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]

I am out of London and damn glad to be so

“So the Games have managed to achieve what even Hitler failed to accomplish with the Blitz: the total evacuation of London’s working population. Well, not quite total. There are plenty of poor devils who are still trying to scratch a living in the wasteland of empty restaurants, shops and streets. The trouble is that the the usual customers – the great mass of people who normally commute into central London every day – have been terrorised into staying away by a hugely successful Transport for London promotional campaign.”

Janet Daley, in the Daily Telegraph.

She writes about how so many Londoners have fled the country. I am one of them. More than 7 months ago, dreading what I feared might be the impact of the Games, I booked two weeks’ holiday in southwestern France, staying in the lovely small town of Marseillan, in the Languedoc region (nearest big city is Montpellier). I am actually doing some work down here although I have handed most responsibility to a colleague. My wife and I are having a great time – the weather is glorious without being raspingly hot; the food is amazing and good value; the locals are very pleasant; and last but not least, there is a most gratifying lack of Brits to remind me of home. I do check in on the internet occasionally, but although this might strike some as unsporting, I just haven’t got the “Olympic bug” at all. Yes, I thought parts of the opening ceremony were fun (glad to see Brunel honoured as the great Victorian civil engineer he was), and thought the James Bond routine was hilarious, and was not even all that annoyed about the National Health Service propaganda. (I thought the bit about the Industrial Revolution was actually not bad – all that celebration of carbon emissions and molten steel! But I am just not all that enthused. The greatest sporting festival this year has come and gone (the European football championships), and the Tour de France was also a gloriously unexpected highlight of the year. And as Brian says, there was also the cricket. Always the cricket.

By the way, Bradley Wiggins, winner of the Tour, cycled past where I am now staying, and the locals worship the guy. He has become a bit of a cult in France. They like his character, guts and behaviour.

My blogging output is going to be light for the next 10 days. You see, they sell cheap but excellent red wine here by the litre.

The fundamental Olympic problem

Aside from doing grumpy postings like this one about them here, I am pretty much ignoring the Olympics. But today, while waiting for a BBC Radio 3 piano recital, I heard the BBC Radio 3 version of the news. And one of the big stories was that Lord Moynihan (he is some kind of British Olympic big cheese) was defending a gold medal winning Chinese swimmer against accusations of having been drugged. The margin of her victory in a swimming race was, according to a defeated American coach (so said Radio 3), “troubling”.

And there you have what is surely the fundamental problem of the Olympics.

I loath the Olympics for all sorts of reasons. The invading army of officious and corrupt imperialists telling me and my fellow Londoners how to run our own city, the costs that will be spread over lifetimes (including to those who have even less interest in the games than I do), the cock-ups caused by corruption, and by it being organised by a different bunch of organisers each time, the shameless statist propaganda in the opening ceremony (the entirety of which I have recording (sensing political rucki) but I have yet to watch the damn things and probably never will), etc. etc. etc.

But this drugs accusation, whether in this particular case true or baseless, gets to the heart of the problem with the Olympics.

I, and millions of others, just do not trust Olympic athletic victories any more. The wider the margin of them, the more we all distrust them.

After all, science and technology have progressed at a dizzying rate in recent decades, in all other areas where it has profited anybody to make such progress. Why not in athlete doping, in ways that doping detection cannot detect?

In Formula 1 car racing, everyone who pays attention knows that being and having the best driver is only half of the battle, if that. F1 is a struggle between engineers and designers, not just drivers. If your engineers fall behind, having the two best drivers on the planet driving your loser cars won’t win you the championship. Which is fine, because all of this is right out there in the open. No secret is made of any of this. One of the purposes of Formula 1 is to enable car makers to boast about their enthusiasm and excellence at technology, and maybe F1 even encourages regular car-making technology to get better.

In athletics, however, the collision between the idea of individuals racing, or throwing or jumping or whatever it is, and individuals being treated more like racing cars by teams of medical experts, is not nearly so happy. In fact it pretty much destroys the entire purpose of the exercise. I mean, what the hell is the point of winning a gold medal, or for that matter winning a bronze or coming seventh, if every second person you subsequently meet (even if too polite to say so to your face) reckons you probably cheated?

The problem is that whereas last year’s F1 cars are just scrap metal, or perhaps revered but still inanimate museum pieces, Olympic athletes have to spend several more decades actually living inside the bodies that were once mucked about with by Olympic doctors, so you probably can’t just allow the doctors to let rip, with any kind of biotechnology they can devise. Remember all those miserable ex-Soviet swimmers and gymnasts. But if you don’t allow this, or if you allow some biotechnology but not other kinds, you have to find some convincing way of policing it all. As of now, they are nowhere near to doing that convincingly.

