How to breach Trump’s wall


Trump inspected prototype’s of his proposed Mexican border wall this week. During this there was this strange bit of theatre where a group of supposed “special forcestried to climb it but couldn’t get over it. I mean I do a bit of climbing myself and I reckon I could do a better job than these guys.

Professional climber Ed Viesturs reckons it could be breached either using a series of ladders or a combination of dry tooling and aid climbing. Basically, you bash holes in the wall with a rock hammer, drill holes and hammer in pitons. Once the lead climber makes it to the top, he drops a rope, the rest use ascenders (or a rope ladder) to follow him up and then abseil down the other side. So my guess is that this was just a bit of security theatre to massage Trump’s ego, relying on his and his supporters ignorance to mask the reality.

Of course, there’s an easier way to overcome the wall. Cut a hole in it using a thermic lance. Granted this is not the sort of equipment you can carry around in a backpack, but it can be easily carried to the wall in the back of a pickup truck.

Alternatively, perhaps in areas where a truck can’t be used, or the individuals just don’t have access to that sort of equipment, you can use the old medieval technique of undermining. You dig a hole on one side of the wall to undermine its foundations. Note that anti-tunnelling features that are proposed for the wall won’t protect against this technique, as you are not actually digging under the wall, just removing the soil on one side that supports its foundations. Timber props are used to protect the diggers from a premature collapse. Once the wall is looking suitably wobbly, set the timbers on fire and take off running. And the phallic height of Trump’s wall (do you think maybe he’s compensating for something?) actually works against it here, as it means the wall has a relatively high centre of gravity. This is why most border walls are lower, or they use a fence instead…or they don’t even bother with such a thing.

But aren’t they going to use drones and camera’s to watch out for this sort of stuff? Yes and I’m sure they’ll get lots of nice pictures of the wall being breached, as well as the bared bums of Mexican coyotaje. The only Mexicans this wall will stop are the lazy ones, or the ones who didn’t google “how to breach Trump’s wall” prior to setting off. For the rest, it will inconvenience them for between 20 minutes to an hour or two. Hell, they’ll be delayed longer at the official border crossings. So unless the wall is manned sufficiently it will quickly become a white elephant, a monument to one man’s ego and his nation’s xenophobia.

And its a monument that’s going to cost between $33 billion to $70 billion, depending on the breaks. And that’s assuming its actually possible to build the wall, as well as ignoring the numerous other costs and problems it will create.

And the logistics of manning the wall are not going to be small. If we were to assume say twenty border guards for every mile of the 2,000 mile length of the Mexican border, that’s a staff of 40,000. And if twenty sounds too many remember they’ll be working multiple shifts (and we need slack to account for contingencies) plus maintenance crews. Some parts of the wall are in extremely remote and inhospitable places (so you’ll be airlifting staff into a watch tower where they sit for several weeks, with supplies being airdropped to them) creating all sorts of logistical problems that will chew up manpower. So its a not unreasonable estimate.

Well consider that at present the US has about 21,000 border guards covering the whole of the country, at a cost of about $4 billion a year. So we’re talking about needing double that number just to guard Trump’s precious wall. Accounting for maintenance costs of the wall on top of this (about 2-4% of the initial construction costs per year), all in all we are looking at an annual running cost in the order of $4-8 billion a year. At this rate it would be cheaper to simply pay any Mexican looking to cross say $10,000 dollars just to stay in Mexico….then again, knowing Trump’s recruitment policies, he’ll probably staff the wall with Mexicans anyway! They’ll be walking up to the wall only to find a sign saying, now hiring!

And speaking of Mexicans, the wall’s success or failure will largely hinge on the cooperation of the Mexican government. Remember that anyone whom the border guards catch trying to breach the wall will either still be in Mexico, or a few short steps from Mexican territory (into which they’ll no doubt retreat once they see flashing blue lights approaching at speed) and thus outside of US legal jurisdiction. Unless the Mexican Federal police crack down on the gangs of wall breachers who will no doubt flare up, then the border guards are reduced to the role of father Ted. And needless to say calling the Mexicans rapists and demanding that they pay for the wall has pretty much guaranteed that this co-operation won’t be forthcoming.

Also we are ignoring that there exists a technology that can bypass the wall in mere seconds….its called “planes….Trump supporters might want to google “the Wright brothers” (I realise some of them live in the 1860’s so maybe they aren’t up to speed with current technology). I did a quick internet search and you can get a return (off peak) plane ticket from Mexico to the US for about £150 (or about $200). Keep in mind that by buying a return ticket to some tourist destination (and the cheaper flights seemed to go to Las Vegas, LA or Florida) its going to be very difficult for the US border agents to prove our Mexican is a migrant and not a tourist.

