Why has no other country tried to leave the EU?


I had an interesting conversation the other day with someone from another EU country (Holland) and it led to something of a thought experiment. Why has no other country ever tried to leave the EU?

I mean its not as if euroscepticism is an entirely British phenomenon. There’s been several occasions where populists eurosceptic parties have held a majority in government, most recently in Italy for example. And polls show there’s a possibility such a thing could go through. Yet despite all the vitriol and anti-EU rhetoric they haven’t put their money where their mouth is and tried to hold a referendum and leave, Why? Well the answer tells us more about the UK than it does about the EU.


Most EU states are governed by constitutions which would require a legally binding referendum be held, prior to leaving, as an absolute minimum. In fact in some country’s you’d have to get a supermajority to approve it (+50% of the entire population, not just those who bother to show up at the polls, by contrast brexit only got the support of 37%). This is in stark contrast to the UK, whose constitution is a bunch of vague guidelines written on goatskin, which seems to assume any politician is going to be an honourable gentleman who’ll put the country first. And if he breaks the rules he gets called a knave and doesn’t get invited to the Speakers annual garden party.

Hence many of the dirty tricks employed by the brexiters to win the 2016 referendum would not be available to continental eurosceptics, as such antics would get them into very serious trouble. Prison time sort of trouble. The UK’s electoral commission has found that the vote leave campaign broke the law during the referendum. The only reason why the result wasn’t annulled by the courts (and why Cummings, Johnson, Farage et al aren’t serving prison terms) is because it was a non-legally binding advisory referendum. Eurosceptics on the continent dislike the EU yes. But very few of them hate it that much that they are willing to risk ending up in a 6×6 cell, sharing prison showers with a massive tattooed guy called Bubba.

Furthermore with a legally binding referendum you’d probably have to specify what kind of brexit you were aiming for. Otherwise it might be at risk of court challenges before a vote is even held. This was another problem with the referendum, the question asked was too vague, you may as well have asked “do you hate the French?” or “is blue your favourite colour?”. This allowed brexit to become a blank canvas onto which unicorns could be painted. Hence brexiters could sell the idea of the UK leaving, yet keeping all the benefits of staying in, without it costing a penny.

Specifying which brexit you are aiming for would present a problem, because much as the UK brexiters can’t agree what kind of brexit they want, European eurosceptics are as equally divided. The odds are such a bill would fail at the first hurdle as they’d not be able to get behind a proposal through parliament to trigger such a referendum. And once they’d nailed their colours to the mast, polls do show that when presented with a specific brexit option (Norway for now, May’s deal, no deal) support ebbs away (as people are forced to weight up the pro’s and cons). And generally remain wins any side by side comparison (because it means accepting you are worse off out than in).

And as many EU states are federations (Germany and Spain for example) with regional assemblies, they’d have to find a way to resolve what happens if say Catalonia vote to stay and Andalusia votes to leave. Not least because in some cases these regional assemblies might have to approve of any referendum before it can be held (which they won’t do until all the what if’s are resolved), not to mention pass the secondary legislation afterwards to allow the country as a whole to leave. Yes there’s usually a way for central government to railroad things through but, suffice to say, this is opening a massive can of worms. One which is firmly labelled “do not open this can, national self destruction may follow”.

And of course even if you can get the initial bill through parliament, get the public to vote for it (by a significant majority) you’ve still got to go to Brussels and negotiate an exit. And for the UK this is where the fireworks started. Basically this means putting on hold all important business so you can conduct the negotiations and push through the supporting legislation to allow for leaving the EU.

The Tories have gotten away with various dirty tricks to drive through brexit, using the dictatorial Henry VII powers, cancelling votes at the last minute, moving forward a vote when you realise several pro-remain MP’s are off sick, bribing MP’s with promises of peerages, stacking the lords with peers to filibuster any anti-brexit legislation and of course more recently proroguing parliament (i.e. suspending democracy), an act now deemed unlawful as its likely the PM lied to the Queen. Very little of this would be legal in other EU states, nor would politicians find it so easy to get away with it.

And given that many countries on the continent have had more recent experience of living under a dictatorship (fascists, junta’s or communists) electorates tend to be a bit more sensitive about this sort of behaviour. Plus because many European government’s are elected by proportional representation, that means they are often coalitions. And the odds are good that such a coalition would fracture under the strain of an EU exit process. So its possible the whole thing will collapse before the process is complete.

Oh and a just for good measure a 2nd referendum afterwards might also be needed to confirm everything (as its likely what was promised will be different from what exit you actually end up with, or you need to confirm constitutional changes with a referendum). And obviously the whole reason why brexiters in the UK are resisting this option is because they know they will likely lose such a vote.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it would be impossible for any other European country to leave the EU. After all many held votes to join in the first place, or approve the various EU treaties. So with enough public support and goodwill its possible. But perhaps that’s the point, there just isn’t the support for leaving (with the possible exception of Italy). Getting the turkey’s to vote to put the charismatic Mr Fox in charge of the hen house is one thing. Getting them to vote for Christmas is an entirely different matter. And given that leaving sounds a lot like hard work (with the added risk of prison time), most populists would rather not bother trying and instead prefer to busy themselves collecting kickbacks and bribes.

But even if populist eurosceptics could drag their country out of the EU, what then? Who are you going to blame when things go wrong? The EU gets a lot of blame for things because its a cheap shot. They are a large faceless bureaucracy and an obvious scapegoat who isn’t going to fight back. And this cuts to the heart of populism, which is basically about avoiding responsibility and blaming others for your own misfortune.

The economy collapses because you voted in a bunch of incompetent politicians who borrowed heavily and spent like sailors on shore leave? Not our fault, its the fault of the EU (who bailed you out, how mean of them forcing billions into your country’s coffers!)….oh and of course recently arrived migrants, its their fault too. Can’t get a council house? Not your fault for voting Tory (who basically stopped building them in the 80’s and sold off most of the stock) its immigrants and refugees coming in and taking them (actually they are no less likely to get one than a Brit). Late for work? Not your fault, its those lazy immigrant bus drivers….and EU elf N’ safety….somehow! This is what populism is all about, blame somebody else for everything that’s gone wrong. Don’t take responsibility for anything.

So if you are out of the EU, and you’ve deported all the migrants, who are you going to blame when things go wrong? Now granted, its pretty clear Johnson’s plan is to blame the EU for the UK’s post-brexit economic misfortune. However the major threat from brexit isn’t the short term dip afterwards, its the longer term consequences. Its going to be a bit rich 5-10 years after leaving for the Tories to still be blaming the EU every time a UK firm goes bust or for a drop in life expectancy. At some point the penny drops and the odds are the UK will simply re-join the EU under terms less favourable than it currently enjoys.

And this is why, despite all the bravado from continental eurosceptics, there’s been no other attempts to leave the EU. They have better things to do with their time than destroy their own parties and getting themselves arrested. We end up with a cat and dog like situation. The cat and the dog don’t like each other, but they just find a way to get along with one another. Its the same thing with the eurosceptics and the EU. The eurosceptic little doggie is quite happy to bark all day, but his bark is worse than his bite. After all it wasn’t Farage who called the referendum, but Cameron (Farage was quite happy to stay on as an MEP and collect his generous salary).

The only reason therefore the UK is posed to leave without a deal….and the chaos and blow back that will inevitably follow, is because of its broken political system. Leave or remain, these flaws will still exist, even if brexit is somehow swept from the political agenda. This is why reform of the UK’s entire political system is what parliament should be devoting its time towards, rather than arguing over brexit. For it is a symptom rather than the disease itself.

News roundup

Unfit for office…or opposition!


I would argue that that there are two problems with British politics right now. Firstly a radicalised Tory party, whose broken every one of their pro-brexit promises, that seems to be committed to some sort of pointless and unconstitutional brexiter banzai charge. Which they will of course blame the EU for (as well as migrants and anyone who voted remain). But part of the problem is also a lack of effective opposition.

Labour have been facing the biggest open goal in politics for 3 years now, but have actually gone backwards in terms of support. And this is largely why we’ve gotten to this stage where no deal could be seriously considered. If labour were providing effective opposition, going up in the polls and largely seen as a government in waiting, there is no way the cabinet and Johnson’s ghoulish minions would even be considering no deal.

Case in point, given that an election after a vote of no confidence isn’t guaranteed to work, as there might not be time remaining to hold one (or time afterwards to form a government and do something). And that’s assuming labour’s poor poll ratings don’t see them get annihilated. So the sensible solution proposed by a number of pro-remain MP’s is a government of national unity to sort out brexit one way or another (revoke article 50 or a 2nd referendum) then dissolve itself and call an election.

This government would be led by an interim PM, likely a veteran politician with some prior ministerial experience (this would reassure allies and businesses that there was a safe pair of hands at the helm who wasn’t going to do anything crazy). Such a unity government would have a very narrow mandate beyond brexit. All they can do is slap a few band-aids on public services to undo the damage the Tories have done. Anything more radical (re-nationalising the railways, major tax or welfare reform, etc.) won’t be possible as they’ve have no electoral mandate, no guaranteed support in parliament, insufficient parliamentary time and the lords would just block it anyway. So it would be something of a thankless task. Likely candidates for this role include Dominc Grieve, Anne Soubry, Vince Cable or Tom Watson.

But no, instead Corbyn is insisting that he’ll be PM (why? ego one assumes). Indeed he’s implied that labour won’t even negotiate with the other parties, but try to force through a minority government. His deputy McDonnell even suggested (and I’m hoping he was joking) that Corbyn would go to the palace and demand to be made PM if they win a no confidence vote (so basically he’s going to launch a one man coup d’etat…presumably armed with a cucumber from his allotment). It would be funny if it wasn’t so serious.

Basically this means one of two things. That Corbyn and his cabal really are so deluded that they think that they can just walk in and take over the government, wave a magic wand and put everything right in the world….while ignoring completely the impending crisis of brexit and its aftermath. Honestly Trump seems to have a better grasp of politics than Corbyn et al. And they are ignoring polling which suggests they will at best lose dozens of seats, or worse, potentially finish 4th behind the lib dems and brexit party. The last thing he wants now is an election.

