik and Johnny Hodges before his late fifties association with Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, a glorious period; but his debut album as leader, Giant Steps was a seminary album, it blew me away when I first heard it and the melodic chords on this were not just very difficult to play but constituted a new sound in the saxophone, much imitated later."

I have been watching recently the PBS series on Jazz by film maker Ken Burns. In the section about Coltrane the voiceover said that he was listening to a solo by another musician when he had what he called 'a divine revelation' which prompted him to give up heroin as well as alcohol and even cigarettes. He then began to explore other styles of music, mainly from India and Africa.

This from Wiki -

"In 1957, Coltrane had a religious experience that may have helped him overcome the heroin addiction[46][47] and alcoholism[47] he had struggled with since 1948.[48] In the liner notes of A Love Supreme, Coltrane states that in 1957 he experienced "by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life. " The experience and his subsequent interest in music from other cultures eventually led to his album A Love Supreme in 1964
If you don't have the album the liner notes from A Love Supreme are here -

The history of music has seen fans hero worship their idols, often being driven to hysteria: in the 1930s there was a 'battle of the bands' between Benny Goodman and Chick Webb which required Police to control the crowds trying to get in to see the 'contest' (from the aforementioned series by Ken Burns), riots in the early 1940s among the young bobbysoxers 'in love' with Frank Sinatra and the more recent mass hysteria in the US among audiences for The Beatles. But Coltrane must be unique in that a religion was spawned in his name!
Saint John Will I Am Coltrane.

"For there is nothing in this world which can help one spiritually more than music. Meditation prepares, but music is the highest for touching perfection." -Hazrat Inayat Khan

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Long or short?

It's my feeling that American readers prefer essays, articles and blogposts to be longer than we like in the UK, where we seem to appreciate brevity and conciseness. I casually explain it to myself as Americans liking to 'get their money's worth' but more seriously wonder if there may be a couple of other factors at work.

1. Although both the UK and the USA are slightly below the international average in literacy rates, those Americans who do read, read more - about 12 books per capita p.a. compared with 10 in Britain.  Also, this infographic places the USA 7th globally in terms of 'literate behaviour characteristics', behind Nordic countries and Switzerland; we rank 17th on the same basis.

2. American attendance at Christian churches is double that in the UK. Maybe they're more used to long sermons - remember Meghan's preacher starting to let himself go at the wedding? On the other hand, the most religious may not be the most well-read.

So is my impression correct and if so, what are the reasons?

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Clownworld: the advance of minority rights, by Wiggiatlarge

In the last few years claims from minorities have become a deluge in the advancement of perceived rights that should apply to the majority regardless of the miniscule size of the claimants' groups.

The Equalities Act has a lot to answer for; not for the fact that equality in many areas should be enforced, but in its backing of absurd extensions of what most people would consider not worthy of discussion. let alone the implementation of laws.

Consider the vegan who won a case against his dismissal for saying funds used by the League for Cruel Sports were invested in firms (among others) involved in animal testing, I have no idea to what percentage of the League's funds were used that way but knowing the way they operate it could only have been an oversight, not a deliberate act.

His case was upheld and being an ethical vegan is now philosophy or so the judge in this case has decreed. How he arrived at that is anyone's guess (unless he himself is a vegan !) but surely being a vegan is simply a lifestyle choice.

If it is not challenged it opens yet another Pandora's box for every minority belief to have the same rights as everyone else in banning, refusing, demanding all those items that affect us all.

We already have Pastafarians: the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is awaiting a European Court decision on their being a legitimate religion , and they have already gained the right to wear a colander in their driving licenses and passports. This ‘religion‘ is of course a joke but only to a degree, it was formed to show that those who can claim special rights for their  religion are simply no different or should be to any other group claiming the same. It has to be read to understand where they are going with this…….
In the world of minority rights they have a very good point.

Back to the vegan. I have no problem with anyone who wants to eat the way they do, most of us eat vegetarian meals without a thought that they contain no meat, that’s fine. But vegans - and the same goes for them as for Pastafarians - have a lunatic fringe that (like the eco fascists) want to impose constraints on the eating habits of everyone else. And that is where this ruling becomes problematic, as it gives license to believers to change e.g. workplace habits and company trading practices, even when they are in a very small minority - often just one, as in this case.

As can be seen here they have already tried and are trying to have the plastic banknotes removed because a minute amount of tallow is used in the finishing process. Tallow contains beef and pork extract so you have a double whammy there with Muslims wanting a change as well. Will it happen? In our current clownworld climate anything is possible, as no-one in authority these days ever seems to stand up and say enough is enough; apologies and repositioning are the form of the day.

