The Hyper-Fragile New World Order

With the Brexit vote less than a month away, I guess I’m not going to be able to get away from the topic of the EU for the next few weeks. But Spiked! has a bunch of very interesting essays about it, including The EU Is A Mirage:

When I am asked to describe the European Union, I often say that it is a bit like a mirage. We all know how a mirage works. From far away, the image is clear and strong. As you get closer, it starts to wobble and shimmer until eventually it disappears.

The EU is like that. Seen from national capitals, be they London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Bratislava or Madrid, it looks clear and distinct. It has its own institutions, its own buildings, even its own legal order. It can punish national governments for over-spending and close national banks. But as you get closer to Brussels, this image begins to wobble. Finally, when you are really up close, it disappears altogether.

What is left are our own national leaders – German chancellor Angela Merkel, French president Francois Hollande, Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, and so on – taking decisions between themselves in meetings closed to the general public.

The EU, he says, is simply a way for member governments to distance themselves from their electorates, deciding matters for themselves behind closed doors. The real powers remain the sovereign member states, in the persons of Merkel, Hollande, etc. The EU is just a cloak they draw around themselves.

Rather than deriving their power internally, from their own subjects, governments of member states derive their power from sources externally, in particular from relations forged with other governments and international organisations. The most extreme case of this was Italy a few years ago. In 2011, when Silvio Berlusconi was ousted from power, he was replaced by Mario Monti. Monti’s authority derived from the support he received from outside powers: global markets, other EU leaders, the European Central Bank. When he tried to win over the support of Italians themselves, he failed miserably…

The relations forged with other governments and international organisations will include all the various EU treaties (Rome, Maastricht, Lisbon, etc.), but also treaties like the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). And these binding treaties have now come to exert more power over governments than the votes of their own national electorates.

Governments are increasingly bound more to one another than to their own people. The FCTC matters more than than any electorate does, and that’s why we all have smoking bans.

Negotiations between governments in international settings have become the dominant mode of policymaking, replacing deliberation within national parliaments.

Hence all the endless G7’s and G8’s and Bilderbergs. They’re where the real decisions get taken. And the only people who matter are world leaders. And they’re the only people who need to be listened to – as was shown during the EU Referendum campaign:

One of the most striking aspects of the current campaign has been the use of the borrowed credibility of foreign leaders and non-partisan organisations, by the Remain side in particular. A key point in the campaign was US president Barack Obama’s endorsement of Remain…

It’s a vision of the EU as a set of national governments tied more strongly to each other than to the people who elected them, becoming

a political class that has severed its links to society

One additional feature of this is that it would seem that the priorities of this political class have progressively become detached from the priorities of the ordinary voters that they no longer pay attention to. There are lots of examples of this: Smoking bans, global warming, gay marriage, transgender bathrooms. Most ordinary people simply don’t care about any of these things.

I’ll run with this a bit.

Governments all over the world are no longer supported from below by a solid base of national votes, but are instead kept in place by a floating global spherical mesh of treaties and alliances and agreements. It might be depicted thus:


It’s a completely new political architecture. It’s as if the political skyscrapers of the old political order have been replaced by an enormous geodesic dome spanning the entire globe, holding everything up.

The inherent instabilities of this New World Order are fairly obvious. Firstly, it’s completely detached from the (political) ground, and is liable to fall to earth. And secondly, if one set of treaties/agreements breaks, the entire system is likely to fly apart. There is the potential for complete chaos as all the governments in the world are simultaneously brought down, not by revolutions from below, but by the failure of supporting ties to other governments.

It’s a situation that’s rather like that of Europe immediately prior to WW1, where all the states were bound to each other by a complex web of treaties and alliances and agreements, which explosively unravelled in August 1914, hurling governments in all directions. Except it’s now a global web of treaties and alliances and agreements that is set to unravel, pitting government against government everywhere.

