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]

Greenpeace claim a monumental win against the Filipino poor

The Observer is editorially independent from the Guardian, and sometimes it demonstrates that fact to good effect. Today’s edition included this article: “‘A catastrophe’: Greenpeace blocks planting of ‘lifesaving’ Golden Rice”.

Scientists have warned that a court decision to block the growing of the genetically modified (GM) crop golden rice in the Philippines could have catastrophic consequences. Tens of thousands of children could die in the wake of the ruling, they argue.

The Philippines had become the first country – in 2021 – to approve the commercial cultivation of golden rice, which was developed to combat vitamin-A deficiency, a major cause of disability and death among children in many parts of the world.

But campaigns by Greenpeace and local farmers last month persuaded the country’s court of appeal to overturn that approval and to revoke this. The groups had argued that golden rice had not been shown to be safe and the claim was backed by the court, a decision that was hailed as “a monumental win” by Greenpeace.

Samizdata quote of the day – AI ate my homework

The only way the jobs can go is if the machines are now doing the work formerly done by humans. Which means that we gain the same output without the human labour input. That’s an increase in the productivity of human labour – the main driver of increases in human wealth.

What fucking value destruction?

Tim Worstall

Samizdata quote of the day – rationing is good for you, donchaknow?

Not surprisingly, take-up of smart meters has been far slower than governments have hoped. Nobody wants a device in their home whose only function will be to enable an energy company to charge them five quid for a shower before work. Yet to avoid public pushback, ministers since Miliband have falsely claimed that smart meters will help households ‘reduce bills’ and put the onus on energy retailers to implement the rollout – if they don’t show sufficient effort in enforcement of the Government’s policy, they can then be fined. Thus, the public standing of energy companies has diminished over the duration, fuelling a growing antagonism between customers and retailers, as smart meters and other policies, such as the destruction of coal-fired power stations, have caused power prices to triple since the early 2000s. Energy companies take much of the blame for Westminster’s policy failures.

Don’t misunderstand the point. This is not a defence of energy companies. Of course, companies like National Grid have their greedy eyes on the opportunities created for them by green dirigisme. But only a fool would expect them not to. And one thing that there is no scarcity of is fools in SW1A. Energy companies have been relatively candid, if one cares to look, whereas Energy and Environment Ministers, from Gummer, Yeo, and Huhne, to more ideological zombies such as Miliband and Davey, have promised that climate targets can be hit with no downsides. But whereas the targets are binding in law, the upsides they promise are not. Anyway, rationing is good for you, donchaknow?

– Ben Pile

Crushing forgiveness

This is the most repulsive, counter-productive advertisement I have ever seen:

But it is still less sinister and arrogant than this:

Goodbye scientific worldview, it was nice knowing you

There is a fine article by James B. Meigs in City Journal: “Unscientific American – Science journalism surrenders to progressive ideology”

The article is framed around the decline of Scientific American but branches out into discussion of the decline of the scientific American, and, indeed the decline of the scientifically-minded citizen of the world.

You used to read about such people everywhere. You used to meet such people everywhere. Every nation had them, not that they set much store by nations. They were not scientists themselves, but they were scientifically-minded. They knew how to make a “crystal set” out of old bits of junk so they could build a clandestine radio in Stalag Luft III, and how to build a copper still if they fell through a timewarp. Their heroes were the scientists they read about in Scientific American and New Scientist, the ones who would not fudge an error bar to save their lives, the ones whose dogged refusal to let an anomaly go unexplained led to great discoveries.

They were good chaps, these not-quite-scientists. Well, most of them were chaps. I declare myself a sister of the brotherhood by repeating that the hypothesis that men are on average better at science was not disproved when Larry Summers was fired as president of Harvard for saying that the possibility should be considered. That was the point Summers was making: the true scientist is not afraid to follow the facts wherever they lead. And just behind the actual scientists in this quest came the journalists and popularisers of science and just behind them came the scientifically-minded men and women who thought the future would be full of people like them – but the future turned out differently…

One of the few science journalists who did take the lab-leak question seriously was Donald McNeil, Jr., the veteran New York Times reporter forced out of the paper in an absurd DEI panic. After leaving the Times—and like several other writers pursuing the lab-leak question—McNeil published his reporting on his own Medium blog. It is telling that, at a time when leading science publications were averse to exploring the greatest scientific mystery of our time, some of the most honest reporting on the topic was published in independent, reader-funded outlets. It’s also instructive to note that the journalist who replaced McNeil on the Covid beat at the Times, Apoorva Mandavilli, showed open hostility to investigating Covid’s origins. In 2021, she famously tweeted: “Someday we will stop talking about the lab leak theory and maybe even admit its racist roots. But alas, that day is not yet here.” It would be hard to compose a better epitaph to the credibility of mainstream science journalism.

It gets cold in rural Scotland and there are often power cuts. Tough.

