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Saturday 28 March 2020

Droning on

Back in March 2017 we joked (below) about suggestions that the police would waste public money and take bobbies off the beat by forming and training new 'drone squads'. Well, truth of course is stranger than fiction these days, and dog walkers and solitary hikers out in the lonely wastes of the national parks have been buzzed by police drones. They exist. Who knew?

They were, of course, subject to the law. Gareth Corfield (@GazTheJourno) has questioned whether the use of drones, in particular by the Derbyshire Police, was not in violation of the Air Navigation Order 2016 - and there are compelling questions for the police to answer about the qualifications of those controlling these drones, their compliance with the law and the professional standards we should expect in their use. And I would expect such guidance to be agreed between ministers in the Home Office and Department of Transport, not concocted by the fatuous and self-styled 'College of Policing', which the public do not recognise as having any democratic or legislative legitimacy.

These secret drones will not be the last of the State's little surprises that this virus will bring out of the closet.

Anyhow, it's Saturday, the Sun is shining and here again is that whimsical piece from 2017


"So, Inspector, this proposed Drone Squad can be staffed by transfers from the Internet Porn Squad? How's that gone?"

"Well sir since 2004 the lads have watched over 2 million hours of online porn. Deserve a medal, they do sir. Constable Hotchkiss can't hear the word 'Brazilian' now without twitching."

"And how many arrests and convictions have resulted?"

"Just the one sir. The chairman of the golf club who put hidden cameras in the ladies. But that doesn't affect the deterrent effect of those evil film makers knowing that the Force is watching. And we've learnt our lesson - the lads need periodic rotation out of the squad. Hence the new Drone Squad, sir"

"Ah yes. Sergeant Thom bought one for his kids and saw the crime-busting possibilities straight away...."

"That's right sir. Of course, police drones would cost a lot more, it being taxpayers' money, and the lads would need professional training from the RAF"

"I'm still not happy about us flying these potentially lethal things over people's houses and gardens .. have you considered the risks?"

"We estimate that 80% of the time we'll be flying over public roads and open land. In particular it will allow the lads to gather video evidence of widespread 'dogging' activity in Knickers Woods, sir. We could spend a year keeping constant tabs on it all then swoop. Then there's the poofs sorry BLTs on Handy Heath. We can follow 'em sir from the sky without risking officers on the ground."

"You don't think there's a risk that some of this footage may leak onto the web? Doesn't this sort of surveillance constitute a variety of porn in itself?"

"That's the beauty of it sir. The Internet Porn Squad can keep an eye out for any leaked footage"

"Ah yes. When was the last time any of these men actually pounded a beat or responded to a disturbance? Some of them look as though they have difficulty walking"

"Yes sir. Injuries incurred in the line of service, watching the porn sir. Sixteen early ill-health retirements so far. We're hoping that working the drones gets them out of their chairs, sir. Into other chairs."

"Very well. Carry on, Inspector"

Friday 27 March 2020

A taste of isolation

At 8pm last night my ISP's LTE servers went down. Reader, believe me, the anxiety was acute. They're still down but I've reactivated an old PAYG LTE cube from a different ISP - so now must catch up before another post.

Whilst the crisis lasts I'm keeping both - and even considering a backup-backup satellite subscription and dish. Since both routers are Huawei, you can imagine some of the thoughts that went through my mind. I don't have a TV either - so have been reliant on local radio. I've got an old marine SSB set out in the barn and at one point seriously considered rigging it up with a car battery and makeshift aerial.

It really brought home to me just how utterly dependent on our internet connections we've become. 

Thursday 26 March 2020

Life after the Wuhan virus

The effects of the Wuhan virus on our freedoms and liberties has only just started. Even with a partial lifting of isolating restrictions in a 'stop - start' control regime, it now seems inevitable that we face food rationing. Ironically, the UK is self-sufficient in toilet roll manufacture but not in food. Professor Ashton introduces the unmentionable topic in the Telegraph. However, posts about rationing and the interesting effect this will have on the extent of the nation's food fads and imagined allergies are to come. This is a post about the future.

We will get the Wuhan virus under control, maybe this year, maybe next. And I have one prediction - that after an unprecedented intrusion into our freedoms and liberties, any hopes that the Central State has of permanently maintaining these controls will be dashed. On the contrary, the universal backlash against central State power will catalyse a hugely overdue Big Bang devolution of powers. We must just ensure that our most fundamental freedoms remain intact; universal suffrage, the secret ballot and the freedom to form and participate in political parties.

