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]

Never has a reshuffle been so aptly named

The daft old beardy has been at it a day and a half now and the only person he’s managed to actually eject is the shadow Culture Secretary. No, wait, I’m wrong – news just coming in – Pat McFadden is also out!

Who?

Never mind. Some poor schmuck dim enough to once think a career in politics would be a good idea, sacked by a man who looks as if he would be happier if their roles were reversed. OK, Jeremy Corbyn will eventually finish reshuffling. It may happen while I am writing this post. I do hope it is soon. Much longer and he will be in danger of shuffling off this mortal coil himself. The results of the reshuffle will not rejuvenate either Mr Corbyn or the Labour party.

In one of the science fiction author Larry Niven‘s short stories it is mentioned that when teleportation booths were still very new, some naive people put the booths inside their houses. It didn’t take that many house clearances by teleporting burglars before people realised that might not be wise. I thought of that story when I first heard that Jeremy Corbyn was likely to be elected leader of the Labour party. Some have attributed his success to an imprudent decision by Ed Miliband to lower the cost of becoming a supporter of the Labour party to a paltry £3, which encouraged far-left entryists and not a few malicious Tories to vote for Corbyn. However that was only part of it – Corbyn also won among longstanding party members. The main factor in his victory was, as in Niven’s story, a technology whose consequences were not yet properly understood. That technology was social media. Facebook and Twitter were where the idea of joining the party as a supporter and voting for Corbyn, the outsider, the joke candidate, the perennial loser given a chance out of pity, went from snowball to avalanche. When the existing members saw the avalanche building they, too, were caught up in the excitement. Suddenly the quasi-revolutionary hopes of their younger days seemed possible once more.

I don’t think this conjunction of factors will ever happen again. Political parties the world over are quietly upping their membership fees, instituting probationary periods before a new member gets to vote on the leader, and deciding against open primaries. The example of the UK Labour Party has shown them the need for a wall between your house and the teleportation booth.

In which I fill out an online “consultation”

I had some incoming from Uber yesterday. The TFL consultation on their proposals to bugger-up-all-competition-to-the-cossetted-black-cab-mafia is underway. I am usually rather sceptical about these things but Uber is such an obviously Good Thing that I participated anyway. You never know, it might make a difference.

A rant that delivers the goods

Stefan Stern wrote the standard Guardian article about the awfulness of Uber, only this time it wasn’t Uber it was a bunch new to me called “Deliveroo”: “Deliveroo and its ilk are serving up low wages, insecurity and social division”. He wrote,

But we have clearly not even begun to think deeply enough about the implications for workers in all this.

A commenter called “narnaglan” replied,

There is nothing in this for you to think about. Deliveroo has nothing to do with you, since you are not a shareholder. The people who work for it choose to do so and are not forced. It is entirely legitimate, and ethical.

Your only response to Deliveroo, if you have a feeling that they are not doing it “right” is to start your own business, where the delivery people are under contracts and conditions that you feel are acceptable. If you are correct in your assumptions, Deliveroo will be driven out of business, and your new, ethical delivery service will immediately dominate.

But you will not do this.

Why? Because you are comfortable sitting on the sidelines telling other people how to live and run their affairs. You are not willing to take risk yourself, and have no original ideas of your own. All you are able to do is react to what other people invent, and criticize it through your distorting and inverting Guardianista Socialist lens.

Deliveroo and all other businesses that allow people to start work are useful and beneficial. The more companies in the market like it, the more jobs there are, and the better off people are. Someone with an idea will disrupt Deliveroo, which is the latest in a line of home delivery services that have existed for at least 18 years, one of the first being the Room Service delivery service that did not even have a website.

You people simply do not understand the market, innovation and how things really work. All you know how to do is destroy, call for people to be made unemployed and business to be made inoperable because you think you have the right to tell other people how to live, how to organize and what private contracts they make between themselvs are ethical.

You are wrong. About everything.

Tim Peake excitement

The UK media is getting quite excited about British astronaut Tim Peake and his trip to the International Space Station. I was watching on Sky News. Their guest expert was space journalist Sarah Cruddas, and after the launch they allowed her to gush excitedly about private space travel for a couple of minutes.

