David Brooks has written an article for the New York Times called The Solitary Leaker that contains so many grotesque notions I will just point out one and leave the rest for you, gentle reader, to wade through yourself…
If you live a life unshaped by the mediating institutions of civil society, perhaps it makes sense to see the world a certain way: Life is not embedded in a series of gently gradated authoritative structures: family, neighborhood, religious group, state, nation and world. Instead, it’s just the solitary naked individual and the gigantic and menacing state.
State… nation… are not ‘mediating institutions of civil society’, they are mediating political institutions and the observation these are materially different things is hardly a new one. They are violence backed imposers of laws, the means of collective coercion… and the process for deciding who gets the guns pointed at them is what we call ‘politics’, which is quite quite different to how elective things like ‘family’, ‘neighbourhood’, ‘religious group’ (unless it happens to be Islam) and ‘world’ work as these are collections of people you can invite to mind their own damn business and turn your back on them, with all the good and bad things that might come of that… or embrace them wholeheartedly, as you see fit and as they deserve, generally without the cops kicking down your door one way or the other.
But of course to a statist like David Brooks, the realm of the voluntary, the elective give and take of the civil, the marketplace of not just things but customs and affinity, the realm of personal moral judgement, is subordinate to The Tribe, The Collective, The Institutional. Duty is not to moral truth or decency or charity, it is to The Hierarchy of your Betters and knowing your place in it. David Brooks’ world view is that which rejects the moral courage to say “No, to hell with your orders, this is wrong”. His is the view that does not care if something is ‘moral’, just so long as it is ‘lawful’.
The UK version of the Huffington Post reports that Ukip’s ‘NRA-Esque’ Gun Control Comments Described As ‘Inaccurate Upsetting Drivel’. Furthermore, advises the author of the piece, Felicity A Morse,
Farage’s support for relaxed gun control is particularly controversial given there is a cross-party consensus that restricting firearms helps reduce gun crime and protects communities.
Emphasis added. Consider yourselves warned.
An unexpected pleasure, leftists chocking at the sight of people celebrating Margaret Thatcher, has just got even better.
The Daily Mail informs us that the “Thatcher haircut” is the rage in central London, with one salon claiming to be overwhelmed by demand.
Italian-born Christina Bellucci, 37, a digital consultant, said she felt the look reflected a modern attitude.
‘This is a strong style and gives me authority,’ she said.
‘When I walk out the door I feel a few inches taller, it gives me power without sacrificing any of my femininity.’
Imagine you are mountain climbing or hill walking with a friend. Disaster strikes, and your friend is badly injured. Weather conditions are such that if you leave him overnight, he will certainly die. With great difficulty you are able to half carry, half drag him most of the way down the mountain. At last you see the road in the distance. Making your friend comfortable as best you can, you leave him, stagger to the road, and wait a long time for a car to pass this lonely spot. Eventually one does – you stop it by practically throwing yourself in front of it – and tell the driver that there is a seriously injured man some way up the hill who badly needs help.
“I’m not getting blood all over the seats of my car,” says the driver and speeds off.
By the time another car comes it is too late.
Something a little like this happened to a man called Charles Handley climbing in Scotland in the 1950s or 60s. In 1985 the BBC made a gripping dramatised reconstruction starring Gareth Thomas (Blake from Blake’s 7) called Duel with An Teallach. In fact Handley’s experience was even worse: despite his incredible efforts at rescue, An Teallach claimed two of his friends that day. I could watch the play again online and clarify my nearly thirty year-old memories of it, but I won’t because it was one of the grimmest things I have ever seen.
Have you guessed where this post is going? Tweak the story a little. Now Charles Handley has a gun. You have a gun. You can damn well make that driver help you get your friend to safety. And if that means he has to carry your friend on his back to the car so that you can keep the gun trained on him, too bad.
Do you do it?
