Wednesday, January 30, 2008

onion tv

I've long adored The Onion's humour. So sharply observed both in its choice of targets and in the use of media language. The smaller items like Concert Ruined By Guy Enjoying Himself get me, but it was that post-9/11 issue that showed the Onion to be real genius. They published every week, but after 9/11 there was nothing for two weeks, followed by the greatest satire I've ever seen.

It could've gone so wrong. Emotions were running very high, yet they managed to ridicule the hi-jackers and the wars that followed in one go whilst being very, very funny.

God Angrily Clarifies 'Don't Kill' Rule was the lead item, with Hijackers Surprised To Find Selves In Hell leaving me literally gasping from laughing so hard.

I don't know why, but it's taken me a while to get round to its TV stuff. That attention to the use of language in the written word is applied across the board in the dress and mannerisms of presenter, the studios and graphics of the TV news channels, utterly plausible production values that leave the mighty Day Today looking somewhat heavy-handed.

Jim from The Quiet Road pointed me towards this superb panel discussion

In The Know: Is The Government Spying On Paranoid Schizophrenics Enough?

The Richard & Judyesque Fat Kid Successfully Avoids Ridicule By Swimming With Shirt On perfectly apes that daytime on the sofa show, but the one that flattened me was this, which says everything my last post was trying to say only much funnier.

Poll: Bullshit Is Most Important Issue For 2008 Voters

Monday, January 28, 2008

women and black folks have better brains, right?

Barack Obama's surprise high-scores in the primaries are being remarked on for one thing. In any opening paragraph they'll tell you about the colour of his skin.

Americans woke up to the historic possibility that the day when they might have a black president was closer than they thought - not just within their lifetime, but within the year.

He is apparently 'the skinny kid with the funny name'. Sorry, but someone who is 46 and a wealthy experienced politician is not a kid.

The other serious Democrat contender, Hillary Clinton, is generally referred to by her first name (so much cuddlier and more feminine), and of course there's one factor that gets more prominent mention than any other. Jerry Springer's comments in the Guardian the other week are typical

It would do wonders for America's psyche, as well as the world's perception of us, to go from Texas macho to a woman. All that negative reaction we've got for trying to beat up on the world would be dispensed with overnight by a woman president...

I think, two or three days before the election, there are going to be an awful lot of women (and also feminist men) who aren't that political and might not even tell their husbands or their boyfriends who are quietly going to go into the polls, and, by God, tomorrow morning I'm going to wake up with a woman president. That would be so uplifting.

There is a one-word answer to that: Thatcher.

When Bush was first (not) elected, I was on a message board arguing with someone who reckoned it bodes well because Bush had appointed the most ethnically diverse cabinet in American history. Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell's blackness is as meaningful as Barack Obama's.

When Blair was first elected an intelligent friend told me with a straight face that it was going to be good because Blair had kids with him in Number 10 and that would make him act responsibly for the future.

Thank god for Vasiliy and Svetlana Stalin, eh? Imagine what their dad would've got up to if he'd been childless.

It's not about the colour of skin, the ability to reproduce, nor the genitals lounging in your groin. It's about whose interests you serve.

The leader is, at best, a mere figurehead, and more often a mascot or a puppet. Nobody gets to run a country - least of all the USA - without getting hefty donations from corporate power. Who else has access to the hundreds of millions of dollars it takes to get elected? Next question, what do those donors expect for their money?

Yet over and over people make it about 'the type of person'. I was recently on a message board being told by a previously intelligent person that we should all support Obama instead of the politically indistinguishable other candidates.

It has nothing to do with 'political strategies' or his 'agenda' and it has everything to do with the fact that I am a pretty good judge of character

Even if someone were an impeccably good judge of character for someone they've only ever seen on TV in the middle of a campaign to make you like them, what on earth else should we judge potential leaders on except their political strategy and agenda?

Making it about some matey personality thing is a denial of all that's gone before and is deliberately shying away from thinking about what the candidates actually stand for, what they will actually do.

Every change is welcomed because we've grown to hate the betrayal of the incumbent (hell, people even felt Gordon Brown's takeover was cause for jubilation). This alone should be enough of a lesson; power itself is the problem.

Irrespective of their speeches and any personal ideals, the premier has to serve the interests who put them there and keep them there. These are unlikely to be your interests, even if you approve of Mrs Clinton's type of genitals or Mr Obama's skin tone.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

carbon capture: increasing emissions

That massive hydrogen article will spawn several offspring. I'm thinking BMW need a serious drubbing for their ridiculous hydrogen powered car (probably for Turn Up The Heat), and the carbon capture and storage bit has already led to a piece expanding on that aspect.

