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]

Pssst, wanna used car?

Some good stuff in the Telegraph today. “The electric car carnage has only just begun”, writes Matthew Lynn.

As with so much of the legislation passed during the last five years, setting a quota for the percentage of EVs companies had to sell probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Manufacturers now have to ensure that 22pc of the cars they shift off the forecourt are battery powered, rising steadily to 80pc by the end of this decade, and 100pc by 2035. If they don’t hit their quota, the senior executives will get ten years hard labour in Siberia (well, actually it is a fine of up to £15,000 per vehicle, but it nonetheless feels extremely draconian). Like Soviet planners in the 1950s, the architects of this legislation presumably assumed that all you had to do was set a target and everything would fall into place.

The trouble is, quotas don’t work any better in Britain than they did in communist Russia. EVs have some serious problems: the range is not good enough, we have not built enough charging points to power them, the repair bills are expensive, the insurance ruinous, and second hand prices are plummeting. Once all raw materials and transport costs are factored in, they may not be much better for the environment.

Yet the masterminds foisting this legislation on businesses don’t appear to have given much thought to what will happen if the quota isn’t met. Now Ford, one of the biggest auto giants in the world, and still a major manufacturer in Europe, has provided an answer. “We can’t push EVs into the market against demand,” said Martin Sander, the General Manager of Ford Model eEurope, at a conference this week. “We’re not going to pay penalties… The only alternative is to take our shipments of [engine] vehicles to the UK down and sell these vehicles somewhere else.”

In effect, Ford will limit its sales of cars in the UK. If you had your eye on a new model, forget it. You will have to put your name on a waiting list, just as East Germans had to wait years for a Trabant. Heck, we may even see a black market in off-the-books Transit vans. Ford is the first to spell it out in public, but we can be confident all the other manufacturers are thinking the same thing. They can’t absorb huge fines. The only alternative is to limit the sales of petrol cars.

Starship has launched successfully

SpaceX launches Starship rocket at third attempt, reports the BBC. This happened about 25 minutes ago.

Pessimist that I am, I did not want to watch the launch in case it blew up again. So far, it hasn’t.

UPDATE: OK, now it has. But it got a lot further than last time.

A magnificent work of Swedish engineering – a pulse jet powered sledge on a frozen lake

This is c. 7 years old, but it is quite marvellous and a tribute to the great tradition of engineering in Sweden. A video done by a Swedish chap who built himself a pulse-jet powered sledge or ‘ice boat’ to run around on frozen lakes. It is basically a V1 doodlebug-type engine on a frame, with some seats and steering. What strikes me is the need for some form of suspension.

I have set the video where it has its first ‘ice road test’.

Sad about all those people killed in the Lockerbie air disaster. I guess the stars were against them that night.

First Minister
@ScotGovFM
On the 35th anniversary of the Lockerbie air disaster, First Minister @HumzaYousaf has expressed sympathies to those who lost loved ones on board Pan Am Flight 103 and on the ground.

The word “disaster” has its origins in astrology. It means “ill-starred”. But the people killed on 21st December 1988 were not killed by bad weather, human error, or an unfortunate conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. They were murdered.

Pan Am Flight 103 (PA103/PAA103) was a regularly scheduled Pan Am transatlantic flight from Frankfurt to Detroit via a stopover in London and another in New York City. The transatlantic leg of the route was operated by Clipper Maid of the Seas, a Boeing 747 registered N739PA. Shortly after 19:00 on 21 December 1988, while the aircraft was in flight over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, it was destroyed by a bomb, killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew in what became known as the Lockerbie bombing.[1] Large sections of the aircraft crashed in a residential street in Lockerbie, killing 11 residents. With a total of 270 fatalities, it is the deadliest terrorist attack in the history of the United Kingdom.

[…]

In 2003, Gaddafi accepted Libya’s responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing and paid compensation to the families of the victims, although he maintained that he had never given the order for the attack.

Keeping you safe from travelling on the Hogwarts Express

“End of the line? Harry Potter train waits for ruling on Hogwarts route”, reports the BBC.

