Month: February 2012


I’ve been meaning to write about Putin. A newspaper turned up at the weekend: Saturday’s Telegraph, with two multi-page features attacking him, built on a new book by a lesbian journalist with strong links to America. I also owe commenter candide3 a reply on the question of just how secure Putin’s power base is.

So, I need to write something.  This isn’t it though – for now I’m going to hide behind Peter Hitchens.

I like Vladimir Putin. I wish I did not. But I cannot help it… Mr Putin is without doubt a sinister tyrant at the head of a corrupt government. His private life and wealth are a mystery. His personality cult – bare-chested tough-guy, horseman, diver, jet pilot – is creepy and would be laughable if it were not a serious method of keeping power… Vladimir Putin, alone of all the major national leaders of our times, refuses to be pushed around by supranational bodies.

What he said.

Blame the devil

Neutrino Cannon posted a link to a comment dialogue between Clio and Vladimir, on monarchy, with Vladimir taking the reactionary position.

The discussion includes the question: Why did Europe’s monarchies fall?

Neither participant gives any attention to a theory I quite like, which is that the devil did it.

When there was only one religion, loyalty to the monarch was an moral absolute.

After the reformation, religious loyalty took a higher place than any other.

Edward, Mary, Elizabeth and James managed to navigate the new waters, though not without difficulty or incident. Charles ran aground, and while the Commonwealth failed and was rejected, enough of the theory it established survived to poison history ever since.

In France, anti-clericalism became a more important force than protestantism, but undermined monarchy also. That’s secondary though: I think it’s easy to underestimate the influence of the English revolutions of 1688 and 1776 on the French. It’s true that England never got on with the revolutionary French regime, but isn’t that often the way of things when a democracy thoughtlessly stirs up revolution in other countries? Writers in England and America were writing retrospective justifications for their seizures of power, and those were used by the Jacobins and later the 19th century European revolutionaries. Most of Europe was still monarchical until WWI, and Woodrow Wilson wiped the rest out in 1919.

There really was a total change in the dominant political ideology of Christendom, from Divine Providence to Nationalism and the Rights of Man. I personally don’t actually believe “the Devil did it”, but if I had to pick one point to represent Satanic interference in history, that would be it. Marx and Hitler were just products of history, aftershocks of that cataclysm.

As the power of religion to justify kingship waned, there were attempts to put monarchical centralism on a firmer theoretical footing than Divine Providence. Perhaps Hobbes is the first Neoreactionary. But the Whigs won out.

Update: don’t miss Devin Finbarr’s contribution: the unexpected richness of North America gave defeated radicals a springboard to return with power

Basic climate question

While I’m on the subject of climate, is there anyone with background in system modelling who can tell me what’s wrong with the following. It  seems obvious to me, but I’m probably missing something important.

Take a global climate model, without human GHG emissions.

There should be no long-term climate trend, or at least none on the scale of what GHG emissions are supposed to cause.

Perturb the climate model in some way: maybe a major volcano, or a temporary solar variation, or something.

That perturbation, if it is big enough, will detectably affect the climate, including the global average temperature.

The perturbation is a one-off, so it will end. After the perturbation ends, does the global average temperature stay around its new value, or does it move back towards its old value?

My understanding is that the best current models of the climate exhibit positive feedback. That would mean that there are no forces that would cause the climate to move back to its old value. Block out the sun for a bit, the climate will get colder, and when the dust has settled (literally), it will still be colder than it was before.

For the temperature to return to “normal” after a perturbation, there would have to be net negative feedback: because the temperature is higher, something happens that removes the excess heat.

Therefore, without negative feedback, the climate would be a complete “random walk”. It could be pushed up or down by solar changes, vulcanism, vegetation changes, even freak weather, and every such perturbation would affect the future climate forever.

That just doesn’t seem remotely plausible to me. Surely such random events wouldn’t balance so well as to keep the climate roughly stable for so long as paleoclimate data indicates?

I feel I must be missing something. Is there some way that the climate can exhibit positive feedback in response to anthropogenic CO2 emissions, as we are told it does, and yet recover from other random effects?

