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]

Samizdata quote of the day

… to postulate an ideal society for which there is no precedent within the human experience, as many political theorists, including Karl Marx, have done, is very much like postulating an alternative biology without reference to the sort of biological structures that have so far proved viable.

– the late Edward Goldsmith, who, though he fitted very well the formal definition of a barking moonbat, definitely was not as mad as many say. The coherence of his approach his willingness to accept the logical consequence of ecolgism was especially troubling to Greens, who were embarrassed by the outright repudiation by one of the fathers of their church of its latterly adopted New Left values.

And this is not a criminal enterprise?

A few evenings ago I came across this graph. Some of you may also have seen it recently as it seems to be one of those things which is making the rounds:

Inflation starts with the Fed.
The Fed and inflation.

It shows inflation as we know it pretty much begins with the creation of the Fed. The buying power of a dollar slowly appreciated between the founding of the US and the start of the Fed; over the next century that value has plummeted. As we are wont to say here at Samizdata: “The State is not your friend.”

You can read more about it here.

Nokia of the future

Nokia has taken a stab at what might be possible with materials that will be available before the end of the next decade.

Phones that are foldable, do not get dirty, do not need recharging and look really neat as well may be the next step beyond the Apple iPhone.

The Encyclopedia of Life

If you have even the slightest interest in nature or biology, you will love The Encyclopedia of Life. It is an attempt to put all the world’s taxonomy data in one easily searched location. Presumably they will one day attach the full genome of each critter as well!

Oh how I wish I had this available when I was a kid. I knew just about everything that walked, crawled, slithered, swam or flew in Western Pennsylvania and was working away at the rest of the world when I was 14 or so!

Two instances of the police getting above themselves

Thanks to the wonders of the internet I found out via US blogger Coyote about events in Richmond upon Thames. I used to go into Richmond every Saturday with a gaggle of other eleven year old girls to shop for three hours and eventually buy a notebook with a picture of a cat on it for seventeen and a half pence. Perhaps the place has gone downhill since I knew it: now it seems that the police of Richmond are taking valuables from unlocked cars “to drive home an anti-theft message.” It’s all right, you get your valuables back. Eventually. But you have to go round to the station to do it. You know, in some circumstances, that might be troublesome.

Can anyone versed in the laws of England explain whether this is, if not theft, at least “taking without the owner’s consent”, as the charge sheets for joyriders used to say?

On the same theme, Longrider has a story about the police in Northamptonshire impounding cars if the same car with foreign plates is seen twice more than six months apart. A Mr West writes:

I live in Spain for about seven months of the year and France for the other five. My Spanish-registered car was impounded in March after two short visits to the UK within nine months of each other.

At the start of 2009, a pilot scheme called Operation Andover started in Northamptonshire, with any foreign vehicle seen just twice, more than six months apart, being impounded without warning.

Once again, Mr West got his car back, eventually. But he had to fight not to pay a fee of several hundred pounds. As he points out, an enormously common reason for a foreign registered car being seen twice in the same place a year apart might be, not the effort to evade paying UK road tax that the police seem (pretend?) to suspect, but regular visitors coming to Britain at about the same time every year.

I fear they may not like him much

Reykjavik, Iceland. August 2009.


Why do so many libertarians like insurance models, when they hate regulation and the precautionary state?

Insurance companies are at least as risk averse as public bureaucrats, and more minute judges of behaviour, since they have a direct interest. If we let insurance companies decide road speed limits, the man with a red flag walking in front of every motor vehicle would be back after 110 years’ retirement.

Samizdata quote of the day

“I want simply to learn about the world and to live freely.”

Laura Dekker

And she is indeed learning about the world… that states regard people who wish to act on their desire to be free as deeply suspicious. Get out of the Netherlands and stay on your boat, my dear, because the state clearly owns you at the moment.

Historicism and science

As I proceed deeper into Popper, I have pondered his ideas on ‘historicism’, the idea that one can define a set of laws of history. Within the context he is arguing I must say that he is correct. Popper argues such laws are unscientific because they are not falsifiable. This is true for the case of all of which I am aware, whether several millinnia ago or within recent memory. But is it a true statement or is it an over-application of inductive reasoning?

I do not think we know enough to make that general of a statement about the possibility of historical laws. With the knowledge at hand we are probably on safe ground to agree that racially based, class-based and simple projections of past events onto future history are non-starters. So what would it take to really have a ‘Seldon Theory’?

