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]

Discussion point: restrictions on elderly drivers

“Over-70s facing driving curfew in licence shake-up”, reports the Times.

Before you pile in, the headline is misleading. What is being proposed is actually a relaxation of existing regulations:

Over-70s in poor health may be allowed to continue driving if they agree to fit a tracking device restricting them to daylight hours near their home.

That could be liberating. Or it could be a Trojan horse. First elderly people with health problems, then elderly people in general and sick people in general… what other groups might the government decide need to be tracked?

Licences expire when drivers turn 70, and those wanting to keep driving must inform the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) of medical conditions such as dementia, Parkinson’s, epilepsy, diabetes — if it is treated with insulin — and any condition that affects both eyes or the total loss of sight in one eye. Reviews follow every three years.

Under the proposals discussed at a meeting this month between the DVLA and Driving Mobility, the official network of driving assessment centres, the over-70s could be eligible for “graduated driving licences”. These would potentially restrict them to a radius of 20 or 30 miles from home and bar them from night driving. They would apply only to those who would otherwise face losing their licence because of ill health.

Edward Trewhella, chief executive of Driving Mobility, said: “A lot of older drivers stick within their own locality — they go to the shop, the doctor’s surgery, go and see a granddaughter down the road, probably on minor roads with which they are familiar. This process would regularise that, and make it legal for them to do so as long as they didn’t take a trip outside of an area or outside of a time restriction. That would mean that they were driving safely within their familiar environment.”

For many elderly people, especially those who live where public transport is poor, the ability to drive is the difference between an active, sociable, productive life and imprisonment until death.

And yet –

Patricia Colquhoun, 69, lost her son, Neil, 28, when Turner Waddell, 90, a one-eyed retired GP with dementia, drove a mile the wrong way down a dual carriageway. Colquhoun, who lives in Hampshire, said the current system, which relies on self-referral, is flawed. “Nobody likes to say they’re old. They all say, ‘There’s nothing wrong with me.’

Eureka!

In 2012 scientists found the Higgs Boson. In 2015, after fifty years of trying, they finally found gravitational waves.

In 2021…

Leave camp turned Brexit into a religion to capture votes, study finds

Vote Leave turned Brexit into its own religion to capture supporters, a recent study by the universities of Birmingham and Warwick has found.

Researchers said slogans such as “take back control” used the NHS as the country’s Holy Grail that could be rescued from European forces threatened by Britain’s unique historical place in the world.

They also said Brexiteers focused on secular theological concepts such as sovereignty and nation to engage voters.

A study found it. It is Science.

A quote from a Tim Worstall quotulation

Tim Worstall was recently quotulated, and from that quotulation I extracted this much smaller quote:

The entire point of any form of automation is to destroy jobs so as to free up that labour to do something else. The new technology doesn’t create jobs, it allows other jobs to be done.

Well it’s a snappy quote, but I disagree. The entire point? Surely, part of the point of automation is, often, to make certain sorts of product possible that otherwise wouldn’t be possible, many of which products make other sorts of work both necessary and possible. The point of automation, to use a well-worn metaphor, is not merely to break eggs, in the form of existing jobs that it destroys; it is also to create new kinds of omelette in the form of new products previously unmakeable and new jobs previously undoable, by creating inputs and materials for these new jobs that used not to exist. Oftentimes, new technology does create new jobs, and often this happens on purpose. An often, that’s at the very least part of the point of the exercise. The new technology does not merely allow other jobs, jobs in general, to be done by those it throws out of their existing jobs. It creates particular new jobs that people must then be hired to do.

I think I get where Worstall is coming from. The grand aim of economic life is to create a world that requires us all to do less work rather than merely to remain on progressively more elaborate treadmills and still slaving away at the same old pace for the same old number of hours, for the same old money. But, he overstates that case. The “purpose” of any particular enterprise can be whatever may reasonably be expected to result from it. That can indeed be more freed up labour, but it can also be particular new kinds of labour, which are more fun, more significant, and better remunerated.

Also, the first impact of new technology is often to destroy existing jobs. But that is often only the beginning of the story, as those unleashing the new technology are typically well aware.

