Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The North's Not For Fracking

The Northern Gas Gala got going today.

Those southern softies did it in the July sunshine, but hard northern types do it in the November rain.

Actually there were a considerable number of southern types there today, many of them having camped out by the side of Moss Lane for a couple of weeks in a camp that was totally sorted for baked beans and pasta sauce, but rather lacking in beer and coffee. Not to mention toilet facilities.

The famous Manchester rain was fortunately absent as a motley gang of forty odd souls, no more than a quarter of them journalists, waited for something to actually happen. Judging by the number of cars and vans honking and waving as they drove past on Liverpool road word at got out to some people about what we were up to.

For two hours or so it seemed that Igas weren't going to play along and only the ranks of Police vans lined up at the nearby Salford City rugby ground gave any indication we weren't all just wasting our time.

Eventually the arrival of the jolly coppers of the Police Liaison Team, and the somewhat less charismatic bruisers of the Tactical Assistance Unit in their riot vans indicated that we were about get going. Soon protesters and Police had formed neat little lines and were squaring off.

The day's convoy was not far behind; a lorry load of what looked like junk and another with some sort of pumping equipment, bracketed front and rear by Police vans. Faced with an immovable line of protesters it was soon stopped dead, blocking half the A57.

The TAU were deployed in force now. You wouldn't really mistake any of them for the Laughing Policeman, but they had at least left their Robocop costumes behind and seemed content just to glower and not actually threaten.

A polite instruction from the Police Commander to move was politely ignored and soon both sides were pushing each other.

It was all pretty friendly though. Some people may disagree, but having once met Greater Manchester TAU on a dark country lane I can  vouch that today was friendly.

With more cops than eco-warriors the end result was never in doubt, but with some very mature ladies putting their backs into it the progress of the Police line down Moss Lane was never more than a snail's pace and was at times glacial if not geological. It eventually took the convoy two hours to complete the last quarter mile of its journey.

So that was Day One.

Meanwhile the local residents have been getting themselves organised.

Barton Moss really is the edge of town. On one side is the great Manchester, Salford and Stockport urban conglomeration. On the other it is countryside as far as Warrington. Historically it has the first canal in Britain, the Bridgewater, and also the last, the Manchester Ship Canal. The railway that runs nearby was once used by Stephenson's rocket. Now it is the front line of the new technology of hydraulic fracturing.

Judging by the mood of the packed meeting in the nearby Brookfield Estate I went to last week this is most definitely not welcome.

copywrite Manchester Evening News
My main concern about fracking, as I told the BBC local radio when they interviewed me is Climate Change. But then I don't live next door to a fracking site.

Yet. Their worries were air pollution, noise, traffic and the intrusion of a noisy and dirty industrial process into what is a prime bird watching area.

So this looks like being the next skirmish in a global insurgency against what really must be the last stand of the fossil fuel dinosaurs. France and Bulgaria have already said no and across the country Tory squires and City bean counters are getting worried.

We can win this one.

So if fracking fails, where next for fossil fuels? The dustbin of history I hope.

So come along and help make that happen.

Northern Gas Gala

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Bad Capitalism: BP

"What the hell did we do to deserve this?"

This is what BP CEO Tony Haywood said when informed that the Deepwater Horizon had just exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing eleven people and unleashing the biggest oil spill in US history.

You can imagine the shock and indignation in his voice. How could this have happened to BP, the darlings of the business world, whose streamlined management structure was the stuff of Business Seminars the world over?

What's more, they were the nice ones, the ones with big green flower as a logo, the ones who cared about the environment.

How could it happen to them?

Here's how.


In 1997 John Browne, the dapper CEO of British Petroleum, as it then was, made a speech at Stanford University in which he acknowledged that Climate Change "cannot be discounted".

Today you'd expect him to go on to suggest that the Pope may very well be Catholic and that bears use the trees for their ablutions, but in 1997 this was big news coming from an oil man.

In the rush to crown Browne as the new Sun King most people ignored the fact he went on to say that "dramatic, sudden" action that "sought, at a stroke, drastically to restrict carbon emissions" would be "wrong".

For many, it was enough that he had even mentioned Global Warming.

Browne knew what he was doing making that speech, or at least he thought he did. If governments wanted to do something about Climate Change the easiest and simplest thing was to phase out coal fired power stations and replace them with gas. And where would they get their gas from? BP of course.

