Move over Cathy Newman, here’s Zanny Minton Beddoes

I recently discovered that the editor of The Economist was a woman by the name of Zanny Minton Beddoes who, inevitably, went to Oxford. It certainly explained their political stance regarding such things as Brexit, the election of Trump, and the European Union: it’s hard to imagine someone with that name being in touch with the common man. I bet she’s not lived outside a capital city since she was a student.

Yesterday I came across this 35 minute video of her trying to interview Steve Bannon. I say trying, because she spends half the time interrupting with little high-pitched shrieks every time Bannon says something which doesn’t align with her elitist, metropolitan worldview. Have a look for yourselves.

The lack of self-awareness of this woman is incredible, seemingly incapable of responding rationally to someone with a different opinion. It’s as if she’s watched the disastrous Cathy Newman interview with Jordan Peterson and thought her performance worthy of admiration. She’s clearly gone into the interview with the sole intent of smearing Bannon as a racist and misogynist, oblivious to what he is actually saying. It’s quickly apparent she’s way out of her depth and for all her expensive education and cut-glass accent she’s not half as smart as she thinks she is.

Several people invited by The Economist to take part in the same event declined because of Bannon’s presence, including that intellectual heavyweight Laurie Penny. The New Yorker cancelled his presence at a similar event, citing objections from right-thinking participants. Whether you agree with his policies or not, Steve Bannon is a man worth listening to; the fact establishment types such as Zanny Minton Beddoes are so terrified of him reinforces this.


First Rohingyas, now Uighurs and Kazakhs

A year ago, after watching Sky News do a report on Rohingya muslims in Myanmar, I remarked:

The reporter appeared to be firmly in the pay of a professional lobby group hired to make their case.

Around the same time I also said:

I’ve noticed a concerted effort on the part of the mainstream media over the past few weeks to get everyone interested in the plight of the Rohingyas, a minority Muslim group in Myanmar who are being hounded by the majority ruling Buddists.

I have also noticed that nobody seems to give a shit. It might be tempting to put this down to the fact that westerners don’t generally care about brown people being killed in far-off lands with no oil underneath, but I suspect there is something else at work as well: people in the west are getting a little bit tired of hearing how Muslims are suffering.

I was reminded of the Rohingya advocacy campaign masquerading as news when I read this story, variations of which have been doing the rounds in the media for the past few weeks:

Chinese officials have pushed back against growing criticism of the detention of Muslim minorities in internment camps, claiming authorities are merely providing professional training and education.

Beijing is facing allegations of mass incarceration and repression of Uighurs, Kazakhs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang in China’s north-west. An estimated 1.1 million people have been placed in internment camps, including re-education camps where, according to former detainees and other witnesses, inmates are subjected to intense political indoctrination and abuse.

That the Chinese lock up and execute large numbers of their population is nothing new, nor is their suppression of ethnic minorities, especially those who might show loyalty to a deity other than the Communist Party of China. Ask the Tibetans how they’ve fared under Chinese rule, for example. So why the sudden fuss about Uighurs and Kazakhs?

Well, thanks to the system of zakat and Middle Eastern oil and gas revenues, there is a lot of money sloshing around the world earmarked for Islamic causes. A portion of this ends up funding terrorism, but it’s also used for things like Islamic schools, construction of mosques, charity work – and lobbying. There are countless Muslim bodies sitting in every western capital, advocating Islamic causes and interests, and some of these will be well funded. Thanks to most western governments having deep sympathies with Muslim minorities and assigning them the coveted Protected Class status, Islamic lobby groups have easy access to the propaganda organs of the ruling classes, i.e. the media. Provided they don’t go against the interests of the ruling class, e.g. by questioning why they destroyed Iraq, removed Gaddafi, and sell bombs which land on the heads of Yemenis, Muslim advocacy groups are pretty good at getting articles promoting Muslim practices and interests into the mainstream media, particularly the BBC.

