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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Vigilantes in Iceland

Are the ancient ways coming back? Read Katharina Hauptmann's article on World Voices here.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy.

Iceland: Rise of the vigilantes


Over the past years I’ve come to notice a worrying trend here in Iceland. A trend that some people probably won’t dare to talk about publicly. I’m talking about vigilantism, something one certainly wouldn’t connect with Iceland.

On multiple occasions I’ve experienced that people here take the law into their own hands. It seems that many people don’t consider the measures or punishment executed by police and law as satisfactory.

And by vigilantism I’m talking about having certain people beaten up or threatened. If you piss off the wrong people, they will call somebody who will teach you a lesson.

I had one of my first experiences with this practice a few years ago, when my former boss and owner of the bar I worked at went bankrupt, cheated a lot of employees of their money and ended up owing a lot of people a lot of money. This shady guy “fell down the stairs.”

Another incident happened at another bar I used to work. Some drugged-up maniac went crazy attacking a few guests. So a few calls were made to ensure he wouldn’t ever come back. I can only imagine what that means.

And these cases are not exceptions.


If you become victim of any kind of injustice, it is not so difficult to find the culprit as Reykjavík (and anywhere else in Iceland) is a rather small and tight-knit community.

Somebody is harassing you, you call somebody to teach the thug a lesson. Somebody owes you money or stole your car? No matter if you need a debt paid or just revenge, all you need to do is make that call.

In public this vigilante practice is of course not accepted, but behind closed doors some people seek this form of extrajudicial punishment.

I argued about this with some Icelandic friends of mine as I am still shocked and appalled by this frontier justice every time I come across it. To me, taking the law into one’s own hands is just inappropriate, a relic of the Wild West, and I don’t find it acceptable for an advanced Western country like Iceland in the 21st century.

One should leave punishment up to the legal authorities.

My friends disagreed with me because the authorities never take the appropriate measures, according to them. “The police don’t do anything. They won’t help you” is an argument I’ve heard very often in the almost seven years that I’ve lived here.

It seems that many Icelanders don’t have any trust in their police or the legal system and therefore just “solve” their issues among themselves.

Granted, from my personal experience I can say that I do not have much faith in the Icelandic police either as they seem to be infuriatingly passive when it matters.

And talking about insufficient punishment—a few court decisions of late have caused public outcry such as the more than pathetic verdict by the Supreme Court in a case of sexual assault. Reading
this article by Iceland Review guest contributor Herdís Helga Schopka shows perfectly why people feel let down by the legal system and why they feel like they need to take matters into their own hands.

I can really understand the wish for revenge (as petty as it may be) and the need for real justice.

But hiring a bunch of thugs to physically hurt somebody else cannot be the answer. I mean, this is Iceland (Iceland, the world’s most peaceful country with a very low crime rate) in 2013, for crying out loud, not some mafia infested, gun-slinging place.


I guess those vigilante methods are an inheritance of the Icelandic Viking ancestors.

Does the end justify the means?

By Katharina Hauptmann. This article first appeared in Icelandic Review here (htp: Nourishing Obscurity).

Reproduced with the kind permission of the author. All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy.

Nick Drew: Could our lights go out?

Read the first of Nick's superb new series on threats to our energy supply here.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Nick Drew: Could our lights go out?

Read the first of Nick's superb new series on threats to our energy supply here.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Securing Energy Supply (1)

When it comes to energy policy-making in the 21st Century, for most developed economies it is built around a 'triad' comprising these elements:
  • environmental - reducing the detrimental impact of obtaining usable energy
  • economic - delivering 'affordable' energy
  • security of supply - delivering energy reliably
To state them as briefly as this is to skate lightly over huge complexities, but let us accept that we broadly know what is intended.

Attempts are constantly made to reconcile the three strands, since it is hard to see they can all be delivered at the same time - an issue sometimes referred to as the 'Energy Trilemma'.  We can have cheap, secure energy, but living near a 1970's vintage lignite-fuelled power station degrades and shortens your life.  We can have secure, low-carbon energy, but at tremendous cost.  We can have cheap, low-carbon energy but it may very well not be there when we need it.  The EU's official energy policy claims to square the circle (if a triad can do such a thing) - "fully balanced, integrated and mutually reinforced", claims the EC: but its reasoning is akin to that of the medieval schoolmen and the results not convincing at all.

(Charmingly, they have official nicknames for each leg of the policy triad - see the diagram: the environmental is called 'Kyoto' for obvious reasons; the economic is tagged 'Lisbon', after the conference and treaty of the same name that were intended to deliver competitiveness to the EU in every sphere; and the security moniker is 'Moscow' ... I wonder why ...)

Source:  European Commission
In this and following posts we focus on security, and consider mainly gas and electricity with some comments on oil.  There are two primary aspects: strategic security, against politically-motivated shortages; and day-to-day reliability.