Steam journeys on the Harry Potter railway line could grind to a halt if a challenge to safety rules fails.

West Coast Railways (WCR), which operates the heritage route, challenged demands for central locking systems to be fitted to the carriage doors.

The owners of the Jacobite – which appeared as the Hogwarts Express in the boy wizard films – said implementing the new measures could cost £7m.

A judgement on the judicial review is expected in January.

The train operates on the West Highland Line on one of Scotland’s most iconic railway routes – from Fort William to Mallaig – from March to October.

It crosses the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which became an attraction for a new generation of tourists after being featured in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

About 750 people per day travel to the end of the line at Mallaig every day in the peak season, with many more visitors travelling to the area to see the train go past.

What is the actual danger for any given person in using the same sort of carriage for one there-and-back journey (with a steward present on every coach) as I and millions of others used unsupervised every day for years on end? Minuscule, of course. Given that no one takes this journey because they must – it is all done purely for fun, because lots of people young and old love historic trains, Harry Potter, or both – why can’t they ask the people who choose to make the journey whether they consent to take this tiny risk?

Answer: because safetyists get their fun from making sure no one else has any. I mean that close to literally. No one whose goal was actually making people meaningfully safer would spend five minutes on this particular risk. But there is satisfaction to be had in controlling others, especially if you can tell yourself that you are overriding their own judgement of what they want to do for their own good.

Underground and overground

The recent and highly contested decision by London mayor Sadiq Khan to expand ULEZ (ultra-low emissions zone) from central to the outer London boroughs has already caused considerable political pushback. It cost the opposition Labour Party a by-election result. and played a part in encouraging Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to realise, perhaps rather late in the day, that the push to ban sales of new petrol/diesel vehicles in 2030 wasn’t a great one.

It is always wise to heed the Law of Unintended Consequences, and who better to raise that angle than the Institute of Economic Affairs, the think tank. A writer, David Starkie (not the right-wing historian, but another chap), has this:

“The extra ridership on the Tube due to the ULEZ is no doubt tiny compared with daily numbers using the network; this number, about 5 million people a day, is equivalent to more than half the population of the capital. Tiny the extra numbers may be, but these transferees from road vehicles will have their health risk increased as a result of the ULEZ-induced modal shift. Whether this was considered when calculating the statistical numbers of reduced deaths due to the scheme is unknown, but it is by no means apparent that it was considered.”

The article is written in the cool, measured tones of economics. Starkie talks about “modalities” and so on. To translate into blunt language, Starkie argues that people are being encouraged to avoid cars and take dirtier underground public transport instead. The deeper Tube lines are full of dust, such as metal particulates thrown up as wheels grind on the rails. The Tube also, so a friend who used to work for the Tube tells me, has a lot of poison to kill mice and rats. (Here is a page about the mice problem with the Tube.) Starkie notes:

Parts of the Underground suffer from serious air pollution, discovered following research in 2019 sponsored by the Financial Times. According to the newspaper, the deep Tube is by far the most polluted part of the city because of considerable particulate pollution from metal friction, clothing fibre, and dust in general trapped in the tunnels. And there is a lot of it. Using hundreds of measurements inside carriages within Zone 1, dangerously high levels of pollution were found, particularly on the deeper lines. All the deep lines (Piccadilly, Jubilee, Bakerloo, Northern, Victoria and Central) had particulate PM2.5 levels at least five times higher than the World Health Organization’s safe limit and much higher than average levels on the surface, (generally less than PM1.0) particularly in outer London.

In short, some Londoners and those entering or leaving the city on a daily basis are swapping their cars, and where air quality is pretty good, for the Tube, where parts of it have air quality that is far worse. Whatever else Mr Khan may claim about the the expansion of ULEZ, I doubt that a rigorous or honest consideration of air quality is what this is about. It is about raising money and bashing those who own cars.