She was not entirely coherent as she was talking excitedly — but that is the point. She mentioned “Space 2.0”, a new term to me, and Elon Musk, and Planetary Resources who want to mine asteroids which contain enough wealth to make everyone a billionaire. She talked positively about wealthy people making money in space. She talked about how Internet access in the developing world has an “absolutely revolutionary effect on the number of people on our planet who will have access to knowledge”, improving education and increasing the pool of talent and getting them rich. She talked about businesses making space travel more efficient. She talked about the UK space industry, which “does exist and should be celebrated”.

It struck me that all this private enterprise and wealth creation should be brought up and positively plugged during a government space launch.

In the ’50s and ’60s it seems as if it was normal to be optimistic and excited about technology. In the ’90s and recently we seem mostly to hear about how greedy rich industrialists trample the poor and destroy the planet. Perhaps that pendulum can swing back the other way.

Kardeshev 1.5?

I am sure most of you have by now heard at least a garbled version of the discovery of a very unusual object in the skies, a possible alien mega-structure. I have not been following the mass media but they probably went for the spectacular in their reporting.

Well, it could be spectacular, but only if after a few years or even decades of hard science it does not turn out to be something else. Some science news outlets have compared it to the discovery of the pulsar by Jocelyn Bell. There was no known explanation at the time for something in the heavens that could generate a pulse train that was so precise you could set your time standard to it.

Still, an alien civilization is a candidate explanation, even if the only thing we can say is “We’ve got something we’ve never seen before and some of our wild ass guesses, including an alien civilization, have not yet been ruled out”. I want to make this absolutely clear before I get to the fun stuff.

Now… what if it turns out to be true and we find we have a neighbor who is building structures in space large enough to obscure up to 20% of its sun’s output for significant periods of time? That is one serious civilization, one that is well on its way to becoming a Kardeshev Type II.

But let us turn things around. If they exist, what do they know about us?

The star in question is about 1400 light years away from us. That means what we are seeing happened back in the dark ages, back in an era oft written of in books by Dr. Sean Gabb in his historical novels. Whatever we are detecting now of their technology happened that long ago. Fourteen Hundred Years of advancement beyond what we can see. One and a half millennia. Just imagine it.

Lets go further. Fourteen hundred years ago they were building structures that could block 20% of their star’s light when passing in front of it. That is not the capability of a new space faring civilization. In our terms, it is probably several millenia beyond where we are in our space capabilities, possibly even more.

So how many thousands of years ago did they map a lovely little life bearing world? They almost certainly have thousands of years of data on our star and planets. But their data shows no sign of civilization because their most recent data about us comes from our 600AD.

Unusual situation then. We would know there is a space faring civilization out there… and they would only know there was a life bearing world with no signs of a technological civilization here.

So… I wonder when the generation ships of the colonists will show up?

I’m just having a bit of fun. But What If?

Get your climate popcorn out

From Breitbart:

The plan by climate alarmists to have other scientists imprisoned for their ‘global warming’ skepticism is backfiring horribly, and the chief alarmist is now facing a House investigation into what has been called “the largest science scandal in US history.”

These are the RICO20, and if everything works out it will be very funny indeed. And ironic, as the “scientists” wanted to use the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act to silence their critics.

You can follow along at Watts Up With That and Climate Audit.

Uber and how it makes the case for laissez faire capitalism

Uber has been hit with complaints that it’s running “an Objectivist LARP,” a live-action role playing of a capitalist utopia from an Ayn Rand novel. That’s pretty much what it is doing, and the results are awesome. And the benefits don’t stop with more drivers and lower rates. Uber is ploughing a fair portion of its profits into another wave of technological innovation — self-driving cars — that promises to offer even greater improvements in the future.

All of this should counter some of the despair about how to promote free markets, especially among urban elites who have been programmed by their college educations to embrace the rhetoric of the Left. Give them half a chance, and they will flock to capitalist innovations run according to the laws of the market.

The problem is that they don’t want to admit it. That’s where the euphemism “ride-sharing” comes in. To cover up the capitalistic nature of the activity, they tell themselves they’re “sharing” something that they are quite obviously paying for, and paying at market rates. Imagine what could be accomplished if they were just willing to drop the euphemisms and embrace the free market.

Robert Tracinski

 

Samizdata quote of the day

On the other hand, robots, when they are not seducing us, are supposed to be taking our jobs. It doesn’t matter that UK productivity has slipped even further towards the bottom of the developing world, as the use of immigrants, women and older people by far outweighs the deployment of new machines. It doesn’t matter that, at 5.1 per cent, unemployment in the US is at a seven-year low. It doesn’t matter that investment (automation included) is weak throughout the West, that the cash hoarded by IT companies speaks volumes about their unwillingness to take robots much further, that the 225,000 robots sold worldwide in 2014 merely match the number of new jobs typically created in the US in just one month. People still insist that robots and IT generally are about to change the workplace forever, create mass unemployment and heighten inequality.

