All So Blatant

Two remarks I read today. First:

Sir Peter Westmacott, the British Ambassador to Washington, broke new diplomatic ground in his interview with MSNBC TV on 28 July. Asked directly to eschew diplomatic language and give three words describing Russia’s President Vladimir Putin he opted for boldness: “Thuggish, dishonest and reckless”.

This is the guy who’s supposed to be Britain’s top ‘diplomat’ in Washington. And he’s just dispensed with diplomacy. Which probably means that it’s no longer really needed.

Second:

One person close to Mr Putin said the Yukos ruling was insignificant in light of the bigger geopolitical stand-off over Ukraine.

“There is a war coming in Europe,” he said. “Do you really think this matters?”

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Ball And Chain

What are smoking bans supposed to achieve?

I think they’re supposed to ‘help’ people quit smoking. Actually, I don’t think it’s about ‘helping’ people quit smoking: it’s about making them quit smoking. They make people quit smoking, by disallowing smoking in more and more places.

You get on a train, and you’re not allowed to smoke on the train, and so you’re made to quit smoking for the duration of the train journey. And then maybe there’s No Smoking in the train stations too. So you can’t smoke when you’re travelling. And the more places that smoking is banned, the longer you’re being made to quit smoking.

And when you’re being made to quit smoking, you’re being made to control yourself, restrict yourself, stop yourself, say No to yourself.

So I think that the idea may be that smoking bans train people to stop smoking, train people to say No to themselves (and say No to everybody else too), and after a while, when people have learned to say No to themselves, it becomes second nature, and they say No to themselves all the time, and completely quit smoking.

I think that’s how it’s supposed to work. And behind it is the idea that smoking is something that nobody really wants to do. Because antismokers have never understood why anyone smokes, or anyone wants to smoke, and it’s just a bad habit that people pick up, and they need to be helped rid themselves of this strange addiction. It’s always an ‘addiction’, of course.

But isn’t that like tone-deaf people trying to make people stop listening to music? The tone-deaf don’t like music. For them it’s just a noise, an unpleasant noise. They don’t like listening to the racket that comes out of radios and juke boxes, and they can’t understand why anybody else should like it either. They can’t really enjoy the awful din, can they? No, they’re just addicted to it, and they play it over and over again. So they ban music, first on trains, and then in stations, and then in public places. And maybe then in private cars and parks and beaches, in order to create a noise-free, music-free environment. And in these places radios and juke boxes and ipods, etc, are all banned. People are taught to deny themselves music, made to feel ashamed of liking music, and forced to Switch It Off. And the intention is that if people are deprived of the music they’re addicted to, they’ll eventually quit listening to it at all. And we’ll have a wonderful, music-free world.

Would that work? I kinda suspect that music would just get driven underground, and people would meet up in caves to play music, or to make music with bottles and sticks and whistles. Because most people like music, and they’ll go a long way to hear some music – just like they’ll go a long way to smoke a cigarette, because they like smoking cigarettes too.

So smoking bans just stop people doing what they want to do, in exactly the same way as music bans (or talking bans, or reading bans, or any other bans) would stop people doing other things they want to do.

Or rather, they don’t actually stop people doing what they want to do: they just make it harder to do it. So if you’re inside some place where smoking is banned, and you have to step outside to smoke, then an additional cost is imposed on every cigarette smoked (over and above the tax that has been slapped on the cigarettes). If it takes two minutes to go outside and come back in again, then someone who has a 20-a-day habit will have to spend 40 minutes just walking outside, and then walking back in – something they don’t really want to do. And if you’re in one of those hospitals in whose grounds smoking is banned, then the round trip to smoke a cigarette may take 10 or 15 minutes, and with a 20-a-day habit, that’s 200 – 300 minutes (5 hours) per day spent trudging to and fro.

Instead of a cigarette taking 10 minutes to smoke, it takes 30 or 40 minutes. It’s just like having a ball and chain.

So smoking bans hamper smokers, and slow them down. Everything takes longer. And because everything takes longer than it used to, some things no longer get done at all. So dishes don’t get washed, or floors don’t get swept. Because the time that gets subtracted from people’s lives, by having to trudge downstairs and out to the gates, is time that can no longer be devoted to other activities. So smoking bans impoverish smokers, and so impoverish society as a whole, because it’s not as if non-smokers benefit from the bans, with their lives being made correspondingly easier as it is made harder for smokers.

As long as they’re not working to get people to quit smoking, there’s no upside to smoking bans. They just impose an inhibiting drag force on everyday life. And the more intensive and ubiquitous the bans, the greater the drag force.

Which is probably why they usually get repealed. Because they’re more a hindrance than a help.

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Plain Packaging Challenged

I’ve always been a bit puzzled how governments can erase product brands, and replace them with its own messages. Other people think the same:

In a note to investors in tobacco stocks Exane BNP Paribas said it had taken legal advice on the potential arguments which could be used to seek compensation if plain packaging cannot be blocked altogether by big tobacco companies.

