Unelected Elites

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Why Star Wars is Crap

Charlie Stross has the same aversion to Star Wars as I do:

When George Lucas was choreographing the dogfights in “Star Wars”, he took his visual references from film of first world war dogfights over the trenches in western Europe. With aircraft flying at 100-200 km/h in large formations, the cinema screen could frame multiple aircraft maneuvering in proximity, close enough to be visually distinguishable. The second world war wasn’t cinematic: with aircraft engaging at speeds of 400-800 km/h, the cinematographer would have had a choice between framing dots dancing in the distance, or zooming in on one or two aircraft. (While some movies depict second world war air engagements, they’re not visually captivating: either you see multiple aircraft cruising in close formation, or a sudden flash of disruptive motion—see for example the bomber formation in Memphis Belle, or the final attack on the U-boat pen in Das Boot.) Trying to accurately depict an engagement between modern jet fighters, with missiles launched from beyond visual range and a knife-fight with guns takes place in a fraction of a second at a range of multiple kilometres, is cinematically futile: the required visual context of a battle between massed forces evaporates in front of the camera.

Another example from Star Wars is the manually-aimed anti-aircraft guns on the Millenium Falcon:

star_wars_aa_gun

This is obviously meant to look like something from a WW2 bomber. The Star Wars universe has artificial general intelligence (for example the robot C3PO). So of course computer aimed guns would be more effectively. That they’re not being used is about as silly as a Roman legion having sub machine guns but choosing not to use them and fighting its enemies with swords instead!

The whole Star Wars universe, from start to finish, is basically an insult to the intelligence.

Let me say it here: when you fuck with the underlying consistency of your universe, you are cheating your readers. You may think that this isn’t actually central to your work: you’re trying to tell a story about human relationships, why get worked up about the average spacing of asteroids when the real purpose of the asteroid belt is to give your protagonists a tense situation to survive and a shared experience to bond over?

Stories have to be about human relationships to be interesting. But if the plot, when set in space, requires absurdities, then the answer is simple: don’t set the plot (or at least that part of it) in space. This is not rocket science (well, OK, it is, but you get my point).

But the effects of internal inconsistency are insidious. If you play fast and loose with distance and time scale factors, then you undermine travel times. If your travel times are rubberized, you implicitly kneecapped the economics of trade in your futurescape. Which in turn affects your protagonist’s lifestyle, caste, trade, job, and social context. And, thereby, their human, emotional relationships. The people you’re writing the story of live in a (metaphorical) house the size of a galaxy. Undermine part of the foundations and the rest of the house of cards is liable to crumble, crushing your characters under a burden of inconsistencies.

Everything is connected to everything else.

(And if you wanted that goddamn Lucasian asteroid belt experience why not set your story aboard a sailing ship trying to avoid running aground in a storm? Where the scale factor fits.)

Indeed. Or is you want WW1-style aircraft, just set the story in a society with WW1-level technology (maybe on a different planet than earth).

Some of these things may feel like constants, but they’re really not. Humans are social organisms, our technologies are part of our cultures, and the way we live is largely determined by this stuff.

This last point cannot be emphasized enough.

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Coase, Carillion, and the Perils of Outsourcing

The Yorkshire Ranter writes about Ronald Coase’s Transaction Cost Theory and how it relates to the disaster that struck Carillion, and other failures of outsourcing.

There are two ways to run an economy: a market economy, where individual economic actors are free to agree amongst themselves what to buy/sell to each other and at what cost, and a command economy, where someone at the top gives orders as to what should be done, and it is done.

Firms are actors in a market economy; but within a firm, it is a command economy. Coase explained  why:

What have US healthcare, British railways, the shipwreck of Carillion plc, and the F-35 got in common, and why should you care? Well…none of them work terribly well, they all cost vastly more than expected, and nobody can put their finger on why.

These diverse phenomena actually have a lot in common. I think of them as Coasian hells. Ronald Coase observed that an organisation could be considered as a collection of contracts, and asked why, in that case, did organisations even exist. His answer was that contractual relationships have transactions costs. When these transactions costs outweighed the expense of organisation, organisation would predominate. Also, there were limits to transaction; it might be actually impossible to specify what was wanted in a contract, or equivalently, it might cost too much to write it.

