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]

I wish I were reading a happier version of this story

Has anyone else been guiltily transfixed by the mystery of Danish inventor Peter Madsen, his now-sunken submarine, and the missing Swedish journalist Kim Wall? I truly do not wish to make light of the fact that a woman is missing, presumed dead, but I was undeniably fascinated by the whole idea of a crowd-sourced, privately built submarine. In any other circumstances I would have been delighted to learn that such a thing existed.

Here are some news reports on the story:

Danish submarine owner arrested over missing journalist

Submarine in missing journalist case sunk on purpose, Danish police say

Kim Wall and Danish submarine: What we know and what we don’t

Police in Two Countries Searching for Woman Missing Since Sub Sank

When commenting, please bear in mind that a criminal investigation is ongoing – and that all should be entitled to the presumption of innocence.

‘Self-driving car’ actually controlled by man dressed up as a car seat

The Guardian has the story, here.

Uber drivers collude

Uber drivers are supposedly colluding to cause the Uber algorithm to increase fares by logging off en masse.

Dr Mareike Mohlmann, of Warwick Business School, said: “Drivers have developed practices to regain control, even gaming the system. It shows that the algorithmic management that Uber uses may not only be ethically questionable but may also hurt the company itself.”

It sounds like a fair game to me. Any driver who does not participate will have the advantage of being able to snap up passengers first. And higher prices will simply reduce demand. Only people willing to pay more will use the service.

The system works as designed, except that the interface is clunky. A better way might be to allow drivers to set their own prices.

A thought experiment on how private road owners would deal with the threat of terrorism

When dealing with complex political issues I often find it useful to ask myself what would happen in the absence of the state. This is not because I think that the glorious libertarian revolution is just around the corner but because such an exercise can at least give us some clues as to what the state should be doing in the here and now.

So, what do I mean by private roads?
Roads where the owners may decide who uses them, under what circumstances and have the means to enforce their decisions. The type of ownership could include purely commercial enterprises – out for a profit, individually-owned roads and – what I think will be the most common form – club-owned roads.

A lot would depend on people’s propensity to tolerate acts of terrorism. My guess is that this would be pretty low but I could be wrong. But that’s the great thing about the free market: it is a wonderful way of finding out what people really want. If the propensity is high then I would guess the outcome would be very similar to what we have now. Terrorism would simply be something that people would have to get used to. But let’s assume that the propensity is low. A commercial road owner would therefore have a very strong incentive to prevent terrorism.

Why?
Because, if a competitor was better at preventing terrorism then more people will want to use his roads.

But what of a road owned by a club?
This is an important example if I am right that most private roads would be in this form. The governance rules might be in the form of one frontage one vote. But it may be that the number of votes is proportional to the fees charged.

Now a road club will not have the same incentives as a commercial road – they would not exist to make money. But they would have incentives enough. The principal one would be that their members would want to preserve the value of their properties and one factor in that would be how likely it was that their properties became subject to terrorism.

Individual road owners, we can assume, would be in much the same position as clubs.

So, assuming there are strong incentives to prevent terrorism how would road owners go about it?
Obviously they would want to stop the terrorists. But they would also want to make it as easy as possible for non-terrorists to go about their business. And they would want to keep the costs down.

A key moment is what happens when someone enters the road – or road network – from one of the inevitably large number of frontages. You could have a guard on every frontage searching every person entering the road. However, this would be expensive. Not only that but it would be unlikely to be effective. Guards would get bored and become inattentive and would themselves become likely targets.

Another approach might be to deny access to anyone suspected of being an active terrorist. But this is fraught with difficulty. How would you know who is who?

Far simpler and more effective would be to ban anyone harbouring any terrorist sympathies whatsoever. Effective terrorist campaigns can always rely on a sea of sympathisers who are not themselves terrorists to aid and abet those who are. These sympathisers are usually easy to identify. Exceptions might be granted for children and members of the older generation. Or maybe there would be a system of vouching for people, guarantees of good behaviour or even the taking of hostages. The chances are that if private roads came about tomorrow terrorist sympathisers would wake up to find their properties surrounded by barbed wire.

The next issue would be those seeking entry from another road i.e. a road owned by another entity. What you would probably see is a system of guarantees. One road owner would guarantee the non-terrorist nature of their road users to other road owners. Obviously, there would be some fairly hefty compensation should one road owner’s users engage in acts of terrorism on another road owner’s territory. That would mean that road owners would be very careful who they let out.

There is a precedent for this – sort of. Those familiar with the movie The Day of the Jackal will recall that the idea that they might be letting a terrorist loose on foreign soil scared the living daylights out of the British government.

