But the good news is …

Bloomberg reports that A $1 Billion Solar Plant Was Obsolete Before It Ever Went Online.

The US taxpayer faces an eye-watering bill. Which is very bad. But the interesting thing to me is why it was obsolete:

By the time the plant opened in 2015, the increased efficiency of cheap solar panels had already surpassed its technology, and today it’s obsolete — the latest panels can pump out power at a fraction of the cost for decades with just an occasional hosing-down.

I am not a close student of solar power, but to my uneducated eye this sounds like very good news. The savings that this rapid solar tech progress will yield will surely be worth far more than whatever the US government wasted (by being too impatient and/or corrupt) on this particular slice of pork.

There’s a graph in the Bloomberg piece which says that the “Cost of Solar Technology in $ Per Megawatt-Hour” has fallen from around $350 in 2009 to around $50 in 2019. Which sounds like quite a drop. I had heard rumours about how solar power is getting cheaper, but I had not realised how rapid this improvement had been. And, I’m guessing, will go on being.

New and overdue category here: “Energy”.

Soleimani etc.

In connection with the death of Qasem Soleimani, Mick Hartley posts this picture [photo credit: AFP]:

Plenty of Middle Easterners are now, it seems, rejoicing.

In another posting, Hartley quotes Gerard Baker of The Times saying:

… But this wasn’t simply a case of retributive justice. This was no Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden or Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who were all essentially busted flushes when they met justice. Soleimani was the mastermind of a vast programme of slaughter, enslavement and repression that was continuing across the Middle East until the day he died. …

Meanwhile the Daily Mail offers this characteristically terse headline:

‘Death to liars!’ Iranian protesters in Tehran turn against regime and demand the Ayatollah RESIGN after country’s military admits it shot down passenger plane full of its own citizens

But no, I too had never heard of Soleimani until Trump had him killed.

“It is now well known that …”

I continue to read The Square and the Tower, and very good it is too, just like it says inside the front cover and on the back cover.

In the chapter about the Russian Revolution, appropriately entitled “The Plague”, we read (by which I mean that I read (on pages 214-5)) this:

It is now well known that fewer people were killed in the October Revolution than were killed in the shooting of Sergei Eisenstein’s tenth-anniversary film about it.

Well, this may now be “well-known”, but I did not know it.

Not that this makes the event insignificant. After it, the “plague” spread with astonishing speed.

Only amongst the vast peasantry and the Cossacks did the Bolsheviks lack leaders – which helps explain therapid descent of Russia into an urban-rural civil war in the course of 1918. Essentially, the Bolshevik virus travelled by train and telegraph; and literate soldiers; sailors and workers were the most susceptible to it.

That literacy was at the heart of the Bolshevik story is something that I did know.

Niall Ferguson on networks versus hierarchies

I have been reading Niall Ferguson’s The Square and the Tower, and so far am enjoying it. It’s about how historians have tended to emphasise the impact of orderly hierarchies because these leave big paper trails, and to neglect less orderly networks, because these leave less of a paper trail. Yet, networks clearly matter a lot, even if, as Ferguson points out, networks are not necessarily benign in their impact.

The chapters are short, which I like because I am reading this book in short snatches, in among doing other things. Even a short burst of reading means me probably getting through an entire chapter and maybe even two or more chapters.

Right now, however, I am in the middle of a chapter, about how Guttenberg met Luther, and about how Guttenberg turned Luther’s merely written thoughts into best-selling printed volumes, thereby unleashing the Reformation and much else besides. (Like modern science. Printing enabled science to accumulate.) This is a process that has long fascinated me, and it happened because two people merely met, rather than because one person met another person and gave that other person an order. (Modern science is likewise a network rather than a hierarchy. When modern science becomes hierarchical, it tends to degenerate into propaganda for the hierarchy it is serving.)

Modern science has mostly been benign: But the only slightly delayed impact of the Reformation was, as Ferguson notes, that (p. 84):

Religious conflict continued to simmer and erupted again in the Thirty Years’ War, a conflict that turned Central Europe into a charnal house.

I will now finish reading this chapter.

A selection of 2019 newspaper headlines

I find that newspaper headlines, photoed in such places as shops from which I purchase other goods but not newspapers, can make pleasingly evocative souvenirs, as time goes by. Things that loomed large once upon a time, but which are now forgotten, can instead be remembered. Ah yes, that! Whatever happened to that ruckus? Good lord, him. Good grief, her.

So, here is a gallery of such photos, celebrating the amazing diversity of dramas that London’s various newspapers splashed all over themselves during 2019:

January 17, February 14, March 14, March 29, April 21;
May 28, June 28, July 29, August 9, August 21;
August 21, August 27, August 27, September 13, October 2;
October 2, October 2, November 12, December 6, December 13.

Just kidding. Variety, not.

Most pundits seem to agree that this argument has now been won and lost, following the recent General Election result (also noted in the final photo above). I’ll believe that when I see it. I now expect that there will be plenty of Leaving still to be done, after January the whenever it now is. Much depends, I think, on whether any substantial number of Remainers decide to become Rejoiners; or whether, to use a favourite phrase of such persons when they were winning this argument, the Remainers, aside from an insignificant rump, will now “move on”.

