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]

Has the day come when election polls are nearly always right?

Famously, in the last US presidential election, Nate Silver correctly predicted the winner of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. His prediction for the election before that was correct for 49 out of 50 states.

Both times, I had hoped it would turn out otherwise. My hopes had been a little higher than they should have been because of the residual glow from the Shy Tory factor, first exhibited to a dramatic extent in the 1992 UK general election and still apparent, though in lesser degree, for several elections after that. I had known about that factor in my guts before that election, from listening to people on the tube, and had correctly guessed the final result would be more Conservative than the polls claimed. As the results came in I did not rejoice that the Government would be Conservative, but I did rejoice that the Chattering Classes had been confounded, their bubble burst, their conversational hegemony broken open and their flary-nostrilled noses put out of joint. Yeah.

Unfortunately not-yeah since then. I haven’t eaten a hearty post-election breakfast with schadenfreude sauce about the polls for many a year now. George Bush winning in 2004 was splendid fun, of course, but it was no great surprise to anyone who had been paying attention. The polls had given him a consistent small lead for months before the election. In the same year there was an unexpected result in the Spanish general election, but that could be attributed to the the Madrid train bombings three days earlier and the cowardice shown by the Spanish people in their reaction to the attack.

In the years since then I have had the impression that polls have been getting ever more accurate. But my attention has wandered from politics so my impression might be wrong. In recent months the approaching Scottish independence referendum has rekindled the old flame and I have begun to follow the polls. If you want to know, I am of the Unionist persuasion, but it is one of those questions where my libertarianism isn’t telling me which way to steer; and in this post I am not arguing either way. I am just observing that the polls diverge and wobble much more widely than they seem to for either British or US general elections. Is that because it is a referendum rather than an election? I would expect the simplicity of a yes-or-no referendum to make prediction easier, but polling for the voting system referendum in 2011, while correct about the result, did significantly understate the vote to continue with the First Past the Post system, causing my heart to beat faintly once more to the happy rhythm of 1992.

Here is an interesting article by John Curtice, Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, entitled Scotland’s referendum: can we trust the polls? Mind you, despite being a professor of politics and running a referendum polling blog he does not actually say whether we can or cannot. Quite like old times.

OMG it appears I am a feminist!

There is an article on the Grauniad site called ‘Men – if you’re not a feminist, it’s fine, just move on’ which was rather amusing.

My position is no one, male or female, should have any statutory right to maternity or paternity leave, and indeed an employee should not expect it unless they negotiated for that with their employer.

So it seems that as I favour equality in maternity and paternity leave, I am a feminist according to some commenters! Who knew? ;-)

Weekend Food Porn…


Port soaked duck sausages, maple syrup coated bacon, duck eggs, orange tomatoes grilled with olive oil and fresh basil, baked beans with cracked pepper.

I am sure there is a libertarian angle to all that somewhere.

Scott Wiener on the art and the design of the pizza box

Incoming from Michael J:

God Bless Capitalism.

Read all about:

The Package Saver
The Table Box
The GreenBox
Hell’s Pizza Coffin Box
The Euro Lock Box
The VENTiT Box
Pizza Hut Hot Spot

Read more by buying the book.

The edges of the Old World

IMGP5516Kiev, Ukraine. January 2013

yr_kutaisifebKutaisi, Georgia. January 2013

IMGP5982Batumi, Adjara. January 2013

yr_abkhbridge_febInguri Bridge, January 2013

yr_abh1Sukhomi, Abkhazia. January 2013

yr_yerevanfeb5Yerevan, Armenia. February 2013

yr_alpsfeb38,000 feet. February 2013

yr_belgradeFebBelgrade, Serbia. February 2013

yr_sarajevo3marchSarajevo, Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. March 2013