But from the 1980s governments got a mania to outsource everything, and forgot about the transaction costs of contacts:

In many ways, we’ve lived through a giant experiment in proving Ronald Coase wrong, which has now failed.

One very large, and especially purist, example of this was British railway privatisation. This did not just transfer a firm from the public into the private sector. Much more importantly, it transformed one large firm into a large number of smaller ones that interacted on a contractual basis.

When a management problem arose – for example, a train was late – a claim would be raised by one actor on another. For example, the Department for Transport might invoke a contractual penalty because the trains were late. The train-operating company would immediately claim against the infrastructure operator, which might counterclaim. Because the train leasing company might have guaranteed a certain on-time service level under a total outsourcing arrangement with the operating company, it too would then try to claim against anyone else it could think of.

This had important consequences. First of all, the claims-management process was itself costly. This is Coase’s basic argument. Second, because the prices of services exchanged between the component firms were often determined after the event, through the claims process, they were no longer informative about the marginal costs involved, but rather about the contract-management process. As a result, costs overall rose substantially although nobody could put their finger on who was coining it. Thirdly, it simply became enormously complex. A contract, after all, is executed between parties. The number of pairwise interactions within an organisation rapidly becomes very large – in fact, it increases by the factorial of the size of the organisation.

The first is just the administrative overhead of the contracting process. The second and third are actually much more important. It will always be very difficult to get more efficient if you don’t know what your costs really area. This is a source of long term dynamic inefficiency. A major motivation of taking track maintenance back in-house was just trying to get an idea of what it actually cost.

This had bad consequences. For example Carillion:

Carillion consisted, essentially, of a sales and contract management organisation that hunted public-sector service contracts and then hired subcontractors to carry them out. This is a fairly pure statement of the firm as a network of contracts. It grew largely through a succession of mergers and acquisitions, buying up the facilities management divisions of British construction companies to get their government contracts. This had an important effect on the company – it became a conglomerate that had only one real specialisation, bidding on government contracts. It is not surprising that it didn’t do a great job.

Or the F-35 program:

This model, known as a prime contractor, emerged in the 1980s in the context of the US defence budget. After the 1985 Goldwater-Nichols Act, the US Department of Defense was meant to do less development work of its own and rely more on the private sector. To this end, contracts for major defence equipment were no longer written on the basis of a manufacturer getting a contract to build aircraft or tanks or whatever as specified – instead, a prime contractor would manage the process of developing them, even of specifying them, and contract with other corporations to do the job. As a result, you wouldn’t necessarily go to Boeing to buy aeroplanes or Colt to buy guns. Instead you might buy armoured vehicles from British Aerospace, or ships from Marconi. The consequence of prime contracting was that the manufacturers became conglomerates, whose only specialisation was bidding on government contracts. They also became much bigger and more oligopolistic.

And you know what? It didn’t really work in defence, either. The tortuous and hellishly expensive development of the F-35, the first aircraft whose whole development fell in the prime contracting era, is a fine example of everything we’ve discussed above. The only difference is that it was too big to fail from the very beginning, so each setback resulted in more money. The next major project, the B-21, is being built mostly in a government-owned factory under a single manufacturer development contract.

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Royal Mail Announces Commemorative Brexit Stamps!

The Royal Mail initially weren’t going to issue any commemorative Brexit stamps, but after a valiant campaign led by patriotic Brexiters, the Daily Express and the Daily Mail, they have now relented.

The Royal Mail said:

We are proud to be celebrating the momentous occasion of the UK freeing itself from the shackles of the EU. These contemporary gifts are likely to be highly sought after by collectors around the world, so buy yours today to avoid disappointment.

Here are the designs:

brexit_stamp_1

brexit_stamp_2

Don’t they make you proud to be British!

 

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Dan Hannon’s Delusional 2016 Article on Brexit

In 2016 Tory Brexiteer MEP Dan Hannan wrote an article about what Britain would be like in 2025 after Brexit. It’s seriously delusional, as Hannan must realise, as he has since deleted it. It was at the URL http://reaction.life/britain-looks-like-brexit and archived at https://archive.fo/CDBFf.

