The one where I defend Bill Gates

August 5, 2010

I believe it was Spike Milligan who once said “money can’t buy friends, but you can get a better class of enemy.” He wasn’t accounting for envy.

Until the British general election in May, which saw off a government that seemed to be trying to combine all the worst aspects of incompetent socialism with the nastier instincts of fascism (racialist immigration policies, ever more puritanical and police-intrusive legislation), the British left had a nasty, but identifiable purpose.

Now it has none.

This article in the Guardian is the sort of dog vomit one would expect to see in an Ayn Rand parody of a collectivist newsrag.

Bill Gates is big enough and ugly enough to take care of himself (and I hasten to add, has never offered me any inducements to speak his mind). I’m writing this on an old Mac because I don’t trust the first billion copies of Windows 7 to be free of bugs.

(Would a free copy of Vista be a bribe or a threat, I wonder? Pleease, nooo! I’ll say what you want, but don’t put Vista on my poor laptop, noooo!)

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation also has its issues for me: it’s rather more politically correct than I would like it (but hey, it’s up to me to make $30 billion and decide how I spend it, right?), and with size and leverage, comes the power to make big mistakes, rather than smaller ones.

Specifically, in a region of an African country where the Gates Foundation chooses to back a malaria project, this will tend to dwarf existing efforts to, say, distribute a vaccine for schistosomiasis (the reason I won’t take my shoes or socks off in some parts of Egypt). The concern is that in the short term, the effect will be to incite most of the health workers to sign up for Gates’ campaign. Read the rest of this entry »

Back (again)

August 4, 2010

Well, I’m back.

I did manage to keep some flow on Twitter but otherwise, I guess its just you, a couple of spambots, and me.

A few words of explanation: from March until July, I was doing a job that involved irregular hours and a ban on signing into a blogging platform, email, or a social media site. The result was that this site lost out.


For now, I’m doing a job that I’m not allowed to discuss in detail – YET. But hopefully that will change soon as the start up project I’m working reaches a couple of targets.

In the meantime, there’s work to be done and fun to be had.

Testing the Wisdom of Crowds

February 8, 2010

On January 11th, I spoke at a gathering of the Libertarian Alliance about James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds book (previous post here).

I got 15 responses to a questionnaire I handed around at the meeting (recording here) and can now report on my findings.

The questions were as follows:

Question 1. Regardless of what you think will happen, which political party or parties, if any, do you want to win the next British general election?

Question 2. Below is a list of six Premier League football clubs, please list them in order of closest to this place [near Senate House, Malet Street London WC1], to furthest (1 is closest, 6 is furthest. [Ranked in alphabetical order: Arsenal, Chelsea, Fulham, Hull City, Manchester United and Wigan Athletic]

Question 3. Guess my weight (in kilogrammes, stones or pounds). [I stood in front of the audience]

Question 4. Which of these four themes is part of the 2010 Spring Collection, according to the latest trends being pushed by fashion houses?
[Stiletto heels; Kitten heels; Pompadour heels; Achilles heels]

Question 5. Regardless of what you want to happen, which political party will have a majority after the next British general election? If you think no party will have a majority, write “None”.

I also asked respondents to rate how they thought the group would do as a whole. However, I have not reported these as it is clear from the responses that this instruction was not well explained by me (some responded in relative terms, others in absolute terms).

Responses and my comments below the fold…
Read the rest of this entry »

Has the State nationalized Global Warming?

January 11, 2010

I can only offer one suggestion for the very cold weather throughout the northern hemisphere, given that my acceptance of the scientific explanation of sunspots causing weather changes has me branded a “denier.”

The government must have nationalized climate change: that’s why the warming is late and crap.

The UK’s Meterological Office (a tax funded body which is up to its neck in the warmist propaganda) has already decided that this is the warmest winter for years. Dominic Lawson writes here [hat tip: Instapundit]:

one of its staffers sniffily protested in an internet posting to a newspaper last week: “This will be the warmest winter in living memory, the data has already been recorded. For your information, we take the highest 15 readings between November and March and then produce an average. As November was a very seasonally warm month, then all the data will come from those readings.”

A test for the “Wisdom of Crowds”

January 10, 2010

Tomorrow (that’s Monday, 11th January 2010), I shall be giving a talk about James Surowiecki’s excellent little book, The Wisdom of Crowds, at the Institute of Education in London, at an event organised by “the other LA.”

Given the inclement weather, the fact it’s the first meeting of the year, there’s a new venue, I only told friends about it this evening, and the problem that either the speaker or the subject might not be as exciting to others as it is to me, I consider this a good test.

