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]

The best of times

I ran across an interesting quote by linguist Steven Pinker in the july 5th issue of New Scientist:

“My next book will be on the decline of violence and its implications. Rates of murder, warfare, genocide, torture and deadly riots are lower now than at any moment in human history. Assuming that we have’t changed biologically, then what has changed in our psychology and soceity to make that possible?”

The interview went on to suggest several reasonable possibilities, including the spread of the concept of a fair and impartial judiciary but left out two which I think may be very important: wealth and freedom.

Samizdata quote of the day

“We all know that politics is a con some of the time. It has begun to feel like politics is a con almost all of the time.”

Camilla Cavendish.

Well, some of us have never thought much of politics in the first place, certainly not politics as a professional job.

Baring all

I used to visit the South of France as a kid and one day, walking down the beach in St Tropez, yours truly, then a pretty wet-behind-the-ears lad from Suffolk, espied a whole row of lovely French women lying on the beach with nary a stitch on. Mon dieu! After my silly childish embarrassment wore off, I thought nothing of it after a while.

It appears that for health and fashion reason, though, that the lovelies of Europe are covering up. One of the main factors may be a concern about skin cancer. Also, I notice that in France, a lot of the men and women’s skin gets very lined and aged if they sit out a lot in the sun, so for reasons of vanity or beauty – depending on your point of view – it makes sense to cover up. I have to watch it in the sun as I am pretty fair-skinned.

I did sort of half wonder whether any of this story from France has something to do with the large Muslim immigrant population in the South of France that takes a dim view of baring any female flesh at all. It does make one wonder. I hope not.

The Martians have landed…

and they is US!

Ospreys landing in Jordan
US Marine MV-22 Osprey’s landing in Jordan.
Photo: courtesy of US DOD

XCOR Powered Rocket Racer flies at Oshkosh

This is not the first time I have seen images of this bird in flight, but it is the first public venue at which a Rocket Racer has flown and the second rocket powered aircraft ever to fly at the Oshkosh AirVenture. The first was a few years back (four? five?) and was also an XCOR powered craft, the EZ-Rocket, trailered from Mojave to Oshkosh by that company.

The XCOR engined Rocket Racer is a larger Lox/Kerosene rocket plane with at about 10 minutes airborne endurance if the burn times are well utilized. The pilot, Astronaut Richard Searfoss, certainly knows his burns and knows the engine inside out as he was test pilot for XCOR during engine development.

A second Rocket Racer is also on display at AirVenture, with an Armadillo Aerospace alcohol/LOX engine. It has not yet received FAA certification but they hope that will occur before the Reno Races when the Rocket Racing League hopes to have both craft in the air together.

For now though, a hearty congratulations to our readers at XCOR who made it possible.

XCOR powered rocket racer at Oshkosh
XCOR engined Rocket Racer in flight at Oshkosh. This was the only reasonable photo I could find: the email address of the press contact for RRL given on their site bounces!
Photo: Rocket Racing League

WhiteKnightTwo roll out

The first WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft was rolled out of its hanger in the Mojave desert on Monday. The second stage vehicle, SpaceShipTwo, has been held back due to the ongoing investigations into the test stand accident of one year ago. Although that accident was little more than a plumbing and pressure test, there is as yet no full understanding of exactly what happened. Because of this uncertainty, Burt has delayed much development of SpaceShipTwo so as to avoid building things he might later have to rip out. This is the reason why the target date for passenger service has slipped into the 2010 time frame.

Still, the roll out of WK2 is a major milestone. As you can see in the photo, it is not a small aircraft! You gain an even better impression of that size from the raw press release video clip. (if you do not have a quick time plug-in, you may need to download first)

VMS Eve Rollout
Monday July 28, 2008. Roll out of WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft ‘VMS Eve’ at Mojave Spaceport.
Photo: courtesy of Virgin Galactic

A close shave for one of the good guys

The excellent “swearblogger” at Devil’s Kitchen, recently suffered a nasty car accident. He’s okay, although his car was damaged. I could not help notice in the associated comments that some character called Neil Harding chose to make a cheap political crack about how this proved that we “individualists” who like cars should take the train instead. It was not a friendly word of sympathy for someone involved in a potentially fatal accident.

Maybe I am in a grumpy mood today, but please, would these car-haters, these collectivist train fans, please, please just go off to North Korea. Not everyone can rely on public transport, Mr Harding.

Trouble in paradise

The Times (of London) has a sobering editorial today about the level of crime in the Caribbean, following the recent murder involving a married couple on their honeymoon in Antigua. Jamaica has already developed a fearesome reputation for violence – Kingston is a particularly unpleasant place – and the problem is spreading. In its history, the area has been touched by violence, stretching back before the dark stain of Western-imposed slavery, of course. The pirate gangs who raped and pillaged their way across the area were not lovable rogues with parrots on their shoulders but brutes.