The mayor of London reads Leviathan and applies its lessons to cheese

Hobbes was right. We must have government. If men were to try to live without ‘a common Power to keep them all in awe’, life would be ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’, there would be ‘a perpetuall warre of every man against his neighbour’, and there would be adverts for cheese on the London Underground.

City AM reports,

TfL [Transport for London] has left a cheese company’s bosses feeling blue after banning ads depicting their products on the tube – saying the diet staple is too unhealthy.

London’s transport network has been cracking down on unhealthy food advertising on the tube, but according to The Times this now includes the dairy favourite.

The founder of Cheese Geek, Edward Hancock, said the ban was “crazy” and said he couldn’t understand why fizzy drink ads were allowed on the network but not artisan cheeses.

Hancock said cheese “has been shown in numerous recent studies to be beneficial for health.”

TfL banned high fat advertising in 2019. It was intended to capture fast food but appears to have widened in scope to high-end cheddar.

TfL said the cheese ads – which were to be part of a campaign run by Workspace, the office provider and consultancy – could not go on the network because TfL uses “the Food Standards Agency’s model to define foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt.”

I think Sadiq Khan got to the bit in Leviathan about “Power to keep them all in awe” and thought, “I like the sound of that”.

Playing the NHS card does not always win

Katie Morley is the Telegraph’s “Consumer Champion”. People who feel they have been mistreated by companies write to her and she puts their tales of woe in the paper and threatens the company with even more bad publicity if they won’t put things right. Her articles usually end with a line about how So-and-so company has issued a full refund and apologised.

Usually, but not always. Her most recent piece was this one:

‘I spent £27,000 on a cruise I can’t afford, and Cunard won’t give me a full refund’

Her anonymous correspondent says,

Back in early 2022, I had a serious health scare. While waiting for an operation, I decided that I needed something to look forward to. Both my wife and I love to travel and so, on the spur of the moment, I decided to use our savings to book a £27,000 cruise around the world.

I put a £1,500 deposit on a Cunard World Cruise in 2024 on the Queen Victoria. I thought a trip like this would compensate for everything we missed during the pandemic.

In the meantime, friends asked us to join them on a Christmas cruise in 2022, also on the Queen Victoria. We thought this would give us the opportunity to acquaint ourselves with the ship. However, the whole trip was a disaster from the moment we embarked.

After listing some of the things wrong with this ‘preparatory’ trip on the Queen Victoria, the writer finishes by saying,

We then realised that we could not spend three months aboard the Queen Victoria. Also, as a result of the economic downturn, our savings had reduced drastically and we no longer had the money to pay for the cruise. We are both retired NHS workers and live on our pensions so we decided that we would have to cancel.

As soon as we got back from the cruise in January 2023, we contacted ROL, which we had booked through, saying we wanted to cancel. We were shocked and disappointed when Cunard said that we could cancel without losing our £1,500 deposit, but we would have to book a future cruise for the equivalent amount of money (£27,000), or alternatively, a number of cruises adding up to this total.

Ms Morley did express sympathy for the writer’s health and financial troubles, but her sympathy did not extend to taking up the cudgels on his behalf. She wrote,

…you say you can no longer afford this cruise, yet when I asked, you said you and your wife’s NHS pensions were guaranteed defined benefit arrangements which are still in place. So what had changed since you booked the £27,000 cruise, I asked? You told me you’d invested a significant sum in Vodafone shares, which had tanked, causing you to lose half your money.

I’m sorry if this sounds harsh, but your stock market misfortunes have absolutely nothing to do with Cunard and, as such, I was not prepared to ask it to break its terms and conditions because you had a disastrous flutter and can no longer afford the cruise you booked. If you really can’t go on the world cruise or book alternatives, then I’m afraid you’ll just have to swallow this £1,500 loss and put it down to experience.

What really interested me was the response from the Telegraph readers. I expected them to support Cunard, and they did, but I had not expected so many of them to specifically resent the way that the writer had attempted to garner sympathy by mentioning that he and his wife were retired NHS workers.