Andy Wightman describes himself as a vegan who drives an electric car, does not fly, and lives much of the time off-grid using solar power and wood fuel. In this article in the Scottish current affairs magazine Holyrood, bearing the title “Why the ‘ban’ on wood-burning stoves ignores the needs of rural Scotland”, he writes,

Since 1 April, it is no longer permissible to install a direct-emission heating system (one which produces more than a negligible level of greenhouse-gas emissions) in a new-build house or conversion. This is a ban on oil, coal, gas and wood-based heating systems.

But in response to a fair degree of upset from across rural Scotland in recent weeks at this apparent ban – however partial – on wood-burning stoves, ministers were at pains to point out that this was not, in fact, a ban. Why?

Because, according to the Scottish Government, they can still be installed in new homes to provide emergency heating. The government claims that this concession “recognises the unique needs of Scotland’s rural communities”. The problem with this sophistry is that the Building (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2023 define emergency heating as an installation to be used only in the event of the failure of the main heating system.

So people can install wood-burning stoves at a cost of anything between £5,000 and £10,000 to be used for a few days per year and, therefore, it’s not a ban.

He then discusses some of the reasons why even very environmentally conscious people who live in the remoter areas of Scotland might want to heat their houses using wood-burning stoves, and continues,

It is, in fact, how I want to heat a house I am in the process of building myself. After a lot of careful consideration, I decided to install a log-gasification boiler as the main heating system. Such boilers are more than 90 per cent efficient, they feed a very large accumulator tank of hot water, and only need to be fired up every two to four days.

The wood will come from thinning from a forest that I manage locally, cut with a solar-powered chainsaw. There is no market for this kind of low-quality timber from small woods. If I cannot use it for heat, it will lie and rot – and produce carbon emissions – on the forest floor. The fuel wood will emit two per cent of the carbon being absorbed annually by the forest from which it is sourced.

The house design is rated B for energy efficiency (falling short of A by only two points) and is rated A for carbon emissions. I have planning consent and I even have a grant and loan offer from the Scottish Government to install the boiler.

Due to technical issues, however, I have yet to submit the final application for a building warrant. This will now as a matter of law be refused and I will incur the expense of revising the planning permission, commissioning new engineering assessments, and preparing a revised building-warrant application. I will also need to reject the grant and loan offer.

If you live in Edinburgh or Glasgow, however, you can still install a wood-burning stove even where you don’t need one and even when it contributes to significant levels of particulate matter pollution. In rural Scotland, you can live in or near a forest, perhaps off grid, but you are not allowed to use what is still a renewable low-carbon fuel when appropriately sourced and combusted.

Cold machines versus hot blood

“The machine did it coldly: Israel used AI to identify 37,000 Hamas targets” – that is the title of a Guardian piece on Israel’s use of the “Lavender” AI-assisted targeting system.

The Israeli military’s bombing campaign in Gaza used a previously undisclosed AI-powered database that at one stage identified 37,000 potential targets based on their apparent links to Hamas, according to intelligence sources involved in the war.

In addition to talking about their use of the AI system, called Lavender, the intelligence sources claim that Israeli military officials permitted large numbers of Palestinian civilians to be killed, particularly during the early weeks and months of the conflict.

Their unusually candid testimony provides a rare glimpse into the first-hand experiences of Israeli intelligence officials who have been using machine-learning systems to help identify targets during the six-month war.

Israel’s use of powerful AI systems in its war on Hamas has entered uncharted territory for advanced warfare, raising a host of legal and moral questions, and transforming the relationship between military personnel and machines.

“This is unparalleled, in my memory,” said one intelligence officer who used Lavender, adding that they had more faith in a “statistical mechanism” than a grieving soldier. “Everyone there, including me, lost people on October 7. The machine did it coldly. And that made it easier.”

The article, by Bethan McKernan and Harry Davies, contains several howlers such as a reference to “the shockingly high death toll in the war”. Even if I believed Hamas casualty figures, which I do not, the death toll in this war is shockingly low. The Allied bombing of Dresden probably killed more people over three nights than have died over six months of the current Israeli-Hamas war.

Nonetheless, as the quoted passage shows, the authors have pointed out that one of the benefits to humanity of AI targeting in war is that it takes the immediate decision to kill out of the hands of humans.

And puts it… where exactly? I am all in favour of targeted killing, if the alternative is untargeted killing. I am in favour of the decision to kill being made according to rational military and legal criteria agreed openly in advance, if the alternative is the decision being made in a split second by someone who is angry and afraid. But I share the writers’ disquiet at the idea of the process of war becoming detached from human control entirely.

What is your view?

Samizdata quote of the day – Met Office uses junk

At the very least, given the scientific importance of the CET, the Met Office could at least move the stations to more suitable nearby locations away from the disqualifying heat corruptions.

