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

Resistance to sending bad news up the chain is typical of any authoritarian regime.

Stephen Green

Melanie Phillips on why she left the Left – and in particular on antisemitism

Just now, a lot of people have a lot of time on their hands, and might therefore be open to the idea of watching and listening to a talking head for the best part of an hour. Accordingly, I now recommend this video interview, which I myself have just watched for the first time. Steve Edginton of the Sun newspaper asks a few short questions. Melanie Phillips supplies some much longer answers.

At the end of the interview, Phillips mentions a couple of relevant books she has written. These are her novel, The Legacy, and her memoir about how she used to work for the Guardian, Guardian Angel: My Journey from Leftism to Sanity.

A lot of us also now have more time for books. For actually reading them, I mean.

Melanie Phillips did this interview a few days ago. I wrote this Samizdata posting about Labour antisemitism in May 2018. I deduced what I did from the distant din of battles which I was not personally part of. Phillips tells the same story from direct personal experience, along with several other closely related stories.

Like I say: highly recommended.

Thoughts provoked by some 3D printed miniature magnets

Beneath and beyond all the fretting we’re all now doing about The Virus, the onward march of technology continues.

I get emails from Google about advances in 3D printing, and each email contains lots of links, far more links than in any other Google emails I get on other subjects.

Links like this one, to a report about some newly contrived magnets:

Note the bit at the bottom on the right, where you learn the size of these things. They are very small.

Why are miniature magnets like this so important? And why do they have to be 3D printed? That’s what ignorami like me want to know. The anonymous writer of the report accordingly begins it thus:

Magnetic materials are an important component of mechatronic devices such as wind power stations, electric motors, sensors and magnetic switch systems. Magnets are usually produced using rare earths and conventional manufacturing methods. …

A bit later he says:

Permanent magnets are incorporated into a number of mechatronic applications. Traditional manufacturing methods such as sintering or injection moulding are not always able to cope with increasing miniaturisation and the resulting geometric requirements for magnets, and this is a trend which is sent to continue in the future. Additive manufacturing processes offer the necessary freedom of design. …

I had to look up sintering. Blog and learn.

→ Continue reading: Thoughts provoked by some 3D printed miniature magnets

Samizdata quote of the day

The 1619 project wasn’t about being right. It wasn’t even about history. It was about pushing an anti-American narrative. It’s best understood as a psywar operation aimed at demoralizing the enemy, in this case the American people.

Glenn Reynolds

One of my favourite places to find SQotDs is in the little summaries of issues that Glenn Reynolds often adds to the links he supplies.

An algorithmic snake brain and an algorithmic world

At my personal blog, on Friday February 28th (Friday being my day for animal kingdom related stuff, most of it very silly), I posted a link (among other links of a similar level of profundity) to a video, of a snake that had swallowed a towel having the towel extracted back through its mouth by helpful vets. Ho, ho.

The link I posted, to a tweet someone had done, no longer works, but here is the drama I’m referring to.

But now, today, AndrewZ added a comment to that posting of mine which seems to me to deserve rather wider attention than it would get if I merely left it where he first put it. He wrote this:

A snake is a simple creature driven by its instincts. It follows a set of hardwired rules which it can’t question and which can lead to dangerous errors when it encounters something outside of its normal experience, like a towel. In other words, a snake’s mind is a very limited algorithm. But the world today is saturated with algorithms, from Facebook to FinTech to facial recognition systems used by the police and ten thousand other things. The $64,000 question – perhaps, the $64 billion dollar question or the 64,000 lives question – is how many of them are still operating at the “dumb snake swallows a towel” level of sophistication.

This is not, to put it mildly, my area of expertise. But, on the other hand, this is just the kind of thing that the Samizdata commentariat enjoys chewing on, metaphorically speaking. So, ladies and gents, chew away.

