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]

A Brexit photo

Today I was at Euston tube station, and found myself admiring the antique signage on one of the platforms, the Northern Line I think, done with painted tiles, rather than with a printing press or with electronic wizardry as is the way such things are done now. Way Out signs are not what once they were. So out came my camera.

At this point I realised that there was some weekend, Brexit-related fun to be had, by including also part of the bit where it said, in much bigger letters, “EUSTON”:

If only the way out of the EU was turning out to be as simple as exiting from Euston tube station.

Like Top Gear but not funny

The Times reports,

Son travels 170 miles and beats ambulance to injured mother

In a race between a man travelling 170 miles by public transport and an ambulance starting ten minutes’ drive away, most people would have backed the ambulance.

Mark Clements assumed as much when he left his home in London to help his injured mother in Devon, but when he arrived after four hours she was still on the floor and the ambulance had not yet arrived.

Mr Clements caught a bus, the London Underground and two trains from London to Exmouth on Saturday after his mother fell and broke her hip. The first 999 call was made at 9am but paramedics did not arrive until seven hours later.

The beating heart of NYC

Today I am reading and watching all those weather reports about how extremely cold it is in the US and some of my friends in New York and Chicago have been telling me about it. But what impresses me above all is that these urban hubs, these centres of modern human civilisation, go on. And we take it for granted that apart from certain disruptions, they do. I came across this wonderful graphic item on the web that visually conveys the daily commute volume into and out of Manhattan.

Have a good weekend and keep warm and safe. This global warming is a real bitch.

Spanish practices

Taxi drivers in Madrid are on strike over “unfair competition” from online ride-sharing services such as Uber and Cabify, reports El Pais. In English. On the internet.

Discuss.

Vera Kichanova on micro-homes

Last night I attended a meeting, and although I did not have any arguments with anyone about fake news, I did meet with Vera Kichanova, and learned from her that her Adam Smith Institute “report” (aka: argument in favour of) micro-housing was to be published today. Good. I’m for it.

ASI announcement by Matthew Lesh here. The entire thing can be read here.

I don’t agree with Vera’s title, “Size Doesn’t Matter”. I think that when it comes to where you live, size matters a lot. You don’t want somewhere too big for you, or too small for you. Perhaps the ASI is hoping that, by having a silly title, they will sucker many of those who hate the idea, and who would otherwise ignore it, into instead denouncing it because of its title, thus spreading the word about it. The Trump technique, in other words.

For many, “micro” would indeed be way too small. But, for quite a few others, micro-living would be much preferable to a long commute. I am in favour of people having choices along such lines rather than at the far end of a line. And I am in favour of entrepreneurs having the freedom to bet their time and money contriving such choices.

I’ve not yet read Vera’s piece yet (this being one of those something now rather than something better but later postings), so I don’t know if she makes this point, but one very good reason why many might now be okay with a much smaller living space is that home entertainment and home education can now occupy a tiny fraction of the space that they used to, about one or maybe two generations ago. You can literally now carry your entire entertainment system, and your entire library – words, music, movies, TV shows, the lot – in a small bag. In other words, you can now not merely eke out your existence in a tiny dwelling space, you can actually have a life while living in such a micro-home.

One final point, before I hurry back to the rest of my life. Vera Kichanova works for Zaha Hadid Architects, which is all part of why I believe it to be important that Zaha Hadid Architects thrives.

Dr Stephen Davies on the wealth explosion unleashed by railways

I’ve followed the career of Stephen Davies ever since I got to know him in the 1980s. Here’s a photo I took of him in my home in January 2000, when he spoke at one of my last Friday of the month meetings.

Tonight, I photoed Stephen Davies again. Well, to be exact, he was on TV, and I photoed my TV:

That’s Davies doing a talking head job on the subject of Trains That Changed The World. Good to see the Institute of Economic Affairs also getting a good plug.

I’m watching these shows now, as I write this. The transformation of the lives of the great mass of working people and their families in countries like Britain and America in the nineteenth century is being well explained. Karl Marx, were he watching, would be cursing. Immiseration? Forget it. It was more like a wealth explosion, made possible by railways, probably more than any other technology.

During the last few years, it bothered me that Davies seemed to be doing so much – lots of educational outreach for the IEA, for instance – that he might not be finding time to write any books. Oh me of little faith. In April of 2019, this book will be published:

And oh look. It will be entitled The Wealth Explosion. If what Davies was saying on the TV is anything to go by, and it surely is, then railways will figure prominently in this book.

I just noticed that the Executive Producer of Trains That Changed The World was the famously anti-anti-capitalist Martin Durkin. That explains a lot.

Discussion point: what to do about drones being used to disrupt air travel?

According to the BBC, ‘persons of interest’ have been identified as responsible for flying the drone or drones that shut down Gatwick airport. As it gradually became clear that this was going on too long to be the work of careless hobbyists or malicious pranksters, the profile of the crime (it disrupted air travel but did not kill anyone) made me think that “climate justice” activists might be responsible. The BBC article says that is indeed one of the lines of enquiry being pursued. Still, let us be no more hasty to jump to conclusions or to blame every environmentalist in existence for the possible crimes of one of their number than we would like them to be next time someone loosely describable as “on our side” commits a crime.

