Droning On

From Reuters, via Twitter:

General Electric Co has begun testing autonomous drones and robotic “crawlers” to inspect refineries, factories, railroads and other industrial equipment with an eye on capturing a bigger slice of the $40 billion (31.6 billion pounds) companies around the globe spend annually on inspections.

In trials with customers, aerial drones and robots are able to move around and inside remote or dangerous facilities while photographing corrosion or taking temperature, vibration or gas readings that can be analysed by computer algorithms and artificial intelligence, Alex Tepper, head of business development at Avitas Systems, a startup GE formed for this business, told Reuters.

Hmmmm. I think somebody might be overselling something to impress a journalist here. I have heard of drones being used to scope pipeline routes and to look for leaks, which makes perfect sense. Normally this is done by helicopter, so a drone is simply a cheaper and easier way of doing the same thing. And the insides of pipelines are inspected by a sort of robot called an “intelligent pig”, which detects corrosion among other things. This is an evolving technology, but it has been around a long time. I have also seen remote control helicopters used to inspect flares.

But carrying out inspections of refineries and factories? No such facility is that remote, they are all manned to some degree. Why not just send an inspector? And a dangerous facility? Okay, I get that drones and crawlers could be useful in assessing the damage done to a plant that has just blown itself to smithereens or leaked poisonous gas everywhere, but is this their target customer? One that can’t operate its facilities safely?

This looks to me like a solution in search of a problem. The throwaway line about artificial intelligence points in that direction. Photos from a drone might give an inspection team some useful idea on the condition of something that is hard to reach, as will temperature readings, but they’ll not be analysed using artificial intelligence or even an algorithm. If and when drones are used on refineries and in factories, they’ll not be autonomous.


A French Lesson

In the comments under this post, dearieme makes the following remark:

It’s not that The Young are radical, though they certainly are prone to hysteria (American influence?); they don’t want to pull the whole system down. They are conservative; they think that the present system is just hunky-dorey but they want to replace their parents as beneficiaries of it.

I fully agree with this, and was indeed the point I was trying to make. What is interesting is that there is a precedent for this, albeit we must cross to my side of the channel to see it.

Back in 2006, Dominique de Villepin, the French prime minister, attempted to relax the country’s notoriously inflexible labour laws in the following manner:

The law is intended to encourage the hiring of people under 26 by allowing employers to dismiss them without cause within two years.

Youth unemployment in France was, and still is, very high mainly because once a company hires somebody they are impossible to get rid of. Therefore the incentive to hire a youngster with no experience or track record is low, and companies prefer to hire a handful of graduates who studied sensible subjects in the top universities and forget about the rest. De Villepin was an experienced and well-regarded politician – no bumbling amateur he – and believed that by allowing companies to fire any youngster they took on who turned out to be useless they would hire more of them. In other words, this change in the law was ostensibly proposed in order to benefit students.

So what happened? This:

A 36-hour strike, which began Monday night, set the stage for demonstrations in more than 250 towns and cities across the country that brought more than a million people into the streets, according to the police. Some of the labor unions put the figure much higher — at close to three million.

The worst violence occurred in the heart of Paris, as the demonstrations were winding down and groups of youths confronted the riot police. One police officer was reported seriously injured when a large firecracker thrown by protesters exploded in his face. The police eventually turned to tear gas and water cannons to clear the protesters away.

The turnout was the largest since protests against the new law began last month, gradually backing Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin into a corner. France’s students and unions are demanding that he rescind the law, which he pushed through Parliament without consulting the public.

The main opposition to de Villepin’s law aimed at helping students find jobs came from students themselves. The message was clear: France’s unemployed youth don’t just want jobs, they want jobs with exactly the same terms and conditions their parents enjoyed. If they can’t have this, they prefer to be unemployed. The proposed law was scrapped and little has been done to address the problem. A graph of France’s youth unemployment in the years since looks like this:Perhaps Macron can succeed where de Villepin failed? Time will tell.

At the time I though the French students were utterly deluded, but an illuminating post written by the now-silent Oilfield Expat made is worth considering:

In effect, France’s major corporations often seem more like an employment vehicle for the graduates of their grandes écoles than commercial enterprises.  And as with the government and the electorate, stuffing the upper echelons full of well-connected elites results in a huge disconnect between the management and the workers.  For it is largely true that, no matter how hard one works and how brilliant one is, you will never surpass the chosen few from the grandes écoles in terms of promotion and prestige.  For sure, many try, and considerable efforts are made by the company management to convince the ordinary folk that if they show sufficient compliance, obedience, and work themselves to death they will be admitted to the hallowed ranks of the chosen few.  But in reality, they are being sold an absolute lie.