Stealing his car, even without the intention “permanently to deprive” him of it, as the Theft Act puts it, is a violation of his property rights. Temporarily enslaving him to help you carry your friend down to the car is even worse. I think I would do it, even so. Afterwards I would admit the crime, pay compensation and submit to punishment.
As anyone who has read Perry de Havilland’s post from yesterday will have guessed by now, what I have tried to do above is make a similar thought experiment to the one used by Sam Bowman of the Adam Smith Institute, the one pretty much everybody but me had no sympathy for. I tried to present a scenario that would appeal rather more to the Samizdata audience than Bowman’s somewhat contrived one. I have tried to inveigle you into sympathising with the bad guy – the government – in Jaded Voluntaryist’s excellent re-casting of Bowman’s analogy:
As an aside, this is not even close to describing welfarism. The people holding the gun aren’t disabled. And the baby isn’t drowning. And it isn’t a baby. And you’re not able bodied (at least not compared to the gun wielder). In fact, in his metaphor he has the relative power relationship completely backwards.
The able bodied arsehole is waving the gun at a disabled man, ordering him to carry some random stranger on his back. A stranger who may be disabled, or may be stupid, or may be lazy, or may just be unlucky. The stranger’s complicity aside, none of that is the disabled victim’s fault. And yet carry him he must because he’s not the one with the gun.
Will I be joining the vast majority of citizens in the countries of the developed world in supporting the welfare state, then? No. There is one crucial element of Bowman’s analogy that I have kept in my scenario, but which, as Jaded Voluntaryist implied when he said the baby was not drowning, does not apply to welfarism. That element is that my story depicted desperate circumstances, which is another way of saying it was a one-off. Welfarism is a system of indefinitely repeated thefts and partial enslavements. They say that it is a continuous crisis, that as there are always babies drowning somewhere you must always be rescuing them, but the insincerity of this claim is demonstrated by the fact that “somewhere” only includes the territory of your nation, state or other tax-gathering unit. Babies outside that arbitrary circle – glug, glug, goodbye. And how can it be justified for you to be forced to spend, say, 55% of your time baby-rescuing but not 56%, or every waking hour?
Overlapping this, welfarism is legitimized repeated thefts and partial enslavements. The man with the gun does not acknowledge or make reparation for his crime. It is he who decides what constitutes crime.
Furthermore there are all the factors that Jaded Voluntaryist implied in his re-casting of Bowman’s analogy. It is not just babies you have to keep rescuing, but adults, and once your presence is a predictable part of the system, those adults start acting like babies on the assumption that you will always be there. That is not likely to end well for you or them.
I will refrain from re-stating further objections to the system of welfare. I am sure most of you have thought of them already, but all these thoughts did lead me to another topic upon which the opinions of Samizdata readers and writers are much harder to predict.
Having to carry a stranger because otherwise the stranger will die is approximately the position of a pregnant woman expecting an unwanted child.
A key part of the pro-abortion argument is opposition to forcing a woman to give up part of her body and her time to carry the child. Foetus. Whatever. For instance, this comment from yesterday’s Guardian by commenter ZappBrannigan says,
Don’t let them win the battle of symbols. Don’t use their terminology. They are not “pro-life”. I propose “mandatory-gestation” instead.
Or here is commenter Thaizinred from the same comment thread:
No already born person has a right to directly use another person’s body to stay alive. People aren’t forced to donate their bodies, or body parts, even if someone else will die without them, even if the person who will die is their child.
The latter’s argument overstates the case. The pregant woman does not have to permanently give up her body or her body parts, but the general point is starkly made, and in a way that will resonate with many libertarians.
I am anti-abortion with reservations and get-out clauses. So I mock the Guardian readers and other “liberals” (in the degraded modern sense) who one minute angrily make the arguments above; who denounce anyone who opposes welfare or jibs at high taxes as a callous, selfish sociopath; who would abort themselves with a rusty coathanger rather than admit that Ayn Rand ever said a good word – and who next minute channel Rand , becoming the purest of pure no-forced-assistance libertarians when the topic is abortion. Such people end up saying that you must give half your time to helping strangers in no particular danger but have no obligation to bear temporary inconvenience to save the life of a being you caused to exist.
