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]

Discussion point: UK general election called for 8th June 2017

Ah, stop pretending to be above it all. If you are on the UK electoral roll, who will you vote for? If you are not, who would you vote for?

Who will win is scarcely worth discussing. But, as the post from politicalbetting.com I linked to says, there are a few questions to which the answer is not so certain:

Can she satisfy the fixed-term parliament act in the vote tomorrow?
Will Mrs May receive any backlash, like Gordon Brown, for going back on her word on holding an early election
If she loses the vote, what then?
If the SNP put in their manifesto Scotland should have Indyref2 next year, and they win a majority of votes or seats in Scotland, how can Mrs May refuse, Mrs May might have put the Union at risk. (It also damages her argument against holding an Indyref2?)
If Corbyn gets creamed at the general election, will he continue as Labour leader? This might be the easiest way for Labour rebels to get rid of Corbyn.

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Samizdata quote of the day

In Justin Trudeau’s Canada, if I mention the Islamist ties of Akbardzhon Dzhalilov, the 22-year-old suspected of carrying out the subway bombing that killed 14 in St. Petersburg, Russia on Monday, am I guilty of Islamophobia?

What if I also mention that Khalid Masood, the man who mowed down scores of pedestrians, killing three, and stabbed a police officer to death outside the British Parliament last week, was a convert to Islam? Am I guilty of a crime against Canada’s new politically correct speech codes?

I admit, what constitutes a Muslim terror attack is not always black-and-white. Was London’s Masood driven by Islamist fervor or by his long, troubled criminal past? Or maybe a bit of both?

Lorne Gunter

Canada has been heading in this direction for a while now, part of a growing list of nation states denying one of the most most fundamental civil liberties: freedom of expression.

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The end of the rule of law in Turkey… and the perils of political labels

After reading an unrelentingly grim article by Suzy Hansen, describing the collapse of the rule of law in Turkey in the aftermath of the failed coup in July 2016, I noticed one problem with what had been written.

I recalled a dinner in Istanbul with a couple bon vivant UN diplomats, less than a week before the abortive uprising. During our congenial discussions, fuelled by some excellent Turkish craft beer, the three of us realised that we were using terms like ‘right’, ‘left’, ‘nationalist’ and ‘conservative’ to mean rather different things as we were British, Turkish and Czech respectively. By Turkish definitions, as I was neither religious nor nationalist, I was automatically on the left, regardless of the fact I am a laissez faire free trader. The Turkish chap ‘assigned’ me to the centre-left, to differentiate me from socialists or communists… it seemed vastly amusing at the time (of course that might have been the beer laughing).

Although Suzy Hansen’s linked article in the New York Times is not without merit, this made me realise how unwise she was to bandy about terms like ‘left’ and ‘right’ when describing Turkey to an American readership: the bad guys of the article are on the right, so perhaps some US readers might conclude Erdogan’s AKP are something like the Republicans? Er, not really. In fact not in the slightest. Given the radically different cultural, political and historical frames of reference between the USA and Turkey, there are simply no meaningful analogies to be made other than at the far fringes.

It is rather hazy what ‘left’ and ‘right’ mean in Britain or America these days, let alone what they mean elsewhere. Comparing political labels in different countries is always fraught with risk and more likely to confuse than enlighten. Michael Jennings of this parish often becomes exasperated when folk in London try to compare UK and Australian political parties, as the attempt usually falls at the second fence… and this is between two countries with vastly more shared history.

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Samizdata quote of the day

I’m not joking. I wrote last year about how many of the international bureaucracies are blindly asserting that higher taxes are pro-growth because government supposedly will productively “invest” any additional revenue. And this reflexive agitation for higher fiscal burdens has been very prevalent this week in New York City. It’s unclear whether participants actually believe their own rhetoric. I’ve shared with some of the folks the empirical data showing the western world became rich in the 1800s when fiscal burdens were very modest. But I’m not expecting any miraculous breakthroughs in economic understanding.

Daniel Mitchell

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A new recruit for the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America!

France.

That is, if French presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon wins the coming election. I would still call that unlikely, but he is rising in the polls. In case you’re wondering, Our France would qualify as part of Our America because of its overseas departments French Guiana and the French Antilles. Although I am not sure that the present members of ALBA – principally Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Ecuador – will greet these parts of France Overseas with unmixed joy.

