Friday, 30 May 2014

more on more on that

turns out that Bren asked our son to take us off the register, since we were now paying council tax here. my dudgeon is now somewhat lower.

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more on that...

Today we found a letter from our son to the council. It clearly included us as members of the household. It was dated November 9th 2013.

Right now, I feel like being an aggressive bastard, and demanding that the council provide evidence to substantiate what they've said in their correspondence.

Could it be that it was actually them that removed us from the electoral register? If we asked the electoral commission to provide what they have, using FOI if necessary, would that show anything?

Now wouldn't that be news?

 Also, are we being investigated? If so, how would they ascertain how much time we spend in the caravan? How much taxpayers money are they spending to do so?

Right now, we just don't know enough. What I do know is that the council are consistently misrepresenting our position. Rather than acquiesce, as is no doubt their intention, I feel we should go on the offensive.

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Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Why I didn't vote...

Dear reader, if you're expecting some kind of "To hell with the lot of them" rant, then you're wide of the mark. I'd take the time to spoil my paper, even if I didn't vote for the least available evil.

I couldn't vote. I'm not on the electoral register. Until a few days ago, I was unaware of this state of affairs.

The story starts some time ago. For a long time, we'd been struggling to make ends meet, and fell further and further into debt. In desperation, Bren rented a space, and opened a shop. It was not a success, despite her putting in a superhuman effort, and it ultimately turned a bad situation into an untenable one. We lost our home.

Making the best of a bad lot, we sold our house to our Son, my Stepson. This gave him a foot on the housing ladder, and then some. The house was worth a lot more than he bought it from us for. He got a mortgage for £15,000 more than he gave to us. That allowed him to make good the damage caused by the passage of years, that we couldn't afford to fix. It allowed us to clear our debts. There was enough left over for us to buy a caravan.

Thing is though, we're on dodgy ground here. We cannot legally live in it. It's technically holiday accommodation, and if we were to live in it in any official capacity, we'd be contravening both planning regulations and the contract we'd signed with the caravan site.

This shouldn't have been a problem. Although we'd sold the house to our Son, we would officially still live there. It's a big old house, and there's room enough. With the change of ownership, came a change in who was responsible for paying the council tax for the property. Unfortunately, when the council contacted him about this, our Son inexplicably told them that we'd moved out. The local council then contacted us to demand council tax for our caravan.

For a while we paid it, but then the caravan site management made it clear to us that we're not allowed to live on site, and that we should not be doing so. So we cancelled our direct debit and told the council that we thought they were mistaken in asking us for council tax.

Their response has been aggressive. To them, we're just trying to worm out of paying our dues. To us, we face eviction and homelessness.

To begin with, they asked us to provide some evidence that we were living in our Son's house, such as a driving license. We sent off a scan. They then moved the goalposts, thanking us for providing a correspondence address, and asking us for further evidence, and asking why our Son had asked for us to be removed from the electoral register at his address. Our Son has no recollection of doing so, but cannot be sure. Neither can we. Yet the fact remains, we were removed from the electoral register. When I responded specifically from me, they sent a letter to our Son, telling him I'd responded from both of us. When my wife had been careful not to state at any point that we no lived at the caravan, they have insisted that she asserted that she did live there.

Lying twats.

About 12 years ago, I lived in a council flat. I met my wife. I spent more and more time living with her. I didn't bother telling the Council. Then one day a letter came through her door, addressed to me, from them. They had taken the time to have me followed, so as to find out where I was spending my time. Presumably they've already done so with us now.

Just to reiterate... We can afford right now to pay the £100/month the council are asking for. That's not the issue. If we could be certain that in doing so we would not be incriminating ourselves, it would not be a problem. It would be annoying, certainly, since they don't provide us with the services we'd recieved if we lived in some hose or flat, such as refuse collection, and also since some of the site fees we pay go to the site owners business rates.

To pay the council would be to say we lived here, which means we might no longer be able to.

Catch 22.

So we're urgently seeking advice, either from something like the Citizens Advice Bureau, or a legal professional.

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Saturday, 17 May 2014

I've lost count of the number of times I've tried to write this post.

I am a hypocrite. Let's start there.

I've been aware of a very simple and obvious truth for a decade now, mainly due to being in contact with some intelligent and well informed people on Julian Cope's website.

Most of my blogroll is links to people on the green and red end of things. In particular, John Michael Greer and Richard Heinberg are well known figures in the Peak Oil arena, but see also Grufty Jim's blog, The Quiet Road. It was Jim that put me onto all this stuff in the first place.

That simple truth is that if you have a finite, non-renewable resource, and you use some of it up, there will be less of it. When you eat your cake, you no longer have it.

I've read up on this stuff fairly extensively over the last few years, and I have a good idea of the issues. I'm not going to try to explain Peak Oil in too much detail here, but here's a simple primer.

