Monday 11 July, 2022

Shepherd’s delight?

Driving home the other evening.

Quote of the Day

”A state led by Sunak, Gove or Truss with reforming zeal would be an unpleasant place to live. But it’s also damaging to be governed by intellectually deficient, personally ambitious, corrupt or simply uninterested ministers. Fewer ministers than ever care about their departments, as the internecine vortex of Westminster and dreams of a slot on Question Time suck in most of their attention. This has been especially true since 2016, though the problem is of longer gestation. It doesn’t entirely explain why Britain, after twelve years of Conservative government, is run-down, stagnant, expensive, underpaid, unequal, corrupt, socially fractured, backward-looking, hungry and fearful. But it doesn’t help. It will take far more than dislodging Johnson to change that.

  • James Butler, writing in the London Review of Books.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

B.B. King | The Thrill Is Gone | with Slash, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Ronnie Wood and Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall.


Long Read of the Day

Journeys of the Pyramid Builders

By Daniel Weiss. Nice long read for a hot summer afternoon from Archaeology Magazine.

On a summer afternoon around 4,600 years ago, near the end of the reign of the pharaoh Khufu, a boat crewed by some 40 workers headed downstream on the Nile toward the Giza Plateau. The vessel, whose prow was emblazoned with a uraeus, the stylized image of an upright cobra worn by pharaohs as a head ornament, was laden with large limestone blocks being transported from the Tura quarries on the eastern side of the Nile. Under the direction of their overseer, known as Inspector Merer, the team steered the boat west toward the plateau, passing through a gateway between a pair of raised mounds called the Ro-She Khufu, the Entrance to the Lake of Khufu. This lake was part of a network of artificial waterways and canals that had been dredged to allow boats to bring supplies right up to the plateau’s edge.

As the boatmen approached their docking station, they could see Khufu’s Great Pyramid, called Akhet Khufu, or the Horizon of Khufu, soaring into the sky. At this point in Khufu’s reign (r. ca. 2633–2605 B.C.), the pyramid would have been essentially complete, encased in gleaming white limestone blocks of the sort the boat carried. At the edge of the water, perched on a massive limestone foundation, loomed Khufu’s valley temple, known as Ankhu Khufu, or Khufu Lives, which was connected to the pyramid by a half-mile-long causeway. When the pharaoh died, his body would be taken to the valley temple and then carried to the pyramid for burial. Nearby stood a royal palace, archives, granary, and workers’ barracks.

After offloading their cargo, the men anchored their boat in the lake alongside dozens—if not hundreds—of other boats and barges that had brought a variety of materials necessary to complete construction of the pyramid complex…

An antidote to the condescension of hindsight, and our hubris about how smart we are compared to those who went before us.

Britain’s electric dreams may be dependent on Chinese goodwill

Rare earth elements hold the key to a carbon-free future, but a new report reveals the UK’s shortcomings and vulnerabilities

Yesterday’s Observer column:

In his book Electrify: An Optimist’s Playbook for Our Clean Energy Future, Saul Griffith, an American inventor, entrepreneur and engineer, sets out a plan for decarbonising the US: electrify everything. From now on, every time people replace a vehicle or renovate a building or buy an appliance, they should be buying electric. Every new roof must have solar panels, all new housing must be energy efficient and shouldn’t contain a gas cooker. All that’s required to make this happen is a collective national effort comparable to the mobilisation of the US economy for the second world war. And it could be financed with the kind of low-cost, long-term loans reminiscent of the government-backed mortgages that created the postwar American middle class. QED.

Reading Griffith’s engaging, optimistic book, a wicked thought keeps coming to mind: HL Mencken’s observation: “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.” But Griffith is too smart to be caught in that particular net. There is, though, one serious difficulty with his grand plan and it goes by the abbreviation CRM.

It stands for “critical raw materials”. It turns out that an all-electrical future won’t be possible without secure supplies of certain elements we extract from the Earth’s crust…

Do read on

I had an email from a reader in Canada pointing out that his country has lots of these elements, which is good news if true, but didn’t seem to figure in the surveys which triggered by column.

My commonplace booklet


Thanks to Andrew Laird for spotting it.

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