The Boomers’ Love of the Motor Car has Enslaved Us All. Autonomous Vehicles could free us.

The Automobile, as with all innovation is first conceived as a replacement for an existing technology. The Horseless Carriage. And at first, it did: the Motor car was the transport of the kind of people who had carriages and staff to drive them.

Then aristocratic youngsters got their hands on their parents’ cars and started to drive themselves. The Car became the aspirational badge of success.

By the 1960s anyone with a middle-class job could have a car. And by the 1980s cars were in the price range of more-or-less everyone.

The Baby-boomers dug up the 1930s cycleways as they built an environment around the motor car. Town centres were demolished, and rebuilt with inner ring-roads during the 60s and 70s. The bicycle was despised as a poor-man’s transport, or the toy of eccentrics, and so not really considered as an option. Nor were pedestrians, who were relegated to dank subterranean holes of rain-soaked concrete filled with ranting, smack-addled derelicts, begging for small change in puddles of cheap lager piss. Walking to the town centre from residential districts became unpleasant. Cycling was effectively banned. Real people who had to do things, drove cars.

Unfortunately, driving into a town or city centre was little better, however many urban expressways were built. Too many people wanted to take too many cars into too little space. So businesses moved out of the centre, to the urban edge, next to vast, windswept car-parks. The result is urban sprawl as suburbs without amenities forced people to travel beyond human distances. As car ownership expanded, the buses disappeared through lack of use, and kids lost their freedom. Town centres decayed through lack of use. Cycling became a terrifying ordeal of close-passes by tons of angry metal and walking to anything simply took too long.

The Boomers mostly do not go anywhere except by car, and cannot conceive of it being any other way, despite the fact they may have visited Copenhagen or Amsterdam. There are sufficient cars even there for these cities to not cause the Boomers cognitive dissonance.

The result of the world the boomers built is a world which will be utterly miserable for them as they decay into senescence. The boomers’ kids live a long way from them. As do their friends. There is no local shop. Once their eyesight goes and their kids take their car keys away, they will be marooned, day after day as the clock ticks away on their lives, trapped in their homes by the very world they built.

LOL @ the Boomers.

The Netherlands was going the same way in the 1970s, but thanks to a spate of children being killed by motor cars, they decided to change course and design all urban spaces around people, not cars. The result is residential neighbourhoods still have shops even coffin-dodgers can walk to, and thanks to a lifetime of practice, cloggy pensioners can do this:

It’s hard to imagine a british octogenarian mixing it with the lorries on a bicycle on the way to see his grandkids. Thankfully for the Netherlanders’ baby-boomers, unlike the UK’s, built a world that isn’t oppressively hostile to the elderly, something they are enjoying today.

The absurd british fear of the cyclist is something of a stockholm syndrome. Because it is fear. Deep-seated fear of someone who rejects all their society’s assumptions. Fear that their car, and their precious parking space will become worthless. Fear of the freedom, of the lack of regulation, and resentment of someone who is free* of the frustrations of traffic.

Hence the belief that cyclists are scofflaws, who pose a danger to pedestrians. Cyclists do pose a danger to pedestrians. But it is dwarfed by that involving cars. There were no deaths caused by cyclists in the UK between the collision between Kim Briggs and Charlie Alliston, and his conviction and imprisonment for wanton and furious cycling. Of course, had Kim Briggs stepped back into the path of a car doing 12-18 mph, and died, it wouldn’t have made local news, and there wouldn’t have been an arrest, let alone a conviction. There were dozens of incidents where a car killed a person in those 18 months, and the drivers mostly went unpunished; these are near-daily events. Cyclist hurting pedestrians happen in the UK at a perfect frequency: scarce enough to be remarkable, but frequent enough for recall. Availability heuristics reinforce a belief that cyclists are inherently reckless and dangerous.

This is why all the demands of the motoring lobby are to impose all the same frustrations endured by motorists, entirely unnecessarily, onto cyclists. Licensing, testing, taxing and compulsory insurance. Compulsory high visibility clothing, helmets and demands to follow the same, unnecessary and counterproductive rules.

These frustrations do not occur to citizens of Northern Europe, where cycling is natural, comfortable and universal. It’s not the weather: the Netherlands is every bit as dank, windy and wet as the UK. It’s not hills: Germany and Scandinavia are not any less hilly than the UK. It’s that the pedestrian, bicycle and motorcar are considered as different, but equal in the design of roads and urban spaces. Road engineers design out the conflicts and frustrations to both cyclists and motorists by keeping the two parties apart where possible. The netherlands isn’t anti-car, but it is pro-cyclist. I’ve driven in Sweden. It’s far, far more pleasant than doing so in the UK. Why? Because anyone who wants to cycle their journey, can. As a result, there’s less congestion, and parking is easy. Cycling and driving in Northern Europe is, of course vastly more pleasant than it is in the UK. It isn’t a zero-sum game.

Thankfully, there’s a solution: driverless cars, as you can tell by the name, are conceived as a replacement for the car, except you can read a book while being driven by a robot chauffeur, exactly analogous to the attitude of the early car owners to their horseless carriages. But they will not be a pari-passu replacement. People won’t have their driverless car sitting outside their houses, the passenger footwell full of empty twix wrappers, because autonomous vehicles will, at least initially, be very expensive. Instead of spending 95% of their time stationary, they will be collectively owned. Smartphone technology will allow people to summon a taxi appropriate to any journey from a pool of vehicles. Uber treats its drivers so dismissively because they are openly planning for the day they can dismiss all their drivers. Because people hiring such a vehicle will pay the full, rather than the marginal cost, at the time of the journey, of each journey, the incentive to not call the taxi, and walk or cycle will be greater. Because the cost of such a journey will be lower because you’re not paying a driver, there may be more such journeys. Fewer incompetent drivers will reduce both the subjective and objective risk of cycling. Time becomes less important, as people can work or read or relax, so commutes may become longer. How these competing pressures resolve themselves will be fascinating to watch.