Science requires data. Hypotheses must be based on data and should be falsifiable by uncovering new data or effects which are sufficiently counter to the predications of theory so as to bring its viability into question. To do that with history we need not one history but many. True, we can analyze numerous Earthly civilizations from different times and places, but that is not enough. We simply do not have enough detail about many of them. Perhaps new developments in Archaeology will one day make such data available, but for the present we have only a small number of historical, independent civilizations from which to work.

Even worse, were we to generate a theory that was applicable to such pre-technological societies, those theories would still fall upon the same problem when looking at what comes after, because once technology arrives on a planet, the boundaries become fuzzy very quickly and you are back to having only one data point. You cannot build a theory on a single data point. Even worse, we are in a technological civilization in which the rate of change grows more rapid with each passing year. How can you generate any sort of prediction about a world with wildly different characteristics from your own, none of which are knowable to you? How could a Scientific Historian of, say 1950, predict much of anything about a world with global access to virtually all of human knowledge, blogs, twitterers, computerized phones more powerful than Colossus and a third world that is not quite so third any more?

The simple answer is: “They would not have had a prayer of being right.”

So have I proved a Theory of History is impossible? No, far from it. I have simply framed the obvious limitations of the data available to us. It is insufficient to allow anything like a hard science of history to develop. That does not mean such data will never be available. Let us posit one possible future in which there might be true scientists working in such a field…

It would be some hundreds if not thousands of years hence. Humanity has gone to the stars and we have studied the histories of hundreds of other sentient races. We have put our AI’s to work for some decades to analyze and categorize; we have looked at vast amounts of cross-galactic statistical data; we have framed the areas where mathematical Chaos reigns and know the likely set of outcomes. Our learned future historical scientists are arguing over what experimental data is required to falsify their theories: ie, can we find a civilization X in which Y occurred?

Then and only then could we say that history is a science. Of course we still do have a problem. Unless we run across an elder civilization willing to talk to us, we still cannot predict our own future at all. We can only do so for civilizations at earlier stages of development than our own.

Thus Popper still wins the argument against Historicism as a self-analysis tool even in the far future.

Filthy lucre and the UK’s relations with Libya

There have been so many incidents that some have described as being the death blow to the current UK government that one wonders whether any single news event will finish this lot of creeps off. But for a glimpse at the sheer, wanton corruption and venality of this administration, the story of the various relationships between those involved in handing over a convicted mass murderer to Libya gives you some idea of the morality of this government. It is appropriate that the article was written by Andrew Neil, a proud Scot and Anglospherist who is justly appalled at the behaviour of both the UK and Scottish administrations.

And yet the capacity of such stories to shock, while it should not be underestimated, needs to be put into some sort of perspective. Let’s face it, governments of Left and Right, be they French, American or British, have sold weapons and munitions to often odious regimes in the past, or done commercial deals that don’t bear too much scrutiny. Remember the UK Matrix-Churchill “supergun” affair of the 1990s? Remember the 1986 Iran/Contra kerfuffle that marred the second Reagan term, or the recent issue of British defence firm BAE Systems and sales to the Saudi government? There has been a history of Western governments willing to set aside certain scruples in the name of exports.

The Libyan affair is a grubby business, to be sure. But there is, alas, nothing remotely surprising about how the various parties have behaved.

Genetic modification of pulp-producing forests

The world of genetically modified plants took an interesting commercial turn, according to this story by Bloomberg that caught my eye.

Samizdata quote of the day

“An old guy’s wife tells him to go to the butcher shop and get some meat. He goes to the butcher shop and stands in line for hours. Finally the butcher says, “We’re out of meat.” The old guy blows his top. He yells, “I am a worker! I am a proletarian! I am a veteran of the Great Patriotic War! I have fought for socialism all my life, and now you tell me you’re out of meat! What kind of a system is this?! You are fools! You are thieves! . . . ” A big man in a trench coat comes up to the old guy and says, “Comrade, Comrade, not so loud. In the old days you know what they would do if you said such things.” The big man in the trench coat makes a pistol motion with his hand. He says to the old guy, “Calm down and go home.” The old guy shrugs and leaves. He comes back empty-handed, and his wife says, “What’s the matter, are they out of meat?” “Worse than that,” says the old guy, “they’re out of bullets.”

An old Russian joke, as told by the one and only PJ O’Rourke.