Saturday, July 11, 2020

SATURDAY ESSAY: trivialising BLM with wine whining, by Wiggia

As anyone who has read anything I have written - there must be a few? - will have observed, I do like my wine, having been drinking it, reading about it, going to wine-making countries and wineries plus tastings and wine related dinners - in all I have drunk an awful lot of the stuff from all over the world - for far too many years.

I also read what wine critics say, not so much for their suggestions as most have attachments or associations that make any suggestions a bit skewed or biased; added to that we all have our personal tastes anyway. You could ask, why do you read what they say then? Quite simply, they have constant access to wines that are new, interesting and sometimes affordable that make me say I will try that if I come across it, and they write about winemakers, trends etc which can be interesting.

So it was with some surprise that an article in the Guardian by their own wine writer surfaced that made me do a double take. I don’t read the Guardian - does anyone these days ? - but I have read articles by their wine writer Fiona Beckett who in normal circumstances is one of the better ones.
However the headline alone made me think this was another case of bandwagon-jumping:

'It's time the wine industry stopped taking safe stances to keep its primarily white audience comfortable'

That alone made me read on, which is what I expect it was intended to do, despite the fact I have no real idea what it means other than some invention of the mind to attract Guardian readers who see race in everything. Why should white wine drinkers feel uncomfortable, seriously?  For those who want to read it the full article is here…

Before I go on it has to be said that only a minority of black drinkers favour wine over other beverages so making a point about the percentages in the article is not factual in this respect. It also trots out the usual “I know people” tropes about black wine waiters being snubbed etc. In this country I doubt very much Fiona has ever seen a black wine waiter or sommelier about whom she makes the point about bypassing the said black man and asking a white waiter; sure, it might happen, but I am inclined to put the anecdotes in the category of ‘things that never happened’ or certainly never happened when Fiona was around; but it pads out her article nicely in a rather deceitful way.

Her point about black South Africans being a very small part of the wine industry in their own country is pure whataboutery: there's no reason why black people can't own vineyards and make wine as some do in the USA, and nothing wrong in promoting that type of career among black people, but how many even given the chance are really interested? There is no indication in the article of any numbers involved. Wine has no black history; everything in that line in Africa has come from Europe so naturally white people own and run wineries.

I buy wine from many sources; as far as retailers are concerned, I have never seen a black person in one buying wine. It may be slightly different in the big cities these days but still an insignificant number and in supermarkets the wine aisles are not exactly packed with black wine buyers, so for me the whole article is bunk.

Further down she quotes a young black wine-maker in the States and again gives the impression of how hard it is for women of colour to get anywhere in the industry. That may be correct but she spoils it by extending her comments to include women in general, which is not true: more wineries world wide every year promote women to to be chief wine makers or CEOs of wine making companies or just simply outright owners at all levels. Again, it's bunk.

Fiona's own position is interesting: in her final paragraph she joins those who wish to savage (treading on dangerous ground there, John, using 'savage') the English language by changing words to suit the current crop of politically correct appeasers to any perceived grievance. Only a few days ago some estate agents decided the use of 'master bedroom' was somehow demeaning and said they would remove the said word.

How ever did this one slip through?
Fiona is pleased the “Court of Master Sommeliers” are removing the ‘humiliating word 'master'' - this is in the States, by the way. Despite many accreditations, Fiona  is not herself a master of wine (MW); does she think that should be changed? In fact, there are many women MWs. 'Master of wine' has no slave connections; it is the use of a word that describes exactly what the person is: a master of, nothing else, nothing less. If you remove the use of the word for that title, what must we do about 'master of hounds', chess 'grandmaster' etc?

It does look as though clownworld has come to stay and it isn’t funny any more.

Friday, July 10, 2020

FRIDAY MUSIC: Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen! by JD

Very often YouTube throws up a recommendation and I say- oh, I remember that! And very often I put to one side a half constructed post (or two of them currently) and set about the latest find with new found enthusiasm.

Commander Cody, otherwise known as George Frayne IV, has issued over two dozen albums and singles since 1971 using the talents of a lot of musicians in the process. He seems to be unsure of which genre of music he prefers so he includes most of them and sometimes all in the same record. Not as chaotic as it sounds because he and his band members are accomplished musicians.

