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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

2009 in Evening Standard headlines

As Michael Jennings has already reminded us, it is now that time of year, when we look back at the rest of the year. I too will now look back at 2009. Whereas Michael trots the globe, my preferred outdoor activity is walking around London, taking photos, an activity which, as of now, remains more or less legal.

And one of the things I especially like to photo is Evening Standard headlines. Not the headlines in the actual newspaper itself, but the ones on the outside of the contraptions behind which the sellers of the Evening Standard sit. I don’t do this as obsessively as this guy, but I do it every few days or so, whenever a particularly intriguing or doom-laden headline hoves into view.

Click on all these headlines to get the original picture that I took, often a bit prosaic, as in: just the headline and its immediate surroundings; but sometimes with further fun and games, in particular further headlines next to the one I’ve featured in the little squares below. So, for instance, to consider just the first two snaps, on Jan 5, besides the amazing news that it was quite cold in January 2009 (just as it is quite cold now – see Dec 22(a)) you can also see talk of “TORY TAX CUTS”. We wish. Still in January, you can ponder the ever widening gap that separates the ever more bogus hero Barack Obama from the real deal: “CAPTAIN COOL IN RIVER JET CRASH”.

The most regular themes are: economic woe, politicians cheating on their expenses, the consequent relentless criticism of and plotting against the Prime Minister, and the equally relentless way the Prime Minister just bashes on with his ruinous activities, seemingly impervious to all complaints.

See especially June 5, which is worth clicking on for, I humbly submit, artistic reasons This is certainly my favourite photo of all these, in terms of the atmosphere it evokes and the memories it will stir in me in future years, one of the main reasons I take photos being just remind myself of what I was interested in, whenever it was. I love that digital cameras automatically attach dates to everything. So, here we go.

There are three for July, because none of the three headlines you see seemed to me to deserve exclusion.

January 5, 20 – February 11, 19:

ES-01-05s.jpgES-01-20s.jpg ES-02-11s.jpgES-02-19s.jpg

March 19, 23 – April 15, 24:

ES-03-19s.jpgES-03-23s.jpg ES-04-15s.jpgES-04-24s.jpg

May 2, 5 – June 5, 24:

ES-05-02s.jpgES-05-05s.jpg ES-06-05s.jpgES-06-24s.jpg

July 10, 21, 31 – August 11, 26:

ES-07-10s.jpgES-07-21s.jpgES-07-31s.jpg

ES-08-11s.jpgES-08-26s.jpg

September 8, 10 – October 8, 20:

ES-09-08s.jpgES-09-10s.jpg ES-10-08s.jpgES-10-20s.jpg

November 17, 19 – December 22, 22:

ES-11-17s.jpgES-11-19s.jpg ES-12-22as.jpgES-12-22bs.jpg

Well, I hope you liked all that, even if without a lot of clicking.

You may now be saying to yourself that November and December have become pretty anti-climactic, and you would be right. For there is another story here, besides all the stories alluded to in the headlines. These photos serve not just as a random walk through the year 2009, but as a probable elegy for the Evening Standard itself, and certainly for the long London era of Evening Standard headlines in the streets.

Click on October 20 for the first clue. That’s right. Some time around then, the Evening Standard stopped costing any money, and started being handed out free. At first the guys giving it away carried on with the billboards, but I knew that this practice would soon fade away. If no money is being made in the street from these newspapers, why go to all the bother of advertising them in the street. So it is that if you click on the last picture of all, you see that where there used to be informatively alarming stories about doom and disaster, now there are only forlorn signs saying that the ES now costs nothing.

This switch to the ES being a giveaway came only a few months after its takeover by a Russian Oligarch. How soon before the ES vanishes altogether, becoming itself the subject of a few more doom-laden headlines in other organs, before it sinks from the memory of Londoners?

