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Horses for courses

I've just had an interesting afternoon at the headquarters of Lothian and Borders Police, on the far side of Edinburgh's city centre. It wasn't quite what I'd been expecting — the Society of Authors in Scotland had organized a group visit and tour, but the tour side of things was somewhat abbreviated and focussed mainly on the Specialist Operations Support Branch and their work, with a briefing by their training coordinator.

If I thought I'd gotten anything like a substantial overview I'd blog about it at length, but as it is, while it's all grist for the research mill (see also "419") I wasn't able to put together a coherent picture: probably because we got a tightly focussed view of a small corner of the operation, rather than a seagull's eye perspective. It's still useful, but it gave me as many questions coming out as I went in with.

Mind you, one factoid stuck in my head. Lothian and Borders are unusual in that they're one of the police forces that still has horses — eight of them, at present. How much does it cost to maintain eight horses? Answer: around £480,000 a year, making them roughly as expensive as (if not more expensive than) a helicopter unit. Each horse requires a full-time officer, and they need exercise, stabling, and other facilities that run to £30,000 a year per animal — more than the price of a new pursuit car. (And why does Edinburgh's police force still have horses (instead of, say, another chopper)? Because after London this is the city where the Queen is in residence most often, and they're needed for ceremonial duties ...)

Horses: obsolescence delayed by politics in motion. If I go back in a decade they'll be proudly showing off their micro-UAV fleet and their segways with blues'n'twos and webcams — but I suspect the horses will still be placidly munching away in their stables as long as we've got a monarchy.



Fascinating. Horses are still in common use for police officers in the States, mostly for crowd control functions. I find it funny that they're rare on your side of the pond.


I live near the stables of strathclyde police force in Glasgow ("Working Together to build Safer Communities" is their own variant of the always vapid police force motto) and the streets are filled with the horse shit to prove it. The horses come clip-clopping out on duty whenever there's a match at Hampden park, Ibrox or parkhead.

So isn't it the case that horses aren't entirely obsolete and have a place in crowd control? I imagine the labdicks ("Work With Us") might use their horses for crowd control duties as well?

Am I imagining that horses are good for his stuff?


@Vavatch: Yes, horses are fantastic for crowd control.

1) Their size makes them intimidating
2) They offer greater mobility
3) They offer a superior vantage point to the officer
4) They give a truncheon wielding officer superior leverage
5) They elevate the officer above the crowd, making him less likely to be mobbed
6) They can be trained to step on people. I was at a protest where they had the horses do exactly that to clear a street.

And so on. They're very useful for crowd control.


Yes, the police in Toronto use horses as well -- and not just for when the Queen visits, although we're technically a monarchy as well.

As t3knomanser suggests above, they're used a lot at demonstrations and in other crowd control situations. A cop in riot gear sitting on top of a horse also in riot gear is just a lot more imposing than a cop on a bike or Segway.


They still use horses in Liverpool too
Personally the idea of police on segways just makes me laugh would be a complete waste of time in a crowd control situation and kids would just laugh at them.


I had no Idea horse units were so expensive. As a military history hobbyist I was wondering if anyone had cost (both initial costs and operational/maintenance costs) comparisons between infantry and cavalry forces of equal size during the middle ages or the Napoleonic wars.


George, would you laugh at this?

This business with the queen frosts me though. What a bizarre institution. And I'm going to become a subject! Why? Because they're raising the application fee (again) so I'm doing it now rather than later.


Horses and helicopters...the idea of the air cavalry doesn't seem to go away, but I did a post years ago about how fancy attack helicopters, especially, were like horses in that they are incredibly logistically expensive. ISTR the AH-64s in the invasion of Iraq got through a C-17 load a day, each, at the peak of their demand for supplies. (This figure, which I got from some random contact, seems high - a C-17 is an awfully big aeroplane and the yanks had a lot of AH64 in theatre. Perhaps it should have been a C-130 - but that's still a hell of a lot of stuff.)

@6: Read Martin van Creveld's SUPPLYING WAR for an entirely different take on many of the great manoeuvres of the cavalry age; a lot of all the sweeping-across-the-countryside was really more like "wandering around desperately seeking fodder for all these sodding horses, oh, and the horses that pull the carts full of fodder for the horses".


I thought they were used quite frequently at football matches and the like. I'd be surprised if any city-based force had phased them out altogether.

What's surprised me recently is that I've seen police horses a lot more often. It may just be their training period or something similar, but it gives one pause.


I don't have a clue why, but Sydney still has horses too. I saw them tooling around in Hyde Park a few weeks back when my phonecam decided to bork, so I missed a cool photo. Bummer!

I do know they're used for protests where there's the potential for a riot. Sure, you have a good view of the crowd, but I would have thought it a bit dangerous for horses if things went seriously pear-shaped.


We use horses auite a bit in the USA, for the already stated fact of crowd control, and they are often touted as providing good community relations. Some folks may not like the police, but most people love horses.

Also, another reason they help in crowd control: you may be willing to punch a cop, but would the same person punch a horse?


JDC@7: I didn't know you could apply to become a mere British Subject, and I have no idea why you'd want to do so seeing as the status gives you no right to live and work in the UK (and therefore none in the other EU countries either), no right to vote and generally nothing at all. In fact I don't know if there are any such people left, as they tended to be citizens of colonies and we're a little short of those these days.

British Citizenship, on the other hand, is something the government is turning into a nice little moneyspinner.


Only 8 left? I'll have to ask my dad how many they used to have.
There was also at least one occaision at a football match or somewhere similar, where some hooligan started attacking the horse, and was set upon by other people in the crowd for attacking an animal. Allegedly. I heard it 2 or 3rd hand.
Did you cover the boat squad? My dad was involved in setting it up back in the 90's. L&B used to be able to call upon Rosyth's marines for water based activities, but then they shut Rosyth, so L&B had to get their own water unit. They've done exciting things like sweep reservoirs and rivers for bodies, or chasing a stolen boat which was helpfully run aground by the thieves, or dealt with neds on Cramond island who were bothering some scouts there for the camping.

Are you joking about the Segways? Could they be any use in Edinburgh, or rather any more use than a decent mountain bike? I can imagine a segway falling over on some of our roads and pavements.

2600 officers and 1100 support staff? It would be interesting to see how that ratio has changed in the last 40 years, but I suspect there has been an increase in support staff.


"I thought they were used quite frequently at football matches and the like. I'd be surprised if any city-based force had phased them out altogether."

Yes, if you go to any big game there will usually be a few police horses around.(Which is why glasgow has 23 horses due to Rangers/Celtic/Hampden)

And indeed for any event with large crowds.(there were a few around in edinburgh during the G8 conference a couple of years ago).

Quick glance at wikip suggests there are 17 police forces in the UK with a mounted unit. Mainly, as you suggest , the more urbanised areas.


Here in Brentford the horses are brought out regularly for football matches.
I've also seen them in Wigan for a sports event.

I don't think its that unusual to have police horses where there's a need for crowd control.

I'm pretty sure someone at my primary school's father was a mounted policeman (late 80s, early 90s), I remember her talking about the training they needed to not bolt at loud noises in riots.


Feòrag, is that pedantry? Anyhoo, the oath I will be required to give is:

I, [name], [swear by Almighty God] [do solemnly, sincerely and truly affirm and declare] that, on becoming a British citizen, I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs, and successors, according to law.

It may not say "subject" but that what it are.

The money isn't a big deal but the extra is money I could spend down at pub. (It is a bit irksome after having spent a similar sum for Indefinite Leave to Remain.)