yr_eastsar1Istočno Sarajevo, Republic Srpska. March 2013

yr_vismarchVis Island, Croatia. March 2013

yr_aljadidaaprilAl Jadida, Morocco. April 2013

yir_warsawmayWarsaw, Poland. May 2013

yr_uhguli7Ushguli, Georgia. May 2013

yr_vistulaspitNowa Carczma, Vistula Spit. June 2013

yr_poland1Chełmno, Poland.  June 2013

yr_budapestjulyBudapest, Hungary. July 2013

yr_ljubjulLjubljana, Slovenia. July 2013

yr_bari_julyBari, Italy. July 2013

yr_albjulKsamil, Albania. July 2013

IMGP4681Kerkyra, Greece. July 2013

yr_greecealCorfu Channel. July 2013

yr_skopjejulSkopje, Macedonia. July 2013

yr_sanctSanctuary Cove, Australia. August 2013

yr_asEdinburgh, Scotland. September 2013

dargDarial Gorge. October 2013

yr_noravankNoravank, Armenia. October 2013

yr_gamlaGamla, Georgia. November 2013

yr_katowiceKatowice, Poland. November 2013

yr_sabrosanovSabrosa, Portugal. November 2013

yr_france2Saint-Gingolph, France. November 2013

yr_swizzVillars, Switzerland. November 2013


Inezgane, Morocco. December 2013

yr_laayoune1Laayoune, Western Sahara. December 2013


The Time of the Folded Arms

Last Friday, the latest Brian’s Last Friday came and went, very satisfactorily. Thank you Preston Byrne. Turnout was encouraging and included a couple of new young faces.

Over the summer, it was a bit of an effort rounding up a sufficiency of attenders. In the summer, people are doing other things, outside, away. But I have other thoughts about why this enterprise has been a bit of a struggle to get cranked up again, which is that new (even revived (maybe especially revived)) enterprises do tend to be a bit of a struggle.

Sometimes a new enterprise will catch fire immediately, in a good way I mean. But most require a period of, as it were, rubbing sticks together. Even overnight success seldom happens overnight.

Quite aside from all the particular difficulties associated with your particular enterprise, there is, when you start something new, another process that cuts in, which is that although all the human targets whom you want to be paying attention may want you and your new thing to do well, they will also fear that you and it won’t do well and that you will give up on it and very soon be enthusing about something else entirely, or about nothing at all. So, meanwhile, the best thing for them to do about your new thing, to begin with, is to ignore it.

It’s not that they hope that your thing will die when only a few weeks or months old, merely that they need to be sure that it probably won’t, and that if it does die it does so quickly and without fuss, like a very early rather than a later abortion. They need to know that you are serious about it, before they start contributing, even with such a small thing as showing up for a meeting every month or three. They need to know that you are irrationally committed to the venture, before, rationally, they join in. (Similar processes apply, I note, in the way that animal mating behaviour evolves. Often only what looks like a crazy amount of investment in display will attract commitment. Much of commerce also consists of seemingly excessive displays and commitments.)

Sometimes people put all of the above in the form of the claim that it takes time for your target consumers, attenders, investors, whatever, to hear about your new project or product. That’s often true, of course, but that’s not quite it. What really takes time is for them to start taking it seriously.

With many enterprises, the key question is: Are you willing to do all the work yourself? And to go on doing it? For an irrationally long time? Unless it’s yes across that board, others will fear to join in, because they will fear that they will be depended upon. If they even suspect that the plan is to dump most of the work onto them, as soon as they start joining in in numbers, then they’ll never join in the first place.

I call it the Time of the Folded Arms.

Oh yes, Brian’s Last Fridays. He’s doing them again, is he? Yes I think I heard. Mmm. Ask me about that in a year’s time, if it’s still happening.

All enterprises involve more effort, to start with, than you might think, even tiny enterprises like these meetings of mine. And since my meetings are so tiny, and so twentieth century, might I not soon reckon that the not-so-tiny effort involved in making them work well is excessive, and give up? I have to show that this isn’t so, for success to materialise.

Luckily, I had a very good speaker to kick things off in January, who pulled in a crowd big enough to crowd my small living room. And luckily, a core group of already quite regular attenders straight away found the meetings appealing, although happily it has never been exactly the same people every time. So, it has never been embarrassing. But there have times when I feared that it was about to be. For one particular evening, I called in some favours to ensure non-embarrassment. It turned out that I needn’t have worried about that night either, but I did.

By such means do I demonstrate my irrational commitment to success.

See also this posting from a while back, which proclaims that, following an entirely rational Brian’s Last Friday on November 29th, there will, somewhat irrationally, be another one on December 27th.

Generation X, Y and Z are not so good being organisation drones. Well, good.