And one thing’s for sure. None of these problems are going in any way to diminish, in the decades to come.

At present, my sport of choice, cricket, has no such doping problems, or if so they keep them very firmly under wraps. Not long ago, as I wrote about here, South Africa beat England at cricket. England didn’t just lose, they were humiliated, at home, in what everyone expected to be a very closely fought game. Yet nobody in cricket believes that this extraordinary South African triumph was caused by anything more complicated than the South African team playing much, much better than the England team did. Nobody called this result “troubling”, in the way that American coach meant it. Nobody is now suggesting that the South African team had been using illegal substances. They just batted far better and bowled far better, because … well, because they just did.

Cricket certainly has its cheating problems, but they are to do with people cheating by not trying hard enough, not by off-the-field medical wizards trying too hard.

Bitcoin talk

This coming Friday evening (Aug 3rd), there will be a talk, at my home, on the subject of Bitcoin, given by a German libertarian who is now visiting London named Frank Braun.

Frank Braun is an acquaintance of Detlev Schlichter. Detlev wanted London to offer Frank Braun some kind of libertarian welcome, but many of the usual libertarian welcomers are now out of the country, on holiday and fleeing the Olympics. So, I’m doing some Frank Braun welcoming. Which suits me well because I have for some time been thinking of cranking up my Brian’s Fridays, and this will be a good way to see if that really appeals. Plus, any acquaintance of Detlev Schlichter is an acquaintance of mine. Certainly, this particular talk ought to be interesting.

There is a posting up at my personal blog about the event. If you’d like to attend, and are near enough actually to do that conveniently, please email me (follow the link to see how).

Now, back to all the tidying up that I must do before Friday. That has now become urgent. Which was another reason why I said yes to Frank Braun dropping by.

A reduction in the amount of eco-crap

World’s biggest eco-toilet scheme fails

Not that I wish to discount the idea of improvements to the current design of toilets entirely. One must not be too quick to pooh-pooh new ideas.

Samizdata quote of the day

If conservative Republicans can’t understand that fewer people want to associate with them because they lied when they said they favored a government that did less and spent less, nothing can save the party of Lincoln from eventual receivership. And if liberal Democrats can’t fully grasp that voters are turned off not by the color of Obama’s skin but by the failure of his presidency, they too will continue to see fewer and fewer people marching under their banner.

- Nick Gillespie

Market or lottery

There is controversy over empty seats at sold out events at the Olympics. People who could not get tickets are annoyed to see them.

The way that tickets were sold is odd. I know people who applied for tickets in ony the events they were interested in and were allocated no tickets. I know other people who applied for lots of events and got tickets they were not interested in. It would not surprise me if some of those empty seats belong to people who decided against going to events they had tickets for because they were not interested enough. The tickets were sold this way to stop the prices getting so high that poor people could not afford them. The tickets can not be transferred for the same reason.

The trouble is that you either have a market or you have a lottery. There are no other choices, no matter how you try to dress it up. The trouble with lotteries is they do not allocate resources efficiently.

Quite

Opting out of their own education system

I enjoyed this posting, at David Thompson’s blog, which includes a bit about a Guardian writer who (the horror!) has an inclination towards sending her daughter to a private school.

And I particularly enjoyed this comment attached to it, from “sackcloth and ashes”:

During the early 1980s, my mother taught at an inner city comprehensive which was going downhill fast, largely due to the efforts of the Inner London Educational Authority and the trots in the NUT.

Staff room discussions were usually dominated by the iniquities of private education, and how socially divisive it was, up to the point she let slip that she sent both her boys (self included) to a fee-paying school.

As a consequence, she often found herself being button-holed in the corridors by the most hard-left revolutionaries amongst her colleagues, all of whom wanted her advice on how to get one’s kids into an independent school, rather than a failing comp like the one they were working in.

In my opinion a pro-state-education lefty who sends his/her kid to a private school, because that’s the best school they can contrive, is doing the right thing. I disagree with them about the goodness of state education, not with them doing their best for their kid. What is really creepy is if you send your kid to a terrible school, which you know is terrible, purely in order to be ideologically consistent. Sending your kid to a good school, even though you officially don’t approve of such behaviour, is a tad hypocritical. Deliberately sending your kid to a terrible school, when you had the choice not to, is downright evil.