So much for them. What about you? To some, I would guess, it is very simple. You are not inconsistent. You are pure libertarians, perhaps indeed Objectivists and proud of it, and you make your stand on the property right of the woman to permanent, uninterrupted, unconstrained use of her own body. You might, perhaps, also think that the foetus is not human until birth but your argument does not rest on that, as Thaizinred’s comment did not.
To use another analogy, your view is that if the captain of a ship at sea sees survivors of a shipwreck clinging to wreckage, the captain can and, for some of you, ought to rescue them, but he does not have to and must not be compelled to.
A minority of libertarians – including me – have views more like these guys: that the foetus becomes human before birth (I shall leave aside the question of exactly when, or if “when” can be exact) and his, her, or its parents (I am trying not to beg the question of whether the foetus is human by choice of pronouns) owe him, her or it protection whatever the inconvenience just as they owe protection to their one day old or one year old child.
And suddenly I’ve run out of steam. This always happens when I talk about abortion and the related question of obligations to small children. There are so many sides to the question. What about rape? What about unintended conception? What about the difference between actively killing and merely withdrawing sustenance? Can I come up with a reason to forbid the Spartans to expose their babies on the mountainside that does not open the door to welfarism and all its ruinous consequences? What about this, that and t’other?
Abortion is a sharp issue. Not many of us have carried out a life or death rescue, with or without force being used. Quite a lot of people have had abortions or been closely affected by them. I hope discussion won’t be too acrimonious, but I think almost anything is better discussed than not.
I am a child of the Cold War. Nostalgia for me involves talk of the Fulda Gap, the Three Day Week and rats in London streets due to uncollected garbage, Genesis (the group not the Biblical one), Deep Purple, terrifying flairs and garish wide ties, Nationalisation, Arthur Scargill, Bloody Sunday … followed by Adam Ant, Ultravox and New Romantic shirts, Frankie says RELAX, Privatisation and… Margaret Thatcher.
I would not have described myself as a libertarian back then even though I more or less was (and indeed I was only vaguely aware of the term, preferring ‘Classical Liberal’ in the non-debased non-US sense). And I still do not call myself one really, even though I more or less am. But for more than a decade I did indeed take delight in calling myself a Thatcherite (even though I only ‘kinda’ was), primarily because it was a wonderful shortcut for discovering all I needed to know about whoever I was speaking to at that time, just by watching their reactions.
I fully expected the Cold War to end in either a global Götterdämmerung or at least with ‘us’ and ‘them’ killing each other in the streets of Britain as our utterly worthless political class (plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose) finally imploded and the decades of animosities boiled over. No one was going to change the fundamental direction things were headed and I did not just expect to have Molotovs thrown in my direction, I was expecting to be throwing them myself because I hated ‘them’ as much as they hated ‘us’. And I still do.
And then… Thatcher happened.
She was the leader of the
Stupid Party Conservative Party and yet she was saying a great many of the things I was thinking, even if I was not always saying them. Years before LOLcats and the internet, there was a caption above my head that read “WTF?”
The more I listened, the more I could hardly believe my ears. We needed a whole lost less state domestically and rather more state pointed Eastwards, because if you did not like the state we had now, you really would not like the one those guys (and assorted domestic traitors) wanted for us. This was only… sort of, kind of… what happened but there was no disguising that this was very clearly not the future the
Evil Party Labour Party had in mind for us… and she was making it actually happen.
All this and all Thatcher did needs to be understood within the context of the Cold War (and winning thereof, against both the Soviets directly and their domestic UK stooges).