What Worstall says reminds me of that claim that you regularly hear that “the entire purpose of any business is to make profits”. Again, snappy, but again, in most cases, wrong. Any enterprise must stay solvent. One way or another, it must pay its bills. But the idea that all that matters to the people who run some particular enterprise is its profitability is, more often than not, just plain wrong. Often, what unites them is not the love of profit but the love of making whatever they make, doing whatever they do. They know that they must be profitable, and can’t be too wasteful, but that’s because that way they get to keep on serving up this stuff, stuff that they love to create for its own sake.

George Monbiot comes out in favour of censorship

“Covid lies cost lives – we have a duty to clamp down on them”, he writes in the Guardian.

I will skip the bit where I tell Samizdata readers why censorship is morally bad. You already know. Once upon a time Mr Monbiot knew, too, but it no longer surprises me to see that yet another left winger has succumbed to the modern McCarthyism. You would think sixty-five years of fantasising about how they would have stood up to Senator McCarthy or his equivalents in the House Un-American Activities Committee would have strengthened their spines a little more. But I can still be shocked at how much of a betrayal of the scientific method Mr Monbiot’s attempt to defend science by means of forbidding the publication of opposing hypotheses represents. As a commenter called “tomsmells” says,

This is quite an astounding agenda, considering how new this virus is and how frequently the experts in control have been wrong. Perhaps we should have considered banning talk of encouraging mask wearing when it was very much not considered a good idea by the experts in charge? Or when loss of taste and smell wasn’t considered a symptom? I’m not sure it would have been helpful for the understanding of what works and what doesn’t. It probably won’t be now either even though you seem to suggest we apparently we know exactly how to deal with this virus, despite the bodies piling up around the world. In circumstances when you clearly don’t have all the answers, it can’t be a good idea to ban ideas your consistently wrong scientists disagree with. That is essentially how freedom of speech functions within a democracy, ideas get talked about, hopefully the best prevail.

And on top of that, surely you can see how this approach is wrought with danger? It’s always easy to do the censoring, but bugger me is it difficult when you are the one being censored. Bear that in mind when you advocate this level of censorship, particularly in a debate when you have no doubt been wrong about plenty of things – which may I add is no shame, this is a complicated and evolving problem whose solution won’t be found any faster by banning discussion.

Ursula von der Leyen speaks about creating a “truly global common good”

When a politician says the words “common good” it is usually with a very specific meaning, and this use of the phrase by Ms von der Leyen is no exception:

“The EU vows to force firms to declare what vaccines are being exported to the UK as Ursula von der Leyen says she ‘means business’ about getting bloc’s ‘fair share’ – despite warnings a blockade to help shambolic rollout could ‘poison’ relations”, the Daily Mail reports.

Ursula von der Leyen today vowed to make firms declare what vaccines they are exporting to the UK as she scrambled to contain a backlash at the EU’s shambolic rollout.

The commission president said a ‘transparency mechanism’ is being introduced as she insisted that the bloc ‘means business’ about getting its fair share of supplies.

The sabre-rattling from Brussels, which comes amid growing chaos and protests across the continent, has incensed senior MPs, with warnings that the EU could ‘poison’ relations for a generation if it blocks some of the 40million Pfizer doses the UK has bought ‘legally and fairly’.

But “Is the EU to blame for AstraZeneca’s vaccine shortage?” asks Robert Peston in the Spectator.

Short answer: yes.

The important difference between AstraZeneca’s relationship with the UK and its relationship with the EU – and the reason it has fallen behind schedule on around 50m vaccine doses promised to the bloc – is that the UK agreed its deal with AstraZeneca a full three months before the EU did. This gave AstraZeneca an extra three months to sort out manufacturing and supply problems relating to the UK contract (there were plenty of problems).

Here is the important timeline. In May AstraZeneca reached an agreement with Oxford and the UK government to make and supply the vaccine. In fact, Oxford had already started work on the supply chain.

The following month AstraZeneca reached a preliminary agreement with Germany, the Netherlands, France and Italy, a group known as the Inclusive Vaccine Alliance, based on its agreement with the UK. That announcement was on 13 June.

But the EU then insisted that the Inclusive Vaccine Alliance could not formalise the deal, and the European Commission took over the contract negotiations on behalf of the whole EU. So there were another two months of talks and the contract was not signed until the end of August.

