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Saturday, 5 March 2011

Let Bradford shrink back to a village

One of the great pretences of the Welfare State is that there is still a viable economy in places with 75% unemployment. It's only State jobs that provide any work at all, only Housing Benefit that makes an artificial market in rented property when if left alone, the rental cost of a terraced house would be minus £20 a week - the price the owner would pay to have someone living there to stop it being stripped for scrap copper and old fireplaces. So our taxes preserve these dead towns, preserve a wholly artificial economy. And IDS' Five Year Tractor Plan will do nothing to change this. 

Detroit was known worldwide as the centre of the motor manufacturing industry. As the industry died, so workers moved out, the city's tax base fell, and whole areas of downtown Detroit have just been abandoned, the property not worth a spit, and not enough taxes to police it or keep it from burning down. The buildings are empty of people, and there's no traffic at all on streets once jammed with vehicles. And this is absolutely right. Why should Federal taxes pay Welfare relief, pay to keep a city that's had it's day alive? Let it rot and collapse and let trees grow in the rubble and let nature reclaim it. 

Deserted downtown Detroit

A city or a town isn't a masonry structure, it's an economy. If there's not even a sufficient local tax-base to pave the streets, pay subsistence Welfare, educate the kids and provide a basic level of public health, there's no reason why it should survive. Using taxes from richer areas will just damage the national economy - money that should be invested in business and trade is being wasted maintaining an artificial property market. So let Bradford return to a village, let Blackburn go back to some huts in a swamp, with the natives poking about in the dirt with sticks. Let the people move out - to the Fens to pick vegetables, to London to drive buses, to anywhere where there's work and a new life. And let's let the crumbling housing estates return to the earth. 

The Fall of the House of Saud

An excellent piece by Gildas on Anna Racoon's blog identifies the real conflict to come. As news comes on the radio this morning of Saudi Arabia having mobilised the army for internal action the prospect of the Fall of the House of Saud comes a little closer. Such an event wouldn't end the evil of primitive Wahhabism, of course - but it would end Wahhabism being viewed as 'respectable' and allow us to be honest in identifying not Islam but this despotic and horrid perversion of Islam as our true enemy. 

IDS' Welfare Five Year Tractor Plan weakness

The Mail does again today what it does best - offers us a range of targets for our hatred and vilification. As Britain's bile spills over the breakfast table this morning at the 26 benefit cheats exposed on the Mail's pages, I really can't summon much spite. Had the paper pictured 26 bankers in their Surrey mansions enjoying the Spring sunshine at the taxpayer's expense whilst fleecing gullible widows and orphans, my bile would have risen with the rest of the nation's, but since the Mail is read by these bankers' wives I guess they're off-limits. 

What the piece does demonstrate is the utter futility of Iain Duncan-Smith's Five Year Plan for Welfare reform, which just replaces one central Statist behemoth with a new central Statist behemoth. It is the remoteness of the State from the individual, and the separation of the Welfare process from the local neighbourhood and community that enables such petty fraud. As far as the Mail's 26 fraudsters are concerned, they're not robbing their neighbours but the State - it's like insurance fraud, innit? If benefits are funded and paid locally, by people who live in the same street, shop in the same corner Co-op, as these cheats then both deterrence and detection are hugely enhanced. 

What a wasted opportunity. 

Thursday, 3 March 2011

The risk of cigarette smoke in cars

OK advance warning - this piece contains numbers. Right. First let's look at particulates - very, very fine particles of smoke in the air. They come mainly from vehicle exhausts and other cumbustion sources but in London, mainly from vehicle exhausts. If you're taking your kids to school in a car you're breathing air that contains relatively very high concentrations of particulates - the image below is average levels in an area of North London - the roads levels equal or exceed 32µg /m3. That's equal to 32000ng/m3. Don't get too worried yet - 32µg is 32/1000000ths (32 millionths) of a gram. The same as 32000 trbillionths of a gram. Where particulates are concentrated is the important thing - for high particulate concentrations indicate high BaP and PAH concentrations.

Right. Now PAH concentrations are the thing. PAHs are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. PAHs are carcinogenic, and a subdivision of PAHs, BaPs, are particularly so. BaPs are benzo(a)pyrenes. Local councils monitor average levels of PAHs in the air in trbillionths of a gram per cubic metre or ng/m3.

The average level of PAHs in the air in Westminster in the orange PM10 areas are currently around 35 ng/m3. This is what you and your kids will be breathing in a car on these roads. Constantly. All the time. With every breath. 

