Monday, 23 February 2015

Meet the UKIPpers

British politics is a pretty unpleasant sight. There's an anti-politician mood stalking the country. Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind are being hauled over the coals for things that aren't against the rules, nor even against British interests. Rifkind especially should feel aggrieved that for offering to arrange meetings between a foreign firm and British diplomats, he should be accused of Sleaze. In this mood comes the "tax-dodging" witch hunt, where people's perfectly legal and normal (for those with the cash) Tax planning is being called "tax avoidance", which is being equated, and used interchangeably with "tax evasion", which is a crime. People who've taken perfectly reasonable tax-planning steps, are being excoriated for things that are neither against the law, nor against the spirit of the law. The crime, in the rather envious eyes of the British electorate, is to have wealth and be involved in politics. And politicians are being assumed to be corrupt and on the make, with journalists happy to fuel the mood.


And the only politician to speak any sense on the subject of tax is Nigel Farage: "Of course people avoid tax, but they do so mainly for their Children", before going on to talk about the UKIP policy to abolish Inheritance tax. And the media left it there. UKIP having a popular policy that isn't bat-shit insane isn't news. But they aren't called on its implications, like a major party would be, not yet. The Tories, for whom Inheritance tax has also been a popular cut, would be asked "what would you cut/taxes would you raise?" And the policy of abolishing inheritance tax would immediately become about where the £3bn or so it raises each year would come from. Would farage make cuts, raise taxes, or borrow more? We do not know.

No 'KIPper would consider, having found a policy that works, the potential downsides of abolishing inheritance tax. The long-term accumulation of assets in families for example. Inheritance tax is the only tax where the money raised is not its principle function. Mega-inheritance is not conducive to social mobility, and nor is it always good for the economy. Why is it fair that someone is able to inherit vast sums, tax-free where others are taxed through the nose for money they earn? For me,  if it's a choice between cutting £3bn off inheritance tax, or taking it off income tax, I'd rather the income tax cut (and the Tories agree with me there...). Whilst I think Inheritance is mostly an iniquitous tax on the unlucky, or those unwilling to confront their mortality, it's not a priority to cut right now, not when we still need to balance the books. The Tories have taken most ordinary people out of the tax, while leaving it in place for the very wealthy. When you think a UKIP policy through, quite often what sounds right, as a black and white abstraction, is often rather stupid.

But it's refreshing to see Farage refuse to dance to the media's tune, even if the average UKIP policy isn't thought through at all. When asked where the £3bn would come from, you get boilerplate blather about "fully costed policies being in the [as yet unwritten] manifesto". And the problem with UKIP is that vague grey area between idea, aspiration and policy invites 'KIPpers to fill in the gaps. And they do, with abandon, but without any learning or understanding.

British politics is as refined a dance as a regency d├ębutantes' ball. And like the refined movements of the dances, they are designed to exclude those who don't know the steps, and so utterly baffling to outsiders. UKIP, whose main dancing experience, if we're extending the metaphor to breaking point, is in the Mosh Pit of a metal club, aren't invited to a Queen Charlotte's ball, because they haven't got the right clothes, don't know anyone there, what they're doing or why. UKIP gatecrashing a Season ball will ruin it for everyone, and they will look stupid. Because UKIP aren't prepared to answer the "so what...?", they aren't taken seriously: they haven't bothered to learn the steps to the dance. They're not even aware that such dancing exists and so they're confused when they see it. 

Which brings us to Meet the UKIPpers on BBC2, which showed UKIP members filling in the policy gaps, with all the creativity and skill of a slow-witted four year old at a colouring book. Of course the TV show was superficial. Of course it was selective. But it was revealing. The utterly incompetent election agent, the Twitter question about the "mosque" (Actually Westminster cathedral...), the Creepy, inadequate couple who collect clowns, and the hilariously bigoted old bag who couldn't see that she wasn't kicked out for saying "negro" but for saying "I have a problem with Negroes with their Shiny skin, fuzzy hair and big noses" and who then went on to talk about "Jewish noses with a curve to them", as if that was some kind of defence. This isn't a one-off bad-apple spoiling the barrel. This is the mood-music of the UKIP. Janice Atkinson, a UKIP MEP described an Asian constituent as "...a ting-tong from somewhere..." (I find for some reason the indefinite article especially damning), while Mark Reckless actually thought UKIP policy was the forced repatriation of immigrants and was prepared to say so out loud and in public. Both survived in post.

