Splashdown for SpaceX

John Stossel:

2 Americans just landed safely after spending 2 months in space.

11 years ago, an Obama committee concluded that would take 12 years and cost $26 billion. Elon Musk did it in 6 years– for less than $1 billion.

Private competition is always better.

On the other hand, says the LA Times:

Elon Musk’s growing empire is fueled by $4.9 billion in government subsidies

Los Angeles entrepreneur Elon Musk has built a multibillion-dollar fortune running companies that make electric cars, sell solar panels and launch rockets into space.

And he’s built those companies with the help of billions in government subsidies.

Tesla Motors Inc., SolarCity Corp. and Space Exploration Technologies Corp., known as SpaceX, together have benefited from an estimated $4.9 billion in government support, according to data compiled by The Times. The figure underscores a common theme running through his emerging empire: a public-private financing model underpinning long-shot start-ups.

“He definitely goes where there is government money,” said Dan Dolev, an analyst at Jefferies Equity Research. “That’s a great strategy, but the government will cut you off one day.”

Like the government is liable to cut Boeing off. Because now, it can.

I’m guessing Musk reckons he could find other customers, if the government stopped paying. But I’m guessing further that a chunk of all that money goes to schmoozing the government to keep on paying. In a decade or two, Musk could be no better than Boeing.

This is “privatisation”, and privatisation isn’t the same as a real market, hence the sneer quotes. Private competition is always better. So are lots of customers spending their own money, instead of just the one, getting its money at gunpoint. Let’s hope that in this case it will turn out to be a step in the right direction. As big as it now feels.

A trio of e-scooters – why there’ll be no scoot-by shootings – why I’m now less gung-ho about e-scooters than I was

So there I was, standing near the top end of Victoria Street, with two things on my mind and being photoed by me. There was Pavlova, and there was the fact that the road junction at the top end of Victoria Street is as muddled and meaningless and shapeless as the magnificent (Parliament) Square at the other end is clear and meaningful and shapely. Seriously, they’ve been hacking away at this place for the last decade, redoing Victoria Tube and much else besides. When you look at it all at ground level, you think: Why did they bother? What a missed opportunity to bookend Victoria Street with something almost as good as what happens at the other! But no, it a mess.

At which point, into this meaningless muddle there came these three persons, on their three e-machines:

That’s right, a small flock of e-scooters, driven by young persons. I knew I’d encounter such a site in circumstances that would enable me to photo it sooner or later, and that moment had arrived. The photos are not great, as photos. But, they do the job.

I vividly recall encountering my first flock of cyclists driven by young persons in hoods, and thinking: It’s only a matter of time before we are all reading about bike-by shootings. Because that was the atmosphere exuded by that cyclist flock. It is a minor but definite regret of mine that I did not record this prophecy before it was fulfilled, as fulfilled it very soon was.

However, I don’t believe that there are going to be any scoot-by shootings any time soon. E-scooters, in fact scooters of both kinds, are fundamentally different from bikes. Bikes work more safely if you keep your hands on the handlebars, but you don’t have to keep your hands on the handlebars. You can steer a bike using only your arse and your feet. You can therefore ride a bike and deploy a weapon, should you be inclined. However, it is my clear understanding that if you take both your hands off the handlebars of an e-scooter, you come an immediate cropper. Even taking one hand off one handlebar would severely endanger you.

Any assassin gang able to get their hands and feet on e-scooters can also obtain bikes, so bikes will continue to be the means of transport of choice for assassin gangs who can’t or don’t want to use a motor vehicle. (Remember, bike gangs can easily split up after they’ve done their evil deeds, and individual bikes can go places cars can’t.)

In general, e-scooters are just not as “empowering” as bikes. They are more unstable, more vulnerable, not least to bikes. I got the chance to interrogate a couple of e-scooter guys, a few days before I photoed the above photos, and this was what they told me. It wasn’t easy to explain, they said. You’ll have to actually do it to get what we’re saying, they said. But, e-scooters are kind of dangerous, they said.

This conversation is the first one I’ve had that made me less gung-ho than I have been lately about e-scooters than more. E-scooters may not be about to conquer the world after all.

I continue to see a steady and slightly increasing number of e-scooters in my local area, every time I venture out into it, and I do mean every time. But maybe this is a temporary phenomenon made possible by Lockdown and the consequent reduction in the number of threats to e-scooters. Maybe when business-as-usual resumes on all of London’s roads, as it surely soon will even as business as a whole in London takes a big hit, then maybe the e-scooters will retreat, instead of becoming ever more numerous.