Churchill War Rooms gallery

One of the nice things about people coming to stay is that you often find yourself visiting touristy but interesting things that you’d never quite get around to seeing on your own. Later, maybe, but not today. It’ll always be there won’t it?

Touristy things like: the Churchill War Rooms. In February of last year, nearly two years ago now, GodDaughter2’s Dad was in town, and that’s one of the places we went.

And I took the odd photo or two. Well, more like 350, of which here are 84:

A big spread of photos like that would have been an impossibly tedious operation to stick up at Brian Micklethwait’s Previous Blog, and an equally tedious business for you to be scrutinising. But now, here they all are, and you can do the usual, clicking through as quickly or as slowly as you like. Enjoy. Especially if you rarely or never visit London, and have no plans to see this place for real.

There’s a million things I could say about it. One of the more striking of the photos above is photo 33, which shows how thick the concrete was protecting everything, from all but the most direct of direct hits, that passage that you see having been drilled through afterwards, when they were turning these working spaces into a place people could visit and circulate around.

Other talking points? Well, lots of signs and souvenirs, often signs made into souvenirs, for sale in the inevitable gift shop. And also: signs that are not Original but Modern. Signs with lots of words. Which is appropriate, given how important Churchill knew words (see photo 80) to be.

Most of the human figures that you see are not real; they’re sculpted. And “Other creatures” is in the category list because, inevitably, there are bulldogs.

I did all the bard work for this posting before I got ill, and I’m still not fully recovered. So, please continue to wish me well.

Cummings wins it – Parris misses it

When Boris Johnson appointed Dominic Cummings as his behind the scenes shouter-in-chief, I started to hope that things had taken a turn for the better. I continued to fear the worst, but stopped assuming it. After the Cummings appointment, the air was thick with claims that he was a Satanist, but then it all went quiet. Presumably after Cummings had shouted at everyone then mentioning him to stop mentioning him, if they didn’t want to be set upon by Satan. But I didn’t forget. I knew that Cummings was Satanising away, behind the scenes.

So, when a link to this story at the Telegraph showed up on my Twitter feed, I clicked, hoping against hope to be able to read the whole thing. As it turned out, I was only able to read the top few paragraphs, but I got the bit that mattered to me, which was the Dominic Cummings angle:

They were the lifelong Labour voters on whom Jeremy Corbyn was supposed to be able to rely – even if he failed to sell his vision to a new market.

But to Dominic Cummings and Isaac Levido, the masterminds of Boris Johnson’s landslide victory, they became known as “persuasion ones”: a category of voter whose allegiance to Labour had been profoundly shaken by Mr Corbyn’s leadership and his party’s involvement in blocking Brexit.

Ultimately, the identification and targeting of those voters helped cause an electoral upset that shocked even some of the Conservatives’ most senior figures.

The phrase emerged from some of the most intensive use of focus groups and polling ever seen in a UK election …

I’m sure there will soon be much more to read along these lines.

From Matthew Parris (The Tories will win – but with no thanks to the North), on the other hand, there may be a rather thoughtful silence for a while.

Early election news

First, this:

Conservatives by anything from a comfortable to a cataclysmic (for Labour) majority. Well, thank goodness for that.

Soon after that, the first Portillo-esque moment happened, when a place called Blyth, where they were all raised by whippets and pigeons in cardboard boxes in coal mines and have voted Labour ever since the Romans buggered off back to Gaul, went: Conservative. The winning Conservative did not sound like he owned much in the way of rural acreage and serfs. He sounded like a Geordie. And in his rather Geordie voice, he read out what he had to say. But towards the end of it, he paused, because, it became clear, he was emotionally somewhat overcome.

Andrew Neil did an interview with Nigel Farage, and said that, what with Brexit obviously now going ahead, and what with Farage’s Brexit Party not going to get any seats at all, that makes him, Farage, a footnote. Farage disagreed, and so do I. Basically because of this:

I draw your attention to the fact that a lot of people switched from Labour, to the Brexit Party. The Conservative vote went up only a very little. In Farage’s phrase, people “who couldn’t bring themselves to vote Conservative” were still able to desert the Labour Party in a great flock, and to vote for the thing that Labour was now denying to them. In that picture, it didn’t do enough to cause the seat to change hands, but across the North, it will be more than enough.

So, some footnote. I for one am delighted that Farage, the most consequential British politician of our time, will yet again be keeping his eye on the Brexit process, and telling us all what he thinks of it.

I find that these photos I take of my TV, typically of sporting events but also of things like election coverage, can be extraordinarily memory-jogging, when I look at them months or years later.

Shy Labour?

Dan Hannan:

Will this be the first election to see a “shy Labour” factor? How many voters are embarrassed to admit that their hostility to Brexit, or their tribal anti-Toryism, trumps their concern for their Jewish fellow citizens?

Scary times, for every political obsessive in Britain. Because every political obsessive, me included, is terrified that their preferred tribe will lose.