So that explains why every now and then we’re suddenly bombarded with “news” reports regarding the suffering of some obscure group of Muslims on the other side of the world. But why Uighurs and Kazakhs? Well, I suspect the lobby groups are aware the British and American public are more than a little tired of hearing about problems in the Middle East or Africa, and just tune out as soon as they’re mentioned. But more likely it’s because this is a case of Muslims being oppressed by non-Muslims, and by a major power at that. Muslims generally don’t care if Muslims are oppressed by other Muslims – where is the concern for Kazakhs rotting in Kazakh jails, or Uzbeks who suffered under Islam Karimov’s rule? – but if non-Muslims are doing the oppressing they don’t like it at all (especially if there are Jews involved).

Now nobody thinks the Israelis are killing Rohingyas, but Britiain has ties to Myanmar and they were a useful lever with which to exert pro-Muslim influence over a weak and hapless May government. Get invited to Downing Street to discuss the terrible plight of the Rohingyas, and while you’re there casually mention the levels of Islamophobia hook-handed jihadists are subject to in the criminal justice system. Similarly, getting a pro-Muslim angle into any geopolitical opposition to China elevates their cause by an order of magnitude; look at the boost they received by turning the Cold War a little warmer in Afghanistan. If they can hitch themselves to a general strategy of containing China (of which criticism of human rights abuses is very much a part), money, power, and prestige beckon which can be used to exert greater influence in the west.

There’s clearly a well-funded and organised strategy being executed here, and I suspect the dullards in the media aren’t even aware they’re being played. Whether the general public are as gullible, and whether they care about Muslims in far-flung corners of the world, is another matter. What is certain is these campaigns will not have the slightest effect on the policies of the Chinese Communist Party, nor Muslims languishing behind barbed wire in the Gobi desert. This is a domestic campaign.


Modern Journalists

Back when I was a subscriber to The Economist in the early ’00s, I always assumed their main opinion columns – Bagehot for the UK, Charlemagne for Europe, and Lexington for the US – were written by seasoned veterans who’d seen life from the parapet of an interesting and varied career. Whether or not that was ever the case, nowadays they seem to be written by hipsters who look as though they’ve never been anywhere without 4G:

Certainly, a failure to venture beyond the trendy areas of Berlin would explain headlines such as this, written in April this year:

Amusingly, one particular Twitter user has started a series juxtaposing this headline with stories which portray Germany’s embrace of diversity in a rather more realistic light, e.g.

Unsurprisingly, Mr Cliffe is an Oxbridge graduate and the only job he’s held outside of political journalism in his 8-year career is that of researcher for Chukka Umunna. I suspect this is typical throughout the mainstream media. There’s a reason I let my Economist subscription lapse over a decade ago; who in their right mind would pay to read this stuff?


Las Vegas hotels and compounds in New Mexico

One of the oddest things I’ve seen in recent years is how quickly everyone forgot that in October 2017 a man booked himself into a room in a Las Vegas hotel, stockpiled guns, and opened fire on a concert crowd. Normally, following such an incident, one could expect a complete profile of the perpetrator to emerge: his name, birthplace, family members, lifestyle, profession, workplaces, political affiliations, beliefs, and recent movements. This would be gleaned from official records, police investigations, and multiple interviews with anyone who knew the man. From there, the entire crime could be pieced together starting from his initial motivations right through the planning to execution. This would be made public and pretty soon we’d have full features in the newspapers followed by hour-long documentaries on television a year later. How many articles and documentaries have there been on Charles Whitman and the University of Texas tower shooting, for example?

Yet in the case of the Las Vegas shooting, the whole thing disappeared from the news within weeks. We had conflicting statements from local law enforcement before it seems they were told to belt up, and then it all went quiet. To this day we don’t really know who Stephen Paddock was and why he decided to commit this crime. Even if he was a lone nutter who just felt like murdering a bunch of people, one would expect the story to receive more public attention than it did; there must be something of interest to the public. What became blatantly obvious was the media were repeating whatever they were told and had no capability to investigate on their own. These days, the media either present the government line verbatim or, if they don’t like the government, they present their own opinions. In the case of the Las Vegas shootings the authorities decided they had nothing to say and the media, having tried and failed to use the atrocity to ram through more stringent gun laws, just forgot about it and moved on. Had they been able to pin the attack on a Trump supporter they’d have made hay until there was no more to make, but given the target was a bunch of honkies at a country and western show, that was never going to fly. In other words, if the authorities decide they’re not talking about something and the media can’t use it for their own ends, then it’s a non-story regardless of how big a deal it ought to be. There is no appetite in the modern media for seeking the truth even when the public is crying out for it.

