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]

ULA is not going down without a fight

The ULA (United Launch Alliance) press conference is worth viewing if you are interested in the space industry. Their upper-stage engine design is quite interesting, partly because they are looking at the ability to store propellants in orbit for long-ish periods of time. They have now pushed the rest of the camel of orbital refuelling depots on to the national scene.

From a business perspective, they have taken pages out of SpaceX’s play book. The new rocket will be done with IR&D funds and once built it will have a published price schedule. Both are considerable breaks with the past.

A number of the big players have tried hard to down play this idea. A few years ago NASA tried to deep-six their report that showed such depots were better for deep space than the ‘program of record’. The effort failed and the report got out anyway and I have it.

I am considerably less excited by other elements of their vehicle and their time scale. They may have to do better than partial reuse by 2023 to survive in what is rapidly becoming a ferociously competitive market for cheap launch.

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What caused the First World War: Part III – The mystery

[This is the text of a talk I gave on 20 March to the 6/20 Club in London. See also Part II and Part IV.]

I have heard that story with a few variations many times. And I find it deeply unsatisfying. The reason is because it doesn’t answer the fundamental question. Whose fault was it? Who was to blame?

Knowing more about the July Crisis doesn’t seem to help. What I have just outlined is a pretty short version. Christopher Clark’s version in his book Sleepwalkers stretches to over 600 pages with 100 pages of footnotes. University libraries groan with books on the subject. 25 years ago someone counted them all up and came up with a number of 25,000 books and pamphlets on the subject of the origins of the First World War. Seeing as this entire talk is based on books published since then one dreads to think what that number must be like now. There are even books on the history of the history. There is a lot of interesting detail. For instance, in the years leading up to the First World War something like 20 world leaders were assassinated. In most cases the perpetrator was an anarchist whom the authorities subsequently declared insane. You learn that Britain had a secret deal with France to protect the Channel in case of war; that in its declaration of war Germany made the entirely fictitious claim that France had bombed German cities; that the head of the Austrian counter-intelligence service was himself a Russian spy and that the French ambassador to London believed that French was the only language capable of “articulating rational thought”.

Perhaps more pertinently you learn that there is good evidence that the German government was planning for a war in 1914.

With most of the world colonised by Europeans who weren’t Germans, Germany hoped to be able to exercise influence over the declining Ottoman Empire. For instance a German general, Liman von Sanders had been sent out to take charge of the Turkish Army and there were plans to build a Berlin to Baghdad railway. They weren’t the only foreign advisers to Turkey. While a German was in charge of Turkey’s army, a Briton was in charge of its navy. Tellingly, the Hague Convention of 1912 called for a worldwide ban on opium. This eventually made its way into the Treaty of Versailles but in 1912 its opponents included Germany, Austria and Turkey.

Obviously, if Germany was to be able to exercise influence over Turkey it had to be able to get there. With hostility between Britain and Germany over Germany’s naval programme the only effective route lay through the Balkans. So, when Serbia massively increased its territory in the First Balkan War of 1912 Germany naturally grew disturbed.

On December 8 1912 a meeting was held with some of the major figures in the German government presided over by the Kaiser, Willhelm II. This has been dubbed a “War Council”. Whether it was or not who knows but it is interesting what followed next. First, Germany more or less accepted that the naval arms race with Britain was over and that Britain had won. Second, Germany massively increased the size of its army. Third, a succession of articles appeared in the press claiming that Russian military expansion was proceeding so quickly that by 1917 Germany could not hope to win a war. It is worth pointing out that the General Staff sincerely believed this. Fourth, the expansion of the Kiel Canal to allow battleships to sail between the North Sea and the Baltic was completed in 1914.

At about the same time General Bernhardi published his book Germany and the Next War. In it he essentially argued that might was right and that Germany should have not qualms about observing, for instance, international treaties. The book did especially well in Britain.

So, all this seems fairly clear cut until you learn that France and Russia were also pretty keen on war at the same time and made no efforts to diffuse the crisis that arose after Sarajevo. Indeed, Britain found itself in the uncomfortable position of not being able to deter Germany without simultaneously encouraging France and Russia.

The fact remains that after a hundred years there is still no consensus on who or what was to blame.

There are other mysteries. Explaining the Second World War is easy. You have a bad guy with bad ideas who started a war of conquest. But you look in vain for such a character in 1914.