What we are seeing in France is the result of workers having realised that they are being treated like second-class citizens in the workplace by a small bunch of privileged elites who have been parachuted into management positions for which they are wholly unsuitable, and have decided that they need to get aggressive if they are to have any share of the spoils.  No wonder France has militant Unions that demand ever-increasing benefits for their members when the ruling elites treat them with such contempt.  They’d be pretty foolish to rely on the good nature of this bunch to take care of them: they’d end up with nothing.

Perhaps the British youth feel the same way about their own ruling classes?


State-Sponsored Art

While I’m on the subject of the entitled middle classes, consider this from Times columnist Oliver Kamm today:

There are three points to make here.

Firstly, the prime beneficiaries of state-sponsored art are the metropolitan middle classes. They are the ones who receive the cash, produce the art, work in the galleries, and go and look at it. Nepotism and cronyism is rife in the arts grant world, and the recipients often have close, personal relationships with those awarding the monies and commissioning the projects. And the poor folk being taxed to pay for it don’t watch plays and visit art galleries anyway: the middle classes like to pretend they do to justify raiding their wallets, but they don’t. In other words, when you hear a member of the middle classes – particularly if they are one of the metropolitan elite and a journalist – calling for state-sponsorship of the arts it should be interpreted as a request for the taxpayer to subsidise their own leisure pursuits.

Secondly, the idea that state funding ensures controversial projects get made is laughable. Of course this might not be apparent to somebody who lives in a liberal left bubble in London, but state-sponsored art is subject to similar ideological purity tests in Britain as it was in the Soviet Union: if it offends the sensibilities of the decision makers (who are invariably left wing), or doesn’t align with their politics, it won’t ever get any backing. What we do see, however, is absolute dross which nobody in their right mind would ever look at, let alone pay for; and political protest pieces against capitalism, the Iraq War, Donald Trump, etc. which looks as though they were done by a special needs kid. (If you want examples, spend a day over at David Thompson’s place: he’s built quite the career documenting this crap.)  When left-leaning folk talk about “controversial art” what they mean is “mind-numbingly conformist art”: the subject of Kamm’s comment is a production of Julius Caesar in which the Roman leader is dressed up as Donald Trump – and then stabbed to death, of course. Why, how edgy!

Thirdly, even if we assume controversial art doesn’t get made without state funding (which is demonstrably false: see this, for example, or this) why is that a bad thing? Does humanity need “controversial” art that nobody wants to pay for, akin to deciphering hieroglyphics (say) for the sake of advancing mankind’s knowledge? I doubt it.


Let’s not delude ourselves about today’s youngsters

I confess, I am still reluctant to label all those youngsters who voted for Corbyn as IRA-loving Communist anti-semites. The American left like to portray anyone who voted for Donald Trump as an ignorant racist who must clearly hate women because this is easier than trying to understand who voted for him and why. Plenty of decent, ordinary Americans voted for Trump, as they did for Clinton: let’s not pretend that every Hillary vote came from a deranged, blue-haired feminist living in a 20sqm apartment in Brooklyn with seven cats for company.

I am too old, out of touch, and bone idle to actually do any research on this, but I can think of a few reasons why a half-decent twenty-three year old might vote for Corbyn’s Labour. I’m not saying they are right, mind. I’m just saying what they might think.

I believe economics, and the way economics has shaped society in the past 15-20 years, plays a major role. Sure the young Corbyn supporter doesn’t understand economics, but point me towards a demographic that does. Every government in every western country is staring down the barrel of ballooning deficits, a debt which will take millenia to pay off, and not a single major party anywhere wants to even talk about it, let alone do anything about it. A simple reduction in planned expenditure increase is dressed up as a savage cut by damned near everyone: the Tories’ supposed austerity isn’t some fringe issue on the left, it is a widely accepted truth across the whole electorate. The people pointing out that these cuts are anything but are basically a handful of cranks on the internet. Like, erm, me. If any government program is threatened with a cut taking expenditure levels back to what they were in, say, 2010 half the country screams that medieval times are making a comeback and the other half believe them. The knowledge of economics among electorates is woeful, and almost all of them have signed up fully to the belief that all government expenditure is necessary, good, and wise and any cuts are bad. Nobody wants to even think about the size of the deficit and the national debt, it just keeps racking up. So if we’re going to criticise the young Corbynistas for not understanding the consequences of unsustainable economics demanded by ignorant voters, we might perhaps want to first ask where they got such ideas from. It’s too easy to blame Marxist indoctrination in schools when supposedly conservative governments, backed fully by the supposedly conservative middle classes, have been so irresponsible with public finances for several generations. Conservative governments might not be quite as reckless as Corbyn would be, but we’re talking about the difference between disaster and a catastrophe here.