Samizdata quote of the day

“And what should our mood be? The population restrictionists say we should be sad and worry. I and many others believe that the trends suggesst joy and celebration at our newfound capacity to support human life – healthily, and with fast-increasing access to education and opportunity all over the world. I believe that the population restrictionists’ hand-wringing view leads to despair and resignation. Our view leads to hope and progress, in the reasonable expectation that that the energetic efforts of humankind will prevail in the future, as they have in the past, to increase worldwide our numbers, our health, our wealth, and our opportunities…..Adding more people causes problems, but people are also the means to solving those problems.”

- Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource, 2nd edition, page 588.

The other day, Perry de Havilland took aim at those who would use the violence-backed power of the State to restrict human population. The late Julian Simon had no time for the neo-Malthusian mindset. Among other things, he did not regard wealth as somehow fixed and that if there were more people around, there would be less for each person. We are richer now than we were 100 years ago, and there are more of us. If you want a book that cuts through the crud of the gloomongering cast of mind, this book still ranks up top as one of the very best.

When religions stray off the reservation…

If religious leaders get the urge to spout off on religious topics to the religiously inclined, well I suppose that is what they are for. But why oh why does the Church of England think it is appropriate for them to have any corporate opinion at all on purely secular matters like advertising?

Why should a bunch of clerics think they have any business demanding the state regulate the media? Exactly what biblical basis do they have for supporting the imposition of restrictions on what people do on TV? I must have missed the passage in the New Testament where it says “The Lord says tell Caesar to threaten those who sayth things you don’t approve of”.

I have zero tolerance for a state privileged organization who claim to speak from a position of moral superiority advocating force backed restrictions on secular life. The sooner the Church of England is disestablished the better.

So if not that, then what?

I just noticed an interesting set of musing about Professor Shahriar Afshar, wondering fearfully what theorist will do if the Large Hadron Collider fails to find the mysterious Higgs Boson:

The controversial physicist, whose Afshar experiment has already found a loophole in quantum theory, said that unless the scientific community starts contemplating a “plan B”, failure could lead to “chaos and infighting”.

He said failure will undermine more than a hundred years of scientific theory and undermine some of the mainstays of scientific thinking, the Standard Model, a general theory of how particles fit together to create matter. It would also lead to bitter recriminations and infighting among the different scientists and a complete loss of confidence among the general public and taxpayer, he said.

This made me wonder if not finding the Higgs Boson would necessarily be a Bad Thing if it means Big Science is less likely to get the hapless taxpayer on the hook to pay for the latest research toys. But more importantly, also makes me wonder why scrapping a failed theory (if that is how it turns out) and seeking to come up with better ones is grounds for such trepidation. What the good professor sees as “chaos and infighting” sounds like fresh opportunities for intellectual enquiry to me, but then I do not have any tax funded sacred cows in danger of getting defunded. Just sayin’.

A few thoughts on Climategate

I have waited awhile to chuck my tuppence into the ‘Climategate’ ring as I am not a true believer and have preferred to see how things played out over time. I personally favour the hypothesis that humans are causing some climatic effects but I do not believe the evidence is sufficient to prove my opinion correct. I have an open mind towards those who are weakly opposed, which is to say those who are waiting on data to prove me wrong. If one were to place my opinions on a dartboard, I would fall pretty close to the one labeled Bjorn Lomborg.

I am far more worried about the collateral damage the CRU researchers have caused. Their machinations, exposed by these ‘Pentagon Papers’ of the oughties, is damning and damaging to public trust in science. It opens the door to all sorts of pseudo-science by making their expositors appear superficially to be as trustworthy as the real thing. This is bad. This is very bad.

‘Climategate’ is not the first case of serious scientific fraud in recent years but may be the most damaging and far reaching one. Other well known cases included South Korean scientist Hwang Woo-Suk who falsified his work on cloning and Bell Labs Physicist Jan Hendrik Schön who faked results in numerous papers. Schön used the same fake graph, with modified labels, in three totally different papers. That was just a starter. His massive misdeeds caused a gravity wave ripple through the Physics world as every paper citing his work had to be reconsidered.

