Monday, 24 April 2017

It's a small world

Welcome to the small, but perfectly formed, Positive Solutions Pavilion (criticism is prohibited).

See the whole tiny exhibition of surrelistic papercraft concept architecture, from the Botanical Sparkly Desert Oasis Pavilion to Templeton Gators Swim Club Pavilion here.

Brexit - mistake, enemy action, or delusion?

When Nigel Farage tripped down the steps of the Ecuadorian embassy – a visit that he did not expect to be photographed or documented – a beam of light was shone on a previously hidden world: a political alignment between WikiLeaks’ ideology, Ukip’s ideology and Trump’s ideology that is not necessarily just an affinity. It is also, potentially, a channel of communication.

David Golumbia, an associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University in the US who has studied WikiLeaks, describes it as “the moment when the lines suddenly become visible”. He says: “It was like the picture suddenly came into focus. There is this worldwide, rightwing, nationalistic movement that is counter to the EU, and this is present in the US and Europe and Russia, and we are just starting to understand how they do all seem to be in communication and co-ordination with each other.”
Carole Cadwalladr, writing in the Graun.

If you were an agent for a hostile power actively trying to inflict massive damage on the UK and the EU, then covertly promoting Brexit would certainly have helped you to do just that. The idea that Brexit was a foreign conspiracy has a vague plausibility, but it's not that probable, at least if you calm down a bit and apply Hanlon's razor to the dramatic idea that the Brexit omnishambles is the result of active subversion, rather than just a catastrophically bad decision.

But the idea of subversion by foreign powers still looks more likely than the official government delusion that, if we all just shut up, get behind Brexit and wish hard enough, we'll magically find ourselves in a wonderful land of freedom and opportunity where foreigners will fall over themselves in their rush to capitulate to our every demand.

If you still believe that one, just keep your head still while I measure you up for a stylish tinfoil hat.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Well, that was a surprise...

So how are things going with the idea of UK breaking free to cut all those really great international trade deals, without the dead hand of Brussels holding it back?
Boris Johnson says Britain will be first in line for US trade deal after meeting with Donald Trump's team and Paul Ryan
Telegraph headline, January 9th, 2017.
Donald Trump ready to do trade deal with EU ahead of the UK
Telegraph headline, April 23rd ,2017.

Apparently not so well.

Honestly, if you can't even trust Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, who can you trust?

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Failure is success

I still haven't got anything particularly insightful to say about the surprise election annoucement, but others have. I think this, from the comments below this piece is a good summary of why the Conservatives are feeling confident - namely, their astonishing success in branding themselves as competent managers, despite lurching from one huge, obvious self-inflicted crisis (failed austerity) to the next (flailing Brexit):
For years now the right have perfected the art of portraying themselves as pragmatic and competent, while actually proposing very radical policies and implementing them badly. The left has allowed itself to be portrayed as having some nice ideas, but not being realistic or practical. Bernie Sanders I think is one of the few who have managed to sell left policies as common sense and realistic – the SNP have also managed to do that in Scotland.

My point is that Brexit offered Corbyn and the Labour party the opportunity to claim the mantle of being safe and moderate in comparison to the crazy radicalism of the Tories – and to do it without compromising on key policies and ideals. In my opinion, it was a huge gift handed to the left in Britain by the Tories, and the Labour Party was too inept to accept it.
I'm still looking for an analysis that's both realistic and not depressing. Don't hold your breath.

Different bridge

I don't yet have anything instant and/or sensible to say about the snap general election that the PM is trying to call and which I entirely failed to see coming, so here's a nice picture I took a few weeks back:

This was taken on the Millennium, rather than Westminster, Bridge, but I rather like the Wordsworthian vibe of being at the still heart of the city in the early morning, with nobody about, apart from the odd delivery person and early-rising jogger. Some of the ships, towers, domes, theatres and temples have changed since Wordsworth's day (look at the size of the Shard, looming over the tiny silhouettes of Tower Bridge and the Tower of London), but the stillness and clarity of a new morning remain:
Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning: silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

Sunday, 16 April 2017

2 eggs, 1 cup

Why isn't the prime minister intervening over this year's real Easter egg scandal?

