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]

Stephen Wilkinson slobbers all over Young Mr Castro

I am only a very occasional Guardian reader, of things like classical CD reviews and cricket stories, but thanks to Mick Hartley, of whose blog I am a regular reader, I found my way to this classic of the grovelling courtier genre, perpetrated by a ridiculous creep named Stephen Wilkinson.

Wilkinson’s piece concerns the content of a two and half hour speech recently given by Fidel Castro’s younger brother. Although, Raul Castro is young only in the Young Mr Grace sense. Which is what I think we should now call this junior monster: Young Mr Castro. If a full-on comedy TV show about the Castro brothers happens, let it be called: Are You Being Shafted? But I digress.

The only people who will be unreservedly admiring of this piece by Stephen Wilkinson will be the geriatric despots on whose behalf and in pursuit of whose money it was presumably written, although if they realise how little anyone else will be impressed by it, other than for its comic appeal, even they may grumble. What Stephen Wilkinson feels about having written such a thing, one can only imagine. → Continue reading: Stephen Wilkinson slobbers all over Young Mr Castro

Half a century of microchips

The impact of these devices on our civilisation has been immense, whatever certain Luddites might claim. Wired magazine has a nice item about the 50th anniversary of the first microchip to be patented.

Asking people a very basic question…

This worthy project is about trying to get folks to examine their underpinning meta-context… the unspoken ‘givens’ that we all use to frame our view of the world that almost always go unexamined: well if you think that, then surely this should follow, no?

… and if you manage to reach people on that level, you can change many of their conclusions about a great many things.

Kim Jong-il looking at not very much fruit

NickM has a nice piece up today at Cats about a website called Kim Jong-il looking at things. He picks out a picture of Kim looking at some fruit:

What fascinates me about that image in particular is that whilst the side of the fruit stand facing Kim is laden with produce the side facing us looks a bit sparse. The Russians might have had Potemkin villages but it takes the true Juche lunacy of North Korea to have created the Potemkin fruit stand.

What fascinates me about these pictures is what often fascinates me about Potemkinity of all kinds, which is how it so often achieves the opposite of the desired effect. It presents what its presenters, now themselves probably living quite close to starvation (never mind all the regular people of this wretched country), imagine to be a miracle. But when the rest of us, out here in non-Kim world, look at their sad little picture, we merely shrug and note that capitalism of the most feeble and emaciated sort can do that with one arm tied behind its back, on a wet Thursday morning in an economically depressed inner suburb of a city that has been in relative decline for a century. We look at it, and we say: is that the best you can do?

For me, the obvious thing about Kim’s faked up fruit stand is that there is so very little fruit on it, compared to what there is room for. My local market, just the other side of Vauxhall Bridge Road from me, is a cornucopia by comparison.

The Not-so-great Malls of China

China’s Ghost Cities

Via Roger Pielke Jr, who got it from Lowy Interpreter. A commenter on Pielke’s blog writes:

I wonder how a command economy of China’s size will react when its controlled “bubbles” finally burst.


Another great unintentionally hilarious comment

As regulars may know, I delight in finding and occasionally republishing barking moonbat comments, since they are, in their little, sad way, a marker for our times. Take it away, music maestro!

“You mean, the anti-war movement that is comprised of the political action groups, the infiltration of which by the CIA, FBI (and now branches of our military) that Commander-in-Chief Ronald Reagan provided for by signing E.O. 12333 in December of 1981, which infiltration is “for the purpose of influencing the activity of [those groups]?” Don’t worry – it’ll be back. Our military dictatorship knows it has to keep up the pretense that America is still a free and open society in which dissent is possible, so they’ll trot out their anti-war movement whenever they instigate another conflict for profit – because, like the ancient barbarians, they believe that war is the organizing principle of society, which is why George W. Bush declared never-ending COVERT war for “hearts and minds” against those who dissent against them in 2003.”

A commenter called “Saoirse”, writing in response to a comment by the Wall Street Journal on the strange behaviour of the so-called “anti-war” movement in the age of Obama. (H/T, Econlog).

A zoom lens for the iPhone4

I’m looking forward to spotting (and snapping) my first one of these on the streets of London. The telephoto lens and the iPhone, I mean, not the mere iPhone.