Not only is there the BP hydrogen plant mentioned in the article, there are plans for two coal fired power stations in Scotland whose emissions will be worse than conventional generation from any other source.

See, BP isn't an oil company. Scottish Power isn't an electricity company. They are both profit makers; oil and electricity are simply the ways they make their profit. If there were no profit in those products they'd be flogging us cola and dog food.

Since their overriding motive is maximising profit, they will never act responsibly (unless it's one of those rare occasions where the two are the same). So, given a way to use 'low carbon' technology more profitably they'll take it, even if it means an increase in emissions and a serious contribution to climate change.

The new post about it had just been published over at UK Watch, called Carbon Capture: Increasing CO2 Emissions

[no comments here; the place to leave them is over on the post at UK Watch]


UPDATE 2 APRIL 09: As UK Watch is offline, I'm republishing the posts from there on their pointer-posts here.


On Monday the BBC reported on a new 'low carbon' power plant in Abu Dhabi, splitting natural gas into hydrogen to burn and CO2 to capture and store.

They explained, "the CO2 can be pumped underground, either simply to store it away permanently or as a way of extracting more oil from existing wells, using the high-pressure gas to force more of the black gold to the surface."

The report is by their Environment Correspondent, yet he not only uses the term 'black gold' unironically, he also doesn't stop to wonder what will happen to all that extra oil the stored CO2 will flush out.

In the UK, BP proposed a similar plant at Peterhead in Scotland. BP also saw no irony in having a press release talking of the carbon savings and extra oil in consecutive paragraphs.

It was not the cuddly climate-friendly scheme it claimed to be. The plant was planning to release 10% of its carbon, but far worse and as BP surely knew, the emissions from the oil would have been a third to four-fifths of the CO2 stored. add this to the 10% that was never going to be captured and it means emissions would have been 47%-90% of a normal gas-fired power station.

BP cancelled the plan last year, as government incentives weren't coming quickly enough. They needed it sharpish because the Miller oil field is nearing the end of its life and the CO2 was essential to release the presently unrecoverable oil. From a profit perspective, without the government money and the oil bonus the CCS plan wasn't worth pursuing.

The loss of this scheme - universally described in the media as 'green power' and 'carbon free' - was lamented by all who spoke of it, including those who should know better like Friends of The Earth. Among them was Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond, who took consolation from the prospect of other CCS projects at Longannet and Cockenzie.

Those sites are coal-fired power stations owned by Scottish Power, and it is perhaps no coincidence they're picked as them for some greenwash PR. A 2003 report by Friends of The Earth named them as two of the top three worst polluting power plants in Britain. Unless they have a radical refit, both will close by 2015 as they'll exceed new European pollution limits.

At Alex Salmond's beloved Longannet, Scottish Power are planning to install CCS technology, but only if they win a government competition that will pay them to do it. If they don't, they're just going to build a new coal power station anyway, in the full knowledge of what the emissions will do.

Coal is by far the dirtiest way to produce electricity. Per unit of energy delivered, it emits 80 percent more carbon than gas, and 29 percent more than oil.

If they do get the money and install CCS, any calculation should - but of course won't - count the emissions from what comes out of that hole in the ground. Like BP before them, Scottish Power proudly declare their fossil bonus; "The scheme involves pumping carbon emissions from the station into deep underground coal seams to drive out methane gas which can then be used as a fuel".

The emissions from that gas will be released to the atmosphere. Scottish Power are calling all this excessive emission 'a revolutionary change in low carbon energy generation'.

Yet - again - those who should know better support it. WWF say Longannet's CCS is 'progressive', although they temper their approval with the insistence that it must be merely a transitional technology 'until renewable energy technologies are fully up to speed'.

But rebuilding these plants is a commitment to burn coal for many decades. Environmental NGOs and journalists should speak out against ecocidal activity, but they want there to be easy alternatives, so they are too ready to fall for corporate PR.

There simply aren't alternative technologies that can be deployed in time to tackle climate change whilst sustaining our present levels of consumption. The technologies that are available to help us are being abused and even made counterproductive by the prioritising of profit.

