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]

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.

Culture ‘War’ – in the Lebanon – Mayor hires ‘sexy’ police officers

News reaches us, via the BBC, of a small-town Mayor in the Lebanese town of Broummana, where the Mayor has hired traffic police, who appear to be only young women in shorts. This seems to have gone down fairly well, but not all are happy, as one vox pop showed. Some of the quotes ‘It’s a free country‘, ‘Everything is allowed in Lebanon, why not?‘ do make me wonder. Closer examination suggests that this is a marketing stunt involving hiring University students. And the blatant discrimination against men would not be allowed anywhere in the EU.

As the Mayor said ‘Do you want them ugly?.

Now, we are not told if this is a Christian locality, but the Wiki page above suggests that it is predominantly Christian.The BBC found one woman who objected, but didn’t want to show her face, and she had covered her legs. I feel her pain.

Everything is allowed in the Lebanon, why not?‘. You can’t imagine a British politician saying something like that any time soon. You can almost hear the feminist cogs turning, thinking of air strikes.

Nico Metten on the Electric Vehicle Revolution

Is The Electric Vehicle Revolution Real? That is the question that Nico Metten asks, over at Libertarian Home. Metten’s answer, surprise surprise: no. His English could do with a little cleaning up by a native of these islands, but that quibble aside, and on the basis of far less technical knowledge than him, I share his doubts, although in my case the proper word would probably be: suspicions. I suspect everything tinged with Green to be … suspect.

Ken Ferguson, commenting at Libertarian Home on the matter of electric vehicles, argues, in contrast, that this “revolution” is real, and is driven by the need to cut down on air pollution. He supplies this link.

And indeed, you do now see electric vehicles all over the place. Here is one I photoed a while back, just a walk away from where I live, getting an electro-refill from a special roadside charger:

But are electric engines n vehicles the only way to cut down on harmful vehicle engine emissions, or could regular or not-so-regular petrol engines be part of similar reductions, perhaps by having something bolted onto the end of them to take care of those emissions? Or, could vehicle emissions be somehow cleaned up by other means, with devices not attached directly to any vehicles? Do such things already happen? And: How harmful are those emissions, actually? (See above: “suspicions”.)

Since concocting the bulk of this posting, I notice that another Libertarian Home commenter, Jordan Lee, echoes many of my doubts, and one in particular of my questions:

Is there a way to make fuel burning cars more efficient in cutting emissions?

Cars are now being sold on this exact basis. But how far will they get in doing this, and how efficiently will such cars continue doing their number one job, of being cars?

The Samizdata commentariat contains some notably well-informed techies. I’ll be interested to read whatever anyone may feel inclined to say about this.

A comment to a Guardian editorial about the French rail strike

The editorial itself is forgettable, but this comment by “Cavirac” astounded me:

Polls run in the left, centre and right newspapers show overwhelming support for Macron by the French public with regards to the changes he will make to SNCF.

People in the private sector (builders, electricians, plimbers etc.) now see their retirement age at 67. You need to have worked for 41 years to get a full state pension, tha’st six years more than in the UK.

The SNCF, EDF and La Poste workers can retire at 50 if their work is “physical” on a full pension and 55 if they are administrative staff.

Not only do they get to retire but they get loads of perks which are not taxed. EDF workers get a 80% discount on their electricity bills and after working for five years this discount is for life. SNCF get free European rail travel for themselves and direct family. La Post get a super Mutual insurance which allows them access to the best hospitals in France for free. The facteur (postman/woman) suffer very bad shoulder and elbow strain from leaning out of their vans delivering the post apparently and many need replacement elbow and shoulder joints.

EDF, La Poste and SNCF also own holiday villages all over France including some of the more prestigious holiday resorts where they benefit from all inclusive holidays as stupidly low prices, typically 150 Euros per week per person.

All this comes at a cost and is paid for by the tax payer and the users. It represents a big chunk of the current deficit for each of these institutions.