The alternative theory is that Corbyn is really so desperately anti-EU that he’s willing to put the country through a no deal brexit shredder and scupper his chances of ever becoming PM to achieve it. If he sabotages any effort to form such a unity government then a no deal brexit will have his grubby paw prints all over it. And you can be guaranteed this will be pointed out to voters next election.

And in another facepalm moment, McDonnell also suggested that labour won’t block a 2nd indy ref in Scotland. While this is a sensible strategy, it was a grave error last time for labour to whip its members and MP’s into backing remain, but its the sort of position that needs to be rolled out tactfully. You’d only want to adopt it once it was clear a referendum was imminent and use it as a bargaining chip to make sure the SNP behave themselves (i.e. they don’t go the full Cambridge Analytica).

Inevitably the right wing media reported it as labour is in favour of Scottish independence (no they aren’t that’s not what he said). And because he’d not cleared this with the Scottish labour party leadership first, it got a very angry reaction from the Scottish wing of the party.

All in all it shows us that Corbyn’s cabinet is as dysfunctional, factional and chaotic as the one in the white house. He’s completely delusional, has no clue what he’s doing and seems to have no real goal other than making sure brexit happens at all costs, even if it destroys his party to achieve it.

Dragging the queen into brexit


In another example of how utterly dysfunctional both the main parties have become, there’s the fact that both seem determined to drag the queen into the debate about brexit. Either by getting her to intervene in the selection of who is PM, the date of any election (till after brexit happens) or by asking her to suspend parliament (i.e. suspend democracy) and force through a no deal. This is politically very dangerous. The queen, like any head of state (America being the exception) is supposed to stay out of politics (and this I’d argue is the flaw in the American system). As it can get very messy very quickly if she does get involved.

For example, let’s suppose she backs Boris and a no deal brexit. That is going to upend the lives of millions of people. Families will be split up, millions of jobs will be lost, the UK’s GDP will go down but 6-10%, there might be food and medicine shortages (we might even run out of bog roll!). And any issues with the NHS or medicines means people will die. And all of that the Queen will now be responsible for, with it all played out on the 24 hr news cycle.

So the royals will now have millions of angry voters who’d be wanting a referendum alright. But not on re-joining the EU, but on whether to packing her off back to Saxony. We’d be in the same situation the royals were in after Princess Diana died. And the only got through that thanks to Tony Blair. Boris by contrast will quickly toss her under the first passing bus to save his skin. And Corbyn has co-signed bills looking to remove the queen. And such a train wreck could re-invigorate the republican movements in Canada, Australia and NZ, who might also have similar votes.

So the trouble is that once she makes one decision she’s going to have to make more. This is exactly the sequence of events that led to past royal dynasty’s failing or kings loosing their heads (recall it was proroguing parliament where Charles I troubles started).

So for example, what if Scotland wants independence? Let’s suppose she backs Boris and blocks an official referendum. The danger is that if SNP can demonstrate enough support in an unofficial poll, then they can force their way out of the union by just making themselves such an pain in the ass that the rest of the UK throws them out (e.g. they could ask Scots to refuse to pay UK income taxes, refuse to hand over oil or VAT revenue, run up massive debts on the UK’s credit card then refuse to service those debts, organise wild cat strikes which lead to power cuts and gas shortages in England in the middle of winter, etc.).

All the queen will have done is ensure that Scotland becomes a republic (as Ireland and India did) and it increases the chances of a disorderly Scottish exit. Or worse, the Scots might take a leaf out of Norway’s book and invite some member of the royal family to take the crown of Scotland. Meaning there would be two British monarchs and allies (such as Canada, Australia and NZ) will have to decide who to back. The one whose kingdom is let by racists and disintegrating largely due to actions taken by her (and her heir apparent is Charles remember). Or some dashing new Scottish king (Harry and Megan maybe?), whose kingdom sits on lots of oil, has whisky galore and is applying for EU membership.

The sensible thing for her to do in such a situation would be to either respect the poll but ask the SNP to negotiate an orderly exit (which would be a bit rich given how she supported no deal with the EU), or ask for a 2nd official poll (after she helped Boris block a 2nd EU referendum) or call for some sort of compromise (Devo Max). Of course while this would preserve her crown, it would put her on a collision course with the PM and the cabinet.

Or how about a UK-US trade deal? If that goes through after brexit, farming and manufacturing will be devastated, the NHS sold off and we’ll be eating chlorinated chicken (meaning more people die). So she might have to get involved in that or block it entirely. Putting her on collision course with the government. And the same equally applies if she backs remain. She ends up with lots of angry people beating down her door.

My point is that both Corbyn and the Tories seem to think the queen is some sort of jack in the box. They can take her out of the box, get her to sign a national death warrant and they climb back in her box and stay there. But of course, she can’t. Its impossible to predict what way she’d go (and my advice to her would be, stick to protocol, throw it back at parliament and if they can’t decide, put to some sort of public vote). And once she gets involved in politics its very difficult to untangle her from it.

The channel hop

A French man recently demonstrated a flying platform (basically an enlarged drone) and flew it over the English channel. As Trevor Noah pointed out, you can imagine the reaction of brexiters, they got brexit to keep out the foreigners and next thing you know some flying Frenchman lands on the white cliffs and starts chasing after their daughters.


A flying foreigner, every brexiter’s worst nightmare

But jokes aside, and while this flying platform does have certain limitations, it does show how quickly technology can change. And how that change has many consequences. For example, we can make multiple criticisms of Trump’s wall and the ease with which it can be breached. But its one fatal flaw is it can’t stop planes and aircraft. Yes, you have some chance of stopping illegal migrants at airports….assuming they are dumb enough to tell you they are entering on a tourist visa with no intention of leaving.

Now we’ve gotten to the stage where drones can carry people, that opens up all sorts of possibilities. Notably of Mexican people smugglers at the border offering migrants an air taxi service into the US. Such a drone could carry people several km’s into the US (i.e beyond the zone currently patrolled by border agents), drop them off and then flying back and pick up somebody else. This would negate the wall completely.

This is one of the problems with conservative governments, their inability to see future trends and changes in technology. Hence why they tend to get blind sided by them and their knee jerk reaction is to try and get it banned.

Case in point, when mp3’s and online file sharing first came out the entertainment industry tried to get them banned. They poured millions into anti-piracy ads that were often parodies of themselves. How can we make money off a service that we just give away for free they said?…to which Google, Facebook and You-tube responded, hold our beer….Now streaming is a massive multi billion dollar industry and the main means of distributing media.

The oil industry and its vested interests, promote climate change deniers, even despite the fact that the oil industry is losing money hand over fist, with 50% drop in oil stocks over the last few years, while renewables are a growing industry. The brexiters want to bring back Britain’s trading empire, ignoring how globalised trade in the 21st century works. They also want a 3rd runway and a new terminal at Heathrow, which will involve demolishing several nearby historic villages and subjecting London to more noise pollution. This despite the fact that airlines are ditching their large planes and abandoning the hub and spoke model in favour of smaller planes and more direct flights, largely due to the availability of newer more fuel efficient aircraft (such as the Airbus A350).

This to me just serves to demonstrate the fatal flaw in conservatism. You’ll get a lot of kicking and screaming. They’ll tell you that television, flying, rock and roll music, gay marriage, abortion, gun control or acting on climate change will be a slippery slope to the end times. Yet in the end they are forced by circumstances to adopt it anyway, upon which they’ll conveniently forget their opposition and move on to the next artificial controversy.

UK College goes bust

The UK government has spent quite a bit of time recently promoting private colleges and universities as it attempts to emulate America’s heavily commercialised higher education system. I’ve long opposed this because I know how ridiculously unfair the US system is. It means large sections of the population simply can’t go to uni as they can’t afford it. And even those with better off parents often still leave uni with massive debts that cripple their finances for life.

Of course the other problem with the US model is the frequency at which their universities go bust. Something that’s practically unheard of in Europe. And such bankruptcies have very real and serious consequences, as this news piece on one such failure discusses. Not just to students, but to local businesses and employment. There are some small towns or neighbourhoods in the UK whose economy would implode if the local uni shut down.

And inevitably one of these new colleges, GSM London has now failed. Fortunately, it doesn’t look too bad…suspect any students or staff caught up in this will have a different view on that! But I’m talking about the wider impact. Its in London, so the impact will be dampened somewhat. Hopefully they can all find alternative employers or courses to enrol on. However, it is a worrying sign of the times.

While the UK government has shown a willingness to quietly bailout uni’s in trouble. Much as I predicted, that’s not always possible. They might be in such a state to be beyond saving. Or the creditors, anxious to get their greedy paws on the valuable city centre real estate the uni owns might refuse any bailout and force through a bankruptcy.

And its also worth keeping in mind that government’s plans are to cut tuition fees. Which would be a good idea. Only they aren’t planning to provide any additional funding to universities (so they are expecting that they can just cut their funding by 30%, on top of the drop off in student numbers from the EU and loss of research funding and expect the uni’s to cope). Naturally its been pointed out that this would be disastrous and almost certainly push many universities over the edge. So we might not be so lucky next time.

A most convenient death

Word is that the alleged sex trafficker to the rich and famous, Jeffrey Esptein, has apparently killed himself in his NY cell. Now call me a tinfoil hat wearing conspiracy theorist, but when someone that well connected (Trump, Clinton, Prince Andrew, you name it) magically happens to die, just days before he can be put on trial and such connections were due to be subjected to legal scrutiny (which could have involved said individuals being required to testify in court under oath), well its a little bit suspicious.

Which probably explains why his victims are arguing for the investigations to continue. Perhaps even try him posthumously. And there is a legal precedence for this. But of course, fat chance of that happening! I mean why do you think they killed him/let him commit suicide for in the first place? So they can brush the whole thing under the carpet of course.

Loosing sleep

The Caledonian sleeper is (or perhaps I should say was) one of those hidden gems of UK transport. Its a train service running from London to the highlands of Scotland, with stops in the central belt (and Northern England) along the way. So you can literally go to sleep in London after a night on the town, wake up in Fort William the next morning, grab some breakfast and be on the summit of Ben Nevis before lunchtime.