“The strongest of the legal arguments, in our view, surrounds deprivation’ of intellectual property,” it said.

It said the European Convention on Human Rights and Charter says: “No-one may be deprived of his or her possessions, except in the public interest and under conditions provided for by law, subject to fair compensation being paid in good time for their loss . . . Intellectual property shall be protected.”

Exane BNP Paribas said its understanding of the law was that “member states can take property in the public interest but this must be in exchange for fair compensation.” Trademarks it said were considered to be property.

“Thus if plain packaging meets this criteria the UK or French/Irish government would need to pay fair compensation to the tobacco industry,” Exane BNP Paribas concluded.

Not just in the EU. but also Australia:

Indonesia was recently granted permission by the World Trade Organization to challenge Australia’s plain packaging law, making Indonesia the fifth country granted permission to challenge Australia’s controversial law. Since December of 2012, cigarette packs have been uniform consisting of green packaging, with white labels. However, while attempts by the Australian government to curb the use of cigarettes are noble, the law breaches trade and intellectual property regulations.

 I don’t really see why similar arguments shouldn’t apply to government health warnings on products. If they succeed in reducing consumption, should producers be compensated for their loss?

Along similar lines:

Lords challenge No 10 to prove value of public behaviour ‘nudge’ unit

To my eyes, the real question is whether a ‘nudge unit’ is at all compatible with freedom and democracy, not whether it has ‘value’.

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The Calm Before The Storm

AEP in the Telegraph:

There must be an extremely high risk that the Kremlin will defy Western sanctions and launch “asymmetric retaliation” on the ground, overthrowing the post-Cold War settlement altogether.

Markets seem strangely insouciant as the geopolitical order of Europe unravels before their eyes. The US launched economic warfare against Russia a week ago. Europe is just days away from following suit.

You can applaud the actions of the West, or condemn them, but you can hardly ignore them. In the 30 years or so that I have been writing about world affairs and the international economy, I have never seen a more dangerous confluence of circumstances, or more remarkable complacency.

No choice, obviously.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany, Europe’s largest economy which also has strong trade ties with Russia, spoke out strongly in favor of the new EU sanctions against Moscow in an interview published on Saturday.

“After the death of 300 innocent people in the MH17 crash and the disrespectful roaming around the crash site of marauding soldiers, the behavior of Russia leaves us no other choice.” he told Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

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The Party’s Over

I’ve never been on a cruise ship. But to the best of my knowledge life on one of them is more or less one non-stop party, from dawn to dusk.

But it seems that now the party’s over.

Cruise Lines to End Smoking on Balconies

Cabin balconies are now off limits to smokers on two more cruise lines.

Last week, Carnival Cruise Line announced a change in its smoking policies, banning cruisers from lighting up on its balconies (a ban on smoking in the cabin was already in effect) beginning Oct. 9, 2014.

On Wednesday, Norwegian Cruise Line followed suit, prohibiting smoking on stateroom balconies beginning Nov. 1, “As the health and well-being of our guests and crew is of the utmost importance,” it said in an email announcement. Norwegian also prohibits smoking in ship cabins.

“The cruise industry is following what hotel industry is already doing,” said Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor-in-chief of CruiseCritic.com. “They are limiting smoking, not banning it outright.”

Nonsmoking areas have been growing in the past five years aboard ships, although most lines still offer public areas outdoors or in casinos to smoke.

So you can’t smoke in your cabin. And you can’t smoke on your cabin balcony either. And you almost certainly can’t smoke anywhere inside the ship (except the casino).

Why should a smoker like me ever want to take a cruise on one of these ships? The way I read it, the cruise companies are telling 20% of their customers that they’re no longer welcome.

Why? Surely a ship at sea is one place in the world where national or state smoking bans don’t apply. Why are the cruise companies unilaterally imposing their own bans? Have they become their customers’ moral guardians?

Perhaps they have. But if they’re going to ban smoking, why not ban drinking and gambling and dancing as well? After all, if smoking can be banned on some pretext or other, so can anything else.

And perhaps that’s exactly what they intend to do, and drive all their customers away.

I expect to see cruise companies going bust just like pubcos.

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Madness

That’s what this seems like to me.

Proposed EU sanctions threaten to shut Russia out of the world financial system.

They just seem to want to dominate and humiliate and provoke Russia. Do they want to start a war or something?

It may of course all just be empty threats, because it’s likely to rebound on Europe.

Stalled recovery leaves Europe defenceless against economic shock from Russia.

It’s already started.

Russian Boomerang Hits UK, Oligarchs Shift Assets From London

As Ukraine implodes again.

Ukraine’s Government Collapses, PM Yatsenyuk Resigns

I don’t have a high opinion of most European (or British) politicians at the best of times, but this particular story illustrated just how petty and small-minded some (all?) of them are:

MH17: Dutch mayor says Russian President Vladimir Putin’s daughter should be deported

During an interview with a radio station on Wednesday morning, Pieter Broertjes, the mayor of Hilversum, northern Holland, said Maria Putin, Vladimir Putin’s daughter, should be removed from the country.

