Nothing to see here.

So I have this blog thing. I have no idea why.

Stuff about music, things I build / fix / break again, pictures of places we take the dogs walking, and the occasional coruscating political polemic.

Something like that, anyway.

(The dogs are called Molly and Milo, by the way. Staffie / boxer cross, and Staffie / collie cross. They need a lot of exercise.)

How about a game of Bubble Shooter?

Bubble Shooter / Bubble Games

Neat Neat Neat

The Damned’s debut album ‘Damned Damned Damned’ is 40 years old. I am 48 at the time of writing, that means I was eight when it, and the single ‘New Rose’ came out, when Punk was born.

The Damned are not an easy band to follow. I mean in terms of chronology, members, who has fallen out with whom, all that. Brian James (one time principal songwriter) is long gone, Dave Vanian is the only constant member, Rat Scabies (one of my major drumming heroes – there, I said it) is long gone, and Captain Sensible is… Captain Sensible. Also, they have been doing this for forty years. Who works with all the same people for forty years? Not creative people, that’s who.

Tonight, I went to the O2 ABC in Glasgow to catch The Damned, and my friends The Media Whores playing support, for The Damned’s 40th Anniversary Tour. I didn’t really become aware of The Damned much before Machine Gun Etiquette in 1979, but I do remember New Rose from the summer of ’76, and a glorious sound it was.

There were a lot of Harrington jackets and DMs and baldy heids in attendance. There were a few younger people who have obviously picked it up from parents along the way. It was great, we loved it, it was a 40 year retrospective and they included a lot of non-punk stuff like ‘Eloise’ and ‘Waiting For The Blackout’ (but no Happy Talk, thankfully), all the stuff you would want.

They closed with ‘Smash It Up’. How else could The Damned close a show? It was incendiary when I saw them in the 80s at The Barrowlands, but even tonight there was fire behind the polite 60-year-olds performing a song of teenage angst. There were fifty-somethings moshing away in front of the stage. I suspect they will be sore today. Like The Who at the Olympics Closing Ceremony in 2012, singing “Hope I die before I get old”, it should have been ridiculous, but it wasn’t.

The Damned represented the next generation after The Who, the Who’s Next generation if you like, who refused to grow up. At the time we wanted to smash up what other people owned, what our parents’ generation represented. Overthrow the tyranny! Redress the balance!

But now we are old, we are our parents’ age, we still don’t own our own homes, our own jobs, the means of production. We are deeper in debt, more divided, with fewer rights and less privacy than 40 years ago. The Damned are nearly getting bus passes, and yet the problems they sang about forty years ago as young men are still there, and worse than ever. The message stands – Smash it up. Smash it up, I say.

Frack This!

Earlier today on Twitter, someone asked if we could get a definitive explanation / debunking / whatever of fracking. This isn’t definitive, but it’s my best shot at it.

The McKelvey Box is probably the best way to understand the economics of oil, gas and coal extraction, and how they change over time. When someone asks ‘How much gas / oil / coal is left?” in years, tonnes or dollars, the question is very difficult to answer, because the answer is always changing.

I have never liked the way the McKelvey Box is structured, but unfortunately it is what it is, and it works – I understand it, and I play drums in a rock ‘n’ roll band, so if I understand it, anyone can. The important thing to remember is that all the lines move, and when one line moves, it affects another one, so it will probably move too.

McKelvey Box
Totally nicked from the Rocky Mountain Institute –

Start from the top left: we know the resource is there, we can get it out of the ground at a profit. The certainty of the resource existing gets lower as we go right on the diagram; the certainty of being able to extract it at a profit gets lower as we go down the diagram. The grey square is identified as discovered (ie we know where to find it) and economically viable (ie we can spend money on a rig and some crew to extract it, and make that money back when we sell the product).

There is oil / gas / coal that we could extract economically if we found it; there is oil / gas / coal that we know is there but we can’t extract it economically. There are inferred reserves that we expect to be there, but if we did find them we couldn’t extract them at a profit.

As our technology improves, the cost of extraction goes down, the bottom edge of the grey square moves down. So we extract more, so the amount we have identified decreases, so the right-hand-edge moves in to the left.

As a consequence, the amount of reserves decreases, or at least doesn’t increase, so we need to look for more resources. The cost of exploration has to be offset against the current costs of extraction, so the cost of extraction (up-down) increases, but the geological uncertainty (left-right) decreases. If they stay in proportion to each other, then we’re all good*.

Then there are fluctuations in the market price for oil and gas, which is a whole conversation in itself…

But the discovered reserves and the price of extraction don’t stay in proportion, because we have finite land resources and unlimited greed. Technology can do great things, we can drill for oil sideways now, we can spot ‘soft’ bits of the planet’s crust from satellite photos, which might hold oil / gas; but we can’t invent new territory. That axis of the graph is finite, not scalable indefinitely.

There are hidden costs here: the environmental costs, and this is where the job of Government as a regulator comes in. Extracting fossil fuels is inefficient, it damages the land, it buggers up the atmosphere burning them, it perpetuates being dependent on them. Burning wood or biomass from the current carbon cycle is far better than re-introducing carbon from coal, oil, gas (or even peat, sorry) from historical carbon cycles; and using more carbon-efficient power sources like wind, wave, tidal are better yet.

The job of Government should be to regulate the market, to enourage industry and the population to be energy-efficient, to use the least-damaging energy source in order to minimise the damage to the environment. It should literally take money from the most damaging energy sources and subsidise the least damaging with it.

So, the oil and gas companies get desperate in a bid to keep profit margins up and pollution liabilities down. How can they get more out for less? The answer is simple: to be indiscriminate. Conventional resource extraction involves respecting the land: I live in Ayrshire, where before you get a mortgage on your property you check if the Coal Authority has anything to say about it. Coal mines literally undermine houses, and if that is the case the Coal Authority has a duty to let you know, and if your house sinks into a coal mine you can claim compensation.

We don’t have onshore oil in the UK, but if they drilled under your house, you would hope they would let you know? Oil exploration companies certainly have a responsibility to keep their activities from damaging the environment, because oil exploration began way back before the current system of government. Those industries are regulated if not well, then at least better-than-nothing.

This is where Fracking comes in. Fracking is not like conventional resource extraction, because when oil and gas companies asked the UK Government to license the new technology, the new techniques; they wanted it to be virtually consequence-free, like casino banking, or taking cocaine whilst Chancellor of the Exchequer. And what do you know? The UK Government said ‘OK!’

Fracking means ‘Hydraulic Fracturing’. It dates from the late ’40s and early ’50s, and was used on recalcitrant oil- or gas wells in the middle-of-nowhere, USA, to get more out of them. They pump fracking fluid (nasty stuff, don’t try and drink it) at high pressure down a well to fracture the surrounding rocks. The problem with hydraulic fracturing is that it is indiscriminate, you are not ‘placing’ the end of your drill somewhere, you are drilling until you hit a void and then you start pumping fluid in. You don’t actually know where you are extracting from. In the middle of nowhere, maybe not so much of a problem, but in the UK? We have a much denser population compared to the USA, it is far more likely that you will be Fracking under people’s homes, a centre of population, or an important piece of infrastructure.

You pump high-pressure water into a well, it fractures the rocks in the ground, the pressure drives out the gas / groundwater / moles / rabbits or whatever. It’s indiscriminate. In Scotland, we rely on rainwater for most of our water supply, but in England they extract a lot of groundwater. The groundwater is extracted from aquifers, bowl-shaped rock formations which are bounded by impermeable rock. That rock is impermeable to water, but it can be cracked by Fracking, allowing the water to drain away, or for Fracking fluid, oil, gas, whatever to enter the water supply. This sometimes happens hundreds of feet under the ground, we can’t go down there and fix it even if we can find it.

Fracking literally destroys the ground under our feet. Do I know if my castle is built on sand? Or water? Or rabbits? No I don’t. Neither does a Fracking company. But if my house, land, business is over a coal mine, I have legal redress. If my house, land, business is affected by Fracking I have no comeback.

The UK Government is absenting the mineral rights of landowners and homeowners, specifically in order to allow Fracking to be completely indiscriminate. Coal mining is precisely identifiable, geographically, Fracking far less so. So rather than making the Frackers more liable, the UK Government wants to make them less identifiable, less liable, less accountable.

Going back to the McKelvey box at the top of the piece: the market will adjust itself if regulation is the same across the market. Conventional gas vs Fracked gas will find its own balance, and the more economic one will win, for now. When the costs of extraction and identified reserves change, so does the market.

But if you skew the market in favour of the dirtier method, you make it more profitable to destroy than to conserve.

So, I would humbly submit, Fracking is a bad thing. In a country as densely populated as this, with so little regulation of the industry and so many rights taken away from householders and landowners, we cannot afford to have it under our homes, businesses and land, and we should not tolerate it.

*I am a Green. We are not all good, far from it, but I want you to understand the conventional economic model for fossil fuel extraction

Musick Has Charms To Soothe A Savage Breast.

No, not Bill Shakespeare, another playwright – William Congreve (1670 – 1729) – coined the phrase.

I went to see some old friends play tonight. Charlie and Willie reconvened their band Astrid after 12 years, they have made a new album (what I have heard of it sounds great) and they played some old stuff and some new stuff at King Tuts in Glasgow, and I loved every second of it.

When I last heard them, they were good, but they were young. Now they are older, they have some great stagecraft, and they sound finished, completed. Despite more than a decade apart, their voices haven’t changed that much, their harmonies still work as well as they ever did. I was very, very happy tonight.

There were two standout moments for me: ‘Distance’, where I was too busy singing to film; and ‘Kitchen TV’ which I did film. Enjoy!

A little bit of politics.

The Scottish Parliament elections were held on Thursday. Interesting times, as they say. The reaction to it has been even more interesting, however.

The rules: the Additional Member System is designed to deliver minority administrations and bigger opposition parties. The more constituency members elected in a region, the less their list votes ‘count’ towards electing list members for that region. That is the way it was designed (by the Labour government of the day, by the way). If you’re interested in the details of how it’s worked out, here you go.

Now to the frothing, swivel-eyed reactions:

The SNP did not win a majority of the vote. Well, there were five ‘major’ parties out there (plus UKIP and all the various socialist factions. Yes, I use the word factions deliberately), so you wouldn’t really expect one party to be getting more than 50% of the vote.

The SNP did not secure a majority in the Parliament. Correct. That’s the way the system is supposed to work. It’s supposed to promote coalition, co-operation, a consensus style of politics. That was the make-up of the 2007 – 2011 Parliament, and I think that was a good way to do politics. I look forward to it happening again.

The SNP is obsessed about a second Independence Referendum and now they can’t do that. If you’d bothered to listen to the SNP before the election, you would know that they are no more obsessed with another Indyref than they were when I was first dragged off to Bannockburn by my parents in 1976. It is still on the agenda, as it always was. But in the wake of the 2014 referendum, the SNP is not champing at the bit for another one – they are going to work at increasing support for Independence before they do that. The BBC, the Daily Mail, the Labour Party, the Conservative Party (or the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party to use their Sunday name) on the other hand, are all obsessed with another referendum, and they won’t shut up about it. If I were a member of the SNP (and no, I am not one), I would be thanking them for all the energy they are putting into digging that hole for themselves.

The SNP doesn’t have a mandate for a second referendum. The SNP is the biggest party in the Parliament. If it can get a bill through the Parliament for another referendum, then it’s got a mandate. Self-determination is a human right, and if the SNP stands for the Scottish Parliament with a referendum as part of their manifesto, then they have the right.

Nicola Sturgeon is this, that and the other… This is known as the ad hominem fallacy, and it is a very easy way to lose an argument. You do not attack the person, the person deserves respect – you attack the quality of the ideas that they espouse. Play the ball, not the man, or it’s a red card and an early bath, think about what you did wrong…

The Tories! Who votes for the Tories in Scotland? Pre-1979, lots of people in Scotland voted Conservative. Some of them started voting Labour when the Thatcher government started dismantling Scotland’s economy, because Labour opposed Thatcher at the time. But the current Labour Party does not really oppose David Cameron, they spend too much time abstaining. In fact, some consider that the SNP are the new opposition at Westminster. So you can hardly blame people who oppose Independence for voting Tory – Labour isn’t representing them.

The Greens are Kingmakers! Patrick Harvie is this, that and the other… First up, the Greens are pro-Independence, but they are anti-oil industry, anti-fracking, anti-roadbuilding. The SNP is not that radical a party any more, they are far more likely to find allies to push them over the majority in Labour, Lib-Dems or Tories than they are the Greens. The Greens are pro-Indy, but like the SNP they know that a second Independence Referendum would have potentially disastrous consequences (see Quebec for details) if it resulted in a No vote. Also, Patrick is a wee sweetie, and ad hominem attacks are so uncool.


Record Store Day 2016

First things first: I don’t like vinyl. I don’t own a record deck, when CD came out I stopped buying vinyl. Warmth? Analogue mojo? Ram it where the sun don’t shine. Give me squeaky-clean digital every time.

But my friend owns a record shop. His car keys are on the poker table here, and you don’t hang a friend out to dry, do you? So when Record Store Day comes around on the third Saturday in April, I act like I have musical taste (I don’t); and that I dig vinyl (we’ve already established that I don’t); and I pitch up and lend my technical expertise, my enthusiasm, and my ability to carry heavy things.

In previous years I have been roadie / stage manager for up to 10 bands appearing in the shop, and it’s been chaos. Fun, a challenge, and chaos. So, today I was on the door of a venue just down the road that was hosting six bands over three hours, and tech-ing another DJ venue and a wee vocal PA in the shop.

I did a day’s work. I bought my own lunch, I paid my own travel expenses, I had to look people in the eye and tell the they weren’t getting in because the venue was over capacity, and I had to accept their disappointment on this special day.

I loved every moment of it. All these people love music, they love buying music, they love hearing music played live, they love being around other music-loving people. I was at home amongst these people. Some of them I know, some of them I don’t know, and some of them I didn’t know and I do now.

Record Store Day is a special day for music lovers. Thank you to all the musicians, the guys and gals in the shop, and all the music fans who turned up to make it the party that it is. I’m in this video. Sorry about that.

Getting a man in to do it

We’re opening up the fireplace in the front room and installing a wood-burning stove. This involves removing one structural lintel and installing another one higher up. It’s a supporting wall, so I decided to get an installer in to do it.

We looked around the local businesses, and what do you know? They’re all men. No women in this particular branch of the construction industry, despite it being quite an aesthetic part of the business: a fireplace is the centrepiece of a living room, you would think it more likely to find women doing that sort of work than installing drains or bricklaying.

So we’re getting a man in to do it. I’m reworking the existing fire surround, taking out flammable parts that would be too close to the stove, and refinishing the rest of it. This is it sanded and ready for staining. Made from recovered railway sleepers, I am led to believe. The Irvine Valley railway used to run past the back of our house, so it’s a nice wee local connection.