Since all CRU citations must now be treated as problematic, the potential of ‘Climategate’ is not a ripple but a terrible and destructive tsunami. The researchers responsible for this have set their field back by years and should be disciplined by their peers accordingly. Cleaning primate cages is too good for them.

A second facet of ‘Climategate’ is the reported shortcomings in the model code base. Part of the document release included source code. In a discussion with Rand Simberg over breakfast in LA earlier this month I heard that some very knowledgeable open source programmers are having a go at it. If half of what he told me turns out to be true, the models used by IPCC are worse than useless.

I have several times in my career translated serious numerical modeling code from Fortran to modern languages and thus had to deal with the issues of validating the results. In the real world mistakes cost money and sometimes lives. Most recently I translated some aerodynamics code for a New Space company. I spent weeks doing nothing but validating and checking to be sure the output was reasonably trustworthy for questions within the realm of interest. When Rand told me the CRU model code did not even handle numeric overflows I was speechless.

Let me explain. Computers represent numbers in binary. Any signed representation (ie one that handles plus and minus) will use some formatting trick to differentiate the two. The problem is, if a positive number gets incremented to be one bit too big… it may suddenly become a negative number. Regardless of what does happen, any calculation using the value after an overflow might as well be a random number generator. The results are totally, utterly worthless. There is not a chance in hell that the output will be meaningful.

There are ways of dealing with this sort of thing but I will not go into that sort of techno-detail here. My goal is simply to point out that if the statements I heard are true, I must cease to believe the validity of any output from CRU and CRU related models.

There is really only one acceptable way for the field to recover credibility and reinvigorate trust. The code for models must all be made open source. It must be released into the public domain where experts in numerical programming can openly argue about the validity of the code, the mathematical techniques and the mathematical and physical simplifications and assumptions it contains.

I will no longer believe results which lack this corroboration. If an author refuses, I am going to assume they have misdeeds to hide.

Early in this article I said I lean towards pro on the hypothesis of human caused climate change. I should expound upon that a bit more. It is my belief that we are causing some change at present and if things went on as they are now there might be some serious, but not civilization threatening results.

However, things are not going to stay the same. A collapse in carbon output is going to occur and the reasons for it have nothing to do with cap and trade or Copenhagen or any other State or NGO foisted crisis plan. By the middle of this century liquid fuels such as gasoline will be generated using the Fischer-Tropsch process in some updated form. It will be carbon neutral because part of the feedstock will be free for the taking: atmospheric CO2. It will be split using either grid power, mechanical nanotechnology or genetically modified algae (some of which is purportedly working already). With the addition of energy, CO2 -> CO + O, and the Carbon Monoxide may be fed into the same FT process that was used to fuel the Nazi war machine. Towards the end of World War II this was nearly the only source of fuel available to Germany. Anyone who believes this technology is unproven on an industrial scale is simply historically ignorant.

Carbon based grid power is already declining as a relative portion of US energy (30% according to a recent SciAm article). I expect that decline to accelerate as use of ever cheapening and ever improving solar panels really starts to bite. We will also see inputs from Space Based Solar Power growing explosively by 2050. New technology nuclear and perhaps even game changing wild cards like Polywell Fusion will be taking up major roles by then as well.

If you toss in the huge impacts nanotechnology will have on all facets of technological civilization and the expected population decline in the second half of the century one begins to wonder exactly what will be the climate change problem of 2100? If human CO2 inputs collapse and population declines what climatic impact will the modeling of that scenario show?

There is yet another wildcard to consider. What if we are about to hit a Maunder type solar minimum? There is debate on this issue but it is certainly not closed. Such a decline could cover any human global warming until long after we have transitioned to more modern energy sources.

We need Climate Science to cleanse itself of political hacks. Young scientists must learn that Science cannot save Politics… but Politics can certainly ruin Science. Let scientists generate science and leave politicians to deal in the realm of opinion and ‘what people want’.