So our youthful Corbynista looks to the generations above him and what does he see? Well, mainly a bunch of people who have gotten moderately rich by not doing very much. I’m going to be honest here: I am no great example of somebody who has done quite well by working very hard. Sure, I did what was necessary and sometimes went beyond that. I dragged myself through a mechanical engineering degree that was bloody difficult, and then I made some decisions (i.e. moving abroad and living in shitholes) which took some effort but I went largely for the adventure. And yes, I’ve laboured on farms and building sites and worked in shitty retail jobs to make some spare cash so I knew how to work when I was younger.

But on the measures by which a youngster will think I’ve “done well”, i.e. career path and wealth accumulation I have done so mainly because somebody has paid me to sit in an office, send emails, shift paper about, take part in meetings, and do what my boss says. This is what everyone in a modern business or public sector job does, even in something as supposedly “real” as oil and gas engineering. Sure, people might do some programming or calculations or some other task with genuine added value, I’m not denying that. But please, could my generation and that above it stop kidding ourselves that we are some kind of Lewis and Clarke pioneers who built log cabins with our hands while fighting off savages and created something to which future generations can aspire? We didn’t strike out for distant shores, risking all and having only our wits to rely on. I know people – mainly first-generation immigrants who are now retired – who really did this. People who moved from Greece to the USA with two toddlers and nothing else, worked like hell in restaurants until they could buy their own – and continued to work like hell because that’s all they knew. Teenagers who fled the Salazar regime in Portugal on foot, came to France and worked as taxi drivers, hospital porters, and the like and never got above that station yet still managed to buy a house and raise a family.

Sorry, but my generation of Brits didn’t do that, nor the one before it. Perhaps my father’s generation did, I don’t know. But what we have now is a system which rewards dithering, compliance, following procedures, arse-licking, and arse-covering. Do you see anyone making bold decisions that bring about radical improvements and taking responsibility if it all goes wrong? No, me neither. It is possible, nay easy, to make yourself rather wealthy in this day and age by sitting in a comfy, air-conditioned office shifting paper and saying “yes sir” when required in the fulfillment of a bureaucratic task that didn’t exist a decade ago. In fact, if you strip down what middle class professionals actually do these days, this accounts for well over half of it. And this applies to both the private and public sectors.

So what impression do you think this makes on the young Corbyn fans? Do they look at their older peers and marvel at what they have created, in the way tourists marvel at the Hoover dam? No, they see people – their parents, for instance – take twenty minutes to describe what they actually do all day and still leave them none the wiser, yet notice they always have the latest iPhone and seem to be doing all right. They see them living a lifestyle largely funded by government debt – free healthcare, free schooling, (often) entitled to an unfunded state pension, endless sops and subsidies which keeps them voting for more of the same instead of dipping their hands in their own pockets – and think why the hell can I not do that? And why not indeed? If it’s unsustainable and provides all the wrong incentives, it’s up to the middle classes to surrender it first, not expect the young to simultaneously pay for it and exclude themselves from the party.

When I think about it, I think it’s probably a good thing that the young don’t understand economics. If they did, heads would roll. It is they, and future generations, who are on the hook for unfunded pension liabilities, interest payments on government borrowing used to bribe the older generations and provide them with cushy jobs, and who are (as I wrote in my previous post) locked out of the housing market by the very same people who have demonstrated all the financial responsibility of a sailor on shore leave. And then they get called selfish because they “want it all” and “don’t know the meaning of work”, this coming from a generation that shoves paper around in an office and voted for more government largesse every time it was offered. I could stomach somebody who dodged machine-gun fire at seventeen saying “you don’t know you were born”, or someone who lived through perestroika and the period that followed. But somebody born in the UK after 1970? Please.

If I were a young person today I’d be voting a lot worse than Corbyn. I’d read the opinions of the metropolitan elite and look at how the middle classes are living and the system they’ve built for themselves and say “fuck that” and vote for whoever will pull the whole rotten system down so that I benefit. Selfish? Yeah, just like everybody else. It seems that today’s young aren’t as keen on Attila the Hun as I am and so they’ve voted for somebody who appears to be promising more of what everyone else has enjoyed for years. What do we expect them to do? Vote for “conservatives” who have proven interested only in feathering their own nests albeit using slightly different language than Labour?

Sorry, but if the middle-aged middle-classes wanted the young to vote responsibly, maybe they ought to have done so themselves. It’s time they stopped kidding themselves that they are something to aspire to, instead of the root cause of the whole fucking mess.


