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]

How the UK’s Conservative Party could cease to exist

Here’s how:

1. There is a crash in the stock market this autumn (there has already been a large fall).

2. A recession starts. Businesses start to close, others start to lay off workers. Either way there is a large increase in unemployment and the fear of unemployment.

3. The public see that as far as Cameron and Osborne are concerned the emperor has no clothes. The mirage of economic recovery they have concocted over the last four years is seen for what it is: a mirage.

4. As the Conservatives start to fall in the polls, UKIP and Labour start to rise. Eurosceptic Conservative MPs realise they have nothing to lose by defecting to UKIP. A hundred do so.

5. The defection of such a large number of Conservative MPs makes UKIP seem a lot more credible as a party of government.

6. In the election, Labour get a plurality but not a majority. UKIP are only a few seats behind. The leader of the Conservative Party, now with 30 seats becomes known as Kim Cameron.

Samizdata quote of the day

[W]ere the electorate solely composed of those stuffed with sciences their votes would be no better than those emitted at present. They would be guided in the main by their sentiments and party spirit. We should be spared none of the difficulties we now have to contend with, and we should certainly be subjected to the oppressive tyranny of castes.

– Gustave LeBon, The Crowd (1895). Naked populism and rule by experts and officials are not necessarily all that different. The mechanisms and structures through which, and the culture within which, power is exercised may matter more.

Pro Bono

Ever since Rob Fisher wrote this post saying he was almost starting to like Bono, I’ve been wanting to write a post called Pro Bono. And now I can.

From the Observer:

Bono: controversial tax laws have brought Ireland the only prosperity it’s ever known

U2 singer says capitalism and commerce play a vital role in lifting people out of poverty and that Ireland’s tax policies benefit the country’s economy

The comments are mostly against him. I’m pro him.

Thinking outside the box

I really hope this article is tongue in cheek. If not (or even if so) then I have a better idea… just replace money with bananas and release several million monkeys into every major city. It will stop people and companies getting into debt because they have to be spent quickly before they go off or marauding monkeys steal them (what with monkeys being vastly more likely to act in a consistent manner than any government that has ever existed since the beginning of human history).

If science ever finds a away to expunge people from history and un-invent their ideas from people’s minds, making all books on the subject vanish into some dimensional tesseract, I would nominate John Maynard Keynes as the most pressing candidate for expungement.

Malala does not deserve the Nobel Prize for Peace (please read on)

She doesn’t deserve to be saddled with it. Having shown real courage she does not deserve to be inducted into a club many of whose existing members are so grotesque that the blogger Jim Miller has for years called the Peace prize the “Nobel Reprimand”.

I also worry that seventeen is too young to be made into an icon. Maybe I worry too much. So far her response seemed to display a fortunate combination of groundedness and a pitch-perfect judgement for what to say to the press. I genuinely hope that her response includes quite a lot of calculation, because a person who can work the crowd is more likely than an ingénue to be fitted by temperament to thrive rather than wilt in a life spent on the world stage.

UKIP gains a Member of Parliament, but…

…that is not the really interesting political story.

I rarely write about party politics, but today is an exception. UKIP took a seat from the Tories, with a very popular defector winning a crushing victory. And the newspapers are agog naturally.

And UKIP also came within a hairs breadth of taking a Labour seat, loosing by only 617 votes. Now THAT is the interesting political story today.

So next time someone says “Vote UKIP, get Labour”, tell them, ever so politely, that the facts suggest otherwise. Or just tell them to get stuffed, up to you. It looks increasingly like the truth is: Vote UKIP, get UKIP. That is not an endorsement, simply an observation.

An entertaining Guardian commenter

This exchange, on a sad and silly story about Lego ending its partnership with Shell in response to a Greenpeace campaign, made me smile. Someone complained about Greenpeace. Someone else replied: “Oh you mean like protecting our children’s future then eh? Bastards!” RoomSixteen pointed out:

“Greenpeace is one of the greatest threats to your children’s future. If not for Greenpeace, we’d have rolled out nuclear long ago, not to mention GMO like Golden Rice.