Even back then I knew she was not even nearly radical enough but the important thing was she actually talked openly and eloquently about the limits of state power. And she did perhaps the most masterful and subversive single act of any modern politician I can think of: right to buy… turning recipients of state largess into private property owners, permanently removing a valuable asset from state ownership.
Maggie Thatcher pissed off all the right people and I swung her name around like a handbag with a brick in it.
And of course ever since the day she was brought low by her own party, I have been looking for the next Thatcher, someone who can pick up the pieces and tie off the contradictions and replace that succession of worthless dissembling jackanapes from Major (the Grey Man) to Cameron (Heath-lite). Portillo had promise but proved to have feet of clay… David Davies had (and indeed still has) real promise and actually believes in civil society and the notion that Conservatives should be (gasp) conservative. But as a result the Stupid Party hate him and instead of Nigel Lawson, we have a moron like Osborn who five years after what happened in 2008, wants it all to happen again.
There is no new Thatcher on the horizon that I can see, unless by some improbable miracle Nigel Farage manages a 1922 style permanent reordering of the current dire political order of things. But then I could scarcely believe the likes of Margaret Hilda Thatcher could have happened either.
Requiescat in pace.
Sometimes, when trying to win an argument, a person might invoke the old “but it is surely just common sense that X is X or Y is Y”. And let’s face it, we all do it a lot of the time. Trouble is, this can lead us astray on difficult moral issues, for example, or in science, where “common sense” once led people of high intelligence to scoff at the notion of gravity, or that the earth was a sphere, etc. For all I know, people once thought it was “common sense” to have absolute rulers, burn witches, keep slaves and shun those of other races.
I thought about this issue when I read this item by Bryan Caplan, in discussing the Michael Huemer book that Perry Metzger recently wrote about here.
This comment in the EconLog thread, by RPLong, caught my eye:
Common sense is one of those fuzzy concepts that people invoke to buttress their arguments without providing additional facts or reasoning. I consider appeals to common sense to be a lot like saying “very, very, very…” That is, appealing to common sense provides more verbiage without providing any additional substance. It’s a waste of time. Unless we can actually show with facts and reasoning that our position is the more sensible, there is no use discussing that which appears most “commonly” to be sensible. If you have the more convincing position, then you can certainly demonstrate how much more convincing it is.
That’s surely the crux of the matter. It is one thing to say that “My opinion about the wrongness or rightness about abortion or the proper teaching of kids is just, you know, common sense.” But as soon as you start to break down the issues, look a premises, unacknowledged philosophical/other assumptions, it gets much more complicated. In some cases, an appeal to “common sense” is just an argument from authority.
I have been on the fence about intellectual property for a long time. The suicide of Aaron Swartz set me thinking about it again.
The non-aggression principle allows the use of violence in defence of property. This is because if I spend an hour of my life mixing my labour with the land to make a widget, and then someone steals my widget, they have stolen an hour of my life. Some might say that if I spend an hour of my life on some intellectual pursuit then it is possible for someone to steal that hour of my life by stealing my ideas. Violence is then justified in response. But is that really what is going on?
Imagine I spend time writing a novel, print it on paper, then hand over the printed paper to Bob in exchange for money. Bob copies my novel out onto another piece of paper and sells it to Charlie. Clearly no theft has occurred; the state of my possessions is unchanged. If I devote a significant portion of my life to writing a novel because I hope to make a profit, and Bob makes so many copies that I am unable to, still no theft has occurred. I still have the original copy of the novel I wrote. What I have done is mix my labour with paper and ink to make some paper with a novel written on it. That it takes intellectual effort to make a novel that people want to read rather than paper scrawled with gibberish does not make Bob’s actions into theft.
Perhaps I can come to some agreement with Bob. I sell him my novel if he agrees not to make copies of it or let anyone else see it. If he does, I can attempt to punish him in some way appropriate to breaches of contract. When Bob shows my novel to Charlie and Charlie makes a copy of it, I can punish Bob. But I have made no agreement with Charlie, who can make copies with impunity.