And it’s out of this clash of governments that war is likely to erupt, just as in August 1914. Only this time it will erupt simultaneously everywhere, all over the world.

The old political order was much more stable. If one government collapsed, the others wouldn’t all collapse too. They were largely independent of each other. But now that they’re all tied together, they’re all dependent on each other. And more dependent on each other than ever, because they no longer have much popular grassroot support, given that they’ve been neglecting ordinary people. They’ve lost contact.

The unstable New World Order is set to be swept away, and more or the entire global political class along with it. And most likely they’d take with them much, if not all, the politically correct dogmas they introduced – including smoking bans.

Or that’s one possibility.

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Personae Non Gratae

After yesterday’s good news, more bad news – this time from Montreal:

Starting Thursday smokers become persona non grata on terrasses and public areas throughout Quebec.

The final provisions of Quebec’s latest anti-tobacco law come into effect on May 26, 2016, and affect smoking indoors and out.

That means smoking is not allowed:

· on commercial terrasses, including restaurants and bars
· in or near playgrounds, including pools, skateparks, skating rinks, etc…
· on or around sports fields, including areas for spectators
· on public campgrounds
· near outdoor areas used by daycares
· on the grounds of preschools, elementary schools, and high schools

Smoking is also banned in enclosed locations where minors may be present, including cars and common areas of residential buildings.

Bill 44 also clarified existing smoking bans, such that smoking is banned within nine metres of a door, air vent, or openable window.

There is no exemption for those who prefer to vape, since the law treats e-cigarettes exactly the same as other tobacco products.

Fines for smoking in public areas increased last November when the law received Crown assent.

The fine for first-time offenders is $250 to $750, while recidivists can be fined up to $1,500.

Businesses that allow people to smoke can be fined up to $100,000, while failing to post a sign banning smoking can result in a $25,000 fine.

There’s no public health justification for any of this. But they don’t bother with that any more. They’re now openly aiming to stamp out smoking, everywhere.

And when these latest draconian laws don’t work, they’ll be back with even more draconian ones. They wait until everybody has got used to one set of draconian laws, and then they ratchet them up to a new level of draconian.

I generally suppose that this Tobacco Control madness is going to blow over one day, and life will go back to normal. Or halfway back to normal.

But what if it doesn’t? What if it just gets worse and worse and worse? What if the laws just get more and more draconian?

I spent this afternoon sitting in a sunny pub garden with a beer and a cigarette. What happens when that gets banned too? And when all drivers (and not just those with children on board) are banned from smoking in their cars? And when you’re banned from smoking in your own home? Because all these things are happening somewhere, if not right here right now.

In many ways, by historical standards, the persecution of smokers remains pretty mild. We’re not having our noses cut off. We’re not being flogged. We’re not being sent to prison or to re-education centres. But if the war on smoking keeps on ratcheting up, it won’t be long before things like that start happening.

At what point will smokers start really fighting back? Or will they never fight back?

Are smokers going to be like the Jews of Nazi Germany that dutifully did whatever was demanded of them, right up to climbing aboard the trains that took them to death camps? Or are they going to be like the Jews who fought in Palestine to create what is now the state of Israel (and who had profound contempt for the Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust – because they didn’t fight back)?

This isn’t just a question for smokers. It’s a question that all sorts of people have had to face again and again throughout history: When do you decide that you’ve had enough, and that you’re going to war? When do you decide that you can no longer carry on being Mr Nice Guy, and punch the other guy smack in his face, as hard as you possibly can?

I keep a photo of my wartime Spitfire pilot uncle on the mantelpiece in my living room, because he was someone who had faced that question, and who had decided to fight. And yet, precisely because he was one of The Few that fought in the Battle of Britain, it follows that most people chose not to fight. The RAF was not besieged with volunteers. They weren’t queueing for miles. And that’s why there were only The Few.

It was the same with the wartime French Resistance. There were very few of them too. Most French people in Occupied France did whatever they were ordered to do.