Taking the lead, German style

From the BBC:

Angela Merkel has said she sees no obstacles in the way of beginning Brexit talks as scheduled after Theresa May failed to win a majority in Thursday’s UK election.

The German chancellor said she believed Britain would stick to the timetable, adding the European Union was “ready”.

I don’t know if it was always like this, but the EU seems to have given up all pretence that it isn’t the Germans running things. A few weeks ago we were told there was an EU negotiating team and that Britain would have to deal with it, rather than individual countries. We were told the EU member states had such faith in their team that they took fifteen minutes to agree on the approach they’ll take when negotiating.

Yet here is Merkel apparently speaking on behalf of the EU. Would the Czech prime minister get away with that? And note that she made these remarks pretty much immediately the election result was known, so she obviously didn’t run any of this by the EU negotiating team or the member states. She’s just assumed that Germany can speak on behalf of the entire EU and isn’t even bothering to hide it any more.

A half-decent negotiator on the British side could use this to drive a coach and horses through the EU strategy. The trouble with that is we have almost no chance of getting one. Either way, mainland Europeans seem quite content with Germany assuming the leadership. Let’s hope they don’t change their mind on that at some point.


The Lions v The Crusaders

Following a lacklustre match against the New Zealand Barbarians and a hard-fought loss against the Blues, the British & Irish Lions responded in style this morning by beating the Canterbury Crusaders 12-3.

This may have been a warm-up match against a franchise side and not a full test, but this was an important victory for several reasons. Firstly, the Crusaders have been the best side in New Zealand – and the entire Super Rugby competition – this season, and were unbeaten until today. Even the Kiwis will have been impressed by a touring side that can beat this Crusaders team on only their third match. Secondly, the team features several All Blacks, particularly in the forwards. The Lions got a good look at Sam Whitelock today and helped themselves to what ought to have been his ball in at least one lineout. Thirdly, even though the Lions didn’t score a try, nor did the Crusaders. This is almost unheard of: the Crusaders normally accumulate cricket scores against their opponents, and I suspect this is their lowest match score for several years.

The Lions started exceptionally well, thanks to Luke Romano fumbling the kick-off. The first ten minutes belonged to the Lions, and the superiority of their pack was already beginning to show. The second of the Lions’ two early penalties came from the Crusaders infringing at the scrum, and at the next scrum the referee had a word with Whitelock to sort it out. This was a massive moment: the Lions pack is easily their most potent weapon, especially at the scrum and lineout, and both worked brilliantly today. Given Warburton didn’t play it is hard to see how he will get his spot back to captain the side. It would be an exaggeration to say that the Lions dominated the scrum – the Crusaders got fired up shortly afterwards and put on an almighty shove to win a penalty of their own – but they certainly got the best of their opponents. George Kruis was superb, and with Courtney Lawes and Maro Itoje as options the Lions are extremely well covered in the second row and loose forward positions.

I had written earlier saying how I thought the Crusaders would switch the ball wide one way and then the other, creating huge gaps to exploit as the Blues had done, but this didn’t happen. Why? Well, either Warren Gatland reads this blog or he and his team know a thing or two about rugby instructed his men to deny the Crusaders time and space on the ball. They came up extremely fast in defence and for the first time this season I saw the Crusaders unsettled, if not quite rattled. Both Richie Mo’unga and Luke Romano made unforced errors, something they rarely do in a normal match. The Lions defence, as the score would suggest, was absolutely superb and not only kept the Crusaders out but stopped them playing. This will be important in the tests: there’s no point trying to defend your line against the All Blacks for half and hour, it won’t work. But if you stop them from playing how they want, you get to keep them away from your line.

It wasn’t all good, though. Owen Farrell had a brilliant game, one of the best I’ve seen, and with his kicking it’s hard to see how he can be left out of the side. He is infinitely more mature than he was during his early England days and the last Lions tour and it shows. Ben Te’o was also good as well, and sucked in players.

But a lot of people are also praising Connor Murray and although he did have a good game on some levels, if that had been a test match people would be cursing him. Around the 30 minute mark the Lions were ten or fifteen metres out in a brilliant attacking position with all the momentum, a serious try-scoring opportunity, and his pass went to somebody’s ankles. Thirty seconds later the Crusaders are on the Lions’ line where they are unlucky not to score. The All Blacks would have punished that, and it could well have been the best opportunity for the Lions to score all game.

Unfortunately, this happened several times. Jonathan Davies spilled a ball that a Kiwi probably wouldn’t a few metres out, and when Ben Te’o broke the line brilliantly he flung the ball miles over Liam Williams’ head. Had it gone in front of his chest, Williams would have been in for a try. Anthony Watson made a terrific line break and ran up half the pitch, but timed his pass badly and the ball got dropped a few metres from the tryline. These will be costly, costly mistakes against the All Blacks.

