We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Beer and loathing in Afghanistan

The ubiquitous Instapundit, who is accumulating a stable of international correspondents, posts a missive from Afghanistan that is sure to remind you of why you loathe transnational progressives, their NGO tools, and all associated parasites, hangers-on, and do gooders. A juicy bit, to whet your appetite:

It’s not all monotonous or pointless in Kabul; at one French NGO housed in a stunning antique-laden chalet, I’ve devoured a seven-course meal prepared by a 4 star chef. Then there’s always the sumptuous UN House, where one can take a dip, mingle poolside among scandalous bikinis and dowse dehydration with inspired cocktails fashioned by our languid Euro masters. Unfortunately, since “American UN employee” is an oxymoron, our one attempt to storm the formidable barricades is a spectacular failure. We’re rudely turned away, despite flashing $20 bills to the Afghan UN security. My companion, a fierce Pushtoon-American licensed to pack a very visible Glock 19, glances back at the sunbathers as we’re escorted out: “We’ve paid for all this with our taxes, you bastards!”

One has to shake one’s head at the pistol-packing Pushtoon’s naivete; since when has the fact that a taxpayer funded something ever triggered appropriate feelings of gratitude and respect from our betters in government ‘service’?

How the state keeps leftie ‘intellectuals’ in its pocket

The BBC’s flagship radio station, Radio1, has dropped below the 10 million listeners barrier for the first time in its history, as reported in today’s Grauniad.

In a related piece, in today’s Torygraph, Neil McCormick questions the way records are selected for Radio1′s main play-list. Apparently, it’s done in exactly the same way that commercial radio stations do it.

Which begs the immediate questions; what then is the purpose of Radio1? And why are we tax-plebs forced to contribute so much towards it, via the BBC licence fee? In the commercial arena its listeners could easily pay for it via the advertising market they would generate.

I hope the funding, which goes into Radio1, isn’t being used to support an otherwise large and unnecessary layer of grateful lefties, in palatial BBC comfort, to stop them having to work for a living.

And in return for such largesse, I hope these lefties aren’t then broadcasting the continuous message, to all of Radio1′s impressionable younger listeners, that the state is wonderful, in all of its great and holy facets.

I should coco.

A new ye olde car park

It is now an established Samizdatista hobby whenever we gather: taking the piss out of Brian for his unhealthy interest in car parks.

Well, you’re all completely wrong, and you’re all missing the point completely, or rather, getting hold of the right stick, but at completely the wrong end. Don’t you get it? The very thing that makes my fascination with car parks so laughable to all you idiots is my exact point. Car parks, now, are, almost all of them, crap. So, obviously, a car park spotter is ridiculous. Ho, ho, ho. But the crapness of car parks now is my exact point, and I am only a car park spotter if the car park in question, unlike almost all car parks nowadays, is worth spotting.

Like this one, linked to about a month ago by David Sucher of City Comforts Blog, but which I’ve only just noticed his posting about, in Staunton Virginia.

Said ArchNewsNow.com all those weeks ago:

Staunton, Virginia, has worked hard to preserve and enhance its historic neighborhoods and to keep its downtown vital and attractive. The city’s ongoing attention to streetscape, underground power, and building preservation is creating a vibrant, resurgent, and energetic community.

One of the “stars” of the downtown regeneration is, of all things, the New Street Parking Garage. The design for the garage, by Staunton-based Frazier Associates, came out of an inclusive team approach: the designers worked closely with government officials and local citizens (in a city known for its resistance to change) through an intensive public design process.

The result is a new “landmark” building at the entrance to downtown Staunton. “In the past, architects designed beautiful buildings for visitors to arrive in,” says design lead Kathy Frazier, AIA. “Somehow that didn’t get translated to parking garages, and people grew accustomed to parking in these ugly utilitarian buildings. The question we asked ourselves is ‘Why can’t we make a parking garage beautiful and celebrate the arrival sequence like we used to with train stations?’”

The idea of an ye olde looking car park doesn’t really appeal to me. Why can’t it look snazzy? Like, say, a snazzy car? But the reality of the thing seems actually to be rather handsome. And if a railway station can look ye olde, why can’t a car park? Thinking about it, all manner of high tech structures actually used to be done up in Greek Temple or Roman Villa style, such as water pumping stations, power stations, railway signal boxes, railway tunnel entrances, railway bridge towers. It isn’t just the grand city terminuses. So why not car parks?