So why did the authorities just clam up? My guess is someone dropped a bollock somewhere and any investigation would make someone in power at state or national level look bad. If this sounds like conspiracy theory, I think people in charge deciding to bury an investigation to cover incompetence and say nothing to the press is less conspiracy theory than business as usual. It just so happened this was a high-profile event, so following this course of action required more neck than it might have two decades ago. In the modern era shame and accountability, like investigative journalism, are quaint relics to be found in black and white newsreel footage. Whoever Stephen Paddock was and whatever his motivations were, one thing is for sure: it suited the ruling classes that the story disappeared from public view and stayed hidden.

I feel much the same about another bizarre story which ought to be making headlines but isn’t:

The father of a missing 3-year-old who was arrested at a New Mexico compound linked to “extremist Muslims” last week was training children to commit school shootings, court documents filed on Wednesday revealed.

Prosecutors allege Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, 39, was conducting weapons training on the compound, where 11 children were found hungry and living in squalor. They asked Wahhaj, who appeared in court on Wednesday, be held without bail.

Somehow authorities came across a weird, half-subterranean compound in the New Mexico desert which turned out to contain 11 abducted children. This alone ought to have made international headlines, but it turns out it was a camp run by Islamic extremists who were training the kids to shoot up American schools. What’s more:

Wahhaj is the son of a Brooklyn imam, also named Siraj Wahhaj, who was named by prosecutors as an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the New York Post reported.

I mean, shouldn’t people be asking questions about this? And that’s not all:

On Monday, a child’s remains were found on the property, but authorities were working on a positive identification and did not confirm if the remains were that of the missing boy.

It turned out the remains were of the missing boy:

It was also announced Monday that 3-year-old Abdul-ghani Wahhaj, who had been missing since December, allegedly died amid a ritualistic religious ceremony intended to “cast out demonic spirits,” Reuters reported.

So we have an Islamist training compound, abducted children being forced to live underground while preparing them for a school shooting, and the body of an infant murdered during a religious ritual. Still:

The prosecutors provided more details about the accusations during a court hearing in which they asked that Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and four other defendants be held pending trial on child abuse charges.

But the judge in the case ruled against prosecutors’ request.

Judge Sarah Backus said although she was concerned by “troubling facts,” prosecutors failed to articulate any specific threats to the community.

She set a $20,000 bond for each defendant and ordered that they wear ankle monitors and have weekly contact with their attorneys.

Yes, that’s right: the men were released on bail. Other than a handful of right-wingers on Twitter, is anyone in the media making noise about this? No, because it involves members of a protected class and there’s no angle with which to bash Trump, so the story vanishes to be replaced with 24/7 coverage of how Trump’s ex-lawyer is accusing him of paying off a porn star who he slept with a decade ago.

But what makes the story really odd is that the authorities ordered the compound be demolished. Now why would they do that? Is there really nothing left to discover in this network of tunnels, huts, and a half-buried camper van? Other than NBC who have almost nothing on the story, the only people reporting the demolition are right wing conspiracy sites like Zerohedge, nobody else is interested. It makes you realise just how controlled the news is in the US. As I’ve said before, the media are simply the propaganda arm of the ruling classes, and nothing is aired or published which doesn’t further their aims in one way or another.