The more urgent problem is that now whoever it was has demonstrated the method, anyone can copy it.

Technically and legally what can be done to stop a repetition? What should be done? What should not be? If you are one of those who have enjoyed flying drones in a responsible manner, or who is developing ways to use drones for emergency or commercial use, start work on your arguments now, because, trust me, the calls to BAN ALL DRONES NOW are going to be loud.

The union makes us strong

They have taken untold millions that they never toiled to earn,
But without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn.
We can break their haughty power, gain our freedom when we learn
That the union makes us strong.

– From the fifth verse of the union song Solidarity Forever, written in 1915 by Ralph Chaplin.

Mind the gap: Tube drivers on £100,000 fly past pilots

Staff who just open and close doors on automatic trains are receiving a 4% rise

Some London Tube drivers have broken the £100,000 pay barrier, overtaking many airline pilots, according to data released under freedom of information (FoI) laws. Their pay packages have gone into six figures even as their jobs have become easier: trains on five of the Tube’s 11 lines are automatic and the driver simply opens and closes the doors. Another four lines will be automatic by 2023.

The pay figures were revealed as drivers on the Central line prepare for a strike on Saturday, one of the busiest shopping days of the year in the West End, over the sacking of a colleague who failed three drug tests.

– From today’s Sunday Times.

Looks like the train drivers’ union ASLEF could give the capitalist exploiters a lesson or two in taking “untold millions they never toiled to earn”. The tube drivers long ago ceased to expend either brain or muscle but have kept their power to stop the wheels turning when, for instance, they feel outraged at the injustice of one of their number losing his job just for failing a drug test or three. They can swing that sort of deal because their employer, Transport for London, is an arm of the government, under no real pressure to keep costs down. Welcome to your future under the next Labour government: Labour has promised to renationalise the railways and ASLEF is affiliated to the Labour Party.

This is not terrorism

A bunch of lefty protesters are on trial at Chelmsford Crown Court.

Care ye not? You should. I have been banging on a lot about the degradation of norms of justice and law that had once seemed securely established. One particular aspect of these protesters’ trial is a disgrace. See if you can spot what it is:

Activists accused of blocking Stansted flight go on trial over terror charge

Fifteen activists who locked themselves together around an immigration removal charter flight to prevent its departure from Stansted and displayed a banner proclaiming “mass deportations kill” have gone on trial charged with a terrorist offence.

Jurors at Chelmsford crown court heard how the members of the campaign group End Deportations used lock-on devices to secure themselves around the Boeing 767, chartered by the Home Office, as it waited on the tarmac at the Essex airport to remove undocumented migrants to Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone.

The activists have said they acted to prevent human rights abuses from taking place and have received high-profile political backing. However, they are accused of putting the safety of the airport and passengers at risk and causing serious disruption to international air travel. If convicted, they could face potential life imprisonment.

Oh, poot, I forgot to hide spoilers. Never mind. You’d have guessed it anyway. Come to think of it, the title of this post was a bit of a clue.

Protesters who mess around with airport security do not immediately gain my sympathy. Not only do they screw over blameless travellers, many of whom will have had to scrimp and save for their holiday, the prosecuting counsel made a decent point when he said,

“In order to deal with this incursion, a number of armed officers already at Stansted had to down-arm, thus reducing the capacity of police to carry out their duties at the terminal,” he said. “Had another major incident occurred at the terminal at the same time, the police resources able to respond to it would have been reduced.”

But to pretend that to give an (imaginary) terrorist attack that might have happened that day (but didn’t) an infinitesimally higher (but still purely theoretical) chance to succeed is terrorism … that is indecent.

Anyone else remember the expulsion of Walter Wolfgang from the Labour party conference in 2005? They chucked him out for heckling Jack Straw. Then it sunk in that he was old and emerged that he had come to this country as a Jewish refugee from Hitler, and Labour fell over themselves in their haste to apologise. I said at the time that I saw no reason why they should apologise for ejecting a heckler. The thing they needed to apologise for was far more serious than that:

Buried in the story and not, at first, attracting much comment was one thing that left me flabbergasted. For this Tony Blair and his entire government should get down on their knees and humbly beg forgiveness, swearing at the same time not to rest until the harm they have allowed to flourish is undone:

Police later used powers under the Terrorism Act to prevent Mr Wolfgang’s re-entry, but he was not arrested.

There was a wee fuss about the role of anti-terror powers against Wolfgang at the time, but the point about the blatant abuse of powers that we had been assured would only be used against dangerous fanatics out to commit mass murder was lost amid all the other issues. Because this tactic was not challenged strongly when it was first tried, it became widespread. We have reached a point where half of councils use anti-terror laws to spy on ‘bin crimes’. I don’t recall that possiblity being mentioned in the Parliamentary debates about the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.

Now this bloated definition of terrorism threatens life imprisonment to people who are not terrorists.

“I’ve long said that capitalism without bankruptcy is like Christianity without Hell.”