Here it is preserved for posterity:


It’s 24 June, 2025, and Britain is marking its annual Independence Day celebration. As the fireworks stream through the summer sky, still not quite dark, we wonder why it took us so long to leave. The years that followed the 2016 referendum didn’t just reinvigorate our economy, our democracy and our liberty. They improved relations with our neighbours.

The United Kingdom is now the region’s foremost knowledge-based economy. We lead the world in biotech, law, education, the audio-visual sector, financial services and software. New industries, from 3D printing to driverless cars, have sprung up around the country. Older industries, too, have revived as energy prices have fallen back to global levels: steel, cement, paper, plastics and ceramics producers have become competitive again.

The EU, meanwhile, continues to turn inwards, clinging to its dream of political amalgamation as the euro and migration crises worsen. Its population is ageing, its share of world GDP shrinking and its peoples protesting. “We have the most comprehensive workers’ rights in the world”, complains Jean-Claude Juncker, who has recently begun in his second term as President of the European Federation, “but we have fewer and fewer workers”.

The last thing most EU leaders wanted, once the shock had worn off, was a protracted argument with the United Kingdom which, on the day it left, became their single biggest market. Terms were agreed easily enough. Britain withdrew from the EU’s political structures and institutions, but kept its tariff-free arrangements in place. The rights of EU nationals living in the UK were confirmed, and various reciprocal deals on healthcare and the like remained. For the sake of administrative convenience, Brexit took effect formally on 1 July 2019, to coincide with the mandates of a new European Parliament and Commission.

That day marked, not a sudden departure, but the beginning of a gradual reorientation. As the leader of the Remain campaign, Lord Rose, had put it during the referendum campaign, “It’s not going to be a step change, it’s going to be a gentle process.” He was spot on.

In many areas, whether because of economies of scale or because rules were largely set at global level, the UK and the EU continued to adopt the same technical standards. But, from 2019, Britain could begin to disapply those regulations where the cost of compliance outweighed any benefits.

The EU’s Clinical Trials Directive, for example, had wiped out a great deal of medical research in Britain. Outside it, we again lead the world. Opting out of the EU’s data protection rules has turned Hoxton into the software capital of the world. Britain is no longer hampered by Brussels restrictions on sales, promotions and e-commerce.

Other EU regulations, often little known, had caused enormous damage. The REACH Directive, limiting the import of chemical products, had imposed huge costs on manufacturers. The bans on vitamin supplements and herbal remedies had closed down many health shops. London’s art market had been brutalised by EU rules on VAT and retrospective taxation. All these sectors have revived.

Financial services are booming – not only in London, but in Birmingham, Leeds and Edinburgh too. Eurocrats had never much liked the City, which they regarded as parasitical. Before Brexit, they targeted London with regulations that were not simply harmful but, in some cases, downright malicious: the Alternative Investment Fund Managers Directive, the ban on short selling, the Financial Transactions Tax, the restrictions on insurance. After Britain left, the EU’s regulations became even more heavy-handed, driving more exiles from Paris, Frankfurt and Milan. No other European city could hope to compete: their high rates of personal and corporate taxation, restrictive employment practices and lack of support services left London unchallenged.

Other cities, too, have boomed, not least Liverpool and Glasgow, which had found themselves on the wrong side of the country when the EEC’s Common External Tariff was phased in in the 1970s. In 2016, the viability of our commercial ports was threatened by the EU’s Ports Services Directive, one of many proposed rules that was being held back so as not to boost the Leave vote. Now, the UK has again become a centre for world shipping.

Shale oil and gas came on tap, almost providentially, just as the North Sea reserves were depleting, with most of the infrastructure already in place. Outside the EU, we have been able to augment this bonanza by buying cheap Chinese solar panels. In consequence, our fuel bills have tumbled, boosting productivity, increasing household incomes and stimulating the entire economy.