If it is difficult to make copies of novels and only a few people can do it, I might be able to make a business selling paper copies because no-one who is able to will want to break agreements with me. But once someone invents a device that allows anyone to easily make copies, my profits will be affected. But still no theft has occurred. I can not resort to violence.
If I am clever I might invent some way to encrypt my novel and make sure it can only be viewed on devices registered to specific individuals all of whom have made agreements with me. But if David, who has made no agreement with me, examines the device, finds a flaw in it, and starts to make copies of my novel, still no theft has occurred. David is using his ingenuity to modify objects he already possesses.
Aaron Swartz copied scientific papers onto his computer. He did this by getting his computer to ask JSTOR’s computer to transmit them, and JSTOR’s computer did so. For this he faced 35 years in jail.
Protected Rights is the money accumulated from ‘contracting out’. It is also known as
‘contracting out of SERPS’, a ‘rebate pension’ or an ‘Appropriate Personal Pension (APP)’,
and may contain an element of National Insurance contribution by means of a rebate into
your APP. Until 2012 Protected Rights benefits will have to be kept separate from non
Protected Rights within your fund.
That is just one paragraph from a guide to filling in a form related to my pension. I do not want this stuff filling up the hard disk in my head. I want to free up space for important things like the plot of the Lord of the Rings fan fiction I am reading or the details of Climategate or even some mathematics or the rules to Magic: The Gathering.
But no, the great game of Nomic that officialdom plays goes on, and the boring stuff requires ever more attention.
Here is a photograph of a sculpture, which I recently chanced upon, in the part of the city that is London known as the City of London:
The sculpture is called “Rush Hour”. It said so, on a sign in the ground in front of it. I also photographed the sign. This is a good habit for a photographer to get into. Cameras are not just for taking pictures. They are also for taking notes.
What struck me about this sculpture, as I looked at it and photoed it, was how depressed they all look, especially when compared with London’s sculpted warriors. The warriors depicted on war memorials had any number of agonies to contend with, yet they stick out their chests, jut out their chins, look the world proudly and defiantly in the eye and tough out whatever challenges and horrors they are obliged to endure. These office drudges, on the other hand, have given up. Their eyes point downwards, avoiding any contact with the world or with me and my eyes. They trudge forwards, following the person immediately in front. They do not look like people fighting a war, successfully. They look more like prisoners of war, in a war that their side is losing.
But, when I got home I checked out the website mentioned in the sign in the ground under the sculpture, the sign that I had photographed, and when I did, I got quite a shock. I was confronted by this:
These city commuters are facing the cares and stresses of their lives with a degree of stoical optimism, even heroism, that their cousins in my photograph conspicuously lacked. Urban drudgery may defeat lesser beings from foreign lands, but Britain can do it! We shall prevail! Final victory over financial services industrial monotony will be ours!
I actually had to study the above two photographs quite carefully before being entirely convinced that they are both of the same thing. Are there, I wondered, several versions of this sculpture, in different places? I slowly worked it out. These are the same statues, in each photograph. But the photo at the website was taken by someone crouching down, very low, and perhaps even lying on the ground (which means, for instance, that at least one of the figures at the back is entirely blocked from view). The figures are not on a pedestal, as both photographs make entirely clear. But this other photographer makes them look as if they are.
Particularly significant, as I say, is the matter of eye contact. In my photograph, the commuters dare not look at me. Instead they look downwards. This is why they look so defeated, so ashamed even. But in the website photo, they are looking straight at the camera, and although not happy exactly, they seem proud of what they are doing, and confident that they can face any challenges life presents them with.
The lighting is different, and that does make a difference. But mostly, the difference is in the angle of vision.
The point of this posting is not that the angle you see things from makes a difference. Most of us know this. My point is that, when it comes to the particular matter of human statues, it can make a very big difference, far bigger than I, at least, had realised, until I spent those minutes checking these two photos to be sure that they were of the same thing.