Sure, the German government of the time has to bear a lot of the responsibility for the war but Kaiser Wilhelm is no Adolf Hitler. He was not a man espousing a foam-flecked, hate-filled, land-grabbing ideology. Sure, he had his moments but he quickly backed down and had a reputation for so doing. Similarly, the Tsar was no Stalin. He may have done stupid things like banning vodka and banning Jews from the boards of public companies but he wasn’t in the business of killing hundreds of thousands of people. Having said that it should be borne in mind that The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, eagerly taken up by anti-semites around the world, was a Tsarist fabrication.

The truth is that the statesmen of Europe were acting rationally in the pursuit of limited objectives. Most of them were well aware of the likely consequences of a war. We can tell this in the hemming and hawing displayed by both the Russians and the Germans. Both Asquith, the British Prime Minister, and Churchill described the prospect of war as “Armageddon”. And yet despite this the disaster still managed to unfold. I tend to refer to this as the Michael Jennings question. How could such a disaster have happened when none of the leaders appear to have been particularly bellicose?

The conundrum gets worse. By November 1914, Germany had to all intents and purposes lost the war. The Schlieffen Plan had failed and they had been held at the Marne. Austria had suffered even worse disasters in Serbia and Galicia. So, why did it take them another 4 years to make peace?

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Samizdata quote of the day

For years I was an apologist for Islam, as regrettably, many still remain. I only read books and believed those who painted Islam in a peaceful, glowing light. I made excuses for radical Muslims and lived in a flood of denial that religious teachings could still, in this modern age of drones and clones, motivate a person to commit evil. I criticized the numerous atheists including Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Sam Harris, and Bill Maher warning of the dangers inherent in Islamic doctrines, recklessly labelling them Islamophobes.

Today I’m writing to say I’m sorry, I apologize, and I ask for your forgiveness. We who have blindly defended Islam and called you Islamophobes are tragically wrong.

(…)

We who have carelessly thrown around the Islamophobe label including Glen Greenwald, Reza Aslan, and Karen Armstrong should lower our heads in shame and guilt. Few things are as morally depraved as attacking someone who criticizes Islam (Ayaan Hirsi Ali) rather than attacking the Islamic apostasy and blasphemy laws teaching Muslims they should kill her. We must now live with the knowledge that we’ve abandoned and betrayed our principles. Though we claim the mantle of human rights, free speech and equality, we lack the courage of our convictions when it offends someone. We make the cowardly lion look like Churchill.

Mike Dobbins

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A political challenge

From the Daily Mail:

Polish prince challenges Nigel Farage to a DUEL with swords over Ukip slurs on immigrants

And why not? Resort to the field of honour would be in accordance with prime ministerial precedent. Those were the days. The Sussex Advertiser of 23rd March 1829 blandly recorded, “His Grace was seen riding through the Horse-Guards at six o’clock on Saturday morning, and returned to Downing-street at eight.”

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What caused the First World War? Part II – The July Crisis

[This is the text of a talk I gave on 20 March to the 6/20 Club in London. See also Part I and Part III.]

So, what caused this catastrophe? If any of you are unfamiliar with the story it might be an idea to get out your smart phones out and pull up a map of Europe in 1914. When you do so you will notice that although western Europe is much the same as it is today, central Europe is completely different. There are far fewer borders and a country called Austria-Hungary occupies a large part of it.

As most of you will know on 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir presumptive to the Austrian throne was assassinated in Sarajevo the capital of Bosnia which he was visiting while inspecting army manoeuvres. Bosnia at the time was a recently-acquired part of the Austrian Empire having been formally incorporated in 1908. Although the Austrians didn’t know this at the time – though they certainly suspected it – Gavrilo Princip, the assassin, and his accomplices had been armed and trained by Serbia’s rogue intelligence service. I say “rogue” because the official Serbian government seems to have had little control over the service run by one Colonel Apis. Apis, as it happens, was executed by the Serbian government in exile in Greece in 1917 and there’s a definite suspicion that old scores were being settled.

Oddly enough, the Austrians weren’t that bothered by the assassination of Franz Ferdinand the man. Apart from his family no one seems to have liked him much. His funeral was distinctly low key although there was a rather touching display by about a 100 nobles who broke ranks to follow the coffin on its way to the station. More importantly, Franz Ferdinand was one of the few doves in a sea of hawks. Most of the Austrian hierarchy wanted war with Serbia. Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, the Chief of Staff had advocated war with Serbia over 20 times. Franz Ferdinand did not want war with Serbia. He felt that Slav nationalism was something that had to be accepted and the only way of doing this was to give Slavs a similar status to that Hungary had obtained in 1867. So his death changed the balance of power in Vienna. Much as the hierarchy were not bothered by the assassination of Franz Ferdinand the man, they were bothered by the assassination of Franz Ferdinand the symbol – the symbol of Austria’s monarchy and Empire, that is. The Serbs wanted to unite all the South Slavs: that is Slovenes, Croatians, Bosnians, Montenegrins and Macedonians in one state. However, most of these peoples lived in Austria. Now, if the South Slavs left there was no reason to think that the Czechs, Poles, Ruthenes or Romanians who were also part of the Austrian Empire would want to stay. Therefore, it was clear that Serbia’s ambitions posed an existential threat to Austria (correctly as it turned out). The solution? crush Serbia. And now the Austrians had a pretext.

