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]

Why fast and powerful computers are especially good if you are getting old

I recall, in the very early days of the personal computer, articles, in magazines like Personal Computer World, which expressed downright opposition to the idea of technological progress in general, and progress in personal computers in particular. There was apparently a market for such notions, in the very magazines that you would think would be most gung-ho about new technology and new computers. Maybe the general atmosphere of gung-ho-ness created a significant enough minority of malcontents that the editors felt they needed to nod regularly towards it. I guess it does make sense that the biggest grumbles about the hectic pace of technological progress would be heard right next to the places where it is happening most visibly.

Whatever the reasons were for such articles being in computer magazines, I distinctly remember their tone. I have recently, finally, got around to reading Virginia Postrel’s The Future and Its Enemies, and she clearly identifies the syndrome. The writers of these articles were scared of the future and wanted that future prevented, perhaps by law but mostly just by a sort of universal popular rejection of it, a universal desire to stop the world and to get off it. “Do we really need” (the words “we” and “need” cropped up in these PCW pieces again and again), faster central processors, more RAM, quicker printers, snazzier and bigger and sharper and more colourful screens, greater “user friendlinesss”, …? “Do we really need” this or that new programme that had been reported in the previous month’s issue? What significant and “real” (as opposed to frivolous and game-related) problems could there possibly be that demanded such super-powerful, super-fast, super-memorising and of course, at that time, super-expensive machines for their solution? Do we “really need” personal computers to develop, in short, in the way that they have developed, since these grumpy anti-computer-progress articles first started being published in computer progress magazines?

The usual arguments in favour of fast and powerful, and now mercifully far cheaper, computers concern the immensity of the gobs of information that can now be handled, quickly and powerfully, by machines like the ones that we have now, as opposed to what could be handled by the first wave of personal computers, which could manage a small spreadsheet or a short text file or a very primitive computer game, but very little else. And of course that is true. I can now shovel vast quantities of photographs (a particular enthusiasm of mine) hither and thither, processing the ones I feel inclined to process in ways that only Hollywood studios used to be able to do. I can make and view videos (although I mostly stick to viewing). And I can access and even myself add to that mighty cornucopia that is the internet. And so on. All true. I can remember when even the most primitive of photos would only appear on my screen after several minutes of patient or not-so-patient waiting. Videos? Dream on. Now, what a world of wonders we can all inhabit. In another quarter of a century, what wonders will there then be, all magicked in a flash into our brains and onto our desks, if we still have desks. The point is, better computers don’t just mean doing the same old things a bit faster; they mean being able to do entirely new things as well, really well.

→ Continue reading: Why fast and powerful computers are especially good if you are getting old

Some Brittany holiday snaps

Earlier this week I got back from a week in Brittany. During the first few days of my stay, I and the friends I was staying with visited the island of Belle Ile. Their daughter is my god-daughter, and she was singing (very well) in a classical singing festival that happens in Belle Ile every year.

While in Belle Ile we also enjoyed other sorts of music making. In particular, at midday, in the fish market of Belle Ile’s biggest town, La Palais, we listened to a small beat combo called, as I later learned from the small print in some of my photographs, Les Gadgos. Les Gadgos are a bunch of blokes, but they have engaged a lead singer for their latest clutch of songs and their latest CD, a blond chanteuse named Mélody Linhart, who looked weirdly matter-of-fact in her days clothes. But she sang very well, in English. She did various venerable American standards, like St James Infirmary, and slightly more recent American movie tunes, including I Want To Be Like You. She made the latter piece of froth sound almost as profound and existential as St James Infirmary.

But take a look at this other Les Gadjos person, who I now know to be called Clément Lenoble:

Brittany01

A classic French type, I think you will agree. But that cigarette was actually quite a surprise, because Clément Lenoble was one of the very few people whom I observed during my week in France who was smoking. There were a few. He wasn’t the only one. But the basic news is, those Frenchies are no longer fumer-ing. Not the sort who live in or summer in Brittany, anyway.

Instead, this business is on the up and up:

Brittany02

That was just a clutch of e-cigarettes in the window of a shop that also sold other stuff. But later, I came across an entire shop devoted to this one product:

Brittany03

French smokers are a dying breed. No doubt, anti-smoking fanatics would reply that they’re a dying breed because smoking is killing them all off, and I do agree that this change of habit is probably a good thing. But even so, I miss guys like this, singing their gravel-voiced chansons in bars, with their whiskey glasses on the piano and their gauloises hanging down from their creased and lived-in faces. Or maybe I just miss the idea of such people, being around, in France.