The Caledonian sleeper works its way across Rannoch Moor in winter

However, the rail companies have long hated it, as it means keeping lines open at late hours, screwing up their maintenance schedules. So they’d like noting better than to cancel it. Unfortunately, as its quite popular, plus its also used by MP’s to travel between their constituencies and London, any talk of cancelling it has been thwarted. So instead they tried to let it whither by not investing in it or just making the service poorer. For example, you used to be able to book half board and share a cabin with somebody else, but they’ve tried to did away with that due to “customer demand” (we are too believe there are customers out there who prefer to pay double for their tickets!).

Well now it seems they’ve figured out a solution. Invest money in the sleeper service. Because nothing in British transport will royally screw something up and make things worse than investing millions of pounds in it. Since this £150 million revamp the service has been dogged by complaints of late or cancelled trains (keep in mind, you are showing up to the station at 23:00, you can’t just wait for the next service, that’s not till the following morning!). Others complain about poor catering, lights being left on all night (which can’t be turned off) and noisy air conditioning.

So it seems like the rail companies will finally get their wish and do away with the sleepers…by trying to make them better! To them their own incompetence is now an asset.

News roundup

Do panic

A few months back the brexiters complained that they wanted the Royal Mail to celebrate brexit by issuing stamps to mark the occasion. Well RM seem to have met them half way by issuing a set of “Dad’s Army” stamps. Clearly someone at RM is trolling the brexiters.


Inevitably perhaps, others have been creating their own versions of potential brexit stamps.



Our Brexit, hallowed be thy name

Meanwhile, back in the mad house, Saint Theresa of Maidenhead May suggested that an extra £20 billion would be available after brexit for the NHS thanks to the “brexit dividend.


This was met with incredulity by many. At the time of the referendum when they made similar claims, it was pointed out that the UK only really spends about £8 billion on its EU membership, once farm subsidies, rebates, research funding, structural funds and other things Brussels pays for are taken into account. Of course the implication would be that, much as I warned might happen prior to the referendum, this could indicate that the Tories do not plan to pick up the tab for these bills. Farm subsidies will end in March 2019, the fishermen and deprived communities in Wales, Scotland and Cornwall will see their lifeline cut off and universities will see research budgets slashed, with a knock effect to the many high tech start ups who depend on that research funding to get them off the ground.

And there’s the not so small matter that the UK will be stuck, not with a brexit dividend, but a brexit deficit. There’s the exit bill the UK will need to pay, £40-50 billion net (depending on rebates and currency exchange differences, since its calculated in euro’s). And then there’s the economic cost of undertaking brexit (about 3-7% of GDP, best guess £72 billion).

Plus, what do you think the EU does with all of that cash? They spend it on hiring civil servants to administer all the EU regulations, that May is trying to squeeze into UK law. It was improper regulation on the British end that led to the Grenfell tower fire. In China, there’s a controversy over baby formula, leading to shelves being emptied in Australia because some mum’s don’t trust the Chinese stuff anymore. So regulations are something you neglect at your peril. And the three immediate areas that will need tackling are nuclear materials, medicines and food safety…..so no pressure then! And in any event the conditions of any trade deal, be it with the EU or other parties, will need to include a budget to account for paying for the regulation of that deal.

In short, never has a UK Prime Minster said something so inaccurate since Lord North told parliament that the Americans loved being part of the UK so much, they’d happily pay a bit more for tea. But as I’ve said before, brexit is now the state religion of the UK.

While May, perhaps sensing what she was implying, did backtrack and mubble something about a tax rise to pay for the extra money until the (non-existent) dividend kicks in. But even this is worrying. Basically what she said was that the Tory party is abandoning its manifesto and sacrificing it on the altar of brexit. And while more money for the NHS isn’t a bad thing, its almost certain that this new tax burden will fall on the middle and low income earners (this is the Tories after all, which is more likely, they give up smoked salmon once a week to pay for hospitals, or they get the plebs to pick up the tab?).

Brexit is now to the UK what Juche is to North Korea. The excuse upon which anything can be sold. A tax rise? Its for brexit (but don’t worry we’ll pay you back later). An end to farm subsidies? Privatise the NHS? Strip workers of their right to strike? Its all to make sure brexit works!

Of course the problem with this attitude is it means they just can’t understand why for example Rolls Royce or JLR would suddenly want to move thousands of jobs out of the glorious thousand year reich British empire mark II (because they are companies with shareholders perhaps?). Nor can they understand why the EU are being such assholes and threatening to cut the UK off from intelligence data and the European arrest warrant (because they have this thing in Europe called “rights” and “laws” and the UK will join Belarus and Kazakhstan as the only non-signatory to the ECHR). In other words, they are blind to the consequences of their actions. Like the suicide pilots flying their plane into the world trade centre they cannot see the obvious insanity of what they are doing and genuinely think they’ll be going to a better place.

Lock em up….by which we mean the kids

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In between picking fights with China, Trump has been busy locking up kids in cages after tearing them out of their the parents arms (what’s the bet he’ll put Roy Moore in charge!). Conditions at the facility where the kids are detained, referred to as the dog kennel, are described as inhumane and equivalent to a prison. Experts warn of the emotional scaring this will inflict. Parallels have been made to concentration camps and the detention of Japanese Americans during world II.

The day you know you’re living in a fascist state is the day you hear your justice secretary (soon to be named ministry for state security) deny he’s running concentration camps. The irony is one of the justifications of the Alex Jones mob for opposing Obama was that he was black was planning to set up FEMA concentration camps.

Oh, and for good measure the US is quitting the UN human rights council. Because clearly the words “human rights” and “America” should not be sharing the same sentence right now, even Trump can figure that one out.

Let’s be clear if you voted for Trump (or voted for a third party in a swing state, which is basically the same thing under the US system) then this is what you voted for. And frankly it shouldn’t surprise anybody, its exactly what was warned would happen if Trump was elected. At least now when reading the history books and you wonder, how could the Germans vote for Hitler, well now you know how and why. And part of the reason why international pressure failed to contain him, wasn’t because Neville Chamberlain was a weak and naïve leader. It was because he was leading a divided Britain, which had more than a few (Daily Mail reading) fascists of its own, who couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about.

Trump, upon realising that this might not look so well, immediately tried to dodge responsibility, blaming the democrats, the immigrants themselves and pretty much anyone else he could think of. Its worth noting that something similar played out during the holocaust, the Yugoslav civil war and the Rwandan genocide, in which often those in senior roles were separated from the actual atrocities and generally tried to avoid taking responsibility for such things, leaving it to a handful of fanatical racist nut cases to do the dirty deeds. This of course made it so much easier to order more of the same and treat as mere bureaucratic exercise. Forget the lessons of history and they will repeat themselves.

The really big short

Trump’s tariff policy has sent stock markets crashing to the point where all of this years gains have been wiped out. And the main losers won’t be in Wall street, they’ll be ma and pa firms across the US, as well as many ordinary Americans who are about to see their living costs rise in response to these tariffs (you’ll be paying them, not the Chinese). It sounds like typical Trump. He’s not doing it because he thinks its a good idea, its an action driven purely by ego…..

Or is it? Given that Trump has not actually fully separated himself from his businesses (which is illegal btw), we need to consider the possibility that he’s colluding with others, and doing a little bit of insider trading. Its possible to profit from a falling market by shorting the market. If you can correctly guess that the stock of a particular company is going to fall, you can bet on the share price declining (by borrowing shares, selling them at a high price and then buying them back later after the price has fallen).


However, shorting is a risky business. Its the equivalent of betting that Brazil or Germany were going to lose their opening matches. Now while this will happen occasionally (as indeed happened to Germany….guess they won’t be eating Taco’s for a while!), but the odds are you’ll be wrong more often than you are right. And to make matters worse its possible with short selling to lose more than your original investment if the market moves against you. Hence most traders will often hedge their bets (basically bet both ways, but slightly bet higher one particular way). This reduces the risk, but also the profit margin.

Of course if you have access to insider information, e.g. you are the president and you know there’s a big tax cut coming, or you’re going to impose tariff’s on the EU, then change your mind and then impose them anyway. A trader with advanced knowledge of this could easily adopt short positions and profit considerably from this.

But, not only is it illegal for a president to be in any way linked to these sorts of deals, but insider trading is also illegal and for good reason. Because if you get it wrong (and markets can be difficult to predict, even if you have access to insider information) things can go from bad to catastrophic pretty quickly. Consider how rogue trader Nick Leeson managed to lose over £800 million, wiping out Barings bank.


Indeed one has to look at Trump’s real estate losses in a new light. People laugh and say oh Trump is such a loser he can lose money running a casino. How can you do that? I mean people literally walk into a casino and hand over their money!

Well, not if your running a casino skim operation. Its possibly that Trump, under pressure from his mob connections, was deliberately running the joint into the ground. Its just they miscalculated. Normally you skim just a little off the top, but not enough anyone will notice, nor that might risk bringing down the racket. But Trump was such a balloon head, or he and his co-conspirators just got too greedy, they managed to bleed the place dry. Which doesn’t bode well if this same lot are at the helm of the US economy.

Enabling fascism

Speaking of fascists, in Italy the populist horseshoe government is split because one of their leaders, looking to emulate Trump, wants to build his own concentration camps….sorry I mean happy camps (I’m sure they’ll come up with a more PC name!). He also wants to count Roma gypsies and presumably make them go around with little stars on them, I mean nothing bad ever happened from doing that. He’s also suggested that an anti-mafia journalist, who criticised him should have his police protection removed.

This has all come as a bit of a shock to a number of 5S voters. But what should it? You enabled a bunch of fascists and helped them into power, now they are enacting fascist policies. What did you think was going to happen? They were going to go door to door handing out milk and cookies?

Its possible that this might bring down the horseshoe government a little earlier than was expected. Which I’d consider a good thing…..if it weren’t for opinion polls suggesting a likely win for the Northern League and Forza Italia (Mr Bunga Bunga’s outfit).

