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Cloud cuckoo politics

Our glorious prime minister, failed TV company marketing director David Cameron, has proposed banning all forms of encryption that can't be broken by the security services. I'm not the only person who thinks this policy is beyond bonkers and well into criminal insanity (even his own deputy prime minister has reservations), but for the record, let me lay out why this is such a bad idea.

0. It is already a criminal offense to refuse to disclose your encryption keys, or to decrypt an encrypted file, on receipt of a lawful order to do so by the police or a court, under powers granted by Part III of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (2000), in force since 2007. (Immediate consequences: paranoid schizophrenic jailed for refusal to decrypt his files. Apparently French anti-terrorism police became suspicious when he ordered a toy rocket motor. Strong encryption is the new tinfoil hat for technically ept paranoids: there's a human rights issue here. But I digress.) The point is, legal powers to essentially compel compliance with Cameron's goal already exist.

1. What Cameron is asking for, however, is a lot more drastic: the outlawing of endpoint-secured communications protocols. In other words, the government must be able to decrypt any encryption session used within the UK. This has drastic consequences which would, in my view, drastically undermine British national security (and cripple our IT industry).

What are these consequences?

2. If the government can decrypt an end-to-end encrypted session, then a third party can in principle use the same mechanism to decrypt it. (The third party could be a rogue government employee, or a crypto hacker.) This is not a hypothetical: it's intrinsic to how cryptography works. It's either secure against all third-party snoopers, or it isn't secure and will be cracked in time inversely proportional to the value of the data conveyed. Also, merely knowing that an encryption protocol has a weakness makes it easier to attack.

What sort of stuff would be at risk of third-party snooping by criminals or random hacker gangs like the denizens of 8chan or Anonymous?

3. Let's start with email. Not just your regular email: how about privileged lawyer/client communications? Internal transmission of confidential medical health records within the NHS backbone network? Your accounts, going to and from your accountant?

4. But email is only the tip of the iceberg. How about the encrypted web session you use to check your bank account? Or to pay your income tax? If you're a small business, the VATMOSS system is obviously a target—and a high value one, where an attacker could steal large amounts of money. Mandatory back doors in encryption imply weakening the security around the government's own tax-raising system. (Talk about sawing off the branch you're sitting on.)

Some systems require end-to-end encryption or they are simply too risky to permit. What are they?

5. Let's start with SCADA systems that control blast furnaces, nuclear reactors, water treatment plants, and factories. Then we can add other online systems: the in-cab signalling system used to deliver signals to drivers of trains on railway lines cleared for high-speed running, traffic signal boards on motorways, and in the not too distant future systems used by air traffic control for filing flight plans and transferring security-related passenger information.

We should then add online finance systems, from Paypal to the APACS credit card settlement system, the BACS payment system through which about 80% of the pay cheques in the UK are sent straight to the recipients' bank accounts, to inter-bank settlement and reconciliation, the share dealing system used by the London Stock Exchange, and every supermarket and wholesale warehouse inventory management and stock control/ordering system in the country.

What is the worst case outcome of mandating that the security around all these systems is weakened?

6. How about a group within 8chan deciding, purely for lulz, to scramble all the patient medical records accessible over the NHS Spine? Or that the Russian Mafia, who are already very much into cybercrime, hit the BACS system and use it to siphon off or scramble all payments going into the HMRC Income Tax accounts on January 31st?

Here's the key message that Cameron simply doesn't understand:

7. There is a trade-off between internal security and external security. You can have perfect security against message traffic between external hostiles if you ban encryption ... but by so doing, you destroy your internal security against attack from any direction at all. Or you can have total internal security with end-to-end encryption of all communications, and be pretty much immune to certain classes of hack attack, but lose the ability to listen for terrorist chatter. These two circumstances are opposite ends on a scale. You can adjust the balance between the two, but mandating either end of the scale is idiotic. Our prime minister has mistaken the rotating knob for a push-button with a binary on/off state. Hopefully his advisors will take him aside over the next few days and teach him better, or he'll lose the election this May. Either way, though, this proposal is disastrous and if it happens, well, I'll just have to get used to being a criminal.

321 Comments

1:

Don't forget, even if this was implemented (if such a thing were possible), it still wouldn't stop terrorists from communicating secretly.
Even ignoring the idea of just downloading encryption software from somewhere else, all terrorists need to do is talk face to face.
Or send each other letters encrypted with pen and paper cryptography, or to use pre-agreed innocuous code words (eg "pick up some milk on your way home" == "bomb the target"), or use a communications provider that no one is monitoring (Steam in-game chat?), or use it in an unusual way (spell out messages by shooing a wall in an FPS)....etc.
So, not only terrible for everyday citizens, also of no use in catching terrorists (except the really stupid ones).

2:

... The sheer stupidity of Cameron's proposal left me speechless, at first.

Then I realized that the only reason it would gain any traction would be if folks who knew better remained speechless.

Cory Doctorow is on the ball, as usual, but I suspect his voice is discounted in policy circles because he's a strong advocate for a maximalist civil liberties angle. He pegs down one corner of the Overton window and we need people who do that, but it'd be bad politics to base policy on an extreme position ... the same, from the government's point of view, probably goes for the Open Rights Group, Liberty, and the other pro-civil-liberties lobbyists.

There are others speaking out. Hopefully this will die. But for what it's worth, this is my contribution to the noise.

3:

Call me paranoid, but his proposition seems so dangerously ludicrous that it looks to be intentional. To wit, he'll walk back his drastic proposal to something that is relatively more "reasonable", which will be the unstated thing he really wanted in the first place. It's the oldest trick out there and we fall for it almost every time. Call me paranoid.

4:

The Greek wiretapping scandal happened because someone managed to subvert the wiretap capabilities in Vodafone's switches, and used it to listen in on members of the Greek government. A better illustration of "It's either secure against all third-party snoopers, or it isn't secure and will be cracked" could not be found.

You'd think that members of other countries' governments would take that sort of lesson more personally.

5:

My ghast has never been so absolutely flabbered.

Sounds like the usual kneejerk sound bite: 'something must be done', 'I've done something', 'good, something has been done'.

As always, thank you Charlie for elucidating the issues here so clearly - I will be forwarding your analysis to my local MP, you never know, they might get a clue and take this further. (Disclaimer: I don't 'do' politics, however I'm also no fan of the Russell Brand school of disengagement).

6:

This isn't going to change my vote in the election.

My current MP is one of those 2010 Tories who can't even be polite about non-Tory local councils in the constituency. Anything wrong, it's their fault. And he praises Mathias Rath for a bunch of crazy opinions. medical and political. In some ways the guy makes a UKIP supporter look sane.

I depend on doing bank stuff over the internet. David Cameron wants to kill my security. Even if he listens to his advisers now, why was he fool enough not to listen before he opened his mouth. Can we afford to take a chance on him?

7:

This reminds me of the time W said we were going to send men to Mars. People who knew better said, "no, we're really not", and the issue quietly died. In this case, it's the credit card companies who will speak the loudest.

8:

Admittedly my knowledge of crypto doesn't go much past getting to play with an Enigma machine* last Sunday, but even I can see how idiotic this idea is. For one thing, just how is it supposed to apply outside of the UK? Cameron just expects the rest of the world to go along?
The suggestion that it's intentionally over the top to be rolled back to something more 'reasonable' might make sense, but would Cameron be willing to make himself look so clueless in the meantime? Though he does seem to have a habit of doing that.

*apologies for the slight brag.

9:

The extreme "perfect security against message traffic between external hostiles if you ban encryption" doesn't exist.

You can ban encryption, but there is always steganography. I could hide an encrypted message, e.g. in the bottom-order bits of an image, and no one would be able to tell whether those bits are just random camera noise -- or not.

The status quo is pretty bad already because of RIPA.

Sensible crypto software, such as the (discontinued) TrueCrypt, would allow me to create a second container in the unused parts of my disk, which contains noise either way (to give deniability). Unless I open that container, there is no way to verify whether or not it is there.

Under RIPA, this means the police have the choice to either believe me that no inner container exists, or jail me until I give them a password that decrypts the random noise to something meaningful, which would only be possible with a severely broken crypto system.

10:

The biggest problem with this approach is the false positive problem. Terrorists are rare. Islamic terrorists are especially rare; the few that do exist are not easy to spot and know all about comms security.

Terrorist walts (derived from Walter Mitty, a fictional fantasist) on the other hand are as common as fleas on a hedgehog, and about as much harm. They are very visible, very noisy online and generally a bunch of brainless pillocks with a lot to say about very little. Mostly, they're harmless simply by virtue of being such blabbermouths; no sane terrorist recruiter would want his every move ending up on Twitter (and this has actually happened with a would-be Syrian Jihadi, complete with GPS coordinates of the moron's movements). A lot of would-be jihadis in Syria end up being used as sentries, guards or as general gofers, as they cannot be trusted with any more.

Internet snooping will catch the harmless blabbermouth walts, and miss the silent terrorists who in the main talk face to face in mosques. Rounding up noisy morons and prosecuting them for being the Islamic equivalent of pub bores is an exercise in futility, especially as most sane juries will see through the prosecution fantasies and acquit.

I therefore think that all this is blatant electioneering, just a monkey in a smart suit trying to look more popular than the other, similarly-dressed monkeys also in this election.

11:

My M.P. neither...save that MY MP is in the Zone of Safe Seat Labour...

http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/2015guide/sunderlandcentral/

The General Election will split up betwixt the marginal seats voters and ignore People Like Me,or You, who say, for all the faults of the previous incumbents, will vote Labour.

Previous MP hereabouts was as Thick as the two short planks of the Dense Materials of your choice and as Male Chauvinistic as a Member of the National Union of Mine Workers was likely to be even after the Coal Mines ceased to exist ....'Honestly the Man was both Thick and Lazy ... which happily our newish Female Labour MP is not thanks to female short lists.


On principle F.S.Lists leave me a bit uneasy on democratic principles but, on the other hand, I am altogether too aware of the nature of Male Chauvinisms REAL MEN WHO WORK pose as opposed to Mere Women who ought to know where they belong ... this means YOU, Oh Female Person!

My home town once had the Largest Freemasons Lodge in the entire U.K.This was not an accident.

" The sheer stupidity of Cameron's proposal left me speechless, at first."

Not even at first in my case ... though I am grateful that OGH did ever so gently nudge me in the direction of realising that, since I am more vulnerable through grief just lately, I need to be more careful of The Attack of The Guilt Demographics Advertisers and not Indifferent to the same.

Still.

Must carefully control the Urge to Kill and Eat the Nearest Tory...its bound to make me unwell. Tory Vindaloo.. Ech!!!

12:

According to the figure, the Tories are pretty solidly safe in this seat, which is odd since it was solidly Labour before 2010. Long term history is complicated because boundaries were regularly changed, usually coinciding with a lurch to one side or the other. Though the previous MPs seemed to be respected for their efforts for the constituency.

I want my vote to kick the Tory out, which means Labour here. If I thought we could get a Green MP, I would vote Green.

13:

It’s not much comfort I know but my Home Town was once ever so safe Conservative - whatever you call the Tories they are Tories - before, say, 1914 Sunderland was fairly safely owned by corrupt Conservatives - once known as " The Forty Thieves " - afterwards - votes for women - things were rather different ...


"Before the war, most women weren’t allowed to take part in elections. When men returned from the front, many women had to give up their wartime jobs, and there was an increased emphasis on the virtues and duties of motherhood.

During the war the local committee of the Suffragette Movement was very active in Sunderland. Eventually in the General Election of December 1918 women who were over the age of 30 were granted the vote for the first time, partly in recognition of their wartime efforts."


http://www.sunderlandfirstworldwar.co.uk/history-women.html


Things can change for the better in politics, and right now change is being activly engineered in the U.K. by women ... with some male support.

14:

Another reminder for me that Canadian politicians haven't cornered the market in stupidity.

15:

This isn't about blocking encryption. Terrorists will still use it (or steganography, or book codes, or . . . ), and corporate interests will rightly demand and receive an exemption from the rules. What this will do is allow the gov't to search for people who are using cryptography and scrutinize them. The use of cryptography happens to correlate nicely with people who are political trouble makers, and allows them to be conveniently labeled as "potential terrorists" and monitored for an indefinite period of time.

16:

My 2010 Tory MP is standing down, and there's a strong challenger to the conservative candidate. Unfortunately it's Nigel Farage. How close it's going to be is the question.

Still, if by some mischance I meet Mr Farage campaigning, I can ask fo his opinion (and UKIP's position) on strong encryption.

17:

Admittedly my knowledge of crypto doesn't go much past getting to play with an Enigma machine* last Sunday, ... *apologies for the slight brag.

Interesting. Last night someone showed me a "play" project he was working on. And Enigma machine emulation that runs on an iPad. I wonder if this would be illegal under this proposal.

PS: It was mostly all there and working.

18:

Still, if by some mischance I meet Mr Farage campaigning, I can ask fo his opinion (and UKIP's position) on strong encryption.

If he doesn't have one, can you maybe help by reminding him that the enigma decrypt was invented by Poles?

19:

This harkens back to the early 80s when the US Executive branch wanted (did for a while?) outlaw encryption stronger than 56bit. Which in reality meant the rest of the planet had stronger encryption than anyone in the US was allowed to use. Which mooted the point of making it possible for the NSA to decrypt things. The only ones they could decrypt were allies.

20:

I expect the banking industry will be talking to Mr. Cameron soonest and explain to him why this is a Very Bad Idea. Old pickle jars and mattresses may well come back in vogue among customers who are discovering that their financial security--isn't.

Plus, banks have things they'd rather like to hide from government, too, even if they seem to overlap nearly 100%.

21:

Ideologues of a feather tend to hang out and compete to see who can loft the zaniest extrapolations, this might be a way of waving 14" in the general direction of U. S. "Conservatives". I shudder to imagine how they might try to top this...

22:

In the US you get very mixed opinions from the conservative side on this topic. The "we must do everything" to stop bad guys no matter what it does to our/your lives will want this. The objectivists / libertarians will be totally against it.

Those who are in both camps will have a hard time articulating anything that makes sense.

23:

And it would be expletive funny if they didn't have their hands on the wheel.

24:

The question is, why this, why now?
If its a negotiating stance, then what are they really pushing for?

One of the things we learnt from Snowden is that, despite the deals Google, MS, Yahoo, Facebook et al had with the NSA, the NSA continued to hack them anyway. Google in particular was extremely peeved, and began Project Zero.

Why?

My take is that we are in an era similar to the rise of banks and the Napoleonic wars. In previous eras, it was plain who had power: Lords and Kings, with sword and guns. But they had a weakness: they needed money to pay soldiers.
In previous times, they just took what money they wanted. (Taxed the peasantry). But they had to wait until Harvest before the peasants had anything to give, which limited their warfare. The banks exploited this during the Napoleonic wars when they gave a deal: we can _lend_ you money, and you can keep fighting even when Napoleon has to stop and wait. But the deal is, the money comes on our terms. No more walking up to the bank with cannon. Now the banks were in charge.

I think Google et al. are repeating this, except with information and intelligence. They are in the intel business. They can provide the government with intel and analysis they could not get otherwise. Google effectively competes with the NSA/GCHQ and the idea of its currency being stolen is not to be countenanced. So Google (and others) are out to bring Five Eyes to heel.

Google and Apple, etc. are setting out to encrypt _everything_. All connections, storage, etc. Five Eyes can still get the information, but from Google, at Googles price. Five Eyes is fighting back, and hence the current battle.

25:

Unless you consider O a conservative their hand is NOT on the wheel. They do get to do a lot but it's not like the UK where the party that controls the legislature gets to to whatever they want. Mostly. Kind of.

26:

I'm old enough that "Middle age" is not something I can say with an entirely straight face, so no, O doesn't seem particularly liberal, just less disastrously conservative than others. Though perhaps as liberal as campaign financiers will allow.

27:

When O got elected a lot of people around me were jubilant about how everything would now be better and wonderful. I mentioned that all Presidents come to office with grand ideas then get told the facts of life by the transition folks. About a bunch of pesky details like the Constitution, laws, treaties, etc... And typically they back way off what people expect from them. Most people thought I was just a spreader of doom.

I think I was right.

28:

I'm old enough that "Middle age" is not something I can say with an entirely straight face

My mind wants to say it. My drivers license thinks it's an interesting point of view. Men on my father's side tend to live into their late 80s or more if they don't do something stupid. So maybe I can consider myself "late" middle aged. :)

29:

Being able to see all politicians' and F500 CEOs' tax returns! My, my - that would make such interesting reading. Would no encryption also mean seeing into off-shore accounts (EFTs)?

30:

I'm scratching my head with this announcement trying to work out wtf they actually want.

The public announcement makes no sense. It won't achieve the stated aims and as rather succinctly summed up here it will fuck over HMRC and the banks amongst others. This is generally a bad thing, even if you're not a Tory. It looks to me like it's going to piss off the rich and powerful. If they hack my bank account they take a few hundred quid. Yes, I'm pissed off. If they hack some billionaire's they take a damn sight more and he's really unimpressed. That sounds like political suicide for anyone but ESPECIALLY the Tories.

I just don't see what the hidden agenda is. I'm pretty sure there must be one but this seems like a system to just break the UK. Unless it's a really, really complex sting operation that would make Fredrick Forsyth spin in his grave and prove for once and for all that truth is stranger than fiction?

31:

It's often said that adding backdoors to systems makes it easier for other attackers to get in. This is not necessarily true.

A backdoor into a router could be protected by a key (that may also be rotated) controlled by the authorized attacker. This makes the system as weak as the authorised attacker's key security, but that could easily be very high.

More technically, but quite similarly, one could exploit properties of elliptic curves. Essentially, you can pick a pick two "keys", multiply them (or add them, I forget), and then require everyone else's keys to be a multiple of the product of your keys.

This allows the entity that controls the two original, secret, keys to cheaply decrypt everyone else's communications.

Again, security is down to key control, and that could be kept tight.

Can provide more details, methods and examples if required.

32:

As an addendum, to the elliptic curve one, it's not known if NIST/NSA did this to any of their keys.

Now that the attack is known and trust in NIST is low, elliptic curve parameters are under greater scrunity and must be reached through some transparent method.

33:

In previous eras, it was plain who had power: Lords and Kings, with sword and guns. But they had a weakness: they needed money to pay soldiers. In previous times, they just took what money they wanted

That's not merely an over-simplified view of the money/power relationship: it's just plain wrong.

(Graeber is unsound on several topics, but makes a pretty convincing case for up-ending the entire way we think about money: start by incurring a debt -- tax -- then issue money as a way of filling it. Money which is given to soldiers, who can exchange it for food with peasants, who can then use it to fill in the debt-hole. And we begin to get an economy. The role of banking isn't just to lend/reinvest money, but to generate money ...)

34:

I think you don't need a hidden agenda explanation: you just need to assume Cameron is so ignorant of this IT lark that he suffers from Dunning-Kruger syndrome, and he wanted to play kiss-rse to the boss of MI5 (who came out with a blistering pro-secret-police speech on Friday). Typically, being call-me-Dave, he got the wrong end of the stick about what was needed.

35:

And he's so inept he only listened to one advisor?

36:

Add David Cameron to the list of Luddite politicians, along with U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) who was named chair of the Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness, overseeing NASA and science programs. Absolutely bat shit crazy.

37:

The history of the last 15 years alone should make it clear that politicians do often only listen to one advisor, often the one who says things they want to hear.

38:

I'm happy to see someone else making the point that both ends of the spectrum have their issues. Maybe it's weird, but I actually agree with Call-Me-Dave that, once the judiciary has granted a warrant for the communications of a single named individual, the state should be able to break any encryption. Ignoring terrorism, how happy would people be if investigations into the people responsible for sex-trafficking rings, lethal industrial disasters or financial crashes were constantly stymied by the use of perfect strong encryption? "Looks like it really was just one rogue gangster/engineer/trader/journalist, we can't prove the higher-ups knew anything. Oh well."

Unlike Cameron, I know this is an impossible compromise given what we know about public-key encryption. But I wish it wasn't.

39:

I suspect there's an international competition happening for which politically conservative Prime Minister (or equivalent) can come out with the stupidest statement in public. Now, up until the end of 2013, George W Bush of the USA was winning handily. But in late 2013 we Aussies elected Tony Abbott to be our PM (in as much as we voted out the other mob), and since then he's been making a strong run at the title, and up until now I would have said he was winning. Presumably this is Mr Cameron's entry into the race.

It's a good one. I mean, up until now, Tony was well in the lead, what with threatening to "shirtfront" (assault) Vladimir Putin at the G20 meeting in Brisbane, and the lovely rambling speech he did at G20 where he basically blamed the ALP for everything, and of course he's been earning points with his climate change denialism and talking up coal, but this shot from Cameron might just put him in line for the title of Daftest World Leader for 2015.

40:

Not just Dunning-Kruger: aristocratic arrogance.

Bad things don't happen to people who Matter. They just don't: they're above such things.

That's a dangerous folly: the press will cheerfully turn on him, and on his family, the moment it profits them to use their stolen photographs and emails; and who knows what the Security Services can do? His friends in politics, likewise - likewise at risk, but likewise a danger: some of them are even richer, and a few of them are genuinely knowledgeable in purchasing the misuse of information and technology.

Of course, the brunt of it will fall on ordinary people and on ordinary businesses. What of it? They - we! -are beneath consideration. A precarious existence amongst rampant criminality will teach us to be grateful for Authority and the generosity of our betters; and we will learn to be respectful under the relentless surveillance of a state where privacy is a privilege reserved for the elite.

And yes, much of that is untrue; but it is all too easy for a privileged aristocrat to believe it - know it, live it, be it - and never be confronted with the slightest reason to think otherwise.

And that is at the root of all we hear from Cameron.

Arrogance: I suspect it is more dangerous than incompetence alone, and far more powerful than the deluded incompetence of Dunning-Kruger.

However, the worst aspect of latter-day aristocratic arrogance is that there is no concept of 'truth' or 'lie': a man speaks no untruths to his cattle, because it does not matter what they hear.

They moo, and it is of no consequence; they are milked, and it is profitable; and all is well with the World.

...And the mass media will report Cameron's words on technology as if they are wise, and worthy, and well worth voting for. Add in a lavish helping of congratulation from his lackeys and his peers, and that, for an arrogant aristocrat in a post-democratic state, is as much 'truth' as there will ever need to be.

Think how *that* shapes policy, and what it means for our security.

41:

I'll have to check that Graeber passage again. In England's case, I thought monetary taxes came after the money - landholders/nobles/whatever eventually preferred to just pay a fee to their liege lords rather than actually supply some level of soldiers and equipment, and said lords were happy to take it because they could use it for anything including mercenaries.

42:

When I first read this , I thought it was a spoof, surely even Mr Cameron would understand with no encryption, no e commercial e, banking, government etc.
If he really is that unaware perhaps he should lie down in a dark room and suggest a sucessor, even Boris seems to have a better understanding. ( not sure about Nigel though). Giving him the benefit of doubt, alternatively he may be not as stupid as first appears and is actually pushing something less draconian but still controversial.
A few random thoughts on this bearing in mind I have only a passing interest in crypto.


1) This may have more to do with trying to limit the commercial advantage of over the top providers such as apple/Google, who seem to like to tunnel everything though their proxies and gain information.