I was expecting such an add-on to be priced at well over a hundred quid, if only because it has such a rich-guy’s-toy vibe about it. But actually it’s around fifty. But, does it work well? As yet, there appear to be no reviews. But click here to read the press release. In German.

My hope, and actually my expectation, is that as the years roll by and as cheap and cheerful camera technology continues to develop, my immense archive of cheap and cheerful snaps of cheap and cheerful cameras in action will get ever more fun to look back at.

A drawback of this lens might be, for some, that it makes it clear that you are definitely using your iPhone to take photos. There is no doubt that many of the powers that be would like to ban photography in public places altogether, by everyone except their noble selves, either because they really would or just for something to do. Historically, one of the more significant achievements of mobile phones with cameras may prove to be that they have made it impossible for some goon in a uniform to tell if you are taking photos, or merely texting or some such thing. If challenged while doing the former, you can protest that you were merely doing the latter. Simply, they couldn’t and can’t ban public photo-ing because they can’t spot when it’s happening.

Google Maps is a wonderful thing

A friend just emailed me to say that he is moving to a place in France somewhere, providing the name but nothing else. As it turned out, I guessed right about where this is, approximately, but it was only a guess. Within a minute I was able to turn a mere guess into pinpoint accuracy. It’s like having a complete A-Z map of the entire world with you at all times. Yeah, yeah, like, you didn’t know this. Of course you know this. But for me, resorting to something like Google Maps is still something I have to remember, from time to time, that I can do. And when I do, I feel like an Ethiopian of a hundred years ago seeing his first ocean liner.

If you grew up with this kind of thing, or if it arrived when you were a mere teenager, you wouldn’t regard it as very remarkable. No more so than I regard electric light if I flick a switch as remarkable, or fresh water if I turn on a tap. But, I didn’t and it didn’t.

Not everything in the world is getting better to put it mildly (and see below), but things like this are.

Samizdata quote of the day

Gordon Brown as the next head of the IMF? What a splendid idea – at least as long as Charlie Sheen is not available.

Detlev Schlichter

Confirming what many people believe about US debt

This will not surprise some of our regulars here, but I see that Standard & Poor’s, the rating agency has cut the debt rating and outlook for the US. (What kept you? Ed).

I’ll be intrigued as to how cheerleaders for current administration policy, such as Paul Krugman try and spin this. “Those evil bond market vigilantes…”

Time to start dusting off the “D” word.

Update: Talking of defaults closer to home, in Europe, Tim Worstall has been writing that it would be better for countries to openly discuss, and then manage, the chances of default rather than bury their heads in the sand. Meanwhile, Bloomberg columnist Matthew Lynn argues that the demise of the euro can and could be handled much more smoothly than many people believe. I hope he is right.

Another update: Dan Mitchell – of the Cato Institute, talks about lessons from Argentina. Oh great.

Exponential growth is a short term thing

During a discussion with other board members of the National Space Society, someone noted this lecture by Albert Bartlett, a retired Physics prof. at the University of Colorado-Boulder on the subject of “Arithmetic, Population, and Energy,” After watching it, I felt a discussion was in order on how someone can say things that are absolutely correct and yet not map them correctly to the boundary conditions in the reality we actually inhabit.

I had been putting this off due to an overly busy schedule but I finally had a little time free this morning and watched all eight sections. 1-6 are math; the remaining two are primarily politics. What I find wrong is what is missing. We all know how exponentials work and we all know that they do indeed stop in real life. In electronics a rising exponential means clipping, feedback, etc as the circuit response transitions from linear to nonlinear.

It is also present in economics and in demographics both of which have the S curve as a fundamental form. The S is a combination of a rising exponential and a falling exponential glued together at an inflection point. This is the ‘growth’ curve that matches the Bell Curve he shows for oil production. The two are closely related mathematically.The inflection point on the S-curve is the peak on the Bell.

A very big missing fact in his discussion is that population growth peaks in the mid to late part of this century by all the demographic studies I have seen. I was part of a University wide collection of summer seminar givers on this subject at CMU back in the early 1980’s (I presented in one course on the implications of the space option naturally). The UN projections that were part of our study guide showed a family of curves of which we seem to have followed the lower growth curve in the ensuing decades.