The Glasgow school of art fire

In Scotland the Glasgow School of art burnt down. Designed by Rennie Mackintosh, the Mac, is to Glasgow what the Casa Mila is to Barcelona. This fire occurred just four years after another fire, which destroyed the college library, which was in the process of being rebuilt. Incidentally, lost in the story about the art school fire, was the fact that another important building, the neighbouring ABC theatre, had also burnt down after the fire spread to it.


Two fires in the space of four years is more than bad luck. Clearly there’s something up with the building in terms of fire safety. My understanding is the contractors for the restoration after the previous fire were on site, so they’ll have some questions to answer.


The library of the Glasgow school of art, prior to the fire in 2014

But clearly there’s some issues with fire safety that needs to be addressed. And this is not just a problem for the school of art. There’s been several large fires in older buildings in Glasgow and the basic problem is, they ain’t up to current fire codes and need to be modified accordingly. This article discusses some of the issues, although in the context of post-war era buildings, but much of the same policy should be applied to Victorian and Edwardian era buildings. E.g. fitting external fire escapes (as in New York) and sprinklers, fire resistant barriers, etc.

Meanwhile the question now being asked is whether the art school can be rebuilt. Some suggest it might not be feasible, others feel it is possible. We’ll have to see. There will inevitably be a strong desire from the art community and the Scottish government to rebuild it, but some polls suggest there might be opposition from the public, if it costs too much money.

For the moment, given that its basically now a burnt out shell, the best that can be hoped for is facade retention. Which would have to be undertaken quickly, given that its on a hill and exposed to the winds (it probably won’t survive the winter in its current state). Even then if the building were rebuilt, you’d be rebuilding everything inside that retained facade. And as noted, you’d have to modify the design to account for modern fire codes, which would require considerable modification from the original. So it would be more of a replica, rather than the real thing.

The thinking wing nut’s troll

The Toronto academic Jordan Paterson has been in the news recently, largely thanks to an encounter on Channel 4 news earlier this year, which has made him something of an intellectual hero for the alt-right. However, in truth he’s just a slight better inform right wing troll, who engages in many of their same tactics (gish gallop’s, contrarian arguments, weasel words, etc.)

Take this example where he attempts to argue that much as the right is basically anti-liberalism ID politics (his alt-right followers only hearing what they want to hear will have no doubt filtered that out) that the left is basically the same. That many on the left for example only support social welfare programs that they’ll never benefit from due to a similar commitment towards ID politics.

This position combines a number of contrarian arguments based on a falsehoods. It relies on the myth that working class people tend to vote conservative, and its the “champagne socialists” who vote for left wing parties. However, data from both the last UK election and US elections show that those who are working class tend to vote for left wing parties. When those on right try to claim the opposite, they are often forced to use weasel words statements (e.g. focus on white men over 40 in specific states).

But certainly it is true that a certain portion of those on higher incomes do vote for left wing causes. As I happen to be one of those, although real ale socialist would be more accurate, I can tell Mr Patterson my views have nothing to do with ID politics. Its because I understand that I might end up needing that social welfare safety net myself someday. No matter how hard working you are, or how well paid, all it takes is one accident, cancer diagnosis, bankruptcy of your employer or misadventure and suddenly you’re in a world of trouble.

For example (and this is just one of many examples I could give), I know a guy back in Ireland, hard worker, used to lead scouting groups, took a fall at work one day. He seemed to be fine after a few days, but as the months and years passed he developed ever worse back problems (not unusual for these to take time to surface) and eventually he had to give up work. Now if we take the right at its word, he should be dragged to the side of the street and left to die just because he had the misfortune to have an accident that wasn’t his fault (should you wonder why he hasn’t sued, his employer went bust during the crash and it was only a small building firm anyway, there won’t have been any money to sue for).

That’s all it takes to ruin your income. I wonder if Mr Paterson has paused to consider what would happen to him if he, or one of his relatives, were to fall ill and need expensive medical treatment, which his HMO wasn’t willing to cover (pre-existing conditions and all that). In fact I know of a lecturer who found himself in this very situation. A relative got ill and he had to drop everything, give up his well paid job and fly home to Pakistan. Now while last I heard he’d gotten a part time job over there, but I’m going to hazard a guess its paid a lot less than a lecturing post in the UK. And given his likely outgoings I suspect he’s probably only just about managing. Voting in favour of social welfare is not ID politics, its basic common sense.

Indeed perhaps more the question is why is it that some, notably those over 40’s blue collar workers don’t vote for left wing parties. I would argue that this stems from a long instilled ideology of rugged individualism (you’re considered less of a man if you ask for help), as well as the usual right wing lies and propaganda. And more crucially this tendency does tend to be growing (while those on lower income tended to vote overwhelmingly for left wing candidates by at least 80/20, now its closer to 60/40). So its more a sign of desperation and frustration than meaning an increase in support for the politics of the right. Which perhaps isn’t surprising given how the right doesn’t really have a political philosophy anymore, other than “anti-liberalism”.


The calm rational logic of Trump voters

But either way, the only real difference between Mr Paterson and Alex Jones (and they are both believers in the paranormal, living on wing nut welfare, which kind of makes his point regard social welfare more than a little hypocritical), is that Paterson knows how not to look and sound like a nut, even when he’s saying pretty crazy things.

The Wakanda conundrum

I came across an interesting little video on youtube, which discuss the Wakanda conundrum. For those who didn’t see the movies (Black Panther, age of infinity), or don’t read comic books, Wakanda is a small yet highly advanced African country which has kept itself hidden from the world for many centuries (for reasons we won’t get into right now). It owes its formation to the arrival of a meteorite from space made of a strange and nearly indestructible metal. As a result its now extremely wealthy and century’s ahead of the rest of the world technologically.

So what’s the problem? Well there’s simply no way such a society could exist. No matter how valuable this resource is, without trading with the outside world (and thus sharing ideas and technology) they’d struggle to figure out how to exploit it. And without trading this resource, they’d never be able to earn any cash from it and thus never be able to buy in the stuff they’d need to exploit the resource and develop their economy. In short the economic policy of Wakanda is basically the same as that of North Korea, and they ain’t exactly the richest country in the world, nor the most advanced (I’m sure Trump would tell you differently tho!).

And speaking of which, the government of Wakanda is an absolute monarchy, with kings picked by barbaric fights (okay, if you’ve ever seen a bunch of politicians fighting over whose in charge, its not that much different maybe). The problem with such a system is all it takes is one bad king to ruin everything. And essentially, that’s the plot of the Black Panther film, but they ignore the consequences of that.

Then there’s the matter of the so-called “resource curse”, which means that small countries with valuable resources can sometimes end up worse off than countries without any. While this doesn’t apply in every situation, Iceland and Norway or Bahrain, for example. But generally countries tend to only avoid the resource curse so long as they’ve got open borders, good trade and a reasonably free society and competent government. Inevitably Wakanda would hit the buffers sooner or later and descent into a corrupt, autocratic mess.

And the other problem with having resources is it tends to draw attention to you. African dictators surrounding Wakanda, not to mention western colonists (notably the Belgians), would soon learn of it and be very quick to swoop in and try to take over the country. And given how in the last film the Wakandian army got the snot kicked out of them by a large pack of dogs, I doubt they’d be able to hold off an invasion, regardless of how advanced their technology.

Uber scooters

A number of silicon valley based firms have begun to set up dockless bike and scooter hire schemes. The logic is, rather than the traditional bike hire schemes, where bikes are picked up and dropped off at designated spots (which can mean trucks rolling around transporting bikes from docking station to docking station). Instead, the system is more free flowing. You pick up the bikes wherever you find one (a mobile phone app directs you to the nearest one) and then leave it wherever you are when you’re finished. Simple!


So what’s the problem? Well many of these schemes are being set up by companies without the support of local governments and councils. This is causing all sorts of problems, from people riding bikes and electric scooters on pavements, then abandoning them in the middle of the pavement, where they represent a trip hazard, particularly for blind people.


I think this is a good idea that needs to be developed more, indeed I’d be curious to see if its possible to marry this idea with current car sharing schemes. However, clearly there needs to be some sort of regulation. Frankly the operators of these schemes are lucky councils didn’t just classify all of their scooters as litter and bin them (then fine the company for waste disposal), which is actually what happened in China. No doubt these rules would specify where the bikes and scooters could be used and that where they can be left (if not at designated docking points, then off the pavement and parked neatly). Presumably a system of fines imposed (and/or penalty points) on those who break the rules might bring some discipline to the situation. So it would be a good idea for these firms to start working with local authorities, rather than trying to go the whole uber.

So long and thanks for all the fish

The one shining reason for brexit we were told was the fish. The fish, dear god will someone think of the fish! Those poor fishermen, Farage said as he cried crocodile tears. Well, aside from the fact that this ignored the realities of how trade deals work, and that the Tories have already screwed the fishermen over, there’s a more specific problem – the fish are moving.

As a result of climate change North sea cod and north Atlantic cod are migrating northward out of UK waters and into Scandinavian waters. You would think the Scandinavians would be delighted about this, but they aren’t. Their preferred fish is the Arctic cod and the increasing presence of North Atlantic cod is not only making fishing difficult for them, but threatens the long term viability of their industry. While I’m not much of a fish eater, I’m told by those who do that there’s a distinct difference in taste between the two types and that as a result, the Arctic cod is considered a more valuable product. So you can see the problem. Its issues like this that underline the need for action on climate change.

One possible temporary fix would be for the Faroese, Greenland, Norwegian and Icelandic governments to agree to let EU boats into their waters (for a fee of course) to catch the North Atlantic cod and basically take em back down south. Of course given that the UK is leaving the EU, its inevitable we’ll be cut out of any such deal. Given that all are part of the single market, its going to make a lot more sense to deal with the EU than the UK. So it looks like the UK isn’t even going to get a smoked kipper out of post-brexit fishing deals.

Free range parenting

I got into a discussion on another blog recently about how parents are becoming increasingly controlling of their kids, so called helicopter parenting, and how this wasn’t a good idea. Well now its official. A study from America suggests that overly controlling parents can lead to behaviour problems.

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I’d argue the problems go much further. We end up with students in university, who are used to having every little obstacle swept out of their way and thus haven’t learnt how to strike a work life balance or think for themselves. Its long been my observation, as both a student and a lecturer, that students from the strictest parenting background tend to be the ones who become complete tear away’s in uni.