I don’t agree with all of what Charles Stross says here (I detect more than just a whiff of leftist nonsense when he refers to “neoliberalism”), but this article is worth a read, as it pertains to how attitudes towards issues such as national security and the role of the state are changing. Excerpt:

We experience cultural continuity with our parents’ and our children’s generations. Even when we don’t see eye to eye with our parents on political questions or we sigh in despair about our kids’ fashion sense or taste in music, we generally have a handle on what makes them tick. But a human lifetime seldom spans more than three generations, and the sliding window of one’s generation screens out that which came before and that which comes after; they lie outside our personal experience. We fool ourselves into thinking that our national culture is static and slow-moving, that we are the inheritors of a rich tradition. But if we could go back three or four generations, we would find ourselves surrounded by aliens — people for whom a North Atlantic crossing by sail was as slow and risky as a mission to Mars, people who took it for granted that some races were naturally inferior and that women were too emotionally unstable to be allowed to vote. The bedrock of our cultural tradition is actually quicksand. We reject many of our ancestors’ cherished beliefs and conveniently forget others, not realizing that, in turn, our grandchildren may do the same to ours.

And this:

Snowden is 30; he was born in 1983. Chelsea Manning is 25. Generation Y started around 1980 to 1982. But the signs of disobedience among Generation Y are merely a harbinger of things to come. Next up is Generation Z — the cohort born since the millennium.

Members of Generation Z are going to come of age in the 2020s, in a world racked by extreme climate events. Many of them will be sibling-less only children, for the demographic transition to a low birthrate/low death rate equilibrium lies generations in their past. They may not be able to travel internationally — energy costs combined with relative income decline is slowly stripping the middle classes of that capability — but they’ll be products of a third-generation Internet culture.

Generation Z will arrive brutalized and atomized by three generations of diminished expectations and dog-eat-dog economic liberalism. Most of them will be so deracinated that they identify with their peers and the global Internet culture more than their great-grandparents’ post-Westphalian nation-state. The machineries of the security state may well find them unemployable, their values too alien to assimilate into a model still rooted in the early 20th century. But if you turn the Internet into a panopticon prison and put everyone inside it, where else are you going to be able to recruit the jailers? And how do you ensure their loyalty?

If I were in charge of long-term planning for human resources in any government department, I’d be panicking. Even though it’s already too late.

The point that Stross misses, in his foolish line about “dog-eat-dog economic liberalism”, is that the older, more statist idea of people being forced to join big trade unions and having “jobs for life” was based on a zero-sum idea that the way to get ahead was through political pull and the coercive reach of the state, not through the voluntary exchange of the market and entrepreneurship. Sure, it is is the case that the liberalism associated with a more individualised economic situation (hooray!) is one in which ideas of loyalty to a company for life find it harder to take root. But is that such a bad thing? In other words, is what Stross is describing a feature or a bug?

A public intellectual shares her thoughts for the public good

Once upon a time there was a wise princess. She lived in a magic castle together with her friends, who were also wise. One day, the princess, taking pity on the ignorance of the common folk, decided to go among them and teach them.

Alas! Some rough people said rude and nasty things to the princess. She had to run back to her castle and issue a proclamation. This what it said: Anthea Butler: Conservatives bashed me for speaking out about the Zimmerman verdict.

The princess was very sad. She even wondered if the people were worthy to go on being allowed to hear her wise words.

What is the role of a public intellectual in the age of Twitter and soundbites? Is it to share your thoughts for the public good, or is it to curate the heaps of hate emails, tweets and right-wing articles that trash your intellectual and social work?

The princess felt that she had to choose between sharing her wisdom and keeping a record of all the bad things the rough people had said to her. Why she felt that way, we do not know, but we know the reason was wise.
Anyway, the princess held her head high as befitted her rank. Who cares what peasants say anyway? Then she had a good idea. She gave herself a medal.

In the age of conservative grievances about education however, how many people will be willing to go through what I do every time I publish an op-ed or in order to share what they have spent a lifetime to learn?