Insofar as the authorities go in regards this compound in New Mexico, I suspect we’re seeing something similar to what happened in Las Vegas. Someone has screwed up big-time and they’re now covering their tracks. The fact their doing so also protects the establishment’s narrative is a stroke of good fortune on their part, because it ensures nobody’s going to be asking awkward questions. It doesn’t bode well for the future of America though; if those in charge continue to behave like third-world autocrats, sooner or later their country will resemble a third-world autocracy. To be honest, it many ways it already does.


The NYT and Sarah Jeong

A story doing the rounds over the last couple of days concerned the New York Times hiring an Asian-American woman by the name of Sarah Jeong to their editorial board. Jeong, who is usually pictured with bright red hair, is 30 years old and a graduate of both Berkeley and Harvard.

The trouble began when eagle-eyed Twitter users discovered Jeong had serious hang-ups about white people and wasn’t shy of airing them. For example:

And that’s just a tiny sample, her Twitter history going back years is littered with this stuff.

It wasn’t long before a mob formed demanding she be fired. However, a portion of this mob was made up of people who would ordinarily not want her sacked, but in a world where left-wing mobs can get people (e.g. Kevin Williamson) fired on what seems like a weekly basis, they decided to adopt their enemy’s tactics. The NYT was having none of it though, and issued this statement:

Now this is pretty pathetic: as the many examples of Jeong’s tweets show, she was not “responding to harassment” and it is doubtful she regrets her behaviour (as if that was enough to stop a right-winger being lynched). However, I believe the NYT was right to stand behind her, only not for the silly reasons they give in that statement. What they should have said was this:

“We were of course fully aware of Sarah Jeong’s opinions expressed on Twitter – we are not complete morons, we do check this stuff. However, we see no reason to believe why such opinions make her unfit to serve on our editorial board, indeed we think they’re a sign she’ll fit right in. Therefore, she will assume her post as intended.”

This would have the advantage of being absolutely true, and be a sign that the NYT management are at least prepared to stand by their decisions. Rather than howl with outrage at her appointment, people should just take it as a clear indication of what sort of outfit the NYT is and afford it a commensurate degree of respect. Firing Jeong won’t solve anything, the problem is she was hired in the first place; she’s merely a symptom of a much deeper malaise.

Sarah Jeong is an over-privileged idiot who sounds for all the world like she’s bitter over her high school crush taking a white girl to the prom instead of her. If she’s 30 now, I doubt she’ll ever grow up. But it was the NYT‘s decision to hire her in full knowledge of who she was, and they should either stand by that or the people responsible resign.


Tommy Robinson’s Appeal

In late May I said the following regarding the arrest and imprisonment of Tommy Robinson:

Robinson has not been arrested for filming outside a court building, he’s been arrested because he embarrasses the ruling classes.

The fact Robinson was originally arrested for breach of the peace and later that changed to prejudicing a trial shows the authorities aren’t really interested in what they charge him with provided he ends up behind bars.

Whereas one could have expected the usual suspects to be chortling with glee over Robinson’s predicament, I felt rather too many people who ought to have defended him were secretly glad he’d been found guilty of contempt of court because that meant they didn’t have to. A lot of people thought, provided he’d been found guilty by a judge, then guilty he was even though it was obvious that the whole thing stank to high heaven. At best, one could see Robinson had been singled out for punishment; at worst, one suspected the police and judiciary were under political orders to get Robinson behind bars ASAP.

I knew it was bad, but I only began to understand just how bad when I listened to James Delingpole’s podcast with Canadian conservative Ezra Levant: his description of Tommy Robinson’s treatment at the hands of the British state sounds like something from a Cold War documentary about Eastern Europe. I urge you to listen to it, just to get an idea of what a stitch up it was. It is an absolute, utter disgrace and as Levant asks, where were the media in all of this? Where was Amnesty International, who worked so tirelessly on behalf of the jihadists in Guantanamo Bay? Or Reporters Without Borders, who seem awfully silent on the fact a man was jailed for making a video on his iPhone on public property outside a court. The reason is these sorts of organisations are made up of people who, secretly and not so secretly, are happy he’s behind bars. Whatever principles these organisations adopted got jettisoned a long time ago, and we should remember that whenever they’re cited as a moral authority on anything.

