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]

Welcome to the future

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

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

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

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

Though beset by tribulations, Ms Barnes keeps the faith:

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

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

The foundling

Anyone know whose baby this is?

Mystery Deepens Around Unmanned Spy Boat Washed Up In Scotland

Sadiq Khan will not be displeased that Uber has won its appeal

The BBC reports,

Uber spared from London ban despite ‘historical failings’

Uber has secured its right to continue operating in London after a judge upheld its appeal against Transport for London (TfL).

The ride-hailing giant has been granted a new licence to work in the capital, nearly a year after TfL rejected its application over safety concerns.

It ends uncertainty for the 45,000 drivers who use the taxi app in London.

Westminster Magistrates’ Court said Uber was now a “fit and proper” operator “despite historical failings”.

Snip

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said TfL was “absolutely right” not to renew Uber licence last year but acknowledged the company had “made improvements”.

However, he added: “I can assure Londoners that TfL will continue to closely monitor Uber and will not hesitate to take swift action should they fail to meet the strict standards required to protect passengers.”

Remember this from 2017?

Sadiq Khan is accused of ‘capitulating’ to black cab drivers’ union that bankrolled his London Mayor’s election campaign as petition to save taxi app reaches 600,000 signatures

The Mayor’s previous two attempts to ban Uber from London were unpopular with Londoners in general, and particularly unpopular with groups that normally vote Labour. Uber is a godsend for people living in non-posh places where black cabs do not venture, and for people who cannot afford the fares they charge. Uber drivers are very often from ethnic minorities and/or relatively recent immigrants. (All over the developed world taxi drivers tend to be immigrants for very good reasons – unless restrictive practices keep them out.)

Mr Khan knew all that, of course, but he could not afford to refuse the cab drivers’ union.

Now a nice judge has got him off the hook.

Ask not for whom the tik toks

“TikTok and WeChat: US to ban app downloads in 48 hours”, reports the BBC.

All things considered, I do still want Trump to win the US election, but this sounds like a stupid measure. Banning things is almost always intrinsically stupid, as is running your politics by the threat of bans. It will also lose him votes from people who happen to like TikTok.

I suspect that like Sadiq Khan’s ban on Uber operating in London (the appeal against which will be heard on 28th September), Trump’s move is basically a shakedown. Note the delay before implementation in both cases. Either ban could be reversed at a moment’s notice for the right price. So far as I know Londoners can still use Uber now, and that will continue until the appeals process is exhausted, which could mean ten days or ten years. As for Tiktok in the US,

If a planned partnership between US tech firm Oracle and TikTok owner ByteDance is agreed and approved by President Trump, the app will not be banned.

If Corbyn had won we’d have had free broadband by 2030

As in we would have had it.

15 November 2019:

General election 2019: Labour pledges free broadband for all

Labour has promised to give every home and business in the UK free full-fibre broadband by 2030, if it wins the general election.

The party would nationalise part of BT to deliver the policy and introduce a tax on tech giants to help pay for it.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell told the BBC the “visionary” £20bn plan would “ensure that broadband reaches the whole of the country”.

28 May 2020:

No more free petrol, Maduro tells Venezuelans

Venezuela’s socialist government says it is ending its policy of allowing motorists to fill up with free petrol as the country confronted an economic meltdown.

“Petrol must be paid for,” said President Maduro in a state TV address. He described the change, euphemistically, as a “normalisation and regularisation plan.”

The signs of the times, they are a-changing…

England may soon have new road signs for pedestrians. We have some new signs coming out, to remind us about ‘social distancing’. Here are the samples taken from the .gov.uk website.

What are these signs for? The UK government’s Department of Transport is clearly playing the long game in short order in the war on freedom and against the private motor vehicle, er.., Covid-19 in England. On Saturday 9th May 2020, guidance came out for local councils (who manage most of the road space) to make changes to road use to facilitate the use of ‘roadspace’ by cyclists and pedestrians. This has been done by providing new ‘guidance’ to local councils on under The Traffic Management Act 2004. So the response to this epidemic is clearly going to be rather more ‘permanent’ than temporary, the government is engaged in not just a reaction to widespread respiratory tract infections and the inability of the NHS to provide health care. Take a look at some of the wording:

“The government therefore expects local authorities to make significant changes to their road layouts to give more space to cyclists and pedestrians. Such changes will help embed altered behaviours and demonstrate the positive effects of active travel.”