Smoking is now illegal in most public places in France. I just wish les pouvoirs-that-be had been content to let the habit die away of its own accord. But that is not how such people think.

I also photoed many other more fun things.

→ Continue reading: Some Brittany holiday snaps

Samizdata quote of the day

Live and let live, be and let be
Hear and let hear, see and let see
Sing and let sing, dance and let dance
You like Offenbach, I do not
So what, so what, so what

Read and let read, write and let write
Love and let love, bite and let bite
Live and let live, and remember this line
Your business is your business
And my business is mine

Live and let live, be and let be
Hear and let hear, see and let see
Drink and let drink, eat and let eat
You like bouillabaisse, I do not
So what, so what, so what

Talk and let talk, quip and let quip
Dress and let dress, strip and let strip
Live and let live, and remember this line
Your business is your business
And my business is mine

- The lyric of one of Cole Porter’s slightly lesser known songs. Cole Porter is this week’s Radio Three Composer of the Week. Yesterday, Porter himself was to be heard singing this song.

But what’s with that “bite and let bite”?

Samizdata quote of the day

Whereas a conservative writer might warn that humans are just as likely, if not more likely, to bungle things when applying past experience to new plans for society as when trying to fix their own private lives – and an optimistic libertarian writer might note that people are far more rational in planning their own lives than in planning others’ – left-liberals have a tendency to think that humans’ ability to plan collectively is inversely proportional to their ability to plan their lives as individuals.

- Todd Seavey

H/t Quotulatiousness

Steve Baker MP on the absurdity of monetary kremlinology

I, and I am sure many other readers of and writers of Samizdata, have been following the career of Steve Baker MP, ever since he was elected MP for Wycombe in 2010. However, the last posting I did here about Baker elicited understandable scepticism from commenters about whether Baker would stick to his free market principles long enough to make any difference. Yeah, sure, he is now on the Treasury Select Committee. Big deal. Baker, like all the others, said doubters, would soon go native.

Well maybe he will, but he hasn’t yet. Not if this City A.M. report by Peter Spence about Baker’s latest sayings and doings is anything to go by:

In almost every area of economics we’ve accepted that markets do it best, he says. Few could imagine a committee of nine wise men deciding how we produce food, clothes, cars, or mobile phones.

But when it comes to producing money, we’ve accepted just such an arrangement. And for Baker it’s crazy that this has led to an obsession with what men like Carney have to say. That we’re trying to decipher from after dinner comments the trajectory of monetary policy is illustrative of the mess we’re in. “The truth is this is like kremlinology, have we worked out what the politburo thinks? It’s mad.”

We see the same thing across the Atlantic, where former Federal Reserve chairmen Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke have both given speeches to investors shortly after leaving the office. What investors think about US monetary policy has knock-on effects around the world, evident after last summer’s “taper tantrum”, as the Fed stumbled towards scaling back QE.

“It’s amazing we tolerate this,” says Baker, as words from both men have had the power to move markets, such is the extent of the “kremlinology” investors are hooked on. “I want the people doing this kreminology, making their living doing it, to question whether this is actually a free market,” he says.

“I think we operate a kind of monetary socialism, and it’s the single biggest institutional problem with our economic system.”

That bit about wanting people to “question whether this is actually a free market” is the bit that really matters here, I think. Clearly, Baker wants all such questioners to realise that the answer is: “No”.

Much of the problem with the world’s financial system these days is the most observers of it don’t even seem to think of it as a nationalised, government dominated system in the same way that tractor production was a nationalised, government dominated system in the old USSR. It is simply inconceivable to them that “money” could, by its very nature, be anything but a nationalised industry, so much so that to think of it as a “nationalised industry” is beyond them, because even to use such a phrase is to allude at least to the possibility – the thinkability – of a non-nationalised, free market version of the same industry. This is not a debate about how the nationalised industry of money should be managed, so much as a debate about the fact that it is a nationalised industry. Or, it would be such a debate, if only people like Steve Baker MP can manage to get such a debate started.