They’ll show up in the first week of term dressed like a Mormon, or in full islamic dress, but by the end of the first semester they’re complete party animals (for whom breakfast consists of peeling last night’s pizza off their face before eating it), who start missing classes and falling behind. By contrast those from more “liberal” backgrounds (who’ve already learnt how to manage their time and say no to a night out) are able to maintain focus. And they tend to be the ones more likely to drop out, not least because it can sometimes turn out that their parents picked the course and uni for them, which turned out to be something (or somewhere) they didn’t want to study.


In contrast to this is so-called free range parenting. Rather than for example, walking the kids to school, parents take the view, well he/she knows what time classes start, they know how to get there, so its the kids responsibility to get up on time and get there. If they don’t, its going to be a steep learning curve. While there are merits to this, there are problems with it, not least of possible legal issues.

But my view is that parents need to think of the long term impact of what they are doing. While you have to have some rules and boundaries with kids, if you don’t give them some level of independence, they’ll never learn it. Then you are stuck with them living at home and you have to get them evicted. Birds won’t leave the nest if they don’t learn how to fly.

The Trouble with AirBnB


There’s been a massive increase in the number of spare rooms,or even entire flats, offered for rent on AirBnB, across the UK and worldwide. We’ve recently identified several within the building where I live. However this is cause for concern, because there are quite a number of issues with AirBnB. Put rather bluntly, if you are offering rooms on AirBnB you might be breaking the law and you are also possibly jeopardising your neighbours financial well being.

So what’s the problem? This clip from Adams ruins everything sums up the main arguments against AirBnB. Cracked also reviews the major arguments against it.

But for starters, if you are offering rooms on AirBnB what kind of mortgage do you have? Because if you’ve got a owner occupier mortgage that only allows you, your family and non paying guests to stay in the property. Even with a buy to let mortgage only registered tenants on a long term least (generally more than 90 days) are allowed to stay. If you are renting rooms, or worse the entire flat on AirBnB, then you are almost certainly breaking the terms of your mortgage. In theory if the bank finds out, they could tear up your contract and demand immediate repayment (i.e. you get 30 days to come up with say £100,000 or lose the house!).

And this issue of who is allowed to stay in the property is not some minor bureaucratic point. People tend to prioritise mortgage or rent payments above all else, as they don’t want to end up homeless. So the risk to the bank of you defaulting on a mortgage loan is relatively low, hence why they can get away with offering such a low rate of interest on such a large loan. By contrast hotels and B&B’s are a much more risky business (recall Trump’s four bankruptcies involved exactly these sort of properties). They are much more likely to go bankrupt, hence why they have to put up a higher proportion of starting capital and get charged a higher interest rate. While some banks are starting to offer AirBnB compatible mortgages, they generally involve a higher rate of interest and a larger deposit. So unless you are on one of these mortgages, you are likely to be committing mortgage fraud.


Then there’s the issue of home insurance. Again, home insurance assumes you are either renting (long term) or living in a house you own. AirBnB type arrangements aren’t covered. Some insurers are starting to offer AirBnB compatible policies, but as with the mortgages these cost more than a conventional insurance policy. If you are renting out rooms under AirBnB and you lack an appropriate policy, then you (and any of your guests) are likely to be uninsured and there is very little chance of your insurer paying out in the event of a claim.

Also the above only applies to home insurance. There’s also the issue of getting liability insurance (in case you being sued by a guest if he falls in the bath tub or tumbles down the stairs). Then there’s your block insurance if you are in a larger apartment complex. Hotels and B&B’s have to comply with a long list of safety requirements to be given permission by the local council to operate and too convince any insurer to provide them with cover. e.g. does your building have a sprinkler system? I know mine doesn’t, but I know that in some countries hotels (above a certain floor height) are legally required to have one (and this applies even if the building is a mixed development). Hotels tend to have better security arrangements, CCTV, key cards and codes that expire every 24hrs, security guards, etc.

Hotels aren’t doing all this for fun, they are doing it generally because their insurance policy will be voided if they don’t. e.g. in the UK there are no sprinkler requirements, but your insurer (or fire officer) may insist on expensive modifications (e.g. putting in fire walls and new fire escapes) if you don’t have a sprinkler system.

Now I’m not usually the sort of person to get worked up about health and safety, but this is one situation where the H&S killjoys experts have a point – hotels, B&B and hostels do catch fire, there have been several large and often fatal incidents over the years (e.g. the MGM Grand fire or the Downunder Hostel fire in Australia, hence why the regulations are so strict. And no, small B&B’s aren’t exempt, you still have to comply with at least some minimum level of safety.

This raises the question as to whether, in the event of a claim, would the insurance company pay out. My guess is they’ll probably take it on a case by case basis. If a fire started say in an AirBnB rented property, they’d likely pay out to any of the neighbours effected, but refuse to pay out to the AirBnB owner (so he gets saddled with maybe £50,000 of fire damage and he’s still in debt to mortgage company). If it was an issue nothing to do with any AirBnB property (e.g. the roof caves in), they’d likely just pay out and not ask any questions. However in a scenario where say a large number of flats in a block are AirBnB and say the building burns down, the insurer might well argue that the block was essentially functioning as an illegal hotel, thus invaliding the policy and they are within their rights to refuse to pay out to anyone.

Suffice to say, its hard to say which way things could go, it will likely take a few test cases to sort out. However the implication is that if you’ve got AirBnB owners in your building, there is a risk that you might not be fully insured anymore. So anyone renting rooms via AirBnB is having a potentially detrimental effect on their neighbours. Quite apart from all the other issues with large numbers of people coming and going at odd hours.

And as I mentioned earlier, you generally have to apply for planning permission if you are planning to set up a hotel or B&B. And yes, this applies even if you don’t plan to make any alterations to your building (as you are changing the use of your property). In some parts of the world you will also need to apply for a license of some sort in order to operate a hotel or B&B. And this is not some bureaucratic rubber stamp process. Any application from an AirBnB owner for permission to operate has a very strong probability of being rejected. Why?

Well because, as noted, homes and apartment blocks often don’t comply with the same building codes imposed on hotels. There’s also issues like disabled access, which hotellers have to cater for (newly built apartments also have to have disabled access, but older residential blocks don’t) and possibly parking issues. Then there’s the provision of water, electricity, broadband and public services (e.g. bin collections, access for fire engines and emergency vehicles), which will be based on the assumption that all the apartments in a certain area are domestic properties, not defacto hotel rooms. This is why hotels pay business rates to cover these costs. An Airbnb might also need a different form of TV license to those used by a domestic property.

And speaking of which, you are paying tax on any earnings you make from AirBnB, aren’t you? You’d need to declare this as income on your self assessment tax form (as well as paying those business rates, water charges, TV license, etc.). So its very likely than anyone offering rooms on AirBnB is not paying their taxes in full….like David Cameron’s dad, or Jimmy Carr.

Also the freehold (or leasehold) on many buildings may well prohibit any form of AirBnB like activity (mine forbids the operation of any form of business within the block for example). Getting around this is going to be harder than dealing with the council, as you’d need to get your neighbours or the leaseholder to agree (and they’d either say no or insist on a cut of any of your profits).

Another issue for councils is the fundamental matter that they don’t want all the apartments in a city turned into hotels. This makes it harder for people to buy or rent. If its possible for a landlord to kick out his tenants paying £1,000 a month on a 3 bedroom apartment and then move in AirBnB guests paying £50 a night each (i.e. up to £4,500 per month!) everyone would do it and city centres would be full of AirBnB‘s with nowhere for the people who live there to rent. So AirBnB is contributing to the housing crisis in the UK. Hence it is not unreasonable for the authorities to be resistant. And while some aren’t doing much about it at the moment, a crack down is going to come at some point. Already some cities are starting to take action and my guess is that this is only the start.


Protests against AirBnB by renters facing eviction is a growing problem

Then there are other issues, e.g. lets suppose you are an AirBnB owner and one of your guests refuses to leave at the end of his stay (as has happened on a few occasions already), nor will he pay you anymore. What are you going to do? Drag him out by the scruff of the neck? Okay and then when the cops show up they’ll be putting the cuffs on you (for assault) and letting him back in. In the UK a landlord has no legal right to undertake an eviction. Only the courts can sanction an eviction and it can only be carried out by an agent of the court (e.g. a bailiff). Until your tenant has had his day in court, he remains your tenant, you can’t throw him out or harass him in an effort to try and make him leave, indeed doing so would likely make it harder to secure an eviction.

While yes it is true that certain providers of shorter term accommodation can get around the need for a court order, but they still can’t drag someone out of the building (there is a due process they have to go through as well). And they are operating within a tightly defined legal frame work. As I think we’ve established, any AirBnB owners is likely to be operating in legal limbo and is almost certainly in breach of the law. So it would be up to the courts to decide. While they would almost certainly authorise an eviction, that could take weeks. And one wonders what the court will make of someone admitting under oath to operating an illegal hotel, in violation of planning laws, building codes, while simultaneously committing tax fraud, insurance fraud and mortgage fraud.

And note that we are talking about the UK here. UK law blatantly favours the landlord, unsurprising in a country where the landlords and the landed gentry have been making the laws for several centuries. In certain US states or in Europe the legal situation is very different. It can take months, sometimes years to evict someone.

As for AirBnB guests they have to consider the risks they are taking. For example, what do you really know about the person you are renting off? There’s already been a number of clients who’ve been scammed by rogue landlords and con artists. You might find the room you’ve been offered is well below the standards, or even dangerous. There’s even been guests who’ve died during their stay at an airbnb (due to poor safety standards or carbon monoxide poisoning). You might find your host suddenly cancelling on you days before you travel. Note that a recent crack down by authorities in London caused many to lose their bookings. This link includes a few tales of woe from Airbnb guests and providers.


And this brings us to the racial profiling. About the one thing you will know about your AirBnB guests or hosts is what race he is, as he will provide either a photo or a short video. Trouble is you can’t really tell a lot from that. You’re host could be fine, or he could be Begbie from Trainspotting, or an axe murderer on the run from Eastern Europe whose previous premises was the inspiration for the movie Hostel. As a result this has let to accusations of racial profiling or profiling by social class by both hosts and guests.