So my guess is that most smokers will choose not to fight against their oppressors, however bad things get for them.

But a few will. Even if it costs them their lives.

There’s not much that needs to be said about the majority who will choose not to fight. They’ll have any number of perfectly reasonable justifications.

But what about the minority who do choose to fight? Perhaps we should begin to discuss how smokers might start to really fight back? What makes them flip? What sorts of things might they do? What kinds of strategies might they adopt? Can they fight back at all? Can they ever hope to win?

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Nothing Is Inevitable

H/T Rose, and following on from yesterday’s Czech-related post:

Failure of smoking ban bill sparks coalition war of words
26-05-2016 13:06 | Ian Willoughby

The latest failed attempt to ban smoking in Czech pubs and restaurants has left the country’s government looking distinctly shaky. Since Wednesday’s lower house vote coalition partners ANO and the Social Democrats have each been blaming the other for the collapse of the much-discussed bill.

A motion to ban smoking in Czech pubs and restaurants fell eight votes short of approval in the Chamber of Deputies on Wednesday.

The bill originally prepared by the Social Democrat minister of health, Svatopluk Němeček, had been approved by the coalition. However, only 13 of ANO’s 47 deputies voted with the rest of the government in the lower house.

The Social Democrats immediately cried foul, with leader Bohuslav Sobotka accusing ANO of ensuring the country remained an “outdoor museum” of smoking. “It’s a disgrace!” tweeted Mr. Sobotka.

Minister Němeček echoed those sentiments on a Czech Television debate show.

“I regard today as a tragic day in the Chamber of Deputies as regards protecting the public from smoking. The Chamber killed a bill that was worked on for a very long time. It will take us a long time to get back to where we were.”

ANO representatives have shot back furiously. They say that the legislation rejected had undergone so many changes in the lower house – including allowing for smoking areas in pubs – that it actually ended up being a pro-smoking bill.

This is a (renewed) welcome vote for tolerance and consideration towards smokers.

The “museum” jibe presumably means that the Czech Republic will remain “behind the times”, “mired in the past”, etc, etc, having failed to “get with the program”. For most – if not all – of the antismoking politicians probably believe that the future is going be smoke-free, and any attempts to forestall this will only temporarily delay the inevitable.

But I hope that history will record that Czech lawmakers stood almost alone in Europe against a form of unnecessary and deeply divisive legislation that had already been driven through most other European parliaments. I think people are going to be asking one day “How did we get to do something so stupid, so mean, so nasty, so divisive? Were we all crazy?”

Unfortunately confident predictions of the future seem endemic these days. Some sort of utopian vision of the future (socialist, Green, carbon-neutral, smoke-free, etc.) comes to be regarded as inevitable, and everyone believes that history is going in that direction, almost like it’s rolling down a railroad track.

One recent example of this is Barack Obama saying:

“Mr. Trump is not succeeding me.”

And another is Nancy Pelosi saying:

“Donald Trump is not going to be President of the United States,” Pelosi said on the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher. “Take it to the bank, I guarantee it.”

No doubt both of them sincerely hope that Donald Trump will not be the next President of the United States, but wishing something will be true doesn’t actually make it true.

What they both really mean is that such an outcome is unthinkable or unimaginable, and they are unable to contemplate the possibility. And that’s really more a reflection of their own dogmatic thought processes than anything else.

For actually, as far as I can see, it’s an outcome that is becoming increasingly likely, given that Donald Trump has now not only acquired more than the 1,237 delegates needed to become the Republican nominee, but has also caught up with Hillary Clinton in US opinion polls.

Nothing is inevitable.