Fossil fuels are supplies of stored energy that formed over tens of millions of years. Humankind started to utilise first coal, then later, oil and gas over the last 200 years or so. They have powered an unprecedented revolution that has radically changed our way of life in just about every aspect. From our early days of extracting coal to generate steam, our use of them has risen exponentially, doubling, and redoubling time and again. This is not a sustainable situation. No matter how vast the stored deposits are, at some point, they are going to run out. Peak oil though, is not the point at which the oil runs out. It's the point at which we can't produce it any faster.

Individual oil wells tend to have a predictable life cycle. The output follows a bell shaped curve. Not much at first, then lots, then a gradual decline to almost nothing. The same curve also applies to oil fields, and to The Whole Damn World.

The first person to see that this would happen, and in happening, cause the shit to hit the fan was a petrogeologist called M King Hubbert. When applied to oil, the bell shaped curve is called the Hubbert Curve. The top of the curve is called the Hubbert Peak. Hubbert analysed the patterns of discovery and extraction of oil, and predicted that US domestic oil production would peak in around 1970. He was more or less correct, and the decline caused a serious energy crisis back in the 1970's. The US responded by importing more oil from outside it's borders. Since the turn of the 21st century, a growing number of people have pointed out that the world too has a point where things will peak and start to decline. From what I've read, world production  of conventional supplies peaked a few years ago, and is now in a plateau phase. Overall production of all sources is still rising slowly, but this is due to the utilisation of non-conventional sources such as tar sands and oil shales.

Ultimately, the energy required to extract usable hydrocarbons has to be deducted from the energy gained from burning them. This is a figure known as EROEI. Energy Return On Energy Invested. Nothing really comes close to the EREOI of sweet light crude. At some point, when so much energy is required to find and extract oil that it is no greater than the energy extracted from it, it becomes effectively useless as an energy source. And that's the way things are going. With fracking, with deep sea extraction, with heating and pulverising shale, a lot more energy is required to obtain a barrel of oil than with a pressurised oil well in an accessible area.

Why does this matter? Well it means far more than being more expensive to fill your car's tank with fuel. The human population has swelled to over 7 billion, mainly on the strength of the mechanisation (oil) of agriculture, and modern chemical NPK fertilisers (obtained through the Haber Bosch process - basically processing natural gas)

Further, the moral advances of the last couple of centuries, such as the abolition of slavery and equal rights for Women are not really due to morality at all. They're due to economics. Slavery ended when it became cheaper to use fossil fuel powered machinery to do the work than it was to use slaves. Without that, the Wilberforces of the world would be pissing in the wind.

On a more abstract level, order requires energy. Try not expending any energy on keeping your home clean and tidy, and see how long it takes before chaos starts to creep in. Our highly structured and regulated societies are only possible because of the energy surplus afforded by our use of fossil fuels.

When I first started to find out about this, my reaction was pretty typical. An assumption that some form of alternative would be found. As Heinberg points out,

"Peak Oil will be a fundamental cultural watershed, at least as important as the industrial revolution or the development of agriculture. Yet few mainstream commentators see it that way. They discuss the likelihood of energy price spikes and try to calculate how much economic havoc will result from them. Always the solution is technology: solar or wind and maybe a bit of hydrogen for green-tinged idealists; nuclear, tar sands, methane hydrates, and coal-to-liquids for hard-headed, pro-growth economists and engineers; Tesla free-energy magnetic generators for the gullible fringe dwellers."
But it seems like no matter how hard you look, there is no alternative that has the same versatility and energy density of oil.

Once the supply of this stuff starts to diminish, our entire political, economic, and cultural system, which is based upon permanent growth, will falter.

This will happen. Is happening. Started happening when the first coal was mined and the first well was drilled. I've known it would happen for a decade, and you can't realise something like that without it having a profound effect on your worldview.

Ten years ago, I'd say I was a Utopian Socialist. What I've found is that neither Capitalism or Socialism really addresses what amounts to a de-industrial revolution. They're really about how the surplus is divvied up. Socialism is materialistic too. Many of the left wing people I've spoken to about this are as much in denial as  those on the right. Yet Keynesian economics gets no further on this than Monetarist economics.

Some system of zero growth economic system will no doubt evolve from necessity over the forthcoming decades, one that perhaps owes little to either Karl Marx or Adam Smith. Socialism does not in itself require Growth.

But how to get from here to there?

Like I said, I'm a hypocrite. This is a pointer to how hard it will be to make societal change to fit rapidly changing circumstances. Nobody votes for austerity. Just ask Jimmy Carter. If someone like me insists upon doing the job I do, despite knowing what I know, it's unreasonable to suppose that anyone else will seek to face up to what lies ahead without really being forced to do so, either by the simple geological realities, or by some kind of political action, which isn't going to happen here any time soon.