2) the behaviour on the internet has changed whereas few years ago most websites were in plain http with exception of specifically private actions such as banking , tax ,personal information etc. Https is becoming more widepread and Google is promoting websites that use it. So more of the web can less easily be snooped. If Mi5 can restrict this to known business or enforce only allowed sites in UK to use these they might be hoping to avoid the costs. As OGH has already said It's still a terrible idea.


3) As part of https becoming more ubiquitous and cloud content provider's meaning you can't simply map ipad addresses, as you can't see the url , this raises questions of enforcing content classification and filtering such as not allowing under 18s Adult content , or whether this promotion web page is included free. So I suspect that there will be some changes to ipsec standards that allows certain headers to be either encrypted with stored keys that the ISPs can have or in plain text. This maybe what is eventually proposed (and he is trying to push) to allow the meta data to be seen and snapped on and then if needed to selectively try to decrypt those packets.

On second thoughts maybe he is just trying for the daftest leader of 2015 award or competing with the Steven Emerson #foxnewsfacts
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-30773297

43:

Naturally, everyone is having great fun explaining how Cameron is an idiot. Certainly his only notable political skill seems to the ability to eat a bacon sandwich with the aid of only a single roomfull of media advisors; such is modern politics.

But does anyone want to explain in very very simple terms why the following interpretation of Cameron's proposal is obviously wrong?

1. anyone can use encryption, providing they manage their own keys.

2. as at present, anyone managing their own keys can be ordered to divulge them by a court order.

3. if someone on the watchlist is using encrypted comms, goto #2.

4. if some company is offering a service that manages user's keys for them, they have to respect UK court orders in order to be advertised, collect money, and so on in the UK.

5. not knowing your encryption keys due to use of an key management service not authorised under #4 is not a valid defense against a charge of refusing to supply an encryption key on request in case #3.


44:

I don't see why everyone is assuming he doesn't understand what he's asking for -- from what I can tell, the UK is a surveillance state, with an ever-increasing desire to watch everything, not only in real-time, but to store forever. (The US is as well, but not as open about it.)

I take it as given that of course he is truly referring to the ability to see every bit of communication.

If it's not terrorism, it's paedophiles, or child abductions, or whatever they can use at the moment.

The fact that it will put everyone at risk for crime doesn't matter, or they already would have scaled back.

45:

I thin amckinstry has a point, in that there is a potential for controllers of big data to form a new power center in society, in much the way that the commercial classes rose to share power with the previously dominant military classes.

Also, money came about several times in human history, and not always in the way that Graeber described. Some early Chinese coins are stylized versions of barter goods, namely brass knives and spades.

46:

So every since I heard this news this morning I've been thinking about how it might actually be implemented in the realm of TLS (the technology used to secure web sites).

Let's say you are the UK government, and you want to be able to intercept and decrypt any TLS connection. You could try demanding the private encryption keys from all secure web sites, but sites outside the UK are unlikely to comply. So instead, you set up your own Certificate Authority (CA), which allows you to mint your own security certificate for any site on the net. This, along with cooperation from UK ISPs, allows to intercept and decrypt secure web traffic.

But, there's a problem. All this only works if browsers trust your new CA. So you mandate that all browsers downloaded or installed on new devices in the UK must trust your CA. Problem solved.

Except, not quite. There are various emerging technologies designed to allow web sites to pin their certificates to a particular CA, to avoid just this kind of attack. So you must also require browser makers to role back their support for features like certificate pinning, or at least include an exception for your own pet CA.

Now you can tap any encrypted web connection originating from the UK. Well, except for all the people who were able to obtain the non-UK version of their favorite browser, and also those people who route all their traffic through a VPN with its endpoint outside the UK, but ignore those criminals for the time being.

But now there's another problem. That Certificate Authority you set up? Well, it turns out the people you hired to run it were not entirely honest about their level of expertise, and they're running into problems they can't solve. When you finally get someone competent to look into it, she discovers that the machine containing your root certificate has been thoroughly compromised, meaning some unknown third party now has the ability to create certificates that appear to come from your CA.

This sort of thing happens from time to time (anyone remember DigiNotar?). In fact, it is one of the major problems with the current security architecture of the web. When it does happen, the major browser makers usually try to limit the damage by releasing an update that blacklists the compromised CA. But in this case, they would be legally prevented from doing that. So now you have a root certificate which browser makers are legally required to trust, and which is in the hands of an unknown individual or organization.

47:

I'll take a shot at that explanation-in-very-very-simple-terms. Though naturally I encourage those who are more up on this sort of thing, such as OGH, to check my arithmetic.


Simplest argument: that interpretation of his proposal wouldn't be a new policy proposal. It's already the legal status quo, so what's he pounding on the table for?


More-complicated argument: in Cameron's speech in the linked Guardian article, he says (paraphrasing) that in an emergency, the govt can always read a letter or tap a phone call, and we must not allow a means of communications where that would be impossible.

In his examples, the Authorities don't need the target's cooperation. They have the capability to read your letter or tap your phone, without your cooperation or indeed your knowledge.

So, Cameron is saying that he doesn't see why the government shouldn't have that same capability for all electronic communications. Anything the govt can't crack should be banned, for essentially the same public-safety reasons as handguns. Which suggests that he has absolutely no idea how encryption works, or what electronic communications are, and how some of them are kinda different from posted letters.


It does sound as if Cameron is running in Aggressively Clueless mode. We have a few like that here in the States too ...

48:

Dramatically announcing a new law that has no effect on the status quo is actually a pretty common activity for UK politicians, in the same way that any funding for a popular government program is generally announced at least three or four times. Sometimes they do even bring in a new law enforcing/prohibiting whatever it is, to prove that they're doing something. (The classic recent-ish example of this was the introduction of a law banning the use of a hand-held mobile phone while driving. That was pretty clearly forbidden under existing laws - "driving without due care and attention" has a wide scope that definitely includes both texting and hand-held calls, and allows a range of penalties that extends beyond the new law in both directions. But driving-while-texting was a "new" problem, and making new laws gets better headlines than enforcing the existing laws.)

As a separate issue, though, I agree with the rest of your (and Charlie's) assessment - that isn't what Cameron is doing here; he genuinely hasn't got a f'ing clue and wants to ban the internet. I guess it works so well in North Korea, who wouldn't want to emulate them?

49:

If content is no longer encrypted (secure), then what would be the point of having a web site - personal (FB) or commercial? I'm imagining my reaction if we were talking about a house ... would this PM also pass a bill saying 'no more locks on front doors unless you leave us a copy of your house key?'

50:

The question of "where did he get such a dumb idea?" Is an interesting one, and potentially explains much of the utter cluelessness that emanates from politicians of all stripes.

Your modern politician is surrounded by Special Advisors, or Spads. It's a stretch to say that the Spad is the puppeteer pulling the strings of the politician, because most frontline politicians have egos the size of Saturn - but the Spad is the back room guy whose very raison d'être is to think up policy.

The profile of most Spads is frightening, if you subscribe to the theory that most of the time, with age comes wisdom and experience. They tend to be young ( > 30), have a background in non-quantitive academic subjects (e.g PPE) and to have very little "real world" experience, moving from university to politically-aligned think tank to Spad position to hopeless seat to safe seat and there into politics themselves.

This is based on second-hand anecdotal evidence only, but the Spads of which I am aware also tend to be hard-core ideologues whose positions are several orders of magnitude more extreme than the ones which are eventually wheeled out in public. That's not restricted to either side of the political divide, even assuming that there *is* a divide in neo-liberal practice. Anecdotal evidence again, but the "you're not going to believe what the Spad said today" tales from both sides of the last general election have been more or less indistinguishable in their batshit fuckwittery.

With that kind of profile to provide advice, it's not altogether surprising that figures like Cameron can spout such utter bullshit. He genuinely doesn't know any different, and is relying for advice on people who don't know any different. And until we somehow resolve the issue of the institutionalised Dunning-Kruger effect, nothing will change.

My father, who lived through WW2, once wondered aloud comparing the extreme reaction to Islamic terrorism to the more "stiff upper lip" approach to the IRA campaigns of the 1970s. His theory was that the people making decisions in the 1970s, both politicians, civil servants and spooks, were very likely to have seen active service in WW2.

Having *actually* been shot at, they had some practical experience with which to judge the relative risks of being caught up in a terrorist outrage. Today's generation of decision makers mostly complely lack that kind of reference frame.

51:

YET AGAIN
Ignorant "arts" graduates totally fuck-up a highly technical issue, making things worse.
The thing that alrms me is that Camoron got this far, before anyone told him it was a REALLY BAD IDEA.
Not that the pathetic Milibean would actually be any better - or any of them, actually.

The stupid, it burns!

52:

I assume this new law, if passed, would instantly make all cryptocurrencies illegal to use

53:

Yes, lots of us use "Internet Banking" (I do) - & Camoron's proposal is so stupid as .....
We will all have to close our remote accounts & open new ones ..
OOOPS!

Perhaps that's the plan, because you can garuantee the banksters will love this.

Or will they - it will be an enormous hassle.
Um.

54:

Again, & I'm really surprised the tories have not noticed this, the other & much larger group of people who favour as strong an encryption as possible are - the banks & theor customers - people like you & me.

Oh & the accountants (PLease don't sneer) who also do tax forms, often work from home over an encrypted link ...
Er, ummm ....

55:

I always thought "Money" was first devised in pre-classical Greece - approx 750 BCE?
As for medieval payment & service, it was revolutionised (in England, anyway) by Henry I whose government ran on its famous "Barrels of Silver Pennies".
It fell apart on his death with "The Anarchy" (Stephen vs Matilda + the Barons) ... but was such an obviously good idea that when Henry II finally succeeded in 1154, the old monetary order was restored.
Although IIRC "feudal service" wasn't specifically allowed to be in money (instead) until later, in practice it was up-&-running by approx 1200 CE, if not sooner.
Which coincidentally (not) saw the establishment of properly chartered towns, guilds etc & the beginnings of commerce as we know it.
The Worshipful Company of Weavers - 1155.
( And still in business. )
Note the immediate appearance of professional commercial organisation after Henry II's accession?
Tell you something?

56:

Please don't!

"SPAD"
Has a n other mening - "Signal Passed At Danger"
In modern railway operation, unless you have been given specific permission it really is a no-no & gets you a disciplinary enquiry on the spot ...

We now return you to your normal programming

57:

Spad - First thought was "Société Pour L'Aviation et ses Dérivés". Second was "Douglas A(D)-1 Skyraider".

58:

I think there is something about the audience that Cameron is speaking to here.

He’s perhaps not talking to the public in general, or technically aware floating voters or liberals who are worried about personal privacy. I wonder if he is talking to Tory UKIP swing voters, who tend to be older and less well educated and I think a little more worried about Them and national security than average.

I suggest that what might be going on here is some tough talk directed at an audience for whom security against terrorism has high saliency but who are also less likely to understand the implications of the policy they are cheering for or to notice when that policy is not in fact put into practise.

59:

MOney as coins was invented in Lydia and related areas, Croesus was one of the first to use gold coins. But actual units of exchange had I am sure been in use long before that, remember that accounting and keeping track of goods and animals etc goes back as far as writing does.
The properly chartered towns and guilds thing is a little different, insofar as I was reading an old book last night on the history of English towns, and despite the differences of opinion, the contributors generally agreed that towns were in existence before hte 12th century. More like the 10/11th. What they disagreed about was the relative importance of merchants or artisans in the founding of towns.

60:

Out of idle curiosity, anyone drawn a "Peeping Dave" editorial cartoon yet?

61:

A quick skim suggests the roots were in the late 9th Century with Alfred the Great setting up a network of fortified settlements under a consistent system of government. That was then influenced by the Danelaw, which also had significant centres such as Lincoln and York.

Common features included mints and mercantile influence.

Henry I and Henry II were both significant, and both were afflicted by their immediate heirs. The Anarchy, and then the reign of King John, maybe proved that no King could rely on the Barons alone. Magna Carta was a significant marker for the changes, but it didn't settle things.

What matters about the Guilds was, I think, that the mercantile class got organised. In the context of their time, one might say they were as significant as the Trade Unions of late-Victorian Britain, which led to the Labour Party. Their charters were a sign of a new power in the land.

62:

When is the next issue of Private Eye out?

63:
Out of idle curiosity, anyone drawn a "Peeping Dave" editorial cartoon yet?

There is this, from Viz...

64:

The current one is good to the 22nd of January. So after that.

65:

61 messages and nobody mentioned "key escrow" and "Clipper Chip" yet?

The US Fed got their panties in a wad about encryption 20+ years ago, and we narrowly missed a ban on "strong" encryption, mandatory "secret" back doors to allowed protocols, a "key escrow" system for other protocols, and the infamous "Clipper Chip."

It was, we were told, vital to national security, etc., etc. Each individual proposal had to be beaten down and staked.

66:

Was thinking more along the lines of security rifling through decrypted selfies and ignoring nearby crime, but that was funny, thanks.

67:

Just remember to anonymously email lists of random numbers to people you dislike. Then tip off the police they are terrorists. Then when they will not provide the decryption key (because there isn't one) they will be banged up.

68:

On Newsnight yesterday....

http://m.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-30744203

Nurse was a bit more nuanced than this article suggests. He wished that if politicians ignore scientific advice because the public won't wear it, which seems to be the case with drugs policy, then they should at least say that's what they're doing...

69:

You're probably right about appealing to UKIP supporters, or at least the rank and file. The leaders and funders tend to be businessmen who want less (or, indeed, no) regulation. They'd probably be against it; and now that Cameron is in favour of it I expect UKIP won't be. Right to privacy, British fair play, Englishman's email is his castle etc. Hopefully what UKIP want will be strictly irrelevant after the next election though.

(In fact it was while explicitly suggesting that businesses could do what they want that lead Farage into the breastfeeding-in-public minefield las month)

70:

"Another reminder for me that Canadian politicians haven't cornered the market in stupidity."

Heck, if you're Canadian that means you almost certainly live near enough to US political stupidity that you can face north, and still see it from atmospheric scattering.

71:

So why does he want to ban encryption in order to stop terrorists, if he could as well ban guns and explosives (and machetes maybe)? I think banning physical stuff might be a tad easier than banning information...

72:

"Maybe it's weird, but I actually agree with Call-Me-Dave that, once the judiciary has granted a warrant for the communications of a single named individual, the state should be able to break any encryption. Ignoring terrorism, how happy would people be if investigations into the people responsible for sex-trafficking rings, lethal industrial disasters or financial crashes were constantly stymied by the use of perfect strong encryption?"

Please read the post by Mr. Stross which started this whole thread. He frequently has interesting things to say :)

73:

how happy would people be if investigations into the people responsible for sex-trafficking rings, lethal industrial disasters or financial crashes were constantly stymied by the use of perfect strong encryption? "Looks like it really was just one rogue gangster/engineer/trader/journalist, we can't prove the higher-ups knew anything. Oh well."

So that in the future you can say "well, we can't prove the higher-ups knew anything, but at least we can fine them for using strong encryption" ???

74:

With this kind of thing, I always have a bit of a hard time trying to figure out whether or not to talk about it. Obviously, my position on whether or not the proposal is loony is shared by everyone in my immediate social group and in basically everyone whose opinions I pay attention to, because they all have at least a passing understanding of what encryption is -- so my gut instinct is to think that maybe *everyone* realizes it, including Cameron, and that to spread it would be the equivalent of joining in on the echo chamber about something that we've somehow fundamentally misunderstood (the same way that jumping on some seemingly racist or sexist comment on tumblr is not fundamentally useful -- everyone on there already agrees with me, and there's a good chance that there's some missing context that was thrown away by a community salivating for a lynching).

Are there any notable people who take this proposal seriously, and would be able to work within the government to push it? Is there any chance that it's actually going to be taken seriously? Does anyone in this thread have relatives or acquaintances who don't realize how ludicrous the proposal is?

(On the side of circulation, I've seen several totally ludicrous laws or policies appear in various places, which I didn't really bother to talk about before they were put in place because they didn't stand up to the weakest scrutiny -- australian obscenity law applying to line art, for instance, and that british national firewall.)

75:

I always thought "Money" was first devised in pre-classical Greece - approx 750 BCE?

You may be right, but the Chinese seem to have developed the concept independently. In their version, some early coins were token representations of common barter goods.

Perhaps I should say "in at least one of their versions". The world is large, and its history is complex.

76:

Cameron had better be willing to ban transmissions of binary data as well, because it's trivially easy to obfuscate a key exchange in anything but text. (It's actually pretty easy in text, too.) After that, one hunk of binary data pretty much looks like any other hunk, unless you're willing to melt hundreds of server farms trying to figure out the format of each binary exchange and whether it looks like it's encrypted or not.

And that of course will lead to criminalizing the use of the wrong MIME type...

77:
Please read the post by Mr. Stross which started this whole thread.

I did, that's why I started with:

I'm happy to see someone else making the point that both ends of the spectrum have their issues.

... referring to OGH's comment:

[...] mandating either end of the scale is idiotic.

Sorry if that was unclear.

78:
So that in the future you can say "well, we can't prove the higher-ups knew anything, but at least we can fine them for using strong encryption"?

That scenario is going to happen - there will be smart malefactors who know their way around blowfish and PGP, and we will have a really hard time catching and convicting them. I agree the Conservative plan is unworkable, stupid, and much worse than the current status quo - but that doesn't mean the problem it's trying to solve doesn't exist.

79:

If you're looking for a voter this will actually sway, I'm one. I live in a LibDem/Conservative marginal, and previously voted Conservative, at the last election because the LibDems had a very redistributive manifesto - probably more redistributive than Labour. I was worrying about some of Teresa May's recent statements, but didn't want to vote LibDem if that let a Labour-LibDem coalition in.

If this goes on the Conservative Manifesto I'll vote LibDem and accept a risk of Venezuelan populist price fixing to avoid Iranian levels of snooping and the associated violations of liberty needed to make this snooping possible.

I'm aware of a widespread network of embedded systems we had to upgrade when Heartbleed came out. I tried to get somebody to come up with an estimate for ripping out OpenSSL if it became illegal in order to downgrade the security - on elderly kit where the snooper-friendly version probably wouldn't be available anyway - but I couldn't get anybody to take me seriously.

80:

all terrorists need to do is talk face to face

In light of the threat posed by jihadists, this face-to-face communication technology poses too great a threat to the powers of law enforcement. Henceforth, citizens will be supplied with lapel-mounted encrypted voice recorders. All face-to-face conversations will be recorded, encrypted, and uploaded in real-time to the NSA/GCHQ/FVEY cloud. Escrowed decryption keys will allow the government to review past conversations pursuant to a legal request to do so.

To conduct conversations without a "Freedom Mic" will be illegal. The security state must have the opportunity to lawfully review the communications of suspected terrorists. "The question remains: are we going to allow a means of communications where it simply is not possible to do that? My answer to that question is: no, we must not."

81:

Encrypted voice recorders?

What are you? Some kind of terrorist?

82:

When all it takes is someone with expertise in online security from the treasury saying "Sure, do this, the banking system will collapse, the London financial industry will collapse, HMRC's ability to collect VAT and Income Tax will be severely compromised. But we might be safe from terrorists. Broke, but safe." Yes it surprises he only listens to one person.

83:

I sincerely hope this irony. But as someone that used to "speak" passable ESL you have missed at least one obviously loophole.

Although I was never able to do it, I know someone who could hold parallel conversations, one spoken and one in sign language. It used to freak several of us who spoke both but couldn't speak in both simultaneously out.

84:

I think London's video cameras already have that covered.

85:

Agree - accountants and auditors - would be seriously impacted. Probably almost all industries/occupations would be affected. If you knew that your internet content/email had a very short life span, how would this change how you use the internet/email? (Would you use Her Majesty's Post or your phone more?)

86:

Allegedly there is life outside London. OGH for example. Or more pertinently for actual terrorists, three of the 7/7 bombers lived in Leeds, the other lived in Aylesbury.

87:

If we add Tactile Signing,

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tactile_signing

to the fact Arab men see nothing wrong with holding hands

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2e/Bush-abdullah1.jpg

We get a form of communication that's very difficult to hack into.

88:

My comment was more snarky than serious.

For a while, my country considered cryptography to be legally equivalent to military munitions, and illegal for unauthorized sale to foreigners. You may have noticed the complete lack of cryptography outside U.S. borders that resulted. It's hard to see why Cameron is even concerned about it.

89:

Thanks, now I'm having a flashback from "The Algebraist".

90:

Good point. The Freedom Mic will need a camera, too. (Yes, it is irony!)

91:

Actually, I don't think this is directed at voters at all.

First you have to understand that UK government and the tories above all, are very paternalistic. The 'people' are to be kept in the dark unless absolutely necessary (they can't be trusted with the truth) and they are to do as they are told.

Now, second, as Snowden demonstrated, and we already knew, the US government has threatened and extorted every information player in the US to give them backdoor access to whatever they want. And since that's basically every part of the Internet, they can spy on everyone.

But the UK isn't in such a privileged position. They can't forever be running to the yanks for info (particularly since keeping an eye on them is something of a priority) and they can't easily strong arm US companies to give them backdoor access.

I think some have been saying "NO".

So this is a threat, at face value to ban them from access (probably eventually to the entire EU market); but with probably real aim of running man-in-the-middle attacks on the lot of them. Backing off to that, almost hidden, approach would make sense from a UK government standpoint - they might not get worldwide access that way, but they would have tabs on the entire UK populous/children.

The message being sent is "play ball, or else".

92:

Hmmm, I wonder how lifelogging is getting along as a thing for people to do?

93:

Almost
Here's the corrected version:
First you have to understand that UK government and the tories above all whatever political party is in power, are very paternalistic. The 'people' are to be kept in the dark unless absolutely necessary (they can't be trusted with the truth) and they are to do as they are told.

You see this all the time ... Plod, f'rinstance still haven't caught on (until a few weeks back) that EVERYBODY HAS A CAMERA - & they can't get away with their dirty little tricks any more.
The polliticos STILL don't get what "www" means to everyone.

This is one of the principal reason that the main political parties are useless - including the so-called greens & to some extent UKIP - that last is odd, but probably because, as Neil said @ #69 Farage & co are contemporary businessmen & therefore closer to a version of the "real world" than the professional politicians.
But even they really, still havent got a clue what an electronic democracy means & they are all floundering.

P.S. Anyone else here heard of "38 degrees"?

94:

War har har, "Ali Baba, Peas be upon him". I'm rolling on the floor here.

This is totally not bigoted and racist. You know, like Charlie Hebdo!

95:

Periodic reminder what the Luddites actually were and why nobody who was ever called that by nerds was one.

http://www.marxists.org/history/england/combination-laws/index.htm

96:
This is totally not bigoted and racist.

Assuming you're being sarcastic, what do you see as the problem? Should Viz have used the words Mohammed and Allah in the cartoon instead? Should they not have attempted a humorous strip about an inept terrorist at all?

(OGH/mods - please delete this comment if you feel it's too derailing!)

97:

Yeah, of course this SNAFU is the direct and immediate result of *boo, hiss!* LIBERAL ARTS!!1

Everybody, cut the nerd superiority, alright? This has nothing to do with the important and legitimate fields he studied. It's either pure vote catching, a gambit of the corporate-intelligence complex to turn legislature (even more) to their favor or any combination thereof.

Besides, only a very small group of people has a sufficient understanding of the intricacies of security CS, which does exclude a lot of the "hard" science folks like mathematologists and physicsticians, so that's that.