Autonomous technology could therefore result in the car becoming the servant of humanity, rather than its master. Transport should be about facilitating people coming together, allowing people to move at the human scale, where possible, not privileging one form of transport over all the others, as now. The driverless car could allow the bicycle, the car and the pedestrian to get on, as multiple clubs in a golf-bag full of ways to get about, as they do rather well in the Netherlands, rather than competing angrily as they do here.

In the meantime, let’s just build some cycle roads and safe urban infrastructure for people on foot, and on bicycles. Everyone will benefit. Especially the boomers whose mistakes have caused us all so much misery.

*Almost all cyclists in the UK also own a car. It’s just we choose to not use it sometimes.

on the Psychoactive substances bill

America has a law called the “Federal Analogue Act” which attempts to do what the Conservatives are planning to do with the Psychoactive substances bill in the Queen’s speech. It didn’t work in the ‘States, and it won’t work here. It’s vague: What does “substantially similar” mean. How can you prove it’s for human consumption? As a result, it’s hardly been used. 

Worse than it being pointless, what it is trying to do is dangerous.

“Designer drugs” are dangerous: they’re untested, the side-effects are unknown and the metabolism is often slow. People have died, because they don’t know how, or how much to take of any substance, which may be highly toxic. Why then do people take them? Because they can’t get the stimulant, Cocaine; relaxant, Marijuana or the Halucinogenic, LSD or Psilocybin they want, and these “designer drugs” are “legal” and therefore thought by users to be safer than the “killer drugs” that have been banned.
People have been told “drugs kill”. But we know what the lethal doses are for LSD, Psilocybin, THC and Cocaine hydrochloride. There isn’t one. (It’s about 6 litres for water, and about 300ml for Alcohol by comparison). These compounds aren’t “safe”, and have deleterious effects on physical and mental health, especially with long-term use. But their dangers are a known quantity, just like they are for alcohol. People have been smoking Marijuana, and eating hallucinogenic fungi for millennia. These, really should be considered no different to alcohol. Chewing Coca leaves is a prophylactic against altitude sickness, and a stimulant effect a bit stronger than coffee and are legal in much of South America. So why are they banned here? 
And the prohibition of stimulants and psychoactive substances has led to exactly the same death and carnage that prohibition of alcohol did in the USA. A business of enormous profitability has been gifted to criminals. Billions have been spend interdicting supply rather than taxing use and profits from the recreational drug business. This is stupid.
And now, any Chemistry graduate can synthesise novel chemicals, and sell them as “plant food”, and people will try to take them to get high. This only happens because reasonably safe compounds are banned, and the ban enforced with all the power the law affords.
This habit is INSANE, and it’s only supported because the scientific literature is focussed on how to make the drug war work, rather than on working out what and why drugs do what they do, and what to do about it when people take them. All “experts” are from the Law Enforcement/Medical prohibition complex. Banning more substances is just a regulatory whack-a-mole with cis/trans isomers, making matters WORSE not better.
Instead of assuming all drug use is bad, accept that people have always, and always will, like to get off their tits from time to time. Sure, tax the products, like alcohol and tobacco, through the nose if necessary to cover policing costs, quality control and healthcare. Most people will treat Marijuana like they do Merlot: something pleasant to have at the end of the day. Cocaine: A bit like they do Tequila: Something to put rocket-fuel into a night out. A few will become dangerously hooked, as they do right now with alcohol.
My guess is that were recreational narcotics legal, there would be more Marijuana and Cocaine use, and less Alcohol and Heroin. LSD and Magic Mushrooms are not seriously habit forming. They weren’t a problem when Psilocybins cubensis could be bought openly in Camden head shops pre 2005, and they won’t be a problem after they’re made legal again. The harms from all drugs would probably go down thanks to a safer supply chain, and the tax revenue would help the Government balance the books. All those drug-warriors in the police could be re-deployed to something socially useful, like enforcing parking offences or stopping littering.
No country to liberalise drugs laws has seen any major problems, despite heroic efforts of the bansturbationists to manufacture evidence to the contrary. Yet the major problem with prohibition: an illegal and unregulated supply chain remains in place. Imagine the good that could be done were the criminals, and their profits removed from the business.
You want to stop dangerous “designer drugs”? Legalise and regulate the relatively safe stuff that’s currently banned.

Kill All Drug Users?

I don’t know if any of you are on the YouGov site. But it is addictive. A bit like twitter, but with 500 characters. I wrote an Opinion on the Legalisation of Cannabis.

Why do we gift the most profitable industry in history to criminals? Successful Interdiction of supply is incompatible with a free society, so why bother? Legalise. Enjoy the benefits of police no-longer alienating swaths of the population enforcing ridiculous prohibition, who can be deployed elsewhere. Tax the trade. Enforce quality standards, Treat problem users medically rather than criminally. EVERYONE is better off.