So, what would happen to the terrorist sympathisers?
It is difficult to see how terrorist sympathisers would be allowed to use non-terrorist-sympathiser roads. They would therefore only be allowed to use terrorist-sympathiser roads. As terrorist sympathisers tend to be poor and geographically concentrated, they would have an immediate problem over what to do for an income especially in the absence of a welfare state. Faced with poverty some would choose to leave for terrorist-sympathiser majority countries while others would choose to change their beliefs. Of course, there is the issue as to whether such conversions would be genuine. I have no answer to this.

But what if the terrorists engaged in acts of terrorism from their own roads?
They could for instance mortar bomb non-terrorist-sympathiser roads. My guess is that they would get mortar-bombed back. Just to greater effect.

Bike rental chaos

Competition between companies is all well and good, but it is important that you seek Permission from the Relevant Authorities before doing anything at all. Anything else would just not be Sustainable. It would be Chaos. Neoliberalism Gone Mad!

For example, if there is more than one company renting out bikes, pretty soon careless customers of the new upstart Chinese Infiltrating Globalist Menace company will be Dumping bikes all over the place and interfering with the nice customers of the Official company with the Council Contract who are carefully placing their bikes next to the State Approved Bike Racks.

This is the sort of Irresponsible Behaviour that can tarnish the carefully cultivated reputation of Right Thinking bicycle renters and confuse Consumers who might not understand that there are two different companies renting out bicycles with bewilderingly different tarrifs and branding. And it is simply Reckless and Greedy business practice to enter a market without consulting Stakeholders about the Need for two competing businesses.

I approve of competition but not Unfettered, Unregulated, Inefficient competition of the sort that can leave a Bad Taste and clutter up the town. It is just not civilised and Something Must Be Done.

Equality denied boarding at Aeroflot?

News reaches us from Russia, that, despite 70 years of Leninism and now an assault by the Cultural Marxists, notions of equality do not appear to be taking off at Aeroflot, reportedly with a fleet of newish aircraft, now Russia most powerful ‘brand’ (surely ‘Kalashnikov’, but I digress).

Russia’s flagship carrier Aeroflot is fighting a legal battle with several of its female flight attendants who say it favours slim and attractive cabin crew.

One case has been thrown out of court. The concept of someone actually needing to be up to the job appears to have survived in Russia.

The company argues that every extra kilogram of weight forces Aeroflot to spend more on fuel.
Its application form for would-be flight attendants requires details of height, weight and clothing size.
Staff have to meet a minimum height requirement because they need to store hand luggage in the overhead lockers, Aeroflot says.

The fuel penalty was quoted as every extra kilogram of weight costing an extra 800 roubles (£11; $14) annually on fuel, but Aeroflot has other points.

‘…a survey carried out for Aeroflot showed that passengers preferred attractive flight attendants and agreed that an airline had a right to stipulate weight limits and clothes sizes for its staff.

Perish the thought that the fat and the short are not wanted, it’s all down to job-need.

In one case, the complaint is stark.

Ms Ierusalimskaya, aged 45, wants Aeroflot to pay her 1m roubles (£14,000; $17,750) in compensation, Russia’s Kommersant news reports. Her clothes size is 52 (XL, under the international system).
She said the airline had transferred her to domestic flights, cutting her income. She complained that Aeroflot’s rules required stewardesses to be at least 160cm (5ft 3ins) tall and have a clothes size no larger than 48 (L; 16 in UK; 42 in Germany; 14 in US).

Aeroflot’s point of view:

“A heavy physical build makes it harder for a flight attendant to move around the cabin and provide a smooth service for the passenger,” an Aeroflot official told the court.

Quite, you can’t have stewardesses so wide that they would need to be punted down the aisle with a trolley, that’s just not safe.

But a Russian Trade Unionist, helpfully called Boris, is on the warpath.

Boris Kravchenko called Ms Ierusalimskaya’s case “an unprecedented case of sex discrimination”. He is a member of President Vladimir Putin’s Council for Human Rights, and chairs the Russian Labour Confederation.
“The trade unions in this sector have teeth,” he said, warning of possible strike action “if such discriminatory behaviour persists”. He was speaking to Russia’s RBC news website.

Boris is keeping rather quiet about what happened to women with Beria it seems.

Now does this resistance to PC blandishments augur well for Russia, in that it might have a cultural meta-context where, if other silly and evil notions of statism and/or banditry can be got rid of, it might lay the basis of a free and prosperous commonwealth? And are we in the West closer to that goal?

Italy keeps up its traditional ways

…of backwardness, protectionism and cronyism. Sorry, Italy, I love you in so many ways but this is just Third World:

The International Business Times reports, “Italy court bans Uber across the country over unfair competition for traditional taxis”

An Italian court banned the Uber app across the country on Friday ruling that it contributed unfair competition to traditional taxis. In a court ruling, a Rome judge upheld a complaint filed by Italy’s major traditional taxi associations, preventing Uber from using its Black, Lux, Suv, XL, Select and Van services from operating within the country.

