Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

So, the Peace Prize President is itching to bomb Syria.

At least there’ll be one good thing to say about his Presidency: no-one will ever be able to take a Nobel Peace Prize seriously again.

Whenever someone says ‘X is considered good/bad/indifferent’, the correct response is ‘By whom, exactly?’

The answer will almost certainly be by be someone who has a vested interested in that position. The passive voice is a lame attempt to hide that fact.

Best article I’ve read on the subject:

Fred On Everything

The great ‘wind turbine’ massacre continues:

Twitchers flocking to see rare bird saw it killed by wind turbine

They’re expensive, unreliable and massacre wildlife. When will these things finally be torn down?

Or something.

I was reading a funny thread on a web forum where one of the forum socialists was bemoaning the future of 3D printing and nanotechnology and how it would destroy jobs so the government would have provide jobs for the unemployed to do things no-one else thought worth doing.

I could only shake my head and wonder: why would anyone want a job if they produce anything they wanted in their garage?

Mass employment is a relatively recent invention as part of the industrial revolution. In the early era of human hunter-gatherer life, we would hunt or collect the things we needed at a good time to do so, and then relax the rest of the year. In the farming era, there would be jobs available for those who didn’t have their own land to farm at times where the farmers needed more hands than they had in their own family, but life-time jobs in the modern sense were rare. It was only with industrialisation that we needed millions of people to do the same boring, repetitive things all day, every day.

Jobs are bad. Many of us have jobs that we find inherently interesting, but that doesn’t mean we want to do them eight hours a day, five days a week forever. We should look forward to a future where few people have to work and we can leave the industrial anomaly behind us.

The problem is that socialism is inherently an industrial-era philosophy, so that would make them irrelevant. Socialism made no sense before the industrial revolution because there were few workers to own the means of production. Socialism makes no sense in a future of home 3D printing and nanotech assembly because everyone owns their means of production.

They should be celebrating. They’ve won. The fight between workers and employers is irrelevant in a world with no workers and no employers. But they’ve been ranting about the need for full employment for long that they simply can’t understand or accept that employment itself is going away; not to mention that such a world destroys an entire power base of people who have no desire to lose the power they have.

I see a lot of talk on the Internet lately about the wonders of our coming ‘post-scarcity’ world, mostly because so many people are unemployed and can’t see how they can possibly work again. In this brave new future, everyone will be able to have whatever they want, no-one will have to work and we’ll all be happy and fluffy.

Except it will never happen.

There will never be enough resources for everyone to have as much as they want without scarcity. Even if I was the only being in the universe, I could easily use more resources than are available to me. For any amount of resources you can think of, I can think of a use for more. If I want to turn the solar system into a Dyson Sphere all of my own, then no-one else can have it. If I want to turn every galaxy into a giant super-computer to calculate prime numbers, you can’t use it for running your super-complex MMO game.

This is an example of what you might call the ‘Who cleans the toilets on the Enterprise?’ problem. I’m not sure that Star Trek has ever claimed to be a post-scarcity world, but a number of trekkies have claimed it is. Yet somehow, people are still found to do all the boring, dirty and dangerous jobs on the Starship Enterprise, rather than demanding starships of their own. If there’s no scarcity, why would anyone choose to clean the toilets on the Enterprise?

The problem with the whole ‘post-scarcity’ idea is that it mostly comes from people with little imagination. They’re happy to live in an apartment with a cat and a TV, and anyone who demands entire galaxies for their own use is just being silly. The reality is that the ones who are happy with very little are being silly; one person who wants to own galaxies and spawns off numerous copies of their personality can use up the entire universe and leave nothing for the ‘sensible’ people.

Pretty soon they announce that there must be rationing of the ‘post-scarcity’ resources to ensure people only use them sensibly. So you’re suddenly back to scarcity, this time artificially created a ruling caste. Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels are a good example, a ‘post-scarcity’ world where the synthetic intelligent Minds ensure that humans only get whatever scraps the Minds feed them. Fortunately, as in much left-wing fiction, the ruling caste is almost entirely composed of altruistic philosopher kings, so everyone is happy.

In the real world, of course, the ruling caste would get their Zil space limousines, while the rest would live in caves and fight for the rulers’ favour. When resources are power, the very people most attracted to power are the least likely to give any of it to anyone else.