Now cigarettes produce both smoke particles and PAHs. So how much worse off will you be with a smoker in the car? A report from the University of Minnesota Cancer centre says;
The presence of BaP and other carcinogenic PAHs in cigarette smoke is firmly established. Current levels of BaP are 1.5–15 ng per cigarette, whereas those of other established PAH carcinogens are collectively ≈3–50 ng per cigarette
Now of course the smoker inhales and absorbs a large proportion of that - let's say half. The volume of a car passenger compartment is about 3m3. So if a smoker in the car smoked an entire cigarette instantaneously, with no venting of the smoke and all of the smoke and vapour phase hanging in the air, it would result in a PAH level of 0.5 - 8 ng/m3  or about a maximum of about a quarter of the ambient level. With a window cranked open a fraction, and normal time taken to smoke a cigarette, the increase in PAH levels in the atmosphere inside the car is practically zero.

So go figure why the smoking Nazis (in this case the Lung Foundation and the RCP) are calling for a ban on smoking in cars.  

ECHR judgement on vinicultural workers pay

For the kingdom of Europe is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day, and they resolveth to take their case before the European Court of Human Rights. They pleaded to the judges thereof have not we who worked the full day been cheated and cheapened of our hire and hath not our lord unlawfully discriminated against us? Whereof the judges saith Yea thy lord hast breached the Equal Pay Directive which calleth for a single hourly rate for they that laboureth in the heat of the day and thy lord shall face judgement and pay damages and be forestalled ever from such offence again for such is the Kingdom of Europe where they that complaineth the bitterest are first and the quiet shall be last. 

Sorry, Alexander; he won't serve you

When Alexander was sixteen, he crushed the Maedi insurgence, conquered their home territory and founded a city. he then went on to subdue revolts in Thrace, taking the city of Perinthus. He repelled an Illyrian invasion of Macedon. At eighteen he marched his army through Thermopylae and broke the Theban lines at the battle of Chaeronea and occupied the Peloponnese. At twenty he was proclaimed King of Macedon. A year later he defeated the Thracians and took his army to the banks of the Danube. At twenty-two he crossed the Hellespont and defeated the Persian Empire, and went on to take Syria and most of the Levantine coast. Then he conquered Egypt before he was twenty-four

Slightly more recently, at the age of twenty-four Captain Frederick Browning was commanding an infantry Company, having won both the DSO and the Croix de Guerre in the trenches in 1917 three years before. 

More recently still, Brummie teenager Private Kennedy, 18, became the youngest holder of the Military Cross for displaying selfless bravery and a cool head under heavy Taliban attack. 

None of them would have escaped the mandatory requirements of the new Alcohol Etc (Scotland) Act 2010. This requires bar and club staff to challenge each and every customer who looks younger than 25 and all those so challenged must provide satisfactory ID before they can be served with alcohol. 

So if you encounter a battle-grizzled and be-medalled RRS sergeant of 24 hanging about outside the Calvin Arms on Leith Walk, spare him your time. He'll only want you to buy a pint of lager for him. 

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

It's a bloke thing

Sad news today that the Treasury is set to close the under-£18 VAT free loophole for goods from the Channel Islands, thus endangering about the best bloke's pick-me-up site on the web - 7-Day Shop. No connection. I spend about a tenner a month here in a sort of low-maintenance retail therapy sort of way (compare and contrast to the cost of a pair of Mahono Blaniks or whatever they're called).

So if you haven't got one of these yet, shell out £16.99 inc. del. whilst you can and see what you can do with a toy plane and some masking tape (it's a bloke thing):-

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

BSF: The value of piss-poor design

Somewhere near you, a new school has arisen. You probably can't tell that it's a school unless you know, but you'll be aware that an interesting architectural form has appeared in your landscape. And this is the manifestation of Labour's avowed commitment to Education, a School for the Future; but a Labour future, in which form bears no relation to function, a gimcrack, disfunctional, uneconomic future of failure and premature redundancy. What you are seeing is not a building designed as the optimum environment for the education of children but a structure that is an act of architectural Onanism, self-referencing, designed for the day of the design practice's portfolio photo-shoot, with little regard to economy, longevity or indeed teaching.  

The standard of design of BSF schools is generally piss-poor. It's the result of allowing utterly mediocre design practices free rein with the public purse in the absence of prescriptive and focused design briefs. Thus where there should have been a requirement to keep the volume of circulation and 'void' space down to 15% of internal volume there was none, allowing structures with vast empty internal spaces, building envelopes far bigger than they need be and astronomical costs for space heating and maintenance. The 'pretty' and  the 'designer' have triumphed over the practical and the proven in the choice of fenestration and doors; already windows and roofs are leaking and failing, doors are falling off or disintegrating and the LEAs are replacing the designer bling with closers, door furniture and ironmongery that actually works. 

They've designed classrooms with vast areas of glazing and the electronic whiteboard installed at the South end, guaranteeing that not one of the children blinded by the sunlight will be able to see a thing unless the LEA comes along behind to retrofit blinds and shutters. They've designed spaces that simply can't reach a minimum design temperature because actual children keep coming into them and going out of them. They've designed windows that can't be cleaned except by erecting scaffolding, roofs that can't be weatherproofed, floors that can't be cleaned of the staining and marking that school floors are subject to and walls you can't push a drawing-pin into. 