Chicago has horses also. I've seen them in the Loop,whether it's more for tourism than actual police work I don't know. Mayor Daley is always trying to make the city look more European.


Horse mounted police can be seen at any festival, potentially inflammable demonstration or similar event in the cities here in Sweden.


In Israel I remember policemen on horses when I was a kid (30 years ago?), mostly patrolling the beach. I guess they use jeeps and ghastly 4-wheel-drive things these days for that. I think we also still see horses used for crowd control in some places (like Jerusalem).


My uncle was as cop, he headed up crowd control for the City of New York in the 70s. He loved horses for that; a line of mounted police could clear a street almost immediately. New Yorkers don't stand up to horses too well.

Here in Southern California, I sometimes see police on bicycles. My first thought, the first time I saw one, was that they looked ridiculous and the crooks probably laughed at them. My second thought was that if these cops were riding bikes for an entire shift, they'd be in insanely good shape, like bike messengers. And, as Joseph Wambaugh noted in one of his novels, cops really have to watch getting out of shape.


JDC @ 16 That's becoming a British Citizen, a British Subject is something different.

From Wikipedia

From 1 January 1949, when the British Nationality Act 1948 came into force, every person who was a British subject by virtue of a connection with the United Kingdom or one of her crown colonies became a Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies.

However, UK & Colonies citizens, in common with citizens of other Commonwealth countries, also retained the status of British subject. From 1949, the status of British subject was also known by the term Commonwealth citizen, and included any person who was:

* a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies;
* a citizen of any other Commonwealth country; or
* one of a limited number of "British subjects without citizenship".

In the third category were mainly people born before 1949 in the Republic of Ireland, India and Pakistan who did not acquire citizenship of their country or any other Dominion (in the case of those born in India and Pakistan), or who applied after 1949 for restoration of their British subject status (for those connected with Ireland).

Hence, from 1949 to 1982, a person born in England would have been a British subject and citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, while someone born in Australia, would have been a British subject and citizen of Australia.

On 1 January 1983, upon the coming into force of the British Nationality Act 1981, every Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies became either a British Citizen, British Dependent Territories Citizen or British Overseas Citizen.

The use of the term "British subject" was discontinued for all persons who fell into these categories, or who had a national citizenship of any other part of the Commonwealth. The category of "British subjects" now includes only those people formerly known as "British subjects without citizenship", and no other. In statutes passed before 1 January 1983, however, references to "British subjects" continue to be read as if they referred to "Commonwealth citizens".

British citizens are not British subjects under the 1981 Act. The only circumstance where a person may be both a British subject and British citizen simultaneously is a case where a British subject connected with Ireland (s. 31 of the 1981 Act) acquires British citizenship by naturalisation or registration. In this case only, British subject status is not lost upon acquiring British citizenship.

The status of British subject cannot now be transmitted by descent, and will become extinct when all existing British subjects are dead.

British subjects, other than by those who obtained their status by virtue of a connection to the Republic of Ireland prior to 1949, automatically lose their British subject status on acquiring any other nationality, including British citizenship, under section 35 of the British Nationality Act 1981.


For all you lauding horses for crowd control, remember that for practical purposes they were defeated centuries ago. Google "caltrap".

Mainly there for the tourists and to give the police a human face (which says something donchathink?)


Ian @ 22: the police are wise to that trick, and their horses are shod with plated horseshoes, dished in the middle to prevent pointed objects sticking into the soft tissues while still providing a decent grip on pavement, tarmac and cobbles. They also wear Kevlar stab-resistant jackets, same as their officers do when they're on riot patrol or football match duty.


JDC@16: I see nothing in that oath/affirmation about you being subject to her, just that you be faithful. Bit like modern marriage vows really.


@22: they are great for crowd control. Particularly at footie matches in Newcastle upon tyne, where the revellers are often caught short without caltrops.

£30k might be more than a squad car but it's a lot less than a person (horses don't opt into pension schemes)


um, god save the queen?
I've never been clear about how people in the UK feel about their monarchs. I know how expats like Chris Hitchens feel about them, but not the general populous. The sense I get is that vaguely, around london, they're liked, and as you get further north towards Scotland and Ireland that erodes.

How wrong is this sense?


@26, How long have you got?


Feòrag @12: Moneyspinner is right. I looked into getting a British passport (would have to be done this year, I'm getting too old) and it would have cost about NZ$2000. I can't think of many reasons to spend that much on it (I will probably look into an Irish one instead, lucky me on the pick-the-ancestor front).


Yeah Sydney has horses still if you live in Redfern or Surry Hills the Police often patrol on horse back. There barracks are there as well and they are large. I have to say I find it really calming waking up to the sound of horse hooves clip clopping past in the morning as they patrol.

I think somehow no matter what happens we will always see Police on horseback or I hope.


Also keep in mind that if the police use horses bred for herding behaviors (American Quarter Horses, basically), the horse might also well get into the notion of herding humans around and be an effective partner.

Cowhorse-bred critters like to herd. Dogs, cats, cattle, humans--if it moves, it can get herded (and I've heard accounts of tightly wound cowhorses locking onto plastic bags and herding the bags). They're rather like herding dogs in that respect--only bigger.


Portland, Oregon, USA has a small horse-mounted unit (4 or 6 horses, I can't recall exactly) whose purpose is mostly public relations, because people do love horses, and the mounted cops are highly visible. We have a fairly large bicycle contingent as well, because in city traffic bikes can often beat cars, and they can go through alleyways and on foot paths much faster than a cop on foot. But occasionally the horse cops get to do a chase, and they do have an advantage over the bikes in the height and menace of the horse.

And, of course, a lot of police units outside the big city keep horses for search and rescue; there's an awful lot of land around here that's not suitable even for off-road vehicles or bikes (though there are some truly crazy off-road bikers).


6. Doowop
I remember an author estimating that it cost the Roman army about four times as much to maintain cavalry than infantry forces of equal size. Unfortunately he didn't give a breakdown of the calculations so I don't know how accurate the estimate is.

8. Alex
That was actually for both human and horse armies. Creveld calls it "flight forward" because armies were like locusts that couldn't return along the same path without starving. That said horses do eat a lot more, and their needs are somewhat specialized as they prefer oats. Humans can eat oats but prefer to grow wheat for the higher yield. Hence it could be troublesome to find enough fodder for the cavalry.


The horses are good PR for the Police (except when they are charging down miners of course). Little kids are impressed. Even if the rider doesn't wave back (the dignity of the force you know) they will stand and watch them disapear into the distance. At that age no one wants to be a police officer because they saw one wearing sunglasses in an Astra.


# 22, 23
No Caltrops won't work.
Large Marbles will, though!

As everyone else has said, it's nothing to do with Britain being a technical Monarchy (Think about having a President instead, and shudder ...(Bush, Sarkozy, Nixon ..)and itIS to do with effective crowd-control.
There are two ways of totally distracting a police horse.
ONE: Have a load of "Pony-Cubes" in your pockets, and hold your hands out.
Th 'osses will lose interest in anything except the munchies.
TWO: Get a side of (Cotswold) Morris-dancers. The synchonised waving hankies spook the horses completely.
I saw this happen outside the Tower (of London) once - the mounted policewoman got control back, about 200 metres down the road, after the 'oss bolted into the traffic.


Ian #22- its usually spelt Caltrop.