But don’t let the argument about style deflect from the important thing about this, or any other such design, which is that concentrating parked cars in a heap rather than letting them sprawl all over the landscape doesn’t just rescue the aesthetics of car parking, but the aesthetics of the entire surrounding neighbourhood.

Get ready for Mars

While I’m on subjects Astronomical… don’t forget to keep an eye on Mars. On August 27/28 it will be at its’ closest approach to the Earth in recorded history. Calculations show humans have not had a Mars show this good in perhaps 50000 years. It is hard to be certain because chaos takes its’ toll when you run the solar system backwards that far.

This close approach is called an “Opposition”. It means the Earth and Mars are both in a line with the Sun and on the same side. It happens once every year when the Earth on its’ inner, faster track around the Sun catches up with the dawdling outer track Mars. The orbits of Mars and Earth are both slightly elliptical so the distance between the two varies with where the two bodies are on their elliptical paths. When Mars is at its’ closest to the Sun at the same time Earth is at its’ farthest, we have especially good views. The one coming up later this month is spectacular.

This does not mean you will see a Martian disk with your unaided eye. It does not even mean you will see views like a Hubble telescope from that cheap refractor you got for Christmas when you were aged twelve. However, if you have any amateur astronomer friends, they may be acting like giddy twelve year olds for the next two months. They will certainly be showing up at the office with bleary eyes and silly grins.

They will see detail they have never dreamed of seeing before. Of course there might be a global dust storm just after Opposition… in which case they will stare at the largest blurred reddish disk they’ve ever seen.

Scorpio rising

For the astronomically inclined there have been interesting goings on in the constellation of Scorpio these last three years. The star Delta Scorpii, a constant magnitude 2.3 for as long as anyone can remember, changed habits in July 2000. It has been a variable star ever since and not only that, seems to get a bit brighter on each cycle. It is now just a hair under becoming a first magnitude star. That means it is nearly bright enough to be seen in Manhattan and London.

As to exactly what is going on, no one seems quite sure, but it shows the sky is a changeable thing even on a human timescale.

Greek farce – British tragedy

A British mother and her two sons were given jail sentences yesterday, less than four days after they were arrested for allegedly attacking an Athens shopkeeper.

During a four-hour hearing at Athens criminal court the main prosecution evidence was read, with no opportunity for cross-examination. Police statements were contradictory and the British defendants had only five minutes each to state their case.

The family believes it has been the victim of a Greek backlash against the drunken and lewd behaviour of young British holidaymakers on the islands of Rhodes and Corfu.

We are being made scapegoats for the antics of hooligans on some of the islands. There have been despicable occurrences on the islands, but we are not that type of people.

No forensic evidence was presented, although it had been stated that Mr Karamichalous was bleeding heavily after the brothers kicked him.

The metal bar referred to both by the Britons and Mr Karamichalous was not recovered from the scene. Although the Johnsons had been locked up since the early hours of Sunday, officers did not take a statement from any of them.

Their only opportunity to give their side of the story was when each took the stand for about five minutes.

Regardless of the facts of the case, of which I have no detailed knowledge, the speed and manner in which the family of Britons living in Greece were sentenced smacks of political and nationalist gestures. Their prosecution is seen as backlash against the loutish behaviour of British tourists on Greece’s holiday islands. The case has made headline news in Greece where the Johnsons’ story has been illustrated with photographs and footage of British tourists misbehaving on the islands of Rhodes and Corfu.

Blimey! The Greek legal system makes the British courts seem like the pinnacle of civilisation.

A few years of reprieve?

The Telegraph reports:

The introduction of identity cards is still some years away, Tony Blair indicated yesterday. Although he supported ID cards in principle, he said huge logistical and cost issues must be resolved.

In the long term it was right to move towards a system of ID cards. But it was not a quick fix for dealing with the influx of asylum seekers.

Mr Blair’s concerns are well-placed given Whitehall’s experience with less-ambitious IT projects.

The ID card is to be backed up by a “citizen’s database” on to which the details of 50 million people aged over 16 would have to be entered. The intention is to use biometric data – such as an iris recognition system – to verify a person’s identity. But this technology would be hugely expensive.

So no change of mind, just an administrative delay. In the meantime, we blog away…

Another politician has a blog

Veteran Labour MP, fierce opponent of the European Union and one of the more congenial politicians, Austin Mitchell, has his own blog. Mitchell is a pretty outspoken MP, and though his mixed-economy Keynsian economic views are hopelessly wrong-headed and out of date, he is one of the more independent minded MPs in our rather colourless political landscape.