So there is still a lot of work to be done on the basic ball handling, but already it’s a massive improvement from the Lions, the forwards are shaping up to be formidable indeed, and they’ve secured an important win. Let’s hope they can keep this going all the way to the first test.


The Nation Speaks

Well, Theresa May has played a blinder, hasn’t she?

Unlike some, I didn’t think her calling the general election was a bad idea. I thought she needed a stronger mandate from the people to negotiate Brexit otherwise she would be undermined by Remainers pointing out that she never won a general election. However, a lot of people got the impression that is was more of a ploy to kick Labour while they were down and reset the clock for a five year term starting this summer rather than in 2015. Whatever her reasons for calling it, she must be seriously regretting it now.

A lot of people are blaming the young for voting for Corbyn having not understood his history or policies. Basically, they’re saying he has offered them free stuff and they have fallen for it, being too young to remember the effect such policies had on the country a couple of generations ago. There may be some truth in this, but I’m not happy with it as an overall explanation. I didn’t like disparaging all Trump voters as being thick, backward racists and I don’t think we should dismiss Corbyn’s supporters in the same way. We’d be better off trying to find out exactly why people might have voted for him rather than May.

I saw Andrew McNeill’s interview with Jeremy Corbyn and I thought he came across very well. Not in the sense that I believed a word he was saying or wasn’t openly expressing a political stance that I found appalling, but Blair did much the same and look how everyone loved him before he went off starting wars. No, he just came across well, somebody who seemed reasonable. He didn’t look like someone who nobody could possibly vote for, at any rate.

The young folk won’t remember the IRA’s bombing campaign and were probably utterly confused when Islamic terrorists attacked Manchester and London and the right thought the best political response was to show Corbyn with Irishmen in balaclavas in the 1980s. If anybody under the age of 25 had the slightest idea what the connection was I’d be surprised. What they would have understood is Theresa May looking and sounding like a wrinkly, annoying Head Girl telling them she’s going to restrict the internet. It might not have occurred to May, but the young folk quite like their internet and won’t like plans to restrict it in any way. “Clamping down on online spaces” sounds a lot like a nagging parent banning their kid from going on YouTube, and coming from a 60 year old vicar’s daughter the effect would only be magnified.

So it is not difficult to see why people, particularly the young, were turned off May and preferred Corbyn. There may be other reasons too, wholly economic. Before we pompously dismiss the young for voting for free stuff, let’s look at who owns the wealth in Britain. No, not the Jews and not “the corporations”. It’s those who own property. One thing every government since 1997 has had in common is that they saw ever-increasing house prices as a central policy in order to trick the middle classes into believing they are wealthy. Having ensured that property was the only meaningful investment in Britain, successive governments dared not do anything that could make house prices fall – such as raising interests, or relaxing planning laws. In fact, it is hard to think of any government policy that has been more firmly entrenched than ensuring house prices don’t fall: I think Britain would go to war before that happens.

This policy, coupled with immigration which has put ever-more pressure on property prices particularly in London, has benefited people approximately over 40 to the detriment of anyone younger. If you were of an age around about 2000 when you were just buying your first house, suddenly you saw your “investment” increase threefold and you could strut around the office boasting of your business acumen as if you were Warren Fucking Buffet. Anyone younger found the price of a crumbling shithole to be “worth” eight times their salary and the deposit equivalent to what their parents paid for their 4-bed detached house in a leafy suburb in 1986.

I wondered when the younger folk were going to notice that they have been utterly stitched up by the generations above them, and now it appears they have. People say the country is divided between Leavers and Remainers, but from what I can see there is also a divide between the propertied classes and the younger generations who have had the ladder kicked from under them. All the Labour supporters I saw slagging of Corbyn were from the property-owning classes, who would have fully approved of the New Labour economic policies which saw the value of their houses magically skyrocket. Most of the Tories, whether they liked May or not, own their own homes.

To anyone sitting in a £600k house they paid £200k for and a mortgage with a 1.2% interest rate, things like the EU and Trident probably seem very important. To somebody just graduated on a salary of £25k per year and looking at paying £650 a month in a shared house worth £600k owned by a very average middle manager who happened to be born twenty years earlier, these issues won’t be so important. This situation will only have been exacerbated by the dismissive attitudes towards Millenials, who are portrayed by the media and middle classes as spoiled brats who don’t know the meaning of hard work.

Let’s not kid ourselves into thinking it was the current crop of middle classes who jumped out of aeroplanes over Normandy and ran up her beaches. A 40 year old now would have been born in 1977 and hit adulthood as Tony Blair took office. If he or she was lucky enough to be gifted soaring equity in their property, it is hard to believe the current crop of teenagers is any more molly-coddled by the government than they.