98:

It's one thing to satirize extremists of $RELIGION, but it's a whole other story if you attack the religion as a whole with lowbrow bullshit like "Haw haw, look at them silly towelheads and their Abba god! Or was it Aral?!"

That a lot of people can't seem to realize that, or actively deny it, only shows how motherfucking (culturally) tonedeaf society has become.

99:

I don't think that comic satirises the religion at all, not least because it never mentions it or any details about it? Using "Ali Baba" and "Kerrang" (in addition to being a silly pun) serves to denote that Chuckles is either a) very ignorant about the religion he intends to kill for or b) an adherent to an entirely fictional religion. I find neither of those implications to be offensive - although I'm certainly not the best spokesperson!

How you would have written the strip to be non-offensive?

100:

I like 38 Degrees, and regularly express my opinion via their campaigns.

I particularly like them since they were name-checked by some politician (I wish I could remember which one) for being a PITA and filling his inbox with emails showing the actual views of the public on the topics he was voting on that week.

101:

Er the issue is that these (LA and politics) people don't know enough to realise that this actually is a complex technical issue and that they should seek specialist advice rather than a claim that all computing people understand encryption in detail.

102:

I have no problems taking the piss out of any religion whether in a highbrow or lowbrow manner. If you don't like your ideology of choice being laughed at, derided and satirised - too bad.

103:

That's actually an extremely plausible interpretation.

... Assuming you credit Call Me Dave and his SPADs with the subtlety to plan something like that. Personally, I'm inclined to see him -- after 4-5 years of media scrutiny -- as a British version of George w. Bush, only somewhat more articulate. Liable to say anything that he thinks will please someone he wants to please, and fuck the second-order consequences, that's not his problem (he'll be out of office by the time the pigeons come home to roost).

104:

Farage & co are contemporary businessmen & therefore closer to a version of the "real world" than the professional politicians.

Disagree: "businessmen" of the Farage variety -- regardless of their avowed politics -- are a hell of a long way away from the real world as experienced by 90% of the population, and by around 99.8% of the population aged under 30. They're focussed on one particular aspect of society, namely the marketized bits of our lives, much of which are not in fact denominated in L/S/D.

Their three shibboleths are wage-slavery, taxation, and corporate regulation. Frankly, if we want a post-scarcity future we ought to be looking for ways to change the nature of the dialog completely.

105:

Of course, a post-scarcity future is the last thing the corporate masters of the universe want. After all, they derive their money and power from controlling our economy. (Economy is the art of managing scarce resources. If there were no scarcity, we wouldn't need an economy.)

106:

That a lot of people can't seem to realize that, or actively deny it, only shows how motherfucking (culturally) tonedeaf society has become.

Last night I was out, socializing, as is usual, with a bunch of other folks. One of whom, on occasion, answered their mobile with "salaam, baba ..." before heading out the pub door to continue the conversation in arabic. I happen to know that this person is half-Yemeni and has on occasion worn hijab. They were not doing so last night: they were wearing jeans and a sweater, drinking ginger ale with friends in a goth/metal pub in Scotland, and discussing personal issues around their on-going gender transition.

So when I hear someone start a sentence with "all muslims are ..." I just want to laugh in their face.

Human identity is a lot more complex and tenuous than social fundamentalists want us to believe -- I use the term "social fundamentalist" because it's not just the religious conservatives who have Strong Opinions on How To Live Properly -- and I think we'd all be a lot happier if we were willing to cut each other a bit of slack.

107:

How you would have written the strip to be non-offensive?

In Viz?

Can't be done.

Viz is all about being gloriously offensive to everybody. No political agenda (unlike Charlie Hebdo): it's just a revoltingly over-ripe fart in the face on every page.

108:

There is one thing that would be worth letting the government know everything I do.

And that is to let the government's nominal bosses - the people - know whatever it does.

109:

Of course, a post-scarcity future is the last thing the corporate masters of the universe want. After all, they derive their money and power from controlling our economy.

Our economy and most of the industrial world's population. Their viewpoint is easy enough to understand: how can they be masters if there isn't a lumpenproletariat to control through force or poverty? It naturally follows that as much wealth as possible must go to the aristocratic property-owning class, for the twin reasons of establishing status and power for one group and keeping the other impoverished and desperate.

I really think we can find some new answers to this problem, ones that include adequate wealth and comfort for everyone and as much personal freedom for everybody as can reasonably be provided. Not finding any such new models by default leaves the old models of social revolution, with all of the unpleasant side effects that make history books such exciting reading.

110:

Of course, a post-scarcity future is the last thing the corporate masters of the universe want. After all, they derive their money and power from controlling our economy. (Economy is the art of managing scarce resources. If there were no scarcity, we wouldn't need an economy.)

Corporate masters of the universe could still have a lot of, if not more, power in a post-scarcity economy. Who's going to own the automated industry? How likely is it that there will be a quick and easy transition to common ownership? Also automation is not going to arrive all in one go but bit by bit over time. Taking all that together I don't find it hard to imagine a future with gradually increasing automation with the industry owned by a select number of private individuals. We all want the unemployment problem to be solved with a combination of common ownership and basic income (or something along those lines). There's no reason why the owners of industry couldn't campaign to implement a minimum welfare and gradually move the poor into more tightly controlled (by a few police with many drones) area serviced by welfare.

There's a short story by Marshal Brian called Manna, I think it's available online for free. It's not the best written by any stretch but it does pose a depressingly realistic view of a world in which as automation increases the poor are increasingly ghettoised. Eventually large portions of the poor are moved to isolated dormitory towns, taken care of by robots but kept out of sight and out of mind by the few people that do still have jobs and the owner class.

111:

You could always vote for Al Murray since he's going to stand against Farage et al.

112:

The Pub Landlord v Nigel Farage: One gained notoriety as a parody of the archetypal ‘Little Englander’, the other is a stand-up comedian...

113:

" Corporate masters of the universe could still have a lot of, if not more, power in a post-scarcity economy. Who's going to own the automated industry? How likely is it that there will be a quick and easy transition to common ownership? Also automation is not going to arrive all in one go but bit by bit over time. "

Sorry, but, here in U.K.? Already arrived long ago in those far distant days of the 1970s when I was young.

Way back when people used to rage against The Machine in an utterly inept sort of way that was bound to severely Frighten the British Middle Classes...but, Seriously?

Way back then I got caught up in an Argument in which Middle Class and Nominally Socialist in an Academic Economist sort of way once said to me - and Please Believe ME my Working Class Credentials are Impeccable and he knew it too! Father was a Coal Miner and so forth so don’t even try to challenge it if you are British Middle Class But Desperately Long to be really Working Class of the political persuasion - so he said" THEY .. The Miners... are even buying their daughters Ponies these days! And THEY just don’t know how to look after them.... "And so on and so forth.

The British Class system is FAR more complicated and subtly nuanced than persons of, say, the US of American average person of the P, G, Woodhouse reading, D.L. Sayers persuasion read it or view it on film/TV ...

" In 1936, Sir Hallam Holland and his pretty young wife Lady Agnes return from a diplomatic posting abroad and take up residence at 165 Eaton Place, formerly the home of the Bellamy family but vacant for several years. By chance, they ask Rose Buck, herself a long-time servant in the Bellamy household, to find them a suitable staff. In the end, Rose herself joins them as the Housekeeper. The 1930s are a difficult time in England. The Depression has taken its toll with high levels of unemployment. Fascism, which has become popular on the Continent in Italy and Germany, is also finding followers in the UK with Oswald Mosely's British Union of Fascists. As the new staff begin their daily work, the downstairs family begins to take shape. "

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1782352/

Not so very long ago even people of the Lower Social Orders in the U.K. were addicted to that series, and there is an instantly attractive later day version beyond my youth that demonstrates the sheer power of Social Stability and that is,

" Downton Abbey"


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Downton_Abbey


...if you are of The British Upper Class that is ..and lots of middle class persons just Long to be Upper one day soon through the person of their children. If only said Children will stick in and Work hard and not be Skivers rather than Strivers!

Who would not wish that their kids be at the TOP of Their Society rather than at the bottom?


And the U.Ks Prime Minister? He is already at the Top of the Squirearcy. Everything else is a posture for the benefit of the aspirant lower middle class English voters. You don’t match that demographic? Then it’s a question of ' Mind over Matter, ' That is to say, They don’t mind and you don’t matter.


" The Conservative Party neglects the views of pro-hunting voters at its peril.

David Cameron, as a former huntsman, deer stalker and occasional game shooter, ought to know better than most that those who take part in country sports consider hunting in particular to be a way of life, rather than a casual pastime.

The fact that hunting has flourished under the 2004 ban is proof that hunts up and down the country are not giving up on hopes of a repeal. Most are marking time, hunting under the restrictions imposed, until full hunting is restored.

In Mr Cameron’s favour, of course, is that no one but the Conservatives are likely to bring about that change in the law. But complacency could cost him dear and lose him 500,000 crucial votes in rural constituencies that he must win."

http://www.westernmorningnews.co.uk/Philip-Bowern-David-Cameron-t-afford-risk-hunt/story-22766738-detail/story.html


Or Here, Brace yourself ... its a link to the Daily Slime ...


http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2854901/Cameron-bagged-couple-pigeons-12-bore-shotgun-frustrated-no-longer-deer-stalking.html

114:


As an example? Since you are being ever so subtle and understated. Here is something that is fairly typical of VIZ...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ns9oMXdSiQM

115:

There is no such thing as the "Post Scarcity Society", because some things, like big country houses with swimming pools are going to stay scarce. What there will be is the "Post Toy Scarcity Society" where anybody can have as much crap as they want.

116:

There is no such thing as the "Post Scarcity Society", because some things, like big country houses with swimming pools are going to stay scarce. What there will be is the "Post Toy Scarcity Society" where anybody can have as much crap as they want.

Yes, positional goods will never be un-scarce. Most of the manufactures that could improve human development indicators are in the "toy scarcity" category, though: clothing, drinkable water, fertilizers, tractors, sewage treatment, temperature-controlled shelter, medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, electrical sources, lights, batteries, cooking equipment, bathing facilities, books, powered transportation, computers, telecommunications... It would be a big improvement if the poorest 50% of humanity had literacy rates and life expectancy at birth comparable to the median German, even if none of them had big country estates with swimming pools.

117:

Exactly, and by that measure the developed world is already "Post Scarcity" - how's it all working out for us?

118:

I don't live anywhere near Thanet. If I did, of the two, if I didn't have a viable alternative (I'm much more likely to vote Green in practise) I'd vote for Al Murray before Nigel Farage. One consistently acts like the most toxic of Little Englanders, the other puts it on as a stage persona.

When you see him in other situations he might well not be someone with whom I agree on many topics but I can't think of a single policy position that UKIP has with which I agree.

And having a genuine comedian as an MP could make for some deliberately entertaining speeches after all.

119:

Funnily enough - Alastair James Hay Murray, would be an 'establishment' candidate if he had sought a actual political career. Son of a Lt. Col. in the Paras, private school, Oxford, descendant of Thackeray and the Dukes of Atholl.

If you ever get the chance to read his book 'Watching War Films with My Dad' - it's much funnier and more interesting than its title suggests.

More power to his campaign.

I was never confused. ;-)

120:

Actually, the goods that remain scarce aren't only positional goods. At least in the U.S., luxuries are often cheap but necessities like housing and medical care can be insanely expensive.

Mostly it seems to be mandatory quality improvements that do the damage.

121:

"...but I can't think of a single policy position that UKIP has with which I agree."

So, no support for allowing the people of Britain a vote on EU membership.

122:

Was that supposed to be irony, or were you being rude, or were you defending $LIBERAL_ARTS ????

Seriously, this morning on Radio4 Camoron's proposal was being given a thorough rubbishing.

WHich leaves a combination/slelction of:
!: He shot his mouth off without thinking
2: Some utter prat of a "spad" told him this & he didn't consult
3: It's a front for something almost as bad, which "they" hope they can now sneak thrnough ....

123:

Which is why he, & all the other politicians, even the Milibean ( who is an atheist!) publicly grovel to & "respect" all & any religion, which makes me want to vomit.

124:

Don't know about the others, but wage-slavery is curiously at odds with UKIP's avowed public policy.
Since Empire Windrush docked, cheap, imported labour has been & is till being used by big corporate business to keep wage-rates down & also, by using people who don't "know the system" allow them to be exploited in other ways. [ Irrespective of skin colour, incidentally ]
Thus perpetuating the "wage-slave" sysem.

Wedgie Benn spotted this, long ago.

125:

What about people like me who don't give a flying fuck about "class" - because I know that some of my ancestors were pemniless refugees & others were as high as it is possible to go, without actually being royal?

I'll tell you:
The "lower" classe regard you as "patrician" (My professionally-incompetent boss told me that when I was teaching ) ... & ... the supposed "better" don't like it whe I treat them as equals - particularly if I'm brighter than they are (which is usually the case).

I get on well with Brewsters & animals, however ....

126:

To which I may add
No possibilty of getting out of ( at least some of ) the utterly insane regulations on use & similar.
HINT: I'm breaking at least one EU directive/regulation, every minute of the day.

127:

About the only policy of theirs I do agree with.

Interesting game to play if/when you UKIP candidate comes a-calling.

Say to them...

"Tell me what your policies are - without using the words 'immigration' or 'Europe' once."

[silence]

128:

I honestly don't remember hearing them say that.

I will admit I haven't made any effort to read their manifesto and the rhetoric I remember hearing has made me think if they were elected in sufficient numbers to give us PM Farage they'd just yank us out without a vote.

While I don't think there's actually a cat in hells chance of a reasonable, informed debate about Europe, I would support a vote if we could have something approaching that.

129:

I think that you've missed the aim of the proposal somewhat, and perhaps OGH has as well. There is a class of apps, and communication channels, that encrypt automatically and provide no ability for the user to access the necessary keys to allow for third-party decryption.

An example is Apple's iMessage. When enabling iMessage on a device a key pair is generated automatically, the private key kept secret locally, and the public key shared with Apple.

When someone wants to send an iMessage the sender's device contacts Apple for the possible targets to send to and retrieves all of the device public keys necessary. A separate encrypted message is then sent for each target device.

The receivers gets the senders public key from Apple and decrypts the message. This is done independently on each device.

There is no conscious decision by the sender to encrypt, no key management available, the communications is simply encrypted and unable to be intercepted by the security services.

130:

To be fair - do they need any other policies? They aren't going to get a majority government any time soon. What's wrong with being a single-issue party?

As I mentioned in a previous thread here, I see single-issue parties like UKIP, the SNP, Greens and NHAction Party as part of the first wave of the next generation of parties: a clear stance on a single issue, and a willingness to go with whatever the current polling consensus is on everything else.

The SNP support transfer of as much power as possible from Westminster to Holyrood; they don't really have a defence policy, beyond "whatever the Scottish polls say". The Greens don't care about education, except insofar as it might relate to their central thesis of environmentalism. UKIP believe in a referendum on leaving the EU, and campaigning to leave in it; they couldn't claim a mandate to carry out their education policy. *

This is a tactic ideally suited for hung parliaments and coalition governments; cabinet posts can be readily assigned among the coalition parties according to their respective fields of support. A Con/UKIP coalition would be absurd if it put a Conservative in the position to deal with the EU, or a UKIP MP anywhere else.

Extending this position....

I've seen an argument that you don't win elections by coming up with the best policies for the most important issues; you win by making your party's best issues the most important. Each party has areas where they are effectively untouchable (economy for the Tories, NHS and welfare for Labour, immigration for UKIP). If the electorate consider the economy to be the most important issue, the Tories win - and get free reign over the NHS - even though a majority (34%:22%) would rather Labour ran the NHS!

Clearly, the ideal system in this case is multiple smaller parties, each with a single stance for a limited area of expertise - for instance, Hawk and Dove parties covering defence. The post of Foreign Secretary in the coalition then goes to either a Hawk or a Dove, depending on which took the most seats. The other parties don't get on their turf, except to denote preferred partners. Hey presto, public policy follows votes - real democracy! However, that wouldn't work with FPTP, nor any single-member-per-constituency system; structural reform is needed to get there from here.

[ * OK, there's lots of gaps in this thesis. The Greens are quite hot on animal rights and wealth redistribution right now, and UKIP keep shooting their mouths off about all sorts of unrelated nonsense - but I think that's a relic of their background in the conventional parties, where you need a holistic manifesto. ]

131:

In that case, "divulge your keys" === "sign in to iMessage in the presence of an officer and hand over the device," no?

132:

"The Greens don't care about education, except insofar as it might relate to their central thesis of environmentalism."

They seem to have quite a comprehensive version of don't care: http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/ed.html

The environment is only mentioned in three of the 265 points.

133:

Exactly, and by that measure the developed world is already "Post Scarcity" - how's it all working out for us?

The way it's working now is that the ruling elite had to invent a spurious "austerity" doctrine -- which flies in the face of a century of modern economic data -- to justify generating scarcity as a discipline on the masses (to secure their own status). Which is why we have millions of people dependent on food banks in the UK, some of them so poor that they're taking food back because they've got no gas/electricity to cook it with. And why people are dying of entirely treatable cancers in Greece, because 30 year old chemotherapy agents (cheap generic off-the-shelf ones, not hideously expensive 21st century immunological treatments) aren't available because Indian pharmaceutical manufacturers won't sell to Greek hospitals (because they can get more money elsewhere).

Scarcity in the developed world, today, is like famine in the developing world -- a political construct.

134:

As I said, they have a manifesto which covers everything, because that's what you need to be a "real" party. But what fraction of Green voters do so even partly on the basis of their education policies - compared to the fraction of Labour or Conservative voters?

If they were very lucky, won 18 seats, and ended up in a coalition, how much of a popular mandate would they have to actually implement those policies?

135:

Not relevant.

The authorities should get a RIPA disclosure order for the target's phone, grab it, and slurp everything off it. This is nearly impossible to circumvent on Android, and very difficult to circumvent on iOS -- there's a workaround including their iOS provisioning tool for OSX corporate servers/schools that prevents the authorities trivially decrypting an iPhone's contents, but if you can get your hands on the Mac server the iPhone is locked to, it's game over.

The only issue with this is that it's suitable for evidence gathering when preparing a case for trial. While Cameron appears to want the ability to globally surveil the whole country at all times, turning us into a social panopticon. Guess which of these requirements I think is essential to maintaining law and order and which is on the shopping list for a police state?

136:

As I mentioned in a previous thread here, I see single-issue parties like UKIP, the SNP, Greens and NHAction Party as part of the first wave of the next generation of parties: a clear stance on a single issue, and a willingness to go with whatever the current polling consensus is on everything else.

These aren't all single issue parties. The SNP is a centre-left social democrat party with a pronounced focus on Scottish localism and autonomy; they don't have a defense policy because defense is a specifically non-devolved issue, i.e. they're not allowed to run a defense policy. If Scotland somehow acquired independence, they'd get one in a hurry (or do you think they'll shut up shop and go home after independence?).

The Greens started as a single-issue party -- if you class "save the world" as a single issue; it's a bit big -- but again, they're moving into the policy vacuum on the left that Labour vacated. (Scottish Greens and English/Welsh Greens aren't the same party, incidentally: ScotGreens are also pro-independence.) They're now basically a social democratic party with a core focus on the environment and human rights (which they see as being part of the environment picture).

The NHS party, yes, that's a single issue (albeit a big one, with tentacles curling off into the whole question of "what is a state for", when you start dissecting it).

137:

Well, there seem to be some conservatives who think it's a bad idea:
Andrew Bower: The encryption ban makes us look like the Thick Party
via @amendlocke

138:

There's an argument to be made, indeed it has recently been made by a recently retired Chief Inspector of Education, that the best thing for education in this country is actually to do nothing for at least 5 years. Not in policy terms, changes to exams, syllabi etc. except allowing you to hire and fire people. Despite the fact I hate a LOT of what Michael Gove did to the school system and I personally favour a root and branch reform (that does have an evidence base) that would make the Bevan report's proposals (and not the watered down changes that were actually implemented) look tame I actually think there's a lot of merit in this argument too. We need a chance to see where the hell we actually ARE before we go and change it.

I think a similar case could be made for the NHS too.

I don't think that's the real reason the Greens don't have a lot of education reforms in their manifesto, but I'm not that scared to see it.

139:
The SNP is a centre-left social democrat party with a pronounced focus on Scottish localism and autonomy; they don't have a defense policy because defense is a specifically non-devolved issue, i.e. they're not allowed to run a defense policy.

They have a Trident policy even though that's very much not devolved, and they had to use subsidies to cancel out the bedroom tax policy because it wasn't devolved. But that's beside my point - do they have any policies, other than devolution, which could not be divined simply by looking at opinion polls? They're centre-left social democrats because that's the middle-of-the-road "default" position for Scottish politicians, by my reading. And I don't see anything wrong with that...

If Scotland somehow acquired independence, they'd get one in a hurry (or do you think they'll shut up shop and go home after independence?).

They wouldn't close down, but I'm pretty sure they'd either immediately schism or lose half their support. They've harvested a lot of votes from the misalignment of the rUK/Scottish Overton windows; iScottish Labour and Conservative parties, severed from Westminster, would be able to realign and base policies near Scottish opinions, not an afterthought from UK elections. I reckon the SNP would move right-ish, consuming the Conservative support and leaving Labour as the official opposition on the left. Certainly, whatever remained would look pretty different from the current SNP.

The Greens [are] moving into the policy vacuum on the left that Labour vacated. [...] They're now basically a social democratic party with a core focus on the environment and human rights (which they see as being part of the environment picture).

I'll concede that, the Greens are much less single-issue than they used to be, and their support and campaigning reflects that.

Scottish Greens and English/Welsh Greens aren't the same party, incidentally: ScotGreens are also pro-independence.

They are separate, but they seem identical to me; the E&W Greens supported independence too.

140:

I could, without any computer, encrypt a message in a way that would be mathematically impossible to decrypt without the key.

There are practical problems with getting the key to the intended recipient, but the math is simple. And the overall method depends on the key being destroyed so that it isn't reused.

It's a lousy system for the computer age, for all sorts of practical reasons, but is was the gold standard of Soviet espionage, and when properly used the encrypted data never betrayed an agent. Possession of the keys was a bit of a giveaway...

I wonder where I put my d10...

(one of my schoolteachers did think a Julius Caesar cipher was a difficult puzzle, challenging us with a list of football clubs, but even I had heard of Leeds.)

141:

You touched a sore point here: we have millions of people dependent on food banks in the UK,
And, though I disagree that it is deliberate policy, because no-one, not the ruling elite, no-one at all benefits.
How the hell we actually got into this mess & how we get out of it, is nonetheless a serious question.

Same as @ #136 and which might just be because, in some areas, Camoron is STUPID?
The Home Office might want a police state, though - remember NO2iD under freedom-loving Labour?

And of, course, through all of the parties mentioned, it is beginning to boil down to NONE OF THE $ABOVE
Not a pleasant prospect

142:

The food banks are a direct consequence -- a reactive side-effect -- of deliberate policy, which is to set targets for "sanctioning" the unemployed who are claiming benefits by withdrawing their support. This scares the crap out of the unemployed and acts as a discipline on the labour force, just as prison is a discipline on the lumpenproletariat. The root cause of it all is that the current ruling faction want to drive wages down, allowing their rentier backers to maximize the profit derived from capital investment: the vision is that we're to be a low wage economy, with a thin elite of aristocrats riding on the back of a sea of industrial serfs.