What e-scooters probably need is dedicated e-scooter pathways. I have seen enough non-hooded, middle class e-scooters, and even a couple of e-scooter family flocks, to suggest that the political clout to contrive such pathways might materialise. But it will take its time, I think.

Thoughts provoked by a Paul Graham piece about privilege

Paul Graham:

There has been a lot of talk about privilege lately. Although the concept is overused, there is something to it, and in particular to the idea that privilege makes you blind — that you can’t see things that are visible to someone whose life is very different from yours.

But one of the most pervasive examples of this kind of blindness is one that I haven’t seen mentioned explicitly. I’m going to call it orthodox privilege: The more conventional-minded someone is, the more it seems to them that it’s safe for everyone to express their opinions.

It’s safe for them to express their opinions, because the source of their opinions is whatever it’s currently acceptable to believe. So it seems to them that it must be safe for everyone. They literally can’t imagine a true statement that would get them in trouble.

And yet at every point in history, there were true things that would get you in terrible trouble to say. Is ours the first where this isn’t so? What an amazing coincidence that would be.

Surely it should at least be the default assumption that our time is not unique, and that there are true things you can’t say now, just as there have always been. …

This is a particular version of the general tendency to believe that now, finally, this or that age-old problem has been solved. In all previous times, speech was unfree. Now, people can say exactly what they like!

One of my favourite of such intractable problems is the one about how to look after the very poor and very unlucky. When the Attlee welfare state got into its stride, the error of supposing “welfare” to have been sorted was rampant in Britain, although it has abated now, following many bitter welfare state experiences. Looking after the poor has always been and will always remain very hard. How to separate the deserving poor from the undeserving poor? How to provide help without introducing moral hazard? These questions are very hard, have always been hard, and will always be hard.

I am listening to two smug young white people on the radio smugly assuming that their generation has a unique ability to sort out racial problems and unfairnesses, unlike all previous generations, who were either too wicked or too lazy. That they might be introducing new race-related indignities and insults and assumptions does not seem to register. You surely know the sort of dilemmas I am thinking of. Solve racism by assuming everyone is equally qualified! Solve racism by talking about it endlessly and encouraging the downtrodden to blame everything wrong with their lives on racism! Solve racism by never talking about racism and just self-fulfillingly prophesying that, now, it’s not a thing anymore! Solve racism by encouraging the downtrodden to find ways through racism and around racism! All these notions have truths in them, and dangers attached to them.

An equal and opposite error to this sort of temporal arrogance is the belief that the wrongs of our own time are unique to our own time. I regularly hear it assumed that there is something uniquely mediocre and corrupt about our current gang of politicians, uniquely trashy and mendacious about our media, uniquely ugly and ridiculous about our art, uniquely huge about the gap between our very rich and our very poor, uniquely bad about the behaviour of kids these days. Wrong again.

Many things have got much better. Many problems are solvable and have been solved, or will be. Some time around 1780, all the graphs of human comfort and wellbeing stopped being damn near horizontal and switched to being damn near vertical, in a good way. Ever more people since that magic moment have been able to do things for themselves and each other that nobody could do for anyone before it. We in Britain call this event the Industrial Revolution and those of us Brits who know about it are very proud of the part our ancestors played in this dramatic and continuing improvement in human affairs. The greatest form of historical myopia in the world now, certainly my part of it, may well be the unawareness of the fact of this amazing transformation. (Caused by the unique awfulness of our education system. Our teachers are the worst there have ever ever been!)

Patrick Crozier and I will be talking about this Industrial Revolution in our next recorded conversation.

The Broadgate Tower … etcetera

The Broadgate Tower, because I like it. This particular City of London Big Thing is in a slightly different style to the more celebrated Big Things just to its south, in that it is one of those towers that is pretending to be a little clutch of separate towers. No one of these towers is that distinctive, but together they make a pleasing aggregate. (Also, the late afternoon sun can bounce off this Thing in a way that is downright spectacular, but that’s for a different posting.)

The “etcetera” bit of this posting is because although the Broadgate Tower was my officially designated destination for the afternoon, the weather was rather grim and as you will see, my photos of the Tower itself didn’t come out that well. Better were the close-up views of diverting things that I also photoed that day. My taxis-with-adverts habit had by then kicked in, and the adverts on taxis look pretty good whatever the state of the light is. And adverts in general were a source of photo-fun on that particular day, what with that part of town being so very different from the part where I live:

We start at whatever station that was that I went to to get started. Hoxton? Shoreditch High St? Don’t know? Didn’t take (but should have taken) a photo-note. Then we get several photos of the Broadgate Tower, and in among them, the real fun starts, in the form of the signs and adverts and other curiosities I encountered. I ended up in the City, where quite Big Things are reflected in other Bigger Things.

