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Saturday, September 27, 2008

CHINESE SPACEWALK


On Thursday the Chinese launched a manned rocket & today they have done a spacewalk. This was mentioned on the BBC News for the first time this morning, as almost the last item. I put a comment on the BBC's Nick Robinson blog in response to his statement that the credit crunch is "the only story in the world". I think when history come to judge it China's space programme will be seen as more important. A previous comment from me on there was disallowed so we will see if this is.

Space development is the single most important extension of human activity since we left Africa & possibly since we left the trees. China is clearly committed to participating in it. I wish we were too. If not we will be seeing a more important & probably longer lasting cultural change than happened when Vasco da Gama & Columbus set up European hegemony of the world. As a human being i do not resent China doing this, as a Briton I resent that our establishment isn't & I resent the parochialism of our media who so downplay it.

Last December I predicted:

"The Chinese do something really big in space & this encourages everybody to take space development seriously (I think this is quite likely - China is clearly pulling out all the stops to look good over the Olympics & if they were to do something spectacular the the US plainly can't - launch a genuinely reusable shuttle, start their own space station, land a vehicle on the Moon - a month either way they would certainly manage that)."

This is a bit less spectacular & my guess is that they had originally intended to do it during or on the last day of the Olympics but didn't quite manage it. If so they are pushing their technical capacity which proves that they are not unbeatable but also that they are committed to doing it. I have no doubt they could be beaten by government supported X-Prizes but very great doubts that they will be.

The first US spacewalk was in 1965 & 4 years later they landed on the Moon. Because the technology has improved since then the time scale should, if anything, be shorter but a Chinese Moon landing by 2012 seems likely.

UPDATE
My second comment on the BBC blog has been disallowed. With another one elsewhere that is 3 out of 3 censored.

Friday, September 26, 2008

"OUR TAXES PAY FOR EDF INVESTMENT" GREEN MSP ROBIN HARPER LIES


Follow up to yesterday's article & my remarks about Green MSP Robin Harper saying that for the amount we are paying for EDF to build reactors we could pay to insulate enough houses to save more electricity than the 2 x 1 gigawatt reactors they intend to build.

This was clearly a lie & I emailed the green party asking them to prove or dissociate themselves from this claim or provide any factual evidence for it.

Well this morning I got this reply from Mr Harper (emphasis added) so clearly the Greens are all standing by his lie.
Dear Mr. Craig
The Green party have supported Energy Action Scotland in their work for a decade and more. Insulation of old peoples homes is an absolute priority. It cuts fuel bills, sometimes by as much as 60%.

Spending money on electricity generation does not reduce the cost of electricity, no matter where the money comes from, Government or Private, we pay for it through taxes and charges - the only way to guarantee that pensioners can afford to pay for their heating is to make sure they do not need to use much energy in the first place, by making their houses super efficient. Our policies cut fuel bills permanently

Best wishes
Robin Harper MSP


My reply:

Dear Mr Harper,
I am forced to recognise this statement (the highlighted bits) & the one you made yesterday as representing the highest standard of honesty of which you & the Green Party are capable.

On the other hand your claim that money, coming from France, invested by EDF, including the more than £4 billion being paid to the Exchequer actually comes from our Exchequer is obviously a complete total 200% lie.

The claim that cutting electricity prices by up to 2/3rds, rather than more than doubling it as with the windmills you wish, would not make them more affordable is also obviously, equally dishonest.

You have proven beyond any possible dispute that you pensioner murdering eco-fascists are willing to tell absolutely any lie, no matter how obvious in your attempt to impoverish us & drag us back to the caves.

Perhaps you would care to produce some evidence that, as you assert, the fuel bills of Scotland's pensioners have now been cut & by you. Perhaps not.

The record of the eco-Nazi movement, from claiming that we are going to have a new ice age, half the world dying of starvation/pollution all predicted for many years ago, etc., etc., through to the present means that these lies are no surprise. The fact that you have been involved in killing more people than Hitler means that your obscene & cynical lies about "helping" the pensioners you are trying to murder are also to be expected.