Hint 1: "benefit fraud" turns out to be at an all-time low, at well under 0.1% of claims. And unemployment benefits are around 2% of the social security budget -- the lion's share is ring-fenced for the state pension (pensioners being more likely to vote, and vote conservative at that).

Hint 2: most of the cabinet are multi-millionaires. No class warfare here, nope, not at all, how could you imagine that?

As for the Home Office, yes they have an agenda of their own. It's invariant across political parties and ministers: home office ministers who refuse to tow the line (such as Norman Baker or, in the Ministry of Justice role, Kenneth Clark) are forced out.

143:

THe sight of people queing up for foodbanks is not something our rulers actually set out to do, step 4 on their "Making us and our friends rich" plan. It's an inevitable consequence, but almost certainly not a deliberate outcome.

The fact is that Cameron et al are severaly out of touch with both average people and actual reality; austerity economics doesn't work, and is known not to work, but they have their own reality bubble like the republicans in the USA.
You are not noticing the effects of this bubble, which means that otherwise nice kind well intentioned people are unable to properly see the implications of their policy or sincerely believe that the policy will work. The human mind has a great many faults and problems with interpreting the signals it gets from outside, and this is all just further evidence for it.

144:

And Charlie also ...
But this business with food banks etc started with Blair & Brown, didn't it?

I'd agree that Camoron st al are out of touch ... but I'm desperately trying to convince my ( female, Labour, registered home address about 60 seconds from ny front door ) that she is out of touch, too, inside the Westminster bubble.
She still believes in doctrinaire "socialist" solutions, in the same way that Camoron is Thatcher-lite in many respects - though still nowhere near as bad as the madwoman. [ Railways & space are getting money, f'rinstance ]
Though she ( My MP ) has done some damn good work on loan-sharks, & the profile & acceptance of professional women in society, I'm glad to say

As for the Home Office, well, we'll take that as read, shall we?
I think the only person to actually get the better of them was the best PM we never had - Roy Jenkins.
The slapping-down he gave them over Timothy Evans' posthumous reprieve was spectacular.

145:

Afterthought:
A persistent low-wage economy returns low taxes, which means no state funding, which paralyses thosse "in charge", so it is NOT a good idea .... & I think even "they "know this - I think your hypothesis fails on this basis?
Um, err .....
Oh & keeping people (meaning the lumpenproleteraiat) desperate works elsewhere, too - I spent approx 18 years trying to get employment on the basis of my Engineering MSc - & failed every time ...
So, I'm not sure that hypothesis stacks up, or not so well either.
P.S. Remember, I reject all "class" arguments as bollocks, for reasons given previously.

146:

Just to toss this into the mix talking about the 1% or .01% and how they want to keep what they have.

From a Frontline (USA) program I have on just now.
"Putin's Way"

Current media wealth in Russia is $871
In India it's over $1000.
In Russia 110 individuals own 35% of the wealth.

Data from Credit Swisse.

147:

£375 billion in "quantitative easing" ie about £6000 for every man woman and child in the UK. Where did it end up?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantitative_easing#United_Kingdom

148:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantitative_easing#Increased_income_and_wealth_inequality

"According to CNBC's Robert Frank, a Bank of England report shows that its quantitative easing policies had benefited mainly the wealthy, and that 40% of those gains went to the richest 5% of British households.[81][82] Dhaval Joshi of BCA Research wrote that "QE cash ends up overwhelmingly in profits, thereby exacerbating already extreme income inequality and the consequent social tensions that arise from it".[82] Anthony Randazzo of the Reason Foundation wrote that QE "is fundamentally a regressive redistribution program that has been boosting wealth for those already engaged in the financial sector or those who already own homes, but passing little along to the rest of the economy. It is a primary driver of income inequality".[82]"

149:

Into the hands of the asset-rich and debt free.

People like me.

The greater the value of your assets, the greater your gains.

I'm at the lower end of the percentile - but I'm better off than I was in 2008.

How many others can say that?

150:

Me.

Serious saving on the part of my mother, and then on my part has given me an income enough to just live off without working. I'm better off than I was in 2008 (just) but about 20% worse off (ie about 25 years savings have evaporated in the wind) than I was in 2011 prior to the election of the conservative government in Australia. They seemed to have learnt their economic strategy at the knee of Thatcher. They think the country is a grocers shop and run it as such. You could forgive them for making such a stupid error if there weren't a tonne of countries around that they could have learnt from and if the previous "Labor" (actually quite a long way right of centre) government hadn't shown them how it's done properly by handing them an economic miracle the envy of every other country in the world.

I guess having campaigned on a basis of the other side having been economic mismanagers it would have been hard to just copy what they did exactly.

151:

In his announcement Murray claimed not to know where South Thanet is, but he was down here a few years ago filming a Walkers Crisps advert. Later he declares that crisps will remain at their current price. Coincidence? Or is he in bed with the Snackfood-Industrial complex??!?

Slightly more seriously, this may drag off a few protest voters but the whole thing is up in the air. The area has got older (and more conservative) since a major employer pulled out, but if you split the Tory vote from the last election down the line with UKIP then you get a small Labour majority. How will it actually end up? No one knows.

(In theory I approve of a Eurosceptic/anti-regulation party to try and keep the major groups from going too far off the other end, but I would prefer one that actually wanted reform and didn't go quite so crazy; Farage, a "respectable" Old School Tory, is on the sane end of the UKIP spectrum)

152:

Re comments from OGH and others about a post-scarcity economy and the 1%, if we're heading into or already at a post-scarcity economy, why give a damn about Gini coefficients, Piketty, and wealth concentration at the top?If it's not a zero sum game, then it doesn't matter how rich any individual is as long as everyone else can get food, medicine, and housing.

Constantly telling the rich and powerful that they must lose their wealth isn't, strangely enough, going to encourage them to give up power. Proposing that other people can become better off without them moving downwards are more likely to be accepted. (But not always, rich people can be a-holes.)

153:

As Gini coefficients and wealth inequity in the UK has risen in this country over my lifetime, so has the use of food banks and the like. Coincidence? Possibly, but I doubt it.

A society which acts to punish, stigmatise and marginalise the poorest and enrich the richest further - that's this one according to a variety of bodies from organisations I don't particularly want to speak for me like the CofE to organisations like the ONS and the LSE when they look at where the money introduced from QE has gone (over 75% of it has gone to people in the top 1% of the UK's wealthiest people) while austerity measures have disproportionately affected the poorest. Reforms to the NHS, support for disabled people, the rules around being assessed as "fit for work" and the like and you get my first statement. And while it's got appreciably worse under the current mob it was getting bad under the previous lot too. We don't know how bad it would have got under a second Brown term but it would have been different - still bad though I'm sure.

So yes, sorry, worrying about Gini coefficients and the like does matter. I don't know that you have to stop the people at the top getting richer but while the focus is on doing that rather than making sure the people at the bottom actually experience something approximating a post-scarcity existence we need to do something. I think the message isn't the right message - the message as you state it is definitely not the right message. The 1% don't need to give up the power and prestige and wealth. They need to give up their assumed right to increase it as rapidly at the expense of everyone else. Please note I'm still saying they can increase it, that's fine, but the rules shouldn't be biased in their favour.

According to wikipedia, the Bank of England has indulged in QE to the tune of £375B. If that had gone 75% to the poorest 10% instead of the richest 1%, that would be ~£48k per person for poorest 6M people in the UK over the last 7 years. That's less than minimum wage but still a life-changing amount for a lot of people, particularly the poorest people. We'll never know of course, but I wonder what such a policy would have done to the economy. No fancy messing around but a direct injection of cash into the hands of the most cash poor. You can bet they'd have spent it and circulating money would have gone up. Where would the economy be now? (The richest wouldn't have got so much richer directly of course but ultimately they would have got some richer from it.)

154:

I would prefer one that actually wanted reform and didn't go quite so crazy

Ahahahaha. Nope.

It shouldn't surprise us that given our toxic media environment (hello, Mr Murdoch!) there's a crazification factor at work in UK politics as much as in the USA; about 25% of the population don't like what they see their country becoming -- or what they're told it's becoming (according to the Daily Mail) -- and want to turn the clocks back to the 1950s. The instinctive ideology of 'kippers in the UK isn't the same as that of the US's tea partiers, but it's coherent enough -- conservative nostalgia and xenophobia -- to be damaging.

The problem comes when you take a populist party that gloms onto the "let's blame some foreigners" meme (which is what euroscepticism is, at root: if the EU is so wrong, why aren't they proposing to pitch in and fix it instead of burning the house down?), mix it up with the war-on-terror-induced state of distraction that has everyone spooking at shadows around mosques, add a whole lot of suddenly poor, angry people, and kick the framework out from under the previous fringe fascist nutters in the BNP and NF.

You then end up with an angry right-wing xenophobic party that provides a ready made home for the fascists and racists -- and no, I'm not talking specifically about Farage's UKIP, I could equally well be talking about Marine le Pen's Front Nationale, or Fidesz in Hungary, or Golden Dawn in Greece.

UKIP is just the UK's expression of this dark pattern. Why can we see it so clearly for what it is when it's in another country, but so many people are blind to it at home?

155:

"...if the EU is so wrong, why aren't they proposing to pitch in and fix it instead of burning the house down?"

Because only the threat of burning it down will make a fix possible. Otherwise, it's ignore the peasants time, as usual.

"Why can we see it so clearly for what it is when it's in another country, but so many people are blind to it at home?"

I think most people do see it, but again, the only way to effect change is to threaten to burn down the political establishment if it continues to refuse to listen to the people.

156:

Because only the threat of burning it down will make a fix possible. Otherwise, it's ignore the peasants time, as usual.

The traditional plaint of the self-conceived outsider.

Hint: where do you think members of the establishment come from? Could it be that if you don't pitch in you are perpetually doomed to be an outsider? And that it's actually easier to become part of the scene than you think?

157:

And by the time you get to the point where you can make a difference as an insider you find the system constrains you in other ways career-wise. Consider UK drugs policy. I suspect the vast majority of MPs believe that it does not work and a far more liberal regime would be more effective at minimizing harm. How many are prepared to step out of line and say so, when their colleagues would use it as a weapon to beat them with ie "soft on drugs", "soft on terrorism" etc etc even if they believe the same? They are also constrained by class. In other words, by the time they are in such a position they are wealthy enough not to feel any economic pain from their policies, nor are they likely to mix with people who do.

158:

I'm continuing the drift off the original topic .... but it's kinda related as in: punitive policies need to be better thought-through because such policies are probably close to the exact opposite of what would actually work in 'solving' a problem.

"Soft on drugs" - do you mean soft on users or sellers/pushers? I don't know the statistics but I would guess that a safe injection site/clinic for heroin addicts would probably eat into drug pushers' revenue, reduce the overall crime rate, make it more possible for addicts to get into and succeed in recovery programs, reduce incarceration for drug-related crimes which in turn would reduce demand/funding for prisons, reduce drug-usage related medical issues/costs, etc. Denmark recently introduced such a program -- hopefully it succeeds. (The needle exchange programs that were launched in many countries to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS were successful, weren't it? That is, the incidence of new confirmed HIV/AIDS cases did drop.)

Below is the url to a Guardian article (I don't know what the editorial policy/leanings of this org is) showing UN statistics of opiate use worldwide. Frankly, I was very surprised to see Afghanistan and Iran at the top of the list. My only question is: what is the relative proportion of opiate users re: natives (Afghanis/Iranians) vs. outsiders (foreign troops)?


http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/interactive/2012/jul/02/drug-use-map-world

159:

An extraordinarily effective method of reducing drug-related crime? Giving the chronic addicts heroin!

160:

“The traditional plaint of the self-conceived outsider.”


Now and then you DO tend to forget your Scope and Influence hereabouts in the World. ..

Folks from across the Multiversity...the Political Modern Verse of Here And Now?

"Hint: where do you think members of the establishment come from? Could it be that if you don't pitch in you are perpetually doomed to be an outsider? And that it's actually easier to become part of the scene than you think?"

Thus? Our Grate Leader?..

" Cameron first stood for Parliament in Stafford in 1997. He ran on a Eurosceptic platform, breaking with his party's then-policy by opposing British membership of the single European currency, and was defeated by a swing close to the national average. His first successful attempt to become an MP was in the 2001 general election for the Oxfordshire constituency of Witney. He was promoted to the Opposition front bench two years later, and rose rapidly to become head of policy co-ordination during the 2005 general election campaign. With a public image of a youthful, moderate candidate who would appeal to young voters, he won the Conservative leadership election in 2005.[5]

In the 2010 United Kingdom general election held on 6 May, the Conservatives won 306 seats in a hung parliament. After five days of negotiation, Cameron formed a coalition with the Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems). Cameron leads the first coalition government of the United Kingdom since the Second World War. The 43-year-old Cameron became the youngest British Prime Minister since the Earl of Liverpool 198 years earlier.[6]

Cameron's premiership has been marked by the ongoing effects of the late-2000s financial crisis leading to a large deficit in government finances, which his government has emphasised the need to reduce through austerity measures. His administration has introduced large-scale changes to welfare, immigration policy, education and healthcare, by introducing the Welfare Reform Act of 2012, the Education Act of 2011, the Health and Social Care Act of 2012 and a range of immigration reforms from 2010 onwards, culminating in the Immigration Act of 2014.[7] In 2011, Cameron became the first British Prime Minister to 'veto' an EU treaty.[8] His government introduced a nationwide referendum on voting reform in 2011, a Falkland Islands sovereignty referendum in 2013, agreed to a Scottish independence referendum in September 2014, legalised same-sex marriages in England and Wales, met the United Nations target of spending at least 0.7% of GNI on aid to developing countries and promised an 'In/Out' Referendum on the European Union in 2017, after a period of renegotiation, if the Conservatives are re-elected with an outright majority."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Cameron

Of my previous post and Link to the Daily Mule?

Just consider the possibility that the Daily Foul describes Cameron and Co as a Good Old Fashioned Blood Sport Squires who long for a return to the good ole days of Fox Torturing and such like stuff as being ...nowhere near Right Wing Nut Enough and but that WE of the True Brits SHOULD long not only for the Image of the Past of John Major...BUT rather more towards Mag Rat Thatcher of Sacred Memory.


" ..We all rewrite our own history and Sir John is no different. Major attended not a comprehensive – as the Telegraph had it, since corrected online – but Rutlish Grammar school. He commuted out from Brixton, possibly feeling awkward about it all, and got three O-levels before leaving aged 15.

The distinction is important. Grammars were selective (I attended one myself), some of them mimicking public school habits, some highly elitist. Comprehensives were Labour's attempt to stop wasting so much talent at 11 – more successful than critics concede, though with problems of their own. "

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/11/john-major-cameron-coalition-unequal-society

But rather something else?


So ...Declaration of self interest? I failed the 11 plus...Everyone in my part of town of Sunderland in the North East of England failed the 11 plus in the 1960s and thus went on to a Very Grim Secondary Modern School...that looked like a Good Old Fashioned WORK HOUSE rather than to the local Grammar School, that looked like A Clone of a Public School. Really,it did you know ... As of The Bede Gramar School .. Ivy covered walls of buildings that were set in playing fields and that sort of thing? Latin in the First year and so on to learning French and German? Honestly it really DID and I could prove it if it were needed...and that might be because, here in U.K., there are LOTS of people who fancy themselves Socialists who just LONG for the return of Grammar Schools.


Such folk ARE Conservatives/Tories but feel deeply, but vaguely, ashamed of their allegiance and thus disguise it beneath a layer of ...' Bring Back BEST way of Elevation through the Class System !!'...O.K.A. Give MY KIDS an Advantage that they once possessed against the Great Unwashed Proles who wouldnt appreciate this advantage!! WE DESERVEIT!!!And YOU KNOW IT!!

Gimee! What Do We WANT...Class Distinction!! And When do we want it? And so forth.

This attitude governs the whole of British Society as seen from the Prominence of the Modern Middle Classes who are only just begining to realise that their class is being crushed out of existence.

The British Lower to middle Middle Classes are vanishing down the plug hole of time whilst the Richer Middle Class Folks strive to pull up the ladder behind their kids before they lose all opportunity that they and/or their sprigs stand of climbing into the lobby/ Banking waiting room of the 1% before its too late.

So, are your Children SAVED?!!Oh British Middle Class Persons? DO they BELIVE? Do You?

If you have children then do you belive that your Children deserve their Advantages if only They Deserve it ? Or even if they dont but can be leverged into the right kind of university?

All else aside, and even beyond, say, the local U.K. or U.S of A type scale on a global scale, that really is what it comes down to.

Who are you prepared to sacrifice for the advantage of your children?

IF you have children how are you obtaining advantage for them against your fellow parents? ...


http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/11124612/Todays-university-students-are-being-sold-a-lie.html

161:

Decided to read up on Cameron because some of the stuff people here are saying about him is just kinda weird. So, from Wikipedia we have ...


Defence cuts

In 2014, Cameron dismissed warnings that his cuts to the UK defence budget had left it less than a "first class-player in terms of defence" and no longer a "full partner" to the United States.[225]

Cameron has continued to push Britain's arms and related exports, including sniper rifles to Russia and chemical weapons precursors to Syria.[226]


... Someone please confirm/explain the truth/logic of this to me. [Footnote #226 is where I'm particularly stumped.]


162:


And Why not indeed! ...


““What's in those" (remembering The Merchant of Venice) "those caskets?" the Savage enquired when Bernard had rejoined him.

"The day's soma ration," Bernard answered rather indistinctly; for he was masticating a piece of Benito Hoover's chewing-gum. "They get it after their work's over. Four half-gramme tablets. Six on Saturdays." "

http://www.huxley.net/soma/somaquote.html

Keeps the proles where they belong Eh? And that is where WE all know that they really WANT to belong don’t we? And that is why you actively try to addict your children to Heroin? Well done that man! This is the Path to the Future. And given that many can be persuaded towards that path there will be another path for the truly deserving who really deserve it on account of their general worthiness.


Why waste valuable resources teaching them to value their lives and seek out such ever talents and abilities that they might possess? Instead...Heroin...err, ' The Opiate of The Masses '? Or some such futuristic thing?

163:

In the Post Scarcity Society since nobody will have to work for a living we can abolish state schools.

164:

Put ..." it does not need to be logical to be true for a given value of truth" into Google Search and see what you get.

Now doesn’t that make sense?


" In intuitionistic logic, and more generally, constructive mathematics, statements are assigned a truth value only if they can be given a constructive proof. It starts with a set of axioms, and a statement is true if you can build a proof of the statement from those axioms. A statement is false if you can deduce a contradiction from it. This leaves open the possibility of statements that have not yet been assigned a truth value.

Unproved statements in Intuitionistic logic are not given an intermediate truth value (as is sometimes mistakenly asserted). Indeed, you can prove that they have no third truth value, a result dating back to Glivenko in 1928[1]

Instead statements simply remain of unknown truth value, until they are either proved or disproved.

There are various ways of interpreting Intuitionistic logic, including the Brouwer–Heyting–Kolmogorov interpretation. See also, Intuitionistic Logic - Semantics."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truth_value

Right! NOW to Demonstrate General Unified Field Theory of Politics! Oh... I see that it is time to go to the Pub for a pint, or three, of Inspiration.

I'll give it some thought when I get back.

165:

Why waste valuable resources teaching them to value their lives and seek out such ever talents and abilities that they might possess? Instead...Heroin...err, ' The Opiate of The Masses '? Or some such futuristic thing?

Heroin is great stuff. Less addictive than cigarettes, and used pharmaceutically is a very effective pain killer. I pray that, should I be dying of cancer, I not be denied its benefits.

(Both my wife, after an injury, and my mother, when dying, were prescribed it.)

The problems with heroin are almost entirely not to do with it per se, but with the War On Some Drugs which means that street users end up with horribly adulterated versions. It's those impurities that kill people. And it's the WOSD that causes vast amounts of crime and misery. FFS, make it legal, and you'll make the world a better place, for everyone except the prison-industrial complex and the criminal gangs.

As for your moral high ground, I'd rather cope with someone who has a heroin addiction than an alcoholic. But you won't see me wanting to ban drinking.

166:

P.S. Just before I go ..


" the Brouwer–Heyting–Kolmogorov interpretation " ?

Really, Really, deserves to be in " The Laundry Files " indeed it may well be that that is where I found it once upon a time.

167:

" As for your moral high ground, I'd rather cope with someone who has a heroin addiction than an alcoholic. But you won't see me wanting to ban drinking."

Fair enough, but although I respect your personal opinion my opinion is that you are wrong.

When I was an infant and beyond my Mother was hooked on “Mothers Little Helpers”. Here, in the U.K., Doctors used to dish out diazepam (Valium) automatically when faced with Women who were ' being difficult' and as a consequence there was a vast wave of drug addiction that was hardly ever spoken of save here and there in academic studies and also in popular song. Thus...

Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, "Mother's Little Helper" was recorded in Los Angeles from 3–8 December 1965. The song deals with the sudden popularity of Valium (diazepam), a mild tranquilizer, among housewives and the ease of obtaining it from their GPs.
The song begins with the line, that is also heard as the last line in the repeated Bridge section: "What a drag it is getting old".
“ Kids are different today, I hear ev'ry mother say
Mother needs something today to calm her down
And though she's not really ill, there's a little yellow pill
She goes running for the shelter of a mother's little helper
And it helps her on her way, gets her through her busy day[2]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mother%27s_Little_Helper

A ' mild tranquilizer ' ? Bloody Hell! Mild as compared with Heroin but so much easier to find yourself addicted to Valium way back then .. and even now it is a problem.

Took my Mother years to get off Valium through her own efforts. And my experience beyond that? Certainly I’ve had to cope with people who were in extremis through dire illnesses; I’m nearly 66 so I would have had to be extraordinarily fortunate to avoid that horrible experience: a friend of mine died of stomach cancer when she was just 44 years old. Even so ...ever had to deal with someone who was HIGH on Uppers and had his teeth buried in your boot as you tried to restrain him using reasonable force?

Yes, Drugs are a Good Thing when properly prescribed and administered by people who are properly qualified to know what they are doing in a profession that is properly regulated. Otherwise? As a short cut to entertainment or as a means of social restraint? No...Not so good.


As for Alcohol abuse - Ghods but I've had to deal with people at the Alcohol end of the addictive spectrum - as against Drug abuse? Oh, come on! Choose being burned alive on a pyre or dropped into a bath of acid type arguments? You should know better!

168:

Tell, how many billions of pounds worth of crime did valium cause so that users could get their "fix"?

169:

I really wouldn’t care to quantify Valium addiction in those terms of “how many billions of pounds worth of crime " though I dare say that you could find out if you are solely concerned with money or needed an academic project as a dissertation. As for me?


" Valium Is Killing Scotland's Drug-Taking Poor"

http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/valium-is-killing-scotlands-poorest-men

"Thanks to "Mother's Little Helper" and the majority of late 20th century American fiction, many of us have been left with the mistaken belief that Valium is the preserve of the clinically bored, middle-aged housewife, when really the drug is killing Scotland's poorest men – detected in the bodies of 72 percent of all victims of drug-related death.”

As I understand it at my non specialist but interested through personal history level of knowledge these days"Valium addiction” is usually found in conjunction with addiction to alcohol and other drugs so it is a bit difficult to figure out as some sort of cost benefit analysis.