There’s even a bridge, of a sort that I really like, one that joins two buildings across a narrow street. It’s a double-decker bridge, which I particularly enjoy.

Today’s weather is rather grim. However, these photos were all photoed on July 27th 2015, exactly five years ago to the day. The weather was, as already stated, rather grim on that day also. But, I hope you agree that I worked around it okay.

Food and drink makes it into the categories list because of the bottle tops, which adorn a pub and which add up to a male figure, in the manner of a Gormley project. But: not. Also, one of the taxis says to just eat.

Boris Johnson at Lord’s on July 17th 2006

Indeed. On that day, for the final day of this game between England and Pakistan, I was at Lord’s, photoing photos like this:

You can see what I was trying for there. A nice uninterrupted photo of that Space Pod Lord’s Media Centre, with that Spirit of Cricket sign in the foreground. The spirit of cricket having undergone a lot of modernisation lately. Something along those lines.

Only this blond-haired bloke strode past and got in the way, and it took me three goes before I had a photo I could crop down into what I was going for.

However, Boris Johnson was even then a celeb, and he grinned happily at me as I photoed him. I knew, and have known ever since, who this chap in my photos was. So, absurdly blurry though his face is, that is definitely him. Just like me, he had been watching the cricket.

Which rather gives the lie to this piece in The Critic, by John Joliffe, with this subheading above it:

What happened to Boris as a child that he hates cricket so?

Backed up by this in the text, in which Joliffe speculates, without really meaning it, why the Johnson government has smothered cricket in social distancing regulations:

One wondered about the motives of a government which was willing to foist these futile regulations on a harmless amateur game. It seemed unlikely that Simon and his sanitiser was all that kept us from an early death. Perhaps 40 years ago at Eton, Boris Johnson was overlooked to play for the Colts 4th XI on Agars Plough and has never forgotten the slight or forgiven the game.

If Johnson has hated cricket ever since he was a kid, he had a weird way of showing it back in 2006.

I don’t think Johnson hates cricket. More likely, he hates what he has been doing, for over-riding political reasons he was and is powerless to resist, to cricket and to the country, because of this damn Plague, and what both the press and the “experts” were and are still telling him he has to do about it. As a Prime Ministerial predecessor of Johnson’s is said to have said: “Events, dear boy, events.”

The third and deciding game of this summer’s weird test series between England and the West Indies begins tomorrow morning. Weather permitting.

James Lindsay talks to and with Joe Rogan

I’ve had my morning deranged by watching and listening to this video of … well, see above. Lots of wisdom in this. Lots.

James Lindsay is a new name to me, and towards the end of this he talked about another new name to me, someone called Derek Bell. I don’t know how to spell Derek, so let’s see if I got it right.

No. Derrick Bell.

I note that the wokists are now saying that nobody really ever really gets cancelled, and I sort of agree with this. I don’t see a world in which any chosen person can be completely silenced. I see a world of unprecedented freedom of expression, but also a huge number of people who really, really do not like this, and are trying to shout down the people they don’t like. But they are not succeeding, or rather, only succeeding somewhat. If the wokists could pick their biggest enemies out and silence the lot of them, this James Lindsay guy would be literally dead now and nobody would even remember him. As it is, he gets to talk to and with Joe Rogan for three hours on end, and I get to watch it, on the other side of a quite big ocean.

As for all those lower-down-the-pundit-pecking-order people who dare not say anything because they want to keep their jobs, well, yes there are still lots of people like that. All effective people have to specialise and there are indeed lots of jobs, and always have been, where you have to keep a lot of what you think to yourself. (My Dad had to keep shtum about being an atheist, because if he hadn’t his job as a big-cheese lawyer might have stalled very badly. Me and my siblings only learned about these heretical opinions of his after he retired. (He couldn’t afford to have us even saying things about what he thought (just like dissidents and their kids in the old USSR))). But, now, you can adopt a pseudonym and say whatever the hell you like on the old www, and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll keep your job.

As this James Lindsay video illustrates, anyone who wants to dissent in the privacy of their own home, from the (actually ex-) Mainstream Media, and then vote accordingly, can easily do that. And nothing the wokists are doing can change that.

