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]

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!”

Suddenly ‘Homeland’ does not seem quite so fanciful!

When I read this story

A former French intelligence officer who defected to al Qaida was among the targets of the first wave of U.S. air strikes in Syria last month, according to people familiar with the defector’s movements and identity. Two European intelligence officials described the former French officer as the highest ranking defector ever to go over to the terrorist group and called his defection one of the most dangerous developments in the West’s long confrontation with al Qaida.

…I started to wonder who gets to play what role in the inevitable Hollywood ‘based on real events’ feature length movie (which will of course change everything and make it a CIA defector, because everyone knows France is a place deep fried potatoes come from, not secret agents).

The siege of Kurdish Kobani: Turkey is not a disinterested party…

… and I think it goes without saying that in international affairs, there are no ‘good guys’, there are just ‘bad guys’ and ‘less-bad-guys’. So I was asked today why is Turkey, with its army literally lined up along the border, just sitting there and (also quite literally) watching the Syrian town of Kobani be squeezed to death by the Islamic State? That was when the axiom of there being no ‘good guys’ came to mind.

I think it is worth looking at what is motivating the Turkish government. I see it thus:

Firstly, Turkey was an early enabler of what came to be the Islamic State by virtue of it assisting pretty much anyone who (1) was willing to shoot at the Ba’athist Assad regime (2) was not Kurdish. And whilst President Tayyip Erdogan is not a salafist, he is not just Islamic, he is an Islamist, and has been significantly muted in his remarks about the Islamic State. Conclude from that what you will.

Secondly, the Kurdish YPG in Rojava (Northern Syria, the largely Kurdish bit) has close links with the Marxist PKK (the Kurdish group who has fought against Turkey intermittently for decades and who have proved simply impossible for the Turks to completely crush). This means that from the perspective of a politically Islamic Turkish President like Tayyip Erdogan, who by all accounts has a personality and inclinations probably best described as ‘Putinesque’, he probably sees this as simply one mildly simpatico but unduly exuberant Islamic group who may well be a problem in the future, wiping out a largely secular and hostile-to-the-Turks Kurdish group who are a problem right now. Plus once Kobani falls, the Islamic State can then concentrate on getting rid of Assad, which is really what Tayyip Erdogan’s government in Turkey wants.

So expecting Turkey to sweep in and save Kobani is unrealistic. I expect this is the calculation: if the YPG triumphs and creates a Kurdish controlled Rojava (the Kurdish north of Syria bordering on Turkey), it will encourage Kurdish nationalism in Turkey. Even worse, as Southern Kurdistan (Kurdish Northern Iraq, capital of Erbil) now has an excellent chance of becoming an independent nation (it is already largely autonomous), it is possible Rojava might unify with South Kurdistan, which would really stoke the fires of Kurdish nationalism. And as Turkey does not want a major resurgence of Kurdish insurgency in Turkey (there is currently an agreement with the Kurds there), they are happy to see the Islamic State crush the Syrian Kurdish YPG.

That said, when I ran this past my Kurdish chums who live near Kirkuk, they mostly agreed but noted that as the YPG are Marxist and the PKK are Marxist, they are natural allies (addendum: upon them reading this article, my Kurdish friends said I should have written “hand in glove” as they would be more accurate than mere ‘allies’)… however South Kurdistan is a multi-party democracy (the ruling coalition is the politically secular centrist KDP and leftist PUK, and the main opposition is the aggressively secular centre-right Gorran Movement). However the Kurdish Syrian YPG imposed its control over Rojava against other Syrian Kurdish political groups at gunpoint. I asked my friends “Why do many see the YPG as terrorists?” to which they replied “Because they kind of are”. The general view they shared was that whilst the YPG are admired for their spirited defence of Rojava against the Islamists, and for their cross border rescue of the Yezidi Kurds in Iraq near Mt. Sinjar, in the event the region was ever unified with South Kurdistan, they would probably be a ‘problem’. The way it was described to me was, and I quote: “a Marxist party winning overall power in an election in Erbil is about as likely as a politically Mormon party winning”… a notion which did make me laugh I must confess. But Marxists tend to not just shrug and say “oh well” when that happens.