No doubt many Soviet tractor-makers felt similarly about what they did. That too, they were sure, just had to be run by the government, or else tractor making would descend into a black hole of chaos and impossibility and absurdity. The idea of a “free market in tractors” was, for such people, literally unthinkable. And millions in the West mocked all this nonsense. So, why do the descendants of such mockers – literal and intellectual – not mock their own Central Bankers now, just as Central Tractorers were mocked back then?

People may respond to Baker’s challenge by saying: “Yes, it is a nationalised industry, and a good thing too.” But for people even to talk like that would be a huge shift in thinking, because the fact of monetary nationalisation would have been accepted, even as it is being defending.

Until the metacontext (to use a favourite word here) of this debate is changed, free market capitalism will go on getting the blame for all that is wrong about the world’s financial system. And the “solution” will continue to be to restrict free markets in financial matters ever more ferociously.

Keep it up Mr Baker. You have not gone native yet. And you have an admiring fan club out here that continues to notice and continues to applaud.

Samizdata quote of the day

To people clucking that the First Black President deserves more respect, may I suggest that you should have done a better job of picking the First Black President?

- Instapundit

Samizdata quote of the day

In politics, many debates are polarised for a reason. There are usually profound differences in the ideological priors underlying viewpoints and the interpretation of evidence. We should therefore be suspicious of the arrogance of those who feel they don’t have to formulate arguments from first principles, and instead unilaterally announce themselves and their ideas as above debate.

How often do we hear, for example, “it’s time to take the ideology out of this debate”, or, worse, “I’m only interested in what works”? Often these are rhetorical devices which simply mean “shut up, and accept I’m right”. But in other instances, users of these banal phrases seem genuinely unaware that what they are saying has any sort of ideological assumptions underpinning it.

- Ryan Bourne

Libertarians – rough and smooth

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to make too much of this. But here it is anyway.

In a report about successful pop entertainer Frank Turner meeting successful pop entertainer Josh Homme, Turner is quoted saying, about Homme, this:

“One of the other things about him which I really enjoyed was that – without going into too much discussion about it – I’ve obviously copped a fair amount of shit for being a Libertarian in the press, and he was aware of this and said ‘I’m a fucking hardcore Libertarian, stick to your guns and fuck them’. It’s not very often that people say that to me, so that was nice – I enjoyed that.”

Thanks to Turner and Gigwise, and google sending me an email about it, I get to enjoy it too.

The shit in question is referred to in this earlier posting here by me, and I wrote some more about Turner here.

Climate science biases

When it comes to “climate science”, I have for quite a few years now, as my sneer quotes make clear, been inhabiting the land of confirmation bias. So, I will not say that this proves me right. It merely confirms me in my state of ever more glacially advancing contempt for the “science” here described:

Several months afterwards, the society’s ‘newsletter’ was published. It contained a special section on the conference at which I had spoken, with a brief description of each talk, the work behind it, and with thanks offered to each speaker. I searched for my name – nothing. My presentation was ignored in its entirety.

“Disheartening” isn’t the term I would use, and I seriously considered giving up on the entire idea of academia, and getting a nice little 9-5 job. But, I am still here, still working on the problem, still uncovering, lets call them ‘anomalies’, in many areas, which the scientists involved have no clue how to explain, but about which they will hear no view other than their own.

Biases being confirmed all round, it would seem.

Don’t call them liberals but don’t call them progressives either

I strongly agree with Dan Klein and Kevin Frei that “liberal” and “liberalism” are words that should never be relinquished to those who don’t believe in liberty. They have started something called Liberalism Unrelinquished. Good for them.

We the undersigned affirm the original arc of liberalism, and the intention not to relinquish the term liberal to the trends, semantic and institutional, toward the governmentalization of social affairs.

Way back in 2010, I did a posting here entitled They are not liberals and they are not progressives, so I strongly agree about the “liberal” bit of what Klein and Frei are saying.

The Adam Smith Institute’s Sam Bowman recently talked with Klein (Bowman’s posting being how I heard about LU), and Klein also had this to say:

The left gains enormously by getting away with calling itself “liberal,” so getting them to give up the goods is not even a prayer. Partly, I just want to self-declare, like Popeye, “I yam what I yam.” An Adam Smith liberal; a lovely little subculture. Next, I’d love to see the center-left, in the US, the Democratic Party people, be called by others something other than “liberal” simpliciter.