So Trump’s wall demonstrates the reality that many of his populist policies are simply unworkable acts of fantasy. The unfortunate consequences of watching too much Fox & Friends. Ya it might be fun to chant “build the wall” at a rally and its certainly a more polite way of announcing your inherit racism and xenophobia. But it amounts to a policy that will just burn a pile of cash, both now and into the future, yet it will actually achieve very little and is unlikely to stop any migrants. It is sadopopulism at its worst.

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Car clubs


I lost my wee car to an engine bay fire just before Christmas. Rather than buying a new one (I don’t drive alot anyway so I couldn’t really justify the expense), I’ve joined a car club instead. So I thought I’d do a review of my initial car club experience.


Car club membership has been shown to decrease your carbon footprint (compared to owning a car). While you still have access to a car and do drive, generally the mileage of car club owners is lower (typically 57% lower). Because of the large fixed costs associated with car ownership (typically in excess of £1,000 a year before you’ve even driven a mile) car owners tend to drive everywhere. However freed of those fixed costs, public transport often works out cheaper, encouraging its use.

Also there’s a large carbon footprint associated with the construction and final disposal of a car. And cars spend a lot of their time idle. Consider that even if you drive your car for 2 hrs every day, that still means the car spends 92% of its time sitting idle by the side of the road (and most people in Europe drive their cars a lot less frequently than that). A car club spreads the ownership out, which means less cars. And less cars means less traffic, less air pollution, more parking spaces, etc. So if you can’t give up your car completely, its a useful half way house.

Its worth discussing the loss of the last car however. The fire occurred while the car was idle and had been parked up for about a week. The vehicle was in good repair, MOT’d about 6 months ago and due for a service in a month or two’s time. Engine bay fires in an internal combustion powered vehicle, while uncommon, it certainly isn’t unheard of. The breakdown, recovery, garage mechanic and loss adjusters had all seen such fires before. Spontaneous vehicle combustion is a rare but very real phenomenon. In fact, there was a large fire in a multi-story car park in England recently, which destroyed 1,400 cars, which was started by just such an engine bay fire (so I’m lucky it was contained within my engine bay!).


Engine bay fires in ICE powered vehicles, while rare, they are a known phenomenon

A point I bring up because some will often try to raise safety concerns about the fire risk posed by lithium-ion batteries or hydrogen fuel tanks. While certainly there is a fire risk here, it has to be put in context that all petrol powered vehicles are essentially self moving petrol bombs. As alternative powertrains are in their infancy its difficult to say whether they are worse or better. Some evidence suggests the risks are lower. I’d argue the main problem is likely to be a lack of familiarity. Both users and mechanics just aren’t used to these new powertrains and that’s probably where the danger lies. Once standards catch up and everyone gets a bit more familiar with these new powertrains, they should be no less dangerous (or a good deal safer) than existing vehicles.

But back to the car club. The way it works is that there are small batches of cars strung around the city at various designated parking spots. Which in itself is handy, as it means you’ve got a guaranteed parking spot and don’t have to go hunting for one. Currently as I write this there are 2 small hot hatches (Toyota Aygo’s), a hybrid car (Yaris), a medium sized hatch back (Ford Focus) and a van available within 5 minutes walk from my house, with an electric car (Nissan leaf) about 10 minutes walk away. Cars can be booked by the hour (£3-4) or by the day (£25-45). In order to book the vehicle I can do so over the internet, or via a mobile phone app. Cars can be booked only minutes before (theoretically while you are walking towards the car) although obviously the longer in advance you book the more likely you’ll get it (otherwise someone else might have it booked already).

When you get to the car you’ve booked, you can unlock it with a swipe card, then after entering a code the car is unlocked and you can use the keys to drive/lock it for the duration of your hire. In addition to the booking fee it costs a certain amount to join per year (works out at about £10 per month, which includes insurance & breakdown cover) and a certain amount per mile (about 10p per mile roughly for the petrol powered cars, electric car is a bit cheaper than that, but I’ve not got the exact price to hand) although on the plus side you don’t have to pay for the fuel (there’s a fuel card that comes with the car).

So the advantages are you’ve got all the benefits of owning a vehicle, without any of the hassle. No need to worry about taking it to the garage, or arranging insurance, an MOT, paying VED, etc. All that gets taken car of for you. And having just gone through the process of writing off a car, I can tell you that there’s a lot of hassle involved, even when the insurer is backing your version of events and willing to pay you.

Also, as noted, I can alter the vehicle I chose. I want to take friends on a camping trip, we reckon we need a bit of extra room, we can take a hatchback. I want to go somewhere within the city, lots of stop/go traffic, I can take the electric car. I want to move some furniture, I can take a van. Its like owning your own fleet of vehicles. And better still, my membership carries over to other cities. If I go down to London, or up to Inverness, I can use their car club too. So I can get there by public transport and then drive on from there to my destination. This eliminates the need to undertake long journey’s by car, which also eliminates one of the main disadvantages of electric vehicles.