Quoting the article from Le Figaro linked to above:

The document [Mélenchon’s manifesto] proposes to leave the treaties of alliance that France belongs to now, like NATO on the military plane, or the WTO and the CETA on the economic level. Proposal 62 calls for the establishment of an alternative system and, for example, to join structures of “regional cooperation”, “in a process of ecological, social and human progress”. The program cites the ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America) launched by Hugo Chavez and his allies as early as 2004. The links between the late South American president and the candidate are of long standing, and the latter never misses an opportunity to tell the story of their meeting. But the reference to the Bolivarian model has not yet been updated with regard to the drift of the regime of Maduro and the resulting economic collapse.

There is more on this story from Libération: What is the Bolivarian Alliance that Mélenchon wants to join?

That story links to a video showing a TV studio discussion in which an interviewer brought up Mr Mélenchon’s proposed change of direction for France with his spokesperson, Clémentine Autain, who “was obviously unaware of this point of her candidate’s program” – and could hardly keep a straight face when told about it.

As ever, the translations are a joint project between my French O-Level and Messieurs Google et Bing. Corrections are welcome.

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Yuval Noah Harari on how the knowledge economy reduces war

In this earlier posting about a book I had been reading, I talked about how reading can turn sort of knowledge into knowledge of a more solid sort. The author says something which you already sort of knew, but as soon as he says it, you know it much better. Often such knowledge consisted of things you already knew about separately, but you hadn’t connected them in your mind.

Recently this happened to me again. Like many others, I have lately been reading Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari. And I soon learned that Harari, like Steven Pinker, has noticed that the world has been becoming a lot less warlike.

I already agree with Harari that a major reason for this reduction in warfare is nuclear weapons. On page 17 of my paperback edition of Home Deus, he says this:

Nuclear weapons have turned war between superpowers into a mad act of collective suicide, and therefore forced the most powerful nations on earth to find alternative and peaceful ways to resolve conflicts. …

Quite so. But next comes this thought, which I had not, until now, put together in my mind:

… Simultaneously, the global economy has been transformed from a material-based economy into a knowledge-based economy. Previously the main sources of wealth were material assets such as gold mines, wheat fields and oil wells. Today the main source of wealth is knowledge. And whereas you can conquer oil fields through war, you cannot acquire knowledge that way. Hence as knowledge became the most important economic resource, the profitability of war declined and war became increasingly restricted to those parts of the world – such as the Middle East and Central Africa – where the economies are still old-fashioned material-based economies.

I knew that war is diminishing, in fact I have written blog postings about what a big change that is for humanity. And I knew that the knowledge economy is now becoming a bigger deal than the mere possession of agricultural or resource-rich land. Who now does not? But call me dumb, as maybe some tactless commenters will, but I had never – or never very clearly (only “sort of”) – made the causal connection between these two things. Taken together, the rise of the knowledge economy and the arrival of nuclear weapons, themselves a consequence of recently acquired knowledge, amount to a transformation in the cost-to-benefit ratio of war. It used to be that war incurred some costs, heavy costs if you did badly, but if you did well, war might yield handsome gains. Not any more, except when it comes to places still stuck in the logic of quarrelling over physical resources.

A more respectable reason, besides me being dumb, why I had not made this rather obvious connection is that there has been another process that has masked the peaceful nature of knowledge-based economies, which is that when “knowledge” first arrives in a society, its first impact is not to cause peace to happen, but rather that particular sort of war that is so misleadingly categorised as “civil”, i.e. war of the worst sort. Look at sixteenth century Germany, seventeenth century Britain, eighteenth century France and twentieth century Russia and China. All were in those times cursed by newly “educated” generations who each fervently believed that they possessed knowledge, of why and how they should rule the world, but who were really themselves possessed by various sorts of ideological frenzy. So maybe I can be forgiven, as can others who took a while to see or who still do not see the connection between knowledge and peace. It’s because the connection between knowledge and peace takes a while to even happen, and at first it goes in the wrong direction rather than the right one. To put it another way, it takes quite a while for “knowledge” to shed its sneer quotes. To put it yet another way, there are experts and there are “experts”.

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Vantablack

Finally, all those silly season, slow-news-week fashion commentary pieces, about how this or that colour that isn’t black and never will be is now “the new black”, can cease. Vantablack is the new black.

This new black has been contrived by a bunch of nano-techies working for something called Surrey Nanosystems. The point about Vantablack is that it is really black. They claim that Vantablack absorbs all but 0.036% of the light that strikes it. Normally, if you shine a torch at a black surface, you can see the light from the torch registering on the supposedly black surface, in other words being reflected rather than absorbed. But Vantablack just gobbles up all the light and continues to look totally black. You’ll be double-checking your torch to see if it is working. This is a godsend for space telescopers, and for the makers of very high-end cameras of all kinds.