What is frustrating for AstraZeneca is that the extra talks with the European Commission led to no material changes to the contract, but this wasted time that could have been spent making arrangements to manufacture the vaccine with partner sites. The yield at these EU partner sites has been lower than expected.

UPDATE: It’s hotting up: The Daily Mail reports, “Now EU wants our vaccines: Brussels demands Covid jabs made in Britain are sent to EUROPE as one lab warns banning exports from the bloc will mean NO more doses are made”

And the lesson for today is…

…from the Second Book of Kings, Chapter 20, Verses 12-19:

12 At that time Marduk-Baladan son of Baladan king of Babylon sent Hezekiah letters and a gift, because he had heard of Hezekiah’s illness. 

13 Hezekiah received the envoys and showed them all that was in his storehouses – the silver, the gold, the spices and the fine oil – his armoury and everything found among his treasures. There was nothing in his palace or in all his kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them.

14 Then Isaiah the prophet went to King Hezekiah and asked, ‘What did those men say, and where did they come from?’

‘From a distant land,’ Hezekiah replied. ‘They came from Babylon.’

15 The prophet asked, ‘What did they see in your palace?’

‘They saw everything in my palace,’ Hezekiah said. ‘There is nothing among my treasures that I did not show them.’

16 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, ‘Hear the word of the Lord: 

17 the time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your predecessors have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the Lord. 

18 And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.’

19 ‘The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,’ Hezekiah replied. For he thought, ‘Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?’

While I would not go so far as to claim this post was divinely inspired, 2 Kings 20: 12-19 actually was the lesson in a church service broadcast on Radio 3 on Wednesday morning. I caught a little of it while in the car heading down to Bisley to perform an activity that once would have been proudly described as contributing to national security. (Do not try this line now.)

Anyway, for some reason over the next few days I found myself paying a little more attention to news stories like this one from today’s South China Morning Post,

“US blacklists about 60 more Chinese firms including top chip maker SMIC and drone manufacturer DJI”,

…or to this one from the BBC two days ago, “Huawei: Uighur surveillance fears lead PR exec to quit”,

Or to any of a thousand others. But what is the lesson for today? What should we do about the threat from the People’s Republic of China? “War is the health of the state”, wrote Randolph Bourne, and cold war is its daily vitamin pill. It was not so long ago that people like me were enthusiasts for China’s turn to capitalism. I still am, mostly. Now that their rulers have cast off all but the fig leaf of communism, a significant fraction of the human race has been lifted out of poverty in my lifetime. The Chinese people are not free, but they are much more free than they were in the days when the Eight Revolutionary Operas were almost literally the only music allowed. I am happy for them.

Yet when I see that famous video of Joe Biden, the man soon to take up residence in the White House, jovially saying, “China is going to eat our lunch? Come on, man”, I cannot but remember the words of the prophet:

And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.’

‘The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,’ Hezekiah replied. For he thought, ‘Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?’

No longer great minds

What great minds have met and advanced human knowledge under the banner of the Royal Society. Christopher Wren, Robert Hooke, Newton, William Herschel, Charles Babbage, Darwin, Einstein, Hawking.

Now reduced to petty power grabs by encouraging politicians to meddle in minutiae.

“Platforms and regulators should limit streaming resolution and default to SD, the authors urged.”

Pathetic.

Welcome to the future

‘Why did it take nine hours to go 130 miles in our new electric Porsche?’, was the question Linda Barnes and her mysteriously un-named husband found themselves asking at the end of a very long day, as reported by the Guardian:

A couple from Kent have described how it took them more than nine hours to drive 130 miles home from Bournemouth as they struggled to find a working charger capable of producing enough power to their electric car.

Linda Barnes and her husband had to visit six charging stations as one after another they were either out of order, already had a queue or were the slow, older versions that would never be able to provide a fast enough charge in the time.

While the couple seem to have been “incredibly unlucky”, according to the president of the AA, Edmund King, their case highlights some of the problems that need ironing out before electric car owners can rely on the UK’s charging infrastructure.