This isn't pogrom-inciting, paki-bashing racism that smashes people's windows. It's the quiet bigotry of profoundly stupid people, of a sort that you probably do get at every family gathering involving multiple elderly relatives. There's always one who will openly opine about how terrible the country's got since we "let the wogs in". But the problem is, those nice, racist nans instil ideas into kids, who'll become angry young men, who will then go out and set fire to a mosque. Which is why such racist talk has been ridiculed and shunned since Warren Mitchell invented Alf Garnet. UKIP is a party for people who haven't got the joke in 'Til death us do Part.

The same cavalier attitude towards policy that allowed Roseanne Duncan to riff freestyle on why she has a problem with Negroes while the cameras were rolling, allows the more intelligent UKIPpers to imagine their freestyling on tax, or immigration policy is Party policy. The reason 'KIPpers are so certain the party agrees with them, is they're quite openly making it up as they go along. UKIP agrees, because there is no policy, only opinion. The only "policy" is what Nigel decrees, and he'll let 'KIPpers hide behind the defence of "free speech" for any idiocies the media turns up. Yet even this "free speech" defence is idiotic. Of course Roseanne Duncan is entitled to her views. But the 'KIPper view is that it's all OK, so long as the media don't see it. Which is why the 'KIPpers were kept away from the news during the Rotherham by-election. There are a lot of racists in the party, and the party knows it. And why the "Meet the UKIPpers" filming was shut down after Ms Duncan went off-piste. UKIP is a party for stupid, bigoted people. Yes, the political elite has become too distant, the political dance has become too complicated and superficial. But UKIP is not the answer.

'KIPpers will blame a media conspiracy for misrepresenting them. They will rant about LibLabCon "not listening to the views of ordinary people", insulting "ordinary people" by the suggestion they're like Roseanne Duncan. UKIP is not the answer to the problems that ail the UK, and nor will the "media conspiracy" make UKIP "more popular" as 'KIPpers often allege. All it will do is taint the few good ideas it has, by association with people like Ms Duncan and Janice Atkinson, while bringing back a kind of low-level bigotry we'd once thought abolished back into political discourse. UKIP is poisoning the well of debate. But on the bright side, the more the views of ranty, stupid people whom the party has seen fit to put in positions of responsibility see the light of day, the less attractive it will become. These people are freaks to be pitied and laughed at, which is why they're stuck in depressing shitholes at the end of the line, and working with UKIP not a grown-up party. Anyone with talent or drive has left, and UKIP's South Thanet constituency branch is left with a detritus of lost souls, confused by the modern world, whom another party would happily let deliver leaflets, but whom they would calmly not call when they needed anything more serious doing.

Is there a media conspiracy against UKIP? Only insofar as the Body Politic needs antibodies to expel a parasite. Expect more revelations of nonsense from 'KIPpers in the run up to the election. Expect scrutiny of candidates and activists in places where they might win. Only a loony could think this unreasonable. UKIP has drawn the bigoted, Euro-obsessed puss from the Tory wound, and will roll up the bigots and opportunists from other parties before destroying itself. The only question is how much damage it does to the country while this process goes on. UKIP are poisonous. But it will be fun to watch them tear themselves apart.



Wednesday, 18 February 2015

The Triumphs of British Foreign Policy Are So Complete, We Take it For Granted.

The British Empire was founded on Trade, not conquest. We largely bought our empire, then co-opted its citizens by encouraging them to get rich and take up cricket. And then when they tired of the British Empire's excesses, the Empire became too expensive to run, and we left. Trying, mostly with some success, to leave functioning democracies behind.

We left behind the world's Largest democracy, India. And British ideas influenced the Second largest: The United States of America.

