The Early Days of a Better Nation

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Small annoyances

It's the little things that'll do it, you know. When the revolution comes, it'll be fuelled by tiny peeves. Some that I'm saving wood for barricades over:

Pointlessly bilingual signage, now infesting the best small country in the world.

Foods now with reduced salt/fat, in accordance with Government/EU guidelines. This has made several traditional brands of pie uneatable (not enough shortening in the pastry), and ruined salted peanuts.

Bars without ashtrays. Mind you, it's amazing how much roomier pubs have become. And quieter.

And one that has nothing to do with politics: book review sections of broadsheet and Sunday papers that every so often are devoted entirely to children's books. I read review sections to see what smart adults are thinking about. Children's books are important. If I want reviews of them, I could buy Parenting or Mother and Baby. (In theory. I never have, and have no idea what books if any they review.)


Apparently I'm not a smart adult?

Sorry, Farah. I expressed that that badly. What I should have said was that I buy papers with review sections for a general update on what's going on in literature generally. I don't mind reviews of children's books being there, and maybe they should do that more. I mind the entire book review section being taken over by them from time to time. (The Indie is a serial offender in this respect.) I would mind just as much if it were taken over from time to time by sport books, or war books, or SF for that matter.

You sound like a conservative. ;-)

What's the second language? (Come to that, what's the first?)

I'm conservative about some things.

Gaelic is the language below, in blue. The language above is Gaelic, with English spelling.

Don't get me started on Gaelic spelling of Highland names on Ordnance Survey maps.

sounds like an audition to that tv show "grumpy old men"

I actually agree with you entirely - even with the cigarette thing (which is almost unheard of in my Province). F.O.R.E.S.T. - when they don't try to dispute the health risks of smoking - actually seems completely reasonable to me.

As far as bilingual signage is concerned, it isn't pointless around here, so I can't really say I mind it - but I can see getting irked over signs which are completely pointless.

Is it so wrong to want to have the freedom to do things the way I want to do them - to eat what I want, to smoke if I want to? Is it so wrong that I don't want the government to make all my decisions for me?

I find it interesting that as people in the western world are having less and less children, we are seeing more and more children's books.

I think there's a belief amongst writers, that writing for children is easy. How many Dr. Seuss quality writers do you know?


tell you what, I'll gladly give up the pelasures I've found from the smoking ban (my local is no quieter), if you don't mind me pissing on your table while you try to have a drink. Why oh why can't I piss anywhere I want without the government intervering with me...

The smoking ban will go dowbn as probably the greatest achievement of this government, on a public health scale with the clean air act.

I have no sympathy on the smoking ban, and I don't see how anyone can even hope to spin it as a libertarian issue. The basic principle limiting liberty that even libertarians recognize is "My freedom to swing my fist stops at the end of your nose."

How much clearer can it be? It's even got the word "nose" in it.

How widespread is this dual language signing? I was under the impression that Scottish Gaelic has never been spoken in central Scotland so it would be pretty stupid to have these signs there.

Renegade eye: I always hated Dr Seuss, even as a child.

I think the smoking ban has been the biggest non-event since the millennium bug - it hasn't bothered me in the slightest - and that's coming from a smoker who likes drinking in pubs.

A children's bookseller writes: Ken, if an issue is occasionally given over to a particular genre - so what? Why can't you wait a week to read the next set of reviews? Children's literature is not a ghetto and interest in it isn't limited to parenting magazines (which are not, I should add, likely to provide particularly good coverage of children's literature). The smart adults will still be there next weekend. Even as tiny peeves go, it's pretty tiny, no?

Incidentally is there still Gaelic signage outside Tesco in Oban?

I have some sympathy about the children's writing point. Because I'd rather there was a children's book (or two) every week that one was worth reviewing, rather than specials to deal with the subject separately.

The same with SF, Horror, Thrillers, etc.

Away with our ghettos of genre, they're all just books...