The one facet they've not stinted on is the external envelope; this, after all, is the picture that will star in their practice portfolio. So whole varieties of interesting cladding, whether it serves any purpose or not, and whether it creates a risk of component failure or not, is tacked onto the walls and no two lines are straight. Anything as mundane as gutters, downpipes, wastes and vents that will spoil the portfolio pic are hidden away from view where they fail unnoticed until an entire section of wall gives way. God forbid they should actually be visible where they can be inspected and maintained. Some designers have even done their best to disguise the entrance doors where these risk compromising the purity of a facade, thus leaving bewildered parents and visitors wandering around the building looking for a way in. 

The cost of this architectural Onanism is vast. Billions. There are few BSF schools that couldn't have been built at half the cost with a life of 60 years and a tried and proven layout; the old standard layouts produced by the London County Council architect's department need only minor tweaks to work in the digital age. Over the next decade when I predict some 10% will prove unusable and will close, a further 50% will need expensive remedial capital works and most of the rest will have spaces boarded off or demolished, we will start to count the true cost of Labour's folly. BSF was nothing more than an exercise in transferring our taxes to the corduroy-lined pockets of an undistinguished and second-rate design cabal. 

Monday, 28 February 2011

Living with oil at $200bbl

I can't find anyone arguing that oil at $100bbl is not here to stay; no-one is calling it a blip, and no-one is expecting it to drop back to $40bbl. And few are arguing that it will stay at $100. Now the dreaded $200bbl is being mooted; it may not be this year, or next year, but maybe by the next election it will be with us. Our economy may still be bumping along the bottom, but elsewhere China and India are growing at up to 10% a year; tar sands and deep water wells take time to come on stream, and investments are only now being made on the basis of a stable $100bbl price level. So can we live with oil at $200bbl?

Natural gas for space heating and power will become more important. Gas is about a third the cost of oil per btu, so investment and capacity in our gas handling, storage and distribution system will be key over the next few years; CNG by sea, with a Navy to protect the trade routes, will also be critical. 

The major impact will be on travel and transportation costs. As we import over half our food, this will have a direct inflationary effect. The cost of animal feed and fertiliser domestically, dependent on oil, will also rise. Food's going to be expensive. The supermarket model, with an intensive distribution network of national depots, will cost a lot more to run, making truly local produce sold locally more competitive. 

The era of cheap low bulk value materials from China and SE Asia will be over. This will hit the cost of building products; the big European building products firm that set up a new plant in Thailand a few years ago to manufacture structural cement particle board was based on transport costs of £20/m2. At £40/m2, it won't be competitive. The same for Chinese granite, now so cheap and ubiquitous that every shopping street in England is being paved in it, and every mediocre new commercial building clad in it. Of course cement, steel, gypsum products, clay bricks and blocks and other domestic building products that are high-oil to make will also increase in cost. As will road bitumen, so expect fewer repairs. 

High vehicle fuel prices will hit car owners, rural ones disproportionately so. The cost advantages of alternative fuels - synthetic diesel, natural gas, hydrogen - will become real. Sales prospects will be bad for Landrover, good for the domestic manufacturer of a cheap volume runabout with a 750cc engine that does 60mpg.  And scooters. 

Now's also the time to buy forests. Wood chip and wood pellet burners are set to take off; currently the plant is sized for District Heating and blocks-of-flats scale, but a domestic heater using the Stirling Engine is not far away, and demand for deliveries of bagged pellets may be equivalent to the old coal deliveries in time (those still with coal cellars will be especially lucky ..)  

All in all, I think we're probably better placed than the US, with it's sprawling cities with suburbs stretching 40 miles or more, to face the crisis, but not as well placed as France. The key will be our adaptability - and we Brits have always been fairly good at that. 

Sunday, 27 February 2011

What the Hell is he saying?

There's something so deeply characteristic of Ed Miliband's mangling of the English language, of his slack rubber-jawed chewing of syllables that even a six year old should have mastered, that I can't even read a newspaper piece he's written without hearing the words as they'd emerge from his facial orifice. Thus in today's Observer he calls for an efficaw, coheren' and principawd foreign policy - perhaps wishing to forget that Labour's unethical, incoherent and unprincipled approach to diplomacy gave us a made-up dossier, a PM who lied to the House and the nation and a sea of foreign blood. 

He also mentions, several times, something called democracy. He claims to be in favour of it. So that would include the end of Labour's Rotten Seats, an end to Michael Pinto-Duschinsky's estimated 3.5m fraudulent votes, many from Labour's voting 'reforms', a referendum on our membership of the EU and the British people being allowed to decide on issues such as immigration, would it? Alas, no. It seems Ed is only in favour of democracy in countries other than the UK. We're probably not ready for it yet. What we need at home is Big Ed's Big State making all those pesky decisions for us. 

What hogwash. What tripe. What patronising drivel. It's like being lectured on human dignity by Vlad the Impaler.