There are two models of democracy: Broadly the Franco-Yankish model with an executive president, and the British Parliamentary model. And of the two, the latter is much, much more stable, because it doesn't concentrate power in the hands of a single individual with a personal mandate, and so the constitution is harder to abuse. The legislature finds it easier to hold the executive to account when the executive head is chosen from the legislature. But equally, there are fewer veto points, so legislative gridlock is less likely. (See this excellent essay by Fukuyama in Foreign Affairs)

The European Convention on Human Rights was written by British and American Lawyers, on British and American principles, and underpins the European Union, the enlargement of which to the East was a British-led project, against French wishes. The EU has strengthened institutions in Eastern Europe. Poland's democracy was not a given when the Berlin wall came down. Thanks to the EU, Britain has a large, growing, increasingly prosperous ally in NATO, and the EU. Poland's democracy is secure.

The World Trade Organisation seeks to Promote free trade, long a British principle. The EU is, thanks to Britain, a leading proponents of free trade in the Great councils of the world, something the French mutter about, but about which they cannot do anything. The Germans largely see it our way.

Across the world, the English Language is the language of trade, science and diplomacy. This is not going to change any time soon. We've exported our way of Government more successfully than the Americans, and not just to former colonies. And people yearn, across the world to be part of clubs we're in. Georgia flies the European Union flag outside its new Parliament in Tiblisi

In Ukraine, the Eastern Quarter may have a majority which wants to be Russian. This is debatable, because no-one's asked them properly. It's probable a majority of Crimeans indeed want to be Russian. We'll never know, because that referendum was neither Free nor Fair. The rest of Ukraine now looks firmly west.

Intelligent political commentators are overawed by the scale of Russia's military spending, and the tactical subtlety of her annexation of bits of Ukraine. Yet mistake tactical for Strategic success. We have struggled, it's true to come to terms with Russia's doctrine of "information war", as we cannot ascertain her goals. Meanwhile Russia is spreading disinformation, using extreme parties of the left (the greens are against Fracking which threatens Russia's economy) and the Right (Jobbik, Le Front National and possibly UKIP which want to break up the EU) enjoy Russian support, and whose spokesmen turn up on Putin's grotty little propaganda machine, Russia Today, with depressing regularity. Most of the people most enthusiastically backing Putin, and claim he's winning, are on the loony fringes of politics.

Putin wants a Buffer between him and "the West" which he fears, because the west represents a threat to his power. It does, of course. Mainly because our world-view is better and more attractive than his. Putin has probably captured a wretched little  rust-belt, which will forever need his country's financial support, while inviting the EU to his Border. Kiev will be an EU city within a decade, and there is almost nothing Putin can do about it. He could invade in a couple of weeks, but it would bankrupt him, and I doubt he could make it stick in the long term.

The fact is countries are clamouring to Join the EU and NATO, to exist under a security umbrella largely provided by the Americans, and to enjoy the institutional security of the EU, while more or less designing their democracy along British principles. Poland, for example has a Bicameral legislature, with a symbolic head of state, and the executive head of Government chosen from the legislature. Neither of the EU nor NATO are perfect, by any means. But to imagine the EU a greater threat to the UK's interests than Putin's Russia, as many 'KIPpers do, is just insane. The EU ploughs mostly British Foreign policy in Ukraine, in the WTO and elsewhere. That foreign policy isn't what 'KIPpers think it should be, but it is consistent with 500 years of history.

The inhabitants of a damp, foggy archipelago off the north western coast of Europe, a medium-sized population, have nevertheless managed to shape the world in their image, and continue to do so, despite being overtaken by larger, wealthier powers. Somehow, it always goes Britain's way in the end.

Real global great powers do not have trouble keeping their satellites in orbit. The West is built on British ideas, speaks English, and enjoys overwhelming economic, military and cultural dominance. The world watches English Football, listens to American and British music, and its most able people want to come to our cities, risking death and mutilation if necessary to do so. Compare with Russia, which will be just China's petrol station in 3 years, lacking (our western) money, their military spending will be unsustainable. Russia's people, as soon as they have money, leave. If the oil price stays low, Russia will be bankrupt in 3-5 years. Even China herself knows her power such as it is, is based on access to western Markets. The west, confident and united, can stand against any power, or combination of powers that could possibly be ranged against it. We can lose every tactical battle, Ukraine for example, and still win the war.

All it requires is that we don't blink.



Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Autonomous Vehicles Being Trialled in Britain

The UK is aiming to become a hub for driverless car technology, and has sought to iron out the obvious legal and regulatory issues prior to the technology becoming widespread.