A quote attributed to USAF Colonel Frank Borman, the oldest living astronaut, businessman, one of the first men to orbit the Moon. He sounds like a splendid chap. This ‘b’ word is of course, is anathema to many in the political elite, as RBS limps on after a decade of State support, and many of the forecasting errors of a decade ago remain unliquidated. As others have noted, just as when a tree falls the light let in through the canopy allows new blooms.

But coming back to our hero, he has recently given an interview on his impressions of his time as an astronaut. He seems to be have set a high bar to be impressed.

“When asked if it was ‘cool’ to fly around weightless, Colonel Borman replied: ‘No.’

He said it was interesting to watch ‘maybe for the first 30 seconds, then it became accepted.’

And Colonel Borman denied ever saying he thought a poet should have been on board.

He said: ‘No, I didn’t- if I did, I didn’t- the last thing I would have wanted on our crew was a poet.’

Mr Cassius Clay, you were not the Greatest. As for the Moon:

He described the Moon as ‘devastation’ and said it was: ‘Meteor craters, no color at all. Just different shades of gray.’

And Colonel Borman revealed he had no desire to step foot on the Moon, as Buzz Aldrin did seven months later.

He said: ‘I would have not accepted the risk involved to go pick up rocks. It doesn’t mean that much to me.’

‘Somebody else wanted to do it. Let them take my place. I love my family more than anything in the world.’

Well, perhaps NASA could ask him to compare the Moon with Detroit?

As he said, he loved his family.

‘The dearest things in life that were back on the Earth- my family, my wife, my parents.’

‘They were still alive then. That was, for me, the high point of the flight from an emotional standpoint.’

‘The dearest things in life that were back on the Earth- my family, my wife, my parents.’

‘They were still alive then. That was, for me, the high point of the flight from an emotional standpoint.’

And the mission itself?

Lovell was mesmerized by space and exploration, and wanted desperately to explore the moon. I was there because it was a battle in the Cold War.

‘I wanted to participate in this American adventure of beating the Soviets. But that’s the only thing that motivated me- beat the damn Russians.’

Would he run in 2020?

Samizdata quote of the day

And do note that interesting little difference between London and New York. In NYC you must have a medallion to gain a taxi permit. The money from the restriction on the number of cabs flowed to those who owned the medallions, to those who controlled access. London Black Cabs were not so restricted – so it was the drivers who gained the higher incomes from the customers being screwed. But if we restrict the number of drivers with a middleman like Uber controlling the access then it’s going to be Uber – as with the medallions – who gains, not the drivers.

Seriously, this is nuts, Sadiq Khan really is proposing that Uber should have monopoly profits thrust upon it. And why the Hell is a Mayor of London proposing that? Evil or ignorant, your choice.

Tim Worstall

Elon Musk just made a lot of enemies in Britain

There is a lot to admire about Elon Musk. I thought the space car was glorious. The whimsicality of it, which so many objected to, delighted me.

It is sad that Mr Musk has now shown that his whims can take a nastier turn.

British cave diver considering legal action over Elon Musk’s ‘pedo’ attack

A British cave diver who was instrumental in the rescue of 12 children trapped in a northern Thailand cave says he is considering legal action after the inventor Elon Musk called him a “pedo” on Twitter.

Vernon Unsworth told the Guardian on Monday he was “astonished and very angry” at the attack, for which Musk offered no evidence or basis. The billionaire initially doubled down on the comments made on social media, but has since deleted them.

Apparently it started when Mr Unsworth was rude about Mr Musk’s offer of his mini-submarine to help in the rescue:

Previously, Unsworth had described Musk’s offer to help the rescue effort as a “PR stunt”, and had told CNN Musk could “stick his submarine where it hurts”.

If nothing else had been said, my sympathies would have been with Mr Musk. Even if it was something of PR stunt, I am sure Musk did genuinely want to help save lives. Still, I dare say tempers often flare in these high pressure situations. One man’s praiseworthy offer of aid can be another’s dangerous distraction from an urgent task.

However then Mr Musk went on to call Mr Unsworth a “pedo”, not just once – in which case it might have been written off as a random zero-content insult like calling someone a “bastard” when you neither know nor care whether their parents were legally married – but repeatedly. Mr Musk’s “evidence” for this allegation out a blue sky was that Mr Unsworth is a white guy living in Thailand. Musk said that that in itself was “sus”, meaning suspicious.

Angry comments are coming thick and fast to the Times article “Thai boys’ rescuer Vern Unsworth could sue Elon Musk over paedophile smear”. If even a fraction of those commenting on the Times website and those of other British newspapers who have said that they are about to cancel their Tesla order follow through with it, Musk’s UK operation could be in real trouble. That comes on top of the doubts already raised about the company by Tesla’s failure to live up to some of Musk’s earlier extravagant promises. For all the fame of the brand, the number of Tesla electric cars in the UK is still only in the low thousands, and Times subscribers are exactly the sort of people who would be most likely to buy them.

Charismatic individuals can push forward scientific innovation. They can also screw up big time.