A discussion point…

Ian Bennett made an interesting comment on an article published the other day that is worth making a discussion point. It actually makes two points… firstly that politicians will say whatever they think they need to say to stay in power… I regard this as a truism and so not really worth discussing other than to say “indeed”. The second point however was more contentious:

Religion is unconditionally dangerous, simply because it is irrational; the distinction between “extreme” and “moderate” adherents is a false one, and is better regarded as “consistent” and “inconsistent”. The inconsistent moderates may not actually call publicly for the murder of non-believers (despite that being a core dogma of their faith), but they provide the context in which the consistent extremists operate, namely that adherence to a religion is a perfectly acceptable way of life. Eating only fish on a Friday “because God tells me to” is no different in its motivation from committing any other act “because God tells me to”. If we accept the performance of an act which has no rational underpinning simply because of its motivation (“God told me to”), we must accept the performance of all acts with that same motivation. This is what consistent, “extremist”, religious adherents do.

I sort of agree… which is to say, yes but no but…

I think the nature of what “God tells you to do” is a non-trivial distinction between religions and whilst even Buddhism has gone through militant phases, some religions default suppositions are broadly positive (i.e. if you are actually being ‘consistent’ you really cannot justify slaughtering the Cathars based on anything Jesus said), whilst others have clearly negative default suppositions (i.e. yes you really can justify slaughtering apostates based on what Mohammed said and there really is not a lot of wiggle room if you are being consistent).

As a atheist myself, I regard God as nothing more than a psychological artifice, but it also seems demonstrably true that many believers are nevertheless entirely capable of rational moral judgement that is not of any practical difference to my God-free moral theory based way of going about things. Indeed many of the writers for Samizdata are people with religious beliefs.

Is this simply what Ian describes as the difference between consistent versus inconsistent believers? Not so sure. If a religion can include “God says be rational because you are responsible for your actions due to having free will and are not merely God’s meat puppet” and also says “you will roast in eternal hellfire if you murder anyone, so put that gun down dude!”… well I think a ‘consistent’ follower of that particular God will find it rather harder to say “Kill ’em all for God will know his own”. Indeed it seems rather inconsistent even if slaughtering Cathars is very much The Done Thing these days.

So I think maybe religions are conditionally dangerous rather than unconditionally so. When following “the word of God”, it is fairly important what that particular God has to say… and clearly contrary to what many adherents claim, the God Jesus was referring to and the one Mohammed was referring to have about as much in common as Freyja and Shiva.


Filter Bubble

It often seems as if our opponents live in a different universe. Perhaps they do.

From Osborne computer to smart phone computer

From time to time I do Samizdata postings about how rapidly technology is advancing these days. Recently I stuck up an SQotD on the subject. Here is another such posting. Basically it’s two pictures.

The first is a picture of my first proper computer (I do not count the Sinclair Spectrum), purchased in about … 1981? This computer, an Osborne 1, consisted of a very small screen, a keyboard, and about half a ton of electrical gubbins, including two disk drives, each accommodating disks that were, I seem to recall, 256kb in capacity. 256kb was a lot of kb in those days.


The second picture is of my latest computer, which is a Google Nexus 4, plus a couple of bits of plastic to prop up the Google Nexus 4, plus a keyboard:


For me, the killer app of all computers has always been word processing, the ability to type a piece of writing into a machine, and then to modify and expand the piece at will, and only when it’s nearly finished have it automatically printed out. And then printed out again if you need that, as you almost certainly will. Amazing. (This being the twenty first century, you may want to read “print out” as “publish”.)

My first “word processor” (the inverted commas because word processing as we now use that phrase was exactly what it couldn’t do), which I used for about a decade, was an Olivetti typewriter. For this I paid twenty five quid, which is about the same as what I recently paid for the Google Nexus 4 after you include inflation. For those who do not know what a “typewriter” is, the basic rule was that the only way you could store the words you had thought of, in the order you wanted them in, was to print them all out, one letter at a time, as you thought of them. The switch from that to the Osborne 1 remains the single most exciting technological leap of my life, although the arrival of blogs runs this a close second.

As for the smallness of the screens of both these computers, well, each to his own, and I entirely get why many would hate to process words on such a tiny thing as the Google Nexus 4 or with a screen as tiny as that of the Osborne 1. But I loved the small Osborne screen. There was something very appealing to me about those tiny little letters, so much more so than the big clunky letters on other computers of that era. Me being short-sighted, the distinction that really matters to me is not big-screen-versus-small-screen; it is screen (however big) far away: bad, versus screen (however small) near: good. And if the Osborne was not in any very meaningful way “portable”, it was at least, to use a word from those days, “luggable”, from one work top to another, as and when the need arose, which for me, then, it often did.