In addition to movement controls, we are likely to see food rationing, possibly even energy rationing and internet and phone restrictions, controls on internet shopping and deliveries, import controls, currency controls and unprecedented State use of mobile phone location and activity data to police and monitor public behaviour. These may all be used to ensure the greatest benefit for the greatest number whilst the crisis subsists. But paradoxically it will not be libertarians praying for the early development of a vaccine (which may also be compulsory - and sod the anti-vaxers. They will disappear along with the food faddists) but the central Statists; the longer and deeper the restrictions on our freedoms, the stronger and wider the public backlash, and the bigger the Big Bang demolition of the Central State to come.

There will be an interesting re-discovery of moral exactitude and an intolerance of moral relativity. We will get used to the idea of collectivist libertarianism. As a libertarian, I have long accepted that the freedoms I demand only extend so far as they cause no harm to any other. Libertarianism isn't the sort of me-generation selfishness that drives many of the objections to the lockdown measures, but the freedom to make your own decisions about your own life within an utterly essential collective, within a society and nation. And without ceding some freedoms to the collective, we cannot enjoy individual liberty.

But these are points for debate and discussion, not a didactic prescription. And that will be new for us. Perhaps not since the age of Huxley and Orwell will there have been such a national debate, will we engage in such dialogue over existential definitions, identity and morality. The paradox is that the Wuhan virus, from the heart of the most repressive nation on earth, may catalyse for us a freedom unknown for a century.  

Tuesday 24 March 2020

Living under Lockdown

Well, it's here. Boris had no choice. And whilst my underlying beliefs remain unchanged, there are no libertarians in a plague or in a war of national existence. Just as our forefathers accepted conscription and rationing, we must accept lockdown. Breaching the terms is as treasonous as ignoring the black-out and shining a light up to enemy bombers.

We've had lockdown here for a week already. The local Spar is fine - after an initial run on toilet paper, the staff worked with a fury to get stuff onto the shelves faster than folk were taking it off, with the result that yesterday the shelves and aisles were groaning with Easter stuff. I have some migrants from Italy - they come every year. Black Redstarts. Usually two pairs. So rare in the UK that I once had to spend (planning condition) £300,000 installing a 'brown roof' on a new building for them; much to the chagrin of the client. The ecology people said they liked old bombsites, with plenty of demolition rubble, burnt wood and fireweed. Actually, they just like flies - or insects anyway - each pair eating some 1.5kg during the breeding season. And whilst the locals regard them as a bloody nuisance, I welcome them. They're ugly, they can't sing for shit and they're not entertaining like tits, but just for the untold millions that they cost UK developers, they're fab.

Stay safe all and let's take care of each other.
EU/EEA and the UK Sum of Cases Sum of Deaths
Italy 59138 5476
Spain 28572 1720
Germany 24774 94
France 16018 674
United_Kingdom 5683 281
Netherlands 4204 179
Austria 3631 16
Belgium 3401 75
Norway 2132 7
Sweden 1906 21
Portugal 1600 14
Denmark 1395 13
Czech_Republic 1165 1
Ireland 906 4
Luxembourg 798 8
Poland 634 7
Finland 626 1
Greece 624 15
Iceland 568 1
Romania 433 2
Slovenia 414 1
Estonia 326 0
Croatia 235 1
Bulgaria 185 3
Slovakia 185 0
Hungary 167 7
Lithuania 143 1
Latvia 139 0
Cyprus 95 0
Malta 90 0
Liechtenstein 46 0
Total 160233 8622

Monday 23 March 2020

Bounceback & backlogs

We must not forget when throwing money at workers and businesses where we want to end up when the virus crisis is past. Before we spend every pound we must turn it over twice, as my mother used to say. This is not a demand shock - the nation did not want to stop spending. But we must realise that Covid-19 will change everything, and when it is over our spending patterns will undoubtedly have changed. We must not waste money on businesses and activities that have no future. The virus is a system shock that will accelerate changes that are happening anyway - but how do we decide what to fund, how to fund it and on what terms?

The case for LHR's extra runway has become much weaker. I can't see demand for global travel ever recovering to the point it was at in November 2019, and that means airlines, which are anyway on the cusp of profitability, going bust and allowing it to happen. What do we save? Well, we're back to national carriers all over the world, so we must fund BA. And easyjet is our national budget carrier, so deserving of support. Let the others fall, including Branson's Virgin.