It's difficult to think of a role that is better suited to making matters worse than that of Driving Instructor. Not only am I doing 30,000 miles a year, but I'm responsible for putting perhaps 30-50 more drivers on the road each year. Lets say I've helped 300 people to pass their tests in the 9 years I've been doing this job. If each of them does just 10,000 miles per annum, then I've played my part in causing the consumption of a quantity of fuel sufficient to get a car to travel 3 million miles.

Clearly, I should stop doing this, but I'm not going to do so.

There's no point. I'd just be tilting at windmills. I'm not idealistic enough to take the lead, and to do so would anyway make no difference to the bigger picture. I suspect that in the next few years, economic realities will start to make the ability to drive a less attractive proposition, and many instructors will fall by the wayside. To do what I wonder?

This is of course something I should be giving some thought to. My main marketable skill is that of a teacher. I'm teaching a non-academic skill, but I suppose with some retraining, I could apply the same skillset to something other than driving. My other main skill is that I'm a highly skilled driver. This is less useful. In a world where fuel is a serious cost, demand for professional drivers will be much lower.

To repeat myself though, if I'm not prepared to change my ways, despite being aware of the issues, it can hardly be any surprise that nobody else is either. I have been an armchair warrior for this cause in recent years, trying to raise awareness of the issue from the comfort of my fossil fuel heated room, through the medium of the fossil fueled internet, using a computer that was made from metal and plastic, and shipped half way around the world.

I will though, vote for any party that promises to take action to redesign our society along sustainable lines. Can't see too many other people doing so though. Much easier to blame the immigrants.

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Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Pigeons and Rabbits

You might think that pigeons and rabbits live together in harmony. You're wrong.

While teaching the other evening on a quiet industrial estate, I saw a rabbit nibbling away on a nearby verge. A short distance away, there were a couple of pigeons, also looking for food in the same verge.

I watched them to see how they interacted. They kept a mistrustful distance, never coming totally within range of a possible wing flap or the kick of a hind leg.

"How can this be?", I mused, "when they are both herbivores?"

The reason, I surmised was cultural differences. I further worked out that the key to these differences was their relationship to the ground.

Pigeons, you see, like the sky. Put them in a tunnel underground and they will be discomfited. They are by nature claustrophobic.

Rabbits, on the other hand, are at home beneath the ground. Their philosophical relationship with the sky is diametrically opposed to that of pigeons. Put a rabbit into the sky, and you take it well outside it's comfort zone. Rabbits are agoraphobic. (Angoraphobic?)

So their antipathy is not due to competition for the same food, or even a natural distrust of other creatures of equivalent size. It's down to a profoundly different worldview.

I must admit, dear reader, I found their mutual mistrust a depressing denouement on the nature of all beings. It was almost a metaphor for the political situation, perhaps in Crimea.

But then I realised something else.

Despite their diametrically opposed positions, they had found common ground in... the ground itself.

The ground is beneath the sky. It is above underground by it's very nature. And here were two natural enemies, somehow sharing the same space. Keeping a respectful distance, true; yet able somehow to work out a compromise.

Then a bloke with a big dog hove into view. Rabbit and pigeons both scarpered.

Here comes Obama, I thought.

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Friday, 2 May 2014

drive me to the moon

The moon is about a quarter of a million miles away. Good thing too. If it rolled onto your foot, it would hurt. A lot.

I've been teaching people to drive since 2005. For one reason and another, it's a high mileage sort of job. Now that I'm busy, I'm doing almost 30,000 miles a year. When I was struggling for work, I'd take clients who lived a fair old drive away from home, because I needed the work. Although I was struggling to make ends meet, I was still putting in a lot of miles.

Point being, that at some undefined time, I will have traveled a distance equivalent to driving to the moon in the course of doing my job. I reckon that's some time about now, although those miles include driving that has nothing to do with teaching.

Robert Heinlein, in his book, Job: A comedy of Justice, sets his protagonist washing dishes in a Mexican restaurant, to pay off a debt. The guy works out the combined height of the dishes and plates he's washed, and when they reach the height of the local lighthouse, he celebrates.

Mazatlán lighthouse, in the book, is a monumental edifice. It's destruction, in an earthquake (2 earthquakes really) is a potent image. In reality, it is poised atop a high promontory, but is in itself, not particularly impressive.

It may be that Heinlein intentionally made the lighthouse an imposing structure to increase the vividity of the imagary when it was destroyed, but it may be he never visited Mazatlán. It looks as if he fell victim to a common misconception.

After learning that the Mazatlan lighthouse holds the title of highest in the world, visitors often start searching the coastline for a magnificently tall structure and after finding none, wonder where the lighthouse is. In fact, the ranking comes from the lighthouse’s high elevation atop a nearby hill.

So if a poorly researched work of fiction can triumphantly trumpet an arbitrary achievement, I reckon I can announce, with equal  validity, that in the course of my work, I have now driven a distance equivalent to driving to The Moon.

I'm now working on driving back again.

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