The most recommended comment was by Roger Sidney and said, “Love the bit about ‘we are retired NHS workers’. Come one everyone, give ’em a clap!” Someone called Mytwo Penneth said, “Former NHS workers booking £27k cruises and speculating on shares. Then they have the brass neck to get KM involved in an attempt to recover a deposit.” Brian Gedalla said, “Nice to see some backbone from Katie. You could have played “Entitlement Bingo” with this one. Like Roger below, I laughed out loud when I got to the “we are retired NHS workers” line.” There were many other similar comments.

Although I have long since ceased to believe that a command economy is a good way to arrange a nation’s healthcare, my own experiences with the National Health Service have been good. Those people I know who work for it are hardworking, and I did clap during the pandemic, and meant it. My view that it would be desirable to privatise the NHS is only shared by about 2% of British people. Even among Telegraph readers, the great majority still support the NHS model. I do not think that the anger in these replies was motivated by hostility to the NHS per se. But something has changed in Britain when so many refuse NHS workers the automatic deference that this pair clearly expected to receive.

From Boss to Blob: what the State brings to the Party

In the old days, many U.S. cities were ruled by political machines. They were corrupt. But, by and large, they swept the streets and kept crime down. Because “Raise Dead” is a difficult spell to cast and there are limits to what “vote early, vote often” can do, the Machine often served as a vehicle to protect and advance minority groups in exchange for their mostly-genuine votes. Most famously this applied to the Irish but it was often also the case for African Americans – long before that term came into use, their potential votes meant that the Boss had an incentive to keep them on side too. For instance, this article about the Prendergast Machine in Kansas City says,

One of the defining aspects of “Boss” Thomas J. Pendergast’s “machine” politics was its approach to African American voters. During the early 20th century, at a time when black people were routinely excluded from the vote by Democratic regimes in most of the former slave South, Pendergast’s Democratic organization in Kansas City succeeded in part by attracting considerable black support. While such support was not unique to Kansas City—black Missourians never lost the vote in the same way or degree as their counterparts farther South—historians often point to the city as an example of early black political realignment toward a Northern Democratic Party based in urban, industrial centers and at increasing odds with its Southern wing over the issue of civil rights.

Far from beginning with “Boss Tom,” however, this approach to black voters had a long history – longer than some historians have recognized.

Boss Tom, Boss Tweed and their equivalents for other American cities of the Gilded Age were probably worse individuals than those who rule those cities now. They were more likely to have people beaten up or murdered – but less likely to allow conditions to arise in which people are regularly beaten up or murdered by crazy people in public spaces. As this New York Post article notes, killings in the New York City subway system since 2020 have skyrocketed to the highest level in 25 years, even amid plummeting ridership numbers. For the ordinary citizen, that is a change for the worse. You could stay out of the way of the Boss but the poor have no choice about using the streets or the subway.

What changed? The other day I posted about the way that the the rising number of drug addicts and mentally ill people living semi-permanently in public spaces challenges many libertarian beliefs about mental illness. I think a comment by Roué le Jour to that post nails it:

The state’s attitude to the homeless can be easily understood if you assume the state’s priority is to be a big as possible. The poor, the unemployed, the homeless and the criminal are a valuable resource for generating ever more government jobs. The last thing the state wants is for these client groups to become productive citizens.

Since the era of Machine politics, the State has expanded greatly, both in terms of the number of people employed by it and in terms of the welfare payments it gives out. I doubt that even now the numbers of vagrants street-dwellers are enough to make them a bloc worth being courted in their own right, particularly as they do not usually vote, but the number of state employees tending to them and everyone else is so large that it has burst the bonds of patronage. The days when it mattered that the Boss could give or withhold a specific post, when government jobs could be seen as an inert mass of sustenance to be carved up and distributed, are long past. The Blob has its own life now. It is no longer food. It hungers.

