Tuesday, January 30, 2007

On the roads again, I just can't wait to get back on the roads again

People are indeed, so bloody rude these days, Dave is correct. However, I have two caveats here, the first being that an n=1 survey of the owners of large shitting dogs is not really statistical best practice, and the second being that I am nervous about whether it is really a good idea to extend the observation that "people are so bloody rude these days" into a political program.

There is, as we all know, a lot less dog fouling on the streets of London than there used to be, and this has to be counted a success of the relevant legal changes and enforcement measures that took place. But there is an undertone here - it's a commonplace of my contributions to this blog that the bits of Aaro's journalism which on the face of them look reasonable that need the closest Watching, because they are often little pawn moves aimed at establishing a point that is going to be used later as the foundation for something much less congenial. I think it is the case here - the dog and motorist anecdotes are all about establishing one of Aaro's central theses.

This is the "left lobe" theory that people in general behave in a way that, on the basis of the standards they use when talking about public life, they would find repulsive. This is the basis for a lot of the authoritarian strand in Aaro's politics, for quite a lot of technocracy and for the tendency to give the benefit of the doubt to those who would rule over us, rather than to us. It's saloon-bar Rousseauism (NB: AW has at least two contributors who know one hell of a lot about Rousseau - I am neither of them). Keep an eye out.

On the other hand, Aaro ought to be given some credit for avoiding the equally dreadful populism of the Clarkson lobby - people like Motorists' Voice are more or less as appalling as he says they are. The frustrating thing here is that traffic management is an area where there is actually a lot of good science, and it would make you weep to know how little influence it has on public policy.

The trouble is that it's quite a mathematical subject. It ought to be pretty intuitive to see that "drop a pelican crossing everywhere there has been a fatality" is not going to be the best planning algorithm for pelican crossings (although I suspect it by no means be the worst). But going into the actual details of how you site and program traffic lights gets you pretty quickly into the mathematics of laminar flow, which become pretty hairy - I certainly gave up on Operations Research at this stage.

I think Aaro could give it a rest with his Resident's Association populism (traffic humps are a really bad solution to more or less any problem apart from joy-riding, and the trouble with a lot of these street furniture solutions is that they stick around long after the pattern of land use has changed). But the Clarkson lobby much worse, and Aaro does well in identifying their central intellectual debility - the seeming belief that traffic conditions in the UK have not changed since the 1960s, and that it is the job of government policy to facilitate them continuing to act as if this isn't a fallacy.

Painting GATSO cameras yellow so that they can be seen to give speeding motorists a "fair chance" is about the stupidest thing in the world, and most of the objections to road pricing are on the same level (the specific GPS tracker model of road pricing does raise genuine civil liberties objections in my view, and goes against the principle that it is the roadspace that needs to be priced, not the car). Aaro is also substantially correct on the weird economics that the motor lobby is fond of; I don't recognise the actual numbers he uses for the cost of motoring versus public transport, but there are about a million competing estimates flying around and his numbers are definitely ballpark.

I'd like to hear more about Belle, though, she sounds like quite a sort.

PS: "Don’t you dare …". Still the saloon-bar conversational style in the headlines, but at least this is a new one rather than yet another "I'm sorry but" or "No".

18 Comments:

Anonymous Gingsters Pork Pie said...

For the first time in ages, I loved Aaro's column.

It is possible to live and work in London without a car. It is possible to own a dog, and to clear up its shit, so that adults, and children (and other dogs!) do not end up stepping in it. I know this, because I am a dog-owning pedestrian who cleans up my dog's shit, and has plnty of opportunity to note how much or how rarely other people do it. It really isn't difficult, and there are lots of handy bins into which to drop the bag of shit once you've scooped it up into a little plastic bag.

So, on this occasion, I am with Aaro.

Yes, there is a price to be paid for the massive convenience and comfort of driving, as opposed to travelling on public transport. So motorists should either pay it and shut up, or choose not to pay it, and use the bus and the train.

1/30/2007 12:51:00 PM  
Anonymous dsquared said...

I thought it was pretty good too in that regard, but as I said in the piece, it's precisely the Aaro columns where you think "gosh, he's talking sense" that you have to be careful of.

I think that the other point that I should have been made is that it's probably a bad idea to assume that road-pricing policies will be executed all that well - looking at the London congestion charge extension, there's a big temptation to pervert them away from the original aim into a revenue raising exercise (and, quite arguably, a little bit o' class war).

1/30/2007 01:50:00 PM  
Anonymous gingsters pork pie said...