Samizdata quote of the day

In 1980 the Olympics ceased to be what they had been for most of their modern history and even remained a little in Montreal in 1976, which was a great festival of amateur sport intimately linked to the grass roots of sport and became a curious combination of the Soviet and the commercial. Since then they have failed to fit either of the two justifiable models of modern games because they are neither amateur activity done for the love of it nor are they entertainment organised commercially. The overwhelming majority of Olympic sports have no spectator following of any substance and in the case of those which do (such as tennis, basketball and football) the event is peripheral and a nuisance to the normal calendar. Olympians are no longer the outsiders who make it in their own way – as Harold Abrahams was or Don Thompson who won a walking medal in 1960 training on his own, using his own methods. Nor are they genuinely commercial stars like Lewis Hamilton or Didier Drogba. They are Soviet-style, state-subsidised creatures, competing for the benefit of their political masters: “Team GB” with the PM as skipper.

- Lincoln Allison

Worrying about immigration was wrong then and it’s wrong now

Dr Frederick L. Hoffman, speaking at the International Eugenics Congress, as reported in the Times of 27 July 1912:

He said the statistics were taken from the [Rhode Island] State Census of 1905. They showed two things – first that half the population of this typical New England State were of foreign extraction, and, secondly, that fewer native-born women were married and had families as compared with foreign-born women. The statistics also showed that a far larger percentage of Roman Catholic married women were mothers. Therefore, this originally Protestant State was in a fair way of becoming Roman Catholic. He thought these figures showed an alarming tendency in American life.

Sound familiar? Of course it does. These are exactly the same fears we hear today and they are no more valid now than they were then. Well, I say that. I assume that Rhode Island is a functioning state albeit a social democratic one.

As this is a eugenics conference I can’t help being reminded of this choice quote from Niall Ferguson:

The crucial point to note is that a hundred years ago work like Galton’s was at the cutting edge of science. Racism was not some backward-looking reactionary ideology; the scientifically uneducated embraced it as enthusiastically as people today accept the theory of man-made global warming.

Twitter joke not menacing after all

The conviction of Paul Chambers for making an obvious joke on Twitter about blowing an airport sky high has been quashed in the High Court.

So someone in the justice system has a brain cell to call his own. Pity the case had to get as far as the Lord Chief Justice, the aptly named Lord Judge in the job he was born for, before that person was found.

Tell you what is “clearly menacing”, though, if the future of liberty in this country means anything to you at all. The airport security manager who finked on Chambers to the police, the police who arrested him, the Crown Prosecution Service lawyers who prosecuted him, the magistrate who first convicted him, and Judge Jacqueline Davis who refused his initial appeal all still have their heads attached to their necks.

I jest.

Probably.

Russ Mitchell on the 3D printing revolution – and its current limitations

“Russ in Texas” (actual name: Russ Mitchell) commented most interestingly on this posting here about 3D printing, the point being that he had, or soon would have, personal experience of actually doing this stuff. I urged him to write about any such experience, and here (with apologies to him for the delay in doing this posting) is the email he recently sent:

Here’s my experience:

3d Printing is mature and ready to go NOW – if you need something in plastic, resin, or maybe ceramics.   If you need functional metal parts, the revolution is not here yet.

Background: decent-enough 3d modeling skills with graphics/animation software like Blender/3dsMax.
Tools Used:   TinkerCAD (godsend!), 3dsMax.
Formats needed by Pros: STL, DWG.

So, modeling arrowheads, etcetera, based on historical artifacts was not very hard.   In some ways, this was preferable to scanning because of distortions called by corrosion (holes in artifact), rust bumps, bits missing, etcetera.   TinkerCAD online proved to be REALLY fast for slapping together the rough models for figures based on intuitively jacking together various shapes (and then distorting them) – those who have difficulty visualizing in 3 dimensions might have trouble seeing how a pyramid, rotated, stretched, and then narrowed, gives you a scalene triangle, but it’s there and very doable.

The providers:   Sculpteo and Shapeways.   Their setup: entirely painless.   Their materials?   Affordable enough.   Some of the arrowheads can be duplicated for a couple of bucks a pop in resin or plastic, up to 10-12 bucks…. COMPLETELY affordable.

Metal?

Write it off.   3d printing in metal is still OBSCENELY expensive (a 70-dollar arrowhead, made in 20-hrc stainless that can’t hold an edge??), and what I wound up having to do was take models to a guy I know with a laser/waterjet rig… who then recommended old-school forge dyes and stamping.

So that’s where we are now.   It’s coming, and for the right material, it’s here now:   stupid-easy modeling programs like tinkerCAD will get somebody 90% of the way to a useable model for simpler stuff, (almost) no skills required.   But the material’s the clincher.

The more I hear about this stuff, the more revolutionary (in a good way) it strikes me as being. And we are now only at the beginning of the story.