James Woudhuysen

An Anti-Soviet agitator retires from the BBC

Seva Novgorodsev, dubbed: ‘The DJ who ‘brought down the USSR’ has retired. Well I was pleasantly surprised to learn that an anti-Soviet even got a look-in at the BBC, but this was at the World Service, until recently funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (even greater wonder!) and in Russian language broadcasts. I have no idea if this man is as well-known as the article states, but I do like the sound of his using ridicule against the Soviets, something we should all use for Statists.

Seva’s programmes were meticulously prepared and scripted. He timed the intros to all the songs he played and crafted links that fitted perfectly.
“Then gradually I started to insert some jokes,” he recalls. “I knew that people were bored stiff in Russia, especially the young people, who were under oppression of their family, of the school, of their youth party organisation. And Russia is a huge country and especially in provincial places, life is excruciatingly boring.”

He would also take a dig at the Soviet love of ‘science’, and I don’t mean Lysenko.

Beatlology was the name given to a series of 55 short programmes about the Fab Four – it was, he says, “a pun on a lot of unnecessary scientific papers that the Russians used to write, because if you had a degree it would add 30 roubles to your wages”

The latter reminds me of the some points on Samizdata, science is hard here and credentialism here. Oh dear, are we having the gap left by the Soviet Union slowly filled in?

The Unbearable reality of arctic Russia

Terrible news from the far north of Russia as the autumnal equinox nears. Russian scientists in a weather station are unable to take daily readings of sea temperatures, as they are besieged by polar bears. Unfortunately, it seems, bears are not scared of flares, the scientists’ only means of defence, and the scientists have no weapons to ‘deter’ the bears. Perhaps Bjørn and Benny, as I shall call the bears, think of the scientists as a pleasant change from seal.

The BBC blames warming of course. What a dreadful irony, polar bears preventing the gathering of data on global warming. Now if hippos were to turn up, these concerns might be taken more seriously. In the meantime, some warmists might become vocal advocates for gun rights…

The blockchain and what it might do to banking and finance (and other things besides)

In a matter of months, this word, blockchain, has gone viral on trading floors and in the executive suites of banks and brokerages on both sides of the Atlantic. You can’t attend a finance conference these days without hearing it mentioned on a panel or at a reception or even in the loo. At a recent blockchain confab in London’s hip East End, the host asked if there were any bankers in the room. More than half the audience members, all dressed in suits, raised their hands.

Bloomberg Magazine.

Okay, what the F**k is a blockchain (one word or two?), I hear you cry?

A block chain is a transaction database shared by all nodes participating in a system based on the Bitcoin protocol. A full copy of a currency’s block chain contains every transaction ever executed in the currency. With this information, one can find out how much value belonged to each address at any point in history.  (Wikipedia.)

Here is a book by Dominic Frisby, whom I have met and is known to Samizdata contributors such as Brian Micklethwait, about Bitcoin, and the blockchain system. There is now quite a literature about Bitcoin, some of it with a strong “hell with fiat money” sort of bent, others with a more agnostic approach. Here is one such example by Paul Vigna. Going onto Amazon or other search engines for such books brings up a lot of hits.

More broadly, the point of the article to which I linked at the top here is that very serious financial industry figures are now piling in; sure, some of them will have problems, and the history of how some people get carried away is instructive. But just as instructive is that, even after a period of difficulty, such as when the dotcom boom went sour, we were left not just with a lot of garish stories of excess, but some valuable business models that worked. And that, I suspect, will be the story around Bitcoin – not that this will be the one to succeed, but that the technology surrounding it will have a major change on how finance and other activity happens.

Science is hard

Science is really, really hard. Someone posted a report on Reddit about an attempt to replicate some psychology experiments, and how hard it was. The comments thread is fascinating. I particularly enjoyed a description of how research results can be “turtles all the way down”. This comment also suggests to me a mechanism for the formation of group-think.

These sorts of difficulties need to be borne in mind when reading excited reports in the media that simply paraphrase the university’s press release about the research. And when considering claims that particular branches of science are “settled”.