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Crying In A Restaurant

Something by Pat Nurse that I found moving:

I can’t comment on this blog for some reason but it’s well worth a read. If I could comment I would have said :”That sounds great. Do you have a link to the trip you took? I travel around Europe over summer. I’m always delighted to be treated with respect and consideration and without the shame heaped upon me here for the crime of being a smoker who won’t quit and isn’t dead. The first time I experienced it after the ban of 2007 in England was on a trip to Prague. I cried in a restaurant because I found the tolerance, care and respect for me as a customer overwhelming. It should be something that we all, non smoker or smoker, find normal. Both groups get along fine with each other in the Czech Republic as we used to do here. I think over there it is because they have a progressive stance towards new technology such as high quality ventilation systems . ” I should have added it’s also because they don’t have bullies who hate smokers making laws to punish them like they do over here.

What stood out was the one sentence:

I cried in a restaurant because I found the tolerance, care and respect for me as a customer overwhelming.

She wept because she had been treated with respect.

Isn’t it sad that she had to go to Prague to find tolerance, care, and respect?

Isn’t it utterly shameful that the British government forces its own people to treat smokers with intolerance and contempt?

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Last night I started watching E-cigarettes: Miracle or Menace? on BBC iplayer, but somehow lost interest after about 15 minutes.

Thinking back on it this morning, I thought that some things had seemed rather implausible about the programme.

They had got together several groups of smokers who were all going to stop smoking in different ways. One bunch were going to do it cold turkey. Another bunch were going to use NRT patches. And a third group were going to use e-cigarettes. Maybe there was a fourth group too, doing it another way.

What struck me this morning as implausible about this could best be framed as a question: Where did they get so many smokers who wanted to quit smoking?

Because when I asked readers of this blog a couple of months back whether they wanted to stop smoking, 96% responded by saying they didn’t want to stop smoking.

But according to the antismoking ideologues, pretty much all smokers – or 70% of them – want to stop smoking. If you smoke cigarettes,  in their view, you probably want to stop smoking cigarettes. It’s unquestioned and unquestionable dogma for antismokers.

But there was a further question that needed asking. Since the study was conducted in the UK, it meant that the participants had already endured 8 or 9 years of all-out war on smoking. Why was it only now that they were declaring that they wanted to stop smoking? Might they have been offered some inducement?

But there were also questions that bubbled up about the presenter of the programme. This man, a life-long non-smoker, was going to himself start smoking. Why? And why, when he set about starting smoking, did he keep a bucket near him in which to vomit? And why did he cough so much?

I can remember starting smoking, and I hardly coughed at all. Nor did I ever experience any desire to vomit. So what on earth was he playing at?

I stopped watching because the whole thing had become unbelievable. Firstly because I didn’t think it would be at all easy to find a bunch of smokers who wanted to stop smoking, and also a bunch of smokers who had very conveniently decided to stop smoking at exactly the time they were inducted into the televised study. And secondly because I found the theatrical antics of the presenter laughable.

By the time I stopped watching, I’d begun to wonder if the “smokers” were in fact actors who had been paid to smoke a few cigarettes on camera, as also was the presenter, and that the conclusions that would be drawn from the “study” would have been pre-determined before it started, in accordance with whatever the governing antismoking ideology was in play. This does seem, after all, how many such “scientific studies” are conducted these days.

Perhaps somebody else managed to watch the entire hour long programme, and saw it all rather differently than I did?

I also increasingly find the whole notion of smokers wanting to stop smoking rather nonsensical. Do you find golfers who want to stop playing golf? Or people who would like to stop reading books? If people smoke cigarettes, or play golf, or read books, it’s because that’s what they like to do.

Maybe 70% of book readers would like to stop reading books? Perhaps there’s a Bookworms Anonymous where people who are addicted to books can find ways of stopping reading the damn things? Perhaps there are book-free sanatoriums where they can go in order to ‘dry out’?

Or if you were to stop a few golfers on a golf course, and ask them whether they’d ever tried to stop playing golf, they’d cheerily reply. “Oh yes! Particularly after I’ve just fired half a dozen golf balls into the pond on the ninth hole! Or pulled a muscle in my back. Or been caught in a thunderstorm.” Maybe golfers get offered counselling services, just like smokers? Perhaps there are Golfing Cessation courses, and anti-golfing public health campaigns that I simply haven’t noticed?

