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]

A toothless tail

I just picked this up from a Jane’s newsletter:

UK Conservatives plan procurement overhaul. The UK’s procurement process will undergo “root and branch reform” if the Conservative party wins the next General Election, Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox told the Jane’s UK Defence Conference on 7 September. The Conservative politician said that the current procurement team was bloated and required significant changes in personnel. “How can it be that, while we have a navy of only 34,000, we have almost 24,000 people working in procurement alone?” he asked. “Military personnel are routinely placed in roles inside the procurement process for which they do not have the required skills or experience.

As Glenn Reynolds is wont to say: “Indeed”.

One big step for colonization

There is a rumour floating about that a lot of water has been found on the moon:

Reliable sources report that there will be a press conference at NASA HQ at 2:00 pm this Thursday featuring lunar scientist Carle Pieters from Brown University.

The topic of the press briefing will be a paper that will appear in this week’s issue of Science magazine wherein results from the Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) aboard Chandrayaan-1 will be revealed.

There is both good and bad to this discovery from our viewpoint. Much will depend on whether the deposits are limited to polar cold traps as has long been suspected or are to be find over a broader polar area. The presence of ice cuts down the required consumables budget for any lunar settlement. The fewer bulk imports required, the nearer the time at which settlement is feasible. The downside is an International Regime led by the United Nations no doubt will be created to ration this valuable resource.

My presumption is they have finally found large deposits of real ice inside some of the polar region craters. The theory for the last thirty years has been that when comets strike the moon, most of the volatiles escape into space, but some linger long enough to find their way into the shadowed polar craters where the temperature is so low that water cannot remain a gas even in vacuum. About 25 years ago I helped a friend of mine, Dr. Francis Graham, to gain funding from the Space Studies Institute to do some telescope work on this problem. His results were negative but I believe Francis may have been one of the first to attempt the search.

Mr Obama’s not-so-deft foreign policy

Here is a nice little video, via the blog of Tom G. Palmer, singing the praises of free trade, ahead of the upcoming G-20 meeting in the US. Incidentally, the recent decision by The Community Organiser to slap tariffs on Chinese tyre imports – focusing particularly on China – looks to be especially dumb. Given that the Asian giant holds rather a lot of US debt, and has the ability to switch dollars for euros on a vast scale, making such a move seems almost reckless. About as clever as moving to switch off anti-missile defence over Poland on the 70th anniversary of Hitler’s invasion of Poland. In the latter case, the decision may have been right on specific military grounds, but the timing was dumb. Was not part of the appeal of the chap from Chicago that he did not make such errors?

We were promised that Mr Obama would be all smooth and charming to other countries, unlike the terribly vulgar Mr Bush with his Texan drawl (sarcasm alert). But I am not really sure that Mr Obama is not as capable of making an even more dangerous mistake: he pisses off really important, or potentially important, allies and large economies in a position to act. Annoying the French, as Mr Bush wonderfully did, is hardly a mistake, but hitting China with a very public act of protectionism, most decidedly is.

This is why we need an ID database as well

The Castrol oil company (a subsidiary of BP) is about the run an advertising campaign that does the following:

At certain intersections, they will be erecting electronic billboards combined with cameras. Cameras will photograph registration plates of oncoming vehicles. Using the registration data, the make and model of car will be pulled from a database that has been helpfully sold to Castrol by the DVLA (ie the government body that handles vehicle registrations in most of the UK). The billboard will then displace to the motorist recommending which particular type of oil should be used in his car.

No registration data will be stored for later use. I guess that makes it all right then.

Someone please tell me that this is an April Fools joke. Yes, I know it is September.

Real or Photoshop?

Because of my interests and network of friends in the business, things of interest often cross my virtual (and real) desk. Sometimes they are surprising. This time my jaw is still laying under the desk and I am applying a healthy dose of skepticism until I really, really am sure these are real and not exceedingly good fakes. I do not think they are and I have examined them closely. The first is the F/A-37, reportedly capable of Mach 3.5 supercruise and top speed in excess of Mach 4. It is shown on board the USN George Washington for catapult fit tests according to the source.

The only thing I can say about this one is it has some familiar resemblance to some test articles I am aware of, and it looks a bit like some things which have been described coming out of Groom Lake. Other than that, it has me absolutely flat-footed… if it is real.

F/A-37 prototype on George Washington
F/A-37 prototype on USN George Washington.
Photo: original source unknown (Now pinned down to the making of the movie “Stealth”)

The second aircraft caught me only a little less flat footed. I am well aware of the base design of the aircraft but to my knowledge it was just a concept design, something that might or might not be built 20 years from now. Given the efficiency and strength and capacity (larger than the Airbus 280) this has got to have Airbus executives reaching for the Maalox… if it is real.