Well, given that the Garde Republicaine has a whole cavalry regiment (around 120 horses at their barracks in Paris and more in the countryside) I doubt that getting rid of the royals would mean getting rid of the horses. Presidents like a little pomp too.


Apparently (from chatting to police) the rule of thumb is that, for crowd control, one mounted copper is worth twenty on foot. And since each horse costs less than its rider per year, that makes them fairly cost-effective if you are planning on doing a bit of crowd control work. I'm actually surprised that L&B has as few as eight.


I remember the Challenge Cup semi-final at Huddersfield a few years back when the Hull fans invaded the pitch, and WYP staged a sort of mini-Orgreave cavalry charge across the McAlpine Stadium. It made great TV...of a sort. Although, the chief effect was to break up the mob, and they still had to chase off a lot of individuals - I remember one guy in particular eyeballing a police dog at eye level.


The city I work in, New Haven, has 5 horses in the police department for a city of 125,000. You see them sometimes in parks or on the Green. We haven't had any riots since the 70s, so I can't say how effective they are for that...


The horse thing is all about survival. Think about it, if the shit goes down and civilisation is in turmoil the police may have to fend for themselves for untold periods of time. In such a situation they can eat bits of the horse, sleep in it a la Han Solo in Empire Strikes Back and make hats from its skin in case rampaging mobs of zombies/mutants/oil-hungry, leather-clad bikers should steal their proper ones. Could you do all that with a chopper?

C'mon Charlie, it's not rocket science :)


I live in one of the most deprived wards in the south west, just to intimidate the local scrotes and never do wells, Avon and Somerset Police send the mounted police into the estate on a bi-monthly makes a pleasant change to hear the merry clip clop of a horses hooves on gouged, oil speckled tarmac against the rip rouring buzz of unregulated motobikes ridden by drug fuelled, half witted, illiterate, estate inbreds....more horses please.


(Lateral thinking) See, deadtree books will be around for quite a while.

Crowd control:

Wasn't there an announcement recently, that there was a working exoskeleton for military applications, running on battery power for 3 hours and maybe more later, with some room spare for more equipment(or batteries)? A few of those toys, maybe blown up to 2.5m in size (about 8 feet), could probably be just as impressive as mounted police. With economies of scale kicking in at some point, the price would probably sink below $100,000 a piece. I don't know if I like this idea though.



Damn you with the Creveld recommendation - there goes my spending discipline for the month, and payday was just today...


(I guess you've read his book on the IDF already, but it's the first thing I read, several years back now, to have pointed out that the Israeli experience in Lebanon in the 80s had turned their armed forces into a paper tiger.)


Another reason: like dogs, police horses are plausibly deniable. Which is why you're heard of Blair Peach but not Kevin Gately.

"synchonised waving hankies spook the horses completely". Not very often. Compare and contrast Household Cavalry horses with Met ones. I saw a bunch of the former spooked by a banner at a gay pride march one - the buggers (and they are big . . .) were panic-clopping my way in a worrying fashion. The Met horses were not spooked at all.

I may perhaps have seem Met horses in action in anger, and I can tell you that the sound of some hippie whining "Don't hurt the horses, man, they're animals - it's not their fault" as several tons of armoured horsemeat heads towards you at 15mph is one of the most irritating sounds in the whole universe.

£480,000 is pretty cheap for a helicopter. Do they time-share it?


Kevin Gately was immortalised in verse by the late Adrian Mitchell, thusly:

'I haven't heard many moderates lately,

Mention the name of Kevin Gately.

The student who, so the coroner said,

Died of a moderate blow to the head'.


I didn't realise only a minority of UK Police forces had horses. I see them fairly often in Nottingham, where they regularly leave piles of shite in pedestrianised areas. Main duty seems to be crowd control at football matches and trotting round town in the evening after.


If it's any consolation, David, when the game at Leicester's bigger than the game at Nottingham, they leave the piles of shite here instead.


Actually Charlie, I'm rather immersed in police technology right now, albeit for 1855-1975 - but the ideas are all there already (and, by the end, so is the operation requirement for Airwave). If you want to chat about it, get in touch with the work email. Got any dates in Mercia in the next couple of months?


In Hinds county Mississippi, the sheriff's department maintains a unit of horses. Usually they're used for PR/crowd control at the state fair, search and rescue (because despite having the capital city, we're still pretty rural) as well as riding down escapees from the state prison (one county over) and the county lock up.

In short, the beasts do still have their uses.


The City of Los Angeles has mounted police, mostly for crowd control, but I do see them occasionally clopping through downtown.


RE: Red Wolf #10

talking about missed opportunities for a picture. I was driving by a Krispy Kreme a year or so back and I saw an officer on horseback alongside another horse sans rider.

everyone in the car was rolling with laughter.


Toronto maintains a number of mounted police, mostly for crowd control, which includes 'expected pedestrian throng' areas in the summer. It's a lot easier to ask the officer which way to the whatever if you can see them. (And you can see them; they appear so use huge warmbloods exclusively.[1])

There was an incident where someone committed purse-snatching in a large park that happened to have a mounted policeman in it, about five years back; said individual made the poor tactical choice of trying to run away across the park. This resulted in a demonstration of how humans can't beat a horse in a sprint, and that the Toronto police do train the horses to shoulder-check fleeing people. (The officer explained that the horses never get to do that; they practice it, but he couldn't recall the last time it was used. The horse was extremely pleased, and expected to remain so for days.)

So far as I can tell, the combination of overt crowd handling training and worrying about the horse tends to improve police conduct so far as the mounted unit goes.

[1] a warm blood is a cross between a thoroughbred and a draft horse. Thoroughbreds have effectively infinite enthusiasm and no detectable sense; draft horses generally not much enthusiasm and lots of sense. I've been told that the police are a major customer for the 'draft horse sense' quarter of the warmbloods. (the thoroughbred sense quarter and the some sense, some enthusiasm half tend to go to people who want to jump fences.)


The US Park Police have a Horse Mounted Unit here in Washington, DC, and they provide not only crowd control but also "horses for the President and the first family".


I was impressed to learn a few years ago that when the Queen visits, she is supposed to be provided with a freshly-installed, never-before-used toilet in case she needs to spend a penny. Won't be invited round my place in a hurry.


Horses for crowd control - definitely. I had a ring-side seat of a cavalry charge back in the 80s. About 20 or 30 mounted coppers vs several thousand demonstrating students who were blocking up the southern approaches to Westminster Bridge. The students and the unmounted cops (who had formed a shieldline across the bridge to stop the demonstration from approaching any closer to Parliament) had been stalemated for at least an hour when the decision to charge the marchers with mounted police was taken.

The police cavalry started at the north end of Westminster Bridge and they cleared the entire demonstration in the time it took them to canter to the roundabout beyond St Thomas' hospital. The student demonstrators, who had been pretty disciplined up until that point, parted like the Red Sea and then just melted away.

It was a very impressive evolution.



The Helsinki police force (in Finland) has 10 horses. They are used mainly in crowd control but also in publicity events.

I just saw two of them today, I think they were patrolling because of a demonstration.


You never know, we may end up using horses for getting around if things carry on the way that they are. It might be worth keeping one just in case. You don't have to do scoop-a-poop with horses - yet. Might be a bit messy.


Rats Trading Stocks(of the rodent variety) Yes, I know it's random, but it's sufficiently cool/funny that I just had to post here, for the scifi factor and the tongue-in-cheek beauty of it.

I look forward to our new conflict-of-interest-free rat hedge fund managers, I guess we don't even need rats, nerve cells in a petri dish would suit me just fine.