Eggs-hibit A:
On your left, an actual hen's egg. On your right, a 2017 Cadbury's Creme Egg. In the same cup. The prosecution rests its case.

Admittedly, that's a large hen's egg, the only sort I had in the kitchen this morning, but I can confirm that even a small real egg doesn't disappear into this particular cup with only the very top peeking out like the crown of Kilroy's bald head.

Not that I should be that concerned by the alarming shrinkage of Cadburys' Creme Eggs, as I've never been that keen on the sickly-sweet gloop-filled confections anyway, but I'm not going to let a minor detail like that stop me from having a moan about it. As somebody once said, "That was inedible muck. And there wasn't enough of it."

Friday, 14 April 2017

Car wars versus robot wars

The biggest power in the EU - Germany - exports way more cars to the UK than we do to them, so they are not going to allow the erection of tariffs because they would damage their own industry and shoot themselves in the foot.
John Longworth, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, summing up one of the Brexiteers' favourite arguments. I'm sure he's right to say that German car exporters don't want to see tariffs on their exports. I'm also sure that the owners of car plants in Britain feel the same. But when it comes to negotiations, the side with the most to lose usually loses and, as Frances Coppola has pointed out, it's the British-based car industry which has by far the most to lose:
When it leaves the EU, the UK will face the EU's WTO "most favoured nation" tariff of 10% on its entire car exports to the EU. In 2015, that was 57% of its total car exports. And British car exports, with few exceptions, do not carry the "luxury" premium of many German marques. It is British car manufacturers, not German ones, who have the most to lose from Brexit. It is British car manufacturers who have lobbied most heavily for UK trade with EU to continue to be tariff-free. And in any trade war over car exports, it is the UK that would suffer most. Ratcheting up tariffs on EU car imports could reasonably be seen by the EU as unfair competition and met with retaliatory action. In a trade war, those that have the greatest exposure suffer the most.

Sterling weakness, if it continues, would also raise the UK price of imported German cars. If the combination of depreciation effects with new import tariffs raised the price enough, German exports to the UK would fall. But just as Brexiteers like to assume that the UK can readily substitute cheaper rest-of-world destinations for the expensive EU after Brexit, so too can Germany. Germany's engineering is respected worldwide. If the UK made exports difficult, Germany would simply seek markets elsewhere. It can well afford the short-term hit to its net exports: it has already weathered worse in the Eurozone crisis. In contrast, even with the assistance of a debauched currency, UK exporters to the EU might find it difficult to find new markets. 57% of total car exports is an awful lot to relocate to lower-tariff destinations. 
All things being equal, I'm sure she's right. But I'm not sure that all things will stay equal in the future. Manufacturing jobs in places like Sunderland, Castle Bromwich and Derby are almost certainly at risk from Brexit, but Brexit isn't the only thing that might wipe out those jobs out in the next few years. Here's Jaroslav Fiala, warning of an alien invasion:
The aliens of whom we speak are not the ‘Muslim invaders’ who have become such a popular (and utterly absurd) media focus in the Czech Republic. We are talking about automation. The threat we face is due to the fact that, of the countries in the EU, we rely most heavily on industry.

Almost fifty per cent of our economy is based on industry, making us more dependent on it than neighbouring Germany. About 1.45 million people – that is a third of Czech employees – work in industry, predominantly the in automobile manufacturing. These workers will be the first to be displaced by the metal aliens. 
You could argue that robots aren't really alien to a culture that invented the word "robot" but, otherwise, the idea of these jobs being automated away seems all too plausible.

There's a lot of R and D and trials between us and the routine use of currently-hyped things like self-driving vehicles, care robots and delivery robots, but in the controlled, predictable environment of the car factory, the concept of robotisation is hardly new. I'm old enough to remember this "Hand built by robots" advert from 1979:

So let's look on the bright side of Brexit. Flouncing out of the EU might destroy the UK's car manufacturing jobs, but the robots would have exterminated them anyway.