Ideology and Insanity on the New York subway

The first few dozen grownup books I read were an odd selection. As I sampled them almost at random from my parents’ bookshelves, I became dimly aware that my parents were different people from each other, were different from what they had once been, and read books by people with whom they disagreed. Alongside the works by G K Chesterton and C S Lewis one would expect on the shelves of liberal British Catholics of the 1970s, I found such things as a book of essays by the Stalinist physicist J D Bernal – and a copy of Ideology and Insanity by Thomas Szasz. Attracted by the strangeness to my young eyes of the name “Szasz” and the wonderful cover art of the Penguin edition that depicted two men playing chess across a Escher-like dimensional warp, I gave it a go.

Almost a decade before I heard the term “Libertarian”, I thus had my first introduction to an important strand of libertarian thought. Until the copy of that same 1970 Penguin edition I just ordered on eBay arrives, I shall have to go by memory and Szasz’s Wikipedia biography as to exactly what the book said, but I do remember being thrilled to feel my perspective suddenly widen, in a manner akin to what I had felt when I realised that the Earth was but one of an infinite number of possible vantage points in the universe.

Szasz cited drapetomania as an example of a behavior that many in society did not approve of, being labeled and widely cited as a disease. Likewise, women who did not bend to a man’s will were said to have hysteria.

He thought that psychiatry actively obscures the difference between behavior and disease in its quest to help or harm parties in conflicts. He maintained that, by calling people diseased, psychiatry attempts to deny them responsibility as moral agents in order to better control them.

And

Szasz believed that if we accept that “mental illness” is a euphemism for behaviors that are disapproved of, then the state has no right to force psychiatric “treatment” on these individuals

Great stuff. I think Szasz still has much to teach us… but I suppose by now you have all heard of the killing of Jordan Neely on a New York subway train?

→ Continue reading: Ideology and Insanity on the New York subway

Should cycling be banned?

I have been a keen cyclist for most of my adult life. I know what you’re thinking, “Grow up get a car.” Ah, but I am ahead of you on that one; I have both.

Anyway, the cycling did originally come about because – confession time – once upon a time I was an environmentalist. But as I grew out of such nonsense it has continued. I enjoy it. Well. Sometimes. Not when it is cold or wet and definitely not when it is cold and wet.

But whatever the weather may be cycling is dangerous. I am a cautious cylist. I choose my routes carefully, I am careful at junctions, I give parked cars a wide berth, I use lights at night and wear reflective clothing. I am very careful turning right. I am appalled at the risk some of my “fellow” cyclists take. But despite all this I am painfully aware that there could be a juggernaut/white van man/Nissan Micra with my name on it. The BBC employee, Jeremy Vine, likes to put a camera on his bike and upload the footage. Now putting aside the fact that Vine is a BBC employee and therefore [insert insult here] the footage he posts is alarming. Again and again we see drivers breaking the rules of the road and putting him in danger. And there are plenty of other less-well-known cyclists doing the same.

There is another factor here. British roads are amongst the safest in the world. British drivers are amongst the safest in the world. I have even heard a Dutchman compliment us on our consideration. Which implies to me that this is as good as it gets.

So, I am in favour of cycling lanes and punishing motorists? Not really. Although I do like cycle lanes I am aware that society should not and will not be organised on the basis of what suits Patrick Crozier. Frankly, the safety argument could just as well be used to ban people from such a reckless activity as cycling in a built-up area.

Mind you I am acutely aware that the cycling fanatics employ the best arguments. They continually point out the danger that motorized vehicles represent and the pollution they cause. Which is true. Well I say that but I recently learnt that there is an argument that exhaust fumes are not polluting at all. I am not ready to accept that just yet but it is interesting. On the other side of the argument motorists tend to complain about cylists jumping red lights – true but it’s their funeral – and cyclists making no contribution to road upkeep – true, but the contribution would be miniscule. What they ought to be doing is reading their Basiat and pointing out the unseen benefits of motorised transport – the comfort, protection from the elements, load-carrying capacity and the unseen costs of cycling – namely congestion and smelly office workers.