An important distinction. We can’t change how they talk, but we can change how we talk. (Bowman’s italics are emboldened.)

But then comes this:

Progressive, Democratic, social democratic, leftist, or left-liberal – all good.

No, not “all good”. “Progressive”?

Here’s what I said about that in 2010:

… the word “progressive” is just as wrong as the word “liberal”. The statists who argue for the destruction of the dollar and for bank bail-outs (again) and for nationalised derangement of medical care and for green-inspired economic sabotage aren’t “liberals”. They do not believe in liberty; they believe in curtailing liberty. But neither do they believe in anything which it makes sense to anybody except them to call “progress”. Progress is the exact thing these statists are now trying and have always tried to destroy, and just lately have been doing a pretty damn good job of destroying. Progress means things getting better. These self styled “progressives” are only making things worse.

My piece got linked to by Instapundit, and I like to think it may have set some brain cells in motion on the other side of the Atlantic. Perhaps it even contributed in a tiny way to the founding of LU. If so, it’s a pity that Klein didn’t register the Progressive bit of my argument. I hope he registers it now.

Klein’s answer might be that when campaigning, you do one thing at a time. Quite so. Klein and Frei are right to concentrate on “liberalism”. This word deserves all the focus that they will be bestowing upon it.

But, if they succeed in stopping us opponents of these anti-liberal but self-declared “liberals” from calling them Liberals, it won’t be nearly such a victory if instead these anti-progressive self-declared “progressives” are merely described by us, their truly progressive opponents, as Progressives.

This is no mere quibble. If we say that “liberals” aren’t liberals but are “progressives”, we are conceding to these … whatever-we-call-these-people, a horrible falsehood as being a truth, namely the falsehood that human liberty and human progress are antithetical ideas and that the only way to accomplish human progress is to diminish human freedom. This is a disastrously wrong idea. What these people unleash upon the world is not progress. It is sterility, stagnation, and often far, far worse.

I, and Klein and Frei, are all liberals, and we are all progressives by any sane meaning of the word “progress”.

So, to quote Instapundit: What do we call them?

The Klein/Frei Liberalism Unrelinquished project is positive. They want to keep that word for their side, and mine. Good.

This posting of mine is mostly negative, just as my 2010 posting was mostly negative. Both are about how not to use certain words. Don’t call them liberals, and don’t call them progressives. But two positives are implied. We are liberals. And yes, although I am not for one moment suggesting that Liberalism Unrelinquished should be given a more unwieldy and less focussed name, we are progressives.

→ Continue reading: Don’t call them liberals but don’t call them progressives either

Samizdata quote of the day

We’re in a political campaign, and the candidate is Uber and the opponent is an asshole named Taxi.

- Uber CEO Travis Kalanick

Gratitude to City A.M.’s Lynsey Barber for spotting this quote and supplying the link to it.

Faulty towers in North Korea and China

Tyrannical regimes don’t collapse because the peasantry are suffering. They collapse when the hitherto supportive inner circle of peasant-minders starts to suffer.

Thus it is that the most politically portentous line in this (thankyou Mick Hartley) about two new buildings in North Korea, one collapsing, the other already collapsed …:

Another apartment building in Pyongyang is reportedly in danger of collapse as fear spreads after a 23-story apartment building collapsed in the North Korean capital early this month, killing hundreds of people.

Both high-risers were built as upmarket homes for the elite.

A government source here on Tuesday cited rumors that an apartment building in Mansudae in downtown Pyongyang has subsided around 10 cm and dozens of cracks have appeared in the walls. “Fearing a collapse, residents are racing to sell their apartments and move out,” the source added.

… is the bit in the middle, about how these collapsing apartments are “homes for the elite”. By the sound of it, no North Korean home that is more than a tiny few stories up in the sky any longer feels safe.

Not so elite now, are they? If peasant houses collapse, screw ‘em. But who is going to screw these people? They are screwers.

Not so long ago there was a somewhat similar report concerning badly built towers in China.

One of these weeks, months, years, decades, a really really big skyscraper is going to come crashing down to the ground. Not because someone flew a plane into it. No, of its own accord. Through its own “internal contradictions”, you might say.

When that happens – and I really do think it’s only a matter of when – what’s the betting that the media coverage will imitate art.