Of course there are downsides. You have to book in advance and depending when you book, you may not be able to get the car you want. But so long as you are flexible, or book well in advance, that shouldn’t be a problem. Another issue is that its not your car. So all the stuff I’d carry in the car while winter driving for example (snow shovel, de-icing gear, breakdown kit, bit of carpet, etc.) I have to carry to the car when I pick it up. Also the first few minutes of driving you feel like an alien, as you are in an unfamiliar vehicle (different clutch, gears, handling, vision, etc.).

And while paying out £25-40 a week to borrow a car here and there is fine if you don’t drive regularly. But it could be a bit pricey if you drive every day. That said, if they could set up the schemes (as is already the case in some cities) where you don’t have to drive A back to A, but A to B, much like how those bike sharing schemes work, then that would change things considerably. It would mean commuters could potentially hire a car for an hour, drive to work. Leave the car at a spot near to work (where it would go back on hire till evening time) then hire it again for an hour and drive it home. This is a concept that would work very well with electric cars. Indeed, I reckon car clubs and electric cars could combine to form a whole new paradigm.

So its an idea that could well have legs. We’ll have to see how it pans out. Certainly thought my other reason for going for a car club was simply that now is a bad time to be buying a vehicle, unless you are willing to invest a lot of money (and given how little I drive, I couldn’t justify that level of expenditure). Given the innovations coming with regard to alternative powertrains and driver assist features (although I still think fully driverless cars are some way off), there’s a lot of cars on the roads that will become obsolete pretty quickly.

Posted in cars, climate change, efficiency, energy, environment, fossil fuels, power, robot car, technology, transport | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Does anyone fancy a bespoke kebab?



So the EU has released its all to predicable terms for the transitional brexit deal, which has sent the brexiters off into a tizzy. Corbyn, meanwhile has had a rare attack of common sense and realised that being leader of the opposition means opposing Theresa May, not supporting her. So he’s aligned labour’s brexit policy to include staying in the common market and thus more in line with what the labour membership want and indeed what the majority of the country wants.


However, like Theresa May, Corbyn still wants the UK to be treated differently and thus he wants a “bespoke common market deal. We’ve seen numerous possible brexit options jettisoned. The Norway model, the Swiss model and even the Canada model fall by the way side. So we’re now down to the Turkey model for brexit. Or the kebab option as I suspect it…

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Arming teachers



So we have another school shooting in America. And Trump and the NRA’s solution? Arm teachers! Because as the graph below clearly shows more guns equals less gun violence (if you’re not seeing that you aren’t republican enough, either have a lobotomy or hit yourself over the head with a kitchen spatula a few times and it will make perfect sense). So what could possibly go wrong?…..well, lots!


Firstly there’s the small matter that guns are not some magical problem taker away device. You push a button and the “bad guy” magically disappears like its some sort of computer game. Real combat with real guns in the real world with real people is a little different. Chances are if someone burst in on you right now, even if you had a gun to hand, you’d probably stand there with a stupid look on your face and…

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The real reason why Republicans oppose gun regulation



As always in America, gun violence continues and all republicans offer are their thoughts and prayers, as well as disinformation. There’s no way more gun regulation will work they say. The best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

Oddly enough in a recent shooting (just before Christmas) there was a “good guy” with a gun present who stood by and did nothing until after 40 people got shot. This is in line with the experience of military veterans and what psychologist say is the normal human reaction to a crisis situation. Basically, 80% of people will stand there with a stupid look on their face (even if they have a gun), aim high, or pretend to be doing something else (tending to the wounded for example). This has been demonstrated in numerous studies and interviews of soldiers…

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My get out of jail free card, courtesy of brexit


An interesting ruling has been made by the Irish supreme court which has some far reaching implications.


Basically, an Irish citizen, who ran a business in the UK but is now back in Ireland, is being pursued by the British for non-payment of tax. As I mentioned in a recent post, its not uncommon for business owners to dodge payment of VAT or raid the company pension fund and get away with it. So this is a rare case of one of them being held to account (presumably because he didn’t go to the right school).

Anyway, the British applied for a European arrest warrant. However, said tax dodgers lawyers argued the defendant cannot be guaranteed a fair trial in the UK as he will lose his civil right part way through the process (due to brexit) and thus he cannot be extradited. Well the judge agreed and to…

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What the Dickens are they up too



I’ve long accused the Tories of trying to take the UK back to the Victorian era. However, already the UK is starting to resemble a Dickensian novel, where the poor are downtrotten and robber baron fat cats run amok, unchecked by government.

An Englishman’s home…is his landlord’s castle

Consider a recent report, which described how one third of those renting property in the UK are living in homes that fail basic health and safety standards. And more often than not it is those on lower incomes that are the most likely to experience these problems. Why don’t they report these rogue landlords? Because given that UK laws favour the landlord, nothing generally happens, other than you getting evicted.

Rogue_landlords Some examples of the appalling conditions UK tenants are forced to put up with…and still pay rent!

Should you ask, well why don’t they just go out and…

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