Yet in nearly all of these legal challenges, such as in the "Christian bakers" case, it is nearly always those on the fringe of these beliefs/fads/lifestyles that want to push for their beliefs to become mainstream regardless of any logic; in fact logic, common sense, listening to valid counter arguments are never ever contemplated, it seems.

The vegan is typical of that group described above. His regaling of his private life and the way he lives it should be a matter for himself, but no, it becomes part of his agenda to promote how serious he is about his beliefs.

The downside for him is that it reveals  he has not thought through what he says. In most arguments one can pick out discrepancies in another's logic, but when you act and talk total cobblers it totally shreds what you are trying to put across, which makes this case even more worrying in the pattern it is setting.

Apparently, as well as wearing clothing that contains no animal by products, he also will not travel on a bus because of the number of insects and birds that are killed by vehicle strikes; taking that to its logical conclusion all forms of transport are bad, including walking as each square meter of land contains on average 2700 insects; and I suppose houses are out for living in because of the number of birds that commit hara kari flying into them. Why does anyone give people like this the time of day? If he and his ilk want to live on a remote island rubbing sticks together to keep warm (though I imagine in their world the fire created is polluting so that is out) then please do so and leave the rest of us out of your plans.

The banknotes case brings more nonsense to the fore, though I should not give extra material to these devotees of the absurd: the tallow involved that is their target for objection is of course used in many other things: as an additive in fuels and lubricants, in salves and ointments, soap candles (think of all those vigils they lit up using evil animal by-products), plastic bags - they are evil anyway, make-up, bike tyres and ‘crayons’; so even Angela Rayner is toxic as well as dim.

What is worrying is that these people continually get traction for their ideas in the press as in this (where else?) Guardian piece, ‘We are all vegans now’ (not really just 1% of the population are vegetarian)...

And the politicians love to hang their hats on a perceived new popular trend, especially if it can however tenuously linked to climate change - there's big bucks in climate change.

The current Australian bush fires show how taking notice of Greens can have serious repercussions. Already we are seeing the negative consequences of decisions taken because Greens promoted and pushed forest management measures that ensured fires could start and spread more easily. The fireman who was fined for clearing a fire break round his house against the new laws had the last laugh, as his was the only house in the neighbourhood still standing after a fire swept through it.

We can only hope these fads - for that is what most are - and the misinformation that goes with them do the right thing and die an early death, as one thing's for sure: if all these ‘requirements’ are met, and approved products and food and sustainable energy come to pass, we will become impoverished. The costs are breathtaking and for what? The climate will change if it's going to anyway; culling all the cattle will not make a shred of difference and those that propose we should re-forest all of Britain or try to grow crops on land fit only for those now absent animals are deluded.

The culling of of many of those constantly pushing for these measures would be a better bet and it would reduce the population at the same time, which is a much bigger problem than all their perceived ones.

Still we all have the now obligatory Pride Parades to look forward to as an annual event in a town near you and can gasp in wonderment at the explicit displays and the Police engagement, something that the few gay people I know view with horror and have nothing to do with; anyway, penis socks are ‘so’ last year!

Friday, January 10, 2020

FRIDAY MUSIC: Asturias, by JD

Think of Spanish music and most minds turn immediately to Flamenco, the music of Andalucia. But as we have seen in this series, other regions of Spain have their own very distinct styles of music; Galicia has a very strong connection musically with the music of the Celtic nations.

But the neighbouring province of Asturias also has that same strong connection. Because Asturias is or was the coal mining heartland of Spain there was a parallel musical choral tradition. So enjoy this selection of music from Asturias.

Monday, January 06, 2020

My Job Application To Dominic Cummings

Dear Mr Cummings

I have seen your blog advertisement for corkscrew thinkers and wish to apply for the post.

First, I should like to get a couple of possible objections out of the way. I note that in other categories you want ‘recent’ economics graduates, and ‘VERY clever young people’. I am in my sixties and think that we have had enough of the enthusiastic, brilliant, thrusting types that burdened us with New Labour and have very nearly destroyed our financial system (the silly quants); perhaps it is time they made way for an older man.

Also, you say you ‘don’t want more Oxbridge English graduates who chat about Lacan at dinner parties.’ I did read English at Oxford, it’s true; but before the impenetrable nonsense of post-structuralism hit the subject there. Besides, you yourself read History at Exeter College and as with many other arts graduates (think of Douglas Adams) the wooliness obviously stimulated your interest in science, philosophy and anything else that might actually seek objective truth.