During the first 12 months after the vote, Britain confirmed with the various countries that have trade deals with the EU that the same deals would continue. It also used that time to agree much more liberal terms with those states which had run up against EU protectionism, including India, China and Australia. These new treaties came into effect shortly after independence. Britain, like the EFTA countries, now combines global free trade with full participation in EU markets.
Our universities are flourishing, taking the world’s brightest students and, where appropriate, charging accordingly. Their revenues, in consequence, are rising, while they continue to collaborate with research centres in Europe and around the world.
The number of student visas granted each year is decided by MPs who, now that they no longer need to worry about unlimited EU migration, can afford to take a long-term view. Parliament sets the number of work permits, the number of refugee places and the terms of family reunification. A points-based immigration system invites the world’s top talent; and the consequent sense of having had to win a place competitively means that new settlers arrive with commensurate pride and patriotism.
Unsurprisingly, several other European countries have opted to copy Britain’s deal with the EU, based as it is upon a common market rather than a common government. Some of these countries were drawn from EFTA (Norway, Switzerland and Iceland are all bringing their arrangements into line with ours). Some came from further afield (Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine). Some followed us out of the EU (Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands).

The United Kingdom now leads a 22-state bloc that forms a free trade area with the EU, but remains outside its political structures. For their part, the EU 24 have continued to push ahead with economic, military and political amalgamation. They now have a common police force and army, a pan-European income tax and a harmonised system of social security. These developments have prompted referendums in three other EU states on whether to copy Britain.

Perhaps the greatest benefit, though, is not easy to quantify. Britain has recovered its self-belief. As we left the EU, we straightened our backs, looked about us, and realised that we were still a nation to be reckoned with: the world’s fifth economy and fourth military power, one of five members on the UN Security Council and a leading member of the G7 and the Commonwealth. We recalled, too, that we were the world’s leading exporter of soft power; that our language was the most widely studied on Earth; that we were linked by kinship and migration to every continent and archipelago. We saw that there were great opportunities across the oceans, beyond the enervated eurozone. We knew that our song had not yet been sung.

Daniel Hannan is a Conservative MEP and author of Why Vote Leave published by Head of Zeus


I guess that means I’ve just committed myself to keeping this blog up until at least 2025.

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Pirates come third in Czech election

Czechia had a general election:

Party Votes % +/– Seats +/–
ANO 2011 1,500,113 29.64 +10.98 78 +31
Civic Democratic Party 572,962 11.32 +3.59 25 +9
Czech Pirate Party 546,393 10.79 +8.13 22 +22
Freedom and Direct Democracy 538,574 10.64 NEW 22 +22
Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia 393,100 7.76 -7.15 15 -18
Czech Social Democratic Party 368,347 7.27 -13.09 15 -35
KDU-ČSL 293,643 5.80 -0.98 10 -4
TOP 09 268,811 5.31 -6.69 7 -19
Mayors and Independents 262,157 5.18 NEW 6 +6

The final polls put the Pirates on 7.7% whereas their actual result was over 3 points higher than that.

This is almost exactly a year after Pirates came 3rd in the Icelandic election, on 14.5% of the vote.

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Catalonia will become independent

Spanish police are using violence to prevent people from voting in Catalonia’s independence referendum, which Spain describes as “illegal”. Here’s some Spanish riot police about to fire into protestors:

spanish_riot_police_barcelona

From the Guardian:

More video footage of police brutality against voters in Barcelona has appeared. The video shows police hitting people in the crowd with batons while voters hold up their hands.

Without the violence, independence would probably have got the support of 45% of Catalans. But Spain’s heavy-handed response will move many into the pro-independence camp.

As Vox Day says:

Spain is losing the moral level of war in Catalonia. Badly. The Spanish can cry “the vote is illegal” all they like, but the Spanish government can no longer pretend to have democratic legitimacy in Catalonia or to be anything but an imperialist state governing an unwilling people by force. The vote is no longer even necessary at this point; world opinion is actively turning against Spain.

Remember, “the law” does not actually exist in any material sense. It is merely a collective agreement, which ceases to exist when a sufficient number of people unilaterally withdraw from it.

There are two ways to govern a people: don’t oppress them at all (the democratic approach), or oppress them properly (how most states have been governed, historically); if you try to do something in between, you’ll probably fail. Spain wants to oppress Catalonia, but is too democratic to do so properly — they can’t go for a return of Francoism, and if they did,  they would get kicked out of the EU, ruining their economy.

So Catalonia will very likely become independent.

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