You can no longer buy pies with sufficient shortening or peanuts with enough salt? That's the first _genuine_ case of Liberal Fascism I've run into...


I understand the annoyance of dual language signing. but what would your preferred solution be? English-spelling signs, or Gaelic? and if the latter, any consequences, such as teaching the general population how to pronounce gaelic, or different fonts, etc?

It is a Libertarian issue, but in a different way from the one you imagine; first and foremost, it is up to the business owner whether or not people should be allowed to partake in a perfectly legal vice within the confines of his or her establishment.

Anyway, as a result of the ban, I believe that were cigarettes once again allowed in public places, many bars would maintain their smoke-free and a subsequent catering to the non-smoking market would emerge.

For the record, I don't smoke, but I certainly won't ban anyone else from smoking because I'm afraid of some minor inconvenience - because unless you spend a significant portion of every day exposed to second hand smoke (dense smoke, either from prolific sources, or from a few sources in a confined space), that's all it is, an inconvenience.

On the other hand, as a libertarian, I don't think that smoking should be allowed in buildings open to the public, as a default option. Let me offer an analogy: I walk into a department store and, without warning, a store employee steps up and sprays me with perfume, causing me to go around the rest of the day smelling of something I didn't choose. On libertarian grounds, it's hard to see that as anything but a violation of my rights—a petty initiation of force. But cigarette smoke also leaves my clothes, hair, and skin smelling of something I don't want and would not choose.

However, there's a way to resolve this that works on libertarian grounds, I think: If the owner or tenant gives notice that smoking is permitted in a space, entry into that space can be taken as consent to be exposed to smoke. If I were dictator, I would let bar owners, for example, put up a sign at every entrance saying "Smoking permitted here" and then be exempt from antismoking regulations. And then the owners could decide for themselves which market they wanted to pursue. Informed consent and all that.

That's about the way I figured it would work. =)

Another view would be that if people want to smoke they can do so in the comfort of their own homes. And therefore they are not unaccetably restricted in their liberty, being possessed of choice and all that.

I wasn't referring to smokers proper, but rather to business owners - who ARE unreasonably limited in their liberty.

Then surely they have the liberty to pursue some other business? They have that existential choice?

Then surely they have the liberty to pursue some other business? They have that existential choice?

(a) Yes, and gay men and lesbians have the liberty to marry someone of the other sex than their own. But their inability to marry someone of their own sex still seems to strike a lot of them as a meaningful deprivation of liberty.

(b) At least in California, I'm not sure there is a business you can pursue where you can permit smoking on your business premises.

I just stumbled across this:
"Epic Pooh", by Michael Moorcock, a rather old essay on epic fantasy and children's lit.

-Sebastien Bailard

Surely it is far more reasonable to say that we ought to be allowed to masturbate in enclosed public space than we ought to be able to smoke.

Until I see see 'libertarians' seriously argue for the former, which has no effect on others, I'll assume that the philosophical underpinnings of their arguments are merely clever-clever cover for a defence of their interests, personal or corporate.

"Let me offer an analogy: I walk into a department store and, without warning, a store employee steps up and sprays me with perfume, causing me to go around the rest of the day smelling of something I didn't choose. On libertarian grounds, it's hard to see that as anything but a violation of my rights—a petty initiation of force."

It may not be as petty as all that. It's always technically an assault, unless it occurs in circumstances of express or implied consent (more precisely, volenti non fit injuria), but how serious depends on the circumstances. I have somewhere heard of a woman who was assaulted in this way and suffered severely because of an allergic reaction. The court followed the legal principle that you must take your victim as you find him (or, as in this case, her), and held the store liable for serious damages for the pain, suffering and disability caused by their servant or agent. Perhaps someone can track this down and cite it.

However, I think you can take it that second hand smoke is (unless otherwise indicated) a reasonably foreseeable consequence of entering a public place, and thus not an assault as there is implicit consent to it.