Sincerely

Neil Craig

Should anybody in the green movement produce any evidence that the government are secretly providing all the money EDF are going to spend or that this money actually would, if used to subsidise insulation, actually save more electricity I will be happy to publish it.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

EDF's NUCLEAR PURCHASE


The French state utility is paying £12.4-billion ($23.8-billion) to buy British Energy, the owner of Britain's aging nukes, a fleet of eight power stations that generate about a fifth of the nation's electricity. As a sop to national sentiment, a quarter share of the nuclear generator will then be sold on to Centrica, the company that owns British Gas, the country's biggest power and gas retailer.

It is a deal that has been brokered by Downing Street, a recognition not just of the government's 35-per-cent holding in the nuclear generator but of the huge political and economic stakes in the outcome. British Energy's nukes are in their dotage. Reliability is dogged by maintenance problems - in May, the unexpected shutdown of one unit, Sizewell B, caused blackouts in the northwest of England.

Over the next 15 years, most of the nuclear fleet must be shut down and the looming gap in the nation's power supply has been a political hot potato for many years


Part of a rather good article, more in sorrow than anger, which pinpoints exactly how political cowardice & "environmental" Ludditism destroyed the British nuclear industry leaving no option but to ask the French to keep our lights on.

Even then this deal is predicated on the assumption of spending billions to placate the Green pensioner freezers. The real reason EDF is willing to pay £12 billion is not the profits to be made by the current reactors, though they are a factor, but that they are sites which cannot reasonably be accused as not being suitable for nuclear reactors. The infrastructure of electric lines is worth having & the local workforce are valuable but the big value is in the regulators probably being willing to give permission to build there, which they wouldn't do for a new site.

Yet another instance of the actual costs of doing something being dwarfed by the cost of squaring the politics. This is why we don't have electricity to cheap to meter.
------------------

Yesterday Radio Scotland reported this in their normal manner. That is to say they got a soundbite from a Green to say how dreadful it was.

I emailed them "reporting" on the French nuclear purchase the BBC decided to broadcast only a soundbite from a "Green" source. Where exactly is the balance in that. Exactly how many progressive organisations did you contact to get a soundbite? "

Next newsbreak they had somebody from a "customer supporting" organisation who said that the French taking over a big British supplier would be dreadful because it would cut down the number of suppliers & thus limit competition. EDF does already do some business in the UK but mainly it is a French company. I emailed them:

"So not only is the BBC quoting anti-nuclearists & but not soundbites from progress supporting lobbyists over the purchase of our nuclear capacity it is bringing in an entirely opposing & spurious soundbite about it cutting the number of companies in our energy market. Since the purchaser of the British nuclear generators is French they were not players in our market in the first place..

The BBC has, for decades, eschewed any attempt at impartiality or objectivity over the nuclear issue & even though the government have belatedly come round to supporting it, you are still doing so.

You could, at any time, get a soundbite from Sir Bernard Ingham of SONE or indeed myself of the 9% Growth Party or many others & have deliberately chosen not to broadcast such.

24,000 pensioners die each year of hypothermia precisely because we do not have the cheap electricity that could be produced. The BBC, by its deliberate programme of censorship, shares in the responsibility for each of those deaths."


Next time round they brought in Professor Ian Fell who did an intelligent & amusing interview explaining that the lights are more likely to go out in Scotland if we don't let nuclear save us. He answered silly questions like "can't we just rely on England to produce our power" (the interconnection with England, even though being upgraded, won't be able to provide that much) & "will EDF want to move their HQ out of Scotland just because we aren't allowing them to do the actual production here (they only located in East Kilbride because the government told them to in the first place).

Did they get this interview on just because their lack of balance was being pointed out. Perhaps.

Then this morning's phone in was on the same subject. Guests were Green MSP Robin Harper & radio presenter Johnny Ball. Harper stated that, for the cost of letting EDF build this we could pay for enough home insulation to save more electricity than EDF will produce. Since we are paying absolutely nothing to subsidise them this seems improbable.