Reliability was until recently not a matter that greatly exercised policy-makers in advanced economies.  Indeed, the enormous fundamental difficulties of continuously (and safely) supplying electricity, gas and oil had been so comprehensively solved, many had forgotten what an achievement it was.  Permanent access on demand to these three commodities - electricity in particular - has become essential to everyday existence, to the point where we cannot really countenance its interruption beyond the shortest of periods.

And permanent access is what we had become accustomed to, often forgetting that continuous supply of a commodity that is subject to all manner of complex contingencies, is a major practical challenge.  This challenge becomes all the greater when the commodity cannot readily be stored.  Compared to the relatively straightforward storage of (e.g.) coal or oil, the difficulty of storing natural gas is great; and of storing electricity very great indeed, almost to the point where we might say it cannot be stored (except in trivial quantities) unless one has access to large-scale hydro-electricity with pumped-water reservoirs - a privilege enjoyed by rather few of world's population.  But the engineers and markets are equal to the task, and the lights stay on.

If these problems have been so impressively solved, how then do we come to talk of reliability in the past tense ?  The new factor is wind-generated power, imposed on electricity systems by politicians responding (as they would see it) to lobbying by 'greens' for 'decarbonisation' of electricity in general, and by turbine manufacturers for wind turbines in particular.  We can fairly say 'imposed' because in almost every instance wind turbines cannot be justified economically per se (without recourse to a highly disputable case based on 'future avoided costs of CO2 emissions'), and thus only exist when installed by fiat and/or developers in receipt of large subsidies.

The characteristic feature of wind-power is 'intermittency', illustrated by the dismal long-term average output from windfarms which in most installations struggles to achieve 25% of its rated (notional) capacity.  If this 25% came in a predictable pattern - as, for example, does the equally low-performing solar power, which always peaks at midday - it could be accommodated fairly readily in a large electricity system.  However, in practice the pattern is near-random, with forward predictability of a few hours at best.

Yet electricity systems must be balanced continuously, and intermittent input in more than de minimis quantities is a challenge, growing ever greater as the amount of wind-power to be accommodated expands.  We considered the consequences of this in the two specific cases of Denmark and Germany in an earlier series of posts.  Summarising: through a combination of good engineering, access to hydro-electricity (in the case of Denmark), and throwing large amounts of money at the problem, to date these two countries have succeeded in accommodating large wind-generation sectors - but, in the case of Germany, only just.  Indeed, it is possible that Germany may be about to demonstrate dramatically the boundaries of what is feasible as regards wind-power: and it will be at levels of wind capacity a lot lower than many greens have hoped and promoted.

In any country or grid-region which must accommodate wind-power without having ready access to hydro, this serious challenge to reliability will persist until cheap and efficient power storage becomes a reality.  Such storage is as eagerly sought as any Holy Grail, but as yet is beyond us.  Thus, as the wind fetish shows little sign of abating in the corridors of power, reliability will become an ever-greater problem in electricity supply.  In some regional systems this might have knock-on consequences for gas reliability, if gas-fired power plant is called upon to meet ever more extreme wind-driven electricity-system balancing duties; but, by and large, gas grid operators (having at least some storage capability) have proven a match for this challenge and as yet, fears over gas security predominantly stem from strategic considerations.

It is to the strategic issues of energy security threatened by political factors that we turn next. 

[Continue to Part 2]

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Carbon Balls: don't pick on us for CO2 targets!

See the Energy Page for why the UK shouldn't lead the way in CO2 emissions reduction.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Carbon Balls: don't pick on us for CO2 targets!

See the Energy Page for why the UK shouldn't lead the way in CO2 emissions reduction.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Carbon Balls: crippling the UK economy with eco-nomics


David Rose's article in the Mail on Sunday shows how the proposed Energy Bill currently crashing its way through Parliament sets CO2 emissions targets that could kill off our manufacturing industry. And thanks to what looks like paid influence and bias in access to ministers, the Bill may succeed in becoming law.

But how big a "sinner" is the UK, compared to the rest of the world? Let's take a look.

The countries in the table below (click to enlarge) are responsible for three-quarters of gobal emissions, and (coincidentally, or not) the same proportion of nominal GDP:

(Data sources here and here.)

Let's graph some of the relationships. At 1.47% of the global total, the UK's emissions put it eleventh in the list:

 
You might expect some of the above because of differences in population numbers. But per person, we're still eleventh in the list:
 
 

Understood, nations have different patterns of energy use - and different mixes of energy source.

Perhaps we should look at the relationship between carbon emissions and GDP? Here's what we get when we divide column B by column G:


That puts us in fifteenth place. Maybe it's to do with how the importance of the service sector has increased in the mature (or declining) Western economies.