I received the following comment

EXTERMINATE once the users , dealer and growers are suitably dead there will be no further problem And anyone calling for legalisation MUST be tested one trace and its guilty

So there we have it – some people getting high is more of a problem than a murderous state executing people without due process. That’s the level of idiocy we’re up against, people. And for the record, I suspect this is what he genuinely believes. I have come across plenty of police who think like this.

You cannot stop people desiring to get out of themselves chemically. Whether it’s booze or narcotics. And in a free society, you cannot meaningfully interdict supply of psychoactive chemicals. To some people such as my correspondent above, that means a free society is the problem. Perhaps he needs some time in the salt-mines to learn the value of freedom?

Landing a Probe on a Comet vs Tackling Poverty

On March 2, 2004, an Ariane 5 rocket took off from French Guiana containing the Rosetta spaceship. A few days later, having escaped the earth’s gravity and put into a heliocentric orbit, Rosetta commenced a 10-year 6,500,000,000 km journey which involved taking slingshots off the earth (three times) and Mars (once) to rendez-vous  with a rubber-duck-shaped snowball the size of Cambridge 300,000,000 miles away, moving at 42,000 kmh, Having achieved the rendez-vous, a dishwasher sized probe with three harpooned legs was to be released to float down to the surface of the comet, as it hurtled through space. Touchdown was achieved on 12th November 2014. 

This is, quite simply a technical and scientific achievement equivalent to putting man on the moon. To my mind it is enough that it’s there to do, but this isn’t just an everest for rocket engineers. We will get data on the origins of the early solar system, and possibly the origins of life on earth from this mission. We will know more about what comets are made of. Much of this is pure science of little immediate or practical use. Put charitably “Why are we firing rockets at snowballs in space?” is a question about opportunity cost. What did society forgo to achieve this soft landing on a comet. And the answer is “not much”.
There is a complaint that “we should be curing cancer” or “ending poverty” with the money spent on space exploration. “What good is it to me?” some ask. I’m tempted to dismiss such soulless utilitarianism as the bleatings of one who’s already dead inside. The point about pure science is that it leads to who knows what future advances that solve real problems. Perhaps vital resources can be recovered from comets cheaply. We might learn a bit about the composition of objects that might hit earth, potentially generating knowledge that saves life on earth from extinction. To ask “what is this for?” is to betray a total lack of imagination. If nothing else a nine-year old might be watching the probe land on a planet and be enthused to become an engineer, and go on to do something we haven’t even thought of yet.
“End Poverty”? Benefits paid to poor people are not where they are because they’re the most that can be afforded. We could afford to pay the unemployed more to live on, or top up low wages by more. The reason they’re low is because of the freeloader effect. The higher benefits are relative to work, the more attractive benefits become, and the lower the returns to work. People do not want to work hard to pay taxes to fund a comfortable life-style for those who don’t. More people would choose benefits over work. Thus benefits are set at a level which means live subsisting on them is pretty rotten. Any more would be politically impossible to sustain. Besides, poverty isn’t solved by cash transfers, but by work, and trade and free markets. This is the same thing that will ultimately cure disease. That and the application of pure science.
“Curing diseases?”Aids or Ebola will be cured by free trade with Africa, allowing their farmers access to our markets. Such trade will stimulate road building; roads, which unlike those to mines, go to where Africans live and work. Roads stimulate trade. With trade comes a cold-chain. That means vaccinations. Vaccinations mean healthier people. Healthier people do better in education, making them more productive. Being productive, means being richer, and being richer means people wear watches. And when people wear watches, they know when to take their anti-retrovirals. And if people take their anti-retrovirals, their HIV blood counts go down, making them less infectious. Less infectious means fewer infections. And fewer infections which become chronic rather than fatal conditions will lead to the steady decline in AIDS infection rates we’ve seen in the west. 
In developing all the above, a few decent health-centres and hospitals will mean Ebola will not spread when it’s first identified. How much will this cost us? Less than we spend stopping it happening now. (Farm Subsidies like the CAP are, you see, wholly, genocidally evil). Trade you see is not Zero-Sum. Africans get richer because the market for their produce increases. We get richer because more people are competing to supply our markets so we get things cheaper (and vice versa). We’re both richer. 
Cure cancer? It’s difficult to see how a rocket engineer could help there. There’s very little tangible that can be done in that regard that isn’t being done now. There’s already good money in curing cancer. So if we cannot give more money to the poor, cure Aids Ebola or Cancer with the money, why not give us something inspirational? To encourage us to let slip the surly bonds of earth and look out to the stars. That’s a public good, that is. But to cure poverty or whatever, we need to stop the Government doing bad stuff to Africans, not stop it doing wholly amazing, inspirational science.

On Charlie Elphicke’s plan to ban the Trolls.

I write as a pseudanonymous blogger. My nom-de-plume is an old nickname from growing up. It’s useful mainly because It means I can keep my political writing and activism separate from my professional life. But if you really, really want to find out who ‘Jackart’ is, it should take you about 2 clicks. This filtered permeability is deliberate. A Google search will either throw up my professional life, OR the blog, but not usually both.

A am not in any meaningful way, anonymous. But I understand why people might be. The Military ‘Service test’, company social media policies and so forth usually expressly forbid the expression of political opinion online. The exception seems to be the public sector hard-left who revel in their employers’ support for their hard-left activism and desire to ‘expose’ those who ‘have vile views’ (ie disagree). Letters to employers can often follow some pretty mild expression of what is  often basically ‘Economics 101’.