Some of the videos below are very clever edits of clips from 'vintage' cinema and TV to match the music and are guaranteed to raise a smile. If you want more you can find them at

Saturday, July 04, 2020

SATURDAY ESSAY: Observations of a seasoned gardener, by Wiggia

Gardening is not a subject I have written about at any length despite my career being one in horticulture; in many ways it can become ‘coals to Newcastle’ and certainly would have fit that description when I was working. Now it is slightly different - I have the time to reflect and observe.

During my time in horticulture I covered nearly every aspect of gardening in all of its forms. I started out with high aspirations but a living has to be made and I took the maintenance route, though 90% was commercial - a far better route than private for reasons of cash flow as contracts were twelve months and not seasonal as most private maintenance is (what people think gardeners are going to live on in the winter has always been a mystery.)

But it gave me a secure financial platform to slowly get into designing and building gardens, the vast majority in London, the rest being Home Counties. Bit by bit I dropped the maintenance - not all, some was lucrative enough to carry on with and you don’t bite the hand that feeds you out of ego.
I have also always had a sort of plant hunter's nose when visiting obscure nurseries: any name that rang a bell about some rare tree shrub or perennial would be picked up and added to the client stock list I was building. I never could resist this temptation and often these items without a suitable home would be potted on and moved with us when we changed houses, pets my wife called them; some by the time this happened would be in fifty litre pots and the whole would take a separate lorry. Often the more mature ones would find a home with a client, others would finally be planted in my own garden but the quest was always with me, almost an addiction.

As with everything else in this world tastes and fashions change, many if you live long enough go full circle and horticulture is no different in that respect. Conifers are a good example: in the Sixties there were specialist nurseries selling huge numbers of different conifers for the garden, articles abounded in the gardening press and mainstream on how to make a conifer garden and thousands of people did. What was lost on most people and rarely mentioned is the fact that conifers are trees: given time, even so-called miniature conifers become small trees, so a lot of people discovered their conifer gardens became small forests and much had to go.

Exceptions to the rule were places like Adrian Blooms garden in Bressingham, Norfolk where 10 acres of garden show how conifers can be used to create a beautiful and largely single genus garden, but what really killed off conifers was Cypressus x Leylandii: promoted as a fast-growing hedge it sold in millions as an ‘instant’ natural barrier. The fact that because of its growth rate it needs cutting at least three times a year or it becomes a tree was not mentioned but soon revealed. It was only really suitable as a wind break in large gardens; it was a disaster in small urban gardens where it was normally planted, so conifers became passé, nonU, out of fashion and generally despised, but they are slowly returning, as with all plants there is a place for them.

There are many other plants that have risen from obscurity to sink again and some that have just sunk. Another overused hedging plant that should be approached with caution for the same reasons as the Leylandii is the laurel hedge: there are so many good hedging plants that only this desire to have anything instant keeps plants like laurel as a hedge selling, Yew for instance is generally avoided as too slow; not strictly true, I planted a fifty-foot yew hedge in my current garden that has reached seven foot in five years and it still is the king of native hedge plants, yet still rarely used these days.

Roses have tumbled down the popularity league over the last few decades for a variety of reasons. Our national flower is still something to be treasured but disease was the first thing to stunt its popularity when after the Clean Air Act of the fifties came in after the ‘Great Smog’: it left the rose without its natural (!) fungicide, i.e. sulphur and exposed far too many varieties to infection with black spot, not something that you want to see on a rose but there it was. So you either dumped the roses affected or sprayed continually through the season. Most people dumped the affected varieties and roses suddenly had a stigma attached to them. Other reasons helped them slide down the charts as well: the ability to buy an ever increasing range of plants for the garden meant a reducing demand for the old stalwarts of roses, chrysanthemums and dahlias, which all need care and attention. The millions of well-tended front gardens with roses in rows are no more and many of the famous growers went with them, such as the well-loved Harry Wheatcroft; in horticulture, nothing is forever.

Garden design has also changed. When I started out you could pull out the phone book and would have a job to find a garden designer in there; now there are hundreds, it became fashionable, I saw it happen. Without sounding sexist, well it is not possible to say this without sounding sexist, it seemed every bored middle-class housewife was taking garden design courses for a ‘new career’; many had the benefit of supporting husbands who could afford to indulge them. Some of course turned out to be excellent but most withered and died on the vine so to speak.