The original target for Vantablack was the suitably money-no-object space telescope business. Space telescopes need to minimise – really minimise – the number of light particles that bounce about inside them in the wrong places and blur the resulting images, and Vantablack absorbs light particles to a unique degree.

But Vantablack also has potential applications in art and in the world of luxury design, which is why I first heard about Vantablack at Dezeen, the design website that I frequent. And then, quite recently, I encountered mention of Vantablack at David Thompson’s blog, in one of his lists of internetted oddities, and then at Instapundit (who feared it might be an April Fool prank). I imagine it has been much the same for all internetters with any interest in such things, large numbers of whom will by now have heard of this remarkable, newly invented-stroke-discovered material-stroke-paint, which is blacker than the blackest black ever not-seen before. The Vantablack story combines hot button highest-technology issues, like nano-tech (which was how they did it) and space exploration, with a visual outcome which is very bizarre, but the basic nature of which can be understood by almost anybody. An ideal combination for virality.

→ Continue reading: Vantablack

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Samizdata quote of the day

Yet it is the Democrats’ relentless focus on minority issues that has enabled the GOP to capture parts of the white middle and working class vote. Trump exploited that opportunity more effectively than any other Republican. But he did it – with the alt-right’s help – by borrowing from the Democrats’ playbook. Aping the left’s identity politics, Trump adopted the alt-right’s cultural narrative around the oppression of white people. Gone was the traditional Republican belief in individual responsibility. In its place came the leftist credo of perpetual victimhood.

Simon Gordon

Another way of putting it is that Trump is a bit like Bernie Sanders, with skyscrapers and funny hair.

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Italy keeps up its traditional ways

…of backwardness, protectionism and cronyism. Sorry, Italy, I love you in so many ways but this is just Third World:

The International Business Times reports, “Italy court bans Uber across the country over unfair competition for traditional taxis”

An Italian court banned the Uber app across the country on Friday ruling that it contributed unfair competition to traditional taxis. In a court ruling, a Rome judge upheld a complaint filed by Italy’s major traditional taxi associations, preventing Uber from using its Black, Lux, Suv, XL, Select and Van services from operating within the country.

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Question: was Trump’s strike on Syria motivated by geopolitical considerations or…

Was Trump’s strike on Syria motivated by geopolitical considerations or… genuine concern about the use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces (and they have form for that)… or the need to demonstrate he is not in Putin’s pocket? Or something else?

Discuss.

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Optimistic thoughts about self-driving cars

Self driving cars are coming and they are good.

Safety is an obvious benefit. Some people I have talked to about this talk about overcoming fear to get into a self-driving car. But over a million people per year are killed on the road. It is clearly technically possible to make a car very safe: if some safety problem emerges with the driving software, a fix can be made and the update sent to all cars at once. You can’t do that with people, who make the same mistakes over and over again. Furthermore I don’t anticipate anyone marketing a self-driving car until it is orders of magnitude safer than a human because in the case of an accident the reputational damage to the developer would be so high. I expect self-driving car accidents to be reported in the press even more vigorously than exploding batteries in cellphones are today. And cases of exploding batteries, even in the case of the infamous Samsung Note 7, are vanishingly rare. If car accidents were anywhere near as rare as that we would already be living in a much better world. And that’s just safety.

I think self-driving cars have the capability to completely change the landscape. Charlie Stross talks about what a time traveller from thirty years ago would notice when they visited. Such a traveller might notice different fashions but the urban landscape would be very much the same. To paraphrase Charlie, the most obvious difference would be that people are walking around staring into glowing bits of glass as if they were windows onto the sum-total of human knowledge.

Thirty years from now things could look very different indeed.

No-one will own their own cars any more — at least not as a matter of course. When the only advantage of owning one’s own car is the ability to store one’s own junk in it, it simply won’t be worth the cost. It is already possible to do some short commutes by Uber for a few thousand pounds per year, rivalling private car ownership. A company could operate a fleet of self-driving cars on a very similar model and make big savings on scale. So for any given journey you just tap your destination and select what kind of vehicle you would like, and it would roll up to your door in a few minutes. No paperwork, no maintenance, no re-fuelling, no keeping a big car for the occasional times you need it, and no difficulty moving a large object because hiring a specialist vehicle is equally straightforward.