A number of cities and towns in the United States have mounted patrols:

Another cost associated with such patrols is when the horses have to retire and then are turned out to pasture.

Bruce T.


Susana - better to keep keep two, one of each.

As it happens (for some reason, probably to do with the phrase 'Saudi Arabia') today I was wondering how good horse-drawn agriculture could get, if you combined it with modern agronomy and materials. Nylon harnesses, carbon fibre mouldboards, GPS on the plough... Obviously, it's not going to beat throwing diesel at the problem, but I bet we could get better returns than in 1925.


Well, if there's only eight of them, then they seem to spend all their time hanging around the Hearts stadium in Gorgie... or at least it seems that way from the amount of crap I have to step around every morning.

@26: Errr... on average, considered harmless and a bit of a joke? Opinions vary, mind you.


Around here (Buenos Aires) a lot of non-police people have horses, apparently because they're cheaper to maintain than pickup trucks. Presumably this depends on the availability of pasture and stable space, and for these folks, exercise isn't a cost of having a horse, it's what you have the horse for. Is Lothian and Borders a particularly urban area?

I think it's a bit bogus to account for the officer's salary as part of the cost of the horse. Is there a police officer who does nothing but care for the horse 40 hours a week? Or are we talking about a guy who's mostly doing normal policey things, but seated on top of a horse?


The police have horses around here (here being in Poland, Warsaw) too. Last year I used to cycle to work about a dozen km and I saw them on patrols on a regular basis, especially in parks. My husband just suggested that maybe the guys just wanted to be prepared in case the queen ever visited :]


Cuz worked with the Edinburgh horses - lots of crowd control work at football matches.

Ben @ 26 - I'm from Northern Ireland and actually like the monarchy. I think it's a good idea to have a political power centre that is not totally beholden to politicians (theoretically speaking, of course), and can oppose them with public support. The balance is that the monarchy can be removed with the support of the politicians and public - theoretically mitigating against extremism in both centres of political power.


Doowop at #6:

In mid-late 14th c. England, the king paid daily wages in this range:

Cheapest infantry (such as lightly armed Welsh spearmen: 2d
Archers on foot 3-6d
Fully armored men-at-arms without horses (rare, because they couldn't march far or fast, but sometimes used for garrison defence) 8p

Hobilars (partially armored men on cheap sturdy horses or archers similarly mounted) 6-8d
Mounted, fully armored men-at-arms on warhorses: 12d
Knight 24d

From here:

Will McLean


I heard a few stories after the big protest against the ban on fox-hunting.

Horses don't work so well to control crowds who are used to them.

And I don't suppose the police dogs were so impressive for anyone used to being around a pack of foxhounds.


Kragen #63- Lothian and Borders is in sheer area, mostly rural, but the population is concentrated in towns and the city of Edinburgh. The horses have probably never been used outside the city, and as has been said by Charlie, they are mostly used for crowd control and ceremonial duties. The policem and women who use them will almost certainly have normal duties, because they are not on patrol every day of the week, but there will also be one or two people whose job is mostly made up of caring for the horses. Like having a mechanic for your helicopter.

Chris Williams #60- I don't quite see what the advantage of a gps or nylon webbing is when ploughing. After all ropes and chains aren't that hugely heavy, moreover a cabron fibre mouldboard might be lighter and thus help with stamina, but does the weight not help keep the plough on an even keel as it were, and also the abrasion might be quite high. Moreover, if you do have to use horses to plough, you aren't going to find many places to make your cabron fibre board. AS for GPS, I thought the idea was to plough nice straight furrows, so whilst it might be useful for keeping track of where you have sprayed fertiliser, I don't see how it is any use in ploughing.


Police in former Czechoslovakia have them for crowd control too.

Personally, I enjoy them more in the "spicy horsemeat goulash" cans I often eat on weekends. Tastes better than pork, and it's cheaper.


@7: That has to be the funniest (bordering on incredibly stupid) picture I've seen in quite a while.


The local police in my neck of the woods maintains a mounted patrol.

Police Using Unconventional Means is the podcast I am referring to. During this podcast, one of the officers discussed an incident during the St. Patrick's Day Parade a couple years back involving a lost child. These parades are a massive and often disruptive mess downtown having worked security for six years before moving onward to better things. In any case, a lost child in a crowd of thousands is a perfect nightmare.

The child noticed one of the mounted officers and made their way to him. Once in contact with the mounted officer, the child was taken to the command post and eventually reunited with their parents.

A second point. The mounted patrols are very popular in Kansas City's Crossroad's Art District for First Fridays. Popular with artisans and the general community, they often keep things tolerable on what could otherwise by a rather nasty Friday night.

And, umm, they do it without stepping on people.

So the horses have their uses. Some people are naturally drawn to them and more likely to respond to an officer on horseback (I am one of those people though I am not in the habit of provoking police into shooting/beating/tasering me by acting like an ass or waving a picket sign in their face).

More to the point, in a world were many are obsessed with getting of the petroleum standard, horses are an economical means of travel in that they consume no gasoline. They don't have a Jesus nut nor require hundreds of hours of labor to keep them operational (unlike the helicopter unit). And best of all, when they do pass on, they are biodegradable.

S. F. Murphy


Chris @ 61: Crop yields in 1925 were about as good as you can get with throwing massive amounts of fertilizer and fuel into the mix. Farm machinery essentially hasn't changed in the past century, except that it's gotten heavier and burns diesel instead of oats. Five-year crop rotation hasn't changed at all since the Industrial Revolution. And you can't lighten a plow or combine because you need the weight to keep the machinery from bouncing around.

There are advantages to small-field and organic (Or just low-chemical) farming, but your crop yield goes way down. Cheap food requires cheap energy - For machinery, irrigation, and fertilizer.


Forgot to add this: If you can manufacture lots of cheap nylon fibre and carbon-fibre materials, and cheap electronics for GPS units, you don't need horses for agriculture. You've got fuel to burn.


Until they were, effectively forced off their in-town brewery site by a corrupt local council, Young's Brewery in Wandsworth (just S. of the river in London) used horse-drwan brewery drays for all pub-deliveries within a 2-3 mile radius of the brewery.
They'd worked out (or rather John Young had got the accountant to work out - though he thought it might be so ...) that Hosrses were CHEAPER than lorries in that range.
They lasted 20 years, they were friendly, etc.
It hepled that the brewery site was an old one, and had the original stables still there, and refurbed internally to madern standards.
For that matter, the stables are still there, as the council and developers, in their greed and stupidity forgot about the grad II* and Grade I listing of some of the brewery buildings and equipment ....
Like this:


Thorne @71: it may look comical, but that's only because segways make anyone riding them look like a Loony Tunes character. When you stop to think about the implications ...

In the old days, before they had patrol cars and two-way radio, British police used whistles to summon assistance. And it was SOP on hearing a whistle to walk towards the disturbance. Why walk rather than run? Well, an officer who has just run half a mile with full kit will not be cool, collected, and ready to take names and kick ass; they'll be hot and flustered.

Those segways allow the SWAT team to deploy around a large pedestrianized area (in this case, an Olympic center a couple of miles across) at the equivalent of a fast sprint. They give them 360-degree vision and a platform a foot higher than the civilians around them. They're nearly silent, and I wouldn't be surprised if those cops weren't trained to shoot without dismounting.

For that kind of job, they've got a huge edge over bicycles (the next alternative), roller blades, or doing it on foot. So: looks comical, but probably highly effective. And ...