Samizdata quote of the day

He [Trump] appears to be entertaining the horrible idea that the people who buy cars ought to be free to decide for themselves how much fuel economy matters to them – since they will be the ones paying for both the car and the gas. And – oh my god! – that this is really none of the business of the “concerned” scientists and other professional busybodies who regard their opinions and preferences as holy writ enforceable at gunpoint.

Eric Peters

A flying car that makes sense

The basic foolishness of flying cars is the idea that it makes sense to fly around with a huge car engine for turning the wheels of a car, as well as with the engine and the wings that do the flying, all in one gigantic and gigantically impractical conglomeration. Car engines are one thing, flying machines are another. You either have two entire engines, one to do each job properly. Or you somehow contrive for one engine to do both jobs, sort of how the Harrier Jump Jet gets the same engines to do both its jumping and its jetting. That works, after a very fuel inefficient fashion, for Harrier jump jets, because jumping and jetting are sufficiently similar for one engine to be able to do both jobs. But car engines and flying engines are very different.

But now here comes this Airbus idea, where, instead of flying the entire car, you fly just the box that the people sit in. When being flown, the box is carried by a flying machine. When being driven, the box is carried by a driving machine. Note that once our container is plucked away from its road-driving engine, that road-driving engine can still then drive itself intelligently, to a park, for instance. Or, it could make itself useful by carrying other human containers. Robots, unlike engines, can be very light, so having several in one contrivance, cooperating as needed, is entirely possible.

I always believed that only when robots fly the cars will flying cars become a real possibility, because only robots can fly well enough and with enough collective discipline. This, it seems to me, is how the robots will do it. This is what they will fly.

Flying cars and robot cars, in other words, are all about human shipping containers.

Once you talk about containers rather than entire machines, you realise that these containers could perhaps also, in addition to being individually flown, be bulk flown in bulk carriers, over vast distances, for a fraction of the cost of driving, and if desired, a fraction of the time. All the nonsense of packing and unpacking, of clambering onto and extricating yourself from an airplane could then be dispensed with, as would all the ridiculousness of airports. All that can be handled by the robots, at their leisure. Also, at your destination, you’d be able to go on living in your own container. Multistory car parks would mutate into cheap hotels.

What all this illustrates, I think, is how very radically the robotising of transport, and of life generally, is going to change transport, and life generally. I don’t say that we will for certain see exactly the sort of human transport system that these Airbus envisagers envisage. Nothing is certain, when it comes to exactly how our new robot overlords will choose to go about their business. But this is the kind of change that the robots will surely bring. You can envisage, for instance, a world where we each own one or two human containers, while merely hiring whichever engines we need at any particular journey.

Might the same or a similar container shape then find itself being used for transporting other things besides humans? The possibilities are endless.

Or, maybe … not. The above ruminations are only that, ruminations. Please sprinkle words like “it seems to me” (there actually was one of those) and “surely” and “presumably” and “maybe” and “my guess would be”, for what you have just read is only me guessing, and what do I know? I am looking forward to the comments on this, because this is the kind of thing our often very tech-savvy commentariat is really good at commenting on.

There are experts and there are “experts”

As I work away at a talk I am to give tomorrow evening at Christian Michel’s, I am also, of course, wandering about in the www. And during the latest wandering I was provoked into thinking about another talk, one that I will be hosting rather than giving, on the last Friday of February. Marc Sidwell will, that evening, be speaking about: “Twilight of the Wonks? Promoting freedom in a post-expert world”.

This rather witty cartoon, which I came across here, is very pertinent to Marc Sidwell’s talk, I think:

This cartoon is now to be seen all over the www, partly because, I surmise, both sides of the argument that it alludes to are drawing attention to it. The Clintonians are pointing at it and saying: there, look at those silly Trumpsters, all voting to crash and burn America. And the Trumpsters are pointing at it, and saying: look at those smug liberals assuming that they are better at flying the airplane of government, in the way that a pilot obviously is better than his mere passengers at flying an actual airplane. They just don’t get it, blah blah.

The point being: there is being an expert, where you actually do know essential stuff. And then there is being an “expert”, where what you say you know or think you know ain’t necessarily so.

Personally I favoured and favour Trump, partly because I put Hillary Clinton into the latter category, of being an “expert” with sneer quotes rather than without them. She has a long career of crashing whatever metaphorical airplanes she flies, her email fiasco being only one of the more recent of such crashes. Crashing rather than flying is what she is “expert” at. And her speeches over the airplane intercom only convince those already convinced. Many feel the exact same way about Trump, but my impression, reinforced both by his campaign and by how he has conducted himself since his campaign ended in victory, is that when it comes to being less un-expert, Trump wins compared to Clinton. We shall see.

