We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Tunnel Vision – Switzerland vs the United Kingdom

If tunnel building were an Olympic support, I suspect that Switzerland would bestride the top step of the podium and its virtually unknown national anthem would blare out to the cheering crowd, thrilled by the culmination of a 20-year slog of building the Gotthard base tunnel, the world’s longest rail tunnel, which opens today, co-incidentally the anniversary of a British naval triumph against the French, the Glorious First of June (with those rebellious colonists being involved tangentially).

This twin-bore tunnel opened on time and within budget, and it runs level and almost straight through the varying geology of 35 miles of Swiss mountain, a fantastic achievement, but with sadly 9 deaths, but that seems very low over 20 years and 35 miles. If it can be traversed, per reports, in 17 minutes, that’s an average speed of over 120mph. The idea is to get lorries crossing the Alps through Switzerland off the Swiss roads. Switzerland is, of course, (along with Liechtenstein) surrounded by the European Union but outside it.

And meanwhile, as the Swiss literally give geology both barrels, in England, we have our glorious Channel Tunnel and the Channel Ports (as the Sage of Kettering relayed to me once ‘The problem with the Channel Tunnel is that it has a government at both ends.‘). Well, today a House of Commons committee has come up with a rather skeptical report about a new plan to cope with cross-Channel traffic. For those who do not drive in the South-East of England, there is a standing plan in place to cope with the vagaries of the joys of free movement of goods in the glorious European Union whenever the Channel Tunnel runs into a problem (e.g. when the French start horsing around, burning sheep etc.), called ‘Operation Stack’, where the Kent police close an entire motorway, the M20, and park lorries bound for the Continent on it pending the cessation of hostilities, typically a period of 5 days of so, when a major motorway becomes a lorry park, and to Hell with the locals.

part of the M20 was used 32 times last summer by queuing lorries – a process known as Operation Stack.

The British answer to this problem is, of course, to shell Calais and demand its return to English control (er, no), it is to build a 65 hectare lorry park at a cost of £250,000,000. This would be as big as Disneyland (the one in California) and bigger than the Vatican (a mere 44 hectares) and with the added bonus of no Pope. It will allow 4,000 lorries to be parked whilst the benighted lorry drivers await the restoration of normality. One might ask why each lorry space would cost £62,500 (c.$90,000 US)?

Do we see here cultural differences between the UK and Switzerland? The acceptance of failure and its normalisation, a tendency towards inflated cost and an attitude of weary resignation, against a positive can-do attitude that bulldozes through problems.

So why can’t we be like Switzerland?

Postscript: Eric’s comment indicates that the Swiss may not have been above a bit of creative accounting in completing the tunnel on time and in budget, for which I am grateful, I may have been misled by the BBC (which in Cyrillic was the acronym for the Soviet Army Airborne Forces, what a co-incidence).

You can not carry that

Today I learned that Stansted Airport security will make you put your child’s comforter through the Xray machine. And before you get it back, if the beeper goes off, ask him to stand still on his own to have a wand waved at him.

My two year old boy sat down and screamed at the man. I was very proud.

Samizdata quote of the day

These four separate craters were man made, or to be honest, created by a bunch of government union drones, not refilled with blacktop or marked with an orange cone. The question is whether this is utter incompetence, blatant indifference, spite or a business transaction between government drones and local tire dealers. Luckily, government traffic engineers have been too swamped to properly time the lights on Chestnut Street for the last 20 years, so no one can travel faster than 15 mph anyway. Government lessens the pain of their ineptitude through their ineptitude in another area.

Jim Quinn

Linked to by the amazingly industrious and non-drone-like Instapundit, in this case in the person of non-drone Ed Driscoll.

Why a traveller loves Uber

I hate taxis. Hate them. Hate them. Hate them. Hate them. Loathe them. Detest them.

This is a fairly common feeling amongst frequent travellers. You arrive in a foreign and unfamiliar place on a plane or train. You are tired. You are not familiar with local prices. You are not familiar with local customs. You probably know the name of the hotel or other place that you want to go to, but you possibly don’t know where it is or what is the best route to take you there.