The real bullies are all too often those defending the status quo from those who think differently, and ‘Troll’ has come to mean ‘anyone disagreeing with a lefty on the internet’. Real Trolls are just people whose hobby is winding up the self-important and humourless. The endless tweets of “your a dick” (the grammatical error is part of the gag) to Richard Dawkins is an example. The aim is to get a rise. And to this end, the perma-outraged Caroline Criado-Perez, the womyn behind the campaign to get a woman womyn on the £10 note, is great value. She will always bite. So she’s targeted by Trolls. Some of whom are hilarious, some of whom aren’t.

Trolling is not the same as ‘flaming’. Flaming is the straight exchange of insults. This too can be cathartic and when indulged in between people who aren’t offended, can be enjoyable. A good insult can be poetry. Use of robust Anglo-Saxon shouldn’t be illegal.

We’re also moving into the territory where giving offence is becoming illegal, encouraging a competitive victimhood race to get your identity/religion/political beliefs  legally protected. This is profoundly undemocratic, with a chilling effect on free expression. If you don’t like something, block, ignore and move on (on which more later). Free speech must come with the freedom to offend, or it isn’t worth anything, and political debate becomes a circle-jerk around the status quo. To the extent that it already is, partially explains the rise of anti-establishment parties. Offensive comment isn’t “trolling”, and shouldn’t be illegal, however angry you may be about your shibboleth being held up for challenge or ridicule.

Nor is the stalking, harassment and abuse meted out to some people “trolling”. I’d quite happily wind up Miss Criado-Perez, because I think she’s an insufferable, po-faced, hypocritical misandrist who’s more or less wrong on everything. But just as you’re allowed to ask “name me something a woman has invented” to a feminist in a pub in order to piss her off, you’re not allowed to say “I’m going to rape you, you fucking bitch” in a pub, on Twitter or indeed anywhere else. There’s a line. That line is threats, harassment and incitement. The line exists in law, and no further law is needed. You can say what you like up to that line. But if the target of your abuse leaves the pub (blocks you on Twitter), and you follow them home (set up multiple sock-puppet accounts), you’re moving from legal free speech, into harassment. Prolonged harassment is already illegal, online or in meatspace.

Which brings me to this excrescence from the Tory MP, Charlie Elphicke.

Hate-tweeting trolls make people’s lives hell. They’ve got out of hand on social media and we need to crack down on it

Great, enforce the laws that already exist.

we cannot just be tough on hate-tweeting, we must be tough on the causes of hate-tweeting, too. We should target the anonymity hate-tweeters use to harass people online. At the moment it’s just too easy to set up a bogus account and viciously stab at people from behind the curtain.

Does he mean “people” or “politicians”? So much good is done by people who tweet, blog and write anonymously, maybe because their views are controversial, or because “procedures” forbid those who know, from telling the truth. Remember night jack?

I would fisk the whole thing, but as it doesn’t address the issue that sprang instantly to mind with his first sentence, there’s no point. Elphicke is talking out of his arse.

Anonymity is a vital component of free speech, because it allows uncomfortable truths be told to those, like Elphicke, who exercise power. And if you really need to find who someone making actionable threats is, it’s easy enough to find out. Even the careful Old Holborn was ‘exposed’ eventually, after trolling the whole of Liverpool. But as he’d said nothing illegal, he’s able to wear his title of ‘Britain’s vilest troll‘ with pride.

Peter Nunn, on the other had crossed the line. Threatening to rape someone, the MP, Stella Creasy on twitter is not ‘Trolling’ and is (rightly) already illegal. He was gaoled for 18 weeks under current legislation. Perhaps Ms Creasy is right. Perhaps we do need to take such threats more seriously. But it’s clear from this case we don’t need another law to do so.

The tone of debate on twitter is not the same as that in the house of commons. It’s more like how a rowdy pub would be were it to hold a political debate. People are engaged through the medium of twitter. It’s potentially a superb means for politicians to reach out to the people and bridge the divide. Some, like Michael Fabricant or indeed Stella Creasy get it. Others like Elphicke clearly don’t. But trying to turn Twitter into the Oxford Union isn’t going to work. All it will do is encourage another online network, which isn’t regulated by the nanny state, to be set up where people can flame each other at will. Most of us enjoy the rough and tumble of debate, and sometimes minds are changed.

Perhaps someone should point out that calling Charlie Elphicke a stupid, ignorant know-nothing with a face like a baby’s arse and brains consisting of what comes out of one, isn’t “trolling”. It’s fair comment. I’m a card-carrying Tory, so nor it this a partisan attack. Indeed I’m ashamed to share a party with someone so wildly illiberal and ignorant of what he speaks. How DARE he write something so ill-informed and stupid?

This fear of “trolling” is nothing more than a particularly egregious moral panic. A good insult can be poetry. There is no right to live unoffended. We don’t want to ban anonymous comment because we’re a democracy. We have already banned abuse, threats and incitement because we’re civilised. 

The Western Playbook in Ukraine.

Consensus appears to be that Russia has “won” and “the West”, meaning the EU and USA is weak.

Russian Troops in Ukraine (source)

Strong countries do not have trouble keeping their satellites in orbit. The need of Russia to intervene in its near abroad, like the annexation of South Ossetia from Georgia in 2008 is a signal of weakness, not strength.

The Georgians are angling for NATO membership, which is why they’re the top non-NATO contributor to the War in Afghanistan. Unlike many nations, they’re keen to put their soldiers in harms way to the extent that, with the grim humour of soldiers everywhere, the lights of a casevac helicopter into ISAF bases have become known as “Georgian disco lights”. Georgians are dying to get into NATO, quite literally.