Three years later Browne spent millions of pounds rebranding BP as "Beyond Petroleum". He spent rather less money on a factory making solar panels. It was located in California, so the panels it made were too expensive to be commercially viable, but it was conveniently located for photo calls with 'Governator' Arnold Schwarzenegger.

However, even whilst Browne was making this speech, BP was employing British spy agency Hakluyt, and their German agent Manfred Schlickenrieder, to infiltrate Greenpeace in order to disrupt their campaign against BP's deep water drilling in the Atlantic. I was part of that campaign and wondered why BP were always one step ahead of us. We thought MI5 were hacking our emails. They probably were, but it was Schlickenrieder that was tipping off BP.

That Greenpeace saw through the greenwash didn't bother Browne. Some cynics suggested that calling yourself  Beyond Petroleum when your main business was oil was a bit confusing.  Others thought that Browne was just storing up trouble for the future, and that the clean and green image would rear up an bite BP on the bum if anything went wrong. But Browne just ignored them and lapped up the accolades.

Rogue Traders


The rebranding though was just window dressing for what Browne was really up to.

BP was an oil company with very little oil, so he went to look for some. More to the point he would regularly announce he had found it when he hadn't. The imaginary oil ended up costing them money, but in the short term BP's share price went up. That was not wise in the long term, but at least it was legal. However a lot of what BP's oil trading unit got up to under Browne was neither wise nor legal.

As both a producer and trader in oil BP had always had the chance to manipulate the market via what's known in the business as a 'squeeze', where a company would hold oil back in order to raise the price before selling.

However the world of derivatives opened up the opportunity for a reverse squeeze. Rather than using real oil to manipulate the virtual market, the oil traders would buy up oil derivatives in order to raise the price of the real crude.

This was sharp practice, and led to the company being repeatedly fined by US authorities. But that didn't bother BP, for as long as it's oil trading division brought in cash, the City was happy.


But what made the City money men even happier was Browne's cost cutting program.

Whole tiers of management were replaced, and complex indices of performance were replace by just one tally of a manager's success; cost. The manager who cut his budget got promoted. The manager who spent more went down. Managers moved rapidly around the company, so there was no point making savings tomorrow, costs had to be cut today. This short term thinking had a disastrous effect on BP's infrastructure, especially in it's controversial operations in Alaska.

Maintaining the safety of an oil pipeline isn't rocket science. You just need to clean the rust off and keep an eye on the joints. However such routine maintenance costs money and is easily postponed.

That's what happened in Prudhoe Bay. Costs were driven down, maintenance budgets slashed and pipelines and valves rusted in the Arctic winter. People knew what needed to be done, but BPs structure and pursuit of short term profits at all costs meant managers could only fix problems like Prudhoe Bay at the expenses of their careers.

In March 2006 chickens finally came home to roost for BP as corrosion caused a five day oil leak that spilled over 200,000 gallons of oil onto the ice. The spill ended up costing BP over $100 million in fines and lawsuits and they also had to fix their leaking pipes, which cost them far more than if they'd just maintained them in the first place.

But if BP wasn't too bothered about oil spills, there was another type of leak they really didn't like. As the cuts started to bite disgruntled employees had been contacting former oil trader Chuck Hamel, who passed their information on to the media or environmental groups.

BP hated this. They hired private investigators to tap Hamel's phones, intercept his post, steal his rubbish and sift through his credit card records. Slightly more bizarrely women were recruited to try to lure him into a honey trap. When the story eventually broke it caused a storm, and a judge accused the consortium running the pipeline for BP of behaving like "Nazi Germany".

Meanwhile Greenpeace's campaign against BP was again being thwarted, this time by the FBI. This being the window between the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the War on Terror, the Feds were evidently short on suspects and decided Greenpeace were a "domestic terrorist group".

Political Influence

Blair, Schwarzenegger and Browne
Seeing which way the political wind was blowing, Browne started courting Tony Blair before he became Prime Minister. Once in office New Labour's relationship with Britain's biggest company was so close it was said BP stood for "Blair Petroleum".

Browne's chief adviser, Nick Butler, was a former Labour insider and parliamentary candidate, and his head of communications was was Anji Hunter, Blair's former chief of staff. Meanwhile former BP CEO David Simon became Blair's Minister for European Trade and Competitiveness.