Peter Gleick

22nd February 2012


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Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

Just the other day I wrote in a comment at Samizdata:

It’s a bit cheap, given that there’s no evidence or even likelihood, that actual climate scientists are responsible for this hoax, to say that jumping to very firm conclusions on very little evidence, and indeed fraudulently improving the evidence that doesn’t quite show what you want it to, are characteristic of one side of this debate rather than the other. But there is a pattern here, at least in the political realm, of sceptics being, well, sceptical, and the warmists not.

This is me, eating those words. And let me tell you, they’re yummy.

Look at what the Heartland story tells us about the person behind it:

  • He believes it is justifiable to lie in order to advance the cause
  • He is not able to seriously consider the arguments of his opponents, even when trying to pretend to be one of them
  • He has no instinctive perception of scale — he thinks a couple of million spent by Heartland is significant compared to the hundreds of millions spent by Greenpeace, WWF, FoE, Oxfam, CAP, and the world’s governments.
  • He doesn’t think the morals he applies to others should apply to him. The major climate-related expense in the Heartland accounts is paying scientists to prepare papers and attend conferences —   something his own institute does at the same time, with the same sort of funding from the same sort of people.
  • His evidence doesn’t prove what he thinks it proves. If a piece of essentially information-free data fails to clearly contradict a piece of probably-bogus data, he says the former proves the latter. (That is essentially the story of the Hockey Stick condensed to a sentence).

Now, of course, if the leak was done by some dim environmentalist activist, it would still be unfair to smear actual climate scientists by attributing those same qualities to them.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Peter Gleick. Macarthur fund. Leading climate scientist.

Of course, that’s just one rogue scientist. They’re not all like that. I mean, they have ethics task forces and stuff.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

The predictable damage of the Euro

The previous post is something I just found in my sent mail folder. I sent it to a discussion mailing list on the 5th of August 2000, and I think it is interesting enough to look at now. I posted it unedited to prevent confusion between what I wrote over a decade ago and my present commentary.

I don’t claim the piece is strikingly insightful: I had, and indeed still have, no formal training in economics, and the post is effectively a somewhat pompous and verbose narration of something really very basic.

To put it in historical context: though Euro notes and coins entered circulation on 1st January 2002,the Euro existed from 1st January 1999, in that the exchange rates of the member national currencies were fixed irrevocably at that point. Gordon Brown had been Chancellor of the Exchequer for three years, in Tony Blair’s first prime ministerial term.

The last paragraph makes a prediction:

Ireland, though independent for decades, only had an independent currency from the 1970s.  Since that time, and with the help of EU subsidies, the Republic has become a modern and prosperous economy. It seems to be at a similar stage in the economic cycle to the UK. However, unlike the UK, the Republic of Ireland joined the Euro. Therefore, at present, where the UK economy is being restrained by relatively high interest rates, Ireland has the same cheap borrowing as the other Euro countries.  This puts them in the same position described for Britain during the Lawson boom.  Building projects are everywhere (remember Loadsamoney?), property prices are spiralling upwards.  Under prevailing economic theories, these are effects of incorrect monetary policy.  However, European monetary policy is not set for Ireland, which is a small economy compared with the stagnating economies of mainland Europe.  The prediction is that within a few years, the Republic of Ireland will face a sudden and traumatic deflation, while any simultaneous change in Britain will start earlier, be more gradual and of less magnitude.

Does that qualify me as a prophet? Not really. “Within a few years” is clearly wrong: the “Great Moderation” meant the economic state in 2000 persisted much longer than I expected it to. Further, there is no prediction of the actual form that “sudden and traumatic deflation” was to take in Ireland: insolvency of first the banks, then the government that had unwisely guaranteed their debt.

The point is not that I am a genius.  The point is that the problems caused by the Euro were extremely predictable. It is always going to be easy to dig through archives and find someone who predicted what would happen, and I’m sure we could find someone who predicted it more accurately than I did. But, since that is always possible, it proves nothing. The fact that I predicted the problems that the Euro would cause (and I remember nothing of actually writing that email) eliminates, at least from my point of view, the statistical error of pulling a single example from an unlimited search space. (If you’ve found this post by googling for Euro predictions, I’m afraid it proves very little).

Repost: 5th August 2000

19th February 2012


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Some notes on the controversy regarding Britain’s potential membership of the European Single Currency.