Of course, when it comes to recent times, experiences vary. I went to Barbados with friends several years ago and had a wonderful time and was struck by how friendly people were. Barbados is a great place, although I am rather saddened that the youngsters are not as keen on cricket as they used to be, but perhaps that is inevitable as sporting fashions change.

The Times argues that some folk have blamed the problems on tourism as something that has widened the gap between rich and poor. This seems a bit of a strange argument. Surely, without tourism, the region – assuming there was no other source of wealth – would be even poorer, making for an ever more desperate situation that there is now. More pertinently, the editorial argues that a major cause of violence are drug gangs. The Caribbean is a crossing point for the drugs that are exported by gangs out of South America, such as Columbia, and then on to the US and elsewhere. At no point does the Times address the issue of whether the illegality of drugs might be fuelling the criminal gangster culture that is allied to it.

And there is something else to consider. Since Britain joined the-then EEC, now European Union, the old British connections to the trading interests of the UK’s former colonies have been weakened. Imports of sugar and other produce were placed at a competitive disadvantage because of Britain’s membership of the absurd Common Agricultural Policy.

Finally, one of the latest issues to rear its head is the ongoing attempt by Western governments, such as the US, to crack down on tax havens such as The Cayman Islands. If a left-leaning, high-taxing Democrat administration gets into power with Mr Obama in the White House, life for such havens could get much tougher, with attendant impact on their business activities.

Falcon 1 status

You may remember I reported earlier this month that the launch window for the 3rd flight of the Falcon 1 opened around July 30 or thereabouts. We are now into that period and it looks like we might get a launch before the five day window closes: Falcon 1 is on the pad at Kwajalein.

There has been very little information floating around on the launch schedule this time so I will have to keep watching closely to make sure I do not miss a last minute announcement.

I will keep you informed.

A lot of reptiles

I came across this statistic here, stating that there will be 22,000 journalists at the Beijing Olympics next week.

The local bars will be doing a roaring trade, one hopes.


Is it becoming cool to mock the Greens?

It is unfair to expect writers to be consistent in their views from week to week. Consistency is the “hobgoblin of little minds” and all that. I am sure that if I wanted to, I could trawl back through this site and find something that jarred with what I write today, and I would not be at all surprised if that were to happen in the future. Even so, it does make me wonder when you read a comment like this, about a recent environmentalist doomongering film. The piece is by AA Gill, who is not exactly my favourite news columnist. The review is actually pretty good, to be fair. But then I remember that he writes that the only main benefit of the space race was to kindle interest in Green issues. So what gives?

It might be nice to think that he is learning that the Green movement, or at least its more militant parts, is in fact a menace. Maybe what is happening is that for a part of the London chattering classes, even that bit that likes to be thought of as “hip” and trendy, bashing Greenery is now socially acceptable, or at least no longer an activity that gets one sent into social oblivion. Maybe, just maybe Gill and his friends have picked this up during their dinner parties. “Oh, what about global warming darling?” is simply not clever any more. I bet he has poked fun at all those folk driving around in their Priuses and laughed himself hoarse at the motoring antics of popular TV shows like Top Gear and its merciless mockery of Green prudery.

Politics and culture can often shift in subtle ways. What is, and what is not, thought acceptable to mock often sets the tone for a few years. I get the impression, partly because of the darkening economic climate, that the Green movement has lost a little headway or may even be retreating in some respects.

Or perhaps I am reading too much into a few scraps of writings.

There is no way back for Labour

Janet Daley writes what I think is a wrong-headed article on how, if the Labour government gets rid of Gordon Brown and elects some younger, more “Blairite” leader claiming to support reform of public services, that this will put pressure on the Tories and may even convince enough gullible UK voters to stick with Labour.

I am sorry, but the problem with this thesis, which alas reflects how even an astute observer like Janet Daley has become a solid member of the Westminster Village, has little connection to reality. The UK public has had 11 years of New Labour. It remembers how, in the late 1990s, we were told that Labour could reform the Welfare state in the same way that only Richard Nixon could fix relations with the Chinese in the 1970s. Since then, the Welfare State has mushroomed, with its vast increase in the number of officials, a hideously complex system of tax and welfare credits; the education system becomes ever more bureacratic and despite a few improvements, falls way short of what one would expect, given the increase in spending. The NHS remains a mess: I have met quite a few NHS users who have, for instance, suffered from the MRSA bacterium. The public knows this. They just do not trust the Labour Party any more.

Of course, they are scarcely more trusting of David Cameron and the Tories. The problem for them is that their leading political figures are – with a few exceptions like William Hague – inexperienced in the world of business or life outside politics generally. Cameron gives me grave cause for concern; he is cast from the same, suffocating centrist mould as Blair. But there is just the remotest chance that some of the statist juggernaut might be arrested if the Tories were to win with a sufficiently large majority. It is a slim hope, but I do not see much else on the table.