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]

House Of Lords to overturn referendum?

Over on Facebook, where I occasionally joust with Remainers who are still in shock and anger at the impertinence and evil of their fellows in voting to leave the EU, a person applauded an apparent suggestion that the result could be blocked, by the House of Lords, the upper chamber of the UK political system. I wrote this, and decided I might as well put it on Samizdata as well:

The original post applauded the fact that the House of Lords, which is not elected by anyone, but composed of inheritors and favourites of governments, is to try and block the result of a democratic referendum in which more people voted than in any election since 1992. The enormity of this should give us pause. I find it mind-boggling that it is being contemplated.

The post claimed the referendum is illegal. No grounds are given as to what supposed laws were broken by holding this referendum. None. I’d be grateful if someone could give a law that was broken to justify the claim.

One can argue that the Leave side told lies (the same applies with some of the Remain side, by the way, as they often exaggerated the effects of Leave), but disliking the conduct of those in a referendum does not invalidate the result or render it void. Some Leavers may indeed be bigots, fools, or whatever. Quite a few Remainers are hardly models of logical thought, either, from my experience. If you claim that people voted without full knowledge of the consequences, that could be used to invalidate all elections, and be an excuse for dictatorship of supposed Platonic philosopher kings.

It is quite obvious to me that, when stripped of any flimflam, that a lot of those who wanted to stay in the EU have a low view of most of their fellow citizens, and wish they should be prevented from voting on anything of significance. There are uncertainties ahead; there are also uncertainties of remaining in the EU, particularly given the weak nature of the eurozone and the continued terrible economic and financial problems of Southern Europe.

The House of Lords is an anachronism, but it is at least easier for the UK to reform such a chamber, as it should, than for 28 members of the EU to change the structures of the EU. (I think the HoL should be an elected chamber, maybe by PR, or some other approach.) I think it is good to have an upper chamber to act as a brake on the Commons; all good political systems of ordered liberty need checks and balances. (The US Founding Fathers understood this.) Blocking the results of a referendum, however, is not a step to be taken lightly.

The European Union has been a collection of nation states, but is clearly moving towards full statehood, and the eurozone cannot really work without this to make fiscal transfers, etc, acceptable (consider the rows between Greece and Germany, etc). Such an outcome is not what most Britons want, including, I imagine, some of those who voted Remain. There is no broad mandate for the UK to become part of a European state.

The UK is a parliamentary democracy, and referendums should be used sparingly, and only on matters of overwhelming constitutional importance. The fine details must remain with parliament. The fact remains, however, that the outcome of the referendum, while not overwhelming, is clear enough: Leave.

I may be informed mostly about investment and financial issues in the EU, rather than politics, (I used to be a full-teim political correspondent) but my reporting on the EU and its financial regulations gives me a good vantage point on seeing how the EU works on a daily basis – I have covered the creation of god-knows how many directives over the past 20-plus years (gulps!) and it is clear that despite some good points, it is a centralising, bureaucratic and in too many cases, unaccountable body. It is not, I believe, reformable because too many countries want to keep it as it is. Cameron tried to get concessions and he failed.

Russia hacks the Republican Party

[Y]ou can get it from Robert Zubrin at the staunchly conservative National Review. “Carter Page is an out-and-out Putinite. A consultant to and investor in the Kremlin’s state-run gas company, Gazprom, Page has a direct financial interest in ending American sanctions against the company. Not only that, but Page is tight with the Kremlin’s foreign-policy apparatus and has served as a vehement propagandist for it.”

These are the people Donald Trump hired to hold his hand and tell him what’s what.

He’s not a Russian “Manchurian” candidate. He doesn’t take orders from Moscow, nor is Vlad bankrolling the Donald. There is no conspiracy here. There doesn’t need to be. Their interests and opinions align organically. Trump genuinely likes Putin, and the feeling is mutual.