The main argument of those currently in favour of Britain joining the Euro group is that it would have prevented the difficulties caused to many British businesses by the recent fall in value of the Euro against Sterling.  (Some seem to claim that joining now would remove these difficulties, but it is difficult to see how they expect this to happen)

This was not an argument put forward in advance of the Euro being launched – in fact the opposite was widely claimed, that Sterling would fall in value against the Euro with consequent damage to those importing raw materials or finished goods, or servicing foreign-currency debts.

This is in itself a partial answer to critics of the policy of remaining out of the Euro zone.  A high or a low exchange rate is not a good thing in itself, but helps some and disadvantages others within the national economy.

The common reply to this is that the unpredictability of exchange rates makes commercial planning difficult, and is thus a bad thing for everyone, even if fluctuations give temporary advantage to some.  A fixed exchange rate removes uncertainty and allows all businesses to make investments with greater confidence.

This argument has more merit, but I believe it to be flawed.  Movement in exchange rates is not random, nor are the markets independent of the companies and consumers that make up the world economy.  Exchange rate variations reflect real changes in economic conditions between currency areas.  If these changes cannot feed through exchange rates, they will exhibit themselves in different ways, and the real arguments over currency integration centre on the different effects and costs of these different chains of events.

More concretely, the recent fall in value of the Euro against other major currencies is the result of a recession in mainland Europe. High unemployment in the largest Euro-zone countries has led to low interest rates, so finance has moved out of the Euro into currencies that give higher returns, including the Pound, the US Dollar and the Yen.  This has produced the fall in the Euro’s value, with the effects of making costs lower in Euroland in international terms, making exports from Euroland cheaper and imports into Euroland more expensive.  This should have the longer-term effect of helping the economies of the Euro members recover from the present recession.  It also has the effect of making the workers of these countries poorer, in that prices increase in Euro terms, reducing the standard of living.

If Britain was inside the Euro zone, interest rates would be lower in Britain than they now are.  This would encourage borrowing and investment in industry, driving up wages and prices.  Imports of goods from outside the EU would become more expensive, driving up prices further.  Overall, this inflation would cause an increase in the standard of living (just as has happened as a result of the strong pound), and would make British labour and goods more expensive relative to the rest of Europe (just as has happened as a result of the strong pound).  Businesses that export to Europe would therefore be hurt (as is happening now), while businesses that buy from Europe to sell outside the EU or in the booming domestic economy would do well (as they are doing now).

In other words, the real economic effects of the Mainland European recession on Britain would be fundamentally the same whether they are felt through a high pound or domestic price and wage inflation.  It is a real-world fact that Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands are having to cut their prices to stimulate sluggish demand, and that this will divert industrial investment into those countries from countries like the UK where economic growth is making standards of living higher and business more expensive.

That is not to say that the results are entirely identical, and that there is nothing at all to choose between being in the Euro and being outside.  There is one obvious advantage of being in, which is the simplicity of being able to spend the same money in a dozen countries instead of one, without the overhead of currency trading.

The disadvantage of being in is more subtle.  It is that exchange rates can and do change extremely quickly, based on the judgement of those dealing in the currencies concerning the economic situation and the likely future economic situation.  Prices and wages, however, change much more slowly, as it is awkward and expensive for businesses to alter them.  Wages increases are delayed until it is clear that staff cannot be recruited or retained without them, and decreases are strongly resisted.

To see the effects of this, look back fifteen years to the Britain of the mid-eighties.  In a similar economic situation to that of the last few years (European recession, British growth), the government adopted the policy of keeping the exchange rate between the Pound and the Deutschmark approximately constant by decreasing interest rates.  The result of this has become known as the “Lawson Boom”, as cheap borrowing stimulated an already buoyant economy into a spiral of industrial growth and inflation, notably of property prices.  This is the only policy that at that time would have prevented the prevailing economic conditions from causing problems for those sectors of the economy that were dependent on European markets, or vulnerable to European competition.  The result, however, was the spectacular crash of 1987 once it became clear that inflation would have to be controlled.  It is widely recognised that this would not have happened if the economy had not been artificially stimulated by low interest rates over a long period under the policy of “shadowing the Deutschmark”.

This is the real advantage of not being in the Euro.  The flexibility of an independent currency means that businesses will face economic pressures to adapt to changing conditions instantly, and are forced to take appropriate measures, rather than being insulated from outside developments until the dam bursts.