I worked alongside one under pressure once,:trained at the prestigious English Gardening School, she had no idea what any flower genus was and thought spending half an hour planting one perennial was the way to go; well to bankruptcy, certainly.

A nursery in Essex who were also good friends and still are, supplied ‘ seconds’ saplings and small trees to Writtle College so that the design and landscaping pupils could practise planting; they also, he would relate, take an hour or more to plant one tree correctly. Anyone in the business could never make a living planting this way but the main concern for so many of these pupils when they passed out with diplomas was not a business model or good practise but a brand new truck, you know the type, with preferably an extended cab leaving a far too small carrying area for anything and mostly on display so it was easy for anything to be nicked. I saw this repeatedly; as today, image is all, practicality less so.

The designs of gardens have indeed changed or evolved over time. Those wonderful high-maintenance gardens from the Edwardian period, many instigated by the likes of Gertrude Jekyll (boots below) that we gleaned from those coffee table tomes are much reduced in number. With the current trend in house building to maximise plots of building land, the house of now and the future has no garden to speak of, so gardening becomes an observational hobby rather than an actual getting-your-hands-dirty exercise; these modern plots have reached the absurd.

Those who still believe that the likes of what is seen at Chelsea and other flower shows demonstrate how it should be are dreaming: they have become ever more an exercise in the fantastical. There are some good designs, but the majority are exercises in what can be crammed into a regulated space using huge sums of other people's money. When you see the likes of Monty Don or whoever is touring the show gardens dribbling over X's latest masterpiece you have to remember it would never look like that in real life: all the flowers are  blooming at the same time of the year having been forced under cover for the show, not an easy feat to achieve but totally false, and standing on the only flagstone in one of these gardens and eulogising on its wonderful composition always makes me think that after the mike is switched off the presenter is winched back to the real world by helicopter. There was even a gold medal-winning water garden a couple of years back that had no visible means to reach any of its components.

I am fully aware that as in the fashion world much of what you see is an aspiration in design not a reality, but to use nature in that way maybe is a step too far or in these cases, a step is all you can take.

Going back forty years, Chelsea was worth visiting for the growers' stands alone, they put in so much effort to present perfect plants and were so proud of their achievements if they won an award; but slowly through cost they were pushed out and the usual fringe gardening aspects came in. I stopped going soon after that; there are better shows and venues.

TV gardening has taken some stick in recent years, rightly so: it has gone from the days of sensible advice for the garden of the man next door to dreaming about a garden you may aspire to but never own, those wise words from the likes of Percy Thrower (I do a fair impression I’m told of Percy’s introduction 'Welcome to the Magnolias’); Geoffrey Smith, my favourite - no trendy gear for him, he was just someone who had worked for years at Harlow Carr and then branched out into TV and took you to gardens you could recognise; Roy Lancaster, who was probably plant wise the most knowledgable of them; and a few others.

It all changed really and not for the better with Ground Force, a program said to be to get young people interested in gardening? with its cheaply made, poorly designed and placed extravagancies for the masses; most people only tuned in for a view of Charlie Dimmock's, er, 'window box' anyway.

And since then far too many presenters are more interested in projecting their own image by trademark clothes or  worked-on affectations, plus as with all TV today, quotas must be filled regardless of ability. In the case of TV gardening, with a few exceptions, the good old days were the good old days.

Here’s a real gardener:

Gardening should be about enjoyment and relaxation and sitting out after a day working in one with a glass or two of wine and taking in your efforts however minimal is part of the pleasure. If you have a big garden and I have, not the first or the biggest, then it does take up a lot of spare time, but that is my choice; there is as much satisfaction in much smaller plots, so why don’t I have a smaller plot? Well, to be honest I have been fortunate to have had these bigger gardens and the one thing above all else you get with a big plot is that rather selfish sense of privacy: no-one overlooks all the plot and you can walk and enjoy in solitude. Not many things in the world today give that sort of personal pleasure and if I want to wee on the compost heap to hasten decomposition I can with no fear of being called out as a perv. Ah, the compost heap: I just opened up one of mine to find a complete three foot shed skin from what must have been a grass snake lying on the top. Many years ago I opened a compost heap to a whole nest of vipers, that did make me jump; the humble compost heap can have many surprises !