Certainly, the fact is that the law, factors, insurers and mortgage companies haven’t quite caught up with events. Once they do, they’ll likely re-draft laws and policies to accommodate things like AirBnB. However, this will almost certainly come at a price. AirBnB owners will suddenly find it costs a lot of money and hence there’s a reason why hotels charge £100 a night for a room (because that’s about what it costs to pay off all those bills!) and suddenly AirBnB isn’t the brilliant money making scheme they’d thought (much like Uber). Also changes to the law, while bringing AirBnB the right side of the law, they will probably allow more leeway for AirBnB operators to be blocked from operating, if for example other residences in a block object to it.

And inevitably further crack downs will come at some point, both by the authorities and perhaps private investigators operating on behalf of insurers and mortgage companies. And woe to any AirBnB owner who gets caught in this dragnet.

Festive catch up

Great balls of fire!
For Hogmanany I went to see the Fireballs in Stonehaven, best free show in Scotland in my view!…well aside from when I used to live opposite a police station in Glasgow! There was a lot of hanging around waiting, but of course this meant I could try the local delicacies…such as deep fried Mars bar. Incidentally, there’s a dispute at the moment between Stonehaven and Glasgow as to who invented the deep fried Mars bar….only in Scotland could they argue over something like that! These culnary habits also explains why there was an ambulance on standby…not to deal with burn victims but someone getting a stroke from a deep fried mars bar!

Anyway, after the customary bag-piping, the “swingers” arrived (yes they’ve heard all the jokes, you could say I was at a swingers party :DD, the old couple are literally the oldest swingers in town :roll:…), they all went down to the dockside, having the balls lit just before midnight and parading out, starting to swing them just after the stroke of midnight, they then went around the high street swinging, while those of us watching tried not to get burnt! Checking your eyebrows are still intact is customary! After swinging with the fireball multiple lengths of the high street, they would go to the dock side and toss them into the harbour. With the last swinger heading for the water, the whole crowd would follow him and then sing auld-lang-syne, after which there was fireworks. Great night!

Carrauntoohil Dangers
I’d been back in Ireland for Christmas itself. It’s customary for a lot of people in Cork and Kerry to climb Carrauntoohil, Ireland’s highest mountain, on St Stephen’s day (what brit’s call Boox’in dai).

It was pretty wet so as we made our way up the devil’s ladder, which is the main tourist route up the mountain . We were literally climbing a waterfall with the amount of water coming down the gully! Take two bottles into the shower? no I climbed the devils ladder! :))

However, as neither I nor my dad had been up this way for a while it became apparent that the devils ladder is getting downright dangerous 88|. There’s lots of loose rock and increasingly a lot of large boulders towards the top. Some of the boulders being easily car sized in some cases and not attached to the mountain any more. In other words the only think holding them in place is friction and the weight of lots of smaller rock below….which is gradually being eroded by walkers. Eventually, there’s going to be very large rockfall in the devils ladder and I won’t want to be standing in it when that happens.

You may enquire, why if it’s so dangerous isn’t someone from the national park authorities putting up a cordon, or taking some sort of action? e.g. via ferrata the route, blast away the larger boulders, etc.. Well because inexplicably the highest mountain in Ireland isn’t within the boundaries of the National Park. The summit and its approach route up Hags Glen is on privately owned land. The summit itself is owned by three local farmers, with the land below a mix of commonage. Naturally, its asking a bit much to expect a couple of poor Kerry farmers to take on this sort of responsibility or expenses.

As I pointed out in a prior post there is a major problem in Ireland in that much of the country’s wild areas are technically in private ownership, with no right to roam and big question marks about who is responsible for maintaining things.

There was, for example, another safety issue for several years further down in Hag’s glen, where tourists and walkers would have to cross a series of rivers. These crossings were very dangerous when the rivers were in a spate, and there was at least one fatal accident here. With the co-operation of local land owners, the council, Kerry mountain rescue and the Swiss crane company Liebherr (who operate a factory in nearby Killarney as well as owning a number of nearby hotels) bridges were eventually put up. However, this took a good few years to sort out and relied on the generosity and co-operation of many different groups. I would argue, the current situation is too pressing to wait several years.

One obvious short term solution would be to direct people away from the ladder to a footpath that runs up the flanks of the mountain just to the left of the ladder. However, finding the beginning and start of this path (often called “the zig-zag’s”) is a bit tricky. Indeed the only reason why my dad and I were in the devil’s ladder was because we couldn’t find the start of the zig-zag’s path, even tho I’ve been up and down that way several times before!

You may enquire, why hasn’t a sign been put up to direct people? Well several people have done that, one guy even went up a few years ago with a tin of paint and marked a few spots at key points, only for any signs to be taken down again, or marks on rocks washed away. There’s a number of hillwalking puritans who want to preserve what they see as the “wild” nature of the mountain and want to eliminate anything that distracts from that (such as signs or cairns, etc.). A big part of the dispute revolving around routes up Carrauntoohil is the opposition of this lot to anything, even though its needed to help preserve the mountain and protect from erosion that they themselves are contributing towards :crazy:

The excesses of these purtians can be demonstrated by the fact that one of the reasons we were up on Carrauntoohil was to see the restored cross on the summit. Restored? Yes, some flaming vandals went and cut down the cross a few weeks ago. Now while I’d probably kick up stink if someone wanted to put a cross up there now, the fact is this is a monument that’s been on the peak since the 1970’s, and it was erected with the support of the local community, nobody has the right to just go and cut it down. Yet this is the sort of antics we’ve got to put up with in terms of dealing with the devil’s ladder or establishing alternatives, as there’s some crack pots who will oppose anything.

Inevitably, I see two outcomes, either the council or the government steps in and does something about it. Or eventually there’s going to be a large rock fall, possibly leading to some fatalities. This will of course, scare away many tourists (impacting on the local economy) and perhaps lead to the local landlords withdrawing access to the mountain. Keep in mind that while farmers should be safe from being sued in this situation, the legal limbo that exists means some might not want to take the risk anymore if there was a major accident.

Teaching economics after the crash
I heard an interesting piece on BBC R4 recently about something of a student rebellion brewing in several universities over how economics has been taught in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

Several student groups across many prestigious universities have accused their professors of doling out the same tired old economic models and ideology, even though a glance at any newspaper has shown how such economic theories failed and led to the biggest economic crisis of the century. Even Alan Greenspan now accepts there were failings in how neo-liberal economics models functioned, that contributed to the crisis, yet this seems to have sailed over the heads of leading economists in their academic ivory towers. And indeed, lecturer’s who’ve taken up the student’s position and tried to change the syllabus or propose alternatives complain that they’ve been ostracised by their colleagues and even lost their jobs as a result.

This too me is precisely why I’ve long argued that economics isn’t a proper science or subject and that universities or departments engaged should not be given the same credibility as the rest of academia, and indeed that they should be excluded from bodies such as the Russell group. I mean can you imagine what would happen if lecturer’s in aviation, ignored the lesson’s learnt from plane crash investigations and insisted on rolling out the same aircraft designs for 50 years without any changes?

Or how about if car designers failed to learn the lessons of car crashes? As this IIHS crash test shows, vehicle safety has improved massively over the last 50 years, or even just the last ten years, as this video (from Channel five’s “fifth Gear”) shows. And this has come about because in a “real” science such as engineering we challenge old ideas by critically analysing them and coming up with new ones. Look at Dyson, he took the humble vacuum cleaner and pretty much redesigned it from the ground up, often relying on new technologies such as CFD (computational fluid dynamics) to drive the design process.

Similarly to publish in an engineering journal, you need to have some sort of “evidence” to support your claims (experimental data for example) and your paper needs too discuss something unique or new, not trot out the same old clap trap (conference and journal editors know the engineering community aren’t going to waste time reading a paper that tells us something we already know). And outside of certain journals that deal explicitly in issues relating to politics (e.g. energy policy journal) mentioning of the P-word is generally discouraged. And even then, you must frame such discussion as part of a wider technical point.

Economics papers by contrast tend to rely heavily on politics (indeed one particular interpretation of politics), with little if any supporting evidence, other than a lot of maybes and wishful thinking. Reading an economics journal is like reading something published by the church of Scientology. And keep in mind, given that the physical laws governing engineering (e.g. Newton’s laws, Bernoulli’s theorem, Hooke’s law, etc.) are reasonably well established and proven (merely how we utilise them is what’s changed). The bar is set somewhat higher in areas such as physics, chemistry and/or maths, where new discoveries are being made.

So in short if the economics profession wants to be taken seriously, they need to realise that economics history didn’t end with the appointment of Margaret Thatcher and there is a need to reconsider old ideas and maybe try and come up with new ones. Otherwise, as things currently stand an education in economics is less an education and more a £9,000 a year lobotomy.

Another Greek Tragedy
Speaking of economics, we’ve got the story of an election in Greece, which raises the prospect of a euroskeptic party of the left, Syriza, coming to power. The fear is that this could ultimately lead to Greece defaulting on its debts and being kicked out of the Euro, if not the EU.

On the one hand, I’d argue that there is a need to shake the largely neo-liberal dominated EU leadership out of their reverie. As Robert Peston points out (and as I’ve been saying since this crisis started), the major threat to the eurozone isn’t economic, its political. Or more to the point a lack of political will to take certain actions. The threat of Grexit could well be what’s needed to do this, as well as promoting the idea that Dickensian policies of austerity need to be replaced with something more practical, humane and fair.

On the other hand, Syriza, like many populist parties across the EU, have made various outlandish promises that can’t possibly be fulfilled. It’s probable therefore that Syriza will be forced to compromise, row back on their promises, alienating both their supporters and the supporters of other populist parties across Europe. In short, a victory for them could serve to scare straight both the euroskeptics and the Junker Brigade.

On the other hand, what if Syriza don’t back down? Or what if the rest of the EU simply tells them to like it or lump it? This could easily see Greece chucked out of the euro and put on the road to economic ruin. It’s a fact of political history that a radical swing in one direction tends to result in the pendulum swinging to the other extreme, particularly if the party of one extreme screws up royally. So the long term risk is that a Syriza victory could eventually lead to the rise of the neo-nazi Golden Dawn party.