I also prefer, with all the usual libertarian reservations, the ideological agenda that Trump, almost despite himself, is now dragging into greater prominence. The agenda (see this gigantic crash) that Clinton would have kept in great prominence is one that I detest.

I will now send the link to this posting to Marc Sidwell. If you would like to learn more about attending the meetings I host every month, and/or those that Christian Michel hosts, email me by clicking on where it says “Contact”, top left, here.

LATER: See also what Instapundit says.

No, Andrew Cuomo, we should be more cynical than ever

Why you should feel cynical about government projects, part umpteen thousand.

New York State’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, proudly tweeted this today:

“Right now, there is a lot of cynicism and skepticism about our projects. We’re going to restore credibility. #2ndAveSubway will open Jan 1.”

Andrew Cuomo's Cynical Tweet About Cynicism

He is referring, of course, to the imminent opening of a small segment of New York City’s long planned Second Avenue Subway.

Let us recall that planning for the Second Avenue subway began in 1919. That’s quite literally just short of a century ago.

Let us recall that construction began in 1972. That’s 44 years ago.

Let us recall that what is opening on January 1 is not even remotely a full Second Avenue subway. It is just three stations, at 96th, 86th and 72nd streets.

Let us recall that to get just these three stations, and just since the latest phase of work resumed in 2007, $4.5 billion, that’s billion-with-a-b, have been spent. That’s $1.5 billion per station. That’s $3.75 billion per mile for the 1.5 miles built to date, by far the world’s most expensive subway line.

The line has about 13 other stations to construct according to current maps, so completing this single subway line would cost about another $20 billion dollars. If we judge on the basis of the per-mile cost of Phase 1, the seven miles still remaining would cost another $26 billion. However, for projects like this, costs generally go up with time, not down, so the price may even be far worse.

No, Andrew Cuomo, this minor expansion of the transportation network, which is not yet remotely complete after a century of work, which has cost an astonishing sum and will cost vastly more if it is to ever be complete, has only reinforced cynicism, and has done nothing to restore credibility in government projects whatsoever.

The New York City subway system was mostly built privately, until the government forcibly took it over. Since the takeover, the system has stagnated, leaving a major metropolis with a public transportation network that has barely been improved since the First World War.

The system is grotesquely filthy, so noisy that scientific studies say routine users suffer hearing loss, is slow, is unreliable, is vastly overcrowded, often reeks of human excrement, is a sweat-box throughout the summer months, and yet, in spite of huge numbers of passengers, loses money year after year.

So what would I do to fix it? That should be obvious.

The Hell of living under the Heathrow flightpath

After a gazillion years of proposals, enquiries and delayed decisions the Government has finally given the go-ahead for the building of a new runway at Heathrow. Apparently this will be the first runway built in the South East of England in 50 years.

The MP for Richmond – just across the river from me – Zac Goldsmith immediately resigned his seat and announced his intention to stand as an independent in the resulting by-election. His former party, the Conservative Party, the governing party, won’t even be putting up a candidate. It’s not just Goldsmith. Extraordinarily, cabinet ministers who represent constituencies under the flightpath have been given permission to speak against the decision.

So what is the kerfuffle all about? I have been living under the flightpath for 15 years now. I live to the east when most of the action is east-west, so I don’t get the worst of it. But I do live where most of the people who would be affected live. For the most part I am barely aware that there’s an airport in the vicinity at all. About one or month or so, planes are moving west-east and every couple of minutes I won’t be able to hear the telly. In such cases I have to take the drastic action of pushing the pause button on my remote control. Heathrow has never deprived me of any sleep and things would have to get a lot worse before it bothered me. Or the Fonz for that matter:

Indeed, things are a lot better than they were in the days of Concorde. The racket that thing used to make was astonishing. And wonderful. So what if I couldn’t hear a damn thing for 30 seconds? That was a deafness induced by the finest British engineering, a richer deafness. A better deafness.

Now I accept I (and the Fonz) are not everybody. Maybe, others are more affected. If so one wonders why they choose to live in Richmond. OK, it’s possible that there some who are not affected now but will be in the future. In that case they would probably be best off leaving and moving somewhere quieter. Now, as a libertarian, I think that people should be compensated for such losses. Except I very much doubt there will be any need. I suspect that any loss people might suffer in terms of the cost of moving will easily be matched in terms of the rise in house prices due to the fact that their homes are so near to an expanding airport.

I just can’t see the problem.