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]

The triumph of the West

Oh how I wish I had the presence of mind to have taken a picture of her to illustrate the point of this post, not that I ever need much excuse to publish a picture of an attractive young woman… my camera was on my belt as usual but alas my brain was not in gear and moments later she was lost in the swirling post-Christmas sales crowds.

She was in her late teens or maybe early twenties, obviously from a fairly well off family, very stylish in a ‘Mayfair London’ manner (though I saw her in Kensington), beautiful in a ‘could be a model’ sort of way, dusky complexion, long legs made to look even longer by expensive looking high heeled shoes and a very short form fitting ‘little black dress’… and wearing an Iranian style hijab.

Although I can only speculate as I do not know the young woman who caught my eye, it is not hard to see the ‘domestic compromise’ at work here… her family insisting she wear the hijab whilst she insisted on dressing to kill in the manner of her adopted western culture and friends.

This little drama must get played out a million times a year across Europe and North America amongst the Muslim diaspora and in the long run, it is not hard to see which cultural force is going to win. I suspect that one of the reasons that small pockets of western Muslims have become radicalized is that it is they who are most starkly confronted with what happens in the majority of cases when the old ways are confronted by western secular individualism. No civilization based on submission to arbitrary edicts from the Dark Ages can survive contact with a civilization that essentially encourages you to find your own way and do what you will.

I suspect within one hundred years, maybe less, Islam will have about as much relevance to the life of most ‘Muslims’ as the Anglican Church does to most British ‘Christians’… something you might or might not encounter when getting married or buried and not much else.

Earthquakes in Iran

We’ve commented very little here about the Iran earthquake of December 26th, which could obviously be an earthquake in more ways than one. For several days now, I’ve been wanting to do a piece called something like “Now wait for the political tremors”. But hello, what’s this?

Here’s how this Economist piece concludes:

… the catastrophe may have one benign effect: a lessening of the Islamic republic’s distrust of foreigners. That distrust was evident in 1990, when the Iranians turned down many offers of outside help in the aftermath of a previous catastrophic quake and officials denounced sniffer dogs as “unclean”. Mr Khatami, in recent days, has showed no such qualms, appealing for help from all bar Israel. Some people in Bam were rescued thanks to the once-reviled canines.

Mr Khatami’s conservative rivals have mixed feelings about foreign help. During his trip to the area, the supreme leader did not deign to mention the mainly western countries that had rushed to Iran’s aid, let alone thank the rescuers in person. That is not untypical of Iran’s stand-offish conservatives. Last Friday, while survivors of the disaster surveyed the wreckage of their lives, Mr Khamenei found time to extol at length the merits of making the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Yes, but setting aside how the conservative bit of the Iranian elite feels what is the Iranian elite as a whole doing that is any different?

This UPI piece is somewhat more informative on that score:

On the issue of a diplomatic thaw, Rashid Khalikov, a U.N. official, praised Iran’s quick call for help and opening of its borders. “They immediately opened up their airports for foreign flights, opened their consulates all over the world to issue visas for aid workers as fast as they could and have often waived them,” Khalikov said at a Monday news conference in Geneva.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said in interview with the Washington Post, “There are things happening, and therefore we should keep open the possibility of a dialogue at an appropriate point in the future.”

The story seems to be that there are two kinds of attitude that are contending for supremacy in Iran, the one that says that Allah will see to everything provided only that we grovel to him in the precisely correct manner while wailing the precisely correct noises, and the one that says that if Allah wants this mess (and all the other messes around here) sorted, the way he’ll do it is by us sorting it on his behalf, by making use of such things as dogs, foreigners, etc. The former tendency wants the West to drop dead. The latter tendency wants Iran to come alive.

And this earthquake, paradoxically, plays right into the hands of the Come Alive party, because it shines a big public torch on which attitude saves lives and which one does not. For never forget that the key to how many people die in disasters is not just how many die in that first horrible few minutes, but how many more die of boring things like malnutrition, the cold, infection caused by lack of sanitation, infection of untended wounds, etc., during the days that follow. And that latter figure is determined by the attitude of those in power who are able to do something, and who either do that something or do not.