For that matter, cars can be far more specialised because they don’t need to look like cars any more. No-one has to sit in the driver’s seat looking out and it won’t crash so you don’t have to wear seat-belts. If you need to do some work on the way to your destination, hire an office on wheels. If you want to travel by night, hire a hotel room on wheels. Some journeys don’t need to be made by people at all: to drop off a parcel, hire a self-driving locker. Forget drone deliveries, Amazon will use self-driving delivery vehicles.

There is no longer any need for car parks or cars parked along residential streets. Our time traveller will wonder where all the cars have gone: children will be playing in the streets once more and houses will have gardens where once there were driveways.

I am not sure how busy the roads will look. Automated cars can travel close together and co-ordinate with each other so there will be no traffic lights and no traffic jams. Multi-lane highways will be unnecessary. But as travelling is easier and cheaper people will do it more. People will live further from their place of work because journey times will be shorter and consistent. No more leaving half an hour earlier *in case* of a traffic jam. You will know exactly how long it will take every single day. If people put up with two hour commutes today, there is no reason to think they won’t in future. But that two hours will reliably get them a lot further. So it will be easier to change jobs because a given house will be in range of more jobs, and it will be easy to have offices in different locations because a given office will be in range of more houses. There will still be advantages to working close together, and people often don’t like *living* close together, so perhaps people will continue to work in cities but live in them less.

Towns and cities will look different because much of the land used for roads can be reclaimed for other uses. There is no need for giant roundabouts or other large, complicated junctions that are used today to improve traffic flow. In many cases even roads with two lanes can be converted to narrow, single lanes because bi-directional traffic can pass at specific points. We can finally get rid of the temporary Hogarth Roundabout flyover.

Cars will probably be mostly electric because they can drive off and recharge themselves. I suspect they will travel very fast on highways because there is no safety disadvantage and people will demand shorter journey times.

Today, old people can find themselves immobile. Children have to scrounge lifts. With self-driving cars, anyone can go anywhere. You can send your children to a better school in the next town instead of nearly bankrupting yourself moving into the catchment area.

There are likely to be problems along the way. My vision so far relies somewhat on all vehicles on the road being automated. I think there will be a short time during which automated vehicles will have to co-exist with human-driven ones, but the advantages will be so huge and so immediately apparent that people will switch to exclusively using automated cars faster than they adopted smartphones.

I am not sure how well things will work out for people living in remote areas. Right now I can get an Uber in three minutes. This is because of the population density where I am. People in the sticks will have to wait longer for a ride and costs will be higher. But, then again, population distribution and economics are likely to change.

Some people enjoy driving, or riding motorcycles. Those things can be done on the track. You’ll have to hire a self-driving car to tow your Ferrari or your Ducati to the track.

There will be technical difficulties making the first car that can completely self-drive on any road. There are software, infrastructure and mapping problems to solve. If there were no human driven cars the problem would be easier, but I think there will be a few years when human and automatic cars will have to co-exist. Only a few years: but it is still a hurdle. However, there are people who are working on it and they think it is possible and they are making progress. There is no reason to think it is impossible. And the benefits are so huge and so universal that it is hard to imagine any amount of human effort into this problem that won’t quickly be paid back. We won’t be able to predict the moment of success but when it comes, change will be fast.

There may be computer security challenges, but in an intelligence race between bad guys and good guys I have some confidence that the good guys will ultimately win. Failures here will be as embarrassing as car crashes or exploding batteries to manufacturers.

The government will regulate where you can go and track your every move. This is a problem anyway: self-driving cars don’t fundamentally change it. And people always choose convenience over freedom and privacy so it is going to happen anyway.

How many man-hours are wasted sitting in control of a vehicle or being stuck in traffic? Further economic growth will come from the time and effort freed up. Self-driving cars are coming, and they are good.

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This poor guy

What could possibly go wrong?

Businesses such as hotels, licensed premises and taxi companies are being provided with awareness training to help them recognise the signs of child sexual exploitation. They are directed to call 101, quoting ‘Operation Makesafe’, should they suspect suspicious behaviour or activity on their premises or in their vehicles.

What if this sort of thing blows the problem out of proportion and makes people deeply suspicious of each other?

A widower who checked into a Travelodge near Thorpe Park in Chertsey said he was horrified when hotel employees called police over fears he was a paedophile.

Craig Darwell and his 13-year-old daughter, Millie, checked into the hotel near the theme park on Thursday (March 30).

Charming.

However, he said his and Millie’s short break had been “ruined” by the incident

No shit. Not to mention every other interaction with any stranger he has while out with his daughter for the next few years under constant fear of suspicion.

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