When Libya offered to give up its nuclear program in exchange for being allowed back into the human race, MI6 spook Mark Allen led the negotiations. Shortly afterwards he was working for BP, negotiating an oil deal with Gaddafi. When Libya said that the continued detention of Lockerbie bomber Basset al-Megrahi, and plans to prosecute the murderer of PC Yvonne Fletcher, were problems the message was passed on. Al-Megrahi was released, and leads to who killed the police woman were not followed up.

When there were calls for Britain to follow the USA in suing Libya for the deaths and injuries caused by the explosives they'd given to terrorists, including the Provisional IRA, the government initially refused, before being forced into a U turn by an outraged public.

Unsafe Practices

Political influence clearly helped BP enourously, but it couldn't keep away the grim reality that if you neglected basic maintenance in a dangerous industry like oil it would have a disastrous effect.

BP claimed it took safety seriously, and produced graphs to prove it. However the measure they used was personal safety, counting how many workers had had slips, trips and other minor accidents. All this could measure was how dozzy the staff were. However it probably didn't even do that, as the worker who scolded himself on his coffee, or sprained an ankle by not using the hand rail on the stairs, could easily be persuaded to keep quiet if to speak out might affect their job.

But such spin could not hide the reality of dangerously neglected facilities and demoralized and overworked staff. 

Grangemouth refinery
In 2000, three fires broke out at the Grangemouth refinery. No-one was seriously hurt, but an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive concluded that they had "endangered lives of workers and civilians".

In 2002 the authorities in California became suspicious that the Carson plant reporting a decrease in safety violations despite no repairs actually being carried out. Inspectors were refused entry on a variety of grounds, but when they eventually returned with the Sheriff they found that 80% of the tanks breached regulations and that BP had been lying.

BP' reaction to these events was telling. Paul Maslin in Grangemouth, who had repeatedly asked for money to repair his facility, was demoted whilst Colin Reid in California was promoted despite his false reporting.

Texas City refinery
What happened next in Texas then was no surprise.

In 2002 John Mazoni, Head of Refining and Marketing warned in a report that there were 'serious concerns about potential for a major site incident ' at the Texas City refinery. He was ignored.

Instead a program of vigorous cost cutting continued at the plant. A former executive Vice President later said 'the guys who ran the refinery. they were afraid for their jobs, there was a culture of fear'.

It could only end one way.

On 23 March 2005 workers repairing a raffinate splitter gasoline unit overfilled the unit. The level indicator and alarm were not working properly, and hydrocarbons overflowed into the blowback stack. This was an old model, no longer used by other companies, and there was a known risk of hydrocarbons leaking if this happened. In the control room staff, working 12 hour shifts due to shortages, failed to notice and the alarm was broken.

130 feet away from the unit staff were relaxing in wooden trailers. Regulations said that the trailers should have been 350 feet away unless blast proofed. A pick up truck was parked nearby with its engine running. It should not have been there either. The hydrocarbon fumes caused the engine to race making it to overheat. This then triggered an explosion which shattered glass 3/4 mile away.

Fifteen people died and 170 were hospitalised, with injuries including 90% burns and lost limbs.

Dodging Responsibility

Ewa Rowe c. Jeff Wilson
The day after the blast Browne arrived on the scene and said BP accepted full responsibility for the "incident", which was stating the bleeding obvious as it was their plant that had just exploded.

However behind the scenes they were doing exactly the opposite to what they said. Helped by a US press that seemed more interested in trying to blame Al Qaeda, BP nearly got away with it. The six hard hats that overfilled the unit were held solely responsible for the accident and sacked. The publicity budget was doubled and publications which carried lucrative BP advertising were warned not to write negative stories. One PR expert said "They handled the catastrophe like a class act".

Unfortunately for them Eva Rowe, the daughter of Linda and James Rowe, who both blown to pieces by the blast, had a surprise for them. In the small print of her settlement with the company was the clause that they had to release internal documents. These showed how that not only did BP know of the risk of an imminent disaster at the Texas City plant, but that they actually calculated that it would be more cost effective to pay off the victims than to make the repairs that would have saved lives.

Riding Their Luck

This wasn't the end of the bad news in 2005. In July the giant oil platform the Thunder Horse was evacuated as Hurricane Dennis hit the Gulf of Mexico. When the storm was over the $1 billion platform was found listing at 30 degrees. It turned out the rush to get it finished had led to a six inch pipe being incorrectly plumbed, letting in sea water.