Personally I don’t think it makes much sense to moan about whether buildings were or were not earthquake proofed. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but is no help in clearing up a mess right now. That stuff comes later.

But a ruling elite that sits on its prayer mats in the immediate aftermath of disaster but otherwise does nothing is definitely moan-worthy. Mr Khamenei and his ilk will surely not be looking good in the eyes of their fellow countrymen right now.

Anti-EUrope posters

Last night, while wandering through Soho to a dinner party, I encountered these posters, in Berwick Street. Luckily I have taken – Perry de Havilland style – to carrying my Canon A70 digital camera with me at all times, so I was able to snap them. (Some other snaps of the Oxford Street Christmas lights were not nearly so successful, unless you are heavily into abstract impressionism.)

euposter_sml.jpg

I do not know who put them up. Searching for visuals on the net is a lot harder than searching for strings of words or for organisations. For example I could find no trace of this poster here.

Still, a pleasing straw in the wind, I think.

There is a huge irony happening here, I think. Like it or not, there is a widespread – not universal but widespread – opposition in Britain to the Iraq war, and now to the presence of victorious British troops staying out there to try to win the peace. The opponents of this effort have done a great deal to spread the idea that Mr Blair is a man not to be trusted, and a man who doesn’t listen to public opinion.

True or not, this charge, it now seems to me, is getting around, and is spilling over into the EUrope debate. The sense that, in matters EUropean also as well as Middle Eastern, Blair is pushing a personal and misguided agenda in defiance of the opinions or interests of his fellow countrymen, is becoming more and more dug in. Iraq = Blair can not be trusted and won’t listen = Britain being in EUrope is dodgy too. The key to this series of public opinion dominoes, so to speak, is that there is a great non-political slab of people who, unlike the leftist opponents of the Iraq war and Iraq peace, are willing to apply the same thinking both to Iraq and to EUrope (and to everything else Mr Blair is doing or not doing), in sufficient numbers to make a difference.

Hidden costs of airport security

Having just returned from a roundtrip flight to Texas during the “high” level alert this past week, I can report first-hand on airport security and its hidden costs.

First, I didn’t notice anything new in airport security procedures during the high level alert. Whenever I travel to Texas, I take a rifle or two. Not as protective coloration, but because Texas in general, and my father’s ranch in particular, are full of things I want to shoot. Specifically, during the Christmas season, white-tail deer. I am pleased to report that my shooting iron did not set off any alarm bells (by now, I know the drill for transporting firearms by air), and I had a very pleasant conversation with the guard in Wisconsin who confirmed that it wasn’t loaded. Whereupon I locked it up in its case, as required by law, and didn’t think twice about it until I got to Texas.

I drove out to the ranch at the first opportunity, gun and various hunting supplies in tow, and had barely been sitting in my blind for an hour when one of the larger deer I have ever seen in the wild came strolling by. He passed within 40 yards of my blind, and I watched him feed and mess about for over half an hour. He was a big eight-pointer, with heavy, symmetrical antlers.

At this point, one of the hidden costs of airport security reared its ugly head. I had, you see, forgotten to unlock my gun case when I got to my parent’s house, and had left the key firmly attached to my briefcase sitting on my bed. I was sitting in my blind unarmed, the rifle securely locked in its case back at the pickup. I didn’t get my deer, and its all BUSH’s fault!

An unpaid political announcement

It has been a busy couple of weeks: two proposals and the holiday season on top of it. It’s had me so tied up I am just now getting around to other matters.

I’m ‘throwing my hat in the ring’ for the next National Space Society Board of Directors election. The time left for me to be included amongst the Board nominees is rather short. I need my signed petitions into the NSS office by midnight January 15th. I’ve already emailed petition forms to a bunch of folk, a few of which I know are also Samizdata readers. If you are not one of them (ie you didn’t just get an email from me) and know you will be a paid up member of the Society as of January 15th, 2004, please contact me via the comments section and I’ll send you a copy of the petition and related information.