UKIP forgery
A UKIP councillor is going on trial accused of election fraud, relating to forged nomination papers. Again, yet another example of the infighting, backstabbing, sex scandals and institutional corruption that UKIP is increasingly notorious for.

Germany discovers racism
Speaking of which, there’s been a number of protests by islamaphobic’s across Germany, revolving around a group who call’s themselves pinstripe nazi’s “Pegida”. The protestors complain about being “swamped” by Muslim migrants, notably refugee’s fleeing conflict in Syria and the Middle East.

Naturally, these protestors…who obviously skipped the bit of German history between 1932-1945…have been condemned by many leading German’s and derided in the German press. Indeed, in many cases the Pegida protestors were outnumbered by counter demonstrators. It was also pointed out to them that in the few cities were the movement seems to have any sort of serious support, such as Dresden, there are actually very few migrants. About 2.5% of the population of the city are foreign born….and only a fraction of them are Muslim, about 0.1%. In the area’s of Germany where there actually are large Muslim populations, such Berlin, Pegida see’s very little support, suggesting its more a case of a handful of bigots who don’t like seeing dark faces.

Even so, given what we’ve seen happen in other parts of the EU, it’s certainly worrying. But equally, we need to remember why these migrants are in Germany and not say Greece…or back home! The unequal spread of the EU economy needs to be tackled, which means raising up the economic standards of countries in Eastern Europe. Also, the failure of Europe to do anything about the Assad regime or ISIS, as well as the train wreck otherwise known as the Iraq war, is one of the key issues driving all these immigrants towards Europe. Tackling Assad and ISIS would be the best way of stemming the flow of migrants.

What the youth vote wants
Another interesting story from The Guardian discusses a poll by The Observer about the political views and voting intentions of many young first time voters.

While UKIP is high in the polls for other age groups, its clear the youth vote ain’t buying their racist rhetoric. UKIP poll at just 6% here, v’s 19% for the whole of the UK population, while Farage is the least trusted party leader at -51%. Young voters are also pro-EU at 19% to 67%. In terms of party support labour tops the poll at 41% with the Green party third at 19%, behind the Tories at 26%. The lib dem’s (aka the party that promised to abolish tuition fees and then yanked them up to £9k) are perhaps unsurprisingly at 6%. So clearly if the youth vote ran the country, we’d have a labour-green coalition, any EU in/out referendum would be an overwhelming vote to stay in…and the lib dem’s would become the liberal democrat (note lack of plural!).

That said, there is something of a traditionalist trend, with for example a large proportion of young voters supporting the continuation of the monarchy. Also devolution and the breakup of the UK tends to gain little support in this UK wide poll, in contrast to the Scottish independence vote, where a large majority of young voters voted Yes.

So I suppose there is hope for the future, we’ve just got to survive long enough for a couple of the old right-wing blowhard dinosaurs to die off…or lock up their zimmer frames the day of the election!

Windfall of a different nature
A wind turbine collapsed recently in Northern Ireland. Looking at the images, the reports of witnesses (who said that they heard grinding noises going on for hours…yet didn’t think to call someone it would seem :no:) and given that the tower appears largely intact with wind speed low, I would guess its an issue with the brake system failing (or a control failure) setting off a chain of events that led to catastrophic failure. Inevitably this has the anti-wind lobby practically foaming at the mouth.

Of course, it ignores the fact that all energy systems are prone to occasionally disruption, for example this last twelve months or so alone there was a major fire in a coal fired station, a power line failure (thanks to high winds) knocked out two UK reactors, forcing them to shut down for safety reasons, while issues with cracking in ageing nuclear plants forced several of them off line again in August.

Meanwhile in the US, Fracking has led to the contamination of the drinking water of many, not to mention the regular health problems and night-time explosions that come with having a fracking operation as a neighbour. The effects are such that leaks from US fracking operations can now be observed from space.

So like I said, its important we put this incident in context.

Two Reasons for me to learn German

I’ve two reasons to consider whether I should learn German.

Firstly, I bought some beer the other day, labelled “Kindl” which I assumed referred to Crystal beer (i.e. clear). However it seems it meant “light“. Was pretty much beer flavoured fizzy pop!

The other, somewhat happier reason, is that my sister, who is living in Germany, has had a wee baby boy, making me an Uncle :D.

A good start to the year!

Owning a bit of currency

I’ve long been interested in the idea of alternative currencies. Many have long argued that the current status quo of a few “fiat” currencies regulated by central banks for the benefits of government (and the good ol’ boys network), isn’t in the public interest. I posted last year about a system in one US town where local traders have created their own local currency system. I’ve also made several observations about a future Scottish currency, some admittedly a little tongue in cheek. However some recent experiments online with “digital currencies” are worth discussing, as Simon Cox of the BBC reports.

Several groups, many of them libertarians, have within the last few years set up alternative currencies such as the BitCoin, Liberty Reserve, Flooz or beenz. Such currencies would, so the supporters say, be much less prone to interference by either government policy or the hanky panky antics of banks, indeed they would allow independence from both. i.e. People would no longer even need a bank account anymore. Your boss would pay you via a I-phone app and you could then spend it via a digital wallet, something of particular use in places such as Africa, where practically everyone has a phone but few people have bank accounts (and it’s not exactly safe to wander around with lots of cash) and many African countries have extremely unstable currencies.

However many of these online currencies have proven far from stable. Currently of the four listed above only “Bitcoin” is still in business (although a number of others have started up more recently). The dot-com bubble took out the Beenz and Flooz. Liberty Reserve collapsed as a result of some rather serious money laundering charges leading it to be taken down by the FBI. Indeed Liberty Reserve‘s problems have been symptomatic of the problems afflicting all of these alternative currencies.

Bitcoin too has been prone to large daily fluctuations in its value with bubble’s building and market panics (which sort of makes a mockery of its claim to allow independence from government induced fluctuations in exchange rates). There has been the electronic theft of Bitcoins from mobile phones, illegal “mining” of Bitcoins.
And perhaps more worryingly, bitcoin seems to have become a haven for criminals, notably drug dealers, who frequently use the currency to conduct transactions between each other online.

In many respects one could argue that the woe’s afflicting Bitcoin actually serve to counter many libertarian arguments on currencies rather than prove them. I would argue the problems with global currencies at present are a lack of regulation not too much of it. The reality is that the US, UK and Eurozone are in trouble because the relevant governments were asleep at the wheel in the lead up to the financial crisis. They allowed a massive speculative bubble to build, when they should have been intervening (by for example pushing up interest rates or forcing banks to hold more cash in reserve, cracking down on “casino landlords“, etc.) to head it off. But politicians were too afraid of the short term politics (as it would have meant them deliberately slowing down the economy) to do anything.

Similarly the “solutions” to the crisis have been the equivalent of using a band-aid to treat a severed limb. “Quantative Easing” in the UK and US has given some temporary relief but not solved the underlying problems. And QE has ultimately amounted to punishing savers for the crimes of reckless borrowers. Similarly the Eurozone crisis has seen a lack of proper action, and what action has been taken (such as in Cyprus) has arguably made the problems worse in the long term. Indeed some of these actions may have been responsible for building bubbles in “bitcoin” as scared savers sought a way of getting their money out of the firing line.

By way of comparison, many libertarians also favour the gold standard and argue that if economists knew a bit more about it they’d all be in favour of it too. However economists counter that actually they know full well what the gold standard entails, they remember the events leading up to its abolition and that’s why they’re against it! (and that libertarians are poor students of history).

I’m somewhat on the fence about this incidentally, but tend to come down on the side of the economists (even thought there not exactly my kind of people!). Although I did come across this site awhile ago that backed the idea for an energy backed currency (where say every dollar would be backed up by say 10 kWh’s worth of energy).

And similarly Bitcoin and its contemporaries suffers from the same problem, those behind it are letting their ideology run counter to economics. Or as Dr Adam Posen (of the Peterson Institute for International Economics) puts it:

“many of the same right-wing nut jobs who distrust the government viscerally are more likely to believe in bitcoin…it’s those who are angry about being defrauded who are likely to be the ones defrauded again”

Or in another quib:

“…gold is the investment for silly people. bitcoin is gold for people who don’t save…”

The truth is there is a reason why many see the dollar as a safe haven, even thought, thanks to QE, its been weakening in value versus nearly every other major currency since the financial crisis began. But investors are banking on the fact that they believe the US federal reserve will do whatever it takes to defend the stability of the dollar…even if it has to invade countries! (if you believe certain rumours regarding the Iraq war). It’s a case of a dollar in the hand is worth two in the euro bush….and a hundred in the bitcoin hedge!

Unfortunately it would seem that if there’s anything worse than a fiat currency backed up by nothing other than ones trust in “the government”, one has to question how sensible it is to advocate as an alternative a virtual currency that is backed up by nothing at all.

What’s in a kiss?

I’m just getting back into blogging again after a wee break, but one story I missed commenting on was the apparent “protest” against Russia’s anti-gay laws that occurred when two Russian relay winners kissed on the podium. Both quickly denied that this was a protest, or anything of the sort, they were just pleased to have won.

Even so, whether intentional or not, it shows the hypocrisy of such laws, as strictly speaking this arbitrary Russian law would appear to say that any such kissing is illegal only if the parties involved enjoyed a kiss too much. I mean two French guys who are old friends meet and you’ll see more mouth on mouth action than in a Swedish porno, does that count? :??:

Elsewhere a Swedish athlete who painted her fingernails rainbow colours (apparently this was an actual protest) got told off by the IAAF (these are the same types who cosied up to Hitler and the Soviets in the 80’s, good too see they ain’t changed much!). So now it would seem Putin is censoring the colour of women’s finger polish, I wonder if he’s ever seen 1984.

I’m somewhat sceptical of mainstream religions for many reasons but one of them is this apparent hypocrisy over issues such as gay rights. Granted the bible does idly mention its disdain for “that sort of thing”, twice…in passing. However I also recall the bible goes to great lengths to discuss the evils of greed, how one should help thy neighbour, the virtues of charity and good will towards others, how the rich who aren’t charitable are going to have a hard time getting into heaven, and the evils of usury. And were talking pages and pages of the bible here, not one or two little footnotes.