This though was an extremely lucky break for BP as during the repairs it was found a critical underwater pipe had been badly welded and had cracked. Had this not been spotted “It could have been catastrophic,” said Gordon A. Aaker Jr., a senior engineering consultant on the project. “You would have lost a lot of oil a mile down before you would have even known. It could have been a helluva spill".

Smart people, and smart organisations, learn from near misses like this, but BP didn't. Instead they continued to chase quick profits and ride their luck.

Clearly though this wasn't going to last forever.

Meet The New Boss

Shortly afterwards Browne departed the company after lying in court over the relationship with his
ex-boyfriend. It's hard not to have a touch of sympathy for him here. He lived with his mother, a survivor of Auschwitz with old fashioned values, and worked in the ultra macho world of oil and big money. Coming out as gay would not have been easy for a man who struggled to relate to real people at the best of times.

His replacement was Tony Haywood. He was a former 'turtle', as they called Browne's globe trotting personal assistants. This was virtually the only way to get to the top of BP under Browne, and the result was a C Team who worshipped the boss and rarely dissented, which is never good management.

Hayward was effectively gifted the job when the Ewa Rowe settlement revealed that his main rival,  Mazoni, had sent an email complaining that dealing with the Texas City blast had caused him to lose "a precious day of my leave".

Not surprisingly the accidents continued under Haywood.

In 2008 poor cementing of an oil well in Caspian Sea caused a gas leak that could have killed all 200 people on BP's rig. They managed to keep the accident a commercial secret, but were betrayed when in 2010 Wikileaks published the account they'd given to the US Consulate.

Between June 2007 and February 2010 the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration Administration hit BP with 862 citations, not counting the 709 for Texas City. The next worst offender was Sunoco with 127.

And for good measure there were three leaks within a month in Prudhoe Bay.

Deepwater Horizon

So that was the situation when the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, leased by BP from Transocean, started operations in the Macondo field of the Gulf of Mexico.

When it exploded on 20 April 2010, killing eleven crew, plunging another 115 into the sea and causing the worst oil spill in US history, it was merely chickens coming home to roost for BP.

According to the greenwash in their 2009 Sustainability Review BP was working towards its goal of 'no accidents, no harm to people and no damage to the environment', a refrain that was gleefully taken up by American politicians, with even Obama saying in early April 2010 "Oil rigs today generally don't cause spills." The result was one of the laxest regulatory regimes in the world.

Meanwhile BP was cutting corners on every aspect of the Macondo operation.They used the cheaper "long string" piping to line the bore, an unusual choice given that they knew that this would be a risky "high temperature, high pressure" well.

Halliburton recommended that BP use 21 centralisers to keep the drill pipe in place. The Deepwater Horizon only had six on board. They could have ordered more but the rig was costing them $1 million a day to hire and Haywood had made a goal of reducing unproductive time.

Next the cementing of the bore was rushed. Doing it properly would have meant paying the Halliburton contractors to stay on. Instead they were sent home without the usual checks being carried out.

Then just like with the Thunder Horse, there was another near miss. On 8 March 2010 a 'kick' occurred when gas entered the well and surged up the pipe. It took the crew a remarkably slow 33 minutes to react. Fortunately the Blowout Preventer worked and saved the rig, but it was a close run thing.

Again though, no lessons were learnt.

Then at 9PM 20 April 2010 the Deepwater Horizon pressure tested the well. It seems the BP
engineers lacked the skills to read the results. BP's monitoring station on land had shut at 5PM, as a cost saving measure, and nobody on board noticed the deadly pressure build up.

The first indication of trouble was when the supply ship Damon B. Bankson  noticed drilling mud coming out of the top of the rig. By the time they had radioed the Deepwater Horizon it was too late.

In the aftermath BP set up a website to give information on the disaster, which they gave the title of "Gulf of Mexico - Transocean Drilling Incident."

The rig could have been saved at the last minute if the Transocean staff on board had noticed the pressure build up. However this was the only link in the chain that led to the disaster for which BP was not wholly responsible for. 

Once the US government became involved the website's name was changed to BP Drilling Incident.

"Life's Not Fair"

BP tried other tricks too.

They claimed the leak was "only" 5000 barrels a day, and managed to get a compliant media to use this figure even when independent scientists were saying it was clearly much more. 62,000 barrels a day is now the best estimate.