Note that attempting to send email directly to me will result in delays of a day or two as I have a white list which dumps all unexpected mail into a holding pen.

Happy New Year, from HM Inland Revenue

Of all the tax payments I make in a year, either direct or indirect, the largest cheque I’m compelled to write has to be registered in Her Majesty’s Treasury by January the 1st, each year. This is so Gordon Brown can then burn it, of course, on even more government regulation, on even more government corruption, and on even more government waste. And today was the last day free for me to get the ink onto the paper.

Ho ho ho, Gordon. I hope you choke on it.

Having just returned from the Post Office, where I schlepped the loot over, I wondered whether the British state has ever had it so easy. The Sheriff of Nottingham, in Robin Hood’s day, had to go round digging up peasants’ gardens, to see if they’d buried any taxable wheat. Here, in modern Britain, even one of Professor Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s (slightly critical) Austro-libertarian extremist disciples will calmly walk into a government controlled bank, and just hand the loot over, knowing full well that every penny of this hard-earned moolah will be wasted on Guardian Reader parasites.

No, not every penny. Most of it will be wasted on Guardian Reader parasites. The rest of it will be spent on making the life of this humble Austro-libertarian even worse, with an even greater intrusion into his life, and an even greater government commitment to increase the regulation over his already over-regulated life. Don’t ya just love state socialism! → Continue reading: Happy New Year, from HM Inland Revenue

Quote unquote: Winston Churchill on false optimism

“There is no worse mistake in public leadership than to hold out false hopes soon to be swept away. The British people can face peril or misfortune with fortitude and buoyancy, but they bitterly resent being deceived or finding that those responsible for their affairs are themselves dwelling in a fool’s paradise.”

- Winston Churchill, quoted in this review of Ripples of Battle by Victor Davis Hanson

An ode to Italian television

Italy is of course renowned for its great public architecture, its dazzling roster of artists and sculptors, its fantastic food and wine, elegantly-dressed citizens and of course some of the most crooked politicians on the planet. Well, last week, during a trip to Malta when I had a chance to surf over some television channels, I realised that there is an even greater glory of Italian culture – its tv shows.

OK, I am being only half-serious, but Italian television is so funny, so crass, so brassy, and so choc-full of dazzingly gorgeous women and cheesy male presenters that I grin whenever I think about it. You cannot fail to feel good and be amused by it.

One of the things I dislike about much British television is just how depressing it is. Our terrible soap operas, with their tragic sense of life and victim culture, are the worst, but much else is also awful. Not so with Italian television.

Of course it is brazenly vulgar and silly. The moral scolds of the far left and far right would loathe it. But such folk, who share more in common than they would like to admit, miss the point that a certain amount of vulgarity is a sign of health, a suggestion of a level of dynamism in a culture. And judging by Italian tv, Italy is in rude good health.

And of course much of it is owned by the arch-villain of the Guardianista classes and my favourite Italian politician, Silvio Berlusconi. Belissimo!!!!

(Mind you, this guy takes a different view)

Elizabet Canalis on Italian TV

Madsen Pirie wins his battle for red pantiles

Madsen Pirie has been having bother from his local planning officer:

The house designs were ready for approval, but the planning officer had one last point. Where I had red pantiles there had to be blue slates. I didn’t like blue slates, and felt red clay tiles fitted the design better. No, I was told. Blue slate gives a much better vista with the next house. The next house was some way away, and only from half-way up a tree 500 yards away could one see ‘a vista’ through the obscuring foliage. Furthermore, I added, most of the houses in the village had red pantiles. No, came the reply, blue slate was called for.

I found that the planning officer did not have the power to require blue slate. I wrote back indicating this, and saying that this was a question of taste. Since it was my house and my money, it was going to be my taste. Back came a letter. True, she did not have the power to insist, but she ‘strongly recommended’ blue slate. I wonder how many people even question the powers which government has conferred upon these pocket Hitlers to interfere in such detail in our lives. Had it not been for a chance remark by my builder, I doubt if I would have checked up.

The