So far, I can't see a way to stack up the figures that proves why we should lead the way in reducing emissions. Perhaps Rose is right in linking the move to skillful - and dangerous - lobbying and PR.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Road rules in Russia

See James Higham's orthodox guide on World Voices here.

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Russia: Driver etiquette


Former Tatarstan resident James Higham gives his experience of motoring among the Ivans:

Jesse's running a vid on Russian roads and drivers: http://youtu.be/hlxHPJAONpE. There is a quite violent part in the vid where the driver jumps up, beats a pedestrian who has fallen over and drags him off the road before returning to his car. As a reader noted:
He didn't "trip". It's a common scam in Russia for people to do that in front of cars, then claim they were knocked down. The driver clearly isn't falling for that nonsense and... makes it clear. Good on him.
Jesse speaks of dashcams and it's true we used to run all manner of equipment. One of the most important was the radar detector on the dash or windscreen, afterwards made illegal. It was basically war over there between drivers and the GAI [afterwards renamed], i.e. the traffic police, and between drivers themselves. The GAI would take to hiding behind roadside kiosks and the like and spring out at you after having tracked you with radar guns. So there was this phenomenon where traffic as a whole would go at breakneck speed, slow to 40 kph - the whole road full of traffic, not just some cars - and then speed up again - that's how people got around.

Another hazard was the official cavalcade with the President or a minister and police would clear the highway ahead of them coming through. If you failed to get out of the way, they would physically get you out of the way - never happened to me but did to people I knew. There's a definite hierarchy on the road and people act in character. If you're pulled up [again not me but I was told tales] and instead of trying to placate the officers, you ask, "You really wish to do this, do you?" this is often sufficient to make them think they have someone on their hands they weren't told about. Cars often had separate reg plates to designate who they were and I was once in one of these. When we were stopped, they saw these and the document and waved us through.

Long traffic jams are not unknown either through total, helpless disorganization of the road system. What's unusual here are the orderly lanes - more on that further down:

 
I once [I claim accidentally] ran a Mercedes who was trying to butt in ahead of me off the road. Later, I was told I was still lucky to be alive or not beaten up. I think it surprised the Merc driver. I once tooted the police to get a move on and I think that is not done either there or here. My own position varied - being British bought me a fair bit but it also brought out prejudice in those who saw an easy touch and those wanting to make a point. As my car was a souped up Lada, if they didn't know I was foreign, then I had to conform to the unwritten road code or be stomped on.

The vid above shows people beating on others but that was less the case as far as I saw it than just the sheer number of accidents. On the stretch going into town [6km], it was unusual to see less than three or four bingles of some kind, often a multiple car pile up. There were many reasons for this. Part of it is that the car culture for all was still a relatively recent phenomenon in 1999/2000 and credit was only just coming in to blight the Russian people even further. The result of the influx of new cars on the never-never, along with woeful driver training, women on the roads now and the scam of money under the counter for licences - all these, plus the police corruption in taking bribes for pulling a driver up and fining him or her - these contributed to the mayhem.

Then there were the roads and their state. Designed for a more leisurely era, the cities had to catch up with the C20th and when four or five roads, potholed, pockmarked, with crumbling edges, all converged in one place, when the general population waiting for buses had not taken it onboard that pedestrians should not swarm onto the road when five lanes of traffic were also doing that - there were the conditions for further mayhem.

You can see the converging traffic all trying to get across our main bridge in Kazan:

 
Then there is the attitude of Russians that what they are doing at that time takes precedence over all else, combined with the word "just". So, if you were in heavy traffic and wanted to turn right across traffic into a new supermarket, you just went, you thought you'd just squeeze through that gap, you just expected the traffic rushing towards you from the lights would politely stop and wait for you with a cheery wave of the hand. I think you saw in that clip the cheery waves of hands.

Driving on Russian roads is like our concept of what it must have been like in the wild west. I've seen cars happily driving along footpaths, going up on grassy embankments, going every which way to get through. In fact I developed the ability to get through with applied aggression mixed with caution. It was useful to appear to be a nutter as people would let you through ... or else block you and beat you up. Frankly, with no lanes on most roads because the markings are worn away during winter and under heavy traffic, drivers tend to self-activate lanes as you saw in the second pic above. And equally, there are drivers who ignore all that.

How can all this be? Well, for the reasons given above plus the demoralization of the Russian people over decades. Where they were is where we are going ourselves in the UK but we are still in the early stages where people still care about fines and doing the right thing and all that. In Russia, the laws got to such a ridiculous stage where there were even laws against the laws, to the point where it was literally impossible to drive legally. The very fact that there was a small space ahead only for the whole column of traffic to pass through, meaning you crossed a double line, made you liable to a fine and points. Most times the police would not try to intervene but if they were short of money in the coffers that week, then the police car would be stationed the other side of that gap and they'd randomly pull over motorists in a steady stream of revenue.