That compost heap leads me to another aspect of gardening that is now popular again: growing your own. Pages and pages of print from pros and  talented amateurs alike give glowing reports on how easy it is to grow your own fruit and veg, how you only need a balcony and a trough to grow all the veg you need to feed a family of four all year round, or something like that; and of course it has to be organic.

I have never been quite able  to embrace the organic movement despite their good intentions, largely because most of what is used in mineral form is organic - where else does it all come from but the earth in the first place. Yes, over-use of certain items does indeed cause problems over time but most additives have a positive effect used sensibly so I will continue to use as I see fit.

The same goes for pesticides: the organic methods are never going to match a systemic spray. I experimented this year having had an outbreak of lily beetle, the little red buggers can if not identified destroy a lily quick time, they breed at such an alarming rate that the larvae which feed on the leaves then wrap themselves in their own faeces to stop birds eating them; lovely. I went on lily patrol at the first sighting and picked them off; some just dropped to the ground on approach and turned over, so hiding their red side and becoming difficult to see.

But all this requires time and the perseverance to daily check all your lilies throughout the summer; some of us have better things to do. I did actually managed to catch and kill (don’t ask how) over seventy of the little fiends and all was clear for awhile, but return they did as always.

In the past I have used a pesticide spray before the flowers unfold so as not to harm the likes of bees and this works with minimum effort, but this year after the litter picking (!) I have used diatomaceous earth (me neither) on the soil and we will see how that goes. After rain of course it has to be replaced. Oils such as Neem oil are also recommended as these sprays simply smother the insect so he can’t breathe; the downside with oil sprays is they can have the same effect on the plant leaves, which defeats the object. This though is just one small story in the defence of plants from pests and diseases.

Returning to growing your own: first of all, however you go about growing your own, don’t ever believe what people say about it. There are so many ways you can grow veg, veg being the primary recipient of your time and effort, that for a beginner it could easily be confusing to say the least. Simply, despite the taste difference for many veg you grow yourself some are not worth the effort; two crops spring to mind in this respect: potatoes and carrots. Both take up an awful lot of space to get a decent crop and both are cheap in the supermarket, so cheap as to make growing them yourself uneconomical and the choice of potatoes at least is now very large, so little if anything is gained from home production. Carrots suffer from carrot fly and have to be rigorously thinned, another chore I can do without.

And never forget, however much you stagger your seed planting  there will always be a glut - just how many beans can four people eat when you are picking two pounds a day, an easy target to reach.
A greenhouse makes it all a lot easier. For many you can forget the outside plot and grow things that you cannot get in the shops like the many superb tomato varieties, peppers that really only ripen in exceptional summers outdoors, cucumbers that actually have taste and even early season lettuce, plus you can raise plants for the outdoor area without having to utilise the airing cupboard, and always get one bigger than you intended. If you are interested places like eBay have a whole raft of greenhouses for sale second-hand and with a bit of effort you can save yourself a lot of money.

I read an article the other day about a gardener who advocates ‘no dig’ gardening. As with most things this is not new and aligns itself with organics. You can take your pick looking at the Youtube videos of his giant veg plot and all the lovely produce it yields, but is no-dig really the answer? As with all, the truth is in the finding. Forgetting the plot and gardener in question, no one could run that without it being a full-time job and he does indeed supply restaurants etc so it is more of a market garden and like the TV gardeners of now they all have five acre plots they potter about in that look immaculate; manage on their own? Doubtful to the extreme.

As with most things no-dig comes with caveats: the no-dig on those vids is really raised beds, you are not actually digging the soil you are putting another layer on top and not many people have access to five ton loads of manure even if they could use it.

Weed suppression is spoken of as one of no-dig's benefits, you smother the weeds and lack of daylight kills them' I have gone that route in the past; some weeds succumb, some such as bindweed don’t - even after two years it reappearss. In fact without knowing it I pre-dated that author as in ‘76 I did indeed do a no-dig veg plot as I had unlimited horse manure from next door, they literally shovelled it over the fence when I asked; the amount you need is huge to have any effect as with home made compost and that also assumes you have the material to compost in the first place, but we were on heavy yellow Essex clay and without rotovating  the surface no plants would ever get their roots down in the summer, mulch or no mulch. In fact it was so hard in ‘76, the hottest summer on recent record, the rotovator could not even get into the surface.