In the UK, Carbon Capture and Storage is only being proposed where there's a bonus in the form of extra fossil fuels. And looking to the Abu Dhabi project, nobody can tell me with a straight face that the third largest oil producing nation in the Gulf will do anything other than oil recovery.They have to, because it's the most profitable.

As long a profit is the - or even a - motive, there's a disincentive to store CO2 in non-fossil geological gaps like saline aquifers when it can be used instead for 'enhanced recovery' of oil and gas. In other words, the companies deploying supposed low carbon technology will take the highest emitting version they can.

Like so many of the capitalist 'solutions' to climate change, carbon capture and storage is being used to actually increase emissions under the guise of reducing them.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

hydrogen: not the vehicle fuel of the future

In our deep love affair with the motor car, we're desperate for a quick-fix low carbon alternative fuel that lets us carry on.

The EU and the Bush administration are both putting billions of dollars into the possibility of hydrogen as a vehicle fuel.

Not only are there economic, engineering and safety issues that can't be surmounted in time to make it a climate mitigation technology, it wouldn't work anyway. Hydrogen is most commonly made from fossil fuels; it is as much a refined fossil product as petrol. The present prototype hydrogen cars are far worse emitters than the thirstiest filthiest SUV.

It can be made by passing electricity through water, but where's that electricity coming from? fossil power stations? Or some new renewables?

To make enough hydrogen to replace our vehicle fuels would take more electricity than we currently use for everything combined. Can anyone really tell me we can shut down the fossils and build enough renewables to double our output before runaway climate change kicks in?

I've just done a pretty darn long article taking the whole notion apart. It's published over at U-Know under the title Hydrogen: Not the Vehicle Fuel of the Future

Sunday, January 20, 2008


Jim Bliss tagged me with a blog meme. Start the year with a list of seven things you approve of. And no tricksy inverting of negatives, just straightforward 'I'm all for this' stuff.

I love Jim's mention of dolphins. Who doesn't love dolphins? I suspect they have the best life of anyone, so much space and freedom and arsing about.

Gyrus' mention of the telephone is great too - we don't even think about it, yet imagine if it had only just been invented how much you'd totally love it.

But I don't need to be copying anyone else's answers, for there are plenty of good things around.

1 - Growing your own food. Before I started doing this I thought it might be very hard work, and I was more certain it would be difficult. More specifically, it would be easy to get wrong. But no - they are plants, they are trying very hard to be alive and grow. It is so simple and so satisfying.

There are deeper resonations, something primal about being out interacting physically with the land and the way it makes you spend more time outdoors. Plus there's the reduction of your food miles and not giving your cash to supermarkets, but those are not only the negative-inversion reasons we're not going to mention, they're not necessary to justify it. The joy of eating the stuff is more than enough reward.

I suspect the thing that makes organic food taste better is that the varieties are slower growing and that you tend to be eating it fresher. Freshness is so important for flavour. Years ago I worked on a farm, just a normal, chemical, supermarket-supplying vegetable farm, and I'd often take a few things home to eat and it always tasted amazing. Fast growing agrichemicalled stuff, but only harvested that day. Everything you grow yourself has that going for it.

Even if you haven't got a garden you can use a friend's or get an allotment. Everyone can do this and they should.

2 - The Music Grin. I recently described it as 'that instant liftoff sensation hearing something so irresistably exuberant and uplifting, the feeling I got the first time I heard Do I Love You by Frank Wilson or The Tams' Be Young Be Foolish Be Happy'.

It's a thing I get most commonly listening to such Northern Soul tracks, but it needn't be summat so bouncy. Nick Drake's Northern Sky's a dead cert.

3 - Single malt Scotch whisky. As Angus from Ardbeg distillery says, there are only three qualities of whisky; great, good and really bad. There isn't 'mediocre' or 'alright'.

With bourbon, it can be fine stuff but really it just tastes of wood and corn. Scotch whiskies - especially the darker, smokier island ones - have such a complexity, the flavours overlapping and swirling around one another, rolling out and changing. It just doesn't compare to two-dimensional spirits like, say, rum.

With single malts, there is just no such thing as a bad one. Thousands of different ones to try, so there's endless discovery, all of it guaranteed wonderful.

Lots of people start off telling me they don't like whisky, which invariably turns out to mean they got pissed and threw up on Bells when they were 17. Whisky is not about getting pissed. It's about flavours and warmth, savouring the sensation and letting the layers and levels of flavour unfold. The squiffiness should be regarded as a happy accident.