So you get into a taxi. It is just you and the driver. You want him (or her, but it never is) to take you to your destination. You are putting yourself in a sealed and locked car with someone you have never met before and, and who you will never do business with again. He doesn’t know who you are and never will, and you don’t know who he is, and never will. In the event that you have grounds for a complaint, it might be possible to identify him through his medallion number or licence number or something, but you are not going to think to do that (being very tired) and even if you do, complaining later will involve procedures, languages, laws and customs that you are not familiar with. A driver who takes advantage of you is extremely unlikely to suffer any consequences whatsoever.

As a consequence of all this, there are an absolutely endless number of ways in which taxis drivers will take advantage of foreign travellers – particularly ones who have just arrived at airports and railway stations. These vary from mild dishonesty to outright criminality. All of the following have happened to me, at one time or another. Vaguely from least bad to worst bad.

  • The taxi driver takes a long route, so increasing the fare
  • The taxi driver flatly refuses to take you where you ask to be taken, but decides to take you to a different destination entirely, because he is being paid a commission by a different hotel/bus company/museum/airport/warlord/country than the one whose services you want to use. (Insisting that he does not understand you for linguistic reasons when he clearly does often happens in this and many other scams)
  • Taxi driver refuses to understand expressions like “What will it cost me to go to x?” or “Turn on the meter” in English (or indeed any other language) and is completely unable to understand gestures like pointing to your wallet, or pointing to the meter, or any such thing. At least, not until the end of the journey, at which point he will insist on a fare four times what is reasonable.
  • The taxi driver agrees on a fare, but at the end of the journey insists that he did not agree on that fare, and asks for a different amount of money. The fact that “fifteen” sounds very similar to “fifty” in English, and similar, can be particularly effective here.
  • Having agreed on a fare, the taxi driver drives you to a point in the middle of nowhere – but worryingly close to the Syrian border – and insists that you give him more money than was previously agreed upon, and refuses to go anywhere further and tries very hard to prevent you from finding another taxi driver until you agree
  • The meter is rigged. When a passenger who does not know better – a foreigner or someone otherwise from out of town – gets into the taxi, the driver pushes a button on the meter which causes it to charge three times as much as it does regularly
  • At the end of the journey, you only have a banknote that is many times the fare, and the driver insists that he has no change.
  • At the end of the journey, you pay your fare, and the taxi driver gives you forged money as change
  • At the end of the journey, the fare is 90 pesos. You give the driver a 100 peso note. He shows you the note you gave him back at you – a 10 peso note, indicating that you gave him the wrong amount. You give him another 100 peso note, failing to realise that he switched the notes and you have just paid him 90 pesos too much. (You are particularly vulnerable to this when it is dark, you have just got off a long flight, and the local money is unfamiliar. Actually, this is true of most of the above, but I was particularly annoyed with myself when I fell for this one that time in Buenos Aires. For the record, the forged money was also in Buenos Aires).

These scams all have to do with one of three things: the choice of the route, the setting of the fare, and the exchange of money. When I use Uber, all three of these issues are solved, utterly. Firstly, Uber’s satnav/GPS system tells the driver what route to take, and I as a passenger am shown the route on a map. If the driver diverts too far from that route without a good reason, I make a simple complaint, my money is refunded to me, the driver suffers reputational damage, and he does not get paid. The fare is decided by a third party (whose terms and conditions the driver has agreed to) and quoted to me in advance, either as a flat amount or a fare per mile. The “meter” is controlled by that third party, and cannot be rigged. And I pay the money to a third party, and the money is essentially held in escrow until I have completed my journey and have said I am happy with it. The driver knows he gets paid if he does his job properly, and I know that there will be no attempt to scam me over money. Because I know he is not going to scam me and he knows I am not going to scam him (and anyway, because there is recourse if one of us does) there is no reason for us to not trust one another, and we are therefore invariably polite and friendly to each other. Which makes my day nicer, and very likely his also.

I am extremely reluctant to get in a taxi in a foreign city, full stop. However, I will use Uber any time.

Tetrahedron Super Yacht

Aka Stealth Bomber Yacht?:

TetrahedtronSuperYacht

I came across this very superior yacht because it was written up and pictured up in the Daily Mail, among many other www places.