170:

Well, according to the article I quoted the illegality of cocaine amounts to some $400 billion per year. Rather a high price to save people from themselves given that most that that money flows into organized crime that corrupts our society from top to bottom.

Perhaps we should be grateful...
http://www.theguardian.com/global/2009/dec/13/drug-money-banks-saved-un-cfief-claims

"Drugs money worth billions of dollars kept the financial system afloat at the height of the global crisis, the United Nations' drugs and crime tsar has told the Observer."

171:

A thought on unemployment, austerity etc that I find strangely not more widely acknowledged;
Its now completely unquestioned bipartisan policy across the developed world to deliberately keep a large portion of the workforce unemployed. This is institutionalised through the mechanism of the central bank either lowering rates as demand drops or pointedly raising them to 'combat inflation' (read prevent workers gaining greater bargaining power vs employers).
So next time a politician starts talking about welfare abuse or making the unemployed look harder for work remember what they're really saying is "We've forced companies to sack the most marginal employees and if you elect me I promise to kick them for getting sacked."

172:

I do see what you mean in those economic terms.

Just because I, personally, am repelled by the cold equations of addiction/profit and the price paid by the poor addicts that goes far beyond money don’t think I'm not prone to the occasional grim smile when I come across this sort of thing..


" With growth hard to come by in the eurozone, a number of countries including the UK, Ireland and Italy have begun to change the way they calculate their respective GDPs, factoring in illegal activity. This is a move which could see billions of dollars added to the GDPs of a number of European economies in the near future.

The decision taken by the UK and others to include illegal activity has raised eyebrows, although more countries will soon follow suit. The EU is following a ‘best practices’ directive which was set out by the United Nations in 2008, although the figures across Europe will undoubtedly be difficult to calculate and standardise."

http://www.financierworldwide.com/gdp-to-include-illegal-activity/#.VLrqCi62p4I


" ..difficult to calculate and standardise." indeed!


You really do need to have a perculiar sort of world view to make that sort of statemnt.

173:

The problems with heroin are almost entirely not to do with it per se, but with the War On Some Drugs which means that street users end up with horribly adulterated versions. It's those impurities that kill people.

It's not the impurities per se, but the variability in the impurities. Common street heroin is, I'm told, about 10% pure. Overdoses happen mostly when somebody who's used to that stuff gets the good stuff (maybe 80% pure). They often try to prevent an overdose by halving the dose, but it's still way too much.

174:
Hopefully his advisors will take him aside over the next few days and teach him better, or he'll lose the election this May.

Err, first off I was somewhat surprised you thinking Cameron losing the election being a bad thing, but now i guess you meant "he either drops that one, or we have to hope he loses the election".

175:

Well, though heroin has its advantages, maybe modern life sciences could come up with something better. ;)

First of, there are the partial antagonists, like buprenorphine, which might have a larger therapeutic window:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buprenorphine

Second of, well, most opiates hit on all opioid receptors (and maybe some other GPCRs), so more selective agents might have less side-effects (or more, come to think of COX2 inhibitors).

Third of, there is the concept of functional selectivity,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Functional_selectivity

so maybe we might still get an opioid devoid of tolerance and like.

(and maybe getting rid of the rare but severe cases of leukoencephalopathy after opioid use:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20440598 )

176:

I agree chronic use of benzodiazepines is usually problematic[1], and it's one of the few drugs where you can die from withdrawl, except, err, what's the name of the other one, err, yes, alcohol.

Actually, benzodiazepines and alcohol are somewhat similar concerning their mode of action, they both act on the GABA(A) receptor. With the marked difference that alcohol has a host of other targets, and in the quantities used its plain cellular biochemistry alters digestion and metabolism.

Basically, one of the problems with Valium et al. is their relative lack of side effects. ;)

[1] Maybe less so with some newer more selective agents, but then, never believe what the pharma sales person says...

177:

Mixing drugs is always tricks. Says he on three drugs just for his hypertension, still less than my mother, though[1]...

[1] When first visiting a physician about my hypertension, I described her "Hausapotheke" with "There was evidence in this room, of excessive consumption of almost every type of cardiovascular drug known to civilized man since 1958 A.D." But I digress.

178:

"Mixing drugs is always tricks."

After my Father died I spent about an hour opening small bottles and blister packs and flushing them down the loo. I'm still convinced that hypochondria combined with doctor shopping is what carried him off this mortal coil. Entirely preventable with a proper central medical records system, but that's still many decades in the future.

Interestingly some people feel it's the same with Heroin, it's not the heroin as such (nor the purity level, nor the fillers) it's the mixing it with a bunch of other random drugs.

http://theconversation.com/three-persistent-myths-about-heroin-use-and-overdose-deaths-22895

179:

Err, I was saying it was tricky, not necessarily bad. Problem is, the human body is doing this thing called homeostasis, e.g. trying to keep conditions identical to a certain value. Problem is, this value might be maladaptive in the first place, and the control system is not that failsafe, either. And reality kicks in...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homeostasis#Homeostatic_imbalance

Take my history of hypertension medication; I started on a somewhat low dose of an calcium channel blocker, which likely works by relaxing blood vessels. Problem is, my body didn't like that and though it was some kind of accident, so to keep my organs from starving, it upped heart rate, which, spending large parts of my misspent youth with the local sprayers was not that new to me as symptoms go. At least your eyes don't turn red. After some time, this tachycardia disappeared, but my body found new tricks to up my blood pressure, most likely it involved upping the volume. So we started a diuretic to get rid of some water. And if that isn't enough, send in the ACE-inhibitor, which also acts on blood vessels, but inhibits water readsorption in the kidney for added lulz. Seems to work, till now. Err, could we please abstain from the "you should relax" etc. admonitions?

Another problem is most enzymes have multiple roles, and most drugs are not that selective. Take most NSAIDs, they inhibit COX2, which is involved in pain, but also COX1, which is involeved in your stomach not digesting itself. which explains why it's standard practice to combine them with an antacid. Well, of course we could try selective COX2 inhibitors, but IIRC there was some problem, what was it, oh, yes, one of those had to be withdrawn because people dropped like flies for cardiovascular reasons.

Opioids like heroin are a similar issue, mu-receptors are not just involved in pain, but also in gut motility, so one of the side effects is constipation. Which can be countered by laxatives or peripheral opioid antagonists. Many injected opiates release histamine, where most of us are not that keen of stinging nettles, which use a similar effect, so they are sometimes combined with an H1-antagonist, both for medicinal and, err, recreational use. And then there is the fact opioids block only some pain, not all, and the amount depends on the type of pain. Also, some substances heighten analgesic effects without affecting gut motility or breathing or additional sedation, so one might use those etc.

TL;DR, using multiple drugs might make a big positive effect on treatment and patient life, and even with single drugs, medicinal chemists think "smart bombs" might be better than "magic bullets" in some cases. But for the same reasons, you have to be careful what you mix. I'd be somewhat careful to state if some cocktail was really overprescription, though of course it happens too often.

Disclaimer: I'm neither a pharmacologist nor a pharmacist not a medical doctor, but I play one on the internet. I studied molecular biology, though, so make of this what you want.

180:

I finally followed the link about David Cameron's career in TV.

He was trying to sell commercial TV in the late nineties, when Carlton Television, which he worked for, became involved with digital TV.

The marketing was not good. OnDigital, rebranded at ITVDigital, was an expensive flop that broke Carlton Television. They paid so much for third-rate English football that it would have been cheaper to send out chauffeur-driven limousines to deliver subscribers to the matches they wanted to see. The technology picked was a bit crap, but it set the digital TV standard for the UK. The subscription system could be cracked. (Such things depend on encryption, which is rather suggestive in the current context.)

Do you remember the OnDigital monkey?

The Philips box I had was pretty decent, but the standards have changed with the digital switchover. There's been a tenfold drop in the hardware cost, if you need an STB, but modern TVs have to have the decoder built in.

And there's Cameron, elected to parliament as Carlton and OnDigital were collapsing, and becoming the party leader with only a few years of experience. How many buried bodies did he need to know about to manage that?


181:

Pitching in & fixing it would be wonderful - I agree.
Unfortunately - NOT A CHANCE
The corrupt corprate-industial tax-dodgers at the heart of the EU ( Junker is a classic example) will not permit it. Much too nice agravy-train.
That is the problem & why I very relucatantly, have switched sides & want OUT - so that we can be in the deradful poverty-stricken position of Norway or Switzerland, cough.
Remember, there are a lot of "old Labour" sympathisers to UKIP - as I've said before & they ain't racists, because quite a few people "On the plots" are certainly not pink.

182:

The trouble with far too many comprehensives is that they resoutely refused to have internal setting &/or streaming, with full "mixed-abilty" classes.
A total disaster.
Although I went to a very good "Grammar" there is nothing at all wrong with comprehensive education - IF IT IS DONE RIGHT.
But it wasn't for insane doctrinaire reasons.

183:

In my experience of doing drug testing for addiction units the urine of all drug addicts contains benzodiazepines. We didn't specifically test for these drugs but in the urine of benzodiazepine users there is a typical generalised fluorescent background when the chromatogram is viewed under UV.
When we used lab staff as controls (eg someone had taken solpadine for a headache or a clinical trial of methadone) this background was absent.

184:

A lot of the problem with the war on drugs is the language. Why do we (as a society) decide that some drugs are OK and some are so wicked they must be made illegal and any attempt to use them instantly makes you a criminal?

Why do we treat alcohol addiction and tobacco addiction as medical conditions and although we do treat heroin addiction as a medical condition we also automatically treat it as a criminal one too?

Saying "OMG, the fabric of society would unravel if we let people take heroin without making them criminals" is likely rubbish. We already have the power to treat specific acts while under the influence as illegal. Drunk driving is a criminal offence, being drunk at home (or in the pub and going home without driving yourself) is not. Is it really impossible to imagine laws that say you can take safely prepared heroin at home but if you become an addict and then steal to raise money to feed your habit - stealing in its various legal forms is already crime after all - you get treated as a criminal for the theft.

Despite all the hot air, The Netherlands hasn't collapsed despite legalising cannabis. Nor have the several US states that have done the same. I'm not saying you have to go to the same level with all the drugs that are out there - and indeed I'd be uncomfortable if you could walk into a shop and buy heroin over the counter - but sacking the chief advisor on drug policy when he says the evidence shows gymkhanas are more dangerous than many class A drugs because it's politically uncomfortable is a poor approach to appeasing anyone except the rabid voices in the press that refuse to allow anything approaching a rational debate on so many topics.

185:

"stealing in its various legal forms" - I meant to say in its various legally defined forms, the differences between theft, shoplifting, burglary, etc.

186:

Hint: where do you think members of the establishment come from? Could it be that if you don't pitch in you are perpetually doomed to be an outsider? And that it's actually easier to become part of the scene than you think?

Politicians don't change the system nearly as much as the system changes them. A person who spends the first 20 or 30 years of their adult life carefully working their way up the ladders of power isn't going to suddenly remember the idealism of their 20 year old self. A person who clings to their idealism is going to be lucky to get on any ballot as a no-hope, minor party candidate; politicians act cynically because the Darwinian forces of democracy keep eliminating the candidates who don't.

187:

Thanks! This explains quite a bit: an elderly family member just about clawed herself raw after being put on codeine for arthritis pain.

Would like to see as much effort put into working out predictive models re: drug sensitivity/side effects as has been put into the stock market, i.e., get some solid math models/algorithms for better/personalized usage. Such a strategy would probably save ton$ in health care costs, suffering, and deaths. Considering the aging baby boomer population, it's also timely/urgent.

Idea - probably more applicable to the U.S. model than other jurisdictions: Health care insurers have slews of actuaries - math/stats specialists - why not have them help design such algorithms? After all, if they're loathe to pay for treatment, and claim that premiums are based on their assessment of the individual's risk profile, the very least they should be compelled to do is provide evidence backing their claim. The level of evidence should be at least at the depth of current medical best-practices standards, i.e.,clinical trials, adverse event reporting, etc. (Feel free to point out glaring holes, take pot shots, etc. because if this does make sense, I might propose it the next time the politicos do their reach-out-to-the-community rounds.)

188:

Just found this - NIH white paper on opioid use has just been posted. Article immediately below:

http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=2089371

Excerpt:

"The report was posted on the ODP Web site for 2 weeks for public comment. This article is an abridged version of the panel's report, the full version of which is available at at https://prevention.nih.gov/programs-events/pathways-to-prevention/workshops/opioids-chronic-pain/workshop-resources#finalreport."

189:

Much too nice a gravy-train

Well, if its good enough for Nigel Farage and his twenty-three colleagues, it must be OK.

The chances of UKIP MEPs forcing the EU to dissolve itself from within are nil, so membership must have its privileges, ha ha.

In British & European politics, the rewards for impotence and failure are very agreeable.

The only parliament which can withdraw Britain from the EU is at Westminster, and the chances of UKIP having a 50%+1 majority there are also nil.

As someone who dislikes the EU as much as the Conservatives who took us into it, the irresistible rise of UKIP is a never-ending source of amusement.

190:

Fair enough, but although I respect your personal opinion my opinion is that you are wrong. ... When I was an infant and beyond my Mother was hooked on “Mothers Little Helpers”. Here, in the U.K., Doctors used to dish out diazepam

Arnold, Alan said he's in favour of legalizing X because it's safe, controllable, and less dangerous than alcohol; and your response is to denounce the evils of Y, which is not remotely comparable to X.

Here's a hint: benzodiazepines and opiates are entirely different classes of drug, with different effects. And benzodiazepine (valium) addiction is indeed horrible: it takes a while to dig its claws into the user, but it's somewhere between alcohol and tobacco in terms of addictiveness, and the withdrawal symptoms are worse than those of heroin (which resembles mild flu with a side-order of nausea and diarrhoea but is over inside a week -- BZP withdrawl takes roughly a month per year of use, cumulative).

Seriously, I used to do this shit for a living. Don't give me crap. Alcohol addiction kills around 25,000 people a year in the UK, and the death toll from smoking is horrendous. Whereas paracetamol overdoses[*] kill more people than all illegal street drugs combined.

If we were focussed on harm reduction? We'd ban smoking and chewing tobacco (and provide free nicotine vaporizers for their users to stop them going to the black market), bring in a blanket 20mph speed limit on all roads except major traffic arteries, and crack down on drink-driving -- mandatory alcohol detox treatment for a first offense, backed up with a prison sentence in event of non-compliance or re-offending. We'd legalize cannabis and heroin (the latter to be made available on prescription so it the users' health could be monitored). And we'd cancel the War on Terror as a futile waste of resources.


[*] That's acetaminophen to the Americans in the audience.

191:

Arnold, the reason valium is the scourge of Scottish junkies is nothing to do with it being toxic, and everything to do with the fact that the zero-tolerance approach to drug abuse in Scotland (thank you, presbyterian ideologues in Police Scotland) has made it hard for them to get heroin. So they get whatever they can, grind it up, and inject it. A decade ago it was temazepam capsules -- "jellies". They'd heat the gel from inside the capsules until it melted then inject it for a heroin-like rush. Of course, if you inject gelatin, when it cools it tends to solidify. Result: gangrene!

The drug itself is highly addictive but not intrinsically toxic. The problem is the war addicts were abusing it.

For another example of the harm caused by criminalizing drugs, you might want to google on Krokodil (a hideous Russian street drug) which caught on because the Russian cops have been somewhat successful in throttling the supply of heroin coming in from Afghanistan. The "cure" is far, far worse than the disease of heroin addiction.

192:

What's your opinion of THC patches for chronic pain management - has this ever been tried/studied in Scotland?

193:

Well, the problem with krokodil is not that it is inherently toxic. It's because of incompetent kitchen chemists making it so badly people are injecting elemental phosphorus and iodine with it.

195:


I haven’t come across “you might want to google on Krokodil (a hideous Russian street drug) “as other than a reference to the plaint of the Former Soviet Unions Citizens after the Soviet Union Crashed and Burned.

I'd place it as being a variant on Things is ghastly how we can escape them even inside our own heads. As a comparison that I came upon some time ago?


http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-25961063

Of course then there is also the boom in Crystal Meth Addiction here and there across the world ... and why it hasn't taken off here in the U.K.? Cheap and easy enough to produce? So why not? Addictive behaviour isn't controlled by War against Drugs Horror Stories along the lines of It'll EAT You Teeth!!! Addicts just don’t care about the penalties but are fixed on the moment.


"Breaking Bad: Why doesn't the UK have a crystal meth problem?"

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-23453028

Once Upon a Time and Long ago in the 1960s/70s we in the U.K. didn’t have a HARD DRUGS problem.

Way back then I was once shown round a School of Pharmacy as a Junior Tech from another discipline and my Guide casually picked up a Jar that was resting on an Old Fashioned Teak Bench. My Guide Sighed and said " Know wot this is Laddy?” I didn’t “Its Diamorphine, which is to say Heroin “...and my only reference was that of being Fan of Jazz music. Guide put the Bottle of Doom back inside a wooden cabinet - that could have been broken open with a table spoon - and locked the same with a KEY ...this was not high tech security but then the denizens of Pharmacy were far more concerned that their personal lockers might be broken into than that people might steal the heroin ..We had a spate of thefts back then and guess whose white lab coat was stolen from a nearby building?

It honestly hadn’t occurred to anyone back then that people might want to break in and Steal the Drugs.


Reaching forward to the late 1980s and first personal attack of clinical depression around about the '90s...warning that my memory is severely degraded at that time...people were exchanging computer memory boards as currency for their drugs of choice with dealers in local to University Night Clubs.Its a funny old world.

Sometime betwixt then late '60s and later the “WAR “against Drugs broke out.

All sorts of conspiracy theories about the Vietnam War and the monetary value of Drugs of Choice and Fashion between now and then, but for little it’s worth my own view is that the Drugs Genie is out of the bottle and just can’t be contained save by giving the consumer something better on which to base their lives. Maybe safer DRUGS of the SOMA type might appear from the Spectrum of Designer Drugs that are appearing here and now and a bit beyond?

My own non specialist thought is that current research development of therapeutic drugs based upon individual gene analysis - and maybe advanced medical scanning? - May just May produce safe to the individual...err lack the Voclabery here ... 'Entertainment ' perhaps? Drugs, including even therapeutic Techniques that will enable us to Play Back our more pleasant memories

I'm not all that optimistic on that happening any day soon given the current economic situation and the likelihood of what we in the U.K. will get to govern us in May time.

Ghods but I'm Cheery this evening.


Hope that this makes some sort of sense.


196:

That's among the most cogent arguments I've ever seen for anything. It stands in sharp contrast to the muddy bullshit that comes out of the mouths of all our elected and as yet unelected politicians the world over.

I frankly despair. There are people like OGH who see clearly and yet there's not one of his ilk in the tens of thousands of our leaders. Even the despots who avoid the democratic process are as apparently stupid as the elected officials. In my darker moments it even makes me a Monarchist in that random selection via accident of birth seems more likely to throw up a good leader once in a while. The other methods seem to exclude any chance of getting one.

197:

“If we were focussed on harm reduction? We'd ban smoking and chewing tobacco (and provide free nicotine vaporizers for their users to stop them going to the black market), bring in a blanket 20mph speed limit on all roads except major traffic arteries, and crack down on drink-driving -- mandatory alcohol detox treatment for a first offense, backed up with a prison sentence in event of non-compliance or re-offending. We'd legalize cannabis and heroin (the latter to be made available on prescription so it the users' health could be monitored). "

I am not about to quarrel with the principle of, “harm reduction “as you describe it ...save that the issue of Heroin will need to be contained under safe and hygenic conditions to aviod the spread of ghastly infections that addicts are just incapable of managing for themselves.

That’s just damage control though and it’s altogether too easy for people to be hooked on addictive substances when they are far too young to make a sensible decision.


In an ideal world I’d utterly destroy the illegal drugs trade by making Effective Drugs cheaper than illegal drugs but under an extension of local - this in UK - G.Ps surgeries ability to issue carefully controlled and monitored Drugs of Choice with an extension of Social Care ... 'Just Why Do You Want to take this Dire Stuff oh best beloved ' type support and really DIRE penalties for people who sell drugs to children.

As for drink and drive and or Drive when drugged? I like to think that will be taken care of by self driving cars in the near future with really dire penalties for people who override the auto systems that they might enjoy manual driving at high speed.

Disclosure on that...I once was advised by a police officer to disgard my suede boots after I had responded to a road trafic accident as a pedestrian. 'My' victim had fallen into the path of a speeding car...amazing the damage that a falling human body can do to a poor mini car...and apart from making sure that the poor sod was in the recovery position I couldn't do much and I just didn't notice the Blood that had soaked my feet but rather was baffeled by Snoring that the poor man was doing. Afterwards it was fairly obvious that the poor sod had been killed but he just wasn't dead yet.

Roll on every car being a non human controlled car.

198:

You are of course right; UKIP is the end result of the competition between it, the Referendum Party, other minor Eurosceptic parties and the Tory Eurosceptic wing to find out who could be most reactionary without actually becoming the BNP*. With the Tories wanting to (appear to) position themselves as close to the centre ground as possible (to pull in enough undecided and soft Labour voters), they were free to wander all over that ground criticisng the EU and the Conservatives from that flank.

Insert acknowledgement of the simplification problems with one-directional left wing/right wing political spectrum here.

* Because if you're half a step to the left of the fascists you're okay! I'm pretty sure that's how it works.

199:

So, accroding to you, it's reactionary & almost-but-not-quite fascist to want the following got rid of:
Corrupt business decisions taken by corporates in Brussels overe-ruling local decisions here?
Or the "race to the bottom" in wages & employment cobnditons squashed, because you don't have cheap, locally-ignorant immagrants taking all the (below) minimum-wage jobs?
Or other corrupt decisions, so that $Big_Business can use product X, but you can't - even though it is safe?
Or small produces &or local businesses driven out, because they can't afford the delieberately onerous regulations, specifically designes so that the bog boy can manage 8 the little ones can't? [ Please note this is NOT an argument against real safety regs ]
Or a deliberate policy to go over to "roman" rather than "common" law principles?
Or the dreaded EAW - a disgusting injustice?
The last two, IMHO are contrary to the 1688-9 Bill of Rights - which in this anniversray year of Magna Carta, I notice the politicos are keeping quiet about, because they have already sold the pass.

200:

You can tell crypto-fascist authoritarians by their behaviour when mocked or criticized. If when you criticise someone, they use threats to try to shut you up, then hey, nasty people.

If they happen also to magically attract the racists, sexists and homophobes, that's a second sign. Though given that racists, sexists and homophobes tend to be prone to threatening behaviour anyway, it's really only confirmation of the first tendency.

Were UKIP not so well described by the above, their policies and arguments might be worth examining. But they are, and they have disturbingly cultist tendencies in my experience.

(What other party has its own founder describing them as "racist and [...] infected by the far right" and "even less liberal than the BNP"? The latter perhaps explains why the BNP's electorate appears to have gone over to UKIP en masse.)