Nothing on earth captivates, consumes and soothes like a good dram of a great one; Laphroaig Quarter Cask, Caol Ila 12 year old or Lagavulin 16 year old topping my list.

4 - The sound of cows grazing. That mix of low-pitch high-pressure outbreaths with the rip of the grass is just hypnotic, so mellow and so summery. And it also means you're very close to some lovely, gentle, intelligent animals.

5 - Bicycles. The quickest means of transport around the city. The best means of rural exploration (anything faster has an engine and glass to separate you from the environment, anything slower doesn't let you cover distance). Like I said here a while ago

Public transport has some benefits, but it is inconvenient. The car offers freedom from timetables, freedom from timetables being ignored, an opportunity to go directly from A to B when you want without wasting time looping off to stop places you're not going to.

But the car too has its drawbacks. Imagine if it were somehow made so nimble that it could magically jump to the front of the queue at traffic lights and junctions. Imagine if there were free parking outside - or even inside - any building you went to. Imagine if it needed no tax, insurance or MOT. Imagine if it let you do a daily fitness workout whilst driving. Imagine if fuel were free and it never needed refilling. If it had zero emissions. If, whenever anything went wrong, instead of being at the mercy of pricey mechanics you could quickly, easily and cheaply do most repairs yourself. Imagine how much more precious it would be than the cars of today.

That vehicle is here. Prices start at about twenty quid, second hand.

Bikes feel like freedom and independence, they make you feel athletic and healthy, they're straightforward, practical and easy. Nineteenth century technology refined and improved to near-perfection.

6 - Side 2 of Abbey Road. As Cat Vincent said, it'd be too easy just to list movies and whatnot, but still. This huge sweep of music opens with Here Comes The Sun, one of the few songs of George's that genuinely stands alongside Lennon and McCartney's. Then it moves through delicate arrangements of cosmic musings, and then careers through all kinds of peculiar, witty, playful songs, little snippets so it moves very fast, yet segued masterfully into one symphonic whole. I'm always broadened, boosted, amused and amazed by this music.

And every time I hear it, I realise how words like that become just words with the retelling, I find I've forgotten the depth and totality of impact it has. More than this, every time I hear it it feels fresh, new, I hear it prickling with possibilities that hadn't stood out last time. It has grown with me and beckons me onward.

And there's a photo from the sessions that I utterly adore. People want to simplify and polarise the Beatles story. They tell you that they were writing separately after 1964, that they hated each other for the last couple of years. Yet here's John and Paul, clearly relaxed, happy, creative and at ease with each other and with the work they're doing together, finalising the lyrics for Mean Mr Mustard.

Lennon & McCartney write Mean Mr mustard

7 - Bed. Really, it's just the best thing ever. So many of the best things in your life happen in bed, so many of the worst things happen outside of it. Whoever had a car crash in bed? After working hard or getting cold or anything else difficult, getting into bed feels like such a treat and an indulgence. Where else can you stay for twelve hours and still not want to leave? It's warm, comfortable, comforting, an environment specifically designed to make you rest. What a great idea!

= = = = = = = = = = = =

Pass it on: I'd like to see several quality inventive intelligent bloggers come out of their hibernation and do this meme. Be Like Water, Goldfish Nation, Wanna hangout?, Rhythmic Ginger, Kerosene Oyster Hell.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

whaling hostages

In case you hadn't already heard, two activists from Sea Shepherd Conservation Society have been taken hostage by a Japanese whaling ship.

The Japanese are in the Southern Ocean as a fleet, with a large factory ship processing whales brought to them by several harpooning vessels. Greenpeace's ship Esperanza has been chasing the factory ship all the way out of the hunting grounds, whilst Sea Shepherd's vessel Steve Irwin was following a harpoon vessel.

Whilst Sea Shepherd are no strangers to robust direct action, in this instance they were acting entirely peacefully. The harpooning vessel Yushin Maru No. 2 was hunting illegally inside a designated no-whaling zone. It refused to respond to radio calls from Sea Shepherd, so two activists boarded it with a letter so the whalers could not feign ignorance.

Once aboard the two men, Australian Benjamin Potts and Briton Giles Lane, were assaulted, tied up and left outdoors in cold wet conditions. With the eyes of the world turning towards the boat, the men have since been untied and taken inside and are believed to be being treated well.

A report says that the Australian government has negotiated their release (thanks a lot, useless UK government), but a later one says the deal has been ignored. It seems that the Japanese will not release the men until Sea Shepherd agree to a temporary halt to their anti-whaling activities, whilst Sea Shepherd insist on unconditional release.