Anyway, I’d just finished listening to the Delingpole podcast when I saw on the news that Robinson had been released after appealing his most recent sentence. The full judgement is here, and it makes for grim reading if you’re someone who wishes to convince others that Britain isn’t becoming a banana republic. Consider this:

The appellant, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, who uses the pseudonym Tommy Robinson
for political purposes, was committed to prison for a total of 13 months on 25 May 2018
for breach of an order made under section 4(2) of the 1981 Act.

Imprisoning someone for 13 months for contempt of court is unprecedented and, as Levant explains in the podcast, Robinson was moved from HMP Hull to HMP Onley, which is notorious for its Muslim prison gangs. Why he was moved and who authorised it is not public knowledge, but in a country where the process is the punishment, it is impossible to rule out vindictiveness. As such, Robinson had to enter solitary confinement for his own protection; I doubt anyone will be held accountable for this.

Now I don’t have the legal knowledge to do a proper analysis of the appeal court judgement, but this is pretty damning:

At no stage were particulars of the alleged contempt put to the appellant for him to accept or deny them.

For some years now people have expressed deep concern that employees or students suspected of wrong-think have been subject to a Kafkaesque process during which the accused was never told what they did wrong (the case of Lindsay Shepherd is a good example). This method of getting rid of non-conformists is becoming ever-more common, and I’d even argue it’s standard in many large corporations; it certainly seems to be the case in universities. Am I therefore surprised the British judicial system has followed the same path? Given the direction of travel, no I’m not. With people like Blair, Cameron, and May running the country it was only a matter of time.

That hearing began with reference to the appellant’s antecedents and was followed by mitigation.

It seems the judge had already decided Robinson was guilty and all that was left was his counsel to argue mitigation. This is important because many of Robinson’s detractors in the media and elsewhere thought they held a trump card because he’d plead guilty to contempt of court. Turns out, he did no such thing – nor was he even given an opportunity to do so.

Which brings me onto our old friend The Secret Barrister, whose pomposity and sneering at Robinson and his supporters was overlooked by those willing to do so on the grounds that at least the legal analysis was sound. The entire premise of The Secret Barrister’s original post was that objections over Robinson’s treatment were the ill-informed ravings of knuckle-dragging racists and he, a respected barrister with impeccable anti-racist credentials, would explain why they were wrong and it was all above board. But as I said at the time, the purpose of the post was not so much to inform as to signal the author’s virtue, and now he’s been found out big-time. He’s written a post following the appeal court ruling, and if you have the patience to wade through more than four thousand words you finally get to the bit where he says he was wrong:

So I hold my hands up – imperfect information makes for imperfect predictions. But is there a wider issue here, among me and other legal commentators? Were we too quick to dismiss the case with a “nothing to see here” wave of the hand, blinded by the unappealing nature of Robinson’s supporters and the organised maelstrom of fake news stirred up here and abroad? Maybe we were.

Not maybe: you were, and you owe them all an apology. Now either you knew this case stank but you pretended it didn’t, which makes you dishonest. Or you didn’t know what a blind man a mile away could see, which makes you incompetent. Which is it? Sadly, all we get is this:

I’d suggest, self-servingly, that an inaccurate but well-meaning prediction – such as we all make in the courts every day – is lesser a social evil than the deliberate, racially-tinged misinformation campaign that we do our best to counter.

Translation: “Good people like me defending a horrendous perversion of justice that saw a man jailed is less of a social evil than the objections of lower class oiks who were right all along.” And I think that sums up The Secret Barrister and his ilk rather nicely; all those who cited this charlatan’s post as a basis for their own views on Robinson’s imprisonment ought to take a long, hard look at themselves.