... For the next step: add remote control from a control center via TETRA or similar, webcams, and a taser. Can you spell "police support robot"? I knew you could!


The £30K a year cost seems surprisingly high.

A decent riding horse might cost a few £K, and have a useful in service life of 10years or so; start aged 4 or 5, retire aged 15 to 20, so the initial cost is neither here nor there. The police horses are selected to be physically imposing, trainable and steady, but they don't need to be great athletes.

I can give some numbers about the cost of keeping other horses. Keeping a horse at an eventing competition yard costs maybe £700/month, depending on how famous the headline rider is. In a year this comes to £8.4K. This excludes vet's bills and shoeing, but covers food, routine care, exercise and schooling for the horse. Shoeing is £80 every 5 weeks, say £1K a year. Vet's bills, assuming no big injuries or other crisis, might be £500 a year. All up, I can't see why it should cost more than £10K a year.

At a more basic level, assuming the officer did some of the care and schooling themselves, full livery at many commercial stables is somewhere round £100 a week, so you might get an all up cost of £6K to £7K.

All in all, it looks like they could seriously reduce costs without risk to the welfare of the horses.


That's very interesting - horses used to be a lot more expensive to keep than people. Now they are not, it would seem. I would imagine that the main sunk cost of the police horse is training it: also, it's got to be out every Saturday (or there's no point in having it) so you need to keep several spates. The main ongoing cost is likely to be the woman on top of it - hard to roster them if they are looking after the horse as well, so they're effectively working with the horse whenever it's out, but not much in between.

Police whistles were innovative in their day - before, the default was a rattle, which served as a multi-function device.


The Oslo police has 15 police horses, according to the "Friends of the Police Horses" web page. I don't think any other force in Norway has any.

Demonstrators there have at least once used another way of severely inconveniencing the horses - rolling burning car tyres at them. (It's a pity in such cases that the police is unarmed.)

An interesting legal tidbit is that "violence against public servant" applies regardless of whether the police officer who gets assaulted is human, horse or dog.


Ian M @73: I recommend you read "The Omnivore's Dilemma". I'm half-way through it at present, and it includes a very interesting section on a farm that uses intensively managed stock rotation to maximise the productivity of farmland: cows only grazed on a field for a few days, followed by chickens that eat the flies and parasites from the cowshit (reduces the need for pesticides) and add nitrogen to the soil in a slow-release fashion. Plus sundry other on-site "recycling" systems. They're talking multiples of the yield from normal cow-in-field agriculture, with fewer inputs and less run-off. It's seriously thought-provoking stuff.


every one has been chatting, happily about smiley police horse centaurs as if it doesn't matter that you have a 'crowd control' specialists wandering around among the tourists.

last year I was at Tate Modern, and came across an interactive piece involved a police horse herding around the art crowd, it wasn't funny, or big.

at least the cavalry only have big sticks, instead of sabres, so if there is a failure of communication things wont get too bad (peterloo anyone, and all its off spring)


Chris L @ 80: Read it. I liked it, but it was a little shallow.

The problem with a lot of the material about Exciting New Organic Farm Techniques is that it's produced by people with no background in history. The land management system you described isn't new. That's traditional mixed-use farming in North America and Europe. Note also that fields used to be smaller, and seperated by hedges/trees/creeks that supported other small animals that also helped break down waste. Other regions use a different mix of animals and plants, but the result is the same.

Crop yields pre cheap oil were about as good as you could get without throwing huge amounts of energy at the problem. Energy in the form of mass irrigation, fertilizers, pesticides, and mechanization to replace labour. The 'new' techniques for organic/mixed use/rotating field farming are just redevelopments of techniques used before cheap energy turned farming into mass production.

There's a limited amount of solar energy available for growth, the soil holds limited amounts of nutrients, and it's hard work getting the right amount of water to the right fields at the right time. There are hard physical limits to crop growth.

Look up traditional orchard management or how European commons were actually used (The so-called Tragedy of the Commons never happened). Pigs, chickens, goats, and cows were all brought into the crops on a regular basis. There is nothing new in organic farming, and we are not smarter than the peasant clans who tilled the same patch of soil for thousands of years.


Ian_M: I think the point is that the major non-substitutable energy input into modern farming is in the form of nitrogen fertilisers that are horribly expensive to make. But a ridiculously proportion of that fertiliser doesn't even stay in the soil or make it into a plant, and what does doesn't tend to stay on-farm. This is real elephant-in-room stuff for discussions of peak oil, as you probably know. The thing that interests me is that nitrogen added to agriculture doesn't actually vanish -- even if it's responsibly used and doesn't get washed into rivers, it passes through people and animals. What do we do with it then, attempt to suck it out of sewage streams and pour it somewhere it isn't actually wanted?

The Omnivores Dilemma may be a bit shallow, but I don't think I'll be eating meat if I visit the US of A...


Chris: Yeah, there are serious advantages to low-energy farming (Tastes great! Less poisony!), and it's a far more sustainable model than monoculture farming and the commoditization of food. But crop yields are lower, which means food prices go up.

At this point it's impossible to say how much food prices will go up. Part of low-energy farming is keeping food local, which means lower transportation costs. But when you reduce mechanization you increase your labour costs, and when you reduce irrigation you reduce crop yields and increase the time to grow that crop.

The farming techniques developed in the 18th through 19th Centuries are very very good. The crop yields are amazing. Continent-spanning empires have been built on less. I've looked at the work being done with GMed crops and attempts to use marginal land, and see nothing but short-term tiny increases in yield. Basically modern science is tinkering with the percentages of a system developed over centuries.

Here's my daily bad thought: The only way to produce cheap food for 6 500 000 000 + people is fossil-fuel driven monoculture. But there's a large body of evidence that suggests we're running out of cheap fossil fuels. And even if we weren't, oil-dependent agriculture is making us all sick.

I talk to anthropologists and ecologists. I trained as a historian. Every thing I know and every thing people tell me points to population overshoot.


Me n' all. Perhaps it's because historians tend to take a long view. On the other hand, C18th husbandry knowledge, plus modern materials, comms (C18th farmers didn't have weathersats or instant market info) and GM, might get us through the eye of the needle in time for the evident propensity for smaller families to save (most of) our sorry arses. Perhaps.


Ian, re-read the section of that book about Polyface farm, he's getting higher per-area yields than a conventional farm. Your daily bad thought occurs to me fairly often too, but the more I look into it the more I wonder about its inevitability. FWIW I am an ecologist :)

Transport of foods is a too-easy target for people with agendas; my other half does carbon accounting for a living, and apparently it's less energy intensive to buy New Zealand apples in the European winter than to buy a cold-stored European apple. The only people who say different are European orchardists... large ships are staggeringly efficient things (ship engines are the most efficient internal combustion engines ever made, just as a starting point), and failing that there are well-developed technologies for moving ships by wind energy. They're called sails, and they were used for industrial scale shipping on some routes right to the middle of the 20th C. I don't see the global distribution of goods going away any time soon.

How did we get here from Police horses?


Polyface Farm is also labour intensive, and is located on prime agricultural land. It's a well-run farm, but it's not a new green revolution.

I agree that the food-miles idea is easily abused, but it is useful. I consider greenhouse construction to be part of the food miles/food energy consideration. All that glass, aluminum, and plastic has to come from somewhere. The real solution is to buy local produce and preserve it (Or grow your own). But a lot of people live in areas that are barely habitable without imported food. I'm an apartment-dweller in western Canada, and use my parents' garden to grow produce. If I were to convert their entire lawn into an intensive mixed-use plot (Root vegetables, fruit bushes, and chickens, given the soil and water) it would be just possible to produce enough food for myself and my parents over the winter. And that would be a horribly minimal diet - Potatoes, onions, carrots, beets, and sauerkraut for seven months. My Native ancestors didn't live here full time until my European ancestors forced them off the really good land.