There have been a lot of inaccurate stories flying around. At 5am GMT the Sea Shepherd set things straight

Media Reports that the hostages have been released to the Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin are false. Reports that the Steve Irwin will not accept calls from the Japanese vessels or authorities are false. No calls have been received. The Yushin Maru No. 2 has refused to return radio calls from the Steve Irwin.

No one from the Japanese or Australian government has contacted Sea Shepherd to organize the transfer of the hostages from the Japanese whaler back to the Steve Irwin.

Until there is credible confirmation in the News section on the Sea Shepherd site, we should regard the men as still captive. Which means anyone supporting their stance should be contacting those with the power to make things move.

Japanese Embassy in London:, or call them on 020 7465 6500.

UK government's Foreign and Commonwealth Office: It would be good to copy them in to whatever you send to the Japanese embassy. But also email them directly and get them to pull their fingers out. Meg Munn is the Minister "responsible" for Asia and the Pacific so mark it for her attention: or call on 020 7008 1500.

Giles Lane was acting peacefully to uphold international conservation law and the laws of Australia. He has been assaulted and kidnapped. The whaling ship has no right to demand conditions for his release. He is a UK citizen, so the UK government is duty bound to act in his defence. What are they doing about it?

Whilst all this must be extremely frightening for the two captives, it has at least pushed the whaling to greater prominence, with the Japanese whalers clearly lying and the Japanese government being given a hard time for their absurd 'scientific' excuses for whaling.

Also, whilst all this is going on that harpoon ship is not hunting. no whales have been killed for six days now, and it seems that none will be killed for several days to come, if not longer.

Amongst the varying news reports, the BBC one stood out for me because it runs the Japanese denial of the tying up without any comment. Yet it is an unarguable and recorded fact. Twelve hours before the BBC report was published, the Daily Telegraph posted a report including a photo of one of the men tied up whilst the whalers dealt with the other (there's also video footage clearly showing both men tied to railings, and the same news report has a photo of them tied up to a GPS mast).

Lazy journalism, or the bias due to the BBC having an embedded reporter on the Greenpeace vessel, who have a prickly relationship with Sea Shepherd? Sea Shepherd was formed by an ex-Greenpeacer who was fed up with the lack of direct action; Sea Shepherd have had a much more uncompromising and confrontational approach, harassing, obstructing and occasionally ramming whaling ships, as well as publicising and endorsing the actions of people who sink whaling vessels.

Do you think these guys are heroes? Would you like whaling to continue to be directly challenged by Sea Shepherd? There's only one way it'll happen, and that's if people donate money to them.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

tax and attacks on the sick

I love the midwinter festivities.

We are African apes and our psyche gets freaked out by prolonged darkness and cold. So our cultures develop these festivals, not just a day but a festive season, smack in the week of the darkest days. Having to think about it and prepare for it keeps our mind off the elements.

Imagine how miserable it'd be if we just carried on with no festive season, no colourful lights, just colder, darker, colder, darker.

As it is, by the time you've recovered from the midwinter stuff - even if you find it a gruelling challenge of enduring old family grudges - the days are getting longer and you've fooled yourself into being halfway through winter without really noticing.

It's a good strategy, though not as good as hedgehogs and, especially, marmots. Marmots don't store food for winter, they just eat themselves silly all summer long so that by September their bellies touch the ground. Then they go to bed in their burrows for six months. The only interruption is once every three weeks when the whole colony wakes up, goes outside for a dump, then goes back to bed.

That, my friends, is how it should be done.

Not being as clever as marmots, humans show their goodwill by buying their children plastic tat they don't really need made by children the same age going blind working in poorly lit Asian sweatshops. A time for forgetting our ill-will to others, even as we cause it.

As Tom Robinson said in his Christmas song Truce

Truce, call a truce
Stop all the bitching and backbiting
Who'd leave their lover
Or send in the bailiffs
This one day of the year?

Truce, call a truce
Stop all the sackings and the stealing
Who'd rape a schoolgirl
Or cut off someone's pension
And spoil all this Christmas cheer?

...But the very next day
It's back to the fray...

And so we're into the new year and David Cameron's off to a flying start, scaring sick people and promising to take away the pittance that stands between them and destitution.

I've just published a new post about it over at The Sharpener called Tax and Attacks on the Sick