What, I wonder, might be the effect of photographing war memorial statues, statues that are on a pedestal, from a position of vertical equality, or even slight superiority? Suppose, while photographing the figures at the centre of the recently unveiled memorial to Bomber Command, that I had somehow raised myself up to their level, or even somewhat above that level. Might my photographs have looked different in their psychological atmosphere? Would the figures suddenly have seemed less heroic, less like the masters of their fate and more like the victims of it that many of them must surely have felt?
If so, it would appear that pedestals are an even more significant part of our civilisation than I had realised.
And none of them is Romney.
Now that Natalie, to whom deep thanks, has done the I-told-you-so posting that I feared I might have to do for myself, by linking to the piece I wrote last week in the privacy of my personal blog entitled Reasons to think Romney is going to win big, I thought I would follow up her posting and mine, by saying why I want Romney to win big.
First, I really want Obama to lose, big. A few years back, someone made up a quote about how America could survive another four years of Obama. It would be plenty tough enough, provided Obama himself was the only problem. But could America survive a longer term future in which it contains, decade after decade, all the people who re-elected Obama? That’s pretty much how I feel about Obama winning, this time around. An Obama victory would do quite a bit of harm. But worse, far worse, would be what it meant.
Second, if Obama loses, something bigger and more powerful and more important will lose with him, namely the USA’s Mainstream Media. The crowing of these people if Obama were to win would be unbearable. Their humiliation will be exquisite, when Romney, as I now believe he will, wins big.
But third, and by far my most important reason for wanting Romney to win big, is that an Obama win of any sort would be a horrible set-back for the Tea Party, given that the Tea Party has now thrown its considerable weight behind Romney. A big Romney win, on the other hand, will greatly strengthen the Tea Party, and I think that would be very, very good.
The more I learn about the Tea Party and their sayings and doing, the more I am proud of that posting I did here, well over a year ago now, which said that they are Good people with good ideas (a notion confirmed by the commenters responding to this later Tea Party posting I did). It seems that a great many Americans now agree with me. In my opinion this is, politically, just about the best thing that is now happening in the world.
Early last week, in a favourite London haunt of mine, the second hand classical CD shop Gramex, its socialist owner (we are good pals despite our differences – and so we should be given how many classical CDs I’ve bought from him over the last three decades) announced that clearly nobody in their right mind would consider voting for Romney. I’d vote for Romney in a blink, I responded, instantly. And then I had one of those moments when you find out what you think by hearing what you say. I continued orating, still without skipping any beats. “I would vote for Romney because the Tea Party supports him. They say that the US government does too much, spends too much and borrows too much, and I entirely agree. I’d vote with them.” And I’m retro-editing that for fluency hardly at all. Those were pretty much my exact words. I continued, describing the Tea Party as a coalition between Goddists and Libertarians, with both sides setting divisive opinions aside (God and “social libertarianism”) and concentrating on their overlap, see above, and I’m totally for it. Yes, I actually said all this, out loud, in a London shop, with strangers present, some presumably (like most in the classical music tribe) of a deeply anti-Romney-ite persuasion. That’s how much I meant it!
I considered cutting the above paragraph, and finding a home for it at my personal blog. But I do not think it irrelevant to what I am saying here. There is more to what you think than merely being right about it. There is also the matter of how strongly you feel about it, and how comfortable you feel inflicting it upon strangers. Something tells me that many Americans have recently also turned this particular corner.
Anyway, back to what I think as opposed to how I think it.