Even those who instigated and set up the Economic and Monetary Union project recognised this.  That is why the Maastricht Treaty made one of the preconditions of the Single Currency coming into effect a certain degree of “convergence” between the member nations.  The theory underlying this was that the free movement of goods and capital between EU member states would, after a period, put an end to the variations of economic conditions between countries that independent currencies are needed to deal with.

Whether this can happen is arguable, but so far it certainly has not. Within Britain, for example, if one region becomes economically depressed relative to another, workers tend to move from the poorer regions to the richer ones, thus easing the differences.  Whether this is really a good thing is another discussion entirely, but obviously there comes a point where adding more different currencies produces costs and inconveniences out of proportion to the benefits.  I might argue for an independent currency for Scotland, but not for Durham.

However, despite being given the legal rights, people are much less keen to move from Belgium to England to find work than to move from Scotland to England.  The long term aim of the European Union project is for the attitudes behind this to change, but that I would contend is a distant goal.

The other mechanism intended to produce the neccessary economic convergence is the so-called “cohesion fund”.  This is a cross-subsidy intended to stimulate depressed regions at the expense of prosperous ones, thereby decreasing the regional differences that cause problems in a single-currency area.  It, however, suffers the same kind of barrier that the idea of migration faces, that taxpayers are much less willing to subsidise the economies of other countries than depressed areas of their own country.  Pumping funds into the North-East or South Wales is one thing, but supporting Greece or Portugal is quite another.

It should be clear that I am not attempting to argue that Britain should stay out of the Euro simply on the grounds that Britain’s economy is doing well and Euroland’s badly.  I have dwelt on current conditions, but they obviously are not set in stone.  In fact, my argument is that an independent Pound is as much in France or Germany’s interest as Britain’s (as those in Britain suffering from competition from Euro-priced imports are only too keen to point out). Similarly, if conditions were reversed (as they were, for instance, for most of the 1970s), the argument regarding the advantages of currency flexibility would be equally strong.  In fact, the only events that would really indicate that Britain ought to join the Euro would be if the exchange rate remained roughly constant for a long period, and looked like continuing to do so.  Under such circumstances, an independent Pound would contribute nothing to economic flexibility, and be merely a pointless and expensive administative overhead.  If Gordon Brown is waiting for this to happen, however, he may be in for a long wait.

Real evidence is hard to come by, but the above can be used to make predictions.  A useful “guinea pig” is the Republic of Ireland. Ireland, though independent for decades, only had an independent currency from the 1970s.  Since that time, and with the help of EU subsidies, the Republic has become a modern and prosperous economy. It seems to be at a similar stage in the economic cycle to the UK. However, unlike the UK, the Republic of Ireland joined the Euro. Therefore, at present, where the UK economy is being restrained by relatively high interest rates, Ireland has the same cheap borrowing as the other Euro countries.  This puts them in the same position described for Britain during the Lawson boom.  Building projects are everywhere (remember Loadsamoney?), property prices are spiralling upwards.  Under prevailing economic theories, these are effects of incorrect monetary policy.  However, European monetary policy is not set for Ireland, which is a small economy compared with the stagnating economies of mainland Europe.  The prediction is that within a few years, the Republic of Ireland will face a sudden and traumatic deflation, while any simultaneous change in Britain will start earlier, be more gradual and of less magnitude.

Social-network threat models

There have been a couple of comments on my peer-to-peer blogging post, both addressing different threat models than I was looking at.

My posts were looking at countermeasures to continue blogging in the event that public web hosting service providers are taken out by IP enforcement action. The aim of such enforcement action is to prevent distribution of copyrighted content: since I don’t actually want to do that I am not trying to evade the enforcement as such, just trying to avoid being collateral damage.  The major challenges are to avoid conventional abuse, and to maintain sufficient availability, capacity and reliability without the resources of a centralised service with a proper data centre.

Sconzey mentioned DIASPORA*.  That is an interesting project, but it is motivated by a different threat model – the threat from the service providers themselves.  Social-networking providers like facebook or google, have, from their position, privileged access to the data people share, and are explicitly founded on the possibilities of profiting from that access. Diaspora aims to free social-networking data from those service providers, whose leverage is based on their ownership of the sophisticated server software and lock-in and network effects.  To use Diaspora effectively, you need a good-quality host.  Blogging software is already widespread – if you have the infrastructure you need to run Diaspora, you can already run wordpress.  The “community pods” that exist for Diaspora could be used for copyright infringement and would be vulnerable to the SOPA-like attacks.