But that seems rather unbelievable too.

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Pink Cadillac de Ville

I’d just walked into the car park when I caught sight of it. It may as well have been a flying saucer. But it was actually a pink Cadillac sedan. It’s not often you see pink Cadillacs anywhere, never mind in a municipal car park in Herefordshire, England.

It looked like it was about 30 feet long, and its driver had needed to find a parking bay with about 6 feet of sidewalk behind it, over which the tailgate was cantilevered.

It wasn’t the model shown below, but it was the colour shown, and it had the same extended feel to it, like its 5 litre V8 engine would have no trouble doing 200 mph, and 5 miles to the gallon.


I gazed at it quite a long time. So did other people. Cars came by and slowed or stopped to look.

It was in perfect condition, and I guessed it was from the 1950s or 60s, and was the kind of car Marilyn Monroe would have stepped out of onto the red carpet on arrival at the Oscars. It showcased a lost set of values: It was glamorous, larger than life, over the top, no expense spared, showy, loud, unashamed, unrestrained, rich, opulent, luxurious, brash, crass, and self-confident.

Because that’s how America was back then.

My little Toyota was parked a few yards away. Its values were very different. Compact, minimal, economical, efficient. Like much else in Britain, and probably America too. We live in an age of finger-wagging self-denial and killjoy austerity, after all.

Who’s glamorous, larger than life, over the top, no expense spared, showy, loud, unashamed, unrestrained, rich, opulent, luxurious, brash, crass, and self-confident in America these days? Or anywhere else for that matter?

Donald Trump. And when he talks about making America great again, he means like America in the 1950s and 60s before the Kennedy assassination and the Vietnam war. The America of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall and Marilyn Monroe and 30 foot pink Cadillacs, long before Political Correctness had rotted its soul. Trump is an anachronism. He’s man from another era, with another set of dreams and values – the ones he grew up with in Brooklyn in the 1950s. He may as well have stepped out of the screen of one of the movies he watched back then. He’s a mogul playing a mogul, an Orson Welles playing Citizen Kane.

Anyway, I memorised the tail fins and the radiator grille, and when I got home I soon found online that it was probably a 1960 Cadillac de Ville.

I got my EU referendum voter card today, and I was going to carry on writing about Europe. I’ll continue another time.


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Europe’s Natural Borders

With the EU referendum barely a month away, my attention is being drawn more and more to Europe and all things European.

The question we are being asked is: Do you want to be a sovereign nation state (Leave), or would you prefer to be part of the larger political entity of the European Union (Remain)?

This morning I began wondering if sovereign nation states might just be fictions, created by arbitrarily drawing lines on maps. Erase the lines, and you erase the nations?

Even the UK consists of lines on maps. There’s a line across the north of England which demarcates Scotland from England, and another one down the west of England the demarcates Wales from England. And within England there are lots of lines demarcating one county from the next. Haven’t those lines already been more or less erased to create the larger political entity of Great Britain? Isn’t the European process of border erasure simply the extension of one that has been under way within Britain for many centuries?

But then there are arguably some real and ineradicable distinctions between England, Scotland, and Wales. Apart from its central spine of the Pennine hills, England is largely either flat or gently rolling farmland. But Scotland is a mountainous country, and gets more mountainous the further north you go. And so also is Wales (although much less than Scotland). The Scots are highlanders and islanders. And the Welsh are hill people. And of course Ireland is separated from Britain by an entire sea. Is it very surprising that the peoples of these different places should be culturally distinct too?

Do such natural divisions occur in Europe? The answer is: very much they do. I got hold of a Google terrain map of Europe, and highlighted its mountains (red) and 4 of its largest rivers (blue). In the absence of boats or bridges, large rivers pose considerable obstacles.