Suppose that the Tea Party, in the course of its big confabulation amongst itself just after Romney had been nominated, had followed the Perry de Havilland line and decided that they were going to urge people not to vote for Romney, and instead to vote for, e.g., Gary Johnson, on the grounds that he would, unlike Romney, really cut US government spending. Or for some Goddist candidate of equal fiscal and financial clarity and rectitude, who likewise wasn’t going to win, but who likewise might cause Romney to lose or at least to give him a serious fright. Or suppose they had decided to urge everyone to vote for nobody at all. Suppose they had decided, in the words of de-Havillandist commenter “August” (on this) that …
It wouldn’t seem too much of a stretch to me to think Wall Street is running the whole show now. Obama got in because he’s a compliant tool, but now he’s up against one of the finance world’s own. They’ll lock down the private profit, public risk/losses model and keep making us pay for their mistakes until there isn’t anything left.
Suppose that, instead of electing Romney the Even More Compliant Tool, the Tea Party had decided to do everything they could to shaft him, and get Obama to win. And then, having demonstrated their power to break any candidate they did not like, they tried to arrange a candidate whom they did truly like, in 2016.
Well, I can’t vote for anyone in this, but I can blog my preferences, and maybe help to shift a few dozen American voters in my preferred direction. So, suppose the Tea Party had said: Don’t Vote Romney.
I would probably now be saying that also.
Not because I have a huge loathing of Romney, any more than I now have a huge liking for him. What I do have is a huge liking for the Tea Party. I want the Tea Party to win this election, big. I agree with what they decide. I want the Tea Party to emerge from this election as a Huge Fact about American politics, which any politician ignores at his peril.
For what it’s worth, I think the Tea Party made entirely the right decision to go all out for Romney, for reasons which I may or may not expand upon, some other time. But that’s not my point here.
As it is holiday season, this item – via Instapundit - got my attention. It is about why some kinds of travel guides tend to be mealy-mouthed about some of the countries they write about:
“There’s a formula to them: a pro forma acknowledgment of a lack of democracy and freedom followed by exercises in moral equivalence, various contorted attempts to contextualize authoritarianism or atrocities, and scorching attacks on the U.S. foreign policy that precipitated these defensive and desperate actions. Throughout, there is the consistent refrain that economic backwardness should be viewed as cultural authenticity, not to mention an admirable rejection of globalization and American hegemony. The hotel recommendations might be useful, but the guidebooks are clotted with historical revisionism, factual errors, and a toxic combination of Orientalism and pathological self-loathing.”
There is a related point, also. When I occasionally read of how a region or place is “unspoilt”, it often is just an aesthetic comment that area X or Y has not been buggered up by ugly buildings. Fair enough. Even the most ardent defender of laissez-faire does not have to like all the consequences of some buildings. But there is a danger that this can sometimes tip over into a dislike of building and human activity per se. To take one example: I love certain big cities precisely because they are “spoilt” by the energy and sometimes crazy creativity of the people who live in them and build them.
This is a long and detailed review of a gadget which might be more at home on a specialist tech blog than on Samizdata, but it serves also as a snapshot of the world of mobile electronics, a world that is perhaps less encumbered by regulation than is usual, which might explain the rate of improvement.
By far the most exciting developments in consumer electronics right now are in mobile devices, in particular smartphones. System-on-chip manufacturers such as Qualcomm and Nvidia are cutting prices and transistor sizes while increasing performance such that a new generation of devices with significantly improved capabilities comes along about every 18 months or so. A lot of learning is going on about what kinds of devices work best. The original iPhone had a 4-inch touch screen and only one button. Since then physical keyboards have somewhat gone out of fashion, tablets have appeared in various sizes, netbooks have disappeared, ultrabooks have appeared, and phones have got bigger, in contrast to a few years ago when everyone was trying to make them smaller. The point is that no-one really knows which kinds of devices fit in best with people’s lives and which do not. With formerly successful companies dying out, capitalism is mercilessly finding out.
No company is having more fun finding out than Asus. They pioneered the netbook — a small, cheap laptop — with their Eee PC. They combined the tablet with the netbook with their Transformer series of devices by making the screen detachable from the keyboard. And just recently they have taken this idea to a new extreme by sticking a smartphone inside the tablet. → Continue reading: Asus Padfone