Then they tried to blame, and sue, the manufacturer of the Blow Out Preventer. The BOP may have
been damaged in 8 March kick, or it may have failed due to the lack of centralisers, but in either case they were never expected to be 100% reliable. This was like than the operator of an unsafe aeroplane blaming a fatal crash on the company that made the escape chutes.

Finally they tried to rally thier friends in the UK, claiming they were the victims of an anti-British witch hunt by the US. The Daily Express wrote that Obama was "anti-British as ever" for no better reason than that his Dad had been tortured by the colonial authorities during the Mau Mau rebellion.

When all that failed they pulled the ever reliable "too big to fail" argument. Haywood and the Chairman of the Board met with President Obama and said that if the US didn't lay off BP there would be no company left and they'd be left sweeping up the oil themselves. This worked.

However it really was all over for Haywood.

He left with a years salary, that was £1 million, a pension pot worth £11 million and a seat on the board of a subsidiary worth £150,000 a year.

He considered himself the victim and was reported to have said "Life isn't fair."

I think I actually agree with him there.


Spills and Spin: The Inside Story of BP by Tom Bergin
MI6 'Firm' Spied on Green Groups Sunday Times 17 June 2001
A Review of the FBIs Investigations Into Certain Advocacy Groups US Department of Justice
In BP's Record, A History of Boldness and  Costly Blunders The New York Times 12 July 2010
BP Sustainability Review 2009

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Top Five Pubs In Doctor Who

The venerable Time Lord is fifty earth years old this month.

As a good, old British institution it's not surprising he's spent a decent portion of that time in some good, old British pubs.

So, not counting seedy space bars and foreign drinking establishments, here's my Top Five of Doctor Who pubs.

The Fleur-de-Lys in The Android Invasion (1975)

"Let's try the pub!"

Don't you just hate those pubs that try really hard to look authentic and Oldy Worldy, but are in fact completely fake?

Well, that's the Fleur-de-Lys, which has the added feature that the landlord, and the customers, are androids who don't get turned on until they're needed.

The Android Invasion was Doctor Who does Invasion of the Body Snatchers, with a touch of The Prisoner.

It's almost a farewell for the old UNIT team, so it's a bit of a shame Nicholas Courtney wasn't available as the Brigadier. The Kraal are pretty forgettable Monsters of the Week, but it's a lot of fun and contains wonderful lines such as "Is that finger loaded?" delivered in the way that only Tom Baker could.

The King's Arms in The Lodger

"Football, that's the one with the sticks."

All we know about the King's Arms is that it is somewhere in Colchester, Craig Owen drinks there and it has a football team.

Given it's geographical location we could perhaps make some inferences about the number of squaddies and women with fake tans amongst the clientele, but Craig doesn't seem that sort of chap.

All told I imagine it as a rather blokey sort of place, but not too threatening, mostly serving lager, with Sky TV and a food menu that starts and ends with pie and peas. There are probably worse places to drink in Essex.

The Fox Inn in Terror of the Zygons  


"Was that bang big enough for you, Brigadier?"

Another pub from central casting, but this time a Scottish one, complete with dead animals on the walls.

The place is actually being used by UNIT as their HQ whilst they try to figure out what's been knocking off North Sea oil rigs. (Clue, it's a monster and they're close to Loch Ness....).

The villainous Zygons are one of the better Monsters of the Week, hence their return in the fiftieth anniversary special, although the Doctor finds the idea of just three of them trying to take over the world rather amusing. Indeed, Tom Baker doesn't appear to be taking any of this seriously by this stage, and even pointing out the rather obvious bugging device in the dead animal seems a little beneath him. 

Gore Crow Hotel in Battlefield (1989)


"What we have sir is the finest beer in the area, even if I do say so myself."

Now here's a better place to drink. It's in the CAMRA guide, the landlord brews something called Arthur's Ale in his shed and that has the real scabbard of Excalibur on the wall.

Battlefield is a story from the final series of the classic show, and one that shows what a tragedy it was the Beeb pulled the plug when they did.

Structurally the story suffers from being stretched from three parts to four, and then having the Brigadier added in as an afterthought. But it's very well done and the decision to bring dear old Alistair back is a great one.

UNIT, now equipped with bullets for all eventualities, actually put in a decent performance for once under the 'new' Brigadier, Winifred Bambera. She appears to drive the men a little harder than the old Brig, and gets results on the battlefield. Perhaps Sir Alistair was a little too soft on them.