Jurgen Klopp gives a much admired answer to a question he was not asked

The English Football Premier League is one of the world’s great sporting tournaments, and as the current season now nears its end, Liverpool have a huge lead of over twenty points over their nearest rival club. This is, despite a recent stumble in Liverpool’s form, an amazing achievement. (Our own Patrick Crozier, a Watford supporter, might enjoy commenting on that stumble.) This all comes after Liverpool, last season, won the European Championship. All football fans, whether paid or unpaid, are now inclined to regard everything that Liverpool’s hugely engaging and obviously very smart manager Jurgen Klopp says or does as evidence of his all-round human wonderfulness.

Personally, I greatly prefer following football on television and on the internet to actually going to games, which are too noisy, expensive and time-consuming for my tastes and for my fading eyesight. I prefer classical concerts at the Wigmore Hall. (I recently attended this concert there. Stu – I’m now deploying a verbal device that Americans often like to use when they really want to ram their point home, often by swearing at this point – pendous.) Nevertheless, from a virtual distance, I too am a football fan, and so I share the general admiration for Jurgen Klopp.

The above explains why Klopp is getting so much admiring attention for what he recently said about the coronavirus. Klopp was, MarketWatch reports:

… responding to a reporter who asked if the famed Liverpool coach is concerned about the spread of the coronavirus.

Here is how Klopp responded to this question:

“What I don’t like in life is that a very serious thing, a football manager’s opinion is important,” Klopp explained. “We have to speak about things in the right manner, not people with no knowledge, like me, talking about something. People with knowledge will talk about it and tell people to do this, do that, and everything will be fine, or not. Not football managers, I don’t understand that.”

Cue an orgy of admiration for what a stellar human being Klopp is, for saying something so very, very wise. What a guy!

But, perhaps because I only admire people like Klopp from a virtual distance, I am able to dissent. I think that this was an excellent answer by Klopp, to a question that he wasn’t actually asked. He wasn’t asked what he thinks will be the future progress of the coronavirus. He was merely being asked whether he was worried about it. Any conscientious football club manager must now be anxious about how the coronavirus might affect his club in the weeks and months to come, and to be listening out carefully to learn what derangements look like being imposed upon the world and the country in general, and upon professional football in particular. Klopp doesn’t have to be an expert on infectious diseases to be worried about the spread of one of these devilish things while it is still spreading and still killing people, and more to the point while it is causing sporting authorities to ponder doing things like cancelling all heavily-attended sports events for the duration of the coronavirus problem. He just has to be a semi-intelligent person who is keeping half an eye on the news.

To the actual question that Klopp was asked, a simple Yes would have sufficed. Yes, he is worried, as are most other people, and worried precisely because he, Jurgen Klopp, does indeed not know what the coronavirus will do next. He might then have added a few words to the effect that he was already thinking about how future games might be affected, and about what he would be telling his players if cancellations and general disruption of sport in the UK, along the lines of what is already happening in Italy, do shortly ensue.

The comments Klopp made on the habit of regarding people who are celebrated in one field as experts in other fields are very sensible, or would have been had that been what he had been asked about. But I also dissent somewhat from that. Not in the sense that I regard successful football managers as experts on all other things. It’s more that I reckon you can also overdo the reverence for the pronouncements of “experts“. Experts can often be very right, but they are often wrong. The rest of us ought at least to be willing to question the supposed experts, and then ask ourselves if their answers make as much sense as they are claiming.

Samizdata quote of the day

Has this ever been an SQotD before? If not, here it is, and if it has, good and here it is again:

Twitter presented this to me today.

Here is what Wikipedia says about George MacDonald.

Twenty four more George MacDonald quotes, and the one above, here.

Why Jack Powell and 1828 are not wasting their time trying to influence the Conservative Party – despite what Steve Davies says

Tomorrow evening, I am hosting a talk at my home which will be given by Jack Powell. Here’s the short biographical note that Powell sent me, to send out to my email list of potential attenders:

Jack Powell founded 1828, which is a new neoliberal news and opinion website, to champion freedom, especially within British Conservative politics. He is the editor of the website as well as being in his final year at King’s College London, studying Spanish and Portuguese.

