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Odds and Ends #4: Why Britain doesn't build
And how Keir Starmer is pushing the O'Malleyist agenda again.
Hello! This is issue 4 of Odds and Ends, your newsletter-within-a-newsletter, rounding up a bunch of interesting links, videos and stray observations.
This is the final free edition of Odds and Ends ahead of the launch of a premium subscription tier. Going forward, this will be a bonus for subscribers, sent out every Thursday.
So if you value my writing, and would like me to write more, now is the time to get in on the ground floor and pre-pledge your subscription for when I finally pull the trigger.
And now… this week’s links.
One of my favourite people on Twitter is the transport expert Michael Dnes. He published a really excellent Twitter thread earlier this week digging into some of the reasons why Britain seems to struggle at building, well, almost anything. But in this specific case, roads. Go read the whole thing and you’ll feel a lot smarter afterwards.
Since April, the Glenfarg-Kinross community service has run 11 times a day – three times as many trips as previously – having just introduced a 7.10am commuter service, which connects to the bus to Edinburgh at Kinross park and ride.
Demand has more than doubled, with the fleet of four buses, two bought with grant funding and two more on loan, carrying more than 300 passengers a week, and driven by three salaried drivers and a team of 15 volunteers.
“We’ve never looked back,” says Fraser. “People in the village were feeling a bit down in dumps: the church is moving, the village shop having a difficult time, and like a lot of rural villages we are losing our facilities one by one. But now morale has gone up considerably.”
Here’s a nice feel-good community story about how a village getting a bus service has lifted the community. But what it reminded me of more than anything is the point that I made in my piece about autonomous buses. If autonomy can make buses cheaper to run, every community can have a better bus service, without needing to rely on the goodwill of volunteers!
The CAThedral in my back garden
The O’Malleyist “we should actually build stuff” agenda is not just for show, as in our household, we live our values. And that’s why last weekend after months of work, my partner Liz completed the construction of an incredible ‘catio’ – an outdoor play area where our house-cats, Hashtag and Boudicca, can safely enjoy the garden.
I’m incredibly proud of her because frankly, I can’t even begin to imagine how to build something like this. But Liz designed it, engineered it and saw it through to completion (I helped mostly by occasionally holding things, and signing off the construction after a rigorous safety inspection). And as you can see in the photo, Hashtag is already enjoying it.
SYPAQ’s drones, which are made from waxed cardboard and rubber, have been exported to Ukraine in flat packs as part of a $33 million donation of uncrewed aerial systems to Ukraine announced by the federal government in February.
At the time the government said the drones would provide “a battlefield intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability” to Ukraine, but it appears the drones are also being used in an attack capacity.
With a health warning that everywhere this story has been picked up, it has been reported as a second hand claim, if true it is an incredible story that shows how drones are reshaping warfare. As Noah Smith pointed out, if cheap drones can take out expensive aircraft, then that that massively shifts the economics of the battlefield.
The really interesting thing too is that reportedly this attack used the drones as a swarm. Because if drones are cheap, then it could make sense to, for example, throw 100 cardboard drones at one tank or plane, And they will be virtually impossible to stop. Hopefully this is great news for arming Ukraine and helping them beat Russia. But this sort of technological progress could also be bad for the west in general, as we tend to have the best, most expensive weapons – but if cardboard drones do the trick, then smaller aggressors can suddenly get a leg up.
And this is also why I expect in the long term it might be difficult for even Trident to remain hidden under the sea. Imagine thousands of cheap Russian or Chinese submarine drones patrolling the oceans 24/7. How can we ever hope to hide? (I actually wrote about this in detail in 2016, in a piece that quotes the most unfortunately named person of all time, a naval officer named Andrew Tate.)
Here’s this week’s instalment of an absolutely mad thing AI can do that we could only have dreamed of previously. Chris Franklin on YouTube has figured out a way to use Photoshop’s generative AI tools to essentially expand the boundaries of a shot, to completely transform the environment. For example, in the thumbnail above, only the guy on the bench is real – and the rest of the scene is AI-generated.