I am saying this with the benefit of hindsight, but it appears the middle classes who wanted either a return to New Labour or a Tory government (assuming there is a difference) vastly underestimated how out of touch they are with the younger generation. Sure, Corbyn promised them a lot of free stuff but maybe they think they are entitled to something given the older generations have helped themselves to a large chunk of the country’s wealth using no efforts of their own, and have been rubbing it in everyone’s faces for years.

Whatever the reasons, May has taken a battering and needs to go. This has thrown Brexit into disarray as her primary reason for calling the election was to unify the country behind the negotiations. As I said earlier, I am ambivalent as to whether Britain leaves the EU or stays in it, but I think any negotiations need to be done from a position of strength and by a person who the whole country believes is up to the job. It is clear that very few people think this person is Theresa May, and we need to find a replacement ASAP. That will probably mean another general election this year, then.

Lucky Britain.


The Reality of Organic Farming

How anything in this BBC article about organic milk should come as a surprise is beyond me:

Buy a pack of organic milk and generally you feel you have done the world and the environment a service – albeit a small, litre-sized one.

After all, you think, a happy cow in a grassy field is probably a good thing, environmentally speaking.

Which is probably why Arla decided to say its organic milk was “good for the land” and “a more sustainable future”.

Arla Foods is no small-scale outfit. It is a massive European milk co-operative ranked as the fourth-largest milk producer in the world.

The organic farming movement would have people believe that their products are grown in allotments or hand-reared in small farms of the type that appear in Famous Five stories. What is amusing is the dim middle classes, particularly professional women with a surplus household income, actually believe it.

Of course Arla Foods is an enormous corporation. If the consumption of organic produce is limited to a few hippies living in wigwams then sure, you don’t need any industrial-scale operation to meet demand. But once the numbers increase the suppliers are going to have to scale up, particularly if the customers are all living in cities (and they almost all do: most consumers of organically farmed products wouldn’t know a combine from a cattle grid). How many people consume organic products in London, say? Over a million, probably. This demand isn’t going to be met by farmer Giles on his local farm using practices from the 1950s.

It’s the same reason I get annoyed when people sing the praises of their jolly local butcher who is a little bit more expensive but is oh so much better than those nasty supermarkets. What they don’t realise is their local butcher is selling to wealthy, niche customers while the supermarkets provide for the masses. If the supermarkets weren’t there and the butcher was the only option, they’d be selling overpriced offal with tubes sticking out.

The argument for organic milk is not as straightforward as you might imagine.

Organic dairy producers do feed their animals with crops grown without the use of synthetic pesticides. They don’t use antibiotics. They use less energy in producing and carting around concentrates. All those are plus points.

But organic farms produce less milk per head of cattle. So they use more land and more cows per litre. And there is the awkward matter of methane, a greenhouse gas, which cows produce in abundance.

Firstly, why is not using antibiotics automatically assumed to be a good thing? Animals get sick just the same as we do, and treating them with antibiotics is as sensible as it is for humans. Would we think denying antibiotics to a child suffering from tonsillitis is virtuous? Probably not, but apparently letting a cow suffer from an infected sore is. Now I get that the agricultural industry has been irresponsible in its use of antibiotics, using them as preventive measures to stop intestinal infections caused by feeding them shite, and that practice should be eliminated. But a blanket ban on antibiotics is stupid.

Secondly, that organic farms are less efficient than conventional ones is something Tim Worstall was pointing out a decade ago. Almost by definition, organic farms need more land (meaning more hedges destroyed, more wetlands drained) and use more resources and energy (more weeding, larger areas to plough) to produce the equivalent yield of a conventional crop. As with everything, it’s a trade off:

“Organic farms perform better in terms of soil and water quality, and species biodiversity, but can perform worse in terms of methane emissions.”

And on a host of other criteria, I expect.

We’re going to see the same thing with electric cars if they ever actually take off (which I doubt, but I might be wrong). A few thousand virtue-signalling celebrities and public-sector employees in places like Norway might not produce much by way of externalities, but if that gets scaled up to the millions or tens of millions across multiple cities, what do things look like then? Where does the electricity come from? Where do the chemicals and metals in the batteries come from? How do we dispose of them?

From what I can tell, most environmental campaigns are designed to relieve the dim but wealthy middle classes of a portion of their income in exchange for making them feel good about themselves. I can only marvel at their effectiveness.


