The season of mellow fecklessness

So, Autumn is here – or, to be more precise, has come and largely gone. Trees are mainly bare of leaves as the Government is mainly bare of ideas. Instead, they stir the same old bullsh*t round the same old pot and try to convince us that something has changed.  Got my interest statement recently: I ‘earned’ the princely sum of £1.62 all year.  OK, so there’s not much in there but, given the massive payouts to b(w)ankers and burgeoning profits they could have made a bigger ex-gratia payment than that to all their faithful customers out of their small change.    Once upon a time people were a bit shy about their jobs if they worked in a sewage ‘farm’ or slaughterhouse, or were body-snatchers or some-such.  Now, announcing that you’re a banker is a bit of a party-killer…

So, where have we gone in the last few weeks…


Massive hikes in energy prices and burgeoning profits for the Energy Companies.  It’s that Capitalism thing again: ‘all the market will bear‘, and the market will bear almost anything, nowadays.  They blame high wholesale energy prices, of course, and to some extent they’re justified: after all, all the Oil Oligarchies have to maintain their living standards: the Oil Sheikhs need another private jet, the Nigerian Oligarchs want another gold-plated Cadillac and the Russians…  well, the Russians.  The Russians want their glory-days back, when the whole world was scared sh*tless of them and when the Politbureau sneezed, the whole world caught a cold.  Putin dreams of Empire: the Empire of influence, if not of military control – they learned that in Afghanistan, just like we are…

The government, meanwhile, wrings its hands and throws good billions after bad in the futile search for ‘clean’ energy.  They bewail the fact that we’re dependent on imports of foreign energy when we’ve a thousand years supply of coal sitting under our feet, but thanks to Mags, all the mines are closed and the miners are no more.  Mainly to achieve her political aims…  But coal’s ‘dirty’: it produces CO2.

So, find a ‘clean’ source: Wind.  Great.  Dirt cheap: after you’ve spent megabucks installing the plant and stringing aesthetically-pleasing strings of pylons all through the few remaining beauty spots in the country. That doesn’t matter: the population won’t be able to afford to go there to look, soon: fuel will be too expensive. (I kid you not: it’s already happening).  Oh, and don’t forget the maintenance cost for all those thousands of windmills and miles of cable…

One other snag with wind: It doesn’t blow all the time, and doesn’t blow for much of the time at speeds that will generate significant amounts of power: don’t believe all the hype about so many gigawatts of installed capacity: that’s a MAXIMUM, which will be achieved probably less than 5% of the time.

OK, so wind is useful but unreliable.  Hence, we need to keep a massive back-up source for when we get those anticyclonic times.  Powered by: you’ve guessed it: Coal or Oil – both imported nowadays.  Another option would be energy storage, and there are numerous grandiose schemes being planned.  Pumped storage: fine and dandy if you don’t mind flooding half the country under reservoirs: might be useful, though, as the weather dries…  Thermal underground storage: unproven, expensive and potentially damaging.  And that’s pretty much that.  We don’t have sensible amounts of geothermal, solar is nice, but mostly available when we don’t need it (i.e available summer daytime, needed winter nighttime…)

Nuclear.  Ah, Nuclear (Or nucular, as it’s increasingly called).  Clean (if you ignore the radioactive waste issue), relatively cheap (if you ignore decommissioning and storing all that waste), reliable (earthquakes and tsunamis notwithstanding) but politically unacceptable.  Oh, and the fuel is imported…

So, where does that leave us?  Out of pocket.  Energy prices will continue to rise, and we will continue to pay.  More and more people are falling into ‘energy poverty’.  Once it was only the old who had the choice to eat in a freezer, or starve in warmth.  Now the rest of us are having the same pleasure.  Of course, the Government is doing it’s bit to help: they’ve trimmed the winter fuel payment, they’re reducing the grant towards domestic PV systems (which have encouraged a new breed of robber-barons who make you mortgage your roof for 25 years in order to boost their profits), they’ve wrung their hands over energy prices and muttered about windfall taxes on energy companies – which will, of course, be passed on to consumers in the form of higher bills.

Save energy:  What a nice idea.  You could start by turning off all the millions of light and computers that get left on every night in offices throughout the country.  Insulate homes properly: triple glazing, proper managed air-heat-exchange systems, sensible house design.  Fine for new houses, but what about the millions of old properties that seem to be designed specifically to waste heat?  How about sensible government subsidies to reduce our energy footprint…

Oh, and let’s increase the speed limit by 10mph.  Great idea.  Cars travelling at 80mph use 25% more fuel than cars travelling at 70mph (or so they say).  So, govern cars to 70mph.  No-one needs to go much faster than that, and all cars (or all new cars) have engine management systems that would allow this simply with a software change.  “But people might reprogramme this”  True, they might.  Make it an offense, with reprogrammed cars crushed, like uninsured ones.  Make it so expensive that only the rich will be able to drive fast…  It will be easy to spot ungoverned or reprogrammed cars: they’re the ones doing 85mph…  Reprogram acceleration rates, too, as hard acceleration uses more fuel again.  No one needs to go from 0-60mph in 4 seconds…  Distort competition in new car sales by banning speed/performance advertising and Top Gear and other such organs that promote performance over all else.  Make speeding as socially unacceptable as paedophilia…

That’s enough ranting on energy for the moment.  Maybe more later….