The High Street
The slow decline of the high street has seen chain stores struggle to survive in the face of crippling rent and rates. The government's last budget offered some relief, but after a period of enforced close down will the High Street post-Covid ever return to what it was? The streetscape of our towns and cities is relatively recent, dating largely from the mid 19th century, so it's not an immutable part of our heritage.

When it is possible to lift restrictions - and suggestions are that this might be stop-start - demand will return and we must do everything we can to ensure the effects of bounceback leave us where we want to be. For some businesses, there will be a permanent loss of income. If you normally go to the barbers every month, after four month's absence you won't have four haircuts - all that income is lost. Offering loans to such businesses is pointless - imposing a burden they are unlikely to recoup in increased trade. Backlogs in contrast will see a huge burst of spending as at the end of rationing when buyers create four months of sales in a month; loans to such businesses to keep them ticking over make eminent sense. Computers, DIY goods, home improvements may be such.

We saw the end of the trade of Tube driver last week. The pics that hit the press and social media of dangerously crowded tubes because drivers were self-isolating in large numbers, when not a single DLR formation was cancelled, means the end of public opposition to driverless tube trains - meaning more of them, travelling more closely to eachother, more safely and less crowded, is only now a matter of time. Similarly across the economy.

The environment
I think across the entire world the effect of the standstill is striking billions of people as to the effects on both our world and ourselves of human activity. Choking clouds of SO2 and smog lifted from cities, bird song audible in London. We won't quite see dolphins in the Regent's canal, but the effect will be salutary - and not going back will become a politically saleable option.

The B Ark
We're finding out today who doesn't want their children at home. The most extraordinary melange of B-Ark passengers are claiming 'key worker' status, from nail painters, personal trainers and hashish purveyors to Uber drivers and artisan avocado-mashers. I reckon about 80% of these folk could easily be re-employed out in the fields. We need to subsidise only those activities that create the greatest total benefit for society and nation

It's going to be very interesting.

Boris is under tremendous pressure from his entire team to introduce a full lockdown - we must at least credit him with resisting it for so long on libertarian grounds. However, I think the science is against him.

And fieldworkers? Uhm, metaphorical. It's my opinion that everyone on the B-ark is free to carry on what they're doing at their own expense - but if they want public money, they must help feed and dress the cared-for - or similar collectively useful employments - rather than painting nails or spraying tanning fluid.

Sunday 22 March 2020

Some numbers ...

Just a few numbers this morning that are causing the grey cells to spark. First, the news story that Germany has broken its 'balanced budget' dirge and has committed to €356bn of new debt - some 10% of GDP. Already Europe is preparing for a forthcoming 'fire sale' of some of its largest industrial assets - and British hawks are circling, hoping to pluck up some tasty morsels. With Europe's Bourses having fallen 30% - 40% in recent weeks, many are on the edge. The protective Germans know the risk -
"We will not allow a bargain sale of German economic and industrial interests," economic affairs minister Peter Altmaier said on Friday. "There should be no taboos. Temporary state aid for a limited period, up to and including shareholdings and takeovers, must be possible."
You'll note that it is the risk to German and not EU assets that has prompted the volte-face. Some solidarity, mein Herren. Just for comparison, here are the global benchmarks of 10% of GDP ($s)

GDP $bn 10% bench $bn
USA 20,490 2,049
China 13,400 1,340
Japan 4,970 497
Germany 4,000 400
UK 2,830 283
France 2,780 278
India 2,720 272
Italy 2,070 207
Brazil 1,870 187
Canada 1,710 171

But Germany faces a dilemma. Save the Zombie banks or allow the stressed carmakers to use their liquidity to develop EV technologies? QE has left many big companies with fat cash reserves, and even German taxpayers will grumble if hard-working Max Musterman's wedge is thrown to VW whilst they are still sitting on their own cash-pile. Here's another chart

So VW hanging in there with a market cap of $52bn ... but here's where it gets interesting. As Bloomberg reports, VW is already sitting on a cash pile of $23bn - over 5% of the German chancellor's entire spending commitment. And the company would rather lay-off staff and close plants than spend it - foreign plants and workers to go first - as CE Herbert Diess was quoted as saying
"Drastic measures to protect liquidity" are required to tackle the crisis, Diess said Saturday in a message on VW’s intranet and later posted on LinkedIn. He said safeguarding the availability of spare parts and battery-cell supply are among the initiatives that are also "extremely important."
How this will play with German voters I don't know. But it's all getting quite interesting. One of the downsides of industrial socialism is that taxpayers will want a say in what is being done with their money.