201:

Actually paracetamol overdoses in the UK were reduced by government action. Since pack sizes were limited overdoses have dropped by over 40%,
In my experience the pack size limit affected salicylate (asprin) overdoses even more). About 4 years ago we needed to introduce a new salicylate assay and our protocol required patient comparisons of the old and new method. After about 6 months there had been no positive tests and we had to resort to ther lab staff all getting "headaches" at the same time and taking asprin. Of course we also took blood from the sufferers for comparisons. Before the pack size changes positive salicylates were common,now they are very rare,
The rise of ibuprofen may also have an effect but from personal experience the pack size reduction led to an immediate fall in overdoses.
It is possible to include an antidote with paracetamol but it increases the size of the tablet so much that it's unpalatable.It also makes the breath smell of sulphur compounds.
When I did my Clinical Biochemistry MSc in Leeds we had lectures from staff of the addiction unit who said that at that time (1990s) drug addicts in Leeds stopped their addiction after about 4 years but in that time a quarter of them died.

202:
Health care insurers have slews of actuaries - math/stats specialists - why not have them help design such algorithms?
The economy is already made of numbers; we're not there yet with our own anatomy. We discovered a new type of brain cell last September; we only found out there were specific itch detectors two years ago. We often underestimate just how fiendishly complicated the human body is.
203:

I am not about to quarrel with the principle of, “harm reduction “as you describe it ...save that the issue of Heroin will need to be contained under safe and hygenic conditions to aviod the spread of ghastly infections that addicts are just incapable of managing for themselves.

In the 1920s, when the first Dangerous Drugs Act was passed in the UK, addicts were required to register in order to keep buying their supplies (legally, with a prescription) from pharmacies. A survey of their occupations and backgrounds determined that, of the 10,000 or so heroin addicts in the UK (compared to an estimated 500,000 today), 50% were doctors or pharmacists. And they were perfectly capable of performing their professional duties satisfactorily, before going home and indulging in their habit (using a sterilized syringe and pharmaceutical grade materials). The typical duration of their use was 20-30 years, with virtually no overdoses or complications. In other words, heroin use was a marginal "hobbyist" preoccupation of the medical classes with no obvious detrimental effect on society.

A rather more serious problem was the use of heroin in baby's gripe water(!) in the late Victorian/Edwardian period (nanny's little helper), but this was addressed by better regulation of the ingredients of medicines rather than by treating babies as junkies and nursemaids as pushers.

Back in the late 80s I used to buy diamorphine and cocaine in the course of my business. A 5 gram jar of pharmaceutical-grade product cost around £3 at wholesale prices -- make that equivalent to 20 grams at street purity. An addict with an insane heroin habit -- the equivalent of an alcoholic with a bottle of Scotch a day habit -- consumes maybe 1000mg at full purity, but probably a lot less; that 5g jar would credibly last them from 1-4 weeks. A much more expensive component of the habit would be the disposable syringes (at, say, £1/shot). The the take-away you should get from this is that a legal heroin habit should cost about as much as going to the pub and drinking three pints of beer once a week, or smoking a pack of 20 cigarettes. And should be about as harmful, and no more detrimental to the addict's ability to hold down a job and participate in society and not engage in a life of crime.

204:
The the take-away you should get from this is that a legal heroin habit should cost about as much as going to the pub and drinking three pints of beer once a week, or smoking a pack of 20 cigarettes. And should be about as harmful, and no more detrimental to the addict's ability to hold down a job and participate in society and not engage in a life of crime.

This.

People are always surprised when I talk about the number of nice middle class folk who had drug addiction problems back when I worked as a volunteer counsellor back in the early nineties. The heroin or cocaine version of the functional alcoholic. They had a serious addiction problem, but they don't fit into the media stereotype of the criminal, disease addled, drug addict. When you see those folk take the dive into that stereotype it's not because the "addiction" is worse than alcohol, or the effects of the drug are worse than alcohol. It's because of the criminality/price makes maintaining a "normal" lifestyle impossible. And ironically the support network for drug addiction in the UK (at that point anyway — maybe it's different now) didn't kick in until you were in deep shit.

Sadly most people, and the media, can't seem to separate the problems of addiction and the problems of criminality.

The dangers of bathtub gin are different from the problems of alcoholism.

The societal effects of prohibition are different from the problems of alcoholism.

… but we just have the one "war on drugs".

Sigh.

205:
Would like to see as much effort put into working out predictive models re: drug sensitivity/side effects as has been put into the stock market, i.e., get some solid math models/algorithms for better/personalized usage. Such a strategy would probably save ton$ in health care costs, suffering, and deaths. Considering the aging baby boomer population, it's also timely/urgent.

This is already a very active area of research that generally sits under the heading of Personalized medicine.

206:
"After my Father died I spent about an hour opening small bottles and blister packs and flushing them down the loo."

I've been told that this is not an advisable method for disposing of pharmaceuticals, because your neighbourhood sewage treatment facility is probably not very well equipped for filtering them out of the water, thus you end up having the drugs in ground water, and ultimately in drinking water.

Returning unused drugs to your pharmacist for safe disposal would be a better choice, especially if you want to get rid of larger quantities.

207:

or just put them in the garbage for thermal recycling (that's currently the official advice in Germany)

208:

And to return to the point I made about politicians being locked into the system... You think they don't know all this? That their experts have not told them?

209:

I thought the same thing about a month later. At the time I wasn't making good decisions or thinking straight.

210:

If you're still in this area, suggest you listen to that NIH conference. There's over 6 hours' worth for each of the 2 days. To start: Opiate therapy has never been properly studied because it was in widespread use before proof of function/safety was a clinical trial/FDA requirement, i.e., opiates were grandfathered.

Here's Day 1:

Pathways to Prevention Workshop on The Effectiveness and Risks of Long-Term Opioid Treatment of Chronic Pain - Day 1

http://videocast.nih.gov/summary.asp?Live=13894&bhcp=1

I'm not in this business/industry, my concern is what options are available for an aging parent with increasingly severe chronic pain.

My suggestion re: insurers is because they would/should have a ton of data in terms of which drugs any clients were on over the years. Their data would be more extensive, longitudinal*, cover more diseases and predate government e-health records. (* My thinking here is: Anyone with a serious enough condition to need opiates probably would not change jobs/risk not being able to get medical insurance coverage again.)

211:

Yes, personalized medicine would be nice ... so far the local GP does not have any handy in-office test to predetermine risk/benefit of any of the drugs he/she is likely to prescribe.

212:

Another manifestation of one size fits all,there will always be those,who upon taking,cannot leave,of those,some will make a complete botch of their lives,of those,some will have parents who have political access,and wish no one to go through the same. No wonder politicians shy from that aspect of libertarians,the bereaved who blame drugs are so much louder than those that blame the "sarlacc pit" that western legal systems can be.

213:
Yes, personalized medicine would be nice ... so far the local GP does not have any handy in-office test to predetermine risk/benefit of any of the drugs he/she is likely to prescribe.

And that's coz the general problem it's really, really hard. Depending on genotypes, phenotype, environmental factors, cognitive factors, current treatments, history treatment, etc.

We don't have the tools to get that information effectively. We don't have the knowledge yet to apply that information even if we had it. But folk are poking at the area aggressively.

Whole genome sequencing is becoming cheap fast. We've just got to the point where (arguably) we can get a full genome sequenced for $1000. That number is only going to go down.

We just need to carry on hacking at the hard problem of how to use that information effectively and responsibly. Which clever folk are.

GPs use "personalised" models of risk all of the time. The NHS has been getting a lot better at the old evidence based medicine stuff for a while now. Long way to go of course since they're only able to use fairly blunt factors.

There's also a real generational difference in the GPs — at least in my experience.

My old GP was very much in the "take this pill" school.

The new young GP is in the show-me-the-screen, review the risk model with me, and mutually decide what the most sensible next step school. Which has good points (no blood pressure meds despite being a fat dude with high blood pressure) and bad points (some personally mildly scary stuff about heritability of prostrate cancer + my current physical state). But hey — knowledge is power and all that.

215:

If you like, although I think you missed me back at #151 when I said "In theory I approve of a Eurosceptic/anti-regulation party to try and keep the major groups from going too far off the other end, but I would prefer one that actually wanted reform and didn't go quite so crazy..."

The reactionary bit is more the kind of thing where UKIP members suggest that floods were caused by divine disapproval of same sex marriage, propose banning the burqah, that wind farms should be demolished and the NHS should be privatised. (Admittedly the last is a more mainstream policy than I'd prefer.) I'm not sure that those have very much to do with EU corruption.

216:

The reactionary bit is more the kind of thing where UKIP members suggest ... that wind farms should be demolished ...

On this particular issue in the USA the biggest opponents turn out to be those with nice views that might get to see a windmill or few off in the distance. In other words, liberal or conservative labels don't matter. Depth of pocket book and location of nice home is all it seems to be about. And they open up said pocket book to stop them.

217:

RE: unneeded drugs
or just put them in the garbage for thermal recycling (that's currently the official advice in Germany)

Hmmm. What is this?

In the US most of us have garbage which goes to a landfill or recycling which goes to someone who sorts it out and (IN THEORY) sends it off for re-use. Plus a few (but more and more) compose non meat food items. And where I am you can send cooking oil, electronics (required for these), motor oil, tires, hazardous, etc... to the county facility.

218:

Andreas is right, and I wasn't up to date.

In Germany, we're big on recycling. We're famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) for our Mülltrennung (sorting our waste into different bins — up to five for each house). If you're doing it right, all recyclable material gets collected, and only the really non-reusable stuff ends in the final bin, the one for household waste that is really waste. This household waste hasn't been dumped in landfills for decades now. All of it goes into one of these instead, which is euphemistically called thermal recycling, because if nothing else, you can at least turn your garbage into heat (which is used for industrial processes). Only the leftovers from incineration are then finally put into landfills, which has the side-effect of also reducing the volume of waste that has to be disposed of in landfills.

The incineration ovens work at temperatures that crack almost all pharmaceuticals, so the German ministry of health does indeed officially recommend this as the safest and preferred method of disposal, with exceptions only for very few substances. Consequently, pharmacists are actually no longer required to take drugs back for disposal, although I'd guess that most of them still would do (and probably throw the stuff in their household waste bins). Somehow, I had missed this development.

219:

Here in the States, there's usually one bin for recyclables. It's fairly common for the recyclables to end up in the landfill with the ordinary trash, just because dealing with them separately is a pain.

220:

Which goes to show (as if we didn't know already) how totallu effing insane the guvmint's "policy" on drugs is.
Which reminds me, in a perfect mirror-image the (English) "green" party have just published a manifesto-thing, in which the ONLY sane element is to decriminalise drugs.
As for the rest, the word "Watermelon" comes to mind.

Which also shows, yet again, that there is no one single party worth voting FOR (as opposed to least worst) at the upcoming election.

221:

Britain has better recycling than the USA. but variable. And while burning waste has been around for a long time, it's unusual. Over the last few years, waste disposal has been made more difficult, and the government policy of "austerity" has got in the way of maintaining systems.

In some cases, rules on safety lead to re-usable items being scrapped. The fire risk from furniture requires specific safety labels to be applied by the manufacturer, and there is stuff which is too old to have them, and not old enough to be an antique-like exception. Electrical goods need a safety check before being transferred to a new user. This is plausibly a good thing but, together with the flood of charity shops. there are fewer and fewer practical re-use pathways available. I know of one charity which handles furniture, but nothing I have wanted to be rid of has met their somewhat arbitrary quality standard.

And local auction rooms, which shifted a lot of stuff, have been closing down.

All this was a form of austerity which worked. You might need to get something cleaned and repaired, but you didn't have to buy new. The post-WW2 "austerity" standards produced stuff which lasted, and is even collectable now. But for the ordinary household the supply of re-used items has dried up, and much of what is available new is veneered chipboard rubbish.

OGH spends his furniture money on good stuff, which will last. Over the expected life, such things cost less, but the modern austerity counts against the higher up-front cost.

The switch to digital TV in the UK was probably a good thing, but I still see 4:3 CRT sets in use. The new technology is surprisingly cheap, but do you have the money to spend?

This is another of those times when I start to think that the true purpose of the system is to destroy the wealth of the poorest households. Look around you, and ask yourself whether there is any cash value in your furniture. And is eBay the only answer?

222:

Yup - I think we had "crossed wires" there.

On the NHS - I uinderstand that "They've had a debate" & also that the NHS is actually cheaper may have started to penetrate, too ....
[ In spite of the appalling waste at the very lowest leve in the NHS, because of a total absence of the simplest "administration" & communication - I got to see this up-close-&-personal 4-5 months back. ]
As for wind farms, I remain unconvinced, to say the least.
If we really want economic renewables, I think we should be reviving every water-mill in th country + "tidal" - & investing in nuclear of course.

223:

Not necessarily every water mill; many won't generate as much power as a wind turbine, but here in SCotland we're building micro-hydro all over the place. There was a report out a decade ago that said we could get something like 400 megawatts generating capacity from exploitable micro-hydro and run of river schemes, and some have been implemented.

Wind farms are working fine, thank you very much.

As for the term watermelon, using it as a form of description or insult 1) make you look like a reactionary american republican of the worst sort, and 2) seems to have lost its meaning, because I don't recall the greens actually aiming for communism or socialism, which is what they'd have to do to fit the description. Unless you regard something like Scandinavia as a socialist heaven, which again isn't the case since they are capitalist market using countries.

225:

Not necessarily every water mill; many won't generate as much power as a wind turbine

I lived in a watermill for a decade or so as a child, and yeah, you get about enough power from some of them to power one home. As in, turning the electric cooker on would cause the lights to dim.

(No, we didn't actually run the generator from the wheel, we installed a proper modern turbine beside it and ran the river through that. And in the end we bought a Calor gas cooker.)

Some Georgian era factories were water mills, but the locations for those were comparatively limited. I'm not sure how much power Cromford Mill, for example, used, but the Industrial Revolution really needed coal to get going properly.

226:

I noticed a website pointing out that old watermill sites are often comparatively sporadic in water throughput and would need major refitting to be useful in modern terms. In the good old days you could dam it all up and use it for 8 hours a day, but now it's often a bit different. People forget how much we used to be at the mercy of the weather.

Water mills were being used in the later medieval period to power trip hammers and fulling mills as well as grain grinding. Efficiency wasn't exactly top of the agenda, but the sites certainly wouldn't meet modern criteria.

227:

True - when the river (which if anyone is interested was the Great Ouse, but its upper stretches) was in full flood, there was a lot of power. But you'd have that for (IIRC) a few weeks in a year.

England is not a great place for hydro. It's not like Norway, much of which is a thin lightly-populated coastal strip running along the edge of a mountain range. Norway is ideal for hydro, which really shapes their economy, but we can't pretend to be Norway just because the outcome would be nice if we were. There are far, far too many of us for one thing.

228:

True that; ISTR that Scotland is running out of good places for "macro-hydro" schemes.

229:

Macro-hydro tends to have hard limits, beyond which you can't really expand.

Iceland is another place blessed with the coastal strip/high mountains pairing, but as I understand it even there they're running low on places they can dam. Given how spectacular some of their waterfalls are, I'm rather hoping they keep some.

230:

As for wind farms, I remain unconvinced, to say the least.
If we really want economic renewables, I think we should be reviving every water-mill in th country + "tidal" - & investing in nuclear of course.

According to EDF Hinkley Point C would need a guarantee of £92.50 per megawatt hour, inflation-adjusted, for 35 years. It can't be in commercial operation earlier than 2022. It shouldn't be possible to build a nuclear plant in the UK that actually ends up more expensive per megawatt hour than solar PV, but it looks like EDF will give it a go. The nuclear industry's worst enemy is the nuclear industry.

10 years ago I thought that the Nuclear Renaissance was going to arrive any day, and I thought that PV power was going to remain a niche luxury like organic fair-trade chocolate. But to my great astonishment the new-renewables companies actually brought down costs a lot. Onshore wind and PV projects are more consistently on-time and on-budget than big hydro, thermal, or (gods forbid) nuclear plants. Meanwhile nuclear power has been stagnant: impressively late and over-budget for projects actually under construction, still making big promises in PowerPoints.

231:

Horribly true - adided by EU coporate corruption of course.....
I didn't mention PV, because I assume that was "taken as read".
We just need better elctrical storage capacity & technology.

232:

Onshore wind farms get a bit over £100 per MWh, offshore wind farms get £145 per MWh. A couple of planned large offshore projects have folded because that level return wasn't actually high enough to make them profitable. Home solar with the feed-in tariff runs to about £300 per MWh I believe. I don't think there's much in the way of large-scale PV solar in the UK, we're a bit far north for it to make much financial sense.

The only reason domestic electricity prices are actually reasonable in this country (higher than the mostly-nuclear French, significantly less than the green Germans) is because the major British generation sources are coal, gas and nuclear and those generators only get paid about £50 per MWh for their output even when the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine. We also take 1.5 to 2GW of cheap French nuclear power pretty much all the time which also helps to keep the bills in check.

The folks who are planning replacement nuclear in the UK have said that if the other non-carbon-emitting generators are getting big cash handouts for being Green they want some of the same. They have agreed that the strike figure of £92.50 per MWh they're asking for can be dialled down in the future once the construction loans start being paid off out of the generating profits. On the other hand the wind farm operators are resorting to lawyers now the Government is talking about reducing their tariffs.

233:

Offshore wind is pretty much the only form of electricity expensive enough to make Hinkley look good. I don't understand why the UK is trying to push more wind offshore where installation costs are higher and maintenance is harder. Does everyone really find turbines ugly beyond endurance? I can see a few of them from my house and I'd rather have them nearby than any combustion power plant. I have no problem with the safety or aesthetics of nuclear power either, mind you; I live near a reactor also and I prefer it too over any combustion plant.

UK PV modules that are operating this year are not cost-competitive with UK nuclear plants that are operating this year, but I'd be willing to wager a bit that PV systems installed in the year that Hinkley Point C enters commercial operation will be able to underprice electricity from the new reactors. That's not because the UK has a favorable climate for solar PV -- it's actually rather dreadful -- but because the actually-existing PV industry is making solid progress while actually-existing nuclear programs generate more cost overruns, delays, and excuses. Even China takes 6 years to build a new reactor. That's enough time for solar developers to spin a dozen incremental component revisions and to build 8 utility scale projects in succession. Remember "The Attack of the Killer Micros," explaining why custom supercomputers were being priced out of the market by wimpy commodity CPUs produced in huge volumes? I see a parallel with giant, specialized electrical generating systems and newer, much smaller, modular systems.

If electricity storage costs don't fall dramatically the reactors can at least fall back on reliability. They'll generate electricity even when it's dark and the air is still! In the 1990s reactors were cheaper even on windy, sunny days; not any more. It's getting harder to be enthusiastic about the future of nuclear power even if you are not irrationally afraid of ionizing radiation and are rationally afraid of rising CO2 levels.

234:

"If electricity storage costs don't fall dramatically the reactors can at least fall back on reliability"

For the projected cost of the Hinkley C you could put a HVDC interconnect from Australia, via Hawaii, Arizona, Greenland (with the pumped hydro that has), Ireland, Southern England and bang into the Sahara. If there's not hydro, sun and wind in at least one of those locations 24/7, 365 I'll eat my hat.

Figures based on great circle distance and 1 million GBP/km.

Completing the 'round the world circuit and picking up markets in Indonesia, Malaysia and India would bring it up to 1.5 Hinkley C costs. Boosting the capacity to make it carry the power of not one but 20 Hinkleys, enough to run the whole UK would be around 6 Hinkleys in cost. (for every doubling in cost, HVDC carries about 10 times the energy, so to double cost twice but only carry 20 times the energy is a conservative estimate)

Installed cost for PV systems in deserts it's running around 1.3 GBP/effective W (which is about 4 nameplate watts). With a nameplate capacity of 3.2 thousand million Watts (3.2 GW), that's about 1.6 thousand million watts (1.6 GW) effective. (Nuclear power plants only generate power about half the time). So to match the effective 1.6 GW of the Hinkley you'd need about 2 billion GBP (about 0.08 Hinkleys). So for another 1.6 Hinkleys you could install 20 Hinkleys worth of PV generation.

Total cost 7.6 Hinkleys for a zero carbon UK and you could sell the unused excess through SE Asia and Hawaii when it's dark in the UK.

235:

That's a bit more solar-optimism than I care to endorse. Capacity factor of nuclear reactors is closer to 90% than 50%, and only 1 million GBP/km for a HVDC system carrying tens of gigawatts seems low. The world's highest capacity HVDC systems so far have a capacity under 10 GW; I wouldn't extrapolate blithely.

236:

You're right about the capacity factor for nuclear. I haven't looked at it for a while and my experience is in coal (which hovers around 40-60%). 30 years ago, yes, 50% was 'good'. Now 90% seems to be the standard. (although it's unclear to me if that includes refuelling days)

I was looking at 1 million GBP/km to carry about 1.6 GW. That's ballpark similar to already constructed subsea interconnects. There's already a 2GW interconnector to France, so that's not new tech, just longer. Nexans is putting in 415 km of 1 GW subsea cable for 300 million Euro. About 230 million GBP or a smidge over half a million GBP/km. Even if you put them in in parallel you could get to 1.1 million GBP/km and have a 2GW capacity. So I don't think 1 million GBP/km is out of order as a first approximation.

ABB has built a 2200 km 8GW line for 2 million GBP/km. The first order calculation I did for the high capacity lines was at 4 million GBP/km. I think that carrying "20 Hinkleys" (32 GW) which is four times the ABB line for twice the cost is within reasonable bounds.

Still, even if the ABB line represents a hard limit (which seems improbable), that still means 13.6 Hinkleys worth of money to connect the UK with most major deserts of the world with heaps of PV and a huge chunk of the electricity market of the world with 4 lines, for a total of 32 GW. It still puts solar pretty even with nuclear, not only on cost, but reliability too even without storage. In the meantime you've created infrastructure that people will pay to use. 13.6 Hinkleys gets you 11 hinkleys worth of power (at 90%) or 20 Hinkleys worth (50%). There's also the fact that PV costs a lot less to run than Nuclear so there's savings there. Decommissioning at EOL won't cost much for PV in comparison to Nuclear. It all looks like a PV win to me. (at least in comparison to Hinkley)

237:

Am I being too out there for this forum? I've seen starwisps and space elevators seriously proposed and what amounts to a long extension cord is overly optimistic?

238:

You don't have to build a round the world cable to start. Say H C makes an average of 3 GW.

Well the Western Sahara is 3500 km from the UK. For 14 billion GBP you can put in two 8 GW interconnects. For 6 billion GBP you'd be able to put in 16 GW nameplate of PV. You'd end up with an average of 4 GW, most of it provided during the day when it's most needed.

Because you're not connecting over long distance to a variety of timezones the cable is only about 1/3 utilised, but even so, for 80% of the cost of H C you get 130% of the average energy and most delivered at a more useful time. Of course you need to have something to take over at night, but you need something to back up H C for when it's having a bad hair day.

239:

The 90% factor for nuclear is pretty much all refuelling days. Forty years and more of operating experience with LWRs around the world has improved the performance and availability of existing plants and driven the operation of recently constructed GenII and GenIIa plants like Sizewell B which had 100% uptime in 2007. It was down for a time for upgrades and maintenance in 2010 but still managed 46% overall. Its running average is a little over 91%. In comparison offshore wind provides about 30% of its dataplate capacity over a year with wild unscheduled variability. Onshore wind located in cherrypicked sites runs about 26% with the same variability.