James A. Donald says “we are going to need a fully militarized protocol, since it is going to come under state sponsored attack.” That’s another threat model again. Fundamentally, it should be impossible for open publication: if you publish something, the attacker can receive it. Having received it, he can trace back one step where it came from, and demand to know where they got it from.  If refused, or if the intermediate node is deliberately engineered so messages cannot be traced back further, then the attacker can threaten to shut down or isolate the node provider.

In practice it can be possible to evade that kind of attacker by piggy-backing on something the attacker cannot shut down, because he relies on it himself.  That is a moving target, because what is essential changes over time.

(One could avoid using fixed identifiable locations altogether – e.g. wimax repeaters in vehicles. That’s not going to be cheap or easy).

James seems to be thinking more about private circles, where end-to-end encryption can be used. That’s more tractable technically, but it’s not useful to me. I don’t have a circle of trusted friends to talk about this stuff with: I’m throwing ideas into the ether to see what happens. Any of you guys could be government agents for all I know, so carefully encrypting my communications with you doesn’t achieve anything.


I’ve been reluctant to engage with the arguments that climate scepticism is the product of massive pollution-industry funding, because I always felt that the truth – that the public climate scepticism movement relies on the work of a handful of amateurs operating on a shoestring – was more embarrassing to the sceptic cause than the “well-funded denial machine” fantasy.

Meanwhile, it acted as a useful filter: anyone who pushed the “massive funding” line, either knew nothing about the debate (which is not a fault, but is worth knowing when you’re discussing it with them), or else was incapable of recognising the very very obvious.

Thanks to the Heartland leak, the cat is now out of the bag: The NIPCC conference costs Heartland $388,000 a year to run, and the funding for the centrepiece of the whole sceptic campaign is a few back-office people to organise, and a few scientists to write papers. There’s no budget for advertising or publicity, other than the website, because there is no advertising or publicity.

Oxfam have had huge climate-alarmist posters, in a campaign carried out by RKCR/Y&R all over Luton for a couple of years (anyone have a clue what that costs?).  That is the sort of thing that sceptics don’t do, because they cannot afford to.


In a facetious comment at Aretae, I wished for a “shit neo-reactionaries say” list along the lines of the amusing libertarian one.

I was hung up on a label, but the more I think about it, the more I like neo-reactionary, for the reasons Lawrence Auster gives in a comment at Mangan’s:

“Neo-reactionary”–that’s clever. The neo-reactionary is not an old-fashioned, hardline, darkly pessimistic reactionary, like de Maistre, but a modern, enlightened, cool reactionary. To paraphrase Irving Kristol on the purpose of neoconservatism, one could say that the historical task and political purpose of neo-reaction would seem to be this: to convert American reactionaries, against their will, into a new kind of reactionary capable of living in a modern democracy.

There’s also a post from Arnold Kling, discussing Codevilla and referencing Moldbug in passing.

The only change I would make is to elide the hyphen.  Neoliberals and Neoconservatives don’t need them any more, and I thnk google’s search syntax treats a hyphen as a space.  Neoreactionary will bring back only neoreactionaries.

More on peer-to-peer blogging

I was musing a few days ago on how to do blogging if SOPA-like measures take out hosting providers for user content.

Aaron Davies in a comment suggests freenet. I’m not sure about that; because you don’t choose at all what other content you’re hosting, I would expect the whole system to drown in movie rips and porn. The bittorrent idea where the stuff which you help distribute is the stuff which you want to consume seems less vulnerable. alt.binaries didn’t die because of copyright enforcement, it died because the copyright infringement made such large demands on capacity that it was not worth distributing.

Bear in mind that I’m not going “full paranoid” here: my threat scenario is not “the feds want to ban my blog”, it’s “Blogger and the like have so much difficulty complying with IP law that they’re becoming painful and/or expensive to use”.