Sails are slow, and (Again) labour intensive. It's less energy intensive to ship food by sail - And better for the oceans - but food brought in by sailing ship is expensive. Storage, preservation, and labour costs add up. I agree that global distribution of food isn't going away (The ancient spice routes have lasted since prehistory) but that doesn't mean cheap food is eternal.

I have no idea how we got here from police horses, but it's been an interesting conversation.


Ian: See if you can find any information about the Preussen. She was the largest sailing ship (a barque, technically) ever built, but otherwise similar to the all-steel ships that were in common use on the routes that went around Cape Horn -- either to Chile for nitrates, or via Oz for grain. Slow they definitely weren't, average speeds were up there with modern container ships. The thing that killed them off was their inability to use the newly-opened Panama and Suez canals (more because of the sailing conditions at each end than because of the canals themselves).


On farming and insolation: an important point to bear in mind is that chloroplasts are appallingly inefficient solar cells -- IIRC they're roughly 0.5% efficient at converting sunlight into usable energy.

Current agricultural practices are dependent on fossil fuel for two purposes: transportation/power, and fertilizers/chemical industry by-products. The former can plausibly be replaced by local high-efficiency photovoltaic power (with electrolyte flow batteries to store the electricity until it's needed): how often does a tractor need to drive more than ten miles away from its farm? The latter is more of a problem with current chemical industry practices, but we're currently seeing such an explosion in genomics that I think all bets are off within a 10-15 year time frame in terms of the source of feedstock for agricultural fertilizers, insecticides, lubricants, plastics, and so on.

I'm also interested in the whole Vertical Farming idea. Rather than going organic, why not go intensive -- with the aim of minimizing land area utilization? The open fields are far more efficiently utilized by photovoltaic cells, if we can stack the food production apparatus vertically and do most of it via hydroponics (with water recycling between stages).

Finally, global warming: the one good side-effect of a 4 degree rise would be that most of Siberia and Canada suddenly become useful. We lose the agricultural capacity of most of the USA, India, China, and Africa -- but we gain the largest and third-largest continents. If we can figure out what to use them for ...


A fairly intensively cultivated Allottment can feed a family for 95% of the year with 95% of the Veg they need.
I actually have one (slightly undersize to the standard ~10x30 metres) and the only "artificial" input is SLUG PELLETS.

Thanks to co-operative arrangements, a lot of manure (stable-stuff & semi-charred recycled biodegrded council-collected waste) is available and used. I also collect similar, when out in the car....
If I really had to, I could probablly do without buying any veg AT ALL from shops, and as it is, I buy very little.

1. Ground area available, particularly in large urban conurbations.
2. It's hard work
3. It DOES require sensible co-operation - especially from local politicians (one reason, among many, that I think Seb Coe should be hanged)...

P.S. @ 82
The Tragedy of the Commons did happen, and can happen again. Other examples include offshore fish-exploitation, for instance
It requires the "wrong" set of circumstances, and it then self-feeds in a destructive feedback loop.


Charlie @89:
"Finally, global warming: the one good side-effect of a 4 degree rise would be that most of Siberia and Canada suddenly become useful."

I dunno what Siberian soils are like, but my understanding is that most of the good stuff in Canada ended up south of the 49th parallel after the last ice age - the Canadian Shield is mostly crap for agriculture. Also the Peters projection tells us that sub-boreal land area isn't as big a friend as we might suppose.

Our descendants aren't going to be in a position to be choosy mind, so every little will help.



Greg @ 90:

But offshore fish-exploitation isn't a commons ...

The trouble with the "Tragedy of the Commons" argument was that it fails to explain how commons worked, instead arguing only that they couldn't ... despite being in existence for thousands of years.

The point being, "commons" actually had rules against overuse. While not legislated, you didn't get to bring huge herds there and abandon them for weeks before the locals did something about it; people worked together for combined benefit. The original "tragedy of the commons" argument was, not surprisingly, promoted at the time of enclosures as an excuse to steal common land.


re: human behaviour that opens the nitrogen cycle.
I think that we have discussed this before, but certainly an attempt was made in Paris in the 19thc to join up sewage disposal and 'sub'urban market gardens. I seem to remember the problem was too much fertiliser. But the sums can't be that hard can they?. Chanllenge now would be to market such organic local food! One technical problem would be that the processing of such liquid waste (to make it safe), reduces its fertilizer potentail.


1. Ships use very nearly worthless residual oil. It's called residual oil for a reason.
2. If you run them fairly slowly the fuel used goes down as a square/cube effect.
3. If the ship is large you also get a square/cube effect.
4. Large, slow, ships can be steam powered by electrically heated thermal storage media and still cross an ocean.


Charlie #89- a number of people have been going "Great, we could grow wheat in Canada when it warms up."

The small problem with this is the lack of soil suitable for growing wheat etc.
Sure, they could truck it in, at vasy cost and all the rest of it, but somehow I think we all agree its better to avoid the warming. Oh, wait, Luke Silburn got there before me.

Maggie #93- wouldn't processing of waste for safety purposes fit nicely in with biogas production?

Alastair #92- exactly, people wibble on about the tragedy of the commons and ignroe the reasonably successful local democracies/ habits which made them work.


Charlie @ 89: "how often does a tractor need to drive more than ten miles away from its farm?"

Your Scottish roots are showing. North American family farms are huge, and the large corporate operations are downright gargantuan. My uncle's homestead (House, 'lawn', outbuildings, and storage for vehicles and tools) is larger than Edinburgh's Old Town. I can't remember the exact acreage, but looking at Google maps the farm itself is about half the size of Edinburgh and suburbs, and not all the land is contiguous. The town where he gets the tractors serviced is about as far from his home as Bilston is from Princes Street Gardens.

And Canada already is one of the world's major producers of grains. Warming the central regions will simply extend the Palliser Triangle. The last thing we need in these parts is another dustbowl. The land is much better suited for ranching or forestry.

Greg @ 90: What Alistair @ 92 said. Common land is bound by limits to use, and the locals get really nasty if anyone steps over those limits. Offshore fishing is set up as strip-mining a resource, not as a commons.

"A fairly intensively cultivated Allottment can feed a family for 95% of the year with 95% of the Veg they need."

An intensively cultivated garden can provide a family with 90% of the vegetables they need for five months of the year - Provided they don't want any citrus fruits, tomatoes, tree nuts, or anything else that requires long growing seasons or warm nights, and they don't mind increasing their water bill by 25% to 75% (Depending on irrigation methods used). I'd love to live in a better climate.


Edit - I forgot that my uncle recently picked up some land from his neighbors. His farm is actually about the size of Edinburgh as a whole.


Charlie @89: Are you entirely sure about that figure? Bearing in mind that what chloroplasts actually do is fix carbon, not energy. A friend of mine once came up with a song called the Photorespiration Blues, to be sung in the character of the Mexican folksinger Rubisco, but those limits apply much less to C4 plants, and don't really slow down C3 plants in wet climates.

Maggie @93: Human waste has traditionally been used as fertiliser in parts of Asia where they cultivate fish by the local productivity of large shallow ponds. That probably isn't scalable, but it is suggestive.