Yet another reminder why I am not a pacifist

Usually differing opinion should be met with reasoned debate… but sometimes they should be met with statements like “if your side ever managed to get that into law, my response would be to urge people to start shooting at anyone who supports that position”. The notion that state action must be used to reduce the population of this planet falls well into that category for me and so when I see an ‘ethicist’ writing about his reaction to this subject, moreover in the context of him having a child, it does make me wonder what sort of thing different people regard as the final line beyond which they stop talking and reach for the rifle or the semtex.

One reader of my blog last week asserted that “the human population could do with a good 25% knocked out.”

He goes on to suggest that we should: “restrict every woman to a single pregnancy, once she has had that then sterilize her, restrict every man to causing a single pregnancy, after that castrate him, stop ALL forms of artificial preganancy (test tube etc.) This way we will reduce the population – and quite quickly.”

Strong stuff! But it is certainly true that for the last couple of centuries population growth has been inextricably linked with the use of fossil fuels.

Now I do not begrudge ‘Ethical Man‘ his response, but rather than replying, in effect, “steady on chaps”, personally my intemperate inclination would be more alone the line of inviting the person suggesting we need mandatory state enforced population reduction to go jump off a bridge and die, for the greater good of course, if he felt so strongly about it… and the sooner the better.

This is no different to the sorts of people who say about Stalin when his policy of mass murder is brought up “yes but at least he industrialised the Soviet Union”… thereby equating the millions who died in the man-made Ukrainian famine and in the the gulags as, in effect, simply fuel burnt in a justifiable bonfire to power the Soviet Union’s engines. I usually ask such people if they would have accepted they and their families would have been a reasonable cost had they lived in some Soviet village at the time and been deemed expendable as a way to crush anti-communist nationalism, and if not, why not?

The problem I have with this whole discussion is that it grants what is a monstrous totalitarian perspective a polite hearing rather than the sort of response it truly deserves. It strikes me to just dignify the proposition “the state should spay women and castrate men” with “wouldn’t it be better if we just find a way to reduce the fuel we burn?” is to in effect tolerate the intolerable. A far better response, and dare I say a more ethical one, would be “your policy will indeed reduce the world’s population because people like me will put a 10mm hole between the eyes of totalitarian scum like you.”

To accept such vile notions such as forced sterilisation as acceptable to advance, even in theory, is not tolerance… it is moral cowardice. It is a bit like giving a polite airing to the chap who wants to argue that we would all be better off if we just gassed a few Jews, and then tutting gently before calming pointing out the error of his ways… as opposed to throwing him out the door (ideally without bothering to open it first). I know which I think is more appropriate.

Mojave Journey: Part 6

As I headed back for the very relative warmth of the main tent I was drawn to the life size replica of SpaceShipOne, the vehicle I watched blasting into space above Mojave in the first half of this decade. It now seemed so small, so primitive, a Mercury to SpaceShipTwo’s Apollo. I could not but help imagine what private space will be flying six years from now. Creative destruction has broken free of its chains. The game has changed.

SS1 Replica at night
SpaceShipOne: so tiny, so quaint, so… turn of the century.
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved

The first familiar face I spotted upon my return to the main tent was the hard to miss Gary Barnhard of the National Space Society. He and others were chatting in the middle of the floor. Despite being half frozen, I gladly accepted chilled white wine from a lovely lass who was wandering about with a tray of them. I must admit I would have preferred some of the hot ‘Glue Wine’ concoction I used to imbibe when skiing Seven Springs in Pennsylvania, but… it was antifreeze, it was free… so who was I to complain?

Barnhard and wine
It was not surprising to find Gary in close proximity to wine.
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved

With wine in hand I started my first photographic round of the party. When I crossed from the main tent to the front balloon tent and glanced out the gap I was taken again by the surreal reality: there is a friggin real space ship out there!