Yes. I was watching the news last night, with one bleary eye, and it seemed to me that there was a council whose approach to penalising gas-guzzling was to charge people on the basis of where they parked their cars. I may have had a bit to drink, and thus missed the point, but it seemed to me that in order to penalize gas-guzzling, the penalty should have had something to do with the car's guzzliness, and not its location when at rest. But as I say, I am a pedestrian, and these are perhaps pedestrian observations, so to speak.

1/30/2007 02:32:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

GATSO cameras

As rudeness is David's topic this week I feel obliged to say that you'd have to take his photo with a FATSO camera.

1/30/2007 04:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just find it convenient that every time DA wants to write a column about the evil motorist, he manages to have come within an inch of his life sometime earlier in the day. Does he ever use the pavements and crossing points that he professes to love. Then again, he is a fan of jaywalking...

1/30/2007 07:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David Aaronovitch IS everything he professes to hate. He and his wife own two cars, neither of which is eco-friendly (his is a large 4X4, tow bar, gattle grid, the lot)and he lives in the middle of Hampstead. People that live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

1/30/2007 11:42:00 PM  
Anonymous bb said...

thanks for this - it would be highly amusing if true, but I can't really put it on the front page without a better source than an anonymous comment, sorry.

1/30/2007 11:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

while you make a fair point, in regards to the last anon comment i'd like to know where your facts come from because while it is common knowledge aaro lives in Hampstead there is nothing to suggest that he has two cars or what it/either of them look like.
bit stalkerish if you ask me.

1/31/2007 12:38:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

There's only one way to find out without bein stalkerish (or not so much) - ask him?

I think this post does show up the difference between Nick and Aaro. Nick's view on this is "Why it's right to be hate traffic wardens" (http://www.newstatesman.com/200408300014)
admittedly not quite "why it is Right to be Anti-American", but along those lines.

1/31/2007 01:37:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Dave's very consistent with this.

http://observer.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,873009,00.html

1/31/2007 01:39:00 PM  
Anonymous evil bruschettaboy said...

I am not asking him. I emailed him last week about the headlines kerfuffle and you can only pull the "here's Marshall McLuhan" stunt so many times before Prof. McLuhan stops co-operating.

To be honest, I don't think this is ever going to amount to much more than a "ha! gotcha!" so weak that even the Guardian Diary would turn it down. Aaro has never said it's bad to own SUVs, just to drive them too fast. In the bit he did on the Stern report he said he would ahve to make sacrifices and it would be difficult and he even asked for some government regulation to give him a nudge.

He's always been quite up front and centre about not being 100% doctrinally pure - viz, the private schools and race thing. If it was Nick Cohen or somebody writing this then maybe fair enough but as it is, I can't really get it up to care about this.

1/31/2007 01:47:00 PM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

because they are often little pawn moves aimed at establishing a point that is going to be used later as the foundation for something much less congenial.

Absolutely. That's our Aaro. At heart he's an authoritarian.

2/01/2007 02:54:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

A chess player writes: not sure about the "pawn moves" metaphor though. Are we talking about establishing a pawn structure of some kind, or are the pawns advancing, perhaps trying to establish an outpost for the pieces?

2/01/2007 08:29:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschetta Boy said...

either really. The metaphor is for something that looks to the casual onlooker to be a relatively trivial shuffling about of pieces, but an expert recognises as something implying a specific strategic intent.

2/01/2007 11:35:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

A chess player retorts: you're mixing your chess metaphors. First, it can't be "either really" because they're very different things: like the difference between an army digging in, one one hand, or charging on the other. Second, it can't be "shuffling your pieces" either way: pawns aren't pieces and they don't shuffle (because they can't move back to where they came from).

2/01/2007 05:37:00 PM  
Anonymous bb said...

good christ, are you related to that bloke who didn't like "suffice to say" a couple of months ago?

2/01/2007 10:08:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

No, it's just a problem that when one plays chess and comes across comparisons like this, it's generally painfully obvious that they don't say what they're intended to say. Every so often I feel moved to point this out. It's textual criticism, like observing an inaccurate metaphor in a poem.

2/02/2007 08:27:00 AM  
Anonymous evil bb, defending QC in the matter of HM Metaphor Police vs AW said...

I am actually prepared to defend this metaphor. Pawn moves are never dramatic (or at least, almost never dramatic to someone who doesn't understand chess). If a chess player moves a pawn, then nine times out of ten a casual observer who doesn't know anything about chess will just go "hmm he moved a pawn", whereas someone who knows about chess might go "ahh, that's a very significant move".

Similarly, when Aaro has a go at the motorists, a casual observer might do "hmm, he's doing Clarkson this week" whereas a seasoned Aaronovologist will see how it fits into the wider project.

I'm not sure that the difference in the various types of pawn moves, significant though it is, matters to this metaphor unless it's something that would be readily apparent to an observer who didn't know much about chess.

2/02/2007 11:49:00 AM  

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