The 29-year-old daughter of Vladmir Putin is said to live in the western village of Voorschoten with her Dutch boyfriend.

FFS, it’s obviously not her fault the plane was shot down!

He later apologised. But that he ever made the suggestion raises troubling questions.

Perhaps it’s the influence of the rapidly approaching 100th anniversary of the outbreak of WW1, now only 11 days away. For as events unfold, I’m wondering if these madmen are working to the exact same timetable.

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The Expansionist European Union

I don’t usually agree with Peter Hitchens, but I did with this piece in the Mail:

One thing we should have learned in the past 100 years is  that war is hell. We might also have noticed that, once begun, war is hard  to stop and often takes shocking turns.

So those who began the current war in Ukraine – the direct cause of the frightful murder of so many innocents on Flight MH17 on Thursday – really have no excuse.

There is no doubt about who they were. In any war, the aggressor is the one who makes the first move into neutral or disputed territory.

And that aggressor was the European Union, which rivals China as the world’s most expansionist power, swallowing countries the way performing seals swallow fish (16 gulped down since 1995).

Ignoring repeated and increasingly urgent warnings from Moscow, the EU – backed by the USA – sought to bring Ukraine into its orbit. It did so through violence and illegality, an armed mob and the overthrow of an elected president.

That’s pretty much how I see it. The EU has expanded eastwards into collision with Russia. And this shouldn’t be brushed under the carpet in the unseemly rush to pin the blame for MH17 entirely on Putin and Russia.

But Hitchens  also has a relevant and thought-provoking article about WW1 in the American Spectator, which begins:

To say that that the First World War was the greatest cataclysm in human history since the fall of the Roman Empire is to put it mildly. The war destroyed so many good things and killed so many good people that civilization has not recovered and probably never will…

The loss cannot be measured in cash because it was paid in the more elusive coin of faith, morals, trust, hope, and civility. The war is the reason why Europe is no longer a Christian continent, because too many churches supported it…

No single event has done more to advance the power of the state and of state socialism. Britain barely had a state before 1914. By 1918 it was one of the most tightly governed and bureaucratized patches of soil in the world. The Russian revolution would never have happened had there been no war in 1914. The great Christian and conservative empires of the world would probably all still exist. War also brought about the sexual, social, and cultural revolutions that are still convulsing what used to be Christendom.

I can well see what he means. If Europe hadn’t torn itself apart 100 years ago, the old order might well have survived more or less intact. There’d still be a British Empire, and a Tsar of Russia. And the USA would never have been required to take over the leadership of the Western world from stricken Europe.

Hitchens blames Germany for starting WW1:

Germany started the war because she wanted and hoped to gain enormous prizes through a swift victory, first over France and then over Russia. She encouraged Austria to be inflexible toward Serbia in the hope that this would happen, and the plan worked. It was not the first time that a country had carefully fostered a pretext for war, and it will certainly not be the last…

What the Kaiser really desired all along was a diminished and weakened Russia, a clear road to Turkey and the Middle East, the great wheat fields and coal mines of Ukraine, and the oil fields of Baku…

Germany in 1914 hardly cared about Britain at all, and quite reasonably could not understand why London entered the war. It was more or less incomprehensible. To this day it is hard to see any British interest that was served, and dozens that were damaged…

What saved France in 1914 was the simple fact that it is virtually impossible to win a quick war on two fronts. The diversion of important units to the east, to fight a Russian advance, prevented a German triumph.

Hitchens wonders whether it would have been better if Germany had scored a quick victory over France. It would have saved 4 years of futile slaughter, and “preserved European Christendom, culture, and civilization.”

The war was re-fought in 1939 largely because the 1918 outcome was not a true reflection of the real balance of forces…

When the USSR agreed to allow Germany a war on one front, German victory in the West was more or less assured, and if Britain would not make peace, she could be left for later…

People have come to associate Germany’s drive eastward with Hitler and Nazi fanaticism because it was spectacularly demonstrated and defeated in the Nazi era. But it was not Hitler’s idea. Like many—but not all—of his policies, it was standard German establishment thinking. It has its origins among enlightened democrats.

Which brings matters back up to date, and the EU’s expansion into Ukraine.

To adapt and reverse Clausewitz: The European Union is the continuation of Germany by other means.

Well, that’s certainly an interesting way of seeing matters. I suppose my question would be: Why did Germany (and now the EU) feel it necessary to expand into Ukraine and even to the Caspian Sea? Why can’t nations and empires stick to their own patches?

The answer may simply be that empires are always either expanding or contracting, in a ceaseless ebb and flow. And if the EU wasn’t expanding, it would now be contracting, and losing its eastern territories to Russia or some other empire.

And war never ends.

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