Unfortunately (for the Austrians), Serbia had an ally: Russia. Russia regarded itself as the protector of the Slavs and Serbia in particular. But Austria also had an ally: Germany. Germany had spent the previous 20 years antagonising Britain, France and Russia and so was glad to have any ally at all. The fact that Austrians spoke German at a time when racial ideas were gaining ground was also a factor. But Russia itself had an ally: France. This was something of a marriage of convenience given that France was a democratic republic and Russia was an autocracy. But allies they were. All this meant that if Austria went to war with Serbia, Germany could find herself at war with France and both Austria and Germany could find themselves at war with Russia.

→ Continue reading: What caused the First World War? Part II – The July Crisis

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Samizdata quote of the day

On the NHS, that has gone far beyond a joke. It is not enough to value the idea of universal healthcare free at the point of use as a concept – one must “love the NHS”. Doctors and nurses are not doing their job in difficult circumstances – they’re fighting on the front line. Nobody wants to reform the NHS – Labour leader Ed Miliband wants to “rescue” it. The debate is uncritical, nostalgic, what The Economist called “ideological, ahistorical bunkum” – and nothing short of cowardly.

Andy Burnham, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, has warned that there are “24 hours to save the NHS” so often over the past five years that people are beginning to doubt his grasp of Babylonian concepts of time.

Andy Silvester

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Seems perfectly reasonable to me…

I was going to label this as “humour” but it is more of a “future documentary” really.

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Sad Puppies are taking back Science Fiction

Many thanks to Rand Simberg who has been covering this ongoing battle…

The Elites fight tooth and claw and with whatever lying, cheating, libel and threats they can get away with… and the more you shine the light on them while they do so, the more they self-destruct.

I suspect the Sad Puppies have been having the time of their life giving these people all the rope they need to make total idjts of themselves. So bring out a bag of popcorn, sit back and watch the battle.

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What a truly horrifying thought!

A overtly Marxist Guardianista wants to replace Jeremy Clarkson. The Horror. The Horror! You would think someone with a Russian name would know how well Marxism turned out the last time…

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Private asteroid search telescope rises from the ashes

Last fall when the Orbital Sciences Corporation rocket blew up in spectacular fashion, one of the payloads that went with it was the Arkyd space telescope nanosat.

Unlike their giant billion dollar big brothers, the Arkyd group use modern technology and methods to the fullest. They have the flexibility of a small company and they do things faster, better and cheaper. So much so that they have a replacement nanosat not just built, but ready for launch on Monday’s SpaceX CRS-6 flight to the International Space Station (ISS).

From there, it will be ejected from the Japanese Kibo module at some point in the coming months when ISS crew time is available. Here is Planetary Resources President Chris Lewicki giving the details. Just for full disclosure, I put a hundred dollars where my mouth is during their Kickstarter about two years ago.

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Samizdata quote of the day

In the late 1970s, the top rate of income tax in the UK was over 80 per cent and the top one per cent of income tax payers paid just 11 per cent of the total. Rates are dramatically lower today, and the one per cent paid 27.7 per cent of the 2011/12 total. The idea you get more money out of the rich by putting the screws on runs counter to the facts.

Marc Sidwell

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By what reasonable definition are the Tories “conservatives”?

Yet again the utterly dismal David Cameron is being generous with other people’s money:

David Cameron’s plan to offer workers three days’ paid leave for volunteering has come under fire from the business world. The Prime Minister has pledged that if the Tories win the General Election up to 15m workers in the public and private sector will be able to take paid time off for volunteering. In the private sector, only companies with more than 250 employees will be subject to the scheme. Communities secretary Eric Pickles got a rough ride on the Today programme this morning as he struggled to explain who would bear the costs of the scheme and what level of compulsion would be involved.

Is Labour even worse that this dismal shower? Yes, without a doubt, but the only difference is how fast the state marches, not the direction in which it marches. I am old enough to remember when the Tories under Edward Health nationalised companies, so even historically it is hardly like comparing chalk and cheese. No wonder there is talk of making voting compulsory, given there is hardly any difference between the main parties.

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