But let’s suppose for a moment it did work. The wondrous philosopher kings can amicably share all the resources of the universe so everyone is happy and everyone has everything they want and no-one has to work for a living. Then what?

Well, we all sit around being pampered with no reason to do anything. And, being bored, we start having kids. Pretty soon, the population of pampered, unproductive people is rising much faster than the resources available to sustain us. Oops.

Then we’re back to square one. The ruling caste is now telling us how many kids we can have, and ensuring we can only have a ‘sensible’ number, even if we want millions.

So whenever anyone tells you about the glorious new ‘post-scarcity’ future, what they’re really talking about is their new ‘post-freedom’ future where everyone must behave ‘sensibly’, even if they have to force you to do so.

So, Margaret Thatcher is dead. Not exactly unexpected, but a sad loss nonetheless.

I’d hardly be the first to defend her mistakes. The Poll Tax, for example, always seemed to be a cynical attempt to push Labour voters off the electoral roll. Closer EU integration was a disaster. Global Warming perhaps even more so.

But Britain of the 70s was a socialist nation on the fast track to Third World status. The government ran most of the economy, and the unions ran the government. Since WWII there had been a cosy collaboration between the far-left in the Labour party and the wet-left in the Tory party, and scarcely a right-wing politician to say no. The end result was massive inefficiency and bloated overmanning in industries that produced lots of things no-one wanted to buy, when the unions could actually be bothered to go to work. The country was bankrupt and even Idi Amin was offering to send financial aid to help out.

I’m barely old enough to remember much of the 70s, but one of my earliest memories is sitting in the dark, trying to read by candle-light, because the miners were out on strike in sympathy with the bin men and the power stations were shut down (or whatever nonsensical combination of demands happened to have come together that week). Another is regularly being sent to the baker to buy bread, and then having to go home empty-handed because rampant inflation had increased the price yet again.

Thatcher ended that. She broke the power of the union leadership and returned it to the union members. She privatised many nationalised industries and let the inefficient and incompetent collapse. She slashed tax rates, so successful people no longer had to choose between leaving the country or handing most of their income to the government.

For pretty much the first time since WWII, Britain was a country where you could be a success if you weren’t politically connected or a senior union official. The brain drain of skilled workers had been continuous as those who could get out fled to any country where they could lead a better life, many to America, many of the rest to the Commonwealth. Then, while Thatcher was in power, it stopped. Why go when Britain finally valued them again?

And the particularly amusing part is that it was all the unions’ fault. In one of the best examples of left-wing political stupidity prior to their suicide pact in the recent Canadian elections, the unions lead a massive strike campaign in the run-up to the election, turning a small Labour lead into a massive lead for Thatcher.

Sadly, the good times couldn’t last. The left hated her because she stood against everything they believed in. The wet left in her own party hated her because they feared she’d lose the election. So they finally stabbed her in the back. John Major continued similar policies for a few years until the economic recovery was done, then voters threw him out in favour of the New, Improved, Not Socialist Labour Party.

Which spent the next thirteen years bankrupting the country again.

Needless to say, the brain drain rapidly returned and by the time I emigrated in the mid-2000s, Canada had a waiting list of three years or more. It will only get worse as Cameron’s wet-left Tory party replaced Labour with almost identical policies and the 70s returns in re-runs.

For those who missed the 70s in Britain, or don’t understand how it could have been so bad that people were finally willing to throw out the entire post-war consensus, the TV SF of the time may be a good place to start; shows such as 1990, with Edward Woodward as a crusading journalist helping illegal emigrants escape from the UK after the government imposes exit visas to imprison those with skills, The Guardians, with resistance against a totalitarian government of a more fascist persuasion, and the final Quatermass series, where Britain is in the advanced stages of complete social breakdown. Survivors, of course, was very popular because the prospect of 99% of the population dying of a fatal disease could hardly seem worse than a few more years of Ted Heath or James Callaghan in power.

These shows might have been futuristic, but none of them were particularly unbelievable in an era where newspapers talking about the possibility of a military coup. None of them, of course, have been regular repeats; partly, to be fair, because some are not very good — 1990, for example, has one of the least effective totalitarian governments in history — but also because, in left-wing mythology, the 1970s are the utopia to which Britons should aspire. Surely no-one could seriously have imagined the government might have to stop people leaving?

Just when you thought the Nobel Peace Prize committee couldn’t be more entertaining than by giving a prize to Obama for merely existing, they’ve raised the hilarity level by giving a prize to the EU.