Though beset by tribulations, Ms Barnes keeps the faith:

Linda says she now knows why most drivers charge their cars at home overnight and avoid using the public network. “Our car is lovely to drive and electric cars are the future. However, someone needs to get a grip of the charging infrastructure,” she says.

Buried deep within that paragraph lies the answer to her question.

The mask slips

In today’s Sunday Times Camilla Long has a slight but amusing piece called “Jeffrey Toobin is caught with his pants down and he’s the victim? That’s a touch too much”. I realise that this audience would have little interest in the doings of the titular Toobin-

Oh, all right. Here it is:

If you thought the weak, the poor, the sick and the elderly had it bad during Covid, you might like to consider a new and extremely vulnerable and at-risk minority group: bored, rich, horny alpha males between the ages of 50 and 70 who have been shut away in their luxury triplexes with not a single sexy secretary or waitress to perve over.

In normal times these poor and lonely red-blooded millionaires wouldn’t go five minutes without putting their hands down their own pants or someone else’s — but now they must do everything for themselves, including, disastrously, setting up and managing Zoom calls.

My heart goes out, for example, to “the Tiger Woods of legal journalism” — Jeffrey Toobin — who was reported to have suffered some kind of extreme trouser event at his computer during a Zoom session with his colleagues at The New Yorker. During an “election simulation” — easy, fellas — with a radio station in which journalists assumed various roles, the 60-year-old writer — famous in America for his coverage of the OJ Simpson trial — apparently forgot to turn his camera off while his co-workers enjoyed a “strategy session” in “their respective breakout rooms”.

Toobin seemed to be “on a second video call”, said witnesses; when the groups returned, he had lowered the camera and was “touching his penis”. He then left the call, came back and, in the manner of someone who’s rarely been held accountable for anything — a boomer for whom life just falls into place — he seemed oblivious to the fact he’d destroyed his career, literally at a stroke.

Though as Ms Long points out later in the piece, working two jobs at once has not destroyed his career, because

…if there’s one group even more protected than a rich white alpha male in our society, it’s the rich white alpha male who hates Donald Trump.

All very amusing, but the last two paragraphs spoilt my mood:

It is true that the desperate scramble to shore up the hopeless Biden has reached extraordinary levels of deceit and manipulation — accounts are locked, reporting is pulled, likes and retweets seem to be managed.

Three months ago I myself got on the wrong side of Twitter’s political posturing by questioning whether masks worked — and my account is still down, with no response to appeals. If you think it’ll censor over that tiny issue, why not the presidential election?

My opinion is that masks probably do almost nothing to protect the wearer from Covid-19 and similar bugs, but they do confer significant protection to others. Feel free to discuss this question if it interests you, but I will not be participating in that particular debate. My uninformed opinion would add no value. And in any case the processing power that is available inside my head to think about any topic related to masks is entirely consumed by trying to deal with the revelation that Twitter censorship goes that far. I was naive. I did not know. Ms Long is quite wrong to call it a “tiny issue”. As with climate change, my now rather shaken belief in the “scientific consensus” was based on thinking it was a scientific consensus. I think it was Sir Peter Medawar in Advice to a Young Scientist who said that the dominance of the dominant hypothesis should be like that of a champion prizefighter: he is the champ because he has taken on and beaten all comers, and because he extends an open invitation to the whole world to displace him if they can.

But when people begin to suspect with good reason that the dominance of the dominant hypothesis is more like that of the champion golfer Kim Jong Il, it is no wonder that conspiracy theories spread like wildfire.

So, Mr Dorsey and Mr Zuckerberg, how are your fact checkers getting on with that New York Post story about Hunter Biden?

“When will they be reporting? Surely not after the election?”
“What have they found out so far?” You know you could check on the veracity of the emails by asking other recipients – have you done that?”
“Have you liaised with the FBI regarding the progress of their no doubt rigorous ongoing investigation of the material found on the computers?”
“Why was the dissemination via your platforms of illegally obtained material not a problem for the New York Times when it released a ‘trove’ of Donald Trump’s tax returns at the end of September?”
“Why was the dissemination via your platforms of leaked material not a problem when someone leaked Christine Blasey Ford’s confidential letter to Senator Dianne Feinstein that accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault?”
“Oh, and about that whole Russian collusion story about which we heard so much on Facebook and Twitter but which turned out to be nothing…”

I would so enjoy seeing the Senate Judiciary Committee make the cool, hip founders of Twitter and Facebook squirm with a barrage of questions that laid bare their revolting left-wing billionaire hypocrisy, before swatting away the law they have been hiding behind to censor their political enemies while pretending to be mere providers of a means of communication. The Republicans are as mad as hell and they ain’t gonna take it any more. Yay! Go Republicans! And Go Democrats, too, because Joe Biden wants to revoke Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act too. So now that all sides agree, let’s do this thing!