Russia for obvious reasons feels threatened by the idea of NATO on its borders, and feels this especially strongly in Ukraine. Do you really need to be reminded that the Eastern Front accounted for 95% of German casualties between 1941 and 1944 and 65% of all allied casualties were soviets, mostly fighting on Soviet territory? Some of the Blame for the appalling casualties suffered by the Soviets in the Great Patriotic war lies at the door of the Kremlin but the Russians still fear invasion from Europe. They fear it rightly, more than we fear invasion from the East, and so Russia likes to have buffer states between it and hostile forces. NATO remains the pre-eminent military power on the planet which was (is?) conceived with Russia as the main enemy. This is why Russia sees the control of its near abroad as key to its security.

So Ukraine will not (or at least should not) get NATO membership, however much NATO or indeed the Ukrainians want it. The potential for miscalculation when NATO and Russia stare at each other directly over a border is just too great. The EU is a different matter.

The EU has a good track record (second only to the British Empire…) in sowing the seeds of democracy in thin soils. The carrot of EU membership, and the prosperity  it brings, has kept many states which would otherwise have descended, like Russia and Ukraine into kleptocratic oligarchy retaining only the pretence of democratic accountability, fully functioning democracies. And in having a prosperous Poland and Czech republic within the single market benefits the UK too. The EU needs to be able to hold the hope of Ukrainian membership without Russia feeling threatened. Indeed it may one day fall to the EU to finally tame the Russian bear itself.

So, in the short-term, Russia has annexed Crimea. Ukraine will probably have to accept that there’s little more the west can do to prevent Russia reclaiming a territory which is home to the Black-sea Fleet, and was only transferred by to Ukraine in 1954. It’s the most pro-Russian (about 60%, following some Soviet ethnic cleansing..) province. If that’s the limit of Putin’s ambitions, then the West will bluster, but probably let it go. But the rest of Ukraine will look firmly west, if a little grumpily in some of the Eastern provinces as a result of Putin’s invasion.

What will most discomfit Russia will be an economically successful Ukraine, firmly tied into the western democratic sphere by trade and friendship. Just as the principle complaint of the citizens of Lviv is the speed at which Poland, a country they were part of in living memory, has got richer within the EU. Russians will look at their friends and relatives in Ukraine getting richer once they pull away from Russia’s toxic orbit, and ask themselves “why?”.

Putin gets his “win” and will gloat about the annexation of Crimea. The price: it gets a little harder for Russian oligarchs to hang onto their loot as economic sanctions bite. The value of their Russian businesses falls sharply, and especially in hard-currency terms, and the relative cost of Mayfair town houses becomes that bit greater. Putin therefore hurts his most influential supporters where it matters most. The west, already nervous of the reliance on Russian energy, looks elsewhere for Gas. Funnily enough, the USA has a glut of the stuff. Europe may even start fracking its own gas one day. It takes time to build the infrastructure, but without Gas revenues from Europe, Russia would be utterly bankrupt, as they produce almost nothing anyone else wants. The Russians will not be able to afford all the new toys they’ve ordered for their over-manned and ill-disciplined military. Like the first cold war, the second one will be won by the system which delivers wealth. And yes, lefties, financial crisis notwithstanding, the West is a stronger economy than Russia.

The West’s inability and unwillingness to throw enormous military forces into the region is not weakness but a symptom of our  greatest strength. Western policy in Ukraine will be driven by our merchants to the benefit of our people, not our soldiers to the benefit of national willy-waving. This is because, unlike Russia, the interests of Western European Governments are (with exceptions, mostly) aligned with those of the people. There is simply no need to go to war over the Crimea. Ukrainians, especially in the west, have seen representative government at work in Poland. Russians, still subject to Russian regime-friendly media, are fearful of “Fascists and Nationalists” because their history has taught them to be so. Doing anything military to stop the annexation of Crimea will play into Putin’s hands.

Killing people and breaking things is sometimes necessary, but is not often the best the way to make people stop fearing you. Give Putin his Pyrrhic victory, and welcome the rest of Ukraine into the Western fold. We win, Ukrainians win. One day even Russians might win, at the expense of their nasty little regime.

Won’t someone Think of the Children?

Kathy Gyngell, Research Fellow and bansturbationist at the centre for policy studies is worried:

the people who perturb me are middle-aged political converts to this ‘cause’ – Nick Clegg, Nigel Farage, Daniel Hannan and Norman Fowler. Whether intentionally or not, they have aligned themselves in a culture war which pits the liberal against traditionalist, cosmopolitan against parochial and old against young. This is what drugs’ legalisation is about: a war over fundamental values. It is not a battle about basic freedoms – far from it. Drugs enslave

Some of the harder drugs are extraordinarily habit-forming. But society copes with alcohol easily enough. It will cope with a bit of pot.

I doubt whether any of these politicians are or were ‘recreational’ drug users, let alone former addicts; or that they’d wish drugs on their children. Yet they’ve been persuaded that a hypothetical taxed and regulated system – one they’ve been told would cut police and prison costs, undercut criminal gangs and end the war on drugs to boot – would sanitise drug use. It wouldn’t. It would normalise it

Why does she doubt these politicians smoked pot at university? I know of only a handful of people, mostly military obsessed or weird, who never tried. Certainly pot use, in certain circles is already “normal” and it causes almost no problems. Cocaine use is on the rise, again with very little social effect. It’s alcohol which causes the blood and vomit on the street.