If no one shows up, how can I possibly argue that crowds lack wisdom? But then if I’m right, surely lots of people will want to know more about it.

I shall be talking about markets, taxes, voting, opinion polls and fairness. There will also be a little quiz.

If you cannot (or will not!) make it, I suggest Surowiecki’s book to anyone remotely interested in psychology, economics or epistemology, or to use less fancy language: how people think, work together and acquire and use knowledge.

It’s very readable, it has only one error of reasoning in my opinion [not fair to tell yet] and the only technical flaw is the lack of an index.

[UPDATE 8 Feb 2010: The flaw mentioned above is the claim that taxpayers consent to being taxed. The missing ingredient is the extent to which coercion (actual or potential) affect one’s decision to comply with taxation or not. If the various tax authorities of the world did not have the power to drag people before courts, confiscate assets and prison sentences weren’t relatively longer than say, for stealing food, I imagine that tax revenue rates would plummet.]

Smallville, China

January 3, 2010

A spectacular, if botched demolition in Liuzhou, caught my attention on several grounds. First the awesome image here of what was briefly a leaning tower to make that of Pisa look stable.

But two other thoughts occurred. First, this is no clearing of slums, or destruction of an ancient residential quarter. I’d guess the building being demolished was no more than 20-25 years old. I find this a telling incident in the development of China as a leading industrial country.

Destroying a recent structure to put up something more useful is not something one does when money is tight, or investment prospects are uncertain. It may be a case of Parkinson’s Law concerning new buildings, but I suspect not.

The second is that this story is a reminder that outside the tourist destinations and familiar names of Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, perhaps Nanjing and Guangzhou, there is a huge country. Here’s a list of Chinese cities with a population estimated at over 2.5 million inhabitants:

[taken from Wing Chan “Misconceptions and Complexities in the Study of China’s Cities: Definitions, Statistics, and Implications,” July/August 2007 issue of Eurasian Geography and Economics, which was cited here.

Shanghai 13.46 million
Beijing 9.88 million
Guangzhou 7.55 million
Wuhan 6.79 million
Tianjin 6.76 million
Shenzhen 6.48 million
Chongqing 6.17 million
Shenyang 4.6 million
Chengdu 3.96 million
Dongguan 3.87 million
Xi’an 3.76 million
Nanjing 3.51 million
Harbin 3.46 million
Dalian 2.87 million
Changchun 2.75 million
Qingdao 2.72 million
Kunming 2.64 million
Jinan 2.64 million
Taiyuan 2.54 million
Zhengzhou 2.5 million

To put this in context, here’s the equivalent table for the European Union [adapted from national data here].

London 7.56 million
Berlin 3.43 million
Madrid 3.21 million
Rome 2.73 million
Paris 2.20 million

Anyone wondering how long China will pretend to pay lip service to Western political correctness may do well to ponder where current demographic and economic trends are taking us.

2009 and all that…

January 1, 2010

Every year since 1997, I have compiled a list of 100 New Year’s resolutions, spread over such areas as my debt vs savings, reminders to keep in touch with various family members, an income target, commitments on fitness, reading, study, hobbies and travel. It’s about as personal a document as I ever produce so don’t expect me to broadcast it. I look at it roughly once a month, to keep some track of how I’m doing.

Originally, I started with 56 things I wanted to do in 1995, then a few more got added in ’96, before I found myself with a list of 97 items in 1997, at which point I thought of rounding it up.

I don’t have an easy way of getting a list of all the things I did do, and some are repeated each year, but it now stands at 218, though only nine were successes in 2009.

Off the top of my head, I can think of a few definite things I wouldn’t have done without the list: flying to New York in Concorde, visiting a new country each year (Greece, Ireland, Egypt, the Netherlands, and I’m not counting years where I went to several others [e.g. Italy, the Vatican, the Czech Republic since it split from Slovakia]) and taking part in the Hastings Christmas Chess Tournament (where I won a prize).

I might never have enrolled on my MBA course in 2008 (I’d been toying with the idea for many years), would not have moved when I did in 2003 or bought a camera last May.

On the other hand, I have only once exceeded my income target, in 2003, which I hope reflects the high bar I set myself… For better or for worse, my strategic direction for the year is set with my resolutions.

Perhaps it’s me, but yesterday I found myself asking “where does the idea of New Year’s resolutions come from?” Is it modern, like Mother’s Day in France or turkey for Christmas lunch? Is it ancient, like the seven-day week?

