Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

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:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZ_a21fPkYM

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:

Enstupidation

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:

http://www.youtube.com/embed/erYpXzE9Pxs

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.

I’ve been reading about windmills killing birds and bats. Surely there’s a simple solution to this?

In keeping with similar government programs, governments could issue dispensations allowing a certain number of birds and bats to be killed each year, and over time reduce that number until all windmills were slaughter-free. Companies could then trade those dispensations so that the most murderous windmills cost more money. Perhaps someone like Al Gore could set up a market to do so.

We could call it, I don’t know, Cap and Slay?

There was an interesting thread on a web forum I frequent about the EU mess and how none of the politicians involved seem to know what to do or want to take charge to do anything about it.

This reminded me of a book I read some years ago, On the psychology of military incompetence, a study of incompetent military actions and the reasons behind them. The general theory was that in peace time the military promotes people who do as they’re told, and then when they reach the top levels and are expected to take command, they have no idea of what to do; most people capable of making independent decisions have been weeded out at much lower level. Only in war time does the need for effective action override the demand for obedience to higher ranks.

The same process would seem to apply to many professional politicians, who’ve spent all their lives doing what they’re told in order to progress up the party hierarchy to the point where they’re suddenly able to give orders. Then they don’t know what to do, and because giving orders means taking responsibility for them, they’re not even willing to try because failure gives their opponents ammunition to use against them. Putting off decisions or pushing them onto committees in order to pass the buck is far less risky.

Until they face a crisis where important decisions have to be made, and not making a decision becomes an important decision in its own right. The political system then works against promoting the very people who are required in such a crisis and they can’t be promoted as fast as military officers in war time.

Hence when we look around the world today we see a lot of political ‘leaders’ who’ve spent most of their life getting to that point yet most of them would prefer to play golf than actually lead. It’s no wonder we’re in such a mess.