The Southern Front

Well, we won!  NATO once again proved its PC credentials by bombing the hell out of anyone Washington doesn’t like but can’t afford to invade.  Gadaffi’s gone.  Shot in the head by one of the rebels.  And good riddance.  I don’t approve of offing people arbitrarily, but think of how much that rebel saved us in  ICJ lawyer’s fees.  Perhaps we should give him a medal.

The only question now is which side we’ll bomb once the Alliance crumbles…

The M5 Crash

More official hand-wringing, and the search for the guilty has begun.  I have every sympathy for those poor unfortunates who died, and for their loved ones who have lost family members, but it was, as they say, an accident waiting to happen.

Again, human nature gets in the way of a long and happy life.  The M5 in Somerset is notorious for fog banks, and Guy Fawkes weekend is notorious for vast clouds of smoke.  Coupled with the dreadful weather, why was anyone driving at 70mph or more, in the dark, through spray, fog and possible smoke?  Why was everyone so close?  Once again, it proved that human senses, reactions and world-views are not adequate to deal with driving.  Modern motorways are, they tell us, the safest roads in the country, and, indeed (and I dispute this) the safest in the world – per passenger mile travelled.  They are also the busiest, and so there are lots of passenger-miles travelled, so lots of accidents.

The technology exists to allow us to:

  • Monitor the road ahead using mechanisms not affected by rain, snow, spray or smoke, such as radar or ultrasound.  The system could then warn us if the vehicles ahead are slowing down, and possibly even apply the brakes for us.  It could also prevent us from driving too close.   It might cost a few quid, but then so too do ABS and seat belts.
  • Monitor visibility and limit maximum speeds in poor conditions.  This could be done either per-car or using fixed installations and roadside comms links.
  • Automatically enforce speed limits (road-side comms links again)
  • Automatically assess driver alertness (some manufacturers are already doing this).
  • Automatically track and follow lanes and require positive action from the driver to change lane.  Automatic indications and over-ride if the manoeuvre is unsafe. (One thing I’d like to see is a car that won’t allow you to change lane unless you’re signalling…)
  • Fully automatic systems that allow the car to travel to a pre-programmed destination automatically.

Of course, the car makers will squeal, and governments will get involved in endless discussions about the ‘best’ system to use, but anyone who takes the lead has a good chance of establishing an international standard. Of course, there are technical issues, but nothing insurmountable.

Again, massive penalties for fiddling the system.  Possibly a ten-year transition then unequipped vehicles to be banned from motorways and other ‘auto-equipped’ roads.

For too long driving has been under the control of the driver’s gonads and not their mind (and that applies to an increasing number of female drivers, too).

Driving always reminds me of a tee-shirt I once saw a Biker wearing, that stated:

“I’m Immortal… so far!”

The long arm of the Law

After forty-odd years of dodging it, I finally got a summons to Jury Service the other week.  Only thirty miles down the road, luckily.  A friend has just finished a stint at the Bristol Crown Court, where she spent four weeks of a high-profile murder case.  I hope I don’t get anything so nasty, as it’s traumatised her considerably.

OK, so it has to be done, but why does the Government make it such a chore?  First off, it’s as if you’re the criminal, rather than the Juror.  Threats of dire consequences sprinkle the ‘invitation’ and, to back it up, there’s a pittance sheet attached telling you how much money you’re going to lose by performing your duty.  I think that, at the very least, the Minimum Wage and standard expenses should be offered to Jurors.  On the phone, I received this classic advice “We advise Jurors to use the Park and Ride to get to the court, and if you choose to park in the car-parks close to the court, we’ll only refund the cost of the park & ride”.

OK, so I’m not ‘officially’ disabled, but there are lots of other ‘silver surfers’ of my advanced age and decrepitude who find it difficult to hop on and off buses and walk from bus-stop to court, but this issue is ignored by TPTB.  Since there are no car-parks closer to the court than the bus-stop, I suppose it’s not really an issue, but it seems to reflect the Government’s general attitude of: “the Law says you’ve got to do it, but no-one says you have to enjoy it and no-one can make us pay you for it, so up yours…”

I expect I’ll have more to say on this topic once I’ve actually experienced the joys of Jury Service…

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