Chris L @ 88: I've looked up the Preussen. It had the same problem as the other ships of the windjammer era: Fast as hell, brilliantly designed, but dependent on weather conditions. Under the right conditions they were faster than the steamships, but the steamships still outperformed them. A steamship could keep the same schedule year round, regardless of the winds. If the only advantage to steamships (And later diesel ships) was their ability to use the new great canals, the shipyards would have built windjammers capable of handling the canals.

But windjammers were in use until the mid-20th Century serving marginal routes. I suspect that a clever shipping line owner could figure out how to make them work today. They just wouldn't be able to compete with powered ships on absolute reliability of service.

Remembered this just before hitting send:

It's going to be really interesting to see how these work as a supplement to the usual ship engines.


This site calculates the efficiency of photosynthesis as approx. 6.6%; this other site calculates the maximum efficiency under optimal conditions as 8-9%.

Interestingly, both calculations seem to assume a quantum efficiency of near 100%; ISTR a book I read a few years ago that claimed 95-98%. So if we could harness the same quantum processes that convert photons to free electrons in an artificial system that had efficient storage, all we'd lose would be the fraction of light at wavelengths that don't excite photosynthesis, giving over 40% potential efficiency.


Ian @99: No. It isn't the canals that are the problem, it's the fact that they're both located in near-equatorial locations with fickle winds, and have long approaches through notoriously difficult areas at either one end (Panama) or both ends (Suez). Bear in mind also that large sailing ships had to pay ruinously high rates for tugs in an era when motorised ships were smaller and didn't generally need them.

Using the same routes, those ships were as fast and as reliable as the contemporary motorised ships. But increasingly they couldn't use the same routes. I'm not saying ship propelled 100% by sail is a likely sight on our oceans, but this whole story about "sailing ships were slow and inefficient" is just a little bit too simple.


"It isn't the canals that are the problem, it's the fact that they're both located in near-equatorial locations with fickle winds"

So yes, it's the canals that are a problem for wind-powered ships. Because you can't move the canals, and the windjammers can't compete without using those routes.

If the windjammers were just as reliable as diesel powered ships, then why did they die out on routes that don't rely on the canals? I never said sailing ships were inefficient (I'm willing to bet that on a full energy-accounting, they'd be more efficient than a diesel ship) but every single reference I can find indicates that diesel ships are more reliable*. A ship that's supposed to come in on the 23rd of May with a load of iron will come in on the 23rd of May. Not the 24th, or maybe even the 22nd if the winds are good.

And there are other measures of efficiency than just energy-accounting. It's inefficient for a ship to come in early and have to spend a few days waiting for a berth to clear up. It's inefficient to have to plan a shipping schedule around a window of a few days rather than a few hours.

I do think that sail will play a major role in future shipping. But it won't replace powered transportation, and it won't offer a seamless and pain-free way to continue our current model of global trade.

* I'm curious as to your sources. Who are you reading?


Ian: there's plenty of ports where ships might have to wait a few days to load even if they do come in on time... but obviously that's not your point. Modern ships on long-distance routes don't operate on a to-the-minute schedule, they're routed to avoid bad weather or take advantage of tail-winds.

I haven't done any in-depth reading on this, I'll confess. My prejudices are mostly shaped by reading Alan Villier, who would have admitted to being biased. I'm just always irritated by the assumption that a shortage of oil will lead to the end of global goods transport, when in reality that's the area where the easiest and most highly-developed alternatives exist.


I don't assume that global trade will end (Short of a human extinction vortex, but that's a bit unlikely at the moment), but the current model of global trade is ending. The current model depends on economic, political, and technological conditions that are falling apart. The next model...

... I have no idea. No one does, really. By the time we can actually say what it is, our grandchildren will consider it to be the completely natural and inevitable way that trade has to happen. And they'll consider our current model to be just as outdated as we think mercantilism is.


@ 100
Assumptions - too many of them.
The problems with artificial photosynthesis (AP) are, among others:
Keeping it going. We can do AP for a few minutes, at ridiculous efficiencies, then the system gums up with "waste" products, and shuts down.
Gewtting the thin-film applications to work properly, with internal chemical transport, without serious power-input - see above.
First-cost of materials and construction of modules AT PRESENT is way too high.
Other strategies, utilising other reactions ARE possible for AP, and are being researched - but - which one to pick?
Personally, I think we are less than 10 years away from a real cost-and-effeiciency breakthrough, as there are teams working seriously on this at some of the best physics/electronics/biology Unis around (Imperial, Berkeley, and IIRC CalTech) - but we'll have to wait and see.


Ian: possibly the main cause of waiting was, until the downturn, market trading. That is, a buyer would purchase a load of goods and ship them to Europe, and the ship may end up waiting outside port for days, waiting for the market price to go up.

The sailors may not even have a fixed destination when the ship sets sail (eg. "Europe", probably Rotterdam; await further instructions"). Obviously this depends on the goods: not likely for shipping containers or food, highly likely for oil ...


Alastair @ 106:

No. Most commercial ocean shipments (both of finished goods and of raw or semi-processed materials, other than a few types of bulk raw materials) move via tightly scheduled "liner service" which meets modern commercial demand for highly predictable transit times. (Think components for just-in-time manufacturing, this season's fashions for previously scheduled in-store on-sale dates, canned foods to replenish your local grocery store's shelves, etc.)

A typical medium-large containerized linehaul vessel in a major trade lane may carry, at any given time, perhaps five thousand separate metal containers (each 20 or 40 feet long, 8 feet wide, 8.5 to 9.5 feet high), each full of goods. Adjusting for both multi-container shipments, and multiple smaller shipments consolidated into a single container, yields at least three or four thousand distinct shipments, for at least a thousand separate consignees, at least half of whom are demanding delivery no later than the day before the vessel is scheduled to arrive. (At least half of the rest are requesting unlimited free storage upon vessel arrival, but that's another matter.)

There is a very high level of commercial pressure on ocean common carriers to provide highly predictable (as distinct from merely fast) transit times. The exceptions tend to be for large (one shipment fills an entire vessel) shipments of fungible bulk raw materials, with delivered unit values which fluctuate significantly by both time and place of delivery. However, even crude oil in bulk is mostly delivered to its originally scheduled destination, as close to the planned arrival date as the shipping line can get it there.

As an additional indication of the incentives for on-time arrival, take a look at your current local Longshoreman's Union contract, and calculate the total cost per hour of having a longshore crew standing around waiting for the vessel to arrive . . .


Alastair @ 106: There was some of that in the days before ship-to-shore communications, but it was risky as Hell. People would gamble on the price of a commodity, knowing that (for example) the Thanagarian Star had 15 tons of spice in its hold, and the shipowner or cargo owner would join in on the speculation, but consider the risks:

You have no way of knowing if the cargo has been decimated by spicemice.

You have no way of knowing if another ship is about to come in with 20 tons of fine Thanagarian spice. Look up Joshua Abraham Norton, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico.

You may well be the cargo owner, and you may well have inspected the cargo yourself, and there very well be no other shipments coming in... But you still don't control all the other speculators in the market. For all you know they may very well decide to invest in tulips instead of spice.

Other ship owners and investors used to spy on people who went out to inspect cargoes, and bribed ship's crew for information. When large shipments came in people would spy on the ship with telescopes, have the ship owners and investors followed, track where they sent messengers and how many messengers sent, send salesmen to the owner's house to try and sell them expensive new goods (If the household bought new silver plate, that was a very good sign).