So how should roads be organised? How should the competing claims be reconciled and how should road managers account for the unseen as well as the seen? Well, I am a libertarian aren’t I? I believe in free markets. So, we privatise the roads and, hey presto! job done. Except it is not that easy. Glossing over the difficulties in privatising roads, there is no track record of private roads. Yes, there are some private motorways – and there would be many more if I had anything to do with it. Yes, there are little private roads here and they are usually badly pot-holed and serve a tiny number of residents. But nothing – to the best of my knowledge – on a town let alone a city-wide basis. Why is this? My guess is it is because if you own a road – in all the ways you can own a road – you are the state. If you own a road you can put the people who live on that road under house arrest. You can completely control them. The state tends to jealously guard such a power.

So roads – especially those in urban areas – will continue to be state-owned. But that doesn’t mean we libertarians have nothing to say on the subject. A useful thought exercise – one can be applied to all sorts of areas, not just roads – is to imagine what would happen if there were private ownership and a free market. In this case it is to imagine what would happen if roads were privately owned and use that as a guide.

So, what would happen in this hypothetical world? Well, you can never be sure but there are a few things I am pretty sure would happen. There would be road pricing; certainly on arterial roads. Would that lead to rat runs? Maybe but those would be priced too. There would be a pollution charge to compensate the victims – should any be found. Road pricing would also apply to cyclists. Although there would be a reduction due to the reduced level of wear and tear they cause there would be an increase to take into account the congestion they cause. All this means that bicycles would have to be registered. It is perfectly possible that such a charge would price cyclists off the road. Or maybe, it would price the vast majority of motorised vehicles off the road. Who knows? although I suspect it would be more the former than the latter.

Oxford Anti-Fascists, sticking it to the Man by stopping demonstrations about traffic filters

Fight the Power, Oxford Antifa! “On Saturday 18 February, fascists and climate deniers are planning a “community day” in Oxford to exploit concerns and tensions around traffic filters. We won’t allow it!”

Hat tip to Andy Ngô.

I have not looked that hard into this “15-minute” city business. This article by Henry Grabar on Slate dismisses opposition to it as a ludicrous conspiracy theory. Well, the first few paragraphs do. However nine paragraphs down he is not sounding so sure:

In Oxford, however, the urbanists’ ambitions are more serious. Next year, the city plans to implement a souped-up toll network on major roads. But it’s not to get cars out of the city core, which has had a hefty congestion charge since February. Instead, the city’s six new “traffic filters” will limit daytime car travel between Oxford’s neighborhoods, which stretch from the medieval center to its ring road like slices of a pizza. There are the usual exceptions for buses, taxis, emergency services, people with disabilities, freight, and so forth, but other drivers will face camera-generated 70-pound fines for motoring across town on local streets. The intention is to unstick the jams that slow the city’s major streets to 5 mph in the mornings by diverting traffic to the ring road and encouraging residents to use alternative transportation.

The result, they hope, will be faster traffic, a functional bus network, and cleaner air. The goal is to reduce car trips in Oxford by 25 percent; grow bike trips by 40 percent, and cut road fatalities in half by 2030. Planners project traffic downtown could fall by more than 50 percent.

Oxfordians will not, in fact, be banned from visiting their mothers, as the conservative provocateur Katie Hopkins suggested last month. You can take the bus or ride a bike. You can drive all you want for free, so long as you use the city’s ring road to cross town. You can also drive through the traffic filters after 7 pm. And locals are entitled to 100 free driving days per year. (This last part, I have to confess, seems like it might be both messy and annoying.)

Still, these “traffic filters” are pretty bold as anti-car measures go, and the controversy has not been confined to red pill anti-vax forums.

Despite Oxford Antifa not giving their permission, the demonstration did take place. Dave Vetter, an Oxford-based climate journalist, was there, and took a lot of pictures and videos. He called the demo “an intoxicating mix of far-right conspiracy slogans, antisemitism and really terrible hip-hop.” I’ll believe him when he says he talked to one person who said Ashkenazi Jews were “not like us”; all demos attract a certain proportion of lunatics. But one would think that if antisemitism really were a big part of the Oxford crowd’s motivation, he would have had no trouble finding loads of placards proclaiming it to photograph.