The phoners seemed balanced between sensible & sane which is a step in the right direction though there was one particularly silly woman who said that her husband wasn't as fit as he had been years ago & that she ought thus to get compensation from owners of the nearby Hunterson. I called & said that the French were producing electricity at 1.3p a unit & disputed Garry's remarks about it being unsafe, pointing out that we have had 2 deaths worldwide from nuclear over 20 years compared to 150,000 annually from coal. Basically everybody was going through the old arguments with the old lack of any evidence being as unimportant as ever.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

BIG ENGINEERING 9 - GREENING THE SAHARA



The Lualaba River is the major tributary to the Congo. It runs from the African Rift Valley lakes around Zaire's border, indeed forming the border with the Central African Republic. I have not been able to find figures for how much water it carries but I would be surprised if it was less than 10% of the Congo's total of the 41,800 m3/s of the whole.

Separated from it by about 300km of mountains is the drainage basin of Lake Chad which has been drying up since explorers first got there over a century ago, indeed a lot longer.


I propose a tunnel from the point where it forms the border with the CAR to that catchment area. If the Norwegians have been cutting tunnels at £7 million a km, including actually putting a road in, then the theoretical cost, assuming 2 tunnels connecting or one twice the size of any road tunnel would be about £4 billion. It might also be possible to produce hydro-electricity but if so this would be a bonus. If all but a token amount of the water were diverted this way it would still be more than 3 times the 2,830 m3/sec of the Nile. Incidentally 4,100 m3/sec would cover a square kilometer by one meter in 4 minutes.

Chad was not always the parched place it is now, nor was the Sahara. In Roman times North Africa was the breadbasket of Rome & Emperors were much more worried about losing the lifeline to what is now the Sahara than they were about Britain.

This is the Sahara during the last interglacial between about 5,000 & 10,000 BC with a covering article.

Lake Chad is at an elevation of 280m. The smaller lake in what is now Algeria is at a much lower level & though it would require tunnels & canals of about 1,000km but this is certainly feasible, comparable with Australia's Snowy Mountain Scheme started in 1949. I don't know the exact elevation of the Libyan lake but it is closer to that of Chad & might be more difficult. To the north of the main Algerian lake the area of the lake adjoining the Mediterranean is now a basin below sea level which would be filled before the Lualaba reached the Mediterranean.

Even at the rate of a km to the depth of 1m every 4 minutes (131,000 a year or a circle of 400km diameter) I think it would take at least several decades to fill all these lakes (the Algerian one might be quite deep) & with the amount that would be absorbed by soil & evaporation I would not even hazard a guess when it would actually flow into the Mediterranean. However any water that is lost to soil will still help plants & almost all lost to evaporation will return as dew & eventually rain within the Sahara & often within the basin feeding the lake it came from. In prehistory the Sahara contained all sorts of wildlife, including Hippopotamuses. We have cave paintings from areas that are now desert showing it. Putting that much water into the Sahara, with virtually none leaving it, could hardly fail to bring life.

On comparable costs it should all be under £10 billion. A lesser scheme taking water from higher up the river & moving it by canal has been proposed & seems to have had environmentalist approval.. It may well be that the present situation of the Sahara is partly because of Man, or more directly of the sheep & goats we introduced. That being so we should expect genuine environmentalists who claim to believe mankind has made a mess of the Earth to press for this enthusiastically. Those who are Luddites under false colours will oppose it or nominally support it while inventing endless difficulties. And it will be difficult - things worth doing usually are.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

THE MIGHTY PALIN

Come all without, come all within
You'll not see nothing like the mighty Palin
Come all without, come all within
You'll not see nothing like the mighty Palin

Washington's not building ships or boats
Some are building monuments, others printing $ notes
Everybody's in despair, every girl and boy
But when Sarah the Eskimo gets there
Everybody's gonna jump for joy

Come all without, come all within
You'll not see nothing like Sarah Palin

I like to go just like the rest, I like my sugar sweet
But jumping queues and makin' haste, just ain't my cup of meat
Everyone's bullied, feeding lobbyists from the public trough
But when Sarah the Eskimo gets here
All the the lobbyists will have to ---- off