On the wider point, what disturbs me most about the actions of the judge who treated the case as a criminal matter, rammed the whole thing through in five hours without due process and tossed Robinson in jail, is that he must have known exactly what he was doing. He must have also known that, should Robinson appeal, he will come in for some heavy criticism. Despite this, he did it anyway, brazenly and blatantly, confident he will face no repercussions and that he will have the full support of the establishment, the media, and the chattering classes. The judge and those whose instructions he was following probably knew Robinson would get out on appeal, but believed the process would be enough of a deterrent for Robinson and others who might also consider embarrassing the ruling classes. And if he got himself beaten up or killed in prison, so much the better. This is not a justice system worthy of the name, and heads should roll. They won’t of course, and the authorities will be better prepared next time they need to silence an inconvenient voice. One lesson they will have learned, much to their delight, is they can count on the full support of a huge number of British people for whom maintaining middle-class sensibilities is more important than justice. I fear we’ve not seen the last of these cases, not by a long shot.


Brave journalism, thirty years after the event

I can’t access this story in The Times because it’s paywalled, but I can see enough to make my point:

Peter Ball escaped justice for decades, at a terrible cost to his young victims, thanks to his many establishment friends, argues Sean O’Neill

The tale of the paedophile bishop and the heir to the throne — private prayer sessions, gifts of money and a 20-year correspondence — is the stuff of a conspiracy theorist’s dream. Except that the story of Peter Ball and the Prince of Wales is not a theory. It is a key element in a real, modern-day account of how powerful people in Britain formed a protective shield around a predatory sex offender.

Not six months goes by without some public figure from twenty or thirty years ago being identified, usually after he’s died, as a sex pest, liar, or criminal. Every time, it’s revealed the entire media and political establishment protected them, only the individuals concerned are also dead or long-since retired on hefty pensions. These stories are now so common I wonder why they even bother reporting them.

Instead, I wonder which current public figures are engaged in appalling behaviour which would see them sacked or jailed, or are covering for people doing the same, and why the media isn’t reporting on them, now. The reason is, the media is doing the same job now their predecessors did for the likes of Peter Ball: they’re covering for their ruling class friends, and act as their mouthpiece. I suspect everyone knew back then what Ball was up to, just as the abuse of vulnerable girls in Rotherham was no secret, but there is common knowledge and – separately – there is that which the ruling classes and media will acknowledge. In fact, one could pretty easily draw up a list of current issues and individuals and make a sure bet that most will be the subject of a documentary or newspaper piece in thirty years time which will have everyone shaking their heads over how it was allowed to happen.

The answer will be the same as it is now: the ruling classes are above the law, aided and abetted by those working in media. So my message to The Times is this: the time for reporting on Peter Ball and his enablers was in the 1980s, when he was still actively abusing people; what I want to know is who you and your fellow travellers are covering for now.


The Art of the Deal

Well how about that?

The US has agreed to work towards lowering trade barriers with the European Union, Donald Trump said on Wednesday after a meeting with European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker.

The two agreed to launch a “new phase” in relations and work towards zero tariffs, the US president said.

They also agreed to increase trade in services and agriculture, including greater US soy bean exports to the EU.

A few weeks ago everyone was in agreement that Trump, by entering into a trade war with the EU, was a complete imbecile who didn’t understand the effects of tariffs. Turns out his actions have brought the EU to the table for some sensible discussions aimed at reducing or eliminating tariffs.

Similarly, everyone thought Trump was a warmongering fool bent on bringing about Armageddon when he took a hardline attitude to North Korea. Only a couple of months later he and Kim Jong-un met in Singapore to discuss an end to the deadlock and denuclearisation.

It’s almost as if Trump has some experience in deal-making, and understands strengths and how to wield them: opening with an aggressive move which throws everyone off balance before getting them around the table and thrashing out a deal. You know, if he does any more of this, he might consider writing a book on it. Journalists and political commentators, on the other hand, might consider heading to the nearest McDonald’s to see if there are any openings.


The Demise of the NYDN

There’s been lots of wailing over the fact that the New York Daily News is shedding half its staff. Here’s a selection of its recent front pages:

Apparently nobody wants to pay for this sort of cutting-edge journalism any more. Who would have thought? There is some schadenfreude coming from the right over job losses from journalism in general, mainly because of the utter disdain the media showed to blue-collar folk in the rust belt. “Learn to code” was the flippant remark when someone raised their predicament with the Metropolitan middle classes. Well, off you go then, journalists!

