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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Cameron Endorses X-Prizes (As I Suggested To Him) But Naturally Without Understanding

In the years of my political activity I can think of very few times I have actually clearly influenced a change in government policy.

Here is one
Mr Cameron will set up a new Longitude Committee, chaired by the Lord Rees, the Astronomer Royal, to gather suggestions and draw up a shortlist of problems facing the world. It will then launch a race to solve the most difficult predicament.

       Sources said the prize may not actually be awarded for many years, as scientists in universities and companies have been wrestling with many of the world's most difficult problems for a long time.
A Downing Street source said: “We want people to think big: what does the world need and how can we achieve that? We are looking for the next penicillin, aeroplane or World Wide Web. Can we grow limbs or create universal low carbon travel? Something that is going to really revolutionise what we do and how we live our lives - sending us sprinting ahead in the global race.”

Some time ago I sent the government a submission on the use of such X-prizes. Subsequently, following a speech by David Cameron claiming his government were engaged in an "unrelenting" search for ways to achieve growth I sent in an FoI asking what examination of the prize option they had made and why they had rejected it. The answer was absolutely none which since it was clearly totally incompatible with his promise caused me to accuse Cameron of having "absolutely no trace of honesty whatsoever".

However it proves beyond any dispute that they had never thought of the prize option before I suggested it.

So having taken responsibility for "Cameron's idea" let me rubbish it.

Firstly a real X-Prize is, by definition, for a specific, measurable achievement not this "we will award a prize for something" like this (the Saltire Prize for a "commercial" sea turbine suffers from the same but less so).

Secondly the offer of £1 million for "the next penicillin" or a "carbon free" plane (ie one that doesn't use fuel ie a perpetual motion engine) is ludicrous. This isn't even small change. By comparison penicillin has saved hundreds of millions of lives and a perpetual motion engine is considerably more difficult that that. This feels like the sort of "ideas" a political class who studied PPE and are thus wholly ignorant of science, economics or real life would have come up with in the pub, and I am fairly sure that is exactly what happened.

What we need is one or more independent X-Prize Funds administered by scientists, engineers, successful venture capitalists and accountants with a budget comparable to that given to at least our lesser eco-scare quangos (eg the £500 million given to NERC, a quango nobody has heard of that appears to exist to promote alarmism) and with an automatic escalator linked to the increase in the value of taxes paid by the industries in question - WITHOUT INTERFERENCE FROM POLITICIANS & CIVIL SERVANTS

One advantage of a fund,apart from being at arms length is that they can thus use the money to offer a series of prizes, just in case the fuelless aircraft turns out to be more difficult than Cameron appears to believe. There is no actual dispute of Pournelle's assessment that a £300 million ($500 m) prize would produce a commercial Earth to orbit craft. However there is a real place for smaller prizes, such as the $3 million DARPA Automated Road Vehicle Prize which has kickstarted the automated road transport industry.

The bad news is that our government are ignorant idiots, concerned only about soundbites rather than doing anything serious for the country. The good news is that even these idiots recognise that prizes are an attractive idea and have now said so. It is now impossible for Cameron to dispute that UKIP's previous commitment to taking the money we contribute to ESA and put it into X-Prizes [link] is sensible and if he or his party actually want the "debate" on UKIP's policies they claim they will have to come up with some real arguments against X-Prizes.

Something which, with the sole exception of saying that prizes are "an undue stimulus to competition"  nobody has felt able to attempt.

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Scotsman Letter - The Meaning Of Life, The Universe & Everything - Author's Cut

Angus Logan (letter friday) suggests it is possible that science will, at some time in the future, find evidence of the existence of a God. I think that it is indeed possible that science could prove a self aware creator exists. Indeed if the universe has a purpose that may be it.
     So closely are the various parameters of physical laws correlated to the existence of complexity that a single universe produced by accident is the most unlikely of all options. For example had gravity been a stronger force the heavier elements, which are all produced in the hearts of stars, would never have escaped while if it was weaker the interstellar gas clouds would never have coalesced into stars. Either we live in a multiverse or in a created universe.
       However does anybody believe that a self aware creator is likely to resemble, in any significant way, any of the widely varying promises of preachers throughout the millennia? Including in its interest in humanity's prayers, with the intercession of those preachers?
      Scientists proving a creator's existence would be the end not the triumph of religion.
   This was a letter published by the Scotsman on 30th March which I have unfortunately not been able to post here since I was offline. Underlined are the parts which they edited.
   Not one of my normal political letters - this goes to a much deeper subject, on which I have far less certainty.
   Nonetheless I am proud of the original letter. In this case I have no problem saying that it was far superior to the version the Scotsman published. I assume they also thought that the full version was rather to strong for readers to contemplate over breakfast

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

"Radical Independence" and the Anti-English Anti-UKIP Riot - English Rioters Behind the Curtain

    This article is now up on ThinkScotland, in a slightly lonThe decision by Alex Salmond to attack the victim and at least partially, defend the mobsters was wrong both morally and tactically. Morally because for the probable Prime Minister of an independent Scotland not to see something deeply wrong with thuggery as a political tool must appal anybody who believes in either liberty or democracy.