Interesting guy. Here is the link to the 1828 website.

In the spiel about his talk that followed, Powell goes on to say that 1828 is especially trying to champion freedom in British universities. What this actually means is that he’ll be operating in the territory where politicians and students come together, to think about the bigger picture. An important spot in the political landscape, I think.

In general, Powell’s blurb for his talk abounds with ambition, energy, enthusiasm, attention to detail, and also with the names of Conservative Party politicians (Liz Truss, Priti Patel) and Media organisations (CapX, Guido, Quillette, New Statesman) with whom 1828 has had dealings and who have said good things about the efforts that Powell and the rest of the 1828 team have been making.

I have spent my libertarian life so far trying to spread libertarianism way beyond the merely party political arena, an approach which paid off big time when the internet arrived, in the form of such wonders as, well, Samizdata. But part of the reason I did that was that when I started out being a libertarian activist, it seemed to me that too many people were doing only party politics, and not enough people were trumpetting broader and undiluted libertarian principles to the wider world. There was not nearly enough proclaiming of the libertarian “metacontext”, as we here like to put it. But ever since that earlier time, the last two decades of the previous century basically, the Conservative Party, and in particular its youth membership, has moved away from those freedom-oriented principles and towards the as-much-government-as-we-can-afford-and-then-some position. I am very glad that people like Jack Powell are now trying to reverse that trend.

Recently, and I’m not changing the subject, I attended a talk given by Steve Davies, in which he talked, as he frequently does these days, about political realignment. In particular, Davies has long been noticing a definite shift by the Conservative Party away from free market policies and towards economic dirigisme. This shift, he says, is no mere whim of the people who happen to have been leading the party. He sees a deeper trend in action. So, does that mean that Jack Powell and his fellow 1828-ers are wasting their time talking to and listening to Conservative politicians?

My short answer is: No, they are not.

I say this not because I assume that Davies is wrong about where he sees the Conservatives going. I now suspect that he exaggerates this shift somewhat, but the policy direction he sees is the direction I also see, as, now, do many others. But that doesn’t mean that 1828-ers communing with Truss, Patel and also with the likes of the recently resigned Chancellor Sajid Javid and with the likes of Steve Baker won’t count for anything. When politics goes through upheavals of the sort that Davies now observes, this doesn’t mean that all the politicians who lose internal battles within their parties just vanish. Some do, but others often hang around and find new party settings to operate in, new allies to collaborate with. Davies himself said this in his talk, and offered historical examples of just such behaviour, by William Gladstone for example. Therefore, any time and effort that the 1828-ers spend talking to, listening to and generally cheering on freedom-sympathetic politicians could end up being very significant, no matter what happens to the broader political landscape.

You can never be entirely sure, but neither Sajid Javid nor Steve Baker seem to me like they are about to just fade away without any more fight.

Baker in particular, fresh from his Brexit agonies and ecstasies, is now making all sorts of promising noises. Scroll down, for instance, to the bottom of this piece, where it says:

The outgoing ERG chair has said he wanted to focus more on constituents and that it was time for him to “return to certain economic issues which I consider as least as important to the future of the country as exiting the EU”.

The writer of the piece, David Scullion, adds:

The Wycombe MP is known to be critical of the current system of global finance and what he sees as the problems of Keynesian ‘easy money’.

If you doubt Baker’s continuing commitment to such ideas, just listen to what he starts saying about two thirds of the way through this very recent interview with Scullion. That’s the same link twice, but that’s not the half of what it deserves. Really, seriously. As I believe they say on American battleships: Now hear this! Now hear this! Not many politicians have major impact on two huge issues in one career and in one lifetime, but if I had to pick someone who might be about to score two out of two, I’d now bet on Baker.

So, whatever Jack Powell and his 1828 mates manage to accomplish in the years to come, it is likely to do some good. Listening to him talk about that tomorrow evening will be very interesting.