It is the work of this guy:

Long distances are achievable with reduced out-of-water drag and stormy ocean conditions would incur virtually no slamming. Improved efficiency is driven by elevated hydrofoil propulsion and would be an inherent performance benefit of this type of design.

Long distance, smooth travel through rough water at high speed: the key performance attributes of this new motor yacht design.

Yes, sadly this is only, as yet, a yacht “design”. This is a “concept yacht”.

Notions like this are why the world needs rich people. Their job is to check whether stuff like this actually works, at their own risk and at their own expense. The rest of us can then pile in and share the fun.

This thing should star in the next Bond movie, “smooth travel through rough water at high speed” being the very definition of James Bond’s world.

Reasons to watch Top Gear

The Guardian is not where I would expect to find a rave review of Top Gear.

Top Gear fetishises the totally unnecessary consumption of fossil fuels in the name of sport, entertainment and feeling better about your premature ejaculation disorder; it normalises dangerously fast driving; it contributes to the hunger for more and more cars that we neither need nor can sustain; it treats the sheer act of moving a machine as if it’s a display of heroic bravery and skill; and it paid Jeremy Clarkson’s salary for over 25 years.

Sounds great! Of course, with Clarkson and co. off to Amazon Prime, everyone is a bit worried whether the new line-up will be any good.

…the problem with Top Gear isn’t simply the lack of diversity of its presenting line-up, or its wrinkle-kneed wardrobe. It’s not its heritage brand of lazy bigotry and short-term greed, its predilection for petrol-powered laziness dressed up as machismo, its weaker-than-Liptons long-running in-jokes, its “I Am the Stig” USB memory sticks or its endless, jaw-slackening rota of reruns. It’s all of it. It’s the cars, motor industry and mentality on which it’s built. It’s the whole petrol-guzzling, self-interested, short-term, pleasure-seeking, morally indifferent, climate-changing, nature-breaking package. And it’ll take more than a new line-up to change that.

Well that’s a relief, then.

There should be room in our hearts for pity…

for the striking London black cab drivers whose hard won skills have been rendered obsolete by Uber and Addison Lee, just as we should remember with pity the thousands of drivers of hansom cabs whose hard-won skills with horses were rendered obsolete by the coming of the internal combustion engine. I am not being flippant or sarcastic. To lose one’s accustomed livelihood to new technology is a tough spot to be in, and there will be many reading this, some of them highly paid at present, who should look at Trevor Merralls’ situation and tremble.

But that pity should not extend to offering to keep Mr Merralls forever in the style to which he has become accustomed simply because he was born working class, or to stifling the opportunity for self-employment that Uber offers to its drivers (also working class), or to depriving Londoners who could not afford black cabs of the ability to take a cab at a reasonable price at any time day or night, and which will, as one of the Guardian commenters put it, “actually go to exotic destinations like Lewisham”.

Samizdata quote of the day

ThouShaltNotSteal

– More about Wicked Campers and their vans (copiously illustrated and with further links) at BrianMicklethwaitDotCom. Click on the middle picture at the bottom of that posting to see where I found the above sign.

In which I fill out an online “consultation”

I had some incoming from Uber yesterday. The TFL consultation on their proposals to bugger-up-all-competition-to-the-cossetted-black-cab-mafia is underway. I am usually rather sceptical about these things but Uber is such an obviously Good Thing that I participated anyway. You never know, it might make a difference.

Driverless cars have accidents, they aren’t anarchic enough!

Autonews reports that programmers working on driverless cars have found that having made them perfectly law-abiding, unable to commit traffic infractions, the result is that they have double the accident rate of driven cars, as they cannot cope with the anarchic driving of humans.

They obey the law all the time, as in, without exception. This may sound like the right way to program a robot to drive a car, but good luck trying to merge onto a chaotic, jam-packed highway with traffic flying along well above the speed limit. It tends not to work out well.

As the accidents have piled up — all minor scrape-ups for now — the arguments among programmers at places like Google Inc. and Carnegie Mellon University are heating up: Should they teach the cars how to commit infractions from time to time to stay out of trouble?