But like the pro-legalising think tank head I sat next to at dinner recently, I suspect Mr. Hannan’s grasp of the drug problem is pretty limited. My dinner companion typically had no idea how marginal an activity drug use is compared with smoking and drinking – living as he does amongst London’s metropolitan liberals.

Few people have the criminal contacts to get hold of weed, which is easy for the police to interdict (it smells) and therefore getting scarcer. People are instead taking cocaine – easy to conceal, high margin. With the rise of mobile phones it’s a delivery business.

He was surprised that fewer than three per cent of adults smoke a spliff on any sort of regular basis compared with the 20 per cent who smoke daily and the overwhelming majority who regularly drink alcohol. He had no idea that cannabis use overall had declined in the UK, and so markedly amongst adolescents – 30 per cent in the last 15 years

Of course cannabis use has fallen. As has LSD – they’re hard to get. People are moving onto cocaine, whose use is rising.

For today’s young people are more, not less, responsible than before, they drink less, use drugs less, commit fewer crimes and volunteer more as a recent Demos report shows. In these newly competitive times, the last thing this generation need is a drugs legalising experiment foisted on them by ageing libertarians.

Yes they are much more responsible. They’re also quite capable of lying to researchers about their drug use, and making their own decisions. NOTHING I have seen suggests to me that pot causes problems. It may exacerbate problems already there, but no more so than does alcohol. The link between schizophrenia and cannabis use is, according to all literature not published by a government-sponsored “education” campaign, suggests a co-morbidity, not a causal relationship, however comforting it is for parents of sufferers to believe it’s the pot that “caused” the problem. People with mental health problems take all and any drugs in greater volume, whether legal or illegal, stimulant or depressive.

Anyway, there already is one – in Colorado. It does not look good. According to Dr. Christian Thurstone, the director of one of Colorado’s largest youth substance-abuse treatment clinics, regular high school drug use has leaped from 19 per cent to 30 per cent since Colorado legalized medical marijuana in 2009 for adults

So under a legalised system, the proportion smoking rose to that which it was in the UK, before pot got hard to come by? I’m SHOCKED, that people like to get high. SHOCKED.

Drug warriors, like prohibitionists like to present it as an a-priori benefit when drug use goes down. Furthermore, there’s the tired assumption that the pot available now is stronger and therefore worse, than that which our parents smoked (True in the USAbut less so in Europe) and this is mainly down to freshness – our parents smoked pot grown in Morocco (or mexico, if American). Our kids smoke pot hydroponically forced in someone’s basement.

I simply don’t accept that it’s necessarily  bad for people to get high/pissed/stoned once in a while.

Drugs enslave

That’s is probably true of Heroin. But not of pot. Pot is likely to be a substitute for getting smashed on alcohol for young people. Which drug has the worse social effects? Most of the harms associated with drug use are due to Heroin and (in the USA meth and crack), which is highly addictive, lethal if the dose is wrong and with catastrophic health effects. No-one sets out to be a junkie. They probably start with Pot. When pot is hard to come by, their dealer suggests cocaine (which is easier to get these days). When there’s no cocaine, a dealer might suggest heroin – smoking at first, before finally injecting. The slippery slope exists, for vulnerable people at least.

Why would a dealer do such a thing?

Because he’s dealing to fund his own habit.

What the heroin market is at present is a highly effective pyramid marketing scheme. Why do people take heroin? Because they can’t get medical grade diamorphine (which has fewer health effects, no track-lines, infections, and crap injected into viens). A legal supply chain (not decriminalisation) would break the hold of the dealer, prevent dealers recruiting users to fund their own habit and close down the heroin marketing pyramid.

The number of problem heroin addicts rocketed after the misuse of drugs act. Before the misuse of drugs act, most people became addicted to opiates in hospital. It was known as “the soldiers’ disease”.

Legalised drugs would mean more people taking pot and cocaine, and fewer people drinking to excess and injecting heroin. I can live with that.

Gender Segregation in Universities

If you believe the hype, you’d think British universities are going to be routinely segregating by gender in order to appease islamists. Twitter is outraged. This is about new guidance from universities UK which suggests that some external speakers may be allowed to segregate their audience by gender. The libertarian in me says as no-one is going to be forced to attend such an external event, segregate away, as it’s no skin of my rosy nose. It advises for example that segregation is left to right, not front to back, to ensure equal participation, but in the competing “rights” of equality of gender and religion, compromises should be available. Money quote:

“…Concerns to accommodate the wishes or beliefs of those opposed to segregation should not result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief system…”

Of course any speaker demanding gender segregation at a UK university is not being culturally sensitive. The kind of speaker who would demand such a policy doesn’t care. Indeed the hue and cry will ensure more radical islamists do demand it; the ensuing publicity will be far more valuable than the speaking gig, whether or not the event goes ahead.

I would be unlikely to attend an event where the genders were segregated to appease a bigoted Islamist. But I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of making a fuss about it. And if you feel you need to go, the segregation demanded reflects badly on the speaker, but is sitting on the left really so bad?

We have become obsessed by trivial symbols. Is anyone actually going to be forced into “gender apartheid” in British universities as some more hysterical commentators have suggested? Or are you just going to have to sit where you’re told to listen to a ranting islamist for an hour or so? Are we so insecure in our society that rational debate cannot overcome the antediluvian nonsense of these religious throwbacks?

“Live and let live” is the most important mantra of liberal democracy. Let’s not give those who oppose it, the satisfaction of letting them think their ideas actually present a threat.