We also get to see the Tudor pile that Lethbridge-Stewart and Doris now live in. How he paid for it on a soldiers salary is a good question. Perhaps he pocketed a few of those gold bullets before he retired.

The Cloven Hoof in The Daemons 


Yates "Fancy a dance Brigadier?"
Brigadier "I'd rather have a pint."

Those two lines confirmed an awful lot of suspicions about the old UNIT team. Captain Yates really was gay and the Brigadier really was an alcoholic.

 A tale of black magic in an English village, with the somewhat cerebrally challenged locals under the sway of a mysterious, charismatic leader, this sounds like Doctor Who does The Wicker Man. In actual fact Doctor Who had Jon Pertwee nearly going up in flames whilst tied to the Maypole twelve months before Edward Woodward had his appointment with the titular dummy.

The Daemons is on of those stories we were all really looking forward to when it came out on VHS, but which ultimately proved to be a little disappointing when we actually watched it. It's great on atmosphere, but the plot relies a bit too much on the less than dynamic duo of Yates and Benton to carry things along, and the both the Doctor and UNIT are completely useless.

Fortunately for the earth, the monster reacts to this dreadful scripting by deciding to self destruct. Can't blame him.

Aldourne, the Wiltshire village where it was filmed, is a pleasant enough place to visit and in WWII it was the home of Easy Company of the 101st Airborne Division, the heroes of Band of Brothers. The pub is back to being the Blue Boar, but the town does feature some nifty TARDIS waste bins.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Top Five British Pubs In Movies

I said British, otherwise Ric's bar in Casablanca would win, with The Prancing Pony in Bree coming a very close second.

Given the importance of the pub in British culture it's not too surprising that they feature prominently in our films.

Partly as a result of this foreigners arrive on our shores thinking the British pub is some sort of cultural marvel, and are generally prepared to ignore the unfriendly locals, the fact it's shut most of the time, the taciturn alcoholics, lousy songs and the threat of actual violence if you interrupt one of the various arcane rituals that go on within.

I suppose in these days of theme pubs, gastro-pubs and the rest we should be nostalgic for the traditional unfriendly, shut, boring, noisy and dangerous pubs of yore.

So here we go, the Top Five 'traditional' British pubs in cinema.

(Click on the heading to view a clip)

5. Mother Black Cap in Withnail And I (1987)


"Two large gins, two pints of cider. Ice in the cider"

A traditional English pub, complete with violent and bigoted customers.

This reminds me of when I was seventeen, with hair down to my arse, and had just started to drink in real pubs. The worry wasn't that the landlord would ask me my age, but that the locals would beat the crap out of me for turning up in a paisley shirt.

Alcohol being as important as it is in Withnail's life they also visit another pub, The Crow and Crown in the Lake District, where the inebriated landlord fauns over Withnail when he pretends to be in the army.

If you want to know why the Sixties had to happen, then these two pubs tell you all need to know.

4. The Duke of Burgundy in Passport to Pimlico (1949) 


"You're in a foreign country now Ted, drink when you like."

When the explosion of a Second World War bomb unearths a document that reveals that the London district of Pimlico had been ceded to the Duke of Burgundy in the fifteenth century, the first thing the new Burgundians ditch is the British licensing laws.

An gentle Ealing comedy that dreamed of an end to post-war austerity, the film is based on an incident during the war when Ottawa hospital was declared part of Holland for the birth of Princess Margriet of the Netherlands. It also subtly references the Berlin airlift of the previous year.

Best of all though it celebrates the desire for anarchy and sticking two fingers up to authority that lies just below the surface of the traditional buttoned up British character.

3. The Winchester in Shaun Of The Dead (2004)


"I get you a pint, I get you pig snacks. What more do you want?"

Or should this be one of the ones from The World's End? No, as they're all boring chain pubs - on account of the world being taken over by aliens - so it has to be The Winchester.

At first glance the Winchester is just another tired London pub full of sad characters trying to escape from their dismal lives and failed relationships. However, according to Ed at least, appearances can be deceptive and the regulars include bigamist murders, ex-porn stars and the local mafia.

With a juke box that has a mind of its own, it may not be the best place to sort out your personal problems, but it's as good a choice as any for a place to sit out a Zombie Apocalypse.

2. The Green Man in The Wicker Man (1973)


"But I sing of a baggage that we all adore / The landlord's daughter"
Music, beer, and Britt Ekland.