 
There was an unwritten rule that you flashed your lights to cars coming the other way if the GAI were hiding back behind you half a kilometre or so and if he flashed back, it was to say thank you. So drivers do work together, it's not total war and in carparks, people tend to help each other out, especially in winter. They made the flashing of lights illegal. The State knew all about this and how it was diverted to private pockets and to be sure, I didn't mind this as I knew my "fine" was going to that man and his family, or else to booze but that was better than to the State.

Defending the State for the moment, it was impossible to keep the roads pothole free - the winter put paid to beautiful road surfaces. There was a year in which a German firm tendered for road repair with a 20 year surface guarantee but the cost was way beyond anything the State was prepared to pay on mere roads which people use.

And so the mayhem goes on, total gridlock at peak hour, frayed tempers and sometimes violence. The clip above is actually Russians trying to sensationalize - the fights are less overall, the actual accidents far more.
 
Brave girls - things can come out of nowhere in Russia:

 
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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Strawberries in Greenland: the global warming debate hots up

Read about it on World Voices here.

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Greenland: Strawberries and global warming


The first thing Dani noted as a newcomer to Greenland in August 2012 was the extraordinary melting of the ice sheet. The local potato harvest was on course to rise from 40 tonnes to 250; and as predicted five years before, there were strawberries!


The melt here and elsewhere is followed by Jason Box PhD. He says that Greenland is currently contributing twice as much to rising sea levels as Antarctica, and one possible reason is the increase in atmospheric particles from land clearance fires and fossil fuel burning, darkening the ice and absorbing solar energy.

He says the sea is taking in some of the extra greenhouse energy, too, increasing its power to erode coastal areas including the western Antarctic ice sheet. Surface sea temperatures around Greenland have risen since 1990:


Apparently we are not yet experiencing the full impact of global warming, because for the last 30 years it has been partially offset by a temporary reduction in solar output, and there may also be (for thousands of years yet) a cooling effect owing to variations in the Earth's orbit (hat-tip to Dr Box for both links).


- so if and when when the heat factors start going in the same direction we - or our remoter descendants - could see the situation change much more rapidly.

The world's climatic system is very complex and variable. In the past, temperatures have been higher and lower than now, and the Greenland ice sheet has been both thicker and thinner:

"In the beginning of the Eemian, 128,000 years ago, the ice sheet in northwest Greenland was 200 meters higher than today, but during the warm Eemian period the ice mass regressed, so 122,000 years before now the surface had sunk to a level of 130 meters below the current level. During the rest of the Eemian the ice sheet remained stable at the same level with an ice thickness of 2,400 meters."

A rise in sea levels could be very disruptive and expensive for millions of people, including those who live in cities like London and New York. And we're not helping ourselves with the way that we develop our land use:

"Along the U.S. Atlantic Coast alone, almost 60 percent of the land that is within a meter of sea level is planned for further development, with inadequate information on the potential rates and amount of sea level rise. Many of the nation's assets related to military readiness, energy, commerce, and ecosystems that support resource-dependent economies are already located at or near the ocean, thus exposing them to risks associated with sea level rise."

As recent events in the UK and USA have shown, flooding is hardly a theoretical matter, and the Environment Agency now has a website to assess the risk where you live:


But scientists are not of one mind on the issue - some say we are facing a mini ice age instead.

Returning to Greenland, climate change may cause difficulties for polar bears, but they haven't been there forever and may have migrated from Ireland. I like to see them on TV and I like even better that they're safely on the other side of the screen.

After all, we hardly want a return of the greater ice ages that made Northern Europe uninhabitable for thousands of years (what is now London was under a three-mile-thick glacier at one point).

If I were a Greenlander, I'd be happy with locally-sourced cod and chips, followed by strawberries and dairy ice cream.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy.

On positive thinking

"The Last Ditch" has posted an excellent piece on the vital role of aspiration, and parental expectation. I comment:

Excellent article.

Can I suggest that socialism is not the only stifler of initiative? The bankers' economy we now have has buried the populace under debt, and at the same time bought the political class so that they have permitted large-scale economic immigration to keep down wage rates, sustain unemployment among the indigenous population and maintain profits for the owners of large businesses. So it becomes easier for negative thinking among the poor to justify itself. Positive thinking is great, as long as you still have a chance; fewer now have that chance.

The "boom" of the last 30 years or so (with occasional pauses) has been a binge that, while enriching a minority, has left most without the realistic prospect of independence in this country. The "crony capitalism" in the UK and USA is in danger of laying the foundation of socialist regimes in both countries.

Chapman Pincher should update his book "Their Trade Is Treason" to include members of our current plutarchy.

A propos: see A K Haart's insightful piece on social control as a form of business enterprise that like other businesses, seeks to expand endlessly; and The Economic Collapse blog on debt as a form of social control, the crippling personal cost of even moderate debt.