LATER: On the other hand, while freedom of expression in total has, I think, and despite all efforts to suppress this freedom, greatly increased because of the internet, on the other hand, freedom of expression for academics has decreased and is decreasing. If you want more freedom of expression and to be, or to go on being, an academic, you picked a bad time. I believe that the doctrine of academic freedom was originally devised to carve out an enclave of freedom of expression for academics, in a world where freedom of expression of the necessary level for academia to do its job was not generally available. Now, academia needs to catch up with the wider world.

Big subject, obviously.

LATER STILL: Good luck cancelling this guy.

That moment when three of the statues in Parliament Square were in boxes

For a few days in June, the statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square was hidden in a box, to protect it from demonstrators.

And on June 17th, I checked it out:

I also discovered that two other statues had been thus encased.

Mandela:

And Gandhu:

Although strangely, what with him having been threatened, not Lincoln:

I especially treasure photos like this, of moments in London history that are very striking, yet temporary. (Another of my photo-clutches that I especially like having photoed for this reason is all the photos I photoed of this broken crane.)

I vividly recall photoing these statues-in-boxes photos, yet when I went looking for them this evening, I couldn’t find them on my hard disk. I eventually looked on the back-up SD card that I always carry with me in my jacket pocket for when I forget to insert the regular SD card that is usually in my camera, and there these photos were. Still on that SD card, not yet downloaded to the hard disc, yet all present and correct. And I experienced that particular happiness that happens when life extricates itself from extreme misery, and back only to the extreme imperfection that is life’s normal state.

I returned on June 21st. By which time these boxes had gone and all the statues were back on view.

Trump as Republican Party Reptile

I just did some Thoughts on Trump’s Mount Rushmore speech for Samizdata. Here is the complete speech of Trump’s that I was on about, and to which I linked, twice, because I think the fact that we all now can link directly to it is so very good.

Something else I didn’t complicate my Samizdata piece with did occur to me, while I was reading that same speech, and in particular when I read things like this in it:

We are the country of Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, and Frederick Douglass. We are the land of Wild Bill Hickok and Buffalo Bill Cody. (Applause.) We are the nation that gave rise to the Wright Brothers, the Tuskegee Airmen – (applause) – Harriet Tubman, Clara Barton, Jesse Owens, George Patton – General George Patton – the great Louie Armstrong, Alan Shepard, Elvis Presley, and Mohammad Ali. (Applause.) And only America could have produced them all. (Applause.) No other place.

We are the culture that put up the Hoover Dam, laid down the highways, and sculpted the skyline of Manhattan. We are the people who dreamed a spectacular dream – it was called: Las Vegas, in the Nevada desert; who built up Miami from the Florida marsh; and who carved our heroes into the face of Mount Rushmore. (Applause.)

Americans harnessed electricity, split the atom, and gave the world the telephone and the Internet. We settled the Wild West, won two World Wars, landed American astronauts on the Moon – and one day very soon, we will plant our flag on Mars.

We gave the world the poetry of Walt Whitman, the stories of Mark Twain, the songs of Irving Berlin, the voice of Ella Fitzgerald, the style of Frank Sinatra – (applause) – the comedy of Bob Hope, the power of the Saturn V rocket, the toughness of the Ford F-150 – (applause) – and the awesome might of the American aircraft carriers.

I’ve read this before, I thought, or something a hell of a lot like it. Yes, a piece in P. J. O.Rourke’s Republican Party Reptile, which was published in 1987, about an epic car journey O’Rourke made across America, in a Ferrari. I read this book in the late eighties. The Ferrari piece in this book would appear to be a slimmed down version of this piece, which was published in Car and Driver, in 1980.

I wrote a Libertarian Alliance pamphlet in praise of O’Rourke’s essay (also in praise of classical CDs), which included big quotes from the 1987 version of O’Rourke’s piece, including things like this:

… To be in control of our destinies – and there is no more profound feeling of control of one’s destiny that I have ever experienced than to drive a Ferrari down a public road at 130 miles an hour. Only God can make a tree, but only man can drive by one that fast. And if the lowly Italians, the lamest, silliest, least stable of our NATO allies, can build a machine like this, just think what it is that we can do. We can smash the atom. We can cure polio. We can fly to the moon if we like. There is nothing we can’t do. Maybe we don’t happen to build Ferraris, but that’s not because there’s anything wrong with America. We just haven’t turned the full light of our intelligence and ability in that direction. We were, you know, busy elsewhere. We may not have Ferraris but just think what our Polaris-submarines are like. And if it feels like this in a Ferrari at 130, my God, what can it possibly feel like at Mach 2.5 in an F-15? Ferrari 308s and F-15s – these are the conveyances of free men. What do the Bolshevik automatons know of destiny and its control? What have we to fear from the barbarous Red hordes?