It’s not a new idea. In fact, ‘matte painting’ as a technique is nearly as old as film making itself (here’s an example from Indiana Jones). But what’s mind-blowing is just how quickly and easily this can be done using AI. In fact, I even tried it myself, knocking together this imperfect shot of Boudicca, transported from our hallway to a concrete building high up in the mountains. It took about ten minutes.
And one final thought: This is yet another example of how transformative AI is going to be. What we’ve seen with ChatGPT/Midjourney etc is basically a standalone tech demo. Photoshop is showing us the early days of AI actually powering features inside apps. And one day in the not too distant future, this is just going to be a tap-and-drag on the boundaries of your video on your phone to expand the frame.
Sir Keir Starmer has said he will allow building on the green belt to tackle housing shortage.
Labour is drawing up plans for new towns and suburbs as the party seeks to build its way to economic growth.
Onshore wind farms, nuclear reactors and other green energy infrastructure are expected to be fast-tracked as the party prepares for changes to the planning system to improve the economy.
Labour strategists increasingly see an infrastructure and housing blitz as a cornerstone of a longer-term plan to spend more on public services without raising taxes.
Sir Keir Starmer has said he is willing to allow building on the green belt, and is expected to set out how this will let councils in areas with a shortage of homes draw up plans for bigger and better developments featuring transport, energy, schools and GP surgeries.
Keir Starmer is once again embracing the O’Malleyist agenda, and justifying my position as basically an embarrassing Starmer Stan at this point. The only thing that stops me from thinking that he might actually be reading my Substack is that he hasn’t yet announced that Labour will liberate the Postcode Address File.
The excellent Jonn Elledge (whose incredibly good Substack you already subscribe to, right?) has written a great opinion piece for the New Statesman offering a nice counterpoint to the current worries that Labour is too afraid to commit to anything, pointing out that after the next election once the Tories have been vanquished, the Labour majority will essentially factory reset some aspects of politics, and open up lots of new political space. Here’s hoping!
Language Change, Not Climate Change: Finding the Words to Describe a Prosperous Future (Zion Lights)
It should be concerning that the language we now use to describe important global issues comes from a small group of activists who believe that humankind is doomed, who often fear technological solutions and suffer from technophobia, and who also believe in degrowth and long-debunked theories of “overpopulation.” It came from the same activists who tell stories of three-eyed fish to shut down nuclear power plants, misinform people against life-saving genetically modified organism technologies, and scare parents against vaccinating their children.
For many decades, nongovernmental organizations and social movements have made strategic use of science to promote their ideological stances and influence political and economic decision-making. Unfortunately, much of the language and storytelling used has been dystopian, frightening, and against scientific consensus.
The crux of the issue is that the ideology behind the words that alert and alarm us is the belief that humans are bad, that we got it wrong, and that we are to blame for environmental destruction, which we will be punished for.
I missed this back when it was published in June but now I want to block-quote pretty much every line of this excellent piece by Zion Lights, the former Extinction Rebellion activists turned pro-nuclear campaigner. She really nails that absolutely maddening and unhelpful doomerism of the language used by environmentalists.
And finally, for no other reason than it turned up in my YouTube recommendations this week, a song from one of my favourite bands, Bad Cop/Bad Cop. They are some proper right-on feminist punks, who if I ever met them would probably find me too much of a centrist sellout now I’m old. But they’re really fucking good, so have a listen.
That’s it for this week. Don’t forget to check out my big piece about why the birth rate weirdos have (one, very specific) point. And if you want to dig into the archives, here’s a piece on how Keir Starmer can do a very O’Malleyist thing he’s not doing, and take us close towards Europe.
Finally, don’t forget to pre-pledge your subscription to ensure that you get next week’s Odds and Ends, and so that when I launch a premium tier, I’ll be able to feed Hashtag and Boudicca.