Okay, so her voice is dubbed and she uses a stunt bottom, but she is still fairly passable. And best of all, if you sleep with her the locals won't roast you in a giant wooden dummy.

The Wicker Man perhaps isn't the best advert for modern Paganism, but I suspect if it was real half of us would move to Summerisle tomorrow.

The paganism constructed for the film, a mixture of folk traditions, folk music and a few random facts from pre-Roman history, may be totally bogus, but it is certainly good fun, which is not something that can be said of every Third Level Gardnerian coven.

1. The Slaughtered Lamb in An American Werewolf In London (1981)


"Stay on the road. Keep clear of the moors.....Beware the moon, lads."

Candles, a pentangle on the wall, Brian Glover telling jokes. What Pagan wouldn't want to drink in The Slaughtered Lamb? Okay, so the locals can be a bit frosty, but I'm sure they're fine if you're also northern. And is that a young Ric Mayall enjoying a pint? Can't be too bad then, unless you interrupt the darts.

The interior of the pub is actually in Surrey and the exterior in Powys, whilst the Moors are in fact the Brecon Beacons, but thanks to Mr Glover the pub seems as Yorkshire as chips cooked in beef dripping.

An American Werewolf in London is one of those fun films I'll watch over and over again. It also features every song with the word 'Moon' in the lyrics and the best pre-CGI monster transformation scene in cinema, not to mention Jenny Agutter's boobs.

In reality Yorkshire is the third best place in the world to visit and very few tourists are killed by werewolfs these days, but in contrasting rural Britain to cosmopolitan London the film actually provides a very concise postcard of the two sides of England, the old and the new, and shows some of the tension between the two of them.

So one of the best films ever made, and definitely the number one movie pub.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Who Doesn't Want To Frack?

Fracking is not right popular it's not.

Whether you're a NIMBY or an outside agitator, worried about the value of your house or Climate Change, you are not alone. It sometimes seems that the people who oppose wind farms and those who support them seem to have put aside their differences and joined forces to stop fracking.

But who are the targets of the actual campaign?

The fracking companies, obviously, but as they aren't about to go out of business voluntarily, they aren't the strategic target. So who can stop them?

The Stock Market


People don't frack for the fun of it. This is about making money.

The thing to remember is these aren't big companies by the standards we're used to. They hope to get big, but they're not there yet. Centrica's £60 million deal with John Browne's Cuadrilla wouldn't have been enough to pay the board its bonus in his BP days.

They are hoping to make megabucks, but first they need other people's money.

Industry consultants KPMG, not usually friends of environmentalists, are sceptical. They talk about "tremendous reputational and regulatory hurdles",  "high costs", "financial risk", and "extended development periods". None of this sounds tempting to investors.

Governments, as we know to our cost, can be incredibly pig headed and can stick with bad decisions forever rather than appear weak. The City though can change its mind in an instant. It wasn't John Major's government that gave in over the Brent Spar - they were getting ready to send in the SBS - but Shell which threw in the towel.

Tory Backbenchers 


The risk management company Control Risks in its report takes, if anything, an even more pessimistic line. They note "activist groups are well-organised and actively network internationally" and a government which is "is cautious or divided in its approach towards unconventional gas development". Put together they worry
"Protest activity in the UK can be expected to persist as new sites are targeted for exploration, although the composition of issues and concerns will vary by locality. While these demonstrations may only be marginally successful at physically disrupting drilling – Cuadrilla was delayed by just a week at Balcombe – their real impact will be felt in the politics of shale. Tory backbenchers viewing fracking as an electoral liability is a greater success for the anti-fracking movement than blockading a project site."

So they see us pesky protesters as a big threat and the Countryside Alliance supporting Conservative MPs of the Stockbroker belt as the weakest link.

The Campaign


So here's the challenge for us. Taking a group of rowdy, lefty, anti-capitalist anarchists, design a campaign to appeal to both a shrewd stockbroker and a Tory backwoodsman.

Should be easy.

However, in case your stuck for ideas, Control Risks has some for us.
Direct action is intended to draw media attention to the anti-fracking movement, motivate the anti-fracking opposition, and physically disrupt operations. Project site blockades, in particular, have emerged as a favoured low-cost, high-impact tactic, especially in the UK.
So there you go.

Who's coming to Manchester?

Saturday, 2 November 2013

What Do I Believe?

What do I believe?