In that circumstance, simply running wordpress or geeklog on my own machine is an option, but rather a crappy one in capacity and reliability terms. I’ve already looked into using a general web hosting provider, and I could move onto that for probably five quid a month, but I’ve again been put off by reliability issues. Also, in the threat scenario under consideration, third-party web hosting might be affected also.

But Davies in passing mentioned email. When I saw that I went “D’oh”. I hadn’t thought of using SMTP. I’d thought of NNTP, which I have a soft spot for¹, but rejected it. SMTP could well be the answer — like NNTP, it was designed for intermittent connections. Running mailman or something on your home PC is a lot simpler and safer than running wordpress. The beauty of it is that not even Hollywood can get email banned. And if they tried, all you need to keep dodging is a non-government-controlled DNS, which is something people are already working on.

You still need a published archive though; one that people can link to. But that can work over SMTP too, as a request-response daemon. Those were actually quite common before the web: you could get all sorts of information by sending the right one-line email to the right address.

There were actually applications that ran over SMTP. One which lasted well into web days, and may even still exist here and there, was the diplomacy judge, for playing the board game Diplomacy over email.

Unmoderated comments would have to go under this scenario, whatever the technology, but moderated comments would be easy enough; the moderator would just forward acceptable comments onto the publication queue. Email clients in the days when mailing lists were very common were designed specifically to make following lists in this way easy (I remember mutt was much favoured for the purpose). Each list became a folder (by using procmail or the like), each post a thread, and each comment a reply. My own email is still set up that way, though I pretty much never look at the list folders any more, I think a couple of them are still being populated for things like development of the linux b43 wireless chipset driver.

The problem with using mail is spam. Everyone who wants to subscribe has to give me their email address — that’s probably the biggest reason why the use of mailing lists declined; that and the impact of false positives from spam filtering.

 If generic publishing networks drown in media, and mail drowns in spam, then some more private network is needed.


  •  Anyone can access posts, as easily as possible
  •  I only have to process posts from sources I’ve chosen

Our big advantage is that the actual storage and bandwidth needed for blogging are rounding error in a world of digital video.

Reliable access requires that there are multiple sources for posts, to compensate for the fact we’re not running industrial data centres.

The obvious approach is that if I follow a blog, I mirror it. Someone wanting to read one of my posts can get it from my server, or from any of my regular readers’ servers. That just leaves the normal P2P problems

  • locating mirrors, in spite of dynamic IP assignment
  • traversing NAT gateways which don’t allow incoming connections.
  • authenticating content (which might have been spoofed by mirror)

Authentication is trivial — there’s no complex web of trust: each blog has an id, and that id is the digital signature. The first two are difficult, but have been solved by all the P2P networks. Unlike some of them, we do want to persistently identify sources of data, so presumably each node regularly notifies the other nodes it knows of of its location. Possibly other already-existing p2p networks could be used for this advertisement function. There’s a DoS vulnerability there with attackers spoofing location notifications, so probably the notifications have to be signed. I guess the node id is distinct from the blog id (blogs could move, nodes could originate more than one blog) so it’s also a distinct key. Like a blog id, a node id essentially is the public key. NAT traversal I’m not sure about — there’s stuff like STUN and ICE which I haven’t really dealt with.

Assuming we can map a persistent node id to an actual service interface of some kind, this is what it would have to provide:

  • List blogs that this is the authoritative source for
  • List blogs that this mirrors (also returning authoritative source)
  • List other known mirrors for a blog id
  • List posts by blog id (optional date ranges etc)
  • Retrieve posts by blog id and post id
  • Retrieve moderated comments by blog id and post id (optional comment serial range)
  • Retrieve posts and moderated comments modified since (seq num)

The service is not authenticated, but posts and moderated blog comments are signed with the blog key. (Comments optionally signed by the commenter’s key too, but a comment author signature is distinguishable from a comment moderator signature).

The service owner can also

  • Create post
  • Add post to a blog
  • Edit post
  • Add a moderated comment to a blog
  • Check mirrored blogs for new posts & comments & mirror list updates

There’s a case for mirroring linked posts on non-followed blogs: if I link to a post, I include it on my server so that whoever reads it can read the link too.  Ideally, there should be an http side to the service as well, so people outside the network can link to posts and see them if they have the good luck to catch the right server being available at the time.  That all needs more thought.

¹When RSS was coming in, I argued that it was just reinventing NNTP and we ought to use that instead.