The Practical Defence of Monarchy

At every Royal occasion, this week the birth of the future King, It’s often asserted that Monarchy is “indefensible”. I argue the main victim of the system of Monarchy is the Monarch themselves, and their immediate family. No-one would now design a monarchical government, as they did for Belgium, However many of the countries in the world with the highest standards of living are constitutional monarchies. Norway and the Netherlands, for example are not noted as Totalitarian hell-holes. Luxembourg is the richest per-capita country in the world. Most of the rest are former British Colonies, who have retained the Queen as Head of State. Some are poor, but most on the list remain decent places to live, and many are better than their neighbours. My usual defence of Monarchy is that it clearly ain’t broke, so don’t fix it.

The most likely explanation for this is that by definition, constitutional monarchies have retained the anachronistic trappings of Medieval and Renaissance kingship means they have gone a long time without revolution. Revolutions are bad, and so post-hoc ergo propter hoc, monarchies are disproportionately nice places to live.

However does some of the explanation go the other way. Is there something about monarchy in a modern context which helps with stability? There may well be.

The Monarch acts as a figurehead in a time of crisis. A constitutional monarch is better placed to do this than a politician. A politician with the strength of will to govern in a crisis is likely to be divisive. This is why Charles de Gaule broke his country’s constitution, because his Government in exile did not enjoy universal support of Frenchmen, a country which is on its fifth republic since they committed regicide. Compare with King Haakon VII of Norway who was able to return from Scotland with his troops and quickly and efficiently sweep away the detritus of a Nazi occupation, and which has enjoyed remarkable stability since the split with Sweden (itself now led by King Carl Gustav XVI, and not a known totalitarian Toilet) in 1905 despite the wars which have raged around the country.

The Monarch can act as a “Chairman” in key moments. King Juan Carlos of Spain for all his current extravagances, is popular mainly for deceiving Franco by being named as Heir Apparent, while meeting opposition leaders behind the Generalissimo’s back. He rapidly ushered in democracy on the Dictator’s death and restrained the military, much to the surprise of the Falangists who thought all along, the Prince of Spain was one of them. Without a king, the end of the dictatorship could have been as bloody as its beginning.

It is often argued that a monarch has a once-only nuclear option of refusing assent to a law, which in the UK at least would trigger an immediate constitutional crisis, which could probably resolved only by a referendum. This power of Veto may (though there’s no evidence of this ever actually happening) could be used to prevent the kind of enabling law which allows totalitarians to subvert democracy. Perhaps the mere threat prevents British politicians from even trying.

These benefits listed of monarchy are dependent upon the Country being lucky with the right Monarch at the right time. Spain needed a devious liberal, Norway needed a brave and resolute war leader in exile. However, there are perhaps means by which a Monarchy can directly influence the body politic of a country for the good.

A monarch has a direct interest in stability and continuity. This tends, all things being equal, to lead to better governance than would ideological enthusiasm. Monarchs are likely to urge their Prime Ministers be cautious. The current Monarch of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth realms, the peerlessly dutiful Queen Elizabeth II has personally known every Prime-Minister since Churchill and has been dealing with affairs of state since the 1950s. Are you telling me a quiet word in the ear from so experienced a Queen is a bad thing, when the Prime Minister is free to ignore it?

It can be argued a Monarch tempers some of the excesses of democracy. If one of the problems of Monarchy is the risk of an idiot on the throne, the problem of democracy is that only power-hungry, manipulative and demagogic will ever reach the top, such is the nature of the system. However even the narcissists who get to the top of the Greasy pole in a Constitutional Monarchy cannot ever hope to be head of state. Indeed far from being head of state, they have to bang their tabs in to the Monarch once a week (in the British system at least) and report to their boss “this is what I’m doing with your country this week“. This perhaps engenders a little humility in those who would seek to rule us.

The Royal Family serves the same function as a national soap-opera, giving a group of people we all “know” to some extent to gossip about over the office kettle. This need to gossip seems hard-wired, yet we share few people in common in our big, atomised, impersonal world. It’s true, this is the same function that meaningless ‘slebs perform in the magazine ‘closer’, but the interest in the royals is more universal, and may even inspire some to pick up a history book. Everyone knows who the matriarch and the curmudgeon, the wayward uncle and the black sheep of our Royal family are. We all have a little party at royal family events, making them to some extent shared and ours: we’re all somewhat invited to Royal weddings. Street parties for the Jubilee brought neighbours together. And perhaps we all feel (we monarchists at least), some of the Joy of the birth of a healthy baby boy. Perhaps the Monarch’s subjects are slightly happier as a result of being able to exercise this primeval need?

In a constitutional monarch, it is the Queen or King who is the recipient of the Peoples’ nationalist patriotic fervour. There is none left over for mere politicians, who’re generally regarded with utter contempt. This British contempt for politicians, who’re (plausibly if unfairly) thought of as corrupt and grasping slime, mainly in it for themselves, is a powerful anti-demagogue shield for the UK. The people of the UK will simply not invest their hopes fully in a president or anyone who would seek to be one, and the rallies and bunting put out for US candidates for President utterly mystify most Brits. Thanks to the child born yesterday, I can see the Kings of the United Kingdom stretching into the future until long after I am gone. Perhaps that encourages Britons to think longer-term than do Americans.