Even then it was known that the biggest factor reining in population growth is women’s education and per capita wealth. One could even say the faster economies of the third world grow, the sooner they are likely to get through the demographic transition (ie the S curve in populations) and the lower their final population will be. Europe went through the transition a century ago; the US in perhaps the 40’s (I would have to research that timings, I do not remember them precisely). China has gone through it also now and the population is still going up only because there is a coasting phase due to previous growth. In the terms I used earlier, they have passed the inflection point of the S curve or the peak of the Bell Curve.

Europe faces a collapsing population, a falling exponential, something that was not really predicted 30 years ago. Russia has a demographic disaster on its hands. Very few places still show population growth and those are primarily in the Middle East. It is no surprise this an area dominated by a culture where women are allowed the least control of their lives and bodies and are least likely to be educated.

The good professor also ignores economics although they show indirectly in his curve. Economics, not a bunch of self-congratulatory tree huggers, is the driving force behind a growing efficiency in products or the useful part of that efficiency at least. The market gives a price signal on a resource; capitalists then innovate to find ways to do the same with less or with different so they can make more money. This was the most important message from Julian Simon’s writings.

I found it interesting how he went out of his way to denigrate Julian Simon rather than engage the very real ideas Simon espoused. Most notable was the uncomfortable fact of the bet Simon won against Paul Erlich on the declining real price of resources. Perhaps the difference is that Simon’s world is one in which nonlinear dynamics rule. Simple linear models of classical physics are simply not a good model for economics or civilizations over the long term.

So, absolutely, long term exponential growth would be a bad thing if it ever really happened. But it will not. Population on the planet will stabilize; per capita use of resources will rise for a while after that until everyone in the world comes up to the wealth level of us hated capitalist Americans who have the temerity and the creativity to make our lives better than those with crap governments and worse cultures. They will emulate us, not vice versa.

Market signals and competition will drive down the per capita use of resources and the energy per unit of production; if we get lots of solar power satellites the actual energy per capita may go way, way up… but not necessarily as an exponential, or at least not one that runs for a long period of time.

I foresee stable planetary populations living at levels of wealth beyond the wildest dreams of our most creative billionaires. Since I just saw “Atlas Shrugged” yesterday afternoon, I very much hope we do not make our billionaires go on strike. They are the ones who make real things happen. Without the generations of their kind we would all still be spending our days watching the backside of a mule.

North and South

The US Civil War, a bloody conflict in which more than half a million people perished, started earlier this month, 150 years ago. I have occasionally written before about how historians, given their regional or ideological opinions, have revised the accounts of what happened, and some of the revisionists – especially from the Confederacy -friendly side, have been counter-attacked themselves. A book that stands in the revisionist tradition but which avoids some of the sillier forms of name-calling against Lincoln, while not downplaying the centralisation of power that came after the war ended, is a very fine study by Jeffrey Rogers Hummell, which I have started to read.

I see that Taki, the mega-rich columnist for the Spectator who is very much a part of the isolationist, paleocon Right, repeats the accusation that slavery, as an issue, never really emerged as a causus belli in the war until at least two years after the conflict started. That may well be true: the idea that the fight between the Union and the Confederacy was some sort of simple war between the forces of Northern good against Southern evil is wrong, or at least does not recognise the genuine grievances that some on the Southern side felt. Let’s not forget that war histories tend to get written by the victors. I can even see why some libertarians, for instance, look favourably upon the Confederacy in terms of the issues of states’ rights – if not the evil of slavery, obviously. But there are times when the enthusiasts for the Confederacy do make fools of themselves, and Taki does it with this little line in his Spectator column this week (behind a subscriber firewall)(page 55): “Lincoln did everything for effect, and his death even got him on the back of the five-dollar bill, whereas in my opinion he should have been tried in absensia for the crimes he committed during the war and the destruction he caused to one of the loveliest societies that ever existed, the antebellum south.” (Emphasis: mine). It is tempting to write Taki off as a bit of joke, a sort of ultra-conservative clown. Any man who can write of a society in which a large number of people were owned as slaves and subject to all the humiliations of slavery, as “one of the loveliest societies that ever existed”, deserves to be treated with the utmost contempt.

The scars of the Civil War still exist, and the issue has also roiled the libertarian movement in recent years. A case in point being the observations about the Lew Rockwell crowd by Timothy Sandefur, for instance.

Update: Sandefur has more thoughts.