And just as I loved the tiny old Osborne screen, I now rather like the Google Nexus 4 screen. But of course what I really like about the Google Nexus 4 screen is that, since a tiny screen is all that it is, it is so light and so small that I am happy to carry it around in case I need it to process any words, even if I never actually do, on that particular expedition. For me, in my present aging and physically weakened state, the difference between a computer too heavy to carry around without being irritated by it unless I use it, and a computer so light that its weight is not a problem even if I don’t touch it all day long, is a big difference. Even today’s small laptops – minute compared to the Osborne – fail this test, for me, now.

The beginnings of this posting were mostly typed into the second of the two computers pictured above, before being transferred into my regular non-portable computer, the one that resides permanently in my kitchen. I am still amazed at how well this transfer worked, the very first time I tried it. While I was doing the transfer, it looked as if all the paragraphing would be lost, but when I pasted everything into a text file on the kitchen computer, there it all was, just as it began. Magic.

In addition to being a word processor, the Google Nexus 4 is also, as already noted, a telephone. And like all mobile telephones these days, it can also send what used to be called telegrams. It is also an A-Z Guide to London, and a map of the Underground. The map even works, unlike an A-Z of London, when I venture outside of London. It tells me when the London bus I await will reach me. It is a mini web-browser, a mini-Kindle, and a means of posting relatively straightforward postings to my blog or (when I have worked that out) to this blog. It is a gadget for identifying music recordings just by it listening to them, being just as good at identifying classical recordings as it is a identifying pop. It is even a rudimentary camera. All of which makes it that much more likely that I will use my Google Nexus 4 for something during just about every expedition I go on. The old Osborne 1 could do none of these things. But you knew all that, and much else besides which I have yet to discover. You get the pictures.

I am, of course, not the only one who has noticed how well technology is doing these days compared to politics. If you look for this particular meme, you see it everywhere. Here is a whole book with that notion as its starting point, linked to recently by Instapundit. (Who, by the way, also linked to and recycled that SQotD. I thought he might like that one.) Says the author of this book, Kevin Williamson:

Why are smart phones so smart – getting better and cheaper every year – while our government is so dumb? Is there a way to apply the creative and productive institutions that produced the iPhone to education, public schools, or Medicare?

He thinks there is, as do I. More from and about Williamson here.

LATER: Instapundit quotes Williamson again:

We treat technological progress as though it were a natural process, and we speak of Moore’s law — computers’ processing power doubles every two years — as though it were one of the laws of thermodynamics. But it is not an inevitable, natural process. It is the outcome of a particular social order.

Still not out

Haifa, Israel. January 2012.

Jerusalem. January 2012

Jordan River Valley, January 2012

Istanbul, Turkey. February 2012

Aronda, Goa. March 2012

Mumbai, India. March 2012

Nowa Huta, Poland. April 2012

Karak, Jordan. May 2012.

Dimona, Israel. May 2012.

Jerusalem. May 2012.

KODAK FUN SAVER Digital Camera
Jericho, Palestine. May 2012

KODAK FUN SAVER Digital Camera
Bethlehem. May 2012

KODAK FUN SAVER Digital Camera
Ari’el, Judea and Samaria. May 2012

KODAK FUN SAVER Digital Camera
Gamla, Golan Heights. May 2012

Paris, France. June 2012

Opole, Poland. July 2012

Mostyn, Wales. September 2012

Berlin, Germany. September 2012

Będzin, Poland. September 2012

Ostrava, Czech Republic. October 2012

Budapest, Hungary. October 2012

Uzhhorod, Carpathian Ruthenia. October 2012

Berlin, Germany. November 2012

Kraków, Poland. November 2012

Mt Olympus, Republic of Cyprus. December 2012

Pyla, United Nations Buffer Zone, December 2012

Dhekelia Sovereign Base Area. December 2012

Varosha, Famagusta. December 2012.

Salamis, Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. December 2012

Akrotiri Sovereign Base Area. December 2012