Wednesday, December 28, 2005


On Urine, George Monbiot & Clive Of India

In the week surounding Christmas, Fleet Street goes into a rather torpid state. The newspapers, who spend the rest of the year trying to either chase the news or, in some cases, make the news, now want to just sit quietly and hope nothing much happens. The result is a lot of bizarre items for inclusion, and nowhere more so than the Guardian.

Ever willing to tackle the big issues, the Guardian asked 'The Question' in last Wednesday's edition:

Is it a good idea to drink your own urine?

The writer, science correspondent Alok Jha, not noted for his accuracy, states the answer in the first sentence:

'No, there is no benefit whatsoever.'

Actually, as the article goes on to point out, there's really little danger in drinking your own wee - the exception being if you suffer from a urinary tract infection, in which case urine can be poisonous. By and large, however, as it is typically composed of 95% water, a refreshing glass of dew in the morning is unlikely to do you any harm. Some people insist to this day that urine-drinking improves the condition of the skin.

One aspect of urine culture that Jha doesn't get to grips with is urolagnia - the finding attractive of urine, which manifests itself in desires to see people bedwet, and also appears in 'golden showers.'

However, as Jha points out, and as has been pointed out before, it is somewhat ironic that the one situation where the average person might consider drinking their pee is the one where it is least helpful. It is frequently downed by those lost in the desert, or stranded at sea, yet in fact the salts in urine acclerate thirst.

Refreshing drink, or a dangerous tipple?

The real question, however, is why such an article needed to be in a newspaper in the first place.


George Monbiot might know a thing or two about urine - he's certainly in the region a lot, given how much time he spends talking out of his arse. In his latest incoherent ramble through Britain's political culture, he manages to make a bit of a fool of himslef, to be honest. Let's take a peek.

The article purports to be about how many people Jeremy Clarkson is killing because he doesn't like speed cameras. However, before he gets to mentioning the 'Top Gear' presenter, he makes the claim:

'These [Safe Speed and Motorists Against Detection] and about a thousand such campaigns maintain that speed limits, speed traps and the government's "war on the motorist" are shakedown operations whose sole purpose is to extract as much money as possible from the poor oppressed driver.'

I'm not sure I believe this. Certainly, it is only true to a small extent. A brief glance at the Safe Speed homepage suggests that, amongst their many views, some of them admittedly distinctly bizarre, the belief that speed cameras are a 'stealth tax' does exist. However, Monbiot uses his column to have a particular bash at Clarkson, and doesn't bother to take the time to point out that he specifically rejected the opinion that speed cameras exist to make the government money on a recent edition of 'Top Gear', providing evidence for the claim.

However, Monbiot starts to draw larger claims from speeding tickets:

'But this is not, or not really, an article about speed, or cameras, or even cars. It is about the rise of the antisocial bastards who believe they should be allowed to do what they want, whenever they want, regardless of the consequences. I believe that while there are many reasons for the growth of individualism in the UK, the extreme libertarianism now beginning to take hold here begins on the road.'

Aha. So now we get to the nub of the issue. 'Individualists' are to blame. As a libertarian myself, I have to take offence at this. In large part, offence arises because Monbiot is deliberately avoiding any historical context. The 'growth of individualism in the UK' is no such thing - what it is, if, indeed, it can be said to exist at all, is a re-assertion of individualism. Collectivism, as a concept, is a recent invention when looked at through history. For a further look at this subject, see this.

'Of course, these politics are possible only while we have a state capable of picking up the pieces. If there were not a massive hidden subsidy for private transport, those who decry the nannying bureaucrats couldn't afford to leave their drives . . . the new libertarians fail to recognise the extent to which their freedoms depend on an enabling state. They hate the institution that allows them to believe that they can live without institutions.'

This is both untrue and an attempt to blur the issue. His insistence that there is a massive hidden subsidy for private transport is not a false one - the government, after all, are the ones paying for road construction. Except that they aren't. The taxpayer pays for the roads. The government, to be precise about this, barely pays for anything at all. Absolutely all money spent by the government is taxpayer's money, with a handful of excpetions - profits made from the sale of goods abroad and import tariffs being two. The government is, in fact, rather like a financial advisor, but not a very good one - we elect politicians because of a manifesto that shows how they will spend our money, believing, essentially, that they know best.

The freedoms Monbiot mentions are not reliant on institutions - the positioning of a speed camera or the abolition of a speed limit is not an issue of fundamental freedoms, merely the average arguments over the minutiae of a piece of legislation. This is why a statist party like the Conservatives can campaign on a ticket of speed camera reduction.

Finally, Monbiot goes on a baffling rant about Thatcher, apparently of the opinion that before her, there were no cars on the road, before ending with this cracker:

'It shouldn't be hard to see how politically foolish are the current government's transport policies. The £11.4bn that it is spending on road building is an £11.4bn subsidy to the Conservative party.'

Yes, George. Labour would win many, many more votes if they dug up the nations roads instead, wouldn't they?


After all that, with the lowered expectations, I was delighted to see an actually intelligent article in the Guardian the other day, written by Max Hastings, in which he points out that, in fact, it might not be a bad idea to teach western children the history of the western world after all.

Who would have thought?

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