“When the country gets back to work, we need them to carry on cycling, and to be joined by millions more. With public transport capacity reduced, the roads in our largest cities, in particular, may not be able to cope without it. We also know that in the new world, pedestrians will need more space. Indications are that there is a significant link between COVID-19 recovery and fitness. Active travel can help us become more resilient.”

A new world, are we on Mars? It goes on:

“We recognise this moment for what it is: a once in a generation opportunity to deliver a lasting transformative change in how we make short journeys in our towns and cities. According to the National Travel Survey, in 2017-18 over 40% of urban journeys were under 2 miles – perfectly suited to walking and cycling.”

Never let a crisis go to waste.

“Active travel is affordable, delivers significant health benefits, has been shown to improve wellbeing, mitigates congestion, improves air quality and has no carbon emissions at the point of use. Towns and cities based around active travel will have happier and healthier citizens as well as lasting local economic benefits.”

Will those citizens be happier and healthier cycling to work in the cold November rain? Sorry, I assumed that there will be any meaningful jobs left by then. Why haven’t they been cycling already? ‘…no carbon emissions at the point of use…’, really? I think it means ‘carbon dioxide’ of course. But if anyone rides a pushbike and doesn’t emit carbon dioxide, whether immediately or via lactic acid metabolism, they will be dead.‘…lasting local economic benefits…’: Never mind the bigger picture. The bull is big on this and they know it and don’t care.

So all this is what the Secretary of State for Transport, Mr Grant Shapps, a sort of Bruce Foxton lookalike, has in mind. He seems to be there to make the rest of the Cabinet look good, and who has a very trustworthy past.

Is, in this ‘new world’, (their words) HS2 going to be viable as this virus will still be deemed a threat in 2030 or whenever it is ready, and the train will be ‘socially-distanced’? Don’t hold your breath, unless you want to reduce carbon emissions.

Whatever the UK Prime Minister says tonight, the UK government is clearly using this situation as an opportunity to regulate ever more closely every aspect of our lives. This is Mr Johnson’s green agenda bursting out into the open, the Khmer Vert with Covid-1984.

Discussion point – cars and COVID-19

A writer I follow is Joel Kotkin, who is based in the US and writes a lot about how cities and other human settlement patterns are changing. COVID-19 will accelerate changes in place, such as moves from big, crowded cities towards more roomy surburbs and the rural areas (this obviously comes up against issues such as zoning and planning controls). One thing that his article here does not say a lot about though is the future of the car. For the last few decades, the standard narrative from what might be loosely called “The Established Elite” is that cars are bad when the masses have them, because of congestion, pollution, not to mention how they encourage the plebs to go where they want. The whole idea of owning and caring about a car, of guys chatting about engine sizes, 0-60 speed performance and all that Jeremy Clarkson sort of stuff, drives our Established Elites nuts.

But if public transport struggles to win back the punters after the plague dies down, and people remember how valuable it was to have a car, where does this leave the anti-car agenda?

(As an aside, here is a playful article by a libertarian chap who connects up the experience of freedom with driving cars and riding motorbikes.

No more cheap cars

In the Continental Telegraph, Tim Worstall points out that electric cars ain’t cheap. So when all cars must be electric, no cars can be cheap.

This is where “trickle down economics” is actually true. New tech is expensive, toys for the rich. It takes a number of manufacturing iterations for it to become cheap enough for the masses. The iPhone started at $700, you can buy better landfill Android now for $30. ABS was only for top end cars, a couple of decades later everyone has it. That’s just how it works.

But we’ve now got government insisting that only electric cars by 2035. Which is rather before those cheap ones are going to be available – an iteration of technology in a car is measured in years, up to a decade. So, the poor get screwed.