And while, like homosexuality the bible is a little non-specific as to what does and doesn’t count as usury, its not difficult to conclude that what many city traders get up to on a daily basis (short selling, commodity price speculation, etc.) has to count as usury. And we have good evidence of the enormous hardship such activity can create, from causing companies to fail, wiping out people’s pensions and savings, driving up food prices for the very poorest on the planet, etc.

And of course there’s the many wars nations start with one another, flying in the face of Christian doctrine. Yet religions worldwide seem to ignore these inconvenient little facts, doing or say nothing about the crimes of the financial markets and governments against the church, but instead go gay bashing to make up for it.

I mean do they honestly think on the day of judgement when they stand before god and he points out that, say our Republican voting bond trader has broken nearly all ten of the commandments, thou shalt not covent thy neighbours goods, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not worship a false god (these guys clearly worship money above all else!) at the very least….indeed I’d throw in thou shalt not commit murder (G. W. Bush and Tony Blair’s war in Iraq), thou shalt not coven thy neighbours wife (on grounds that they’ve screwed most of us over enough for it to count as adultery :b) and bearing false witness (as much share speculation consists of essentially trying to drive the price a certain way, this has to count as “bearing false witness against thy neighbour”). I mean is the plan at this point to shrug one’s shoulders and say to god, we’ll at least I ain’t gay or nothin!

In short religion, particularly the Christian types seem to adopt a policy of “selective blindness” to a host of pretty serious crimes against their faith from the rich and powerful, but will quite happily pick on some hapless minority group to compensate for it, how very Christian of them!

Road twits

There is a case ongoing on Norwich of a young lady (Emma Way) who ran over a cyclists, then boasted about it on twitter (the twit! :no:) apparently trying to claim it was the cyclists fault because:

“I have right of way, he doesn’t even pay road tax”

Naturally this has been brought to the attention of both Norwich Police, who have since twitted back (nicked via Twitter, what is this world coming too!) that she should come see them as she is now under investigation for leaving the scene of an accident, dangerous driving…and texting while driving (she sent a photograph taken while driving a few weeks ago too!). And indeed her employer has also been contacted (I think she can rule out that big promotion!). A cyclist has since come forward, and while it seems he wasn’t badly injured, naturally he was a bit shook up by the whole thing.

I have noticed this attitude gradually creeping in across the UK among some motorists who seem to think that because cyclists “don’t pay road tax” you’re entitled to break the rules of the road and basically behave like a complete twat…if that’s the case I’m going driving around London with a sticker on the back of my car saying “I don’t brake for Non-dom’s tax dodgers” and enforce it ;D

And I’ve seen plenty of such antics from motorists where they seem to assume that someone on a bike has less rights than they do, e.g. I once nearly got run down by some woman who was turning off a side street (onto a main road) and decided that the white line and stop sign didn’t apply to her, when she was forced to brake as she realised I wasn’t going to stop (I sort assumed she was going to obey the rules of the road, silly me!), she then beeped me for getting in her way! And that’s just one of many examples (same thing happens all the time when I’m walking across a road, even at pedestrian crossings). If you cycle regularly in the UK for example you often become accustomed to the sound of a taxi’s engine behind you, as that usually means trouble. I’ve actually stopped cycling to work recently as it’s just too dangerous on UK roads, largely because they are not the least cycle friendly and motorists are just too rude and incompetent.

Now before anyone starts with the “I saw a cyclists who broke the lights/on the pavement/thro a zebra crossing” yes and I suppose car drivers are perfect and never break the rules of the road! There are as many bad drivers as bad cyclists, probably more in fact. Indeed as both a cyclists and a motorists, I find that when cyclists do this they are often cycling defensively (i.e. they’re trying to avoid being killed by some idiot motorists whose not looking where he’s going).

And perhaps motorists need to remember that intimidating cyclists off the road is not in their long term interest. As inevitably it will just mean more people driving to work instead, hence the queue at rush hour grows ever larger and taxes go up to pay for road improvements.

No road tax? Neither do drivers!
Indeed while were talking about it, not only do cyclists not pay road tax but neither do car drivers either! Instead there is Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) which is charged to certain vehicles based on engine size. Not all vehicles pay it, electric cars, farm machinery, police, cars, army, vehicles built before 1973 and the Queen (another foreign tax dodger!) are all exempt from VED. I presume said aggressive motorists are going to try and ram cops, farmers, the queen, army and milk floats off the road too?

And of course, lest we forget some cyclists (such as me) also drive and thus also pay VED. Does that mean I can expect a written apology from every taxi driver or bus who’s ever cut me up?

There are of course several major taxes on motorists, VED is one, petrol duty being another, but the question is do these raise enough in revenue to counter the costs associated with running the UK’s highway network? The Clarkson brigade would say that they are being fleeced, but the environmentalists would argue that once you factor in the costs of building (important given that money would likely have been borrowed and were still pay the interest on it via part of the national debt) and maintain roads, plus the costs of fire, police (what do you think we invaded Iraq for?), etc. the truth is that its car drivers who are the worthless scroungers, not cyclists (at least those cyclists who pay income tax!).

The need for a road budget
Again, part of the problem here is that there is no set “road budget” like there is for say, the NHS. Instead the funding of roads has always been this ad-hoc arrangement whereby government doles out cash on road building projects via various local, national and even EU budget headings. Then, usually in economic hard times, the government suddenly realises that roads cost money and it needs to squeeze motorists for some cash and the state invents some arbitrary tax to slap on motorists that may (or may not) take in sufficient cash to cover the relevant costs, or might (or might not) over charge motorists.

And this is still going on. I’ve pointed out for example, how the Highway’s agency is now starting to charge for various costs associated with police time and road repair in the event of accidents (whether the accident was the victim’s fault or otherwise). Inevitably this will sneak into people’s pockets in the form of higher insurance costs, so it’s a stealth tax on motorists. And with plans by the Tories to privatise motorways expect more of the same in future.

To me the solution is simple, set up a properly audited road budget that will give the true costs of motoring and allow government to make informed decisions about how much it plans to spend on roads and how we’re going to charge people for it.

….and road pricing
And the way I would favour charging would be to abolish VED and petrol tax and replace it with road pricing, where everyone is charged (based on vehicle size and CO2 emissions) a fixed price per mile. This would be not only fairer but also set a clear link between what one pays to use the roads and what it actually costs.

Of course the opposition of the roads lobby to such a process does tend to suggest that secretly they agree with the environmentalists and think we’re undercharging!

But going back on topic, clearly many motorists need to learn the rules of the road, the “I pay my taxes and therefore can drive like a cu&t” argument doesn’t stand up, either morally nor (as Emma Way is I suspect about to find out) in a court!

Blogging Hazards

I had a slightly disconcerting message the other week. Another blogger whose blog I occasionally followed seems to have upped and deleted his entire blog. He said in an e-mail (it was linked to a page that disappeared with his blog so I never got the full picture) that he seems to have had a rather bad encounter with another blogger (don’t ask me who) after making a comment on his page. Now I would consider his decision to delete his entire blog a bit of an extreme reaction (then again I don’t know the full story) but certainly given that I’ve had a few bruising encounters with people before online (never much on Blog.co.uk mind) I can certainly sympathise with his position.

Not only do I blog here, but also I keep an energy blog, and am an occasional contributor to a number of other blogs, as well as a regular commenter on various blog strings around the internet, so I do “get around” and unfortunately there are some people for whom the term “troll” doesn’t quite do it justice.

My problems largely occur due to my habit of pointing out pesky little “facts” to people, notably right winger types, in particular US Tea Party or UK Tea Party (otherwise known as UKIP) types. Reality it seems has, as they see it, something of a ”liberal bias” so they prefer to wallow in fantasy and get quite upset with people who come along and burst their bubble. Just look at Nigel Farage’s meltdown on in Scotland over a bit of heckling from some rowdy students. As I’ve learnt (the hard way!) these guys do not understand the concept of irony, humour or context, nor can they absorb any fact that contradicts their position. As you can imagine this has led me into quite a few nasty encounters online.

For example in one post on my energy blog I was doing a critique of various nuclear reactor designs and I included a quib (i.e. an amusing comment) at one point. One pro-nuclear fanatic immediately took exception to this quib (even though I’d labelled it as a quib) and promptly began running up vast blog strings on my site and his over it…then again, I’m sure Gollum in Lord of the Rings wouldn’t be happy if I made a joke about his “precious”.

Some seem to have an attitude not out of place with the Spanish Inquisition, that if they burn the heretic, the heresy dies with him (you know, pesky little facts like the Earth revolving around the Sun). I blame Fox News and the Murdoch tabloids for this attitude, as this is essentially how they operate, so its no surprise to see the people who read/watch them using the same tactics.

For example I was on a blog with a discussion with a scientist who was critiquing (via a peer reviewed paper) a number of ideas close to the heart of libertarians (nuclear power and the limitations of mineral resource supplies, notably those of Uranium). Their response was to resort to the good old fashioned “gish gallop” where they would posse many irrelevant and quite frankly silly questions to the guy one after the other. When inevitably he got sick of answering the same question (phrased slightly differently) over and over again and stopped replying, they declared “victory” on the basis that they’d managed to shut him up…even thought they had not contradicted a shred of the evidence he had presented!

After a number of encounters with libertarians (notably on Reddit, my advice, stay away from there!) I’ve seen sudden increases in the level of spam into my various page accounts. My e-mail address (the one I published on one page) was actually hacked and I lost access to it (fortunately its not the one I control that website with). In another unrelated encounter one blogger even put up a page on his blog wishing I’d get cancer or something.

So all in all I think we can conclude there are some genuine crazies out there in the blogsphere and one has to be careful where you threat…or simply develop a thick skin…or don’t learn the hard way what I’ve learnt, let right wing freaks putter in their sandbox and don’t annoy them with a lot of pesky little “facts”. If they wanted to base their opinions on fact’s they’d have gone to university rather than bible school!