I am going to use the word "moron" a lot. This is not a pejorative. Everyone is a moron behind the wheel. Humans are not evolved to process information fast enough, for long enough, to drive safely. We have significant blind spots and cannot see anything at all during saccades, the brain instead approximates, which explains why people often fail to see oncoming cyclists or motorcyclists and even cars, and pull out in front of them at junctions, often fatally. They genuinely, honestly didn't see. We evolved to over-react to surprising movement in peripheral vision, such as a cyclists passing quite safely on the drivers' side in a queue of stationary traffic, which triggers an involuntary endocrine response of cortisol and adrenaline, which cause stress and make drivers angry and aggressive towards cyclists. This in turn makes them drive faster and less carefully, because these hormones affect risk-perception. Driving is boring, dangerous and stressful; a significant contributor through that cortisol and adrenaline not subsequently 'burned off' through exercise, to obesity. It's enormously fatiguing on the brain, reducing productivity during the day.

Even if you think you are a "good" driver, this is only relative. You're not. Consider this: Racing drivers are people who do have better car control, and more practised reactions behind the wheel. They are not considered good insurance risks. Attitude is more important than risk. You want to enjoy the thrill of speed, driving a vehicle. As soon as they are available, the insurance industry will quickly price human driving off the road, effectively forcing driving enthusiasts to get their fix on a race-track. After all, why should other road users who're just trying to get to work bear unnecessary extra risk for what will be soon after cars can drive themselves, a hobby? This requires remarkably little legislation; just a bit of thought now, and the market and technology to do the rest.

People are suspicious of new technology, and over-rate (often grossly) their own competence behind the wheel, and feeling in control is not the same as being in control, morons don't realise this. Insurance companies, who rely on statistics rather than rules of thumb which evolved to help bands of hunter-gatherers on the African Savannah, are comfortable with underwriting risk, once driverless cars are seen as more competent than morons. The liability in the event of a crash, the single obstacle cited most often by morons objecting to this technology, has already pretty much been solved. The driver will carry liability, for the car he's travelling in, as now. Perhaps there will be some shared liability with the manufacturers in the event of software failure, another risk massively over-stated by morons, as they don't notice the software currently keeping them on the road in their car, right now. But it matters little because the insurance industry has indicated it is happy to wear the risk, because they assess it will be less expensive to have fallible robots controlling 1.5 tons of metal at 70mph, than human morons.

Surveys that say half of people would feel unsafe driving with autonomous cars on the road, and a quarter would never get in one are unsurprising. People are morons because they use inaccurate heuristics to calculate risk. Heuristics which worked for our ancestors, but which are inadequate for the modern world. I, reasonably feel unsafe around morons driving, and welcome technology which will take my life out of morons' hands and also their lives out of mine for I am too a moron behind the wheel. The views of morons who've never considered the issue can be ignored. Once they see autonomous vehicles work, and realise they can read a book, masturbate, or watch telly on the way to work or sleep rather than struggling to stay awake on a long motorway drive, they will quickly accept it.

Google's driverless car, which cannot yet tell a scrunched up paper from rock, or recognise temporary signs, has had two crashes in the 700,000 autonomous miles (as at mid 2014) driven, but were being driven manually both times. In Google's words, the car is already driving better than a tired or drunk human. And by 2017, they aim to make it better than the best driver in the world.

Coventry and Milton Keynes are testing the Lutz driverless pods which will initially run on separate paths before being integrated onto the roads. Finally Greenwich will trial passenger shuttles which look like big golf buggys. Not all driverless cars will make you look a wanker, though. Bristol's Venturer consortium is testing a BAE Systems wildcat, which is probably the hairiest-chested vehicle on the roads, and these are looking at congestion reduction and interactions with other road users.

The implications of driverless cars will be enormous. Some implications are obvious. It will first be employed to replace commercial vehicles, reducing cost of transporting goods and facilitating just in time delivery. Bulk freight may well be moved by long trains of autonomous lorries, saving fuel which can break up nearer destinations.  Car ownership may well be reduced, as urban journeys in one's own car are replaced by commuting in pods which pick you up as needed. The space not needed for on-street parking may well yield more road space to cyclists and pedestrians. Equally, the prospect of having a car drop the children at school, swing by the shops to have pre-ordered deliveries loaded into the boot, and return might yield more, not fewer vehicles on the roads.