Or perhaps not. All laws passed to acclaim from both sides of the aisle turn out badly. It is a law of nature, like Boyle’s or Murphy’s. Besides that, as Andy Kessler argues in the Wall Street Journal,

…if we repeal 230, we’ll end up with more censorship. Why? Because if platforms are suddenly liable for everything posted, the knee-jerk reaction will be to take down everything questionable, leaving us with giant receptacles of Baby Shark videos, which would diminish the channels small businesses use to reach customers. Then, say goodbye to competition. There are hundreds of smaller social media competitors that wouldn’t be able to afford the software, let alone the tens of thousands of humans, to take down posts.

There’s no simple way to “fix” Section 230 either. The feds could require nonpartisan, balanced views. But who decides what’s balanced? We’d be back to where we started. Any fix would open a can of worms of special interests, maybe even a new Digital Diction Department staffed by justice warriors deciding which phrases are no longer acceptable, like “master bedroom” or even “preference.” And then the law would get larded with special exceptions. The thinking would be, “Let politicians say what they want, for democracy’s sake, but protesters should also get a pass, depending on their grievances.” It would never end.

The Challenger disaster seen through Guardian spectacles

Some chick called Emma Brockes writes in the Guardian, “The Challenger disaster: we can’t say we weren’t warned about American hubris”.

The article itself will add nothing to your understanding of how the space shuttle came to break apart soon after launch. I might give the Netflix documentary a chance, despite the Guardian‘s description of it as “a timely meditation on the perils of exceptionalism”. It seems harsh to condemn anything on the basis of what the Guardian says about it, especially since the Guardian article in question contained incoherent sentences like the second one in this quote:

In a US news report about the space programme, a TV host says, with amazement, that the newest Nasa recruits include, “two blacks, an oriental, and six women”. (One of them, Sally Ride, is shown being asked by a journalist whether, when she tells a man she’s an astronaut, he believes her.)

Got that? Sally Ride told a male journalist that she was an astronaut. Then he (the journalist) asked her (the astronaut) whether he believed her.

[Edit: Correction to the above! And apology to Ms Brockes, in the unlikely event that she ever reads this. Commenter “Jim” pointed out that the sentence I quoted makes perfect sense if you see the final “he” as not referring to the male journalist but to the general category of men who Sally Ride might tell that she is an astronaut.

Edit to the Edit: Niall Kilmartin made the same point as Jim did but in such a gentlemanly fashion that I did not quite get it. I would happily delete this entire section in embarrassment, but my rule for blogging is that the very things you want to stealth-edit most are those you should not touch.]

So much for the article. However the readers’ comments (the Graun made the mistake of allowing them) are rather good. The most recommended comment is by “chunkychips”:

This is a bizarre article. We’re supposed to believe that a NASA cockup and some dude who approved the launch of the space shuttle 30 odd years ago based on the data available to him at the time is an example of American exceptionalism?? What?

I’m afraid I’m just left with the image of a bitter writer watching the documentary and a little light goes off in her head “oooh, I could make a massive and ludicrous leap into condemning a country of 300 odd million people for ever daring to try”.

I’m so sick of the drip drip of articles that condemn western countries for not being as good as they think they are. They never stop to think of the undeniable fact that the western world is still the best place to live in human history regardless of who you are and what you believe or think. So yes, pretty damn exceptional actually and worth protecting and preserving.

The second most recommended comment is by “YorkieBrummy”:

Contrast with the impeccable safety records of China and Russia.

Is UK/US “exceptionalism” the new Graun buzzword?

The same commenter then adds,

Nothing about NASA’s toxic masculinity?

2020 like it ought to be

Jet suit paramedic