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Monday, February 18, 2013

Spanish corruption scandal - the local take

See World Voices here.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy.

Spanish corruption scandal - the local take

See World Voices here.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy.

Spain: Corruption - or just "the way we do things here"?


Californian business journalist Wolf Richter reports (htp: Zero Hedge) on the Spanish corruption scandal, which is particularly hot as it comes at a time of general economic pain for ordinary Spaniards.

Actually, a double scandal: allegedly, politicians have been awarding government contracts in exchange for slush money, plus a detective agency has been used to keep tabs - and possibly gather dirt - on a host of prominent figures.

The gaff was blown by an ex-policeman employed by the agency (Método 3) who was left out of pocket when it went bust. He grabbed computers, files and clandestine recordings in lieu of payment.

One of those recordings is of a conversation between the leader of the Catalonian People's Party (PP) and the ex-girlfriend of the son of the former President of Catalonia. The girl allegedly reveals that her boyfriend has been smuggling large cash sums for his family across the border into Andorra.

The PP leader, Alicia Sánchez-Camacho, lodged an official complaint when she found out that a secret taping of the talk was among the Método 3 material, and now a monster investigation is under way.

As with the British MPs' expenses scandal of 2009, it's the timing that has sharpened the public response. What might otherwise have earned a cynical shrug of the shoulders is now threatening to claim scalps, including that of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, whose name appears repeatedly in handwritten ledgers relating to a slush fund in Switzerland.

Brett Hetherington, a freelancewriter who lives in Catalonia, has emailed World Voices the local perspective:

"I would say a couple of things about this reeking, venal scandal. The man at the heart of it, the late Jordi Pujol is a hero to many people here in Catalonia as he largely seen as the main person responsible for Catalonia's post-Franco autonomous powers...

"This part of the world (still) has a lot going for it but institutional honesty is obviously not one of the strong points. Cheating on your income tax and using the "black" or cash-economy is the done thing. In my experience, cheating, in whatever form, is thought to be the clever thing to do. Children do it from a very young age and at a local (wealthy) private school where I used to work, it was completely standard to cheat in tests and teachers knew about it and did not punish it.

"The family is probably the most important single unit in Mediterranean Europe, so favouring a brother, son or cousin is entirely normal. It is not just those at the top of the political pyramid who do this. It is a practise that is as ordinary as drinking a glass of wine here. Having connections is called "enchufe" - literally, 'plugged-in. 'It is difficult living here without some kinds of connections to help you advance your lot, so the common-place act is the one that scratches a friend's back when they will also soon scratch yours."

Interviewed by the Council on Foreign Relations last week, Professor Alfredo Pastor of the IESE Business School played it down as a "limited crisis" and set it in the context of Catalan demands for greater autonomy. The EU/bankers' agenda rolls on like Juggernaut, he wishes us to believe.

We shall see.

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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Storm clouds over Sark

Controversy rages in one of Britain's smallest islands - see World Voices.

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Sark: I have nothing to say


Looking to expand the World Voices bloglists, I happened upon Sark. Surely there could only be one blogger there, bearing in mind that the island has a population of only around 600? I've taught in plenty of schools bigger than that. Not so. It would appear that even in this tiny community, there is tension and dissent.

Some outsiders are attracted to Sark by its strange old ways - the ban on motorised transport, and the feudal regime that existed until only a very few years ago. This has historical roots, for the Channel Islands, and Sark in particular, have a special relationship with the British Crown: 

"The Channel Islands consist of two Bailiwicks, Jersey and Guernsey. The Channel Islands are Crown dependencies but they are not part of the United Kingdom nor are they colonies. When King Philippe Auguste retook possession of continental Normandy in 1204, King John retained the Channel Islands. His right as Duke of Normandy lapsed, and a separate title grew up by force of occupation, which attached to him as King of England. This was confirmed by the Treaty of Bretigny in 1360. [...]
 

"In 1565, acting by letters patent, Queen Elizabeth I appointed Helier de Carteret as the Seigneur of Sark (or Lord of Sark), and granted it to him as a royal fief as a reward for his having secured the island against the French. Inheritance of the fief and any land sublet by the Seigneur is by male primogeniture in the manner of the Crown. The Seigneur has always been free to sell the fief subject to royal consent. The present Seigneur is John Michael Beaumont. His family acquired the fief with Crown permission in 1852. He inherited it on the death of his grandmother Dame Sibyl Hathaway in 1974."
 
Source: background preamble to judgment given by the UK Supreme Court, 1 December 2009.

Sark's quaint charms have caused the island to be featured in a recent human-interest BBC documentary series "Island Parish" (reviewed in a typically slantendicular Guardian way here), as well as being the setting for Mervyn Peake's magical "Mr Pye", televised hauntingly by Channel 4 in 1986 - you can see it again here.