Well lots of things, but if I had to distil my beliefs down to the minimum it would be this; we must live lightly on the earth, inequality is bad for everyone, and human rights are not an optional extra.

That is my triple bottom line.

What is the alternative to sustainability?


What is the alternative to equality?

Oppression or revolution.

What is the alternative to human rights?

Being less than human.

So how are we doing by these three measures?


This is the clearest problem.

Calculations vary, but the human race as a whole probably passed the point at which it's life style was sustainable some time in the seventies. Not that our Western way of life was sustainable even then, it was just balanced by extreme poverty in the rest of the world.

Since then we've only made the problem worse. The only saving grace is that for the last forty years or so a growing proportion of the population has at least realised that there is a problem.


Probably even worse.

Since Neoliberalism became the dominant political and economic orthodoxy in the seventies and eighties we have created more billionaires than ever before, whilst the number of people living in slums is greater than the population of the planet at the time of Charles Dickens.

Perhaps the worst thing is we now consider this normal. Strange to think that in the lifetime of my parents, under FDR and the New Deal, inequality in the USA actually fell. The number of millionaires dropped by a third and the billionaire ceased to exist.

Human rights?

One hundred years ago our ancestors were proud of the fact that they had outlawed torture and that war was only fought between soldiers. 

There was a fair bit of self delusion here. The European Empires were forged and maintained by the torture and execution of civilians, but on home soil we had a veneer of civilisation.

Today near half of Americans believe torture is acceptable. In war, civilians are the most likely victims.

But it's not all bad.

In 1970, the year I was born, there were effectively no humans rights in the USSR and Warsaw Pact countries, Greece, Portugal, Spain, Argentina, Brazil, Peru, most of Central America, most of Africa including South Africa and Rhodesia if you were black, Burma, China, North Korea, Pakistan, Taiwan and Thailand. That's most of the human race.

So things may be better today for our fellow man.

For women the situation is even clearer. A century ago only women in Sweden and New Zealand had what we would now consider full civil rights.

So we can make a difference.

So if you want to know why I'm so f*ckin' angry, and why I still fight, there it is.

Carbon Capture Could Be Fracked

I guess we're not short of reasons to not want fracking, but here's another one for you anyway.

But first, how does the government see the future of energy in the UK? According to a document obtained by Greenpeace (the one which shows the government asking uber-villains Exxon for advice) it is this:
"Longer term, our aim is to see competition between renewables, nuclear and fossil fuel power stations fitted with carbon capture and storage. This is the best way of putting downward pressure on prices and protecting consumers. Gas could therefore have a significant long term role with CCS."
Just a couple of  problems with that.

Firstly, the Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change has made it quite clear we can't wait for the 'longer term' before doing something about Global Warming.

Secondly, according to Princeton University, fracking and Carbon Capture and Storage just aren't compatible.

Now CCS is one of those things I've been talking about for as long as I've known about Climate Change (which is about a quarter of a century. Streuth I feel old. And ineffective) and it's always been twenty years in the future. it has the potential to clean up coal and gas fired power stations and the cement industry.

We know at least two effective ways of scrubbing the CO2 from the stack and the Norwegians have been pumping carbon dioxide into the old Sleipner gas field since 1996. We don't yet know for sure it will stay down there, but as CO2 is heavier than CH4 the odds look good.

The two problems CCS has are, can the process be scaled up sufficiently to make it a proper player, and can it be done economically. The second question is the trickier one. CCS can never compete with dirty coal and oil as long as the latter don't pay for the damage they cause, but it's also questionable whether CCS can compete with solar, wind and, the one that won't go away, nuclear. We may need it anyway because for lack of capacity, but you can't ignore price. We could just use less juice of course, but that idea may be a bit too radical for some.

However fracking may be a game changer.

Fracking - the best name for something to campaign against ever - stands for hydraulic fracturing. What gets fractured is the strata of rock which they have to drill through to get to the trapped methane. The problem is that it's just this impermeable cap of rock that we need to trap the CO2 underground.

One of two holes might not matter, but to mine the UK's full fracking potential we could require 90,000 wells. Seeing as how the majority of the country is listed for potential fracking, the odds are that anywhere you want to dump your CO2 will have a fracking site nearby.

This will leave that impermeable strata of rock beneath our feet leaking like Manchester United's defence. So unless the government wants to end up like Moyes, they's better sub. fracking off immediately.