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Author Archives: Joe Morgan

Some thoughts on sports

As I sit here on my sofa, trying to concentrate on writing whilst simultaneously watching Sweden defeat Britain in Men’s Curling (oddly, commentated on by Paula Radcliffe), I find myself wondering why the hell I care so much. I could hardly be described as a fan of my country – given the chance I would prefer to be a citizen of literally any other European country – but I find myself unable to watch England or Britain competing in a sporting event without screaming at the TV for whoever-it-is to run faster/kick it harder/hit the other guy harder (I was exaggerating about the screaming – I’m far too middle class).

Today at work, I wasted my entire day on a very passionate argument via email with a good friend of mine (Swiss), over which of our countries could really be described as the better sporting nation. It ended with us agreeing to a year long bet, with each of us being paid by the other when our country performs better in a sports event. As an anti-capitalist who is all for the abolition of tha nation state, this did not strike me as odd at the time.

To me, sport has replaced warfare as the weapon of choice in asserting one nation’s aggression towards and dominance over another. However, it seems to be something that was entirely of our own making rather than something that was forced on us… How did that happen? Stand in the wrong part of town on derby day and you’ll likely find yourself removed by the police for your own safety. The tribalism of sport is yet another thing that divides us, another obstacle to any truly unifying movement.

Electricity and the future for your jalfrezi

Electricity is a funny thing: Without it we wouldn’t be able to function in our daily lives at all. The use of electricity most often quoted is for lighting, however it is also the single most important component in the supply of gas, water and sanitation services (sewerage). We depend on it for food, communication, transport and shelter as well as the ability to sit in front of the TV watching X-factor whilst shovelling microwaved chicken jalfrezi into our mouths. So, I’m saying it’s important. Fine – I expect all of you knew that anyway, though maybe you didn’t appreciate just how vital it is. What really fascinates me about electricity though, is how few people there are that know even the most basic things about this fundamental resource. Nobody needs to know why the room lights up at the push of a button, they just know that it will happen.

The thing is, though, that if you have something vital like electricity you want to be fairly certain that it’ll continue to be available to you no matter what changes are made to society itself. If we live in a free, equal and fair society can we still be confident that the light comes on when you push the button?

So far, so little of information you may be thinking (and fair play if that was what you were thinking), so let me give you a rough outline of how electricity is produced and distributed in the majority of developed countries where utilities have been privatised and hopefully this will make you a little clearer on the likely problems and questions of electricity in the future.

Electricity supply comprises four different areas: generation, transmission, distribution and retail. To briefly explain them, generation is made up of any number of companies that produce electricity. Transmission is a single monopoly that operates to move electricity from the points of generation (power stations) to the main points of consumption (cities). Distribution consists of a number of companies that own a region of the electricity network and whose job it is to break the very high voltage electricity from transmission down into something more usable and then get it to homes, schools, factories etc. Finally retail exists to monitor the energy consumption of each dwelling and charge the owner, these are the companies that send you your bills.

The key issue that makes electricity distinct from other forms of energy supply, is that it has to be used (almost) instantaneously to when it is produced as it can’t yet be stored reliably. So the first point to understand is exactly how much of it needs to be generated at any point in the future and then continuously match the total amount generated across the country to the total amount being consumed. This, as you may appreciate, is quite complex. Electricity is traded using contracts that cover half-hour periods. The retailer will forecast how much of it they will need at any time and contract with various generation companies to be supplied with that electricity. So what happens if the retailer underestimates how much they need, a power station blows up or Gordon Brown unexpectedly appears on the ITN news and the population of Surrey switch their TV’s off? Well, the balance of supply demand is continuously managed by the owner of the transmission network who, if necessary, can tell the generation companies to switch things off or bring new generators online (for which the generation companies charge extortionate fees). The contracts are then reviewed after the half hour time period has been completed and any differences are settled up.

As I want to keep this to a readable length (and I’m tired, hungry and hungover) I’ll add only two more considerations: Electricity is a very finely graded form of energy: it can only be moved around if it’s at a very precise level of voltage and frequency. I can’t just plug a generator into a socket at the wall and power my house off of it, it would need to be synchronised to the correct output and connected to the correct position on the network for it to work without blowing something up.  Which leads on to my final point – electricity is very dangerous stuff. Access to electrical infrastructure outside your own home is entirely restricted, with very good reason: a 400kV transformer is not something you’d want to open up to children or interested members of the public.

Hopefully you’ve already worked out where this is going: the nature of electricity supply requires large organisations and hierarchy as well as restrictions on members of the general public. How is this compatible with your view of a socialist society? Can this be achieved or do we need to rethink the way electricity would be supplied?

A Little Bit About Me…

Why am I here? Well I guess that the short answer would be that my best friend set it up and told me to join, but perhaps I can give a little more detail than that…

The description of the site talks about The Night Shift as being a place for those who are lost. Lost is a word that describes me pretty well these days. After finishing university a few years ago, I was so sure I knew the direction my life was going to move in. I felt confident and secure in the knowledge that I had a Life Plan and I was going to do something that mattered. Fast forward several years and none of my plans have yet materialised. I am in “full time” employment for a multinational energy company, I’m paid a relatively poor wage, work approximately 25-30 hours of unpaid overtime a week and am constantly bullied by my immediate manager. I have recently been experiencing a loss of faith in politics (by which I mean real politics, not David Cameron) because, while I am a strong believer in socialism, socialism today seems to me to be about talk and hatred, rather than action and love as I had previously thought. Socialism today offers nothing for a person like me: I’m honestly not that bothered about the innumerable ways in which the current system is fucking us, I don’t need to read in exhaustive detail all the reasons why the war in Afghanistan was wrong. All I want to know, is what I can do to go about stopping all this shit and bringing in a free society; and this for me, is where socialism really falls down. What do we actually do? What are we actually trying to create?

People have told me that we can’t plan a free society as anything we plan will bear the marks of the current society. Whilst I can see this point of view, it ultimately seems to me to be a way of avoiding dealing with the really difficult questions. If the current system is done away with then people will have to organise a new system to replace it at some point, doing it in advance and having a chance to talk about it first seems a lot better to me than doing at the time when it needs to be functional.

So that’s it really – I want to fuse the theory with the practical so that I can go out there and overthrow the capitalist systems and build a free world (admittedly, it is unlikely I will manage to do this alone).

//Joe

Likes: Sweden, History, Pipes.

Dislikes: Tofu, Absolutes, Anything banal thing described as ‘mad’, ‘wacky’ or ‘zany’.