Boeing 797
Boeing 797 Blended Wing/Body aircraft.
Photo: original source unknown. (Now pinned down as photoshopped.)

Given that these images are now slithering their way around the mailboxes of the cognoscenti, I am certain we will be hearing more about them one way or the other. I think this is on the up and up, but I am just not yet sure of it.

So, any comments on what has this Samizdata Editor in a state of flabbergasted shock?

Gekko is out of jail, and he’s angry

Even though I dislike most Oliver Stone films, Wall Street is one of my favourites, precisely because the “Greed is Good” speech is essentially correct even if the word “greed” is a bit misleading. Which is why I might just take a risk and watch this sequel when it hits the UK.

Madsen Pirie’s reduced philosophy book

Madsen Pirie has a new book, 101 Great Philosophers. It’s an amazingly compact account of the ideas of those who made modern thought. It’s a heroic venture, romping through the giants of Western civilization at a cracking pace which allows only 400 words on each of them. The result is a highly condensed overview of philosophy and philosophers, enough to give even a beginner a working grasp of what it’s all about, but with enough meat to interest philosophers themselves in his take on the subject.

It takes a cool analytical brain to do this (which Madsen has), and he has produced a book that will lead many into a subject they had previously only wished they knew more about. I rather think that academic philosophers will disparage it, largely because it demystifies their subject. Their careers are made by writing technical papers for each other that bear little on what philosophy can offer to our lives.

In an age when people demand condensed information they can absorb quickly, I think Madsen has produced a book that delivers the goods. Its available from Amazon, and it’s a fascinating and highly informative read.


It is not just the economic downturn that has got us deep in debt, it is a consumerist politics in which our elected representatives feel compelled to tell us we can have our cake, eat it and walk out without paying.

Writes Matthew Taylor, former policy adviser to the Blair government, in today’s Times. I think that is not quite right. Not “feel compelled” – “are compelled”. Elected representatives do not stay elected very long unless they maintain the fiction for those who voted for them that someone else is less deserving, someone else is paying.

Taylor says ‘leadership’ is the answer. I wonder why we should believe that, when politicians are actually exercising leadership all the time, in the manner their interests direct. Leadership conferred by outbidding other leaders for the favour of the public is precisely where consumerist politics comes from.

Samizdata quote of the day

Can an individual, or body of people, acting without thought, in a mood of crowd-pleasing over-excitement, amid a succession of equally superfluous and ill-considered acts, be said to have consciously intended anything at all? In an ideal world, there would be effective safeguards against such people.

Catherine Bennett, on the will of parliament, in Britain the manner of exercising and dispensing absolute power.

Great minds think alike

I see that the swear-blogger with a nice turn of phrase, Obnoxio The Clown, has developed a love for Malta. Good observations he makes, not least about the lovely ladies of said island. Indeed – I am married to one of them. Anyway, in a week’s time from today, yours truly will complete his scuba diving course – done with the PADI organisation – in the island of Gozo, just to the north of Malta. Weather conditions should be good. I will not be allowed to dive more than a certain level in my course – you have to do more training to go much deeper – but the views promise to be spectacular.

The seas around Malta are very deep, so I don’t know whether I will get to see any wrecks. One of the grim aspects of that part of the world is how much stuff was sunk during WW2. There must be loads of bits of old RAF and German aircraft down there as well, I would imagine.

Sci Fi corridors!

Via the David Thompson blog – which has a weird and wonderful collection of oddball stuff every Friday, I came across this aspect of science fiction movies.

Some nifty photos and links on this website as well.

Samizdata quote of the day

“To anyone who pays more attention to Ben Bernanke than Ben Affleck, walking away from a prime gig like Palin’s was virtually incomprehensible, signalling either imminent scandal or incipient dementia. To the rest of America, Palin’s move made perfect sense, firmly cementing her status as perhaps the one politician who truly feels our ennui. First she cheerfully admitted that she had no idea what the vice president actually does all day (just like me!) Then she stared blankly when asked to reveal her thoughts on the Bush Doctrine (the what?) Then, after earning even higher Nielsen ratings in her first big prime-time showcase than the American Idol finale, only to return to Alaska and the dull reality of mulling over potential appointees to the Board of Barbers and Hair Dressers, she bailed. Sorry, politics, she’s just not that into you.”

Greg Beato.

He’s talking about how the media/political establishment was befuddled by Sarah Palin’s resignation from the Alaska governorship a few months ago.