The cost of decommissioning of nuclear plants is embedded in the price of the electricity as a levy for most countries who operate nuclear. New-build reactors have an expected lifespan of sixty years with probable extensions of another ten or twenty years after that. It's possible that some new reactors being built today could still be running a century from now. Basically the irreplaceable parts, the reactor vessel and the containment structure are so massively overbuilt in an excess of caution that they can work safely for that length of time and more. The other parts can be replaced as they wear out (pumps, steam equipment, generators and turbines) as they don't pose any sort of radiological hazard.

Nobody knows where the money for decommissioning solar PV and wind turbines is going to come from. Dealing with the toxic waste problem of millions of tonnes of dead PV panels alone is not something the solar boosters have given much consideration to.

240:

How much will it cost each year to maintain a dominant military presence by Britain in the Western Sahara to prevent a bunch of yahoos in technicals wrecking this PV infrastrucure at will or just holding it for ransom?

How much would the UK have to pay to rent this land in a foreign country for its gigantic PV arrays even assuming peace and stability bloomed there? How much would we pay for the right of transit of the power lines across the Mediterranean and the rest of Europe?

241:

There are deserts in Spain.
Anyway, the future of electricity pricing is becoming clear.
Cheap as dirt power during daylight hours, and extremely expensive at any other times. At some point most houses/flats will find it economical to have their own battery system. Charge during the day, use at night.

242:

significantly less than the green Germans
Sorry, I nearly spilt my morning tea into the keyboard when I read that.
Seriously - how much German electricity production is from coal & "brown" coal at that?
Hideously polluting & spreads more radiation into the atmosphere than any nuclear plant.
Someone has been telling porkies [ HINT: the German "establishment" ] & some people bleieve this tosh.
Nuclear - ja danke!

243:

ONCE you have sensible "static" (no pun intended) high-capacity forms of electrical power storage.
Not in sight yet, is it?

244:

Back to topic: after Obama now German Minister of the Interior, Thomas de Maizière, succumbs to the contagion:
"German security agencies should be entitled to and have the possibility of decrypting or circumventing encrypted communication" (link to German news site)

245:

Photo-Voltaic costs have been reducing. The Chinese have been running a series of five-year plans funding the development of more efficient cells and reducing manufacturing costs. It's the sort of thing that pure capitalism struggles to do. Their target is to match coal on cost per kWh, and they're close. With the air pollution in Chinese cities, there's a payoff even without invoking global warming.

Some of the EU claims about predatory pricing seem to have been illusory. They are making the modules at a lower cost than manufacturers in the EU. (Maybe wages come into it too, but the labour fraction of the cost isn't that high.)

If there's anything bogus in this, it's in the telephone sales. I'm in a semi with a north-facing roof, and they keep telling me it makes no difference.

PV arrays are commonplace, and with the current interest rates they look a good investment because of the subsidy. They're a pay-off for the prosperous. It's not being run as anything to do with global warming.

246:

There are deserts in Spain
There are also deserts in Canada, eastern Russia, China and Mongolia. Of course, some of them are at about 66Deg N, so there are issues other than cloud cover...

247:

I'm in a semi with a north-facing roof, and they keep telling me it makes no difference.

I could also say "I'm in a semi with a north-facing roof", but in my case that's a classical half-truth. The ridge beam runs East-West, so the other half of the roof faces South (Sun is about normal to frontage at zenith).

248:

http://www.solstats.com/blog/solar-energy/solar-roof-angle-roof-orientation-and-solar-power/

PV panels are effectively heading towards zero cost. My guess is that they will bottom out at around 10 cents per peak watt within 10 years

249:

2006 called, they want their "solar power too cheap to meter" catchphrase back.

I've been hearing about really really cheap solar panels "next year" for the past decade or so. The usual figure quoted is a dollar a watt (i.e. a 1 square metre panel producing about 220W in perfect conditions at noon with no clouds on the equator at sea level costing 220 bucks). It's always "next year" for such panels.

As for 0.10 dollars/watt, right... the energy required to make a panel, transport it, install it, connect it to a grid of similar panels in an array, convert its power to a useful and transmissible voltage etc. etc. is never going to be that low or even near it and that's before you price in the decommissioning and disposal costs at end-of-life. There's a shitload of stuff that needs moved to do this and it all costs money and effort and energy. A nuclear reactor is in one compact lump and cheap compared to the distributed infrastructure needed for renewables to generate the same amount of power.

Germany has blown well over a hundred billion Euros on renewables, over fourteen years of Energiewende and at the end of it in 2013 according to the EIA, renewables (which included trash-burning) generated 7% of their electricity needs. That same year the eight surviving carbon-free nuclear reactors still operating in Germany produced a little more total electricity than the entire renewables sector did. Of course the real powerhouses were coal (about 40%) and Russian gas (another 40%-odd) and there's no plans to stop burning fossil fuels in the Energiewende. The reactors will all be shut down by 2022 though by governmental fiat.

250:

Umm, getting in here late, but speaking as a somewhat veteran of the solar mess here in the California desert, I've got to point out a small problem with paving the deserts with solar power:

They're not empty.

Let me repeat that:

Deserts are not empty spaces. Engineers who have never visited such sites may think they're empty, but I've also seen engineers who never visited a desert wind site design a road that ran straight off a cliff, even though said cliff was visible in Google Earth. It's not worth trusting engineers in offices to understand sites very well. In reality, people live in deserts, animals live there, and plants live there, among other things.

To pick one problem of many, we've currently got ducks and other birds crashlanding on solar PV panels in California, because they think they're water, and we've got other birds frying (in fairly high numbers) at Ivanpah, which is a solar thermal plant. When birds enter the beam focused on the tower, they die. It's wreaking havoc with migrations.

To pick a rather bigger problem, they're still sucking up groundwater to wash the mirrors and panels in desert solar plants. In deserts. This is not sustainable, but apparently deploying anti-dust technology (as on the martian rovers) hasn't gained traction. This may have to do with the projected 20-30 year lifespan of most plants. Perhaps the operators of current plants have no plans to keep the site suitable for power generation after that.

Here's part of the problem: desert means two things in English. The older definition is "uninhabited," which is where we get words like deserted and desertion. The newer definition is an area where the annual evapotranspiration far exceeds annual precipitation. These two definitions are not synonymous, and it's a bad mistake to think that the world's deserts are deserted, and therefore perfectly okay places in which to put power plants.

And that doesn't even begin to touch the politics of building large power plants in populated deserts. We're only starting to learn how messy those can be, even in places like California where they don't involve armed tribes.

Anyway, if you want to displace a bunch of Tauregs to power Europe, go right ahead. I'm sure the repercussions will be no worse than what's already happening in Mali and northern Nigeria, except that they'll be able to hold more people (and richer people) hostage.

251:

"I've been hearing about really really cheap solar panels "next year" for the past decade or so. The usual figure quoted is a dollar a watt (i.e. a 1 square metre panel producing about 220W in perfect conditions at noon with no clouds on the equator at sea level costing 220 bucks). It's always "next year" for such panels."

Well, here are some retail, one off prices from 3 years ago:
http://www.solarbuzz.com/facts-and-figures/retail-price-environment/module-prices

Back then it was possible to buy cheaper than a dollar per watt retail. You think it is more expensive now?

252:

http://pv.energytrend.com/pricequotes.html

Currently down to around 60 cents per watt

253:

Can you please cite the 7% renewable figure?

I can't speak German, so this is the best I can do for links:

https://www.bdew.de/internet.nsf/id/20140729-pi-renewable-energies-reach-new-record-levels-en?open&ccm=900010020010

This blog was how I found the information:
http://www.germanenergyblog.de/?p=176

Basic Summary
Renewables: 25.8%
Coal: 43.6%
Nuclear: 15.9%
Natural Gas: 9.6%

To explain my biases. I was and remain completely against the shutdown of the nuclear plants in Germany. I would have preferred that natural gas be taken offline first, only because of the Russian dependence. Otherwise, coal should have been reduced. No disagreements that increased German dependence on Lignite was the worst mistake of the Energiewende.

254:

The figures I saw from the EIA were for electricity generation in Germany in 2013 with renewables including trashburning producing a few TWh less than the remaining nuclear fleet of eight reactors did throughout the year. I can't find the source though, I didn't make a note of it.

255:

Not being a zero-sum game is not the same thing as saying resources available are infinite. Wealth inequality *induces* scarcity even where it is not present as physical necessity. When I was a kid the local (Queensland) tories talked about rather than giving everyone a fairer slice of the pie, simply making a bigger pie. We (as a species, a global society or whatever) have since learned that unlimited growth isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Markets as they stand do produce pareto efficiency, a situation where it's impossible to make anyone better off without making someone worse off. Unfortunately we've seen the greater share of benefit of growth for the last few decades accrue to a shrinking proportion of the wealthiest people. Marginal utility for these benefits among such people is very low, of course. The idea that this growth benefits all has been widely promoted by the figures show it's a very tenuous proposition. The implication is that more growth won't address the situation unless someone else happens.

The other side to the coin is that inequality itself has been shown pretty comprehensively to be co-incident with significant negatives, regardless of the level of development or wealth of the poorest. Status oriented behaviour has negative effects for all, even the high status individuals compared to more egalitarian societies. Comfortable middle-class people in the USA have worse healthcare outcomes than poor people in Sweden, for instance, despite higher absolute wealth. There's loads of peer reviewed and repeated, heavily validated and confirmed material showing this. There's a small genre of literature from Fox News type right whingers that varies from opinionated rants to the fraudulent, aimed at attacking this research, of course, but what would you expect?

256:

Meh.. "but the figures show" and "something else happens". By my typos you will know me

257:

"I've been hearing about really really cheap solar panels "next year" for the past decade or so. The usual figure quoted is a dollar a watt (i.e. a 1 square metre panel producing about 220W in perfect conditions at noon with no clouds on the equator at sea level costing 220 bucks). It's always "next year" for such panels."


Here are *retail* panels, minimum order 28 panels at 28 USDc/w (under 19 pence per watt). I feel sure that if you placed an order for 6 billion pounds worth you could negotiate a better price.

http://sunelec.com/tianwei-90w.html


258:

"Anyway, if you want to displace a bunch of Tauregs to power Europe, go right ahead."

Well the actual initial idea I proposed was to ring the whole world in power cables and let the poor people in deserts sell either their power or rent their land to rich people so the rich had power at night. No one had to be displaced. Of course that's not how it's traditionally done. In the past a gift of some ground attack aircraft to brutally oppress the ruler's own people combat terrorism, was usually sufficient to get access to the natural resources, for which the locals generally got nothing. The ideal location is probably Australia (as I initially suggested), Western China and the US (or the high plains of South America, where nobody lives). All places where the application of money eases the path to approval greatly. I'm sure that it could all be done while displacing far fewer people than the three gorges dam.

259:

Australia's various current conservative governments are living out a kind of vendetta against solar. Given that competitively large applications of money are current by the coal mining industry this isn't surprising, and will probably remain the case for some time.So no, a mere application of money probably won't have the result you are seeking there.

On the other hand rooftop solar is ALREADY cost competitive with coal generated grid supplied power in Queensland, even without any carbon pricing scheme. We're not far off fully off-grid, battery backed solar being cost competitive. The argument that the tech is always in the future is obsolete. It's currently a challenge because for most people the upfront capital cost is heavy, and the aforementioned conservative governments are doing what they can to discourage and punish people for switching, so for instance if you put in grid-connected rooftop solar, the feed-in tariff is less than the discount wholesale price for coal generation.

260:

There is a difference between Australia's government not encouraging domestic solar, and them blocking a big DC oceanic interconnect and people buying desert and solarizing it.

One of these things is just normal domestic politics. The other one, and large multinational green energy folks start to get uppity about inteference with free trade, etc.

261:

I just meant go in and buy the land. Not this land as such because this is productive and much more valuable than the stuff you'd actually buy, but this gives you some idea.

http://www.realestate.com.au/property-livestock-wa-balladonia-7575471

That's 6 712 770 000 square metres of land for 2.7 million AUD (under 1.5 million GBP). At 20% efficiency and 20% availability/capacity factor, that's enough area to produce about 2.6 x 10^11 Watts on average. 260 GW or about 100 Hinkley C's. About 10 times the UK's average electricity consumption. Land cost is then about $0.00001 per Watt. The value of the "occupied desert" is a rounding error. If some politician doesn't like powerlines or some such, a quick campaign donation takes care of that. They can all be bought and sold, generally very cheaply.

262:

You're overestimating the pockets of the good guys and underestimating the pockets of the bad guys I think. And I said "governments" for a reason.

Also you seem to be assuming cheap high temperature superconductors...

263:

I'm not assuming cheap high-temp superconductors... you do realize we have some ginormous DC interconnects between the US west and east grids right now, in production transferring power?...

I don't have their construction cost reports in front of me (I have the details somewhere, but... shrug). But they're up and running. It's been proven that it can be done, at least on land.

265:

"Also you seem to be assuming cheap high temperature superconductors..."

I don't think I'm underestimating the pockets of the baddies. I think that's what I was referring to in a long previous post where I said this will never happen because the wrong people (everyone) will get rich instead of the right people (the people who are already rich).

However it doesn't assume any breakthroughs in long distance power transmission. As I said earlier. ABB has demonstrated ability to construct ultra high voltage direct current transmission lines at about 2 million GBP/km that carry 8 GW. Such lines can carry power from one side of the planet to the other with an efficiency better than 50%. If you run such a line through enough time zones you can have PV power 24/7. It might be raining on your head (or night-time), but it's sunny somewhere. A 20 000 km line can connect anywhere in the world with anywhere else. Great circle route from Australia via western China to the UK is 14 000 km (about the same price as one Hinkley C) and carrying 8 GW would provide nearly 3 Hinkley C's worth of power. It's sunny in Australia and the high Chinese plateau from 10pm to 11am UK time. Add a spur line down to the Sahara and you've got power from 10pm through to about 4pm. Only 6 hours needing to be covered by something else. A line to Mexico could cover that. Total line length is 24 000 km. Cost is under 2 Hinkleys. There are lots of other routes that would be better but that's the principle. So 2 Hinkleys for the cable. Another 1 Hinkley can install well over 50 GW nameplate PV. So for 3 Hinkleys you can provide 3 hinkleys worth of solar power, but you can also sell power in Mexico, China and Australia when you're not using the full output. You can also make methane with the excess.

If you assume that having a market for such things spurs innovation then one might expect the cost of UHVDC to come down a bit. I don't think that lines carrying 16 GW for the same cost per km is out of this world speculation.

266:

FWIW I actually think this is a beautiful possibility and if the transmission line issue is solved to the extent that the losses are acceptable within the parameters that make the whole thing still viable, that's a marvellous outcome.

"I don't think I'm underestimating the pockets of the baddies. I think that's what I was referring to in a long previous post where I said this will never happen because the wrong people (everyone) will get rich instead of the right people (the people who are already rich)."

This, however, is kinda what I was getting at. Though my quibble is that you're talking about a model that is a natural monopoly. In contrast to the decentralised, microgeneration model that seems inevitable as prices come down, this is a way that is compatible with the usual requirements (ie, it's wrong, evil and probably atheist-communist-satanist madness to do anything where someone isn't getting very rich off the margin).

Even better is that it may be done by an international treaty organisation run by governments for the benefit of all. The world needs more such organisations.

267:

Er, I don't think cost per watt in an ideal situation is very relevant to the energy actually generated by PV on a NORTH-FACING roof side somewhere between 48 and 60 degrees North. I'd be prepared to bet a pint that the actual power generated on the North side of Antonia's roof will be difficult to measure and on mine the only reason it will show is that in the Summer months the Sun is above the horizon for long enough that it actually strikes the North wall of the property for 3 or 4 hours per day.

268:

Apologies if this is educating the mother of one of my parents, but the "headline figure" normally quoted by greenwashers (of all political persuasions) for renewables is the "peak installed power" and ignores "achieved load factor" for the plant. For wind generation, actual power is probably between 1/4 and 1/5 of PIP.
That's before we even consider the effects of keeping (probably coal or methane burning) conventional plants running as a spinning reserve for when, not if, the wind speed is outside the range where a wind turbine can operate.

269:

Great circle route from Australia via western China to the UK is 14 000 km

And your prices are over stable reasonably flat land masses or they do take into account things like getting from AU to southeast Asia over what might be considered a tough bit of earth and ocean for something that might break if the ground moves?

270:

Given that going East will cross the "circle of fire" twice, and spend what 6_000 miles under water, I'd still say that the Western route is better.

271:

The western route goes through central asia and southern Russia, so geo-politically it's a bit dicey and will take a lot more diplomatic dickering to get clearances.

I'm not saying it's impossible mind, just that there are human factors in play (although the 'wrong people get rich' factor mentioned upthread is probably a bigger deal).

Regards
Luke

272:

Given how much of geo-politics is about who controls the oil right now, I'm vastly amused by the thought that the world would be powered off a single wire that's thousands of kilometers long.

What a lovely, lovely, lovely target. That sounds so incredibly secure.

Given also how much trouble we're having in the US with an outdated, kludged-together power grid, I also love the thought of exporting this model to the globe. Doesn't everyone want to share their power? We'll all be one big happy family, with the power going out every time there's a quake in Indonesia or a political action somewhere in the 'Stans.

That's actually a big argument for distributed solar and other such systems: they're a lot harder to take out through systems failure or deliberate sabotage. Given what the US did to Iraq (targeting infrastructure in the first wave of the invasion), I'd think that any security-minded state would want to distribute as much of its infrastructure as it felt secure in doing, just to make it harder to destroy.

273:

Well actually interconnects improve the reliability of the grid rather than reduce it. The issues with the US grid stem far more from it being multiple private enterprises run for profit than they do from interconnects. If you give grid controllers (the guys responsible for maintaining grid stability and avoiding blackouts) 3 wishes they'll wish for more interconnects for the first 2 and more pumped hydro for the last. Those are the things that make it easy to stabilise a grid.

Some of the recent US blackouts have been caused by the lack of stable power sources. When the frequency goes out of whack (load and generation unmatched) you can end up driving the generators as motors and they'll trip off line. It's a cascade and they all trip out. That's the main fear of the grid controllers. To avoid that they keep a spinning reserve, like inertia on the grid. That costs lots of money to keep going and private enterprise likes to minimise it as much as possible. Interconnects are like giant spinning reserve. Lots of stable generation that can't be pushed into a weird frequency as they're electronic not literal flywheels.

Long lines carrying energy through dodgy places aren't new. Yes they're a risk, but so is anything. I think the best thing would be to have lots of them so there's no single choke point (like the Gulf of Aden is for oil). Most first world grids are so absurdly vulnerable that if there was an actual rather than an imagined threat from terrorists you'd have no electricity to be reading this with right now. That vulnerability has already been tested. (my personal guess is by some security agency doing a real world experiment) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metcalf_sniper_attack

Is the route I proposed the right one? NO. I said it wasn't. It's just a quick order of magnitude check. If it turned out that a global interconnect had similar cost to a beanstalk/space elevator, or needed materials breakthroughs like a beanstalk, then it's as ridiculous as a beanstalk. The first order calculation is that it's not. It's cost is comparable with existing energy projects. Its required technology has already been deployed on a scale that's within one order of magnitude. This is today tech with today capital requirements. It doesn't meet the needs of people with a self reliance fantasy but it does meet the needs of industry and fits well into existing infrastructure, actually making that existing infrastructure cheaper to run and more reliable.

274:

Metcalf looks odd, I agree.

I remember, a long time ago, a story on how the RAF picked targets for bombing. It was after the Cold War. The implication was that they could do a lot of damage by precisely targeting major grid nodes, and they would take a long time to repair. The article was more from the point of view of photo-interpretation and bomb-damage assessment. Hit the right point with one bomb, and the factory stops, and that was what modern bombs could do. But you had to find the right point.

And does a security agency have to run that sort of experiment?

Heck, if you think they did, can you trust Wikipedia on the case?

275:

Um, no. So far as I know, the last two big blackouts I've been involved in (2011 San Diego and the 2003 Northeast blackout) were caused by transmission failures in interconnecting lines. That's a small sample, but a telling one.

I'd also disagree that the vulnerability of the grid has been well tested. The west coast grid is still absurdly vulnerable to a dozen men with shotguns. All they have to do is go to a bunch of remote locations, shoot out insulators on towers until the lines drop onto each other and arc, then run as the chaos starts. They can also blow up the towers, most of which aren't even fenced off. I'd also note that many parts of the California aqueduct are pretty darn vulnerable too. I think G. Gordon Liddy pointed this out back in the 1980s, but even after 9/11, it's still easy. The problem is that the lines traverse so many remote locations near roads that it's effectively impossible to protect them all. We're quite lucky that most terrorists like making political statements, rather than crippling cities and getting away clean. The Metcalf attack is actually pretty puny. Fortunately.

As for back-of-the-envelope calculations, I'd simply point out that getting society off of fossil fuels entirely is totally practical, on a back of the envelope calculation. So what? The problem isn't back-of-the-envelope infeasibility, it's a complex mix of a century's worth of infrastructure, politics, and culture built on fossil fuels. I'd agree that building a sustainable society is probably a better choice that crashing civilization to get to sustainability, but that doesn't mean it's going to be easy, and technology is about the least of the problems.

276:

"caused by transmission failures in interconnecting lines"

I'm not as familiar with the US network as I probably should be to comment, but from the light reading I've done the problem was lack of interconnects (insufficient redundancy) rather than that there were interconnects there in the first place.

I've had long discussions with the guys who actually run the Australian network. (While doing server upgrades in the control centre, hours to kill, they're bored on nightshift and I'm interested). I didn't record them but the discussions I had were almost exactly the same as the ones that Robert Llewellyn had. The same themes, we want sub sea HVDC interconnects (they call them "bootstraps" in the video) and pumped storage. I realise that this is an appeal to authority but the guy who actually runs the UK grid is saying the same thing that I am.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vX0G9F42puY

"I'd also disagree that the vulnerability of the grid has been well tested. The west coast grid is still absurdly vulnerable to a dozen men with shotguns."

When I said it had been tested I didn't mean that it had passed the tests. It's been tested and found to be absurdly vulnerable. We're in violent agreement again.

However I would also point out that multiple redundant subsea UHVDC interconnects are comparatively difficult targets being as they are... underwater. Underwater attack systems do exist but they're several orders of magnitude more difficult in every respect (Cost, speed of deployment, current arms control situation, man power required) than the ones needed to take on land installations. A dozen people with plasma cutters could knock out most of a country's electrical system in 10 minutes. I don't know what you'd need to cut a subsea cable, but a big ship and a month at sea would be a minimum start.

"The problem isn't back-of-the-envelope infeasibility, it's a complex mix of a century's worth of infrastructure, politics, and culture built on fossil fuels."

Again we're in violent agreement. I was responding to a comment that we have to wait for some future storage solution before renewables are viable. I was saying that no, we don't. I stand by that. The solutions are there, off the shelf and can be implemented in short order. The only thing I'd say is that existing infrastructure isn't really an issue. It would work well with renewables. Culture can change but the real sticking point is politics (and who owns the politicians)

277:

It's cost is comparable with existing energy projects. Its required technology has already been deployed on a scale that's within one order of magnitude.

Are you discussing high voltage DC undersea? Or just the land versions?

278:

I'm not hugely familiar with the USian inter-Utility interconnection situation, but I think your stability analysis is exactly backwards.
If you have one connector between under-generating UtCon1 and over-generating UtCon2, you have a single point of failure that will brown or even black out UtCon1 if it fails and may cause overload failures in UtCon2. Add a second route, even if it involves interconnectors between neutral generating UtCon3 to UtCon1 and UtCon2 and both get more stability from the removal of the SPF. They also get more simply from the extra load-balancing that UtCon3 offers but that's by the by.