Actually, Andrew, libertarians are entirely in favour of people's being free to masturbate in certain enclosed 'public spaces' (i.e., in this context, private property open to members of the public), such as the inside of clubs where (so I am led to belive) that sort of thing goes on. The issue is informed consent and property rights - which apply just as much to collectives and clubs.

However, I think you can take it that second hand smoke is (unless otherwise indicated) a reasonably foreseeable consequence of entering a public place, and thus not an assault as there is implicit consent to it.

Here in California, where I live, it is not a foreseeable consequence of entering a public place, because the law forbids smoking in public places generally; most recently, it was revised to ban smoking in bars. That seems to say that entering a public place in California does not imply consent to be exposed to secondhand smoke. And if the country where you live changes its laws the same way, then such exposure seems to become assault—as I gather has happened in Scotland.

You could create a situation with a defense of consent either by having smoking permitted in public places unless there is a No Smoking Sign, or by having it forbidden unless there is a Smoking Permitted sign, and the two seem to be fairly symmetric, in the sense in which Coase talked about in his essay on social cost. But as the person whose clothes will stink, I prefer the system where Smoking Permitted signs are required.

As to public masturbation, Ken has made the point I would want to make. I know people who have gone to bondage parties, where, I am given to understand, informed consent is strongly emphasized (for straightforward prudential reasons); I can't see any reason that such things should be forbidden.

Yes, but why would a libertarian - not someone who calls themself liberian but is in fact a self-interested advocate of smoking or someone who believes, in a neo-feudal fashion, that rights and liberties are derived from control over propety rather than by virtue of humanness or personhood - demand that one seeks the consent of others to masturbate in public? Forget the enclosed space thing - if one can smoke in street one ought be able to wank in the street. Indeed, the latter has a better libertarian case than the former.

I struggle to take libertarians seriously, as the battles they choose to fight most vigorously - the ones that they actually do anything about - so often seem to be either seriously regressive (at least, if applied to any contemporary society) defence of the power of property, or, as with the case of smoking 'rights', a campaign that is, generously understood, a defence of personal interests, or, less generously, is merely a set of PR runners for corporate interests.

Less generously, you might say that libertarianism, as it exists, is just that, which would make it a system of political thought of staggering poverty.

You don't think people should have the right to masturbate in the street? I don't think I'd walk over to help the guy out, but I think that disdain ought to be punishment enough.

Andrew, many libertarian thinkers argue that (the desirability of a right to) control over property is derived from requirements of humanness or personhood. Some would also argue that streets could be private property, and that the regulation of these streets could be left to the street owners. I've imagined such an arrangement in my novel, The Star Fraction. Whether it would actually work out that way, or work at all, is of course a different matter, but such thought experiments can help to stimulate the imagination.

If public arguing is 'doing something', I have for years now argued in print and online (and even now and again on the radio) in favour of freedoms I have no interest in exercising myself, such as those to buy firearms, heroin and pornography.

Why, exactly, do you think it should be illegal to operate an establishment where staff and customers are aware that smoking is permitted on the premises?

I have a moderate case of asthma. I am more than just "inconvenienced" by people smoking around me, it can and has caused me to have an attack which in extreme circumstances could be life threatening. I accept the fact that people have the right to do as they please for the most part. I don't want to prevent people from smoking, say in a bar or restaurant I just want to keep them from smoking where I have to be like the bus or at my place of employment.

On a slightly different note, I often entertain thoughts of wandering the streets during the summer shooting water out of a seltzer bottle over my head to keep cool. If the water should hit the people around me it wont cause any real harm right. It would just inconvenience them a bit and they should just have to deal with it. What do you think would happen if I tried it?

See a city bus (which is a city property) is a perfectly reasonable place to restrict smoking, and I don't know where you work, but assuming it's a retail-store, an office-building or a warehouse, then most employers will prefer to restrict smoking aswell - as it can drive away customers, damage the wares or yellow and damage office equipment.

My quibble is with government stepping in telling employers and business what to do on THEIR premises.

'uneatable'? surely 'inedible', what with you being a writer and all?

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