The tactical mistake becomes clear when we look into who organised the event. Radical Independence is the name - an official part of the Yes campaign, but who are they? Watching videos of the event broadcast I saw not only that some of those involved were clearly older than the average "student", that the BBC insisted the crowd was composed of, but that one of them was selling the Socialist Worker Party newspaper. Perhaps he was simply an innocent SWP newspaper seller going his normal business, trapped by the mob but I doubt it. It looks very much like Radical Independence is what used to be called a front for the SWP.

A member of the audience on BBC Scotland's "Big Debate" next day not only confirmed this suspicion but said that some members of the crowd had been bussed in from Liverpool and elsewhere in England. In turn a later, rather embarrassing, interview with the student whose group had co-sponsored the riot said that the shouted anti-English threats and insults could not be be anti-English racism because some of those doing it were English. Embarrassing because he was obviously out of his depth, literally unable to give an answer when asked how such behaviour was compatible with a free and liberal society.

Clearly this was indeed not a spontaneous racist anti-English riot. Whatever one thinks of the Socialist Workers they are not inherently racist (or anti-racist). What they are is willing to use any road to their socialist utopia - the end, in Marxist rhetoric, traditionally justifying the means. Thus they support Scottish independence, despite a hatred of nationalism, in the hope that a separate Scotland will be more amenable to their "Trotskyite" lunacies (I use apostrophes because Trotsky, like Keynes, was a far more complicated thinker than his disciples understand).

This is not uncommon – the Greens, the main SNP ally in the Yes campaign, make no bones of not approving of nationalism but believe, Holyrood having unanimously passed the most expensive Climate Change Act in the world, that a separate Scotland will be amenable to their own desperately anti-Trotskyite lunacies (Trotsky's view on the environment make even a technophile like me look like a medievalist tree hugger, but that was back when socialists still had a claim to being progressive).

So it was an orchestrated faux-racist anti-English riot, by members, including English members, of the the faux-Nationalist Socialist Workers Party (sic). Intended to play to Scottish anti-English racism they thought would enhance their position in the Yes campaign. And it worked.

Alex Salmond could have gained stature by dissociating himself from these thugs and said they had no place in the movement, as Neil Kinnock did when he drove the Militant Tendency (an earlier entryist movement run by much the same group) from Labour.

Instead he lived down to their expectations and sided with them, enhancing the position of these pseudo racists and ensured the campaign for separation is at least open to totalitarianism, fascism and racism in a way likely to drive out decent people (and looking at the extreme left's policies, sensible people too). If the SWP here are so small they have to bus people in from England, to make Scots look unattractive to the rest of the world they would be no great loss.

Compare this with the way the anti-sectarian campaign has, possibly unjustifiably, enhanced Salmond's image. Does anybody doubt that if Rangers fans had made an organised attack on a Celtic pub (or vice versa), anywhere in Scotland let alone in the main tourist centre of the capital city, there would have been immediate arrests by the vanload?

Another organisation which has shed no honour on itself is the BBC. OK it was not astute of Mr Farage to end the interview with them the next day. The best tactic would have been to just talk UKIP policies and ignore the "interviewer".

I think this is one of these cases where people react as human beings not political machines. In adult life few of us ever to have to face unreasoning, implacable hatred and the threat of physical violence from a group that greatly outnumbers. It is not a pleasant experience. I know. A few weeks ago I was part of a UKIP group handing out leaflets promoting our energy policy (shale gas and nuclear power before electricty becomes completely unaffordable or indeed missing since you ask). A passing demonstration by the Glasgow Women's Collective, visibly being steered by known, male, "socialist" activists didn't pass and instead spent time screaming, from inches away, that we were racists and had no right to be there (they had no interest in either feminist or energy policies). Though this was a woman's group, rather than broadshouldered men, at least at the front of the crowd, on a busy Saturday afternoon in Buchanan Street it was not pleasant being screamed at. Mr Farage must have been shaken and I can see why, next morning, he did not want to continue a harangue, on very much the same lines, by the British Broadcasting Corporation.

The only possible justification for a virtual state monopoly on broadcast news is that they have a legal duty of balance. International studies have shown that there is a strong correlation between state ownership of broadcasting (papers to a much lesser extent) and authoritariansim, corruption and general state incompetence and "no benefits". Without that duty of balance we are simply another banana, or oil, dictatorship with government censorship

The BBC Charter does indeed mandate that legal duty of "balance" and impartiality but the law is obviously not being observed. Polls have, for over a year now, shown UKIP support in Scotland at 8-9% nearly twice that of the LibDems and 8 times the Greens (UKIP is considerably stronger across the UK). Askt the question: even in pure airtime do UKIP spokepersons get 8 times as much of a voice from the state broadcaster as the Greens? No we get more than 10 times less.
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