As to your proposed methods of attack, I guess your blackhats are deadshots using solid shot for the insulator attack, and have access to inordinate quantities of demolition/military grade explosive or shaped charges for the transmission tower attack. Transmission towers are over 90% fresh air so your charges need to cut the main support legs or destroy the foundations!

280:

"I think your stability analysis is exactly backwards"

No it's not. I've explained it in other posts. I hate to use argument from authority, but you are talking to someone who was the project manager for the signalling side of a major DC interconnect. (The QNI). Well 350 MW was major in its day 15 years ago. Small fry now.

As for how to take down a grid I think I've said quite enough, but it's not as difficult as you seem to think. As I said before, the fact that you have electricity to run your computer seems like proof to me that there's no actual terrorist threat to the western world.

281:

Most first world grids are so absurdly vulnerable that if there was an actual rather than an imagined threat from terrorists you'd have no electricity to be reading this with right now
Cobblers
There is a real threat from terrorists, unfortunately.
BUT
They are "Terrorists" - they are violent & ( a perticular sort of ) stupid.

They PREFER noisly flashy bombs & machine-gun attacks & flying planes into buildings, because it's spectacular & frightens people.
As for actual, you know STRATEGIC moves against their percieved enemies (us) forget it.

Oh & even in our dangerously underpowered (Thank you privatisation) grid here, the grid itself is not especially vulnerable, because it has multiplr, multiple interconnects - & yes, we have quite a few "Black Start" facilities, too.

282:

I'c not heard of the Metcalf attack - had anybody else outside the USA?
Wierd - no bombs, no penetration of the sub-station perimeter, reliance on the 7.62 (= ".3 caliber" ? ) rounds to penetrate the oil-filled transformer casings & screw the supply.
Someone got a serious grudge against PG&E?

Of course, NATO used a similar tactic against Serbia during the Yugoslav break-up.
Air-burst bombs were lobbed at Serbian power-stations, which, when they exploded released huge amounts of Carbon Black ....
Which then got into all the tranformers & also the commutators/feed-rings of the generating plant.
Causing massive flashovers.
The Serbs then had to shut down each power-station, carefullly "wipe down" & then, very carefully & slowly, re-start everything.
Two days late, the Carbon-Black bombers would be back again.
Very neat - permanent damage to infrastructure - nil.
But, in the meantime, no power at all ....

283:

Cobblers
There is a real threat from terrorists, unfortunately.
BUT
They are "Terrorists" - they are violent & ( a perticular sort of ) stupid.'

I think that was gasdive's point Greg. The terrorists we currently have don't pose a true strategic threat.

284:

Carbon fibre filaments

285:

If Heteromiles is right and I'm wrong, then electricity supply is unique in being made more rather than less stable by having a system that posesses single point failure modes.

286:

I think you're both in violent agreement again.

287:

"I don't know what you'd need to cut a subsea cable, but a big ship and a month at sea would be a minimum start."

Hardly.

Recall that the cable has to come ashore somewhere, and it has to run continuously over the ocean bottom.

There's this thing called a Continental Shelf. It means, basically, that you can be quite a ways offshore, and the bottom is only about 30m down. (Note that the AirAsia airplane wreckage is only about that deep.)

Diving 30m to place explosive charges is utterly trivial. Sport divers routinely dive 30m just to look at the pretty fish. I know guys who routinely go to 90m, for not much more reason. Commercial divers routinely work a LOT deeper than that. (Deepest I've ever heard of commercial divers working was about 500m, in the North Sea oil patch. That was saturation diving.)

The hard part is going to be finding the cable underwater, so you can send a diver down to place the charges. (Or just send a clueless jihadi down, tell him to hug the cable, throw the switch, and embrace his 72 virgins... OK, I'm oversimplifying a LITTLE bit.)

288:

I just meant go in and buy the land.

You're assuming that the people who live on the land are (a) the people who hold legal title to the land, and (b) are willing to sell/move out.

This is usually a reasonable assumption in developed world nations with a strong rule of law and traditions of land ownership.

It is a really bad assumption in formerly-colonized countries where many traditional residents hold no government-recognized title to their land, and any attempt to buy title to the land will funnel money to rich rentiers/land-"owners" who may be able to hand you some paper but not a guarantee that there's nobody living there who isn't going to take violent exception to your new-build solar plant.

289:

Given that going East will cross the "circle of fire" twice, and spend what 6_000 miles under water, I'd still say that the Western route is better.

Naah, you just need to get creative.

Electrons don't have to move at the speed of light. So why not bridge the ocean, not with cables, but with bulk freighters carrying hundreds of kilotons of aluminium powder? Oxidize at one end to generate electrons; return AlO2 to other end and reduce electrolytically to metal powder before shipping it back. Think of it as an electrolyte flow battery on a whopping great insane scale, using a solid powdered electrolyte ...

290:

Though this madcap scheme was a "the sun is always shining somewhere" solution to the "solar panels don't work at night" problem. If you use a storage solution for this ocean-hopping part of the "insanely huge infrastructure" problem, you've already solved the original problem and taken away the need to the round-the-world cable anyway.

It really is just sectional niches who insist that "solar panels don't work at night" is a major impediment to the adoption of renewables. Yes current battery tech is expensive per watt for deep cycle duty. Yes, some geographies are less suited to solar than others. Yes a huge world-girdling grid has cool factor for us SF nerds, but it could never be a very reliable infrastructure item even if transmission line losses weren't such a major issue. I mean... using 50% as a "good" benchmark is really leaning heavily into leveraging the economics of free sunlight, whereas in practice in the long term we want much better efficiency.

Which is why micro-generation is an inevitable model. You don't need natural-monopoly-forming infrastructure, the components will become cheap enough to be part of the normal way of living for most people. Keep an eye on the developing world, because that is where the leading edge of affordable technology is usually to be found. The old school method to solve engineering problems by throwing more power at them is not viable long term.

291:

Electrons don't have to move at the speed of light. So why not bridge the ocean, not with cables, but with bulk freighters carrying hundreds of kilotons of aluminium powder? Oxidize at one end to generate electrons; return AlO2 to other end and reduce electrolytically to metal powder before shipping it back. Think of it as an electrolyte flow battery on a whopping great insane scale, using a solid powdered electrolyte ...

That's ... magnificent.

Move the hydro everywhere, using bulk freight shipping, which is, after all, stunningly cheap.

292:

Actually, in terms of moving energy around, there are lots of things that are cheaper than moving it through a power line, at least according to Prof. emeritus Ken Deffeyes. Here are some numbers from his book When Oil Peaked. Note that he cautions that they are ballpark accurate, not precise (he guesses some may be off by a factor of 2), and the units are miles (payload ton miles/ton fuel).

Electric power line 15,600
18-wheel tractor-trailer 18,500
natural-gas pipeline 25,000
frieght train 63,000
canal or river barge 160,000
oil tanker, at 16 knots 1,000,000
bulk carrier, at 13 knots 1,300,000

I'm still not sure how he got the miles for the electric power line, but it's worth thinking about. It might be even cheaper to move energy using sailing ships (which work in the 5-10 knot range), but I don't know of any modern data on that.

This is also probably why people buy fuel and firewood before they get the electric line wired up to their homes, at least in poorer areas.

293:

Greg wrote:

I'c not heard of the Metcalf attack - had anybody else outside the USA?
Wierd - no bombs, no penetration of the sub-station perimeter, reliance on the 7.62 (= ".3 caliber" ? ) rounds to penetrate the oil-filled transformer casings & screw the supply.

It also involved cut fiber cables, and got my attention immediately through North American Network Operators Group and Outages Mailing List alerts.

There was a prior smaller attack of cut fiber optics, which was attributed to a labor conflict situation.

Metcalf was similarly attributed by the local experts, but then some loud counterterror people decided to make it a terrorist incident and that took around a year to die down.

FBI and local PD presumably are still looking for evidence as to which local telco or power company worker was drunk and waving his hunting rifle around prior to the attack, but there may just not be any evidence. Whatever physical evidence they have they have been very quiet about (properly).

I drive past that facility roughly weekly; it's right next to Highway 101 in southern San Jose, between main San Jose and Morgan Hill. It's fully exposed to the road and the hill on the opposite side of the valley, plus from the north and south. They are supposed to put line-of-sight blocking fabric fencing up around it but haven't yet.

294:

On a similar vein, past short distances the right way to move electricity from offshore power sources onshore is to electrolyze water to H2 gas, use the Sabatier reaction with atmospheric CO2 to get methane, run the methane through pipes ashore as natural gas...

295:

"On a similar vein, past short distances the right way to move electricity from offshore power sources onshore is to electrolyze water to H2 gas, use the Sabatier reaction with atmospheric CO2 to get methane, run the methane through pipes ashore as natural gas..."

On first blush you'd think so. Actually the efficiency of a natural gas plant is about 42%.

http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=107&t=3

The highest efficiency ever achieved for converting electricity into methane in a lab setting is about 80%. So that's an overall efficiency of about 34%. Even neglecting the energy costs of moving the methane (which is actually similar to the losses from UHVDC), that's only about 2/3rds the efficiency of an UHVDC line that goes from one side of the planet to the other. (about 55%)

If you include the pipeline losses then to get from one side of the planet to the other by the electricity>gas>pipeline>electricity you're looking at an overall efficiency of about 16%

Cost is in a similar ball park to UHVDC. 4.3 million USD/km for the trans Afghanistan line that carries the equivalent of about 12 GW of electricity (about 3 Hinkleys of power). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trans-Afghanistan_Pipeline.

Undersea pipelines are about twice as expensive. So around 8 million USD/km. So 160 billion (about 7 Hinkleys of cost) to get from one side of the planet to the other. It would also need about 2 Hinkleys of power to run it.

296:

All this talk of energy efficiency and transmission losses...

I must be weird. I find myself wondering what results would come from applying the same principles to capitalism, and the flow of wealth between the populations of different countries.

297:
So why not bridge the ocean, not with cables, but with bulk freighters carrying hundreds of kilotons of aluminium powder?

Nice idea, though I ask myself if aluminium is the best metal to use. It has a high energy density for volume

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Energy_density.svg

problem is if you use the standard process

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hall-H%C3%A9roult_process

you have to melt the oxide, which also uses energy. The corresponding lithium process involves a lower melting point, and lithium as a higher energy density by weight (though a lower one by volume). Iron and zinc also have quite a high energy content by volume, though a much lower on by weight, and AFAIR they can be electrolysed in aqueous solutions. I found some pages about electrolytic rust removal, no idea how good this works, though.

298:

Or use zinc. Zinc-Air batteries are a known technology, and you could ship back the zinc oxide, dissolve it in sulfuric acid and do some electrolysis to get elemental zinc and sulfuric acid. Reuse the acid and ship the zinc.

It all depends somewhat on what's more important for transport, weight or volume.

299:

It might be even cheaper to move energy using sailing ships (which work in the 5-10 knot range), but I don't know of any modern data on that.

Hmm.

It seems to me that sailing ships have certain insurmountable drawbacks, which is a shame.

1) Speed. 4-5 knots is okay for some bulk commodities, but not for perishables -- the cost of refrigeration/preservation needs to be added onto the cost of transport.

2) Maintenance/operation. Okay, let's suppose modern materials and automation mean we don't need crews of hundreds climbing in the rigging in new design sailing ships. They still need a different support supply chain to existing types of ship (we have plenty of small sailing ships, but no experience of anything in Panamax size or larger!).

3) Weather. Powered ships can in principle steam around bad weather, given warning by satellites. Sailing ships, alas, can get becalmed and may need power assistance to dodge storms (cutting into their operational efficiency margin over regular powered ships).

4) Unpredictability. This, in my opinion, is the killer for a renewed age of sail: it's incompatible with just-in-time supply chains because you can't be sure when your ship will come in -- it's at the mercy of the weather. So you're back to stockpiling produce in warehouses. On a global scale this is horrifyingly inefficient; it's also not as resilient as we tend to think. Warehouses are single points of failure (prone to earthquakes, fires, and hurricanes) while just-in-time distribution proved to be vastly more flexible in dealing with disasters, e.g. Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, than anyone predicted -- due to networking, JIT networks based on trucks (such as WalMart's delivery network) turned out to consist of thousands of 40-ton warehouses that could go where they're needed, rather than single 40,000 ton warehouses that are basically sessile.

This isn't to say there's no role for sail-powered freighters ... but I think their advantages are over-sold by today's environmentalists. Inefficiency in and of itself contributes to environmental degradation.

300:

The future:
http://www.airfuelsynthesis.com/

Also, we seem to be assuming that solar electricity is as expensive as the "regular" kind. In a world where it is 20% the price of any other source you can afford inefficiencies and still make a profit.

301:

To be fair, I was somewhat stuck with the old metal ion chemistry when writing the article, maybe there is some potential with hydrogen-rich carbon or nitrogen compounds, somewhere between polyethylen and liquid hydrogen. Any cells using ethandiol-oxalic acid? ;)

As for efficiencies, err, even with cheap energy, 70 vs. 90% make a big difference in the long run.

Or as some English philosophers put it, "Everything counts in large amounts". Err, SCNR.

302:

Oh, I totally agree. Thing is, there's a lot of bulk carrier traffic that isn't just in time, and I'm pretty sure that, sooner or later, they'll start flying kite sails from the bulk carriers in good winds just to give them that extra 10% efficiency. Well into the 20th Century, people found ways to make money carrying grain from Australia to Europe in sailing ships (reference), so the idea isn't as crazy as it may sound.

Here, though, I'm talking specifically about moving a huge amount of energy. I tend to think that Deffeyes is right, that oil tankers really are about as efficient as we're likely to get with moving energy around. We manage to run our just-in-time global energy system pretty well with them.

I'd simply suggest that it's worth thinking about a world with sail-powered tankers carrying biodiesel, or something else that carries a decent energy density. They certainly won't be as predictable as diesel boats, but on the other hand, they'll be more efficient. I'm not sure carrying aluminum powder is a bright idea--after all, we don't want a tanker fire to generate the world's largest thermite reaction while offloading or when St. Elmo's fire hits the mast--but there's always a risk carrying energy around. Perhaps powdered aluminum is less risky than, say, oil or ammonium nitrate or high proof hydrogen peroxide, or lithium batteries, but whichever. It's still a world worth exploring. More to the point, it might be the only way to improve the energy efficiency of our current energy transportation system.

303:

Err, there are alternatives for sail, e.g. the rotor ship:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rotor_ship

Also, why not use some of the stored energy to drive electromotors?

304:

Efficiency is a really poor metric and no one I know who's knowledgeable about this stuff uses it for anything but order-of-magnitude estimates. What people care about is dollars per watt delivered or watt installed.

This is a good thing, since efficiencies are often dependent on fundamental physical law. Your basic solar cell, for example, isn't particularly efficient - it can't be, given the solar spectra and elementary QM. But they sure have gotten a lot cheaper, haven't they?

305:

What's with the moderation? Is it based on time since last comment? I've been out for a couple of weeks dealing with family illness and haven't had much of a presence here or elsewhere.

306:

Well, a cargo ship is using some of its stored energy to move, and they're pretty efficient, and we can argue endlessly about what's the most efficient motor. Still, it's probably more efficient to forgo the engine entirely. In that case, you're limited to either wind (which people have been using for, oh, awhile) or waves (see the Suntory Mermaid II), and the latter seems to only power a test boat at about 1.5 knots/hr.

The other thing to remember is we're not limited to 19th century windjammers. There are things like skysails which may be more efficient.

307:

The question comes down to is whether it's cheaper to ship solar-derived power through time or through space, modulo startup costs, amortization, etc.

308:

Hybrid sail/electric is very workable for yachts, but I'm not clear how well it would scale up for shipping. The idea is fairly simple: since any electric motor is also a dynamo, you can tap off an arbitrary percentage of the vessel's forward thrust directly from the screw to top up the batteries. You then use the generated power for a boost when the wind is lighter, or as otherwise needed.

Since a displacement hull imposes its on physical limit to the speed of a vessel, that means when the power available from the sails is enough to get to hull speed and a bit more, the "bit more" is what goes to the generator and there's no impact on speed. So it's not like a bicycle with an old bolt-on dynamo.

309:

Wouldn't you power bulk aluminium carriers with aluminium? Lots of ships are diesel-electric. Make them Aluminium battery-electric instead.

Rather than powdered Al, have solid Al ingots. Not quite as easy to move but completely inert.

310:

The problem with wind-powered ships is that they use up a lot of their cargo capacity in the mass and structures required to support the sails. Even automating the sail systems and reducing the crewing requirements with modern tech won't claw back much of that disadvantage.

Sailing ships are also very top-heavy with a high CoG because of the masts and rigging and that also cuts into the cargo capacity. Cargo ships nowadays are based on the floating-brick school of Naval architecture to get the most cargo space into the smallest and lowest-cost hull structures and wind-powered ships can't be built like that, they need deep draggy keels to work properly counteracting the leverage of the sails.

The finest of the clipper ships were faster and more elegant than the crude 2nd-generation cargo steamers of the 1880s and 1890s they competed against but they didn't have the cargo capacity of the cheaper steamers and they were always at the mercy of the wind or lack of it.

311:

Sure you can build a wind-powered ship that's a cargo ship. See this commercial website for example. Sky sails are basically big, high-tech kites run off a crane. They're supposedly more efficient because you can let the kite fly hundreds or thousands of feet up off the ocean where the wind is really blowing, and the kite doesn't need fixed masts.

Even on a more low-tech level, you only need a huge keel on something like a Bermuda rig. Old sailing ships used to use ballast instead, and everything from Polynesian catamarans and outriggers to Chinese Junks worked without deep fixed keels, using a variety of other tricks to counterbalance the forces from the rigging.

The bottom line is that a wind-powered boat isn't necessarily a clipper ship or even what we ordinarily think of as a sail boat. There are many more options.

312:

Nojay, you've really got the wrong end of the stick here. Modern cargo ships, like warships in the ages of steam and diesel, are square section, much as large naval sailing ships and ships made for large cargoes were in the age of sail. Slab sides and a flat bottom make for maximum stability, but a more violent motion. Curves in the bilges make the motion more gentle at the expense of stability. Sailing ships are not and cannot be "top heavy", what you see when they lean over in a breeze is the effect of the lever arm of the sail - they are in fact heavily ballasted to counteract that force, the centre of gravity is deeper due to the low-down ballast. A deep keel is only necessary to counteract the sideways force of the wind, and a large ship already has this resistance. The model to look at is more likely old sailing barges, such as made up the bulk of shipping in the Baltic, the North Sea and the Channel. But the clipper ships, graceful as they looked from a distance, were not very different in section when you study the plans properly.

The significant difference with steam and diesel was the size of the crew required; you could man a 20th century freighter with less than 20 men, versus more than 10 times that many for a clipper. The difference now is the expected price of diesel in the future and the amount of automation available. These days it's difficult but still perfectly reasonable for a skilled person to single-hand a yacht of up to around 40 metres with good gear, electric winches and some judicious automation. There are high degrees of automation to go along with the novel technology in some super-yachts sailing now (cf http://www.symaltesefalcon.com/ ). It's definitely possible to do this for commercial cargo services, the question really is whether it's cost effective.

313:

Sigh, I didn't post that link very well... for those interested just delete the trailing parenthesis and period.

[[I've put an extra space in there so it's now clickable - mod]]

It occurred to me there was a Geoffrey Jenkins novel with a ship more or less as I describe from the early 80s, 'A Ravel of Waters'. I seem to remember if was a pretty fun book to read, if a bit of a rough ride. If you don't know Jenkins, his stories are usually along similar lines to Alastair Maclean

314:

#2 we don't need crews of hundreds climbing in the rigging

Placed here but refers to all subsequent comments on crewing too.

And, indeed, never did. The typical crew of a full-rigged ship (picked because the square rig actually requires more sailors than a fore and aft rig of similar sail area) was in the low 20s. Most of the "several hundred" on a Hollywood "pirate ship" or a wet navy "ship of the line" are there to fight the ship and/or perform damage control.

315:

The most extreme example I can think of was the Thomas W. Lawson, launched in 1902. 7 masts(!), a complement of 18.

As one with experience on a much smaller STA schooner, that boggles me. But training vessels tend to have very high crewing rates, a couple of hundred not being unknown. Compare Pommern with a crew of 26 to the Kruzenshtern with a crew an order of magnitude higher at 257.

316:

Don't forget that a lot of sailors used to die on warships in the old days too, and mostly not in battle. Quite a few of the sailors on a warship are there as extras. I agree with you and Bellingham: there's no obvious reason why a modern cargo vessel under wind power can't run with the same number of crew that one under diesel runs with now.

317:

The Cutty Sark, one of the most highly evolved sail-powered cargo ships ever built ran with a crew of 26 under normal circumstances. During one voyage after a mutiny/walkout by the regular crew it was operated with six apprentices and four tradesmen along with the officers.

When the wind was right the Cutty Sark could do 17 knots fully laden. When the wind wasn't right it got its commercial lunch eaten by the crude coal-fired second-generation steamships running single-and double-expansion reciprocating engines at a few atmospheres of pressure, and Turbinia had shown what the future of steam and screw propulsion was going to be like and who cares what the wind does.

318:

Thing is though that favorable winds for most of the old routes are predictable and even reliable. I guess the difference is the flexibility, the number of direct routes open to power and all that. Hong Kong to San Fran and back, then to Sydney isn't all in favorable winds all the time. Liverpool to Seattle around the new northern routes. Simple great circles, no tacking required.

However I am fascinated by this notion of square-rigged windjammers with (relatively) small crews. I was aware it was possible and agree that suggests that therefore it must have been common, but didn't really make a connection. Less surprised about a schooner, which doesn't have the same requirement for men aloft. But with a square rig, you surely need a certain number of men per mast before it gets dicey in heavy weather, and you need all hands to take in a reef fast enough for safety. I guess that's the difference - the navy needs enough hands per watch to get by, and only needs all hands for action stations, while a merchantman needs all hands to go about... It does rather play down the image of clippers as greyhounds though.

319:

Quite a few of the sailors on a warship are there as extras.

Seemed to me the numbers were about manning all the guns on a side at one time. 3 or 4 per gun?

320:

Manning the guns, enough to change sail rapidly and a repair crew and extras to replace the casualties won't go amiss either. That said they didn't necessarily take have enough to man the guns on both sides at once.

321:
Seemed to me the numbers were about manning all the guns on a side at one time. 3 or 4 per gun?

More like 10-14 men by default, although you could do it with less at a slower rate of fire. These were heavy chunks of metal that needed to be physically run out and moved to aim.

For British navel vessels of the time gun crews could more than 80% of the crew (although obviously they'd do other things as well when not firing).

Plus enough people to keep those guns stocked with powder and shot.

A couple of other reasons for large crews on naval vessels that I don't think have been mentioned so far:

1) Attrition. Lots of people died. Through disease as well as combat. So you needed enough "spare" to ensure that you could remain viable.

2) Prize crews. They weren't just sinking the enemy's ships of war. They were boarding and taking them, and boarding and taking the enemy's merchant vessels. So you needed enough people so you could send prize crews onto the taken ships that could sail the ship back to port + keep any prisoners under control.

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