“It’s a constant debate inside our group,” said Raj Rajkumar, co-director of the General Motors-Carnegie Mellon Autonomous Driving Collaborative Research Lab in Pittsburgh. “And we have basically decided to stick to the speed limit. But when you go out and drive the speed limit on the highway, pretty much everybody on the road is just zipping past you. And I would be one of those people.”

Undaunted by collisions with reality, the diagnosis is that the problem is human driving.

Driverless vehicles have never been at fault, the study found: They’re usually hit from behind in slow-speed crashes by inattentive or aggressive humans unaccustomed to machine motorists that always follow the rules and proceed with caution.

Or might it be, as a libertarian might say, that government rules setting arbitrary speed limits create conditions where collisions are more likely?

Why we libertarians love Uber not just as a service but as an issue

I and my libertarian friends all love Uber. By that I don’t just mean that we love using Uber, the service, although I am sure that just like many others, we do. I mean that we love talking about Uber, as a libertarian issue, as an issue that nicely illustrates what libertarianism is all about and the sorts of things that libertarians believe in. In particular, we believe in: technological innovation and the freedom to do it, for the benefit of all, except those in the immediate vicinity of it and overtaken by it, because they make a living from the technology that is being overtaken.

Example. A couple of weeks ago I attended a talk about Art, which suggested that Art is not abundant enough and not benefiting enough people. A big part of the response from the floor during the Q&A afterwards was: It depends what you mean by Art. By most reasonable definitions, there has never been more Art. Prominent London libertarian Professor Tim Evans compared the attitude of the speaker to that of a London Black Cab driver fretting about how to keep London Black Cabs going, what with so many Londoners now preferring Uber Cabs. My point is not that this was a fair comparison, although I thought it was. My point is that we libertarians love Uber so much that we insert Uber into conversations about quite other things. Uber is something that we just love to talk about. And it’s not just Tim Evans, and me, and Johnathan Pearce, and Rob Fisher and Perry de Havilland who love to write and talk about Uber. Based on the conversations I’ve been having with fellow libertarians, it’s pretty much all of us. This is an issue which unites all of us, and which divides our opponents. After all, even anti-libertarians need a taxi ride from time to time, and they prefer it to be cheap and obtainable rather than expensive and unpurchasable.

At the very moment I first typed in the above paragraph, an email arrived from the IEA, telling me about how the IEA’s boss, Mark Littlewood, has been mixing it with Black Cabbies on the radio.

As for me, I found my interest renewed in the Uber battle when I encountered this Black Cab, last August, in Victoria Street, just up the road from the Houses of Parliament:

BlackCabAdvertisingUber1

Why was this cab of interest to me? Well, let’s take a close look at the rather intriguing politics lesson on the side of this Black Cab:

BlackCabAdvertisingUber2

As you can see from this posting at my personal blog, way back in August when I took those photos, I had in mind to put something here way back, provoked by them. But the delay didn’t matter. This issue is not going away any time soon.

The taxi driver whose taxi sported this advert clearly thought that this was an advert about how wicked Uber is. Uber lobbies. Uber puts Prime Ministerial friends on its payroll. Bad Uber. But to me, this read more like an advert in favour of David Cameron. Cameron wants Uber to flourish in London. Does he now? I did not know this. Good for Cameron. And bad for Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, who does not.

This is also an advert for Uber itself. Uber is cheaper … because it pays no tax! Come again … Uber is cheaper, you say? Hm, interesting. I must give it a go.

The LTDA, who, as you can see from the top picture, is responsible for the above advert, thinks that Uber is systematically breaking the law. What that tells me is not that Uber is bad, but that the law, insofar as it now impinges upon Uber, is an ass.

→ Continue reading: Why we libertarians love Uber not just as a service but as an issue

Just in case there was any doubt that Boris Johnson is an arsehole…

These bureaucratic new rules will not improve your ride. They’re designed to address the concerns of black cab drivers, who feel under pressure from increased competition. But the answer is to reduce the onerous regulations cabbies face today – not increase them for everyone else

Uber spokesman