This is why the general public in France support Macron in this. Why should they have to work every hour god sends till they are 67 to get a shit pension when a guy who sweeps the station platform, because it is outside manual work, be able to retire at 50 on full pay and still keep his perks including cheap holidays etc?

Can any readers familiar with France tell me whether that is a fair presentation of the facts?

100 years of the RAF, and a very British protest

Today marks the centenary of the Royal Air Force, established for bureaucratic convenience at the start of a financial year in 1918, beaten in the age stakes by the Finnish Air Force, formed on the preceding 6th March, a Force which has higher scoring aces, with implausible names like Hans Wind, but I digress. Whilst I am not one to celebrate bureaucracies (and the RAF is a bureaucracy), it has the merit of having done much to banish tyranny from the world, and has many tales of heroism in its relatively short history, even if for one-fifth of that, it has been part of the Blairmacht.

Today I would like to note one incident in the RAF’s history, which came at the ‘half-way’ mark, when in 1968, (actually on 5th April) after Harold Wilson’s Labour government decided not to commemorate the RAF’s 50th anniversary with a fly-past, and this did not go down well at all. In fact, it went down so badly that one RAF pilot, the heroic Flight Lieutenant Alan Pollock, threw away his career and very nearly his freedom in the ‘Tower Bridge incident‘, when, in protest at the lack of a commemoration, in his Hawker Hunter jet, he ‘buzzed’ the Houses of Parliament. Then on the spur of the moment, going down the Thames towards the sea, he flew under the top span of Tower Bridge at around 400 mph, and also ‘beat up’ a few airfields inverted, before landing, getting arrested but avoiding a court martial after being demobilised on health grounds by superiors eager to avoid the publicity of a trial, which is a weird echo of a similar ruse used in Viktor Suvorov’s ‘The Liberators’ when a Soviet Army soldier’s conduct presented a bureaucratic embarrassment that could not be concealed from higher authority. The jet only just missed hitting the top span of Tower Bridge with its tail, so no harm was done, however, it was close, there was a double-decker bus on the bridge at the time, and a cyclist on the bridge ripped his trousers dismounting in haste. Flt-Lt Pollock gallantly offered to pay for the trousers, but the cyclist declined.

It is a tribute to the political culture of the UK that discontent manifested itself in this way, rather than in something like a tanquetazo . The World would also be a better place if more people, like Flt-Lt Pollock, placed acting out of good principles over doing what is needed to maintain one’s position or career, when one is led by disgusting ones.

UPDATE: The Daily Mail have done a full interview with Alan Pollock, here it is.

Which of these two airline chief executives do you find more persuasive?

Ryanair’s Micheal O’Leary, as reported in today’s Mirror:

Ryanair chief threatens to ground cheap flights to persuade voters to ‘rethink’ Brexit

CEO Michael O’Leary says he wants to make people realise they are “no longer going to have cheap holidays”

Ryanair is threatening to ground its planes to persuade voters to “rethink” Brexit .

Michael O’Leary, the budget airline’s chief executive, said he wants to “create an opportunity” by making people realise they are “no longer going to have cheap holidays.”

He told an audience of airline leaders in Brussels: “I think it’s in our interests – not for a long period of time – that the aircraft are grounded.

“It’s only when you get to that stage where you’re going to persuade the average British voter that you were lied to in the entire Brexit debate.

“You were promised you could leave the EU and everything would stay the same. The reality is you can leave the EU, yes that’s your choice, but everything will fundamentally change.”

Mr O’Leary warned that there would be a “real crisis” as flights between the UK and the EU are disrupted after Brexit.

He said: “When you begin to realise that you’re no longer going to have cheap holidays in Portugal or Spain or Italy, you’ve got to drive to Scotland or get a ferry to Ireland as your only holiday options, maybe we’ll begin to rethink the whole Brexit debate.

“They were misled and I think we have to create an opportunity.”

Or EasyJet’s Johan Lundgren?

EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren, who was on stage alongside Mr O’Leary, interrupted him to say: “If you start grounding your planes, I’m flying.”