I had a brief look at his blog and it should be good to read, though Austin had better be prepared for how fellow bloggers will be ready and willing to ‘fact-check his ass’ at a moment’s notice.

Come on you Tory MPs, get a blog!

Tremble with fear, Yankee imperialist dogs!

I’m back onto Cuba again but, hey, it’s not my fault. The buggers keep provoking me.

But at least I can now look back on a certain record of achievement on this particular subject. No sooner have I intimated that Cuba’s allegedly splendiferous health-care and education statistics were probably a crock, then up pops cast-iron confirmation courtesy of this hilarious bit of fawnography in the Guardian:

Which only goes to reinforce what has long been obvious: that US hostility to Cuba does not stem from the regime’s human rights failings, but its social and political successes and the challenge its unyielding independence offers to other US and western satellite states. Saddled with a siege economy and a wartime political culture for more than 40 years, Cuba has achieved first world health and education standards in a third world country, its infant mortality and literacy rates now rivalling or outstripping those of the US, its class sizes a third smaller than in Britain.

Which goes a long way to explaining why untold numbers of Americans are risking their lives every year in order to escape from America and get a better life in Cuba.

Er, no, wait a sec…that’s the other way around:

Untold numbers of Cubans flee the island every year, trying to cross to nearby Florida – including via a truck turned into a raft this week.

Have these ‘untold numbers’ of Cubans all gone stark, raving mad? Who, in their right minds, would want to risk being eaten by sharks in order to get away from first-class health-care and education? Don’t these insane Cubans realise just how poor, miserable, stupid and sick they are going to be in America?

Some ungrateful people just don’t deserve ‘social and political successes’.

Bolting the stable door…

The Telegraph reports that Britain is to reopen attempts to change key sections of the proposed European constitution despite warnings by its chief author that this risks undoing months of painstaking negotiations.

The Government will issue a White Paper in early September setting out its ‘red lines’ – the issues that it will not compromise on – in the final round of bargaining for the constitution that will be launched by European Union leaders in October. Senior officials said the issues include a determination to remove a mutual defence pact that would undermine Nato, clauses regarded as a backdoor attempt to harmonise taxation, and proposals for an EU public prosecutor.

For once the Conserative opposition sounds almost reasonable. Bernard Jenkin, the Conservative defence spokesman, said:

They said the constitution was just a tidying-up exercise. They have realised late in the day that it’s much more than that. Even if they win on their red lines, they have already given much more away, not least the principle of having a constitution in the first place.

Mr Jenkin maintains that, despite phrases ostensibly respecting countries’ obligations to Nato, the draft constitution would give the EU primacy over the transatlantic alliance. It is not yet clear how far Britain will resist the proposals to create a common defence policy.

Valery Giscard d’Estaing, the former French president who presided over 16 months of debate at the European Convention, has warned all sides that tampering with the text risks creating a free-for-all.

And we wouldn’t want that, right?

Missing the target

The BBC is to show a series of documentaries exploring the gun and gang culture among Britain’s urban underclass, it said yesterday. The Guns & Gangs Season on BBC2 will look at the rise of gun crime and whether groups such as So Solid Crew contribute to the culture of violence.

For the uninitiated So Solid Crew are at the centre of a debate over rap music and gun crime after a government minister said the increase in violence was down to “idiots like the So Solid Crew glorifying gun culture and violence”. Culture minister Kim Howells was speaking about the shooting of four girls in Birmingham at a New Year party – two of them were killed. Gun crime has doubled in the last five years, and he reckons the music industry is part of the problem:

For years I’ve been very worried about the hateful lyrics that these boasting macho idiots come out with from these rappers and so on, it is a big cultural problem.

There you have it. It is obviously not the fact that you are not allowed to defend yourself but rap music that makes criminals bolder. And the BBC just adds to the blunder. Other programmes in the season include a documentary examining the alleged links between the gun culture and rap music, another about the source of illicit arms and Sons And Guns, about the mothers of men murdered in gang-related killings in Manchester. In the new £97 million BBC2 autumn season, the corporation promises to focus on “the harsh realities of the modern world”.

Oh dear. So off the mark, you can’t even see the target…

Liberty appoints new Director

From Liberty’s press release:

Shami Chakrabarti is to be the new Director of Liberty. She succeeds John Wadham who has been appointed Deputy Chairman of the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Shami Chakrabarti joined Liberty in 2001 as the group’s ‘In-House Counsel’ and is now recognised as one of the UK’s leading authorities on anti-terror laws. She says that the measures adopted by the Government in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks have made her “ashamed to be a lawyer.”