And like this:

… And rolling through the desert thus, I worked myself into a great patriotic frenzy, which culminated on the parapets of the Hoover Dam (even if that was kind of a socialistic project and built by the Roosevelt in the wheelchair and not by the good one who killed bears). With the Ferrari parked up atop that orgasmic arc of cement, doors flung open and Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls” blasting into the night above the rush of a man-crafted Niagara and the crackle and the hum of mighty dynamos, I was uplifted, transported, ecstatic. A black man in a big, solid Eldorado pulled up next to us and got out to shake our hands. “You passed me this morning down in New Mexico,” he said. “And that sure is a beautiful car. …”.

Note that Mount Rushmore includes, along with Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln: the Roosevelt who killed bears, Teddy Roosevelt, but not the Roosevelt in the wheelchair who presided over the Great Depression. No wonder Democrats are now saying they hate it.

I don’t know what P.J. O’Rourke is up to these days, so whether he had any direct input into Trump’s speech I have no idea. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. But I’ll bet you anything that whatever combination of Trump and Trumpsters wrote Trump’s speech at the very least knew all about that O’Rourke piece. I’ll go further. I’ll bet Trump read that O’Rourke piece at some point in the 1980s, and remembered it, and said to his guys: “That’s what I want! Write me something like that!” And they did. Right up to the stuff about cars, and warships, and the Hoover Dam, and about how “there is nothing we can’t do”.

Even if you hate everything about P.J. O’Rourke and everything about Trump and if you especially hate Trump’s speech the other day, you surely may still be agreeing about the O’Rourke echoes I think I heard.

If I’m right, then this is a story which confirms something else I am fond of telling anyone who will listen, which is that all the people alive now will, in thirty or forty years time, either be thirty or forty years older, or dead. You can tell a lot about the world now, by asking what people in their teens and twenties were getting excited about, thirty or forty years ago. There will be more of that.

Of course, I loved Trump’s speech, just as I loved that P.J. O’Rourke Ferrari piece. God is a figment of the human imagination, but setting that quibble aside, may He Bless America.

Thumbnails for a Remainer demo

I have been struggling with posting “thumbnails” here. Thumbnails are small photos, which if clicked on, result in us viewing a different and bigger photo, of which the thumbnail was only a smaller bit.

Finally, I have had a little success:

Each of the above squares that you see are thumbnails. Click on any one of them, and you get to the bigger picture from which that thumbnail was cropped. Also, click on any one of them, and right or left click on that, and you get the rest of the big original photos, just as you would with any other gallery here.

So, progress. Trouble is, if I tell WordPress to have only four thumblnails to a row, instead of the rows of five that you see above, big gaps of white start appearing between the thumbnails. So, a way to go before I’m on top of this, but it’s a start. Until today, I couldn’t do any of this, despite several tries. Now, I can do a bit of it.

This is what our century is like. Disentangling little conundrums like this. There are plenty of people who could probably have helped with this particular concundrum, but I am not sorry to have done this little bit of sorting myself. How else do you learn?

The photos above were of a Pro-Remain demo, which I chanced upon in Parliament Square in February 2019, one of the many too-much too-late eruptions of Remainer political sentiment that followed the Referendum that the Remainers had lost. The thumbnail thing, where you crop out one of the messages being waved by demonstrators, works rather well for showing galleries of such photos.

Note in particular the one that says “No-one voted for this mess”. I must admit that once Leave won the Referendum, I though leaving would be easier than it has been. But the more of a mess leaving turned out to be, the more I favoured leaving, on the grounds of EUrope being the sort of arrangement it was so very messy to get out of, even though we’d voted to do this.

Bulgarian Parliament adopts rules on electric scooter use

Here. The fact that the Parliament of a Brand-X Eastern European nation reckons it worth spending its time wondering how to regulate e-scooters tells you something about the spread of e-scooters just now. And that something is: E-scooters are spreading just now.

The e-scooter has already been designed. It looks like this. No need for any more clever variations, which actually aren’t. The standard design just needs a year or two of incremental improvement, and a thinning out of all the losers so that choosing one gets easy for normal people.