But as the legal case quoted above makes clear, not everyone is a fan of the old ways, and thanks to the European Commission on Human Rights as interpreted by the British courts, democracy has come to this Mouse-That-Roared throwback.

Not quite enough of it, for some, as the Valentine's Day 2013 edition of the Sark Newsletter makes clear:

"For four whole years, Sark’s "democratic" government has been in place and for all that time they have, with no dissent or opposition whatsoever in parliament, been able to do whatever they wanted..."

In the interests of balance, I would add this newsletter to the WV bloglist, but it appears not to have an RSS feed at the moment, so I have added it to the collectives on the right sidebar, where it can sit glaring at the (apparently) Guernsey-based blog of "Ebenezer le Page".

For it is (I hope) safe to say that the editor-publisher of The Sark Newsletter, a property developer called Kevin Delaney, is not universally loved, especially after an article published in January last year that criticised the emergency evacuation by lifeboat to Guernsey of the Seigneur's wife following a stroke. The Newsletter suggested that a helicopter could have been used instead; apparently that is banned under Sark law, according to this piece on Wikipedia, which also says that the billionaire Barclay brothers drive cars and use a helicopter on the Sark-governed sister island Brecqhou, where they have built their castle. The resulting row was heard as far away as New York.

This petition to the Secretary of State for Justice, Lord McNally, gives reasons why the Barclay brothers and what it describes as their "lieutenant" Delaney are resented by some on Sark. It also points out (in effect) that (as perhaps we have found for ourselves on the mainland), democracy in the form of the vote is not in itself quite enough to ensure justice, since economic power (not equally available to all) has the potential to be used to influence decisions and governance, as this Wiki article implies, saying:

"On 11 December 2008, the Barclay brothers were in the news for pulling out their investments (which include hotels) from the island of Sark, causing 170 staff to be made redundant after local voters did not support candidates championed by the Barclay brothers. The brothers had previously warned that if the voters chose to bring back the 'establishment' Sark leaders that are still aligned with the feudal lord then they would pull out of Sark. The Barclays have since reopened all their businesses on Sark and some staff were re-employed."

In fairness, the piece referenced above details the tremendous achievements of the twins, rising from bankruptcy in 1960 to enormous financial success and philanthropy in their later years. But it must be very difficult for Sarkee minnows to share a pond with such large fish.

 A previously-deferred BBC Panorama programme, "The Tax Haven Twins" was broadcast in mid-December 2012, fronted by confrontational journalist John Sweeney, who questioned the personal secretiveness and (perfectly legal) tax arrangements of the owners of the MP-expense-scam-busting Daily Telegraph, as well as the local tension and controversy that led to the island's doctor deciding to get "as far away as possible" from their sphere of influence.

But as a local lawyer reportedly (in that programme) said to islanders who consulted him, libel is a rich man's game, so personally I have nothing to say, except that all this has quite sucked the gilt off the gingerbread for me. I can only hope that there is reconciliation, one day.

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Soothing advice for mollusc-loving dyslexics


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Screaming kids: a treat for parents and teachers



From here (htp: my beloved sister-in law)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Nick Drew's Lenten message to DECC: "Lay off the boozle!"

See our expert's full story about the DECC's dodgy consumer energy price accounting here.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Nick Drew's Lenten message to DECC: "Lay off the boozle!"

See our expert's full story about the DECC's dodgy consumer energy price accounting here.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Bamboozling Britain on Energy Bills

I don't know if anyone's noticed but the government has recently overhauled its many websites into a fairly uniform GOV.UK set-up. They were pretty anarchic before, it must be said. Now, the gov-site I go to most often (DECC) is more difficult to navigate - but it does look a bit cleaner.

At the same time, I detect they have seriously decided to get their presentational act together. In the case of DECC (and, I've no doubt, lots of others too that I am unable to judge) this means systematically dissembling on the impacts of its ridiculous policies. Perhaps, following Galbraith's famous 'bezzle' coinage, we should call it the 'boozle'. And it's a biggie.

Yes, when it comes to lying about the future policy-driven costs of electricity, the government has long ago decided to Tell A Big One, summarised briefly as "OK, your bills will go up a little bit in the early years, but later they will fall (relative to what we say they would have been without our policies, fingers crossed)". It's worth unpicking exactly how they get to the numbers in this jolly chart, which greenies everywhere have really taken to, but which contains several questionable numbers and one massive, entirely fraudulent sleight of hand.
DECC's Boozle
As DECC have admitted in the past, this argument completely falls if gas prices fall. But let's look at some of the detailed components of their asserted 'saving' of £93.