But if adding near-junk figures to the collection is not bad enough, the investigative science writer Paul Homewood last year discovered considerable tampering in 2022 with the recent CET record. He initially found that in version one, the summer of 1995 had been 0.1°C warmer than 2018. In version 2, the two years swapped places with 1995 cooled by 0.07°C and 2018 warmed by 0.13°C. Alerted to these changes, Homewood then analysed the full record from version 1 to 2, and the graph below shows what he found.

Chris Morrison

I knew who Dominic Frisby was before I knew who Elon Musk was

I only really cemented in my head which of those Billionaires Having Something To Do With the Internet Elon Musk was in February 2018, when he sent his Tesla Roadster into space. I loved him for that, but fell out of love a few months later over Musk’s behaviour towards Vernon Unsworth. Since then, my regard for Mr Musk has crept up again. It’s nice having freedom of speech on the internet back. I now – and I do know how sad this is – follow him on Xitter or whatever it’s called these days.

In contrast, I have been reading about Dominic Frisby on Samizdata as an financial writer, economist, film-maker, singer and comedian since early 2014.

Elon Musk has finally caught up with us.

Starship has launched successfully

SpaceX launches Starship rocket at third attempt, reports the BBC. This happened about 25 minutes ago.

Pessimist that I am, I did not want to watch the launch in case it blew up again. So far, it hasn’t.

UPDATE: OK, now it has. But it got a lot further than last time.

Another reminder of why anonymity is sometimes necessary, this time from Sweden

I missed this article when it came out in the Observer (the Guardian‘s Sunday sister-paper) three weeks ago: ‘People are scared’: “Sweden’s freedom of information laws lead to wave of deadly bombings”

In a night in September, as summer was turning to autumn, Soha Saad dozed off on the sofa as she stayed up late studying. The 24-year-old, who lived in a quiet village near the Swedish university town of Uppsala with her parents and siblings, had recently graduated as a teacher, a career she was passionate about, and had big dreams for the future.

But in the early hours of the morning, all of that hope came to an end. An explosion ripped through their home, removing the windows and walls, and ending Soha’s life.

She is not thought to have been the intended target of September’s bomb attack – reports at the time said it could have been a neighbour related to a gang member – but was an innocent victim with no connections to gang violence.

With typical cowardice, the Observer article does not mention that the sharp increase in violence in Sweden is almost entirely driven by immigrants, mostly from the Middle East, and to a lesser extent from the Balkans. How does anyone think a problem can be solved if it cannot even be mentioned? In other respects, Miranda Bryant’s article was a good piece of journalism, highlighting how something that was for centuries considered a valuable freedom in Swedish society has become dangerous for many:

In recent years, Sweden has been caught in the grip of escalating gang conflict involving shootings and explosions – largely driven by drug trafficking, involving firearms and bombs. September was the worst month for fatal shootings in Sweden since 2016, with 11 deaths, and 2023 saw the most explosions per year to date.

The Moderate party-run coalition – supported by the far-right Sweden Democrats – have pledged to take action by sending more young people to prison and giving police more powers to search people and vehicles. But with younger and younger people being pulled into crime, turning them into “child soldiers”, the violence is showing little sign of stopping.

The explosions – usually targeting rival gang members and their families – often contain dynamite or gunpowder-based substances, according to police. Hand grenades have also been used.

In most countries, tracking down the address of a potential victim could be a laborious process. But not in Sweden, where it is possible to find out the address and personal details of just about anybody with a single Google search. Experts say criminals are being greatly helped by a 248-year-old law, forming part of Sweden’s constitution.

The 1776 freedom of the press act (tryckfrihetsförordningen) – a revered feature of Swedish society that gives everyone access to official records – marked the world’s first law regulating the right to free speech; the documents are protected on Unesco’s Memory of the World register.

“Public access to information is a fundamental principle in Sweden’s form of government,” according to the Swedish Institute for Human Rights (SIHR). “One of the fundamental laws, the Freedom of the Press Act, contains provisions on the right to access official documents. According to this rule all documents available at an authority are in principle open for the public.”

I can see why Swedes want to keep their traditional tryckfrihetsförordningen. My previous post mentioned the “Streisand Effect” with very little sympathy for Barbra Streisand’s famously counter-productive effort to keep information about her residence out of the public domain. Maybe I should have shown more. Being a libertarian does not oblige me to defend to the hilt everything which has the word “freedom” on it, and it does seem to me that, given how much easier it is for a criminal to track down a victim nowadays than it was in 1776, the freedom not to have one’s name appear in public government records ought be given more weight in Sweden and elsewhere.

Samizdata quote of the day – it’s all in the punctuation

I have long been of the opinion that Google’s old motto was merely lacking in the proper punctuation. Whenever a Google employee thought, “Should I do the right thing?”, they looked to the company motto for their answer: “Don’t. Be Evil.”

Anon