Greenpeace is against fusion, for heaven sake! How evil can you be?

“Greenpeace a bigger threat to my kids future than the corporate machine eh?”, came the reply.

Yes. The ‘corporate machine’ has afforded you a lifestyle that allows even your useless progeny a chance at a dignified life and not, as is Greenpeace’s most fervent ambition for them, a life of hard, manual labour 24/7 as subsistence farmers.

Later, and I am editing a bit:

Their campaign against Golden Rice has cost more lives than the invasion of Iraq.

[...]

Vitamin A deficiency kills half a million children each year. Times ten, that’s five million third world children, for starters – say a fifth of those would have survived if Golden Rice had been marketed in their countries, that’s a million children. Plus a million those who’ve gone blind.

But that’s only half of it. GMO R&D is proceeding at a snail’s pace, because investors know the great, noisy unwashed will camp outside their windows if they do. That’s one of the main reasons we don’t have drought/salt/flood resistant crops in the fields yet. And strawberries the size of baseballs, of course, but that’s a first world problem.

Much the same could be said about nuclear (although the causation is not quite as straightforward) because thanks to Greenpeace, we’re only doing now what should have been done 20 years ago, namely designing better and cheaper reactors to replace coal plants and provide cheap and plentiful energy. And energy is the lifeblood of welfare: the more you have, the better your life.

This guy is a real trooper; he is probably saving a good few naive young Guardian comments readers from believing in the toxic worldview there.. And it is good strategy, too. I have long noticed that the appeal of the left comes from their portrayal as the Nice Ones. Pointing out that they are Killing Poor Children is exactly what is needed to fight them.

He is also educating people about economics: “And yes, Monsanto makes money on bt corn, but so does the farmer, otherwise it wouldn’t sell.”

1944: Warsaw Uprising – 2014: Kobani

Starting on 1st August, 1944, the Polish Home Army resistance rose against Nazi Germany in Warsaw, mounting what was by far the largest single military effort by a European resistance movement in World War 2. The advancing Soviet Red Army halted and waited for the German Army to completely crush Polish resistance and did not lift a finger to help, even though it had air force assets less than five minutes flight time away from where the Poles fought and died, light infantry weapons and a few captured heavy weapons against tanks and artillery. The Soviets quite literally watched and did nothing, refusing requests by the Western Allies to use Soviet airbases to provide assistance to the Poles. More than two hundred long distance supply drops were conducted by the RAF in spite of Soviet opposition, but were completely inadequate for the needs of the defenders.

However as the Polish Home Army was loyal to the Polish government-in-exile in London, the Soviets saw it as an obstacle to their intentions to turn Poland into a communist puppet state, and were delighted to have their former ally but now bitter enemy Nazi Germany eliminate this politically inconvenient group.

Starting on 16th September, 2014, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and elements of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) began defending the town of Kobani from the Salafist forces of the Islamic State, light infantry weapons and a few captured heavy weapons, against an enemy who have heavy weapons and copious munitions that they acquired in Iraq, when the Sunni elements of the Iraqi Army either changed sides or simply abandoned their depots and ran away. Also early on in the Syrian Civil War, what was to become the Islamic State gained material support as part of the resistance movement against the Syrian Government, from Turkey under its politically Islamist leader Tayyip Erdogan.

The largely Kurdish defenders of Kobani in Syria are associated with Turkish Kurdish nationalists of the Marxist PKK, and thus the Turkish army are quite literally watching from across the border from within small arms range, as Kobani’s defenders are being crushed in bitter street fighting by the numerically superior and better armed Islamic State.

The Islamist government of Turkey is really not that concerned by the Islamic State, and so they are quite happy to see them crush the politically inconvenient and politically secular Kurdish nationalists in Kobani. Turkey has refused requests for NATO aircraft to use Turkish airbases, and the mostly American strikes have failed to prevent the Islamic State from forcing their way into the town at the time this article is being written.

The parallels are striking.