Costs they acknowledge: as a first pass, we can probably assume most of the elements of the '+£280' are tolerably good estimates, but there are some important points to add: (1) 'EMR support' is planned to rise significantly after 2020, as the supposed new nukes start claiming whatever is to be their grotesque subsidy, and the capacity mechanism bites. So +41 is only the start. (2) Personally I don't envisage doing a 'Green Deal' at Schloss Drew, so I can ignore the +20 of loan repayment. (3) Just look at the transfer payment represented by the biggest single number, +70 for ECO support (a scheme "to subsidise energy efficiency measures for low income households") - this is you and me paying for social policy in a way the government hopes we won't notice. (4) Some estimates of the cost of smart metering etc are a lot higher than +3

Savings they claim: this is where the boozle really gets motoring. I don't know enough to challenge the -158 'Products Policy' and -89 'previous efficiency policies', but boy, those are big numbers. And - they are also in the bag already ! Sunk costs, so to speak. Nothing to do with avoidable policy-costs going forward. We could stop now, and these gains (whatever the numbers should be) would still be ours.

Additionally: (1) the Drew family won't qualify for -53 'ECO / Green Deal' or -16 'Warm Home Discount'. (2) -37 'smart meters' sounds pretty optimistic. (3) -20 'wholesale price impact of EMR' etc is flaky to the point of being an outright punt, it could easily be a net cost.

So: I could re-frame these same numbers for my own circumstances and the -93 diminishes to -49. I could - indeed, I do - diskard utterly the -20 as the flake-job it is. I could add 20 (or more) to EMR support for the years after 2020. I could inject another 30 of modest skepticism on smart meters, etc etc. And then I rightfully ignore the already-captured policy-gains of 158+89, because that's in the past. You can do the mournful maths for yourself.

So - going forward, The Current Policies Are Going To Cost Me Much, Much More! You too, I'm guessing. And the government itself acknowledges I'll have been paying more between now and 2020 anyway ...

Damn them and their wretched boozle !


This post first appeared on Capitalists@Work

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Sweeney Todd: an apology


Following investigation by the FSA, Fleet Street hairstylist Sweeney Todd has been forced to apologise for the use of horsemeat in his partner's popular pies. "We have been experiencing problems with our usual supplier," explained Mr Todd, 53, "so we have had to use protein filler from processors in Eastern Europe.

"Since our orphan boy tout fell ill, business in the barber's shop has been very slow, what with the credit crunch and the fact that thanks to our catering arm, we have no regular hairdressing customers.

"We have now returned to using 100% human flesh in our products. We can reassure consumers that the presence of animal tranquillisers in the pies has been traced to their recreational use by our late clientele. The Metropolitan Police have confirmed that they will not prosecute anyone for pie-related secondary intoxication."

Related news: the Health Secretary Mr Jeremy Hunt has announced that elderly people requiring long-term care will be given the choice of paying £75,000 towards nursing home fees, or a free visit to Mr Todd's salon.

Mr Hunt has asked us to point out that despite the name, there is no connection between his educational firm Hotcourses and the hot savoury dishes manufactured by Mr Todd and Mrs Lovett.

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Chinaaaarrgghh!!!


As the Year of the Snake approaches, read about Mark in China on World Voices.

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China: Scaring away the Nian

 
It didn't start off like in the brochure. A few minutes into the lesson, the teacher left Mark alone with nearly 40 Chinese children, some of them with special needs and all of them unable to understand what he was saying. And so:
 
 
From Mark's end of year report:
 
"English is being heavily driven in Beijing at the moment [2001-2]. As China is entering the World Trade Organisation, and also has the Olympics in 2008, it is seen as an advantage to the people of China to be able to communicate in English. Therefore the government has introduced measures to encourage this, from Chinese/English signs on streets, English language development programs on T.V. and radio, and Chinese/English publications. English is compulsory at [the] School from grade one through to senior two.
 
"However with China having a low percentage of non-Chinese people living or working in China and Chinese people generally not travelling outside of China, often communication with even English teachers in English can be difficult. The standard of written English is of a much higher calibre than spoken English, and English speakers' vocabulary is at a disproportionate level to the fluency with which they can use it."
 
The Chinese teachers at the school "followed a textbook and expanded on this where they felt it necessary," but allowed the four foreign Oral English teachers complete freedom to use their own methods.
 
Mark saw that there was a wide range of ability within the class, and no particular strategy for meeting the needs of the special needs children within it. Also, art was not a highly valued part of the curriculum. So his plan was English through Art: flags, maps, weather, animals, masks, cars - and doors and walls, as seen down the hutongs:
 
 
"When you stray off the main streets anywhere in the sprawling city of Beijing you can find yourself on the back streets where the humanity of Beijing reside. These alleyways, streets and back ways are affectionately referred to as 'Hu tong', they hustle and bustle with life. Whole families can be seen dodging in and out among bicycles incredibly overloaded with a three-seat sofa or cases of cabbages, open air hairdressers comprising a woman, a kitchen chair and her scissors. Life goes on past ornate and fascinating doorways, walls and architecture. What lies behind these doorways? What further dramas go on behind closed doors? Events probably not dissimilar to the family life of any household in Britain.. Often they open onto clutter, ever present bicycles, or occasionally a serene and peaceful scene, where a lonely cherry blossom tree stands central within a sunlight dappled and always dusty haven from the hustle on our side of the door."
 