The Lions v The Blues

Back in March I wrote about the yawning chasm between rugby played by the Kiwis and that by the Six Nations sides:

A Welsh side will be attacking the opponent’s line at the five metre mark and the scrum-half will, from the base of a ruck, fling the ball to the inside centre who has made a charge from miles back and is at full pelt. Only the ball will be either way above the centre’s head or down by his knees, meaning he will have to check his run and reach up or down for it. By the time he’s got going again, he’s tackled. Watch a Kiwi team in the same position and the ball will be taken right on the chest, nine times out of ten. That’s just one example, but it is representative of almost every aspect of the game. The Kiwis have not only mastered the basic skills at age ten, they’ve then gone on to master the secondary skills such as offloading in the tackle, passes out the back of the hand, and all the other little tricks that make for good viewing.

When I saw yesterday morning that the British & Irish Lions had lost 22-16 to the Auckland Blues, I had an inkling how it happened before I’d seen anything other than the score.

Last night I went home and watched the match, and nothing surprised me. The Lions can compete in the forwards at set pieces: they were solid at scrums and lineouts and there are easily enough players in the squad to compete with the All Blacks, let alone the Super Rugby franchises, in these areas. It was wholly unsurprising that the Lions’ solitary try came from a lineout drive: New Zealand teams have never been the best at defending against these, something that the good Australian and South African teams have taken full advantage of in the past. I predict that the areas in which the Lions will do well on this tour is in winning penalties at the scrum and lineout drives close to the line.

The forwards are pretty good in open play too. Both Courtney Lawes and Maro Itoje played very well, making plenty of tackles and challenging at the breakdown. I think the Lions forwards can compete in open play on the defensive, at least against the Super Rugby sides.

It is in the backs where the gulf in class really opens up. A tactic the Kiwis love is to shift the play out wide, stretching the defence, and then quickly shift it back the other way leaving a huge gap to be exploited. This is how they scored their first try: a superb kick sent the play out to the righthand touchline and a long, floated pass sent it back to the left where Rieko Ioane left Jack Nowell for dead and ran through empty space to score. The Kiwi teams do this time and time again, and the worrying thing is the Blues are probably the worst at it. The Crusaders absolutely excel at it, as do the Hurricanes, and they will certainly use this tactic against the Lions. Of course, playing like this requires the halfback to be able to kick from the hand with pin-point accuracy and the centres (and everyone else) to fling long, floating passes across half the pitch that go straight to hand. The Kiwis can do this all day long (particularly Beauden Barrett) but, as I said in my piece in March, the Six Nations sides simply lack the skills to do so.

To make matters worse for the Lions, the New Zealanders have taken to leaving a lock or No. 8 roaming out near the wing when on the attack: Kieran Ried and Sam Whitelock seem to spend more time as attacking centres than they do in the pack during some matches. The Hurricanes hooker Dane Coles is another one who likes to loiter on the wing, but he might be injured for this series. What this does is force the defending side to commit one or two players to a proper tackle, leaving space open for the wing running up in support.

This is made possible by the New Zealand forwards being extremely good at offloading in the tackle, so much so they’ve made it a central part of their game. Ihaia West’s try near the end came as a result of a superb offload out the back of the hand by No. 8 Steven Luatua to Sonny Bill Williams, who then did the same for Ihaia West. Of course we all knew SBW can offload, that’s a half his game, but the forwards are now doing the same. Can we expect the Lions forwards to loiter on the wings providing an extra attacking option, or to offload in the tackle to release a centre flying up the inside? Probably not.

I also said this in March:

It wasn’t only the skill, it was the thinking behind it all. One of the things that frustrates me the most when watching Wales is how damned thick they are: there is no imagination, no inventiveness, no sneaky cleverness.

A telling moment came in the first half when Jarod Payne almost scored a try but was forced into touch by the tackler. The Lions back line pressed forward at speed and with quick hands, but they did so in a straight line. When Leigh Halfpenny – who had an excellent game, particularly when he joined the line in attack – got the ball he just ran straight and passed to the man outside in a manner that was wholly predictable. What a Kiwi would have done is move inside slightly, draw the defence in, and delay the pass to open a large gap on the outside (watch Ryan Crotty play). This would have given his winger the extra room to run in and score, and as we saw on the replay inches matter. Such small differences in skill and thinking make all the difference, and the northern hemisphere is someway behind the curve.

Of course, the Lions haven’t been playing together very long and the team is far from settled. I don’t buy the excuse about jet lag, the Kiwi teams routinely fly to South Africa for Super Rugby matches (and vice versa) and they seem to manage. But they are rusty and they didn’t get much rhythm going. I am sure they will improve as the tour goes on and the first team starts to take shape, but I fear the fundamental gaps in skill and class will remain. I think the Crusaders will beat them, and so will the Hurricanes (depending on what side they put out). The Lions ought to beat the Chiefs and the Highlanders, who have been inconsistent this season and might not be able to match the Lions’ pack.