And thus whilst there is horror in South Kurdistan at the notion of Kobani falling to the Islamic State, there are some in Erbil who actually prefer to play footsie with Turkey and although they wish the people of Kobani well, they will not be heartbroken to see the YPG taken down a peg. And if anyone doubts that the Kurds in Erbil have a deal with the Turkish government, ask yourself this: much to the anguish of the rump Iraqi government in Baghdad, Erbil has been selling its oil independently. Take a look at the map and then figure out who is enabling that to happen.

So if the Turks do rescue Kobani at the last moment, it will only be because they have milked the political advantage sufficiently to have extracted some very sweet deals behind the scenes. My guess is that they will just let the YPG be crushed. But we will know soon enough it seems.

So how was that for some labyrinthine speculation?

“The answer to jihadism is intellectual – a conversation”

A friend of mine who is a writer asked me to put up this short dialogue concerning what is probably one of the most, if not the most, important issues of our time in terms of the flourishing and survival of a free civilisation. Given the nature of the topic the writer has asked not to be named. I don’t normally do this, but the quality of the writing is so good, and the issue so important, that I decided to put this up. I hope readers find it interesting. The article is entitled: The answer to Jihadism is intellectual: a conversation.

The knock on the door was so soft as to be barely audible.

Carl Dinuto – a fortyish, greying, lean-faced professor of philosophy – looked up, wondering if he had heard right.

“Come in!” he called out anyway.

The door opened slowly and a slim young woman entered hesitantly.

“Dr Dinuto?”

“Yes.”

“Sorry to interrupt, Doctor, but can you give me a couple of minutes?”

“Perhaps. What about?”

“Um, er, well, I was auditing your lecture on contemporary ethics this morning and was really puzzled by your comments on Islam. You see, I know some Moslem people, one of my best friends at school was Muslim, and she and her family are not at all like the way you said.”

Dinuto glanced at his watch, then pointed to a chair.

“Okay. Since you’re here, you can have a few minutes.”

“Er, thank you.”

Dinuto waited while the girl sat down, watching her as she did so. She was very pretty, with shoulder-length blond hair in a ponytail and bright, greeny-brown eyes, eager and shining with a sort of innocent intelligence.

“First,” said Dinuto; “what’s your name?”

“Holly. It’s Isabel Holland actually. But everybody’s called me Holly since grade school.”

“Why not Izzie or Bella?”

“It’s one of those family things. My Grandma was British, you see, a War bride, and Dad grew up using some of her British expressions. Well, one Fall, I was wearing a dark green tracksuit and was very red-faced from running around outside in the cold. Dad said I looked like a sprig of holly. Then my older brother, who kinda fancies himself as a wit, said, ‘Not the sprog of Holland?’ We all laughed, but Holly stuck.”

“Sprog?”

“Yeah, it’s British slang for a child, from progeny, I guess.”

Dinuto laughed briefly.

“Nice story,” he said. “And what are you studying, sprog of Holland?”

Holly laughed in her turn.

“History.”

“When did you start?”

“This Fall.”

“Your faculty advisor?”

“Doctor Fowles.”

“I know him well. So, what’s your problem, Miss Holland?”

“You said Islam is a fascist political movement bent on world domination. Well, I felt that was untrue, and insulting.”

“I did not say that. I was quoting someone else who had. And I did not say ‘fascist’. I used the word ‘fascistic’ which has a different meaning. The first thing you have to learn at university, young lady, is that if you quote someone, whether in written or verbal form, you must do so accurately.”

“Say, I’m sorry…” Holly began but Dinuto raised a hand for silence.

“To be more precise, Miss Holland, what in fact happened was that a student asked me a question about the views of the Dutch politician Gert Wilders, who has recently been found not guilty of inciting religious hatred in the Netherlands. The student quoted what Wilders had said then asked what I thought of it. I said I knew little about Islam but Wilders’ description seemed accurate enough to me. What is insulting about that?”

“Well, sorry, I don’t mean to be rude, but isn’t endorsing Wilders’views same as saying ’em yourself? And you did quote him, you know, kinda approvingly. You see, my friends would say that Islam is a religion, devoted to spreading and obeying the revealed word of God. Isn’t it kinda slanderous to make out like it’s a political movement?”

→ Continue reading: “The answer to jihadism is intellectual – a conversation”

Using a Playstation controller to fire a machinegun in combat… no, really!

Talk about ingenuity! That thing does not looks very RPG-resistant, so it very wisely has a top mounted camera so it can fire from behind cover!

But guys, it is an improvised armoured ambulance, not a ‘tank’.