Many of these ancient living areas were even then being cleared for modern urban projects, the former inhabitants moved far away from their jobs, local markets and lifelong neighbours.
 
The classroom learning continued with quizzes and games, and magic: Hallowe'en and Harry Potter, Hangman, the Hokey Cokey and Quidditch:
 
And celebrations, including Christmas and the New Year:
 
"January is a magical time in China. The Spring Festival begins with a bang for the Chinese New Year, with fireworks and lights filling the sky, almost overwhelming the eyes and ears. Chinese spring festival is a traditional holiday when people attempt to scare away mythical beasts, dragons and Nian. Nian is a mythical wild beast that preys on humans. So people light fireworks and hang lanterns to ward off Nian and keep it away from their homes.
 
"At this time of year homes and buildings are decorated with beautiful lanterns. The light builds to a zenith for the Lantern festival held on the fifteenth of January in two thousand and two (dependent on the Chinese lunar calendar). Lanterns come in many different colours and designs, producing a magnificant spectacle when evening falls and the lanterns bring the darkness to life."
 
The teaching style at the school was formal and could even be quite physically tough sometimes, but the staff felt they had something to learn from this more creative and playful approach. And so did the children:
 

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Friday, February 08, 2013

Slow down in Spain


See Brett Hetherington on World Voices.

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Spain: The Slow City movement


Time. It is the one thing that many of us feel like we don’t have enough of. Generally, we move through our lives at a rapid pace with mobile phones permanently on and our attention fixed on work and earning a living.


But in Catalonia, just as in other parts of the planet, there is an increasing number of people who are trying to reject a hectic ultra-modern lifestyle. They want to experience things in an unhurried way and the international Slow Movement is now helping that to happen.

Inspired by Italian Carlo Petrini’s Slow Food Foundation, which quickly spread world-wide, a number of other Slow movements have begun to emerge, especially across Europe. These now include Slow Science, Slow Design, Slow Money, Slow Travel, Slow Cinema (in this country with, Eduard Punset Casals, the Barcelona-born economist, lawyer and science writer/commentator) and even a Slow Parenting book by Helle Heckman, to add to Carl Honoré’s greatly influential title, “In Praise of Slow.”

On top of all this, we have Slow Towns (CittaSlow, in Italian) which in Catalonia is the two Empordà Baix villages of Begur and Pals on the Costa Brava. (The Spanish Slow Towns are Bigastro, Lekeittio, Mungia and Rubielos de Mora.)

But what exactly is a Slow Town?

According to the official website “
There are currently 147 Cittaslow towns in 24 countries across the world making Cittaslow an internationally recognised standard [of] accreditation that acknowledges the dedication and commitment of community members who work hard to make their part of the world a healthier, greener, happier, slower place to inhabit.”
The mayors of each town are representatives on the international organization of CittaSlow and they are charged with the responsibility of co-ordinating the preservation of their regions’ “distinct identities in the face of global homogenisation.”

Only a town with less than 50,000 residents can apply for formal recognition and CittaSlow states that those who are accepted “are not state capitals or the seat of regional governments, but are strong communities that have made the choice to improve the quality of life for their inhabitants.”

To achieve the status of “Slow Town,” the town council must agree to accept the guidelines of Slow Food and work to “improve conviviality and conserve the local environment.” It first has to pay 600.00 euros to the Cittaslow central office.

Apart from the continuing promotion of Slow Food restaurants and suppliers, some programs already implemented in Slow Towns include recycling projects, after-school programs, and the provision of information for tourists that helps them have a genuine “local’s” experience. For general public use in festivals for example, town councils can also buy Cittaslow biodegradable pulp plates and cutlery made from cellulose, while in their offices using approved recycled paper notepads.

In Catalonia the Slow Food branch in Lleida is particularly active and the Facebook group of the “Slow Movement Catalunya” has in excess of 150 members. They say that they are a social movement that: “defends a slower life, without pressure and eating calmly with friends [in addition to] advocating working at a reasonable pace and not more hours than is necessary, gazing at the sea, playing with children, conscientious thinking and going out for a tranquil walk.”

Last year Carlo Petrini, the founder and President of Slow Food International spoke at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. As the first ever outside speaker to be invited to address the floor in the this forum's ten-year history he gave Slow Food's perspective during a session on the right to food and food sovereignty.

How long might it be before a Catalan from one of the many Slow movements does the same?

Links:

http://www.slowfoodterresdelleida.com/

An edited version of the text above was first published in Catalonia Today magazine in February, 2013.

Reproduced by kind permission of the author, Brett Hetherington. All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment.