Saturday, January 12, 2008

The policy choices driving high oil and gas prices

Some excellent quotes highlighted by Tim Newman, from ExxonMobil President Rex Tillerson:

"High oil prices and perceptions of soaring industry profits have prompted many producing countries to give national oil companies more power to extract richer fiscal terms and greater control over resources, pushing out international players, Rex Tillerson, chief executive of US supermajor ExxonMobil, said.

Such policies will lead to tighter oil supplies as ExxonMobil and other majors stop deploying their technology, know-how and capital in some of those countries, he said.

“If there’s no room to share it then there is no role for us - it’s a simple as that,” he told business and political leaders at a meeting in Calgary, Reuters reported."


"ExxonMobil boss Rex Tillerson, speaking in the wake of last week’s dire warnings from the International Energy Agency about unsustainable growth in energy use, sought to warn of the dangers of resource nationalism.

Talking about oil supply tightness, Tillerson told reporters during this week’s World Energy Congress in Rome that: “It’s not a resource problem. The world has plenty of oil.”

Instead, “it is an issue of whether or not the investment dollars, technology and the know-how to develop those resources in an efficient and reliable way…is going to be brought to bear on those resources”, he argued.

Tillerson talked about such nationalism as being counter-productive for the resource-rich countries where the people miss out on revenues and opportunities."

While Tillerson is talking about the really oil rich states very similar logic applies to the UK as well. Brown's response to rising oil prices was a big hike in taxation on North Sea oil. This will speed up the process of North Sea production winding down. This makes a small contribution to world supplies but makes our economy far more vulnerable to rising prices for oil and gas.

An unrelated, but fascinating, little fact in another post of Tim's:

"McDonalds is so highly thought of in Sakhalin that a few people we know there asked us to bring back a few McDonalds meals for them. At first I thought they were joking, but it turned out they genuinely wanted us to stick a load of McDonalds in the overhead locker for nine hours so they could reheat it and eat it on arrival. Madness."

Peter Hain and a house of cards

Should Peter Hain resign?

Well, it looks like he's broken the law. But, so did Wendy Alexander. If she didn't resign...

His failures can hardly be compared, in terms of the massive harm done, to the numerous failures at the Treasury. If Alistair Darling didn't resign...

There has to be a fear that if one of these people - or another Labour figure implicated in a new scandal - resigns the comparisons are going to become very uncomfortable. The house of cards will start to fall and the Government will be in an even deeper mess.

Tatchell vs. Nuclear Power

What Peter Tatchell has done in this article for Comment is Free is exploit Gordon Brown's turn of phrase. Of course, when Gordon Brown says "there is no alternative" to nuclear power that is just a lie. We could massacre nine out of every ten Britons, close off the country to immigration and our energy use would rapidly decline. We could give up on the whole idea of a modern economy and go live in the trees.

There are very few absolute, categorical musts in public policy. Although politicians and commentators prefer such statements - one example is the ludicrous and repeated statement that we just 'have' to recycle more - real life almost invariably requires balancing costs and benefits.

I'm pretty certain that what Brown really meant was that there is no alternative to nuclear power if you want to obtain serious cuts in carbon emissions without the economic costs being too high. This is a very plausible position and one that Tatchell's article does little to address. After all, it doesn't contain any numbers. None of his different measures comes with a price tag or a carbon emission saving attached.

The big difference between nuclear power and most renewable options is well summed up by this graph, via Wat Tyler:

That is why anyone serious about cutting carbon emissions - including, to his credit, the rather messianic originator of the Gaia theory James Lovelock - should think very seriously about nuclear power. It is, by a significant margin, the most economic low-carbon method for producing energy.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Nokia N95 8GB

Apologies for the lack of posts. Work has been pretty busy.

I've got a new phone. It's a Nokia N95 8GB. It's amazing.

The camera is 5MP which means huge amounts of detail and it focusses and shoots really quickly. It is good enough to handle just about any task that doesn't need an SLR.

I took this picture of Westminster Abbey while getting lunch:

The video camera's footage doesn't look like it was shot on a mobile phone. The frame rate is high (30 fps) and the detail is superb. The final footage looks like it comes from a reasonable dedicated digital camcorder.

It connects to the Internet both through its own 3G (or even 3.5G) connection and through a wireless network if there is one within range. I tried reading a few blogs and it is very usable thanks to a big, high-resolution screen.

With 8GB of memory you can store plenty of music and video. In fact, it comes preloaded with Spiderman 3. Having an entire movie on a phone is strange but could be pretty welcome on a long train journey. I think I'll fill it with South Park. It may also displace my iPod for the journey to work. The display quality is good enough to use its TV Out to watch a film or something you've recorded on the camcorder on a decent sized TV - which I did for a bit - and still have it look sharp.

It contains maps to, I think, the entire world - if not the entire world then most of the important bits - but also GPS. That allows you to give it two addresses and ask it to plot a route or one address and ask it to find you a way there. The very idea of sat nav in a phone seems insane. I tried it out and it followed me down Victoria Street pretty efficiently. It can also work out a route between my Hertfordshire and London homes with no trouble at all. I'll try more exotic journeys at some point.

It does have other features like the N-Gage gaming system but that doesn't particularly interest me. I haven't tried it out with e-mail yet but, to be honest, I'm not terribly interested in that either. I'm rarely away from my desk for too long at work so there isn't much need and it is nice to be disconnected sometimes. If you want to do a lot of e-mailing a Blackberry of some description is probably the best way forward.

The phone looks pretty good and the ability to slide the screen up and down to expose either the keypad or the media controls - and change the screen from portrait to landscape - is pretty cool. It's reasonably chunky though - you can't fit features like the ones on this phone in a RAZR.

The performance, which was apparently a problem on the earlier N95, is fine. The applications run pretty smoothly and you can flick around the various menus and applications reasonably freely without slowing it down.
A few days after getting it I'm still somewhat amazed at its features. When it effortlessly tapped into the TPA network; when it quickly found my position by satellite and when I saw the quality of the video it recorded I was stunned. Just a few short years ago carrying around five devices and a generator in a van couldn't get you these kinds of features at this kind of standard.

What a world.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Army advertising

Is accountancy fun? The Chairman of KPMG UK certainly makes it sound that way:

"I’ve been at KPMG for over 30 years and, broadly speaking, I’ve loved every, every minute of it. I think my experience, if I was to summarise it, is the sheer variety of experiences. I’ve had some wonderful clients, big clients, small clients, entrepreneurs, clients in trouble, clients doing extremely well. Every single size and shape, and in lots of different industries. I’ve had some wonderful people experiences. We’re a people organisation so there’s the sort of leadership and management challenges as you move up through the organisation, and I’ve had those challenges very early in my career and I’ve still got those challenges today."

On the other hand, this suggests it might be rather dull:

Neither account is exclusively accurate. It depends on who you are, the company or other organisation you join, when you join and innumerable other factors. You'll only really find out if it is for you after you've started - though you can get a pretty good idea before hand if you ask around. Is it some kind of unconscionable fraud that KPMG's chairman focusses on the positive? Of course not. It's staff advertising.

Yet, somehow when the Army - whose ability to recruit staff is a very public good - does the same, makes the positive case for a life in the Forces, the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust decides (PDF) that is a great injustice. As Lawrence James points out, there is no shortage of voices telling a young person that life in the army will have its hard side. Movies about the horrors of war and a strong folk memory of the trenches that they are likely to have had reinforced in school, for example. There is no reason the Army should be expected to forgo advertising and suffer resulting shortages of personnel.

Being in the Forces can do wonderful things for a person. Had my grandfather not joined the Army - as a boy soldier no less - he would have been far worse off. I would probably be worse off. He had few skills having finished a misspent education at just fourteen. He could still have reached a respectable position but would probably not have had the opportunity that allowed him to progress to become an officer. Also, he would have missed out on the intangible benefits of a career that inculcated discipline and would not have had a quality, specially provided, education for his children. Without all those things it is quite possible my family would not have done nearly as well for themselves as they all have. There is nothing wrong with joining the Army and its recruiters should not feel guilty for trying to recruit the soldiers that do such an important service for their country.

It is necessarily harder to leave the Army than it is to leave many other careers after a certain point but the process is not instantaneous and a term of a few years is not forever. Of course, there are particular dangers but everyone knows that.

Some people may find that they do not enjoy the Army life, just as some people may discover that they hate accountancy. This isn't due to misleading recruitment ads but the fact that it is impossible to know what being a part of the Army is really like before you start. No matter how balanced the advertising that will always be the case.

The conclusion to Lawrence James' article sums up the study well:

"The trust’s report is as predictable as it is misjudged. An understanding of the values of the military world are absent, just as we would expect from a Quaker institution. One might as well ask a vegan to review the charcuteries of Paris."

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Wars aren't short

Great article by Max Boot for the Wall Street Journal. He makes the very simple point that short and sharp wars are not the historical norm. He then sets out one interesting example of a long conflict, that between England and Scotland. Shorter wars are a creation of particularly determined European nation states more than anything.

As he says, this does recast Israel-Palestine. There is a solid argument that Americans, with a history of short wars, assume it is overdue to end. The reality could be that, regardless of whether the Palestinians have a state, this conflict will rumble on for decades yet.

This can be added to the list of myths about war that the War Nerd set out years ago: that wars involve battles, that you win by killing the enemy, that hi-tech beats lo-tech, that insurgents will quit and that everyone really wants peace. All these are myths. Understanding that brings home the real strategic challenges of the coming century.


Sorry for my absence since Thursday. I've been moving myself back into London and the Internet connection here has been broken.