WK2 and SS2
I just saw a spaceship… someone pinch me!
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved

As an old hand in the performance arts one of the things which impressed me was the use of light. I have seen no one else mention it so let me be the first to give kudos to the lighting designer! → Continue reading: Mojave Journey: Part 6

365 of Britain’s top photographers attack the state

There’s a very important sounding letter in tomorrow’s Telegraph from hundreds of photographers who are angry that the government is violating their rights with anti-terrorism powers. Alex Singleton says it’s significant because “the signatories are not a bunch of lippy anarchists, but a roll-call of establishment figures”. The letter writers are demanding a change in the law and the recognition that terrorists don’t need to lug about heavy Nikons and tripods.

Labour buries justice

Abdelhaset Al-Megrahi is a millionaire, released under mysterious conditions of mortality, to the lasting shame of the Scottish Parliament. It now appears that he is no longer in hospital, a puzzle given his mortal prognosis. He has now survived longer than the diagnosed two months, imploding the claims of clemency and mercy.

Yet, Gary McKinnon will be deported to the United States despite his mental condition and the prognosis that he is a suicide risk, under a despised extradition treaty.

What justice could my country invoke if Al-Megrahi lived in Libyan luxury and David McKinnon took his own life far away from kith and kin?

Christmas words from your betters

It is no secret that I think Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, is a twit and indeed possessed of some very destructive and morally inexcusable views (why mess around with fiddly things like moral culpability or moral choice leading to charity when you have state power to simply take and redistribute, eh?).

Well I suppose his latest utterances should come as no surprise then…

Children are being forced to grow up too quickly in a culture which refuses to recognise that human beings are naturally dependent on one another, the Archbishop of Canterbury warned today.

Dr Rowan Williams condemned the pressure on children to become “active little consumers and performers” at the earliest opportunity.

Never mind the fact our culture works hard to infantalise adults and the notion of a profound differentiation between childhood and adulthood is a very modern and rather weird idea. But as he is an unabashed statist leftie. I can see how fostering a sense of dependence would appeal to such a person and it is to be expected he would deprecate the fact many people hold up independence from others as a virtue.

It is that time of year again


Alicante, Spain. January 2009.


Sofia, Bulgaria. February 2009.


Madrid, Spain. March 2009.


Galway, Ireland. March 2009.


Zadar, Croatia. April 2009.


Port Vendres, France. April 2009.


Krakow, Poland. April 2009.


Poznan, Poland. May 2009.


Nanterre, France. May 2009.


Kiev, Ukraine. June 2009.


Pripyat, Zone of Alienation. June 2009.


Antwerp, Belgium. June 2009.


Calais, France. June 2009.


TimiŠŸoara, Romania. July 2009.


Belgrade, Serbia. July 2009.


Marstrand, Sweden. August 2009.


Hellnar, Iceland. August 2009.


Versailles, France. September 2009.


Ben Nevis, Scotland. October 2009.


Bremerhaven, Germany. November 2009.


Krobielowice, Poland. November 2009.


Cluj-Napoca, Romania. November 2009.


Huelva, Spain. December 2009.


Serpa, Portugal. December 2009.


Olivença/Olivenza, Iberia. December 2009.

I watched the US Senate vote on the health care Bill

Some people whip themselves for thrills… me, I watch Congressional votes – no doubt for similar mental reasons.

Anyway the vote was not quite how it would be in a Paul Marks doom-of-horror fantasy – no triumphant cries of “Death to America” and “Obama is the Living God” from the leftists (although Durbin and some others were no doubt thinking at least the first of these two things) as they waved copies of the Economist magazine. However, there were some noteworthy moments.

My favourite was when Senator K.K.K. Byrd shed tears during his vote saying it was for “his friend Ted Kennedy”.

The late Senator Edward Kennedy is presently burning in Hell for the manslaughter of Mary Jo and other crimes (none of which he ever repented of – and repentance, contrary to Hollywood, must include openly admitting one’s guilt and accepting punishment). But it is some seasonal comfort to me that Senator Byrd will be joining Senator Kennedy in Hell, reasonably soon.