Michael J. Totten

Olympics games at Dezeen

Now that Brexit has been and gone, the soon-to-be-upon-us Olympic Games are the new must-do design opportunity:


That’s going to get around. Although if you think it’s only Russians who are drug cheats I say you are being very naive. Nevertheless the above logo is all part of why I always enjoy all the they’re not ready stories which inevitably circulate around now in the Olympic cycle, before enough other people’s money is thrown at the various problems to make them go away, just in time.

This little flurry of bad Olympic news won’t last, alas. Drug doubts will get no mention from the television commentators. Bad Olympic news – i.e. proper Olympic news – will be submerged by a flood of good news, in the form of the various drugged-up competitors winning medals, and when it ends, it will all be declared a huge success. As of now, however, I can live in hope.

Boring Jobs vs. Automation

The BBC have been soliciting stories about boring jobs. An example:

I put pepperoni on 14,000 pizzas per day at a factory in Nottingham. If the conveyor belt broke down, we made smiley faces on the pizzas with the pepperoni. So if you ever see a smiley pizza, that’s why.

It is mostly a list of things that can be automated away, because boring implies repetitive. In software development we try to never do the same thing more than a few times. Software is easy to automate compared to physical things like putting toppings on pizza, but any boring job looks to me like an opportunity for an inventor.

Food production seems to be the source of a lot of these jobs. Perhaps robotics lecturer Steve Davis can offer some insight:

More recently, the availability of highly effective pick-and-place robots allowed automation to move upstream and undertake operations with actual food products on production lines. However, these systems are currently only generally installed on the high-volume, long-life, single-product lines. Smaller companies, which constitute over 90 percent of European food manufacturers, have been much slower to incorporate automation. The reasons for this include limited low-cost labor and expertise, market volatility, a belief that automation is unsuitable for the assembly of soft, variable, fragile, slippery/sticky natural products and the predominance of short-term orders, which discouraged capital investments in automation.

The cost of the machinery might be reduced by making more general purpose machines that can be sold off the shelf in larger quantities. And the skill level required to configure the machines can probably be reduced, to a point, with clever user interface design.

Pick and place robots are fun to watch, too.

4,367 Miles to Wall Drug

Free Ice Water. It brought us Husteads a long way and it taught me my greatest lesson, and that’s that there’s absolutely no place on God’s earth that’s Godforsaken. No matter where you live, you can succeed, because wherever you are, you can reach out to other people with something that they need!

So said Ted Hustead, founder of the Wall Drug store. He bought the store in 1931 in the “godforsaken” town of Wall, North Dakota. He and his wife decided to give it five years to make something of. There were not enough customers. In the final year his wife noticed the increasingly heavy traffic on the nearby highway and hit upon the idea of putting up signs enticing travellers with ice water. They started putting signs further and further along the highway. Now there are signs everywhere.

I imagine this story is well known to Americans. I first heard of Wall Drug from chapter 30 of the serialised web novel Unsong, a review of which I promise when it is finished.

After the sky cracked, the Wall Drug coordinate system started to impose itself more and more upon the ordinary coordinate system of longitude and latitude. Worse, the two didn’t exactly correspond. You could be driving from New York to New Jersey, and find a billboard promising Wall Drug in only thirty miles. Drive another ten, and sure enough, WALL DRUG, TWENTY MILES. Drive ten more, and you’d be promised a South Dakotan shopping center, only ten miles away. Drive another ten, and…who knows? No one has returned from Wall Drug in a generation. It’s become not only an omphalos, but a black hole in the center of the United States, a one-way attraction and attractor fed by an interstate highway system which never gives up its prey.

It is by Scott Alexander of the fascinating blog Slate Star Codex.

Alice in Wonderland economics

Has the Bank of England finished its campaign of driving down UK base rates and forcibly impoverishing savers ? On the evidence of last week’s Radio 4 programme ‘How low can rates go ?’ hosted by my dear and highly valued friend Martin Wolf, the answer is unclear. But a host of government-appointed technocrats from around the world, including Mr. Kuroda, were wheeled out in defence of a monetary policy that severed any ties it might once have had with the real world quite some time ago. (Victor Hill, reviewing the programme, calls it ‘Alice in Wonderland’ economics.)

– Tim Price writing about Monetary Terrorism.