It is likely autonomous vehicles will encourage urban sprawl and long commutes as the commute becomes productive, or relaxing rather than stressful. This may change the design of cities in ways we cannot predict. Just as horses and cyclists' mass lobbies gave way to the motor car, autonomous vehicles will almost certainly kill the driving lobby and accelerate the move back to "liveable cities" perhaps cities will become like fried eggs with a "liveable" urban core, surrounded by autonomous-vehicle friendly suburban sprawl. Maybe bigger cities will be amoeba with several urban cores, with a cytoplasm of sprawling suburbs. Who knows. What is certain, when I'm cycling, I'd rather share my road with a robot, designed specifically to see me, than with the kind of arsehole who thinks buying a BMW is in any way acceptable behaviour.

I yearn for this technology. Because most of my driving is long-distance, and frankly I'd rather be reading a book than stare at the back of a Vauxall Zafira at 70mph for 90 minutes. And who, really, honestly enjoys a long slog up the motorway?



Thursday, 5 February 2015

On that One, last, Insurmountable Inequality Between the Sexes.

If the Pompeii Graffiti and Punternet agree, the price of a shag with a lady of negotiable virtue has remained about a working man's daily wage for at least 2,000 years. With this in mind, let's not try to pretend human nature has changed all that much. We are still the same upright Ape that wandered out of African savannah 100,000 years ago. And as such, modern life is not what we evolved for. It's stressful enough without trying to alter what we are and what we find attractive in the opposite sex. And with Internet dating, those of us with an anthropological bent have been given an enormous amount of data to see what people actually want. It isn't usually what they say they want, or what society pressures us to want.


Slavica totally married Bernie for 24 years because of his looks and famous charm.

Let's think about human mating as a transaction, because it is. Men trade intimacy for sex, and women trade sex for intimacy. And then there's the whole bio-mechanics of seeking a fertile mate. Females seek a provider, and males seek a fertile and healthy woman to maximise their mutual chances of offspring being successful. And then there's the cost of Gametes: men will seek to spread their seed (cheat), while women face an incentive to get impregnated by a "better" mate should their provider be a bit unsatisfactory (cuckold). And the reason paternity isn't routinely tested is often alleged to be because society couldn't cope with the result.

We are not evolved to be monogamous, as there is significant sexual dimorphism. The hidden ovulation and permanent receptiveness of the human female is extraordinarily unusual.

We are a highly sexual animal. Yet both genders seem pathologically incapable understanding the simple fact that men and women want different things of each other. Any attempt to generalise about this invites ridicule. But, physically, broadly, women desire a man taller than they are. This is why so many women, if they put anything in their Tinder profiles at all, it's their height, to male bemusement. Men simply are not interested in how tall a woman is. And men, displaying their abdominal muscles look faintly ridiculous. Physically most of what a man wants in a woman can be described as 'not fat' and they're assuming women desire the same in men. Women desire a high status man (a man who can make people laugh is almost always in control of the room). Men desire youth, beauty, health and a caring nature.

I remember being asked recently by the friend of a lovely-looking girl who was thinking of breaking up with her nightclub bouncer boyfriend "are you an earner?". I was shocked. Essentially it's the female equivalent of going up to a woman and saying "show me your tits". But it's those unused to hiding their base desires who most often reveal what is in the human id.

The female lawyer, saying "I'm strong and successful, why don't men find me attractive?" is making exactly the same mistake as the sad-act sending out pictures of his penis to women on the internet from his Parent's basement and being confused by the responses. They're both guilty of projection. I desire this of men/women, so they must desire this of me.

Women want a man they can admire. Men, broadly do not want to be competing with their other half and would rather be supported by someone they can cherish. Given this - it's not a mis-match, is it? - complementary nature of desires, it's not surprising that fewer women, having found their higher-status man and persuaded him to commit, give up on the rat-race. After all, what's in it for them? Most women, in my experience do want to settle down, raise their children more than they want to become a partner in the law firm. And the man, to keep up his end of the bargain, will work his fingers to the bone for the rest of his life to provide for his wife and kids.