As for the All Blacks? Well, the Lions need to win the first test to avoid a whitewash. History shows the All Blacks perform badly in the first test and are absolutely devastating thereafter. I only hope the Lions play as well as they can and make a decent fist of it.


More dick-waving in the Middle East

What sort of empty-headed statement is this?

Qatar Rift May Boost Extremism, Germany Warns.
‘A dispute among partners and neighbors will…make the wrong ones stronger,’ says German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel

Who is this statement even intended for? Who is being warned here? Qataris? Saudis? Are they going to listen to the German foreign minister? Or maybe it’s aimed at Germans. Okay, so what are Germany’s interests in the Middle East (other than flogging luxury cars) and what leverage do they have? Or is Germany appealing to others to help out? Who, then? The US? The UK? Heh.

I think the German foreign minister spoke these words hoping it would make Germany look “concerned” and clued-up, and imply they should be involved in any plan to make things better. To me they smack of desperation to appear relevant in a potentially serious situation which is going to pan out one way or another wholly unaffected by what the German government says, does, or thinks. Of course, the rise of extremists in the Middle East would not be so much of a problem were Germany not so keen on inviting tens of thousands of them into Europe.

Anyway, irrelevant German warblings aside, things appear to be getting interesting over in the Gulf. Turkey is offering to send troops to prop up the beleaguered Qatari government, and Iran has thrown in its support as well. This means the two sides in the argument are:

1. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Jordan and Egypt

2. Qatar, Turkey and Iran

Kuwait is staying well out of it, sensible chaps.

The surprising element is Iran coming in on the side of Qatar, or more accurately, the Qataris appearing to accept their help. Iran is quite happy to prop up the governments of other countries, e.g. Syria but it comes at the price of ceding a degree of control to Tehran and allowing Hezbollah and other Shia militias to set up shop on their turf. Perhaps the Qatari rulers think they’ll be toppled without Iranian help and so don’t have much to lose. For a country which is 90% Sunni, this might not end well.

Turkey’s offer of troops is also more for show than anything else. Are Turkish soldiers really going to be fighting in the streets of Doha if it comes down to it? If they’re fighting Saudis they’re going to find themselves running out of ammunition and supplies pretty quickly, and will have to rely on Iran for logistics and air cover (assuming there is any), whereas the Saudis can amass all their stockpiles right next door. If Turkey wants to project power abroad, fighting Saudis in Qatar is probably not a smart way to go about it (but who knows how much of his own bullshit Erdogan believes at this stage?)

Perhaps Turkish troops will be deployed to stop a rival Qatari faction usurping the ruling families, but that’s unlikely to end well either. Are Qataris and other Arabs really going to just let a bunch of isolated Turks who don’t even speak the language swan around in Doha unmolested? I doubt it. The bloodshed will start on day one and won’t let up until the day they leave.

Russia is probably wondering what to do right now. They have usually sided with Iran in that part of the world, but there’s no love lost between them. For all the kissing and cuddling that went on between Russia and Turkey as they buried the hatchet over the shooting down of the plane in 2015 I am far from convinced the two leaders see eye to eye on much – other than to keep Iran’s influence in Syria to a minimum. But most importantly, Qatar with its enormous LNG cargoes has been the biggest threat to Russia’s dominance of the European gas market. Russia will be shedding no tears if Qatar’s LNG shipments get blockaded and the plants shut down. If the Russians have any sense they’ll stay right out of it, except of course to flood the region with as many weapons as it can sell.

The US should also stay right out of it, but it’s going to be hard to see how they can with two of their most important allies squaring off against one another. Iran is already blaming Saudi Arabia for the ISIS attack on its parliament yesterday, and people on Twitter are saying the Americans gave them the green light to do so. This is bollocks, but the Saudi move on Qatar is surely a result of their having been buoyed by Trump’s recent visit and his reconfirmation of the Saudi-US relationship. The US is going to have to work pretty hard to stay out of this one especially if things get nasty, but that’s what they need to do.

Today we have a General Election in the UK which Theresa May’s Conservatives are looking likely to win by a handsome margin. I am hoping that the first thing the new government does is draft up a law saying that anyone who advocates Britain getting involved in any capacity whatsoever amid calls for “something to be done” – even if staged photos of weeping children are plastered all over our media for the umpteenth time – shall be taken into Parliament Square, placed in the stocks, and kicked square up the arse by a serving member of the Parachute Regiment wearing a pair of steel-toed boots.

My guess is that this whole thing is mostly posturing and will be over within a few weeks.