And this gets worse. Batteries don’t last forever. And a significant portion of car transport for the poor is provided by the £500 beater. An older car, mechanically reasonable enough, that another few tens of thousands of miles can be got out of. Battery powered cars won’t do that. Because at some point you’re going to have to replace the battery pack, something that will be a substantial portion of the cost of a new car.

The technology basically kills the £500 beater market.

A good point, though I would replace the word “technology” with “regulation”.

At which point, well, aren’t they noticing? Or is this the point? That the proles have to walk while the Comrades can use the whole road as a Zil lane?

How a standard rut gauge created a standard rail gauge

Some MapPorn:

This is a map of the world’s different railway gauges.

Fun fact, if fact it be. In the schmoozing after a talk I attended earlier in the week, someone told me that Britain’s four foot eight-and-a-half inch gauge is the result of how far apart horse-drawn carriages had their wheels, in the pre-railways north-east of England, that being where the railways in Britain got started. The point being that such carriages also had a standard gauge. Their wheels dug ruts in the un-tarred roads of those times, so if your carriage had a different “gauge”, it couldn’t travel in those ruts, and thus couldn’t travel at all. These ruts were rails before rails. And that regular distance apart transferred itself to the newly emerging railways.

I haven’t checked this. I didn’t want to bother with any facts that might destroy my story, until I’d told my story. But as of now: feel free to destroy away.

Another question: Will the railway gauges of the world ever change? By which I mean get somewhat less numerous. Say: As a result of some sort of new intercontinental high speed rail system being developed. I seem to recall reading that in Spain, the new high speed trains are the same gauge as those in France (and thus also Britain) and different from the regular Spanish gauge. Or would a some futuristic global high speed system will just add yet another standard? (Will Brunel’s preferred seven foot gauge for the old Great Western line rise from the dead and conquer the world? Guess: No.)

Cue the commentariat who will, I predict, change the subject to the QWERTY keyboard, and then disagree about how that happened, and about how keyboards will be in two hundred years time.

Guards, guards!

“Passengers locked on train with violent thugs”, reports the Times:

Two “psychotic” thugs spent 30 minutes assaulting and abusing commuters after rail staff locked them in a carriage and refused to open the doors.

Witnesses said that the two suspects had been clashing with other passengers on the Southern rail service from Hastings to Brighton on Tuesday last week when a train guard intervened. The men attacked the guard, onlookers said, before he locked himself in the driver’s cabin.

When the train arrived at Lewes station in East Sussex, the doors were locked.

Megan Townshend, 22, who was travelling with her two-year-old daughter, said the decision to trap the men inside the train fuelled their anger.

“The men then began walking up and down the train between carriages threatening people and punching the seats,” she said.

“Anyone who tried to confront them got punched. They tried smashing the windows and said they were going to burn the carriage. I was terrified they’d come near the buggy my daughter was sleeping in.”

This gives a whole new spin on that ancient question, “Who shall guard the guards themselves?”

Readers of the Times try to help Greta out

The problem:

Greta Thunberg stranded as climate summit moves from Chile to Spain

In the centuries before powered flight, getting from California to Madrid was an arduous business, necessitating a long yomp over the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains, and then a turbulent sea voyage across the Atlantic.

Greta Thunberg has 28 days.

The teenage climate activist and pioneer of “flight shame” has appealed for help to travel from Los Angeles to a UN climate summit in Spain without releasing so much as a wisp of unnecessary carbon dioxide.

In perhaps the sternest test of her convictions yet, she must complete the journey of at least 6,000 miles by rail, sail or electric car before December 2.

The solutions:

Richard77:

Perhaps she should consider using Skype.

Ian Howlett:

Just find a normal scheduled flight with an empty seat and get on. The plane will be leaving anyway, whether you’re on it or not.

Anthony Morris:

If it wasn’t so far she could just walk on the water .

A lot of politics consists of politicians doing one of these two things

Here.

In case the video at the other end of that link disappears, what we see is a guy on a railway platform bringing a train to a halt, with great effort. And then he gets it going again, with even more effort. (Except that the train was doing all of this anyway, under its own steam.)