Of course, some writers haven’t quite grasped what’s going on and, being story-tellers, have taken to creating comforting narratives:

It’s a nice story, but as commenter Howard Roark says on Twitter, how an executive class can buy newspapers, ruin them, and make enough money to buy yachts isn’t clear. For my part, I’d say their demise has more to do with the media becoming little more than the propaganda arm of the ruling classes, and modern journalists having no interest in truth or accuracy. The front covers of the NYDN should have served as a warning long before now.


Getting wood over wood at The Economist

Part of the decline of The Economist, aside from the fact its employees write drivel, is its wholesale adoption of the environmentalist religion. With their latest video they seem to be plumbing new depths of woo-embracement:

The answer, of course, is no: wood has been used as a construction material since the dawn of time, and in the modern age there is probably not a thing we don’t know about it. Concrete and steel replaced wood for very good reasons, and unless wood has undergone some revolutionary step-change (e.g. trees grown with carbon-fibre grafted into them), those reasons still apply. If it made technological sense to use wood instead of steel, people would be doing it. If it made economic sense, the same would be true. But let’s take a look at the video (I’ll paraphrase rather than write the whole transcript).

0:25 The world’s population is increasing, by 2050 it will be 10bn most of whom will be living in cities in skyscrapers with a large carbon footprint.

The video shows Tokyo and other developed world cities, but almost all that population growth will come from Africa. Are they going to be living in high rises? Having seen the sprawling shanty towns of Lagos in person, I doubt it. And if “carbon footprints” are a problem, maybe its time to stop subsidising that population explosion in Africa? One of the main reasons Nigeria’s population is exploding is the lack of reliable electricity, which in turn is a direct result of corrupt government practices. What I’m trying to say is, if increasing populations are a concern, building materials are an odd thing to focus on.

0:30 Our view is all buildings should be made from timber, and we should look at steel and concrete as we do diesel and petrol.

I have no idea who this chap is, but he’s looking at a Landcruiser and trying to say a horse would be better. I suspect he’s saying this because his salary depends on it.

0:44 I think it’s realistic someone will build a wooden skyscraper in the coming years. There is a lot of potential that is unrealised for using timber at a very large scale.

It’s as if engineers are unaware of wood’s limitations in compression. Hell, even the Romans knew over a certain size you had to use stone and concrete.

1:00 Throughout history buildings have been made of wood But it has one drawback, it acts as kindling.

Don’t ever say Economist videos aren’t informative.

1:32 If concrete were ever to arrive as a new material on “Dragon’s Den”…but then you say we need a whole new fleet of trucks to move it around…

You can tell this guy is an academic. Firstly, there are transport costs associated with wood; they don’t grow trees on potential building sites and wait a hundred years. Secondly, the cost savings associated with using concrete obliterates the additional cost of needing specialist concrete trucks. It’s one thing to play devil’s advocate for some future hypothetical, but this guy is doing it for something that’s already happened: he’s already been proven wrong.

1:51 I don’t think it would be a compelling case.

The richest man in Africa is a Nigerian called Aliko Dangote; the bulk of his wealth comes from his owning Africa’s largest cement company. The invention of concrete revolutionised construction, and made an awful lot of people incredibly rich. But here we have an academic saying if it came along nowadays, nobody would be interested because you need to add steel and buy some specialist trucks.

1:58 Concrete and steel are costly to produce and heavy to transport.

Compared to what? This is like saying the weather is good.

2:05 Wood, however, can be grown sustainably and is lighter than concrete.

Weight doesn’t matter much in buildings, because they tend to be stationary objects supported by the ground. You also have a lot of glass curtain walling these days. If weight is a concern you use steel – as the Manhattan skyline nicely demonstrates. Insofar as transportation costs go, aggregate can be shipped cheaply in bulk from anywhere, and you can install a concrete batch plant on or near to the construction site. A someone who lived in Dubai during the construction boom, I saw a lot of this.