Apart from being separated from Ireland by sea, Britain is separated from the European continent by another sea. And within Europe, Spain is almost an island, separated by the Pyrenees mountains from the continent. Italy is almost an island as well, separated from the continent by the arc of the Alps. And Greece is also almost an island, and indeed consists of many islands as well. So also Denmark.

And France is separated from Spain by the Pyrenees, from Italy by the Alps, and from Germany by the river Rhine. The old northern border of the Roman empire ran roughly along the line of the Rhine and the Danube. Germany lies roughly between the Rhine in the west, the river Danube or Alps in the South, and the river Elbe in the east, and the North sea in the north. And Holland is the country of the Rhine delta. And Poland lies roughly between the Elbe in the west, the Vistula in the east, the Baltic sea in the north, and the Carpathians in the south.

Switzerland is surrounded by a girdle of Alpine mountains. The Czech republic is also surrounded by a girdle of Carpathian mountains. Austria is a mountain country squeezed between the Carpathians and the Alps. Slovakia is a mountain country. Hungary lies in the Danube plain between the Carpathians and Balkan extension of the Alps. As do Serbia and Bulgaria.

And what’s the difference between Norway and Sweden? Norway is almost entirely mountainous, while Sweden is relatively flat.

Some countries aren’t quite explicable in these terms. There’s no obvious reason why Portugal should be separate from Spain. Or why Belgium should exist at all. Or why the Carpathian mountains run right through the middle of Romania. Or why the Danube flows through the middle of Hungary. Nor is it at all clear why there should be a string of small countries running from Slovenia, through Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Albania, and Macedonia, along the Balkan mountain range.

In the south and west of Europe, it would seem that nation states have been been the most stable historically. But in eastern Europe, they’ve been resized and reshaped, and sometimes moved bodily. Western Europe has been politically stable for a long time, Eastern Europe much less so. It has been from the east that Huns and Goths and Vandals and Mongols have swept across Europe.

And wherever a little protected pond of people have collected between rivers and mountains, it seems that a distinct culture has always arisen, and a distinct language. So Spanish in Spain, French in France, Dutch in Holland, German in Germany, Italian in Italy, Greek in Greece. So why isn’t there a Swiss language (They’ve got three: German, French, and Italian)? Or an Austrian language (it’s principally German)?

In fact the Spanish language is the nearest language to the Latin language (that I once studied). It’s an import from ancient Rome, and it truer to Latin than contemporary Italian (in my opinion).

The seats of European civilisation are probably found in Greece and Rome because they were relatively safe from invasion. High mountains would seem to be the best natural defence against invaders. And if not high mountains, then the very widest rivers. And so in Greece and Rome high cultures could develop. And later in France and England, because these also were naturally stable political entities.

If Europe is a politically very complex area, it may in large part be because its physical geography is very complex. And nowhere is more geographically complex – and politically complex – than the Balkan region.

So it seems possible to rediscover many of Europe’s nation states simply by looking for natural physical boundaries created by seas, rivers, and mountains. Their borders are not arbitrary lines on maps.

And it may also be possible to rediscover Britain’s counties simply by looking for similar natural physical boundaries. If England is now a single political entity, it may simply be because its natural internal borders, in the form of small rivers and and low hills, have all long been suppressed by roads and bridges and tunnels.

And if modern Europe is much more of a single political entity than it was a few hundred years ago, it’s because all the rivers have been bridged, and many of the mountains have tunnels through them (about 100 tunnels in the Alps, and one in the Pyrenees). There’s even a tunnel under the Channel between England and France. It’s much easier now to travel across Europe than ever before. And this tends to dissolve the historical, natural, physical borders between states, making for a much easier flow of goods and people and culture.

Nevertheless, there remain large cultural differences across Europe. Even in a country like Britain, there are considerable cultural differences between north and south, town and country.

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