Come all without, come all within
You'll not see nothing like the mighty Palin
Come all without, come all within
You'll not see nothing like the mighty Palin

Let me do what I wanna do, I can't decide 'em all
Just tell me where to put 'em and I'll tell you who to call
Nobody can get no sleep, there's someone on everyone's toes
But when Sarah the Eskimo gets here
Ameica ain't gonna doze

Come all without, come all within
You'll not see nothing like Sarah Palin
Come all without, come all within
You'll not see nothing like Sarah Palin
Come all without, come all within
You'll not see nothing like Sarah Palin
Come all without, come all within
You'll not see nothing like Sarah Palin


With respects to Bob Dylan & Manfred Mann

Monday, September 22, 2008

BIG ENGINEERING

This is an ongoing project to name at least 30 big engineering projects (using the term in a wide sense) which we could now, or in the reasonably foreseeable future, undertake & which would materially add to human choice.

Many of them would not be permitted or would be made prohibitively expensive because of their "environmental" or other effects or because government would get in the way in other ways. I am going to deal with that problem by ignoring it. I will treat them as if it doesn't matter if there are a few less rare weeds, even though, to a second approximation it sometimes does a bit.

This is inspired by a lecture to be given by Professor Colin McInnes on to the Royal Philosophical Society of Glasgow (22nd Oct 7.00 PM John Anderson Building, Strathclyde Uni). The guy is head of Space Dynamics there & the lectures is to be on "the means by which large-scale engineering ventures can offer a route to future prosperity"

I have previously done articles on:

1 - The Scottish Tunnel Project (cost £ a few hundred million)

2 - A major expansion of nuclear power. (£ 1 billion a year)

3 & 4 - Floating islands powered by ocean thermal (OTEC) devices &
using them to produce oil from algae
((£1 billion + each)

5 - Ascension Island as a conventional global spaceport (couple of hundred million £s)

6 - An orbital spacecraft ($1 billion max)

7 - Set up an X-Prize Foundation with guaranteed funding rising at the rate of gross profit of companies registering as contenders for prizes plus 2% pa but to a maximum of 20% a year, any excess being rolled over for future years. 80% minimum of money to go for space development X-Prizes. (start on anything from £100M to £1 billion annually)

8 - Establishing an orbital telephone system & giving free telephone coverage across Africa. (est £1 billion after you have cheap launch facilities)

There will be some crossover between these articles & my Showcase Technology for Scotland though they were selected for being easily affordable under Scotland's budget whereas this lot are easily affordable by a world that will spend $1 trillion on invading Iraq, $800 billion on refunding stupid bankers, £405 billion on EU regulations annually & £150 million annually on the Kyoto Treaty & $50 billion in false breast implant suits.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

GORDON INTERVIEWED

The Andrew Marr Show this morning was devoted to an interview with Gordon. Now I rather like him. I think he is head & shoulders above anybody else in cabinet & that he really believes in things unlike Blair & so many other politicians (Clinton, Miliband, Salmond, Obama, Cameron, Sheriden) who would make a good living selling snake oil. It may also be that we are both, by upbringing, dour Scots Presbyterians but I like him for most of the things that make him unpopular. (The same may be true in reverse about Thatcher - that here middle England shopkeeper persona just did not work in Scotland)

As an interview it was solid & unexciting which is OK for him. However he only gave to factual commitments & both are profoundly wrong.

1) He said that what the world financial community needs is more regulation, enforced internationally & he is just the guy to get world leaders to do it - No we absolutely don't. I have doubts if under regulation is the problem at all. Certainly there is reason to think that in the US diversity regulation played a major part in getting bankers to give mortgages to people who didn't have the resources but were part of an ethnic group very short of people with money. The normal assumption with statists is that if regulation didn't work the solution is more regulation, whereas logically it is more likely that it would be better to have less.