So again it is horses for courses. That soil in Essex had to be opened up: pea shingle, road scrapings, anything to improve drainage before any compost went in, but without the help of next door nothing would have been achievable and my advice came from no other than the late Beth Chatto who with her husband created her wonderful garden in Essex on soil very similar to mine, Beth in my mind was the greatest of all when it came to the use of plants and placement in a garden, and a lovely lady to boot.

Today I have the opposite to work with. Anything grows in this sandy loam, including weeds, but it drains very quickly: lawns suffer from permanent drought and shallow rooting plants have to be watered to establish them. Again any form of compost helps the soil structure to retain moisture but despite my air raid shelter bins there is never enough of the stuff to satisfy the garden.

Climate change has affected gardens along with the globalised industry. We have had hot spells before, nothing new there, but it does come in warmer and earlier, the season is longer and different plants thrive and new diseases also. In fact I wrote earlier about the last two years containing more losses through different diseases and infestations than all my previous gardening years combined, there is always something different coming along regards what Nature can throw at you.

Now for the first time the years have caught up with me. We need to move; my large garden is finally becoming as much of a burden as it is a place to enjoy, the hips are gone and all has to be paced. Will I miss it? Of course, but I have also been very fortunate to have had these large plots; the biggest was two acres and today's is an acre. All have been a challenge that has been met with a will to improve, to indulge in with my own ideas, not always successfully. Wherever we end up there will be a garden, very different no doubt to that I have had in the past, but not different in the sense I have designed and built many smaller gardens in London over the years so I do know what to expect. One thing that will change is the scale of operations: a smaller shed, no more rotavators, no more ride-on mowers, no more pro spec 50kg x3 walk behinds, no more back pack sprayers, long reach hedgecutters (you need to be built like Arnie to hold one of those up for any length of time) and no more of all the heavy duty petrol machinery you need for a big garden; a general slimming down of tools as well, do I really need four pairs of Felco secateurs now or ever? A gentler, easier garden awaits, I hope !


Wiggia's homage to Beth Chatto, who died in 2018, is here:

Friday, July 03, 2020

FRIDAY MUSIC: Mark O'Connor, by JD

Music from Mark O'Connor, who began his career at the age of 13 when he won the WSM Grand Masters Fiddle Championships, WSM being the radio station broadcasting to the whole of the USA from the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee.

Bach's Concerto in D minor for Two Violins at Carnegie Hall (1993) a benefit for the Harlem Public School violin program. Featuring Isaac Stern, Itzhak Perlman, Mark O'Connor, Midori, John Blake, Ida Kavafian, Anni Kavafian, Roberta Guaspari, Diane Monroe, Karen Briggs, Arnold Steinhardt, Michael Tree... actually considerably more than the two violins Bach expected to be playing his concerto! It is a delight seeing very small children playing alongside maestros such as Stern and Perlman.

Documentary directed by Peter Rosen:

... and a bonus track, featuring O'Connor as the 'good' fiddler and Charlie Daniels as the 'black hat' fiddler, with Marty Stuart and Travis Tritt as the advocates for the two and Johnny Cash as the preacher man!


About the O'Connor Method for violin, viola, cello and orchestra:

Music from United States, Mexico, Latin American and Canada. American Classical Music, Hoedowns, Blues, Spirituals, Ragtime, Jazz, Bach, Baroque, Hymns, Bluegrass, Folk Songs, Rock, Ranchero, Jigs, Choros, modern compositions and much more. Technique, Solo, Ensemble, String Orchestra, Classics, Creativity, Improvisation, Cultural Diversity, Music of different eras, Individual expression. 500 hundred years of music for the violin and strings that creates relevance to the 21st century.

The O'Connor Method - Students of all ages, Teachers, Studios, Community Schools, Public Schools, Private Schools and Summer Camps -

For more information on Mark O'Connor, String Camps, ensembles, repertoire, sheet music and more, please visit

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Maths learning: go figure, by Paddington

In over 40 years of teaching and tutoring Mathematics, and reading lots of studies in Mathematics Education, I have become convinced of the following:

1. Almost (*) everyone can learn more Mathematics than they currently know.
2. There is a fairly clear hierarchy of difficulty in the subject: Arithmetic, Algebra, Basic Functions, Calculus, Advanced Calculus, Real Analysis and the higher level material. Almost (*) everyone has a maximum level that they can achieve, long before the top.
3. The top level for 80% of the population appears to be Basic Algebra or lower, with only about 5% able to pass a standard Engineering Calculus I course.