Let’s cheer up about technology

Optimistic science fiction does not create a belief in technological progress. It reflects it. Stephenson and Thiel are making a big mistake when they propose a vision of the good future that dismisses the everyday pleasures of ordinary people – that, in short, leaves out consumers. This perspective is particularly odd coming from a fiction writer and a businessman whose professional work demonstrates a keen sense of what people will buy. People are justifiably wary of grandiose plans that impose major costs on those who won’t directly reap their benefits. They’re even more wary if they believe that the changes of the past have brought only hardship and destruction. If Stephenson wants to make people more optimistic about the future and more likely to undertake difficult technological challenges, he shouldn’t waste his time writing short stories about two-kilometer-high towers.

Virginia Postrel.

Modernist Cuisine and Nuclear Reactors

I rececntly ordered a water circulating heater for sous vide cooking. I do not like cooking all that much, but the controllability and repeatability of sous vide, along with the opportunity to play with a new gadget, appeal to my not-so-inner geek. To make the most of it, I ordered a copy of Modernist Cuisine at Home. It is a home version of the original Modernist Cuisine book that comprises six volumes and 2,400 pages and deconstructs the science of cooking. It is part of the molecular gastronomy movement in cooking, an attempt to make cooking more science-y. This appeals to me also because normal cookbooks are oppressive: “Do this!” they say, without ever explaining why. From their random examples I am unable to build a mental model of what is going on, so I can only follow the instructions blindly and wonder why I failed. And the jargon in cookbooks is incomprehensible; I am much more likely to be able to understand a science book.

Nathan Myhrvold is a principal author of Modernist Cuisine. He was the CTO of Microsoft and later went on to found Intellectual Ventures, which buys patents and licenses then to companies who are being patent trolled, though others have accused them of patent trolling themselves. An offshoot of this is Intellectual Ventures Lab, which does research and applies for patents and contains the kitchen where the cookbook was developed.

Myhrvold is a global warming believer, though he annoyed all the right people when he appeared in a chapter in Superfreakonomics suggesting that we might reverse the effects of man-made global warming with other man-made technology, instead of by reducing carbon dioxide emissions. And he is a proponent of nuclear power as a solution. Intellectual Ventures Labs began work on a travelling wave reactor, a type of nuclear reactor that runs on U-238, which reduces the need for enriching. TerraPower is now one of many subsidiaries, and is developing the reactor.

Between this, thorium, and a host of other reactor designs, I am hopeful about the technology of nuclear power, we just need the politics to catch up. A micro nuclear reactor was proposed in Alaska but, “the project never began the mandatory, lengthy and extremely costly process of gaining approval by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission…which takes tens of millions of dollars and several years”.

Samizdata quote of the day

We in the West proclaimed that what set us apart were free speech, free movement, free(ish) markets,rule of law and democratic elections; and while not the whole truth it’s still mostly true.

I say mostly in this context because rich, prosperous, flourishing Hong Hong had all those attributes except the last: democratic elections.

Yep, it turns out no elections were necessary in a society based on the sound principles of low taxes, low regulation, free movement, and rule of law – it made them rich extraordinarily quickly. Who’d want to vote that away? Well quite a few folk if elections around the world are any indication.

So what are we to make of the Hong Kong ‘democracy’ protests? On one hand I find myself saying, ‘go get ‘em tiger,’ in support of the protesters. On the other, I’m wondering if they should be careful what they wish for.

– the delightfully pseudonymous ‘Suzuki Samurai

Thank goodness for teh internetz!

An exchange of badinage overheard on TeamSpeak earlier today during an online team game, with the appropriate links added in the chat window:

HadMacksFTW: “Fighting must be hungry work because when I watch those guys in Syria blowing the crap out of each other on YouTube, they keep screaming “I wanna snack bar! I wanna snack bar!” over and over again! Hummus must be for girlie men, warriors need a serious god damn snack bar!”

CyberneticHippoOfDeath: “Poor ill educated fool! They are shouting “Admiral Ackbar! Admiral Ackbar!”… Its a Star Wars reference that involves traps, you cultural ignoramus! They do this because it increases the chance they will hit the target from zero percent by five percent by invoking the power of western civilisation! It works in Call of Duty too, not just in mere real life!”