A recorded conversation about the Falklands War

Just to give a light tap to a small drum, which nobody else will tap if neither of us does, and just to say: fellow Samizdatista Patrick Crozier and I recently did one of our recorded-and-internetted conversations, this time about that strange event called in these parts: The Falklands War, which happened in early 1982. Listen to this by going here. Further thoughts about this historical event and this conversation from me here. (See also an earlier posting I did, about a very strange British public personality who emerged onto British TV during that war.)

Somewhat inconveniently, for many, our conversation does rather go on a bit, for over an hour. But I have recently been finding myself spending what used to be my television time instead listening to things not unlike these conversations that Patrick and I have taken to doing – podcasts, YouTubery and so forth (many of these things involving Dave Rubin (a recent discovery of mine)). So I thought it worth mentioning our effort(s) here.

How a standard rut gauge created a standard rail gauge

Some MapPorn:

This is a map of the world’s different railway gauges.

Fun fact, if fact it be. In the schmoozing after a talk I attended earlier in the week, someone told me that Britain’s four foot eight-and-a-half inch gauge is the result of how far apart horse-drawn carriages had their wheels, in the pre-railways north-east of England, that being where the railways in Britain got started. The point being that such carriages also had a standard gauge. Their wheels dug ruts in the un-tarred roads of those times, so if your carriage had a different “gauge”, it couldn’t travel in those ruts, and thus couldn’t travel at all. These ruts were rails before rails. And that regular distance apart transferred itself to the newly emerging railways.

I haven’t checked this. I didn’t want to bother with any facts that might destroy my story, until I’d told my story. But as of now: feel free to destroy away.

Another question: Will the railway gauges of the world ever change? By which I mean get somewhat less numerous. Say: As a result of some sort of new intercontinental high speed rail system being developed. I seem to recall reading that in Spain, the new high speed trains are the same gauge as those in France (and thus also Britain) and different from the regular Spanish gauge. Or would a some futuristic global high speed system will just add yet another standard? (Will Brunel’s preferred seven foot gauge for the old Great Western line rise from the dead and conquer the world? Guess: No.)

Cue the commentariat who will, I predict, change the subject to the QWERTY keyboard, and then disagree about how that happened, and about how keyboards will be in two hundred years time.

Samizdata quote of the day

I did not pick this gem out of the mud all by myself. This has been the quote of the day at all sorts of places, this one included, for quite a few hours:

Next up, Walker’s crisps and Pringles.

Architecture wars

Robinson Meyer tweets:

If most Americans hate architectural abstraction and Mies-inspired modernism, then there’s still a compromise solution. It’s simple: All federal buildings should be designed in the style of India’s National Fisheries Development Board.

Trump has put architecture centre stage in the culture wars. Which will make it all much more interesting. Especially if more creature buildings are built, like the one in the picture above. And especially if they built something like a huge panda building or huge frog building, in Washington.

Eventually, there should be a giant building in Washington, the tallest in town, shaped like Donald Trump. A giant Trump sculpture. That would drain the swamp. They’d all flee in terror.

To be a bit more serious, but only a bit, just think about Trump’s edict, which says that from now on, all Federal Government buildings in the USA must be designed in the “classical” style. No more office blocks looking like multi-story car parks or international space stations. From now on, they’ll have to have a Parthenonic frontage stuck onto them.

Were any such buildings actually to get built, everyone who looks at one of these buildings is going to see … Trump. But all the people who work in government buildings hate Trump from the depths of their tax-dollar-sucking bossy-boots souls. So, they’ll make a huge stink to ensure that no such buildings ever get built. How beautiful is that? The governmental classes will, for the duration of Trump’s reign of architectural terror, expend huge amounts of energy opposing the expansion of the Federal Government.

The more I hear and see of Trump, the more I like him. But I’m talking about America, and what do I know about America? Luckily, we have plenty of commenters who do know about America, because they live there. Gentlemen, start your engines.