Understandably, these observations have met with a great deal of resistance, especially from politicians and administrators who have read the studies that performance in college-level Mathematics classes is a good predictor of overall academic success (undeniably true). This leads to the insistence that we pass more students without lowering standards.

The people who insist that this is possible tend to fall into two categories: Those who themselves do not perform well in the subject, but blame all of their experiences on a single bad teacher, and those who found the subject relatively easy.

Large scale experiments, such as the mess in the O- and A-level syllabi in England from 1980 to 2000 show that increased pass rates mean lower achievement. In the US, cases such as the impressive improvement at Georgia State a few years ago were a result of lowered standards, but the people in charge blinded themselves to the fact.

Nonetheless, a higher percentage of jobs are now tied to higher education (including many trades), and most of the degrees in demand require levels of Mathematics far higher than Basic Algebra. We have also built an Education system which treats students as consumers, and the failure rates in Mathematics are unacceptably high to the administrators and political overseers. Never mind that those rates are close to the same across countries and decades, if not centuries.

What to do?

Form the perspective of a politician or administrator, especially one trained outside of the STEM areas, the obvious answer is to increase pass rates, and pretend to be maintaining standards.

This has been happening for decades, but it is getting worse. Be prepared for the majority of college graduates to have the paper qualifications, but not the actual abilities.

They will, however, be full of confidence in those missing abilities, thanks to the Dunning-Kruger
(**) effect, which is all that really matters.


To follow on, I would point out that one of the loudest and all-knowing groups to criticize what we did were the Engineering and Science professors.

Some decided that they could do much better, and tried to create courses which took students with the base competence to start Precalculus, and tried to get them do do Differential Equations in a semester. That did not go well.

Another group decided that our placement process was too restrictive, and insisted that they could tutor and nurture the students with weak backgrounds. Those students simply couldn't get through.

Yet another group thought that we were just too harsh, and were not getting students through to their courses. They believed the famous 'Calculus is a weeder course' meme. They encouraged students to take their Math courses at online places, or local institutions who were known to have higher pass rates (i.e. lax standards). Those students got great grades in those courses, and then couldn't pass the higher-level Engineering courses.

In short, we Mathematicians generally know what we are doing.

(*) Excluding mathematical greats such as the late Paul Erdos, Terence Tao and the like.

(**) 'The Dunning-Kruger effect is a type of cognitive bias in which people believe that they are smarter and more capable than they really are. Essentially, low ability people do not possess the skills needed to recognize their own incompetence.'

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Energy and Liberty

As the statue-rollers do their bit to help capitalism collapse under its self-contradictions, one should have thought the PC response to energy issues is 'renewable/small is beautiful'; but it seems Greenery has its own conundrums. Even Greta Thunberg is not immune from Left criticism, as witness Cory Morningstar's series on how 'Joan of Aargh!' is part of a plan to cash in on eco-investment and the charity/quango gravy train; this is a revolution that, like the French one and pace vegetarianism, threatens to eat its own children.

Nick Drew, writer at Capitalists@Work, here discusses another campaigner's idea that renewables may be a Bad Thing because of a 'power struggle' in two senses...

An important line of thought in energy matters is how coal transformed the entire world by being a very dense (and fairly convenient) form of energy.  Oil is even better.  (Google ERoEI for quantified approaches to these thoughts.)  Cheap coal and oil were the basis of industrial civilisation, and cheap electricity the basis of the modern way of life.  Oooh-errr, missus: isn't "green energy" going to be of much poorer ERoEI, and much more expensive? ... and hence, the end of civilisation as we know it?

When allied to the obvious observation that activist "greens" are generally ignorant to the point of causing despair; and those that aren't daft romantics are often outright malcontents (sometimes anarchists and sometimes malevolent & motivated anti-capitalists) - oh, and add China to the mix, because they ain't falling for this crap but we are!  -  there's scope for some fairly apocalytic visions.    Oooh-errr, missus ...

For a well-written example of this thesis my attention was drawn by our good host to a piece by one John Constable, a name that will be familiar to those who get their kicks from the very peculiar output of the Global Warming Policy Foundation.  His article is here.