In any case world regulations would be worse. Once in place any damage would be worldwide, which would make the present crash look gentle & thus there would be no other example to compare with to see what worked. It would be an excuse for even more bureaucracy & open the door to enforcement of whatever ideas are politically correct at the moment (global warming, peak oil, "fair trade", localism, free migration, serfdom, the impropriety of interest are all ideas which have been, at different times, politically supported). Whatever the idea somebody will want power to enforce it.


2) He said that not only should our government not cut back on spending but should increase it & went on about free childminding services, implicitly increasing public borrowing because he mentioned no tax rises - No. The government is already spending to much & it is seriously cutting our growth rate & thereby destroying our possible future. Free child care for all would be lovely & so would Christmas every weekend but it is not affordable. I don't know much about child minding but I strongly suspect that it is becoming so expensive that many mothers cannot afford to work precisely because it is already so regulated. Certainly government getting further involved is not going to reduce the cost.

Finally he said how keen he was for people to email him with their thoughts, that he was eager to talk to the public & all such would get a reply. Well Gordon here is one I made last May. I'm sure I will get a reply soon:

"The news is not good. Your party's popularity is dropping like a stone. This is almost entirely due to the fact that the economy, the bedrock on which your reputation was built, is visibly crumbling (we are almost out of Iraq & the personal qualities for which you are now being blamed are the same ones which were previously praised in comparison to the aptitude for spin of your predecessor). Oh well, politics is not a fair game & if you are being overly blamed as PM now you were overly praised as Chancellor for inheriting a strong & competitive economy with relatively low government spending which is now less competitive with higher government spending & inflationary pressure. Also you have been given a remarkably easy ride by the other parties who, when you point out that our economy is outperforming that of the old EU counties & Japan fail to counter that it is growing at only about 1/4 the rate of the BRIC counties (Brazil, Russia, India, China & those taking their example).

However may I draw your attention to a proven successful option for a government deep in economic trouble. In 1989 Ireland had very similar problems - stagnation, high government spending & upward inflation. The solved it by the revolutionary tactic of applying the classic liberalism of Adam Smith (& once of the Liberal Party), a gentleman of whom you have spoken favourably.

In 1989 they cut corporation tax, regulations, particularly the regulations preventing housebuilding, & government bureaucrats. By 1990 they were growing at 6% allowing them to cut CT further to its present 12.5% & push growth up to a maximum of 10.5%

All of these options are open, indeed much easier, for you. The relationship between CT & growth is even more clearly established now, you are already under pressure from Northern Ireland & Scotland to match Irish CT rates there (indeed the SNP's promise to work for that played a significant part in their success last year). The housing shortage & hence high prices, are even more egregious here than they were in Ireland & you have already sponsored the Barker Report which made the novel, for UK politics, discovery that the only way to solve the shortage of housing was to allow people to build more. Granted a house price fall would cause significant problems for many bankers but it would certainly be good for ordinary people who want to be able to afford somewhere to live & I do not think the prime duty of government is to ensure bankers continue to enjoy the standard of living they have become accustomed to. This is particularly so since all companies offering mortgages have know for decades that the above inflation rise inn house prices has nothing to do with the manufacturing cost & is entirely the monopolistic cost produced by the "planning" system.

I suggest that you cut Corporation Tax immediately by 5%, which would cost about 9 billion, with a promise to do the same in each succeeding year to bring it down to 10% and the same with business rates. This could be paid for by the elimination of the most destructive quangos, putting Jonathan Porrit off the public payroll & cutting the windmill subsidies. Since you are already now committed, with belated Tory support, to more nuclear, windmill subsidies perform no useful purpose if they ever did

This would indeed be something close to a U-turn, taking the wind out of the Tory & LibDim sails. In one way you have an advantage over them. The Tories have pledged to maintain your public spending, whatever it is, if they come to power but you are under no such restriction.

If you did this you would undoubtedly suffer a year even worse than the present. However at the end of it you would have a country with about 6% growth, a large number of opposition predictions of disaster to throw back in their faces & a reputation as the man who kept his head when all about were losing their's & blaming it on you. At the end of the 2nd year you would have a massive surplus, caused by that growth, to distribute in tax cuts & then sail into the election."

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