And so, from objections to objectives. Although your advertisement betrays impatience and ruthlessness, it’s still not clear what exactly you wish to achieve. Apart, that is, from a ‘seismic’ shakeup of the civil service and the ‘merry-go-round’ of ministers.

As to the first, the Civil Service is suffering from ‘shaken baby’ syndrome, having been politicised under Mrs Thatcher and then virtually radicalised under Tony Blair - you’ll remember how he used the Privy Council one day after the 1997 General Election result was declared, to give up to three spads executive power over permanent civil servants. Now, when you concentrate the levers of power in that way you have to look carefully at the hands manipulating them. I do hope you don’t plan eye-catching initiatives of the ‘abolish the Lord Chancellor’ type that our British Pol Pot came up with to drive away boredom one weekend in 2003. I’m sure Sir Humphrey can seem maddeningly obstructive sometimes – but maybe there is a need for brakes and steering in even the fastest car?

The revolving-ministers bit I can appreciate. It was fun to see John Nott walk out of Robin Day’s interview in 1982, after the latter had called him ‘a transient, here-today and, if I may say so, gone-tomorrow politician.’

Of course, that may have helped shorten Robin Day’s Newsnight career, just as (imho) Jeremy Paxman was binned for continuing to be too good on the same programme when New Labour got in; never forget where power lies, and don’t speak truth to it too frankly, not to say rudely. But why should ministers give up the best of their lives in relentless work, if not in the hope of further advancement? And isn’t it the role of Cabinet government to set the policy framework for its interconnected ministries, whose continuity and detail work is provided by the Bernards and Humphreys  – or do you have your eyes on a sofa-based inner-Cabinet ‘den’?

And what is all this redesigned machinery going to fix? Will it address a political system in which the majority of people directly in the 2016 Referendum, and indirectly but overwhelmingly via the manifestoes of most MPs who were returned in the General Election that followed, instructed Parliament to recover its own authority from the EU, yet saw three and a half years of delay and subversion instead?

Not that it’s over, necessarily. Minutes after Bojo’s landslide was adumbrated by exit poll results on 12 December, BBC’s Naga Munchetty (or was it our own dear Laura K?) was optimistically spinning it as an opportunity for Boris to ignore the troublesome extreme Brexiteers in his party; and I have a sick feeling that she was right. For the Brexit promise is driven more by deadline than results.

A friend told me he’d voted Conservative ‘for the last time’ (and I think the first) just to get it over with – ‘to make it stop,’ as I suggested and he agreed. Now let’s see what happens to the barely-altered Withdrawal Agreement and still-a-surrender-terms of the Political Declaration that Johnson seems set to push through, bish-bash-bosh. As the Americans say, ‘he could care less,’ meaning he couldn’t. After all, he voted for those landmine-salted agreements in October.

I understand the tone of haste in your advert, perhaps better than you. For unless there is radical systemic action – and I don’t mean tinkering with the bureaucratic gearwheels and oilcan – it will be Labour next time, and the time after that.

I wonder whether you know how much the Conservative Party is hated. A Welsh friend recently told me his father had joined the Tory Party late in life, so that it would lose another supporter when he died. Johnson’s delight at the extent of his victory was mingled with justified surprise. Only the weedy incompetence of Corbyn, Softy Walter to Boris’ Dennis the Menace (that would make you Gnasher, I suppose), drove the Northern Reds to break their wall. This government is on appro, and if the betrayal I fear becomes reality the blowback will be savage.

And structural, which will make sense to you as a systems thinker. For decades, the two major parties have colluded to undermine the working class, the Tories because cheap offshoring and low-wage inward migration suits the blue suits, Labour because the more paupers we have the more the Santas in the red suits can lay dingy benefits under the tree while mortgaging the house to pay for them. But just as differential birthrates in Northern Ireland may eventually see the Province join the Republic, the short-sighted greed of English businessmen may be the demographic death-knell for conservatism. Already 3.4 million Britons have never had a job, and there is a limit to how much further education can paper over the unemployment figures. Add to that the threat to white-collar workers of AI and the arguments of the future will be about the distribution of wealth rather than its creation.

Getting out of the EU is only a battle in a much wider theatre of conflict. Unless we work hard and fast to stem the national outflow of money and the decay of skills, uncontrolled globalism will end with us broke, overpopulated and at each other’s throats. You have an Oxbridge Classicist and Oxford Union talker as your boss; your first task is to give him the Odyssean education for which you have argued so long and eloquently.

That corkscrew enough for ya? I can start Monday.