Now I understand this "intellectual" line of thinking, and it's always nice to have something theoretical to worry about: but I'm deeply skeptical of it, on three immediate grounds
  • ad hominem: Constable is a deep fellow but always leaves the indelible impression he's pursuing an unacknowledged agenda
  • "Attempting to reverse this process by returning much or all of the energy system to low density flows means handing over to those who control the renewable energy sector the majority of the potential for change available to our society.  The political implications of this are terrifying, and not even public ownership of those resources could avoid the concentration of power and constriction of human freedom that would result.
  • he's dramatically (and, given his considerable knowledge, wilfully) wrong when he talks about "low density flows" as if that's anything remotely new**
Well, it's true Rebecca Long-Bailey (when shadow energy minister before GE2019) planned to hand the whole thing over to local authorities (the irony! when you see what a cock-up they make of their energy endeavours), right down to the level of parish councils and even "local communities ... of around 200 homes"; and of course all workers in the sector to be unionised.   But that ain't going to happen - anywhere.

So whom does Constable imagine has been controlling the energy system** up until now (in the open-market era, i.e. post 1990)?  The nearest UK candidates are, in broad coalition, (a) National Grid (b) Ofgem (c) HMG.  The CCC helps a bit and snipes a bit, from the sidelines: other related quangos are either more helpful (being more closely directed by government and industry) or more snipey (being "greener").  Similar in most countries.  With most aspects of detailed development / delivery / execution outsourced to private companies (and/or municipal utilities in some countries), small and large (EDF is an egregious counter-example, but doomed in its present form).  Any serious signs it's about to be handed over to Greta?  What does she know about constructing anything more weighty than a tweet?

No: as I keep saying (C@W passim): net zero carbon has gone completely mainstream now (since 2019, specifically, in my assessment).  So - it's in the hands of the engineering companies, the traditional energy companies (who ain't volunteering to go the way of the dinosaurs) as well as a rash of really creative newer engineering / technology companies, and the banks.++  Right now I'm working on a project for a gigantic "traditional polluter" whose products are vital for our way of life, whose efforts to go green up until last year were next to nil, and who now are throwing all their excellent people into really bold schemes to go zero carbon!  And when you see real, competent people working these Big (very big) Problems, it makes the idea of "handing things over to parish councils" look utterly, utterly absurd.  And despite RLB's talk of the unions taking a controlling stake in all this, whose side do you think a practical GMB man is on?   (Or Kier Starmer?)  For reasons both of jobs, and keeping the lights on, nobody in the real world will do anything other than let the big corporates do what they're doing.

Now: will our 2050 energy end up being more expensive?  Not sure.  Yes, there are huge upfront capital costs - but right now, that's surely going to be spent on Something Big, on Keynsian grounds at least, so it might as well be building clean & useful stuff.  (Plus adaptation / mitigation, of course - a key part of the 2019 breakthrough-to-mainstream.)  And the beauty of wind and solar is that once the (substantial, but fast declining) capital expenditure has been taken care of, the operating costs are wholly unburdened by the fuel costs that dominate "conventional" energy.  (Don't fret about the details like grid balancing, over which Mr Constable frequently hyper-ventilates - and I used once to worry myself, see this blog a few years ago.  It's just an engineering problem: the Grid is very good at it; lots of clever people are beavering away at it - and the costs of all that will fall, too.)

But let's suppose, as seems possible, that Chinese coal+wind+solar beats western hydrogen+wind+solar+batteries on cost.  So what?  Globalism is over!  We ain't gonna be buying our stuff from them on the same scale anymore, anyway.  Are we ..?

Nick Drew

** the whole point about the gas industry is that methane is INCREDIBLY low in energy density, (even when you freeze it to put it in ships, it's still quite poor) - but an exceptionally useful form of energy.  And so, highly specialised infrastructures (physical, financial and commercial) have long since been established to cater for this.  In many respects (although the technical analogies aren't easily mapped for non-scientists), the electricity situation is even more extreme.  Neither of these massive industries are in the hands of the Green Blob.  Anywhere.  Whatever daftness sometimes surfaces in the legislation under which they conduct their resolutely practical business.

++ OK, yes, and a bunch of chancers, con artists and would-be 'war profiteers' at the margin