Wikipedia was surprisingly vague on this topic, and most of the claims of antiquity are not well documented (astrologers claiming a Babylonian origin [link in French] are not entirely without an interest in talking up that culture).

The reason I doubt the ancient world as being the original source of the NY resolution custom, is that it seems too modern a preoccupation to think about “must write to mother more often” or “must go to the gym more often.”

There were Jubilee Years announced roughly four times a century by the Popes since 1300AD, which included releasing people from their debts and making pilgrimages, but the NY resolutions seem more personal, more of a form of self-development.

Fortunately, Fugitive Ink had some leads, after I’d suggested that diarists would provide a good starting point:

Possibly, though, I’d start the research slightly earlier than you would – amongst the puritan diarists of the mid-17th century, both in England and the American colonies. They were, after all, great makes of ‘resolutions’ and no slouches when it came to making self-improving promises to God.

When I first started thinking about this, I worried that such pious folk might find the secular New Year insufficiently significant to be worth much in the way of resolutions. But then I had a swift glance at Ralph Josselin’s diary. (He was an Essex clergyman, 1616-83, of broadly puritan inclination, although remaining in Anglican orders.) Look at this, from 1653:

Admittedly, this isn’t exactly a ‘resolution’ per se (despite the odd fact that the word ‘resolution’ occurs in the next sentence), and Josselin is always asking God to do things like that, but all the same, Josselin is evidently using the occasion to ask God to give him ‘a new holy heart’, which in some sense comes rather close to the ‘make me a better person’ end of the contemporary NYR scale, if not the ‘lose a stone’ end of it.

It strikes me therefore that there is no obvious answer to my question, but that the habit of making commitments for the coming year (whether praying for help in achieving them or not) is a reflection of the emergence of a belief in the possible redemption of Man on Earth.

If it did date from Babylonian times, and if it really had persisted through the ages, I wonder if it could be considered one of the most enduring expressions of individual self-development?

Headline news

December 28, 2009

I hope these story headlines from the BBC are NOT related news:

Labour MP dies after heart attack
Pope on first visit since assault
Six held on suspicion of murder
Cameron urges ‘good clean fight’
High-speed rail report expected
‘Simple’ anti-theft ads launched

The possibility that HH Pope Benedict XVI might have assaulted a Labour MP (who died of a heart attack), with six accomplices (including David Cameron) because simple anti-theft advertisements are launched to prevent the stealing of high-speed trains, would be disturbing, to say the least.

I need a new electorate

December 15, 2009

The people have spoken, again.

Changes in your ranks:
#41 cutest (lost 1 place)
#43 hottest (lost 1 place)
#43 person with the prettiest eyes (lost 1 place)
#44 sexiest (lost 1 place)
#45 most dateable (lost 1 place)

Not wishing to sound like a bad loser, but OUCH!!!

Faithful Igor

“So, Antoine, what’s it like to be Igor‘s ugly twin?”

Late thoughts on bigotry

December 14, 2009

I’m publishing here my response to a Wonkette piece about Sarah Palin’s Down Syndrome child, Trig. The article was written in June by Ken Layne, though my comments are aimed at the blog’s founder, not her flunkies.

antoineclarke says at 2:53 pm, December 14th, 2009
– Reply

Is that the best you can do? Lame.

If the stormtrooper is some kind of hint of Nazism, how come the people who are accused of being Nazis are the ones AGAINST eugenics, and the people supporting eugenics are the ones calling out “fascist.” Seems like disinformation to me.

As someone who would possibly have been gassed by real Nazis, and who had a relative executed by them (he was a hostage that was murdered because a prisoner escaped), I find the attacks on a woman (for not having an abortion) at the very least silly. Next you’ll be supporting some idiot who calls for conservative women to be gang raped. I honestly don’t recall your stance on that story, but I hope you condemned it.

There was me thinking pro-abortion people were in favour of choice. I guess “choice” is just a propaganda tool for collectivists to chip away at individual rights.

I used to consider abortion of a Down’s Syndrome foetus an unfortunate idea but on the whole the right thing to do. Until I traveled to work every day for a year on a train in London with a young woman who had the condition. Most people in the train were grumpy, cramped, seemed pretty miserable. She on the other hand listened to her music and seemed happy. I certainly do not have the right to decide if she had the right to live. And I don’t think you do either.

However, call me a bleeding heart if you like, but I would not condone physical threats or any assault on you, simply for being wrong on an issue. Let’s see how sane your readers are.

Bring back Ana Marie Cox, I reckon.

[H/T ] William A. Jacobson