And as Leroy points out, the sailors and labourers expect to get paid. If you want them to hang around waiting for the right moment for you to flood the market, expect to pay through the nose.


Continuing my tradition of forgetting important points:

Any ship's captain who set sail with a course for London... Or maybe Amsterdam... The Hell with it, let's try Le Havre... Would quickly find himself swimming home.

The large pre-telecom sailing ships followed set trading routes (With reasonable allowances for contract changes or bad weather). Sailors knew exactly how much food and drink could be packed in the hold, and exactly how far that would take them. They also had families in the various ports who needed the money brought in by the sailors. And no one wants to set sail and hear the captain say "Do any of you boys speak Frisian? No? Ooooh, too bad.".

Smaller ships often picked up small cargoes bound for a different port each time, but you can't speculate on that sort of delivery. You invested in a small cargo of artichokes out of Jerusalem, but it's too minor for the main shipping companies to deal with so you have to hope your agent in Jerusalem can find a reliable small-ship captain. And even in the days of telegraph, all you know is that the ship left on 23rd of May, the weather is supposed to have been average, so the cargo will probably come sometime around the 19th of June* plus or minus a few days. Unless the captain sells the artichokes at another port, or the ship sinks, or the artichokes were improperly stored and are now a vermin-infested pile of goo.

* Take these dates with several grains of salt.


Ian_M, Leroy Berven: my informant was a sailor, and you can guess what kind of ship he was based on: as you said, a bulk dry cargo ship. The choice of port / when to dock wasn't his, or the captains, it was the owner of the cargo.

The waiting happens at both ends: you can find a ship sitting outside an african port awaiting a potential cargo to arrive. Outside the port, the owners didn't have to pay berthing fees, or longshoremen. With pissed off sailors in 40 degree heat, two miles from a bar ...

Modern ship-to-shore communications means _different_ speculation happens. These days with dry goods the ownership of a cargo can change hands several times mid voyage. If you predict a glut in the market in 10 days time when the ship arrives in London, you will look to move that cargo elsewhere. You may slow the ship (and save fuel), and arrive a day or two later. If you have several ships or cargos on the move, you sell a contract to deliver 5000 tonnes of rice arriving on the 20th in London, but you don't specify which ship ... it may be ship A thats just left Thailand, or it may be ship B currently in the Suez canal, originally destined for Rotterdam where the spot price has just collapsed. Its not the captain thats doing the trader, its the spot trader in the Baltic exchange in London.


Yeah, telecommunications makes a huge difference. Pre-wireless the idea of setting course for London but deciding to go to Rotterdam instead would have been hideously dangerous on several levels. The sort of decision made only under conditions of extreme need. Cargoes could change ownership during shipping, and the owner might even sell the ship, but the ship itself would still dock at its original destination. But as you said, with modern communications it's a whole new game.

And although they didn't have what we would consider to be hard and fast schedules, ship captains and owners (Usually different people) had ports of calls that they wanted to keep to, and seasonal goods at each port of call that kept them on a humanly reasonable schedule. A schedule based on seasonal or even yearly shifts in currents and winds, but still a schedule. Going off that schedule or away from your usual ports of call meant risking a lot of money. There could be no market for your cargo, or no new cargo to pick up, or there could be both but you'd be locked out of the market because you didn't know who to do business with. And when you're dealing with someone you don't know, there's always a risk of fraud.


So - we've never had an era when sailing merchant ships on any scale co-existed with reliable seagoing comms. I wonder also what modern spread-betting markets could do to arbitrage away some of the risk of your 20,000 just in time widgets being stuck in the Downs.

How big can a skysail get before it gets silly?


Never mind skysails ...
Why not use Flettner Rotors ?


Because Flettner rotors require engines to drive them, and the whole point of this conversation was to get away from that... also, as with conventional sails, they take up a lot of deck space which is thus unavailable for stacked containers or bulk cargo handling gear.


Charlie @89:

In the vertical farming scenario, what is the ultimate source of the nitrogen used? In intensive organic farming, much of the nitrogen can come from the atmosphere, fixed by cover crops which are then tilled in as "green manure." If the vertical farming uses hydroponic techniques, then the nitrogen must be in a simple water-soluble form. Assuming that we want our vertical farm to be sustainable, then presumably the nitrogen will ultimately be from the atmosphere, too, but it will require some intermediate purification steps of uncertain efficiency.

I'm also not clear how coverting sunlight to electricity via photovoltaics and then converting the electricity back to light in the vertical farm can be more efficient than just sticking the plants out in the sunlight.


If I had any spare cash, I'd be punting 10% of it in the vague direction of any biotech firm which purported to be working on GMing a cereal crop to allow it to fix its nitrogen from the atmosphere. OTOH, if I was a scam artists, I'd be setting up dummy front companies purporting to be just that.


Chris @112: Pretty big, I think, but they're designed as a complement to an engine rather than as a sole means of thrust. Among other things, maneuverability might be an issue... Check out photos of Maltese Falcon sailing. The Dynarig isn't perfect either (zero twist actually being an inefficient way to set sails), but it's push-button controlled from the bridge and creates lots of grunt. Having no stays it could be arranged to give easy access to deck cargo for a crane mounted on the dock, which is the real "deck space" issue with most sailing rigs.


I'm also not clear how coverting sunlight to electricity via photovoltaics and then converting the electricity back to light in the vertical farm can be more efficient than just sticking the plants out in the sunlight.

You're right; Charlie is wrong when he says "The open fields are far more efficiently utilized by photovoltaic cells, if we can stack the food production apparatus vertically and do most of it via hydroponics (with water recycling between stages)" because, of course, you've still got photosynthesis in the loop.

But vertical farming has other sources of energy efficiency:

a) Partly, you're saving energy by growing the food close to where it'll be eaten (low transport costs), and not needing to plough the fields etc.
b) By growing the plants indoors you can get more crops per year - effectively, you're using every bit of light you can get; a conventional farm in winter is wasting all the sunlight that falls onto its empty fields, because it's just too cold for plants to grow. Solar cells would produce less power in winter, but they'd still produce some, so you could keep your vertical farm going year-round. You also won't lose crops to disease, adverse weather or animals - another major cause of 'lost light'.
c) Also, there's no reason you have to get all the energy from solar cells rather than from other sources like wind and tidal.

If I had any spare cash, I'd be punting 10% of it in the vague direction of any biotech firm which purported to be working on GMing a cereal crop to allow it to fix its nitrogen from the atmosphere.

Lateral thinking: why not just punt it in the direction of a massive publicity campaign to get people to eat more beans and less wheat?



Ability to grow during the winter would be a plus. On the other hand, here in North Carolina, winter is when organic farmers grow nitrogen-fixing cover crops that they cut down in Spring. The fields are never really empty. I'd guess the same would be true over much of the UK and parts of continental Europe where the ground doesn't freeze.

I guess that gets back to the source of nitrogen for the vertical farm. If you are growing year round, you'll need nitrogen year round.


Why not "Eat more beans"? Partly out of respect for the memory of the old Oxford Circus mad guy, who was keen for us to eat less. But mainly because if I were an adman, I would find it very hard to pitch for a campaign whose hindbrain content was, essentially: "Primates! Ditch your status markers!"

I therefore prefer the idea of a simple techno-fix to a complex social engineering project. Which is, I concede the last two centuries in a nutshell.


The Copenhagen mounted police was disbanded in 1972. In 1998 it was reinstated as an experiment, and it quickly became obvious that it was rather useful, so the corps was reinstated. And not for ceremonial purposes.



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