And this act of providing for a family provides the same deep sense of satisfaction to a man as motherhood does to a woman.

Women suitably qualified, often leave their professions, for long periods of time to raise children. And so the women who're qualified don't end up putting themselves forward for professorships or indulge in the savage politicking necessary to get to the top of a corporate pole. They are, like my mother, quite happily looking after people they love. And many such women, of enormous wit, intellect and brilliance take offence at the idea that this is a waste of their talents. The lack of female CEOs is certainly partly down to the choices many women make to not bother with the corporate game. So long as there is no discrimination against those women who DO choose to climb the pole, I fail to see why this is a problem.

There are costs to equality and women's emancipation. At the other end of the social spectrum, with the welfare state providing for the women and children at least as well as men, the men become utterly worthless to their womenfolk, completely disposable sex-objects, valuable only for fertility. Which is why there is so much violence on the sink estates. Big muscles on the nightclub doorman give him status in a world where men, without economic or social pull, have little else but psychological and physical abuse to keep 'their' women in orbit.

Men who suddenly find themselves unable to provide for their women through unemployment are often quickly and efficiently ditched, whereas women's relationships often survive unemployment. A man supports a woman, whereas a man isn't "supported" by a woman, he "lives off her". Society judges. Unemployment is a leading cause of male suicide. As is Divorce. To a married man, unemployment is therefore a much, much greater threat than it is to a married woman as it opens up a yawning chasm of social worthlessness. There are men who'd happily be taken on for the ride as a supporting player to a successful woman, but such a woman would find him revolting. You can send your much more successful wife off to work while you change the nappies, but she'd probably end up shagging the boss of a bigger firm. And when the divorce comes, she's off, and he's.... already been emasculated, has a gap in his CV and is worth little to employers or eligible women. This is why female breadwinner, male childcare families are rare and unstable and most female breadwinner families are single-parent.

So, the psychological, social and sexual rewards to men are greater for an equal degree of professional success, and the punishment for failure is far, far more severe. Is it any wonder men work longer hours, will take the shitty jobs with anti-social hours, and don't prioritise family time and flexibility? And these incentives are innate to us. They are not social constructs. Women like wealth and status like men like a nice high, firm, round bosom.

"So Debbie McGee, what attracted you to Millionaire Paul Daniels?"

Measuring equality in society by the number of female MPs or FTSE100 CEOs is just stupid, because the cost, effort and time invested in becoming a successful politician/architect/CEO/Formula 1 impresario pays off  for men in the only currency I can find which has never depreciated: access to a desirable mate. But it doesn't pay off for women in that currency, all that much. (Both Dennis Thatcher and Joachim Sauer were already successful when they met Margaret Roberts and Angela Merkel). Men are defined by their social status, for which earning power is a good proxy. Short, odd-looking rich men like Bernie Ecclestone and Paul Daniels do have their pick of attractive women, in a way Angela Merkel doesn't have muscular hunks dripping off her arm (instead, a hugely respected research physicist). Wealthy, successful female lawyers who tell you they paid for their own BMW, thank you very much, are often single. Wealth and power is irrelevant to female attractiveness to men. Wealth and professional success enhances (is...?) male attractiveness to women.

Rich professional, single women like to think that men are intimidated by strong women. I think that's a comforting myth spun by women whose biological clocks are ticking, but who haven't worked out what it is men want. And old, short, odd-looking rich men like to think it's their charm and wit, rather than their money and power, that's attractive to the leggy amazon they're escorting. Yeah.

And so, in the currency that matters, the one that ultimately drives us, access to a desirable mate, wealth helps men, but not women, achieve what they want. That which women can leverage to secure that high-status man is a wasting asset, drifting away while they're chasing the career. Women can get through the glass ceiling, if they're prepared to risk celibacy and loneliness with the successful women who have it all dangled as a tempting carrot, which is unlikely to ever be universal. Men do not face that trade-off, but they do face a great deal more pressure to succeed. Most people get this intuitively. That, not discrimination, seems to be the main reason a FTSE100 boardroom is a sausage-fest.

Please note, if you're minded to comment, that I don't believe this is as it SHOULD be, but how it IS. And I don't imagine there's a great deal that can be done about it. We are wired up how we're wired up, and that's that.

The author is currently single.



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