None of these effects in themselves are the killer argument in favour of monarchy. Taken together, perhaps they’re plausible enough to back up “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

The little baby boy, born to a young, rich, good-looking couple in London yesterday, whom I am agitating to be called ‘Arthur’, will one day be our King though given the longevity and rude health of the House of Windsor, it is unlikely I will live to see him crowned. He will enjoy every advantage and privilege his whole life, yet be reminded of that privilege constantly, and learn to be modest, as his Father is. Hopefully he’s be as successful in business and charity work as his much under-rated Grandfather, through whose Princes Trust he has a greater understanding of the hardships of the disadvantaged in his country than many a politician. The young man will probably serve briefly and safely in the forces, (a younger brother as the ‘spare’ will be allowed to take more risk). He will hopefully get to know his peerless great grandmother who still has a good decade left to reign, and be taught follow her example of selfless duty. And hopefully he’ll be as much fun as his Great Grandfather.

Ultimately the Monarchy is a decorative bauble on top  of our democracy, but perhaps it’s not meaningless. The monarchy, as foundation of the constitution underpins the chaotic, brutal but responsive democracy that  has organically evolved in the UK since 1215. Through the list of Kings and queens, one and a half thousand years of history can be told in a personal human scale, all the way back to Egbert of Wessex, and (through the Scandinavian branch of the family) the God, Woden. You wouldn’t design a democracy like that of the UK. A designed democracy looks more like that of the Weimar republic, and that didn’t turn out to well, did it? The risks of constitutional vandalism far outweigh the potential benefits.

God Save the Queen.

Democracy, the State and Libertarianism

Libertarianism is the political belief that there is no crime, except the initiation of force or fraud. Philosophically we have much in common with the Anarchists: A belief that much of what a formal state would do, policing and so forth could and should be done without the state doing it. Some deontological libertarians oppose state action wherever possible, arguing that tax-funding is inherently coercive, and should be minimised where possible. I am however a consequentialist libertarian: I am content for things to be paid for out of taxation where the outcome otherwise would be sub-optimal.

Few argue the poor, who are mainly where they are because of bad luck, should go unhoused and without medical care. And as health care insurance would cost most for those who are likely to need it most, and almost everyone will need health care at some time, and whether you will or not is simply not predictable. Taxation in this regard is just a big risk-pool. Private-sector insurance doesn’t to solve any extra problems and adds a few of its own. Voluntary insurance adds especially a significant element of free-rider costs: We’re not going to deny care to an uninsured car-crash victim. Compulsory insurance is not significantly different to taxation in any meaningful way.

Obviously the state running anything is a disaster as the NHS and the British state ‘education’ system amply prove, but the state can be an efficient risk-pooler and purchaser on behalf of the population. This is why I favour a Free (ish – I’m not averse to small consultation and prescription charges) at the point of delivery, state-funded health care, but delivered by a variety of providers. Hospitals, clinics and so-forth can be owned by businesses, charities, partnerships and so forth. All the state needs to do is decide what gets funded out of taxation, and what isn’t. Then it needs to make payments on behalf of patients. The tax is morally no different to the compulsory insurance required by many countries, and this is what the British are used to.

As for health, so too for education. The state should however get out of provision, being content to operate a voucher program for schools. Everyone gets equal access, and gets to choose which school specialising in which brand of ideological idiocy will get to indoctrinate little Johnny. Of course most people will pick the best, middle-of-the-road school which is local enough to get to, but the competition for students will drive up standards. The other crucial difference is that market systems tend to not have shortages because there is no planning. Markets allocate sufficient resources where it’s needed better than any state bureaucrat ever could.

Transport policy: Nothing brings out the sociopath in people more than how they get about. People like roads, except near where they live. They cheerfully speed, yet complain about others doing so on their road. They regard any spending on road/rail/cycle/airports as wasted, unless they themselves use those services, in which case, the spending is grotesquely inadequate, and should be doubled immediately. “For the good of the economy. I’m thinking about others you see.” The state therefore has to mediate who gets what transport infrastructure, where and in what form, compulsorily purchasing, where necessary land in order to achieve the greater good. This sometimes requires an initiation of force, otherwise on stubborn landowner can hold up the economic development of an entire nation. It should be hard, and under democratic control, but roads are a another crucial area of reasonable roles for the state.

Everywhere you look, you find a reasonable role for a state. It’s just much, much less than the state does currently. Too many libertarians are ideologically committed to no state action. If your intellectual starting point is a state-free utopia, I reject that as completely as I do every other Utopia. Accepting there to be roles for the state is not un-libertarian. In general, I’ve long argued that Libertarianism is a state of mind, not a practical manifesto for government. I come from the long British tradition of rejecting grand ideas, preferring to ask which is the best on offer. Ultimately, the deontological position is childish.

You cannot persuade people to accept a state-free vision, and persuading people is necessary to get anything done in a democracy. You can persuade people that certain things: what people eat, drink, smoke etc… are none of the Government’s business. You can persuade people that the Government doesn’t need to own everything or spend 50% of GDP. If you say “let’s abolish the police”, you won’t be take seriously. If you say “Lets’ abolish the Department for business innovation and skills” you might be. There’s plenty of low-hanging fruit.

Libertarians need to start thinking about where we are right now, rather than imagining some ghastly Randian utopia , with other libertarians over a pint; a utopia towards which no-one sane will want to travel. Just as the fault of every planned system is the fact that everyone imagining one puts themselves in the role of planner, every objectivist, deontological libertarian ranting about a state-free utopia imagines himself in the role of John Galt.  The state is spending 50% of GDP and seriously discussing school lunches and the font on fag-packets. Never has there been more need for libertarians in Government. But the movement needs to grow up.