2:07 And crucially, as trees grow, they absorb carbon dioxide from the air, locking it into the timber.

This is crucial? Not to construction considerations it isn’t. If you want trees to absorb carbon dioxide then plant more trees, but to put this forward as an advantage for using wood in construction? You might as well say forests are nice places to walk a dog. In any case, unless these buildings will stand for centuries, at some point the wood will rot or burn releasing all that carbon dioxide into the atmosphere anyway. Why not leave the trees standing?

2:18 One study showed that by using timber to construction a 125-metre skyscraper could reduce the building’s carbon footprint by up to 75%.

One study…could…by up to. Well I don’t know about you, but I’m convinced! Note all this assumes a building’s “carbon footprint” is something we should be concerned about.

2:42 Wood isn’t strong enough to build high, but engineers have come up with a solution: cross-lamination.


2:45 It’s cross laminated so layers of wood are glued at 90-degrees to one another.


3:17 But what about fire?

They demonstrate how a skyscraper made from wood will withstand a fire by holding a blowtorch to a piece of plywood before claiming it will extinguish itself after losing “some structural mass”.

3:25 We’ve actually seen steel roofs collapse in fires when wooden ones have not.

Assuming this is true, this is an argument for making sheds from wood, not skyscrapers.

3:52 Once these wooden panels arrive on site we’re building a floor a week.

Right, but it’s essentially a 5-storey plywood box. Are you sure this method is going to work for skyscrapers with 50 plus floors?

3:57 This is maybe twice as fast as concrete.

The guys in Dubai were pouring a floor every few days. I’d like to see how fast these wooden panels go in when they’re a hundred metres above the pavement.

4:23 Andrew and his collagues designed Britain’s first wooden high-rise apartment block.

It’s ten floors, hardly high-rise.

4:51 As yet, nobody has used CLT (plywood) beyond 55 metres.

The building they refer to is Brock Commons tower in Vancouver:

The structure is concealed behind drywall and concrete topping, mainly to comply with the accepted fire-safety codes and consequently speed up approval from building authorities.

So it needs concrete to stop it turning into a matchbox, incinerating everyone inside. But wait, what’s this?

Due to concerns about structural stability, the American Wood Council and the International Code Council currently limit wood structures to a maximum of six stories above grade, depending on occupancy type.

For good reasons, I’d imagine.

To reach its height of 18 stories, Brock Commons used a slightly different approach. It follows in the shoes of the supertall skyscrapers we’ve seen cropping up across Asia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which use a central structural core to take the stress off of the building’s exterior.

Oh! What type of central core?

Two concrete “trunks” on a concrete podium form the core of the structure, with the rest of its 18 stories being constructed of cross-laminated timber (CLT) flooring and glue-laminated timber (GLT, or glulam) columns.

So this groundbreaking tower block which demonstrates the viability of wooden skyscrapers is held up by two, bog-standard concrete cores? The Economist never mentioned that.

This entire video is basically a puff-piece for a London-based architectural firm with its eye no doubt on government monies earmarked for eye-catching green “solutions”. Wood can be used effectively for construction, but it has severe limitations which are well known: warping due to heat, rotting due to damp, termites, separation of lamination with time – and the ubiquitous fire hazard. I’d love to see how well this Brock Commons tower is holding up in a decade’s time, and hear it from the poor sods who have to live in it, not the architects. This is before we even address such issues as increased land use to grow the trees, not to mention the wastage. The good thing about steel and concrete is it can be moulded to the shape you want without wastage, but wood has the tendency to be grown tree-shaped and from there you need to chop, saw, shave, and sand it into something useful – all of which creates mountains of waste product (when I was a kid, timber merchants used to give away wood shavings and sawdust for free). So what happens to that?

How many trees occupying how much land are needed to build a 100m building, and how much waste is involved? And how much chemical treatment does the wood require? Some numbers would have been nice, but this is The Economist: when it comes to the environment they sound more like The Watchtower.