The theory, so it goes, is that the EU has made everyone in Europe love each other so much that they don’t want to fight each other any more. The reality is that two generations remembered the devastation caused by WWI and WWII, governments feared an existential threat from the Soviet Union, and the US government stationed hundreds of thousands of troops across Europe with a big stash of nukes. EU or not, a European war would not have been possible, let alone desired.

All the EU has done is ensure that the next war in Europe will be a civil war, rather than a war between nations. We may be seeing the first battles right now as the EU is determined to keep the Euro going even if that means devastating economic collapse in the weaker nations.

Interesting documentary about Skylon:

However, I think it underestimates the fundamental problem with Skylon. It’s very clever, but suffers from what you might call ‘Apollo Syndrome’; it’s very much an all or nothing design which needs huge up-front investment with no guarantee of success. Without that multi-billion dollar investment you have nothing of use, which effectively limits it to a government program as few companies can afford to take that kind of risk.

SpaceX, for example, expects to reduce launch costs to Skylon levels when they have a fully-reusable Falcon, but they don’t need to invest vast amounts of money to do because they can make money from the expendable Falcon first and work toward the low-cost reusable design. The best suggestion I’ve seen for Skylon is to use it as a hypersonic airliner, but that still requires doing most of the work and there’s no proven market.

So will it ever fly? I’d like to think so, but I honestly can’t see how they’ll convince the people who have enough money to give it to them.

Neil Armstrong died, but by now you probably know.

As I said elsewhere, the sad part is not just that the first man to walk on the moon has died, but before long we may be in a world where no man alive has walked on the moon. What a huge step backward for the human race.

I’ve come across a strange theory a number of times on the Internet lately. It goes something like this:

  1. In the future, robots will be capable of doing almost anything a human can do.
  2. Most people will become redundant as factories can produce anything without human labour.
  3. Rich factory owners will discover that no-one can afford to buy their products, so they will have to give money to unemployed people so they can buy their products so they can make money.
  4. Most people will sit back on their lazy ass and spend the money that the remaining few workers give them.

The amazing part is that anyone takes this seriously. I presume they’re the same people who believe ‘Henry Ford paid his employees better than his competitors so they could buy his cars‘.

Hopefully you can see the blatant logical fallacy, but in case you can’t, I’ll elaborate.

Suppose I have the last factory on Earth and all the money. No-one can afford to buy my widgets because they have no money. So I give you $20 to buy a widget, which costs me $10 to make. Thank God, you do, and my factory stays open.

Let’s look at that. I started with $20, I gave it to you, you gave it to me for a widget, I spent $10 making that widget. I now have $10.

Far from making money, I just lost $10. If I continue giving people money to buy from me, pretty soon I’ll have $0. Over time, it’s a guaranteed way to go broke.

Because they’ve never run a business and have no concept of economics, these people believe that keeping the factory open is an end in itself and the owner will do anything to achieve that. The reality is the factory is just a way to make money, and if it’s losing money then you shut it down. If I have all the money and no-one can afford my products, I close it down and retire.

The argument then usually moves on to ‘if you don’t give me money, I’ll burn down your factory and kill you.’ The factory is worthless, so that’s hardly a threat, and if I have all the money and human-level robots I have little to fear from a mob who don’t.

It doesn’t work. It won’t work. And it gets much, much worse when you consider the upcoming resource wars of the 5th Millenium (something to cover in a later post).

Got my letter saying that I passed the test, so I have to go and swear allegiance to the Queen and get my certificate in the near future. I’ll be glad when it’s all over!

The British citizenship test is being rewritten to be more like the Canadian test. Less questions on how to claim welfare and more on British history and traditions.

This is probably why, when I tried the online practice versions of both tests, I scored higher on the Canadian test than British. Having worked most of my life since graduating, I had no idea how to answer the questions about welfare benefits in the British test, whereas I had a reasonable knowledge of Canadian history at the time and could answer most of the questions about the political system because much of it is similar to Britain’s.

So the Canadian citizenship test is finally over and I can return to writing and reviewing while I await the results. Canadian citizenship is a long process where you apply after living in the country for three years out of the previous four, after a month they send you a book to read, after a year or two they send you a letter saying to come to a test, then a few months later tell you whether you passed and ask you to go to an interview with a judge or a citizenship ceremony.

I’ve spent most of the last couple of weeks studying the book, which is over sixty pages long and contains maybe a couple of hundred names and dates that they could ask about. The problem is that you have no idea which information will come up and which won’t. You must get fifteen of twenty multiple-choice questions correct, so if you skimp then a few tough questions could mean the difference between pass or fail.

We each picked a question booklet and an answer sheet from the piles and then had, I think, thirty minutes to circle the correct answer with a pencil. Each sheet had a different set of questions so people couldn’t copy each other, and relatives were told to sit far apart so no-one could be accused of cheating; we were warned that if anyone was heard talking they would instantly be failed.

After all that, the test was a bit of an anti-climax. Most of the questions were easy ones and I finished the actual test in 90 seconds. I then noticed that I hadn’t circled a single answer ‘B’ so I had to go through five times to check that all the answers were definitely right.

I wouldn’t have managed fifteen without reading the book, but it seems to me that if you’ve read it a couple of times then you should at least be able to work out two of the wrong answers and make a good guess at which of the remaining two is correct.

My favourite question was (from memory):

Which of the following are fundamental rights guaranteed by the Canadian Constitution?

  1. The right to beat your wife and drive a car with a license.
  2. The right to drive a car and own a firearm without a license.
  3. Mobility rights and the right to have more than one wife.
  4. Something boring about freedom of religion and association.

I’m glad they didn’t throw me out for laughing when I read that one.

“Some Canadians were uninterested in receiving liberty and prosperity at the point of an American sword. So they took up arms”

The BBC have an interesting article on the subject today:

War of 1812: Violence, glory and a new Canadian-ness

Whenever Americans on the Internet joke that they’re going to invade Canada for our oil, I have to remind them that the last time they tried, we burned the White House down :).

I don’t know how accurate the article is, but many of the comments on the American attitude to the invasion sound eerily reminiscent of Bush in Iraq: expecting the war to be over quickly with no resistance and that Canadians would greet them as liberators.

Clearly that wasn’t quite the case. The biggest American success was probably bringing together the disparate groups of English and French settlers and natives into a single body for once.

Fred Reed has a great post about schooling:


There are two things I remember about school. First, sitting in a classroom being lectured on things I really couldn’t care about while wishing I could get out and start doing something useful with my life. Second, in the classes that did interest me, having to put up with the kids who had no great academic leaning and didn’t want to be there; life was much better in the last few years when those kids all left.

The peculiar part is that many of the teachers had a dazzling ability to take subjects which were inherently interesting and make them boring as heck. I hated Shakespeare in school, but since leaving I’ve seen many of his plays performed. Studying the Registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths Act of 18-who-knows-what bored the hell out of me, but I have entire book shelves full of history books here. Kids enter school curious and eager to learn, and one of the greatest successes of the school system is the way they beat that curiosity out of them.

What particularly bugged me about history was that recent history, within about fifty years of the time we were at school, was considered beyond the pale. We were taught much about the Romans, but nothing about recent events in our own country. I can understand that historians may not be able to thoroughly analyse historical events until those involved have had the time and inclination to record their experiences, but we weren’t even taught about the recent history of our own Empire, the last vestiges of which were collapsing on TV news.

I certainly learned some useful things at school, but so much of it was just a huge waste of time that I could have put to better use myself. One of the reasons I don’t have kids is that I wouldn’t want to unless I had the time to home-school them so they wouldn’t have to go through the same experience themselves.

This is embarrassing:

Of course the most embarrassing part is that Americans had to wait for foreign media to point out what a disaster their President is.

Sadly, the potential Republican candidates don’t look any better. As with the Tories in the UK, when faced with the worst President or Prime Minister in decades, the opposition decide to offer someone even worse.

I wish I knew why Youtube embedding no longer works in WordPress when it worked fine a few months ago.

There was a long thread today on the Kindle Boards about the perils of posting religious or political opinions and thereby losing readers who take offence at those opinions.

That makes no sense to me. Every book is going to offend someone; even if you write happy, fluffy romance, you’ll offend people who think that women should be beaten and locked up if they look at a man. I would rather offend people on my web sites so they don’t buy my books than have them buy the books and then post bad reviews all over the web because they found the books offensive.

I think it only really becomes a problem when an author is fanatical about something. Richard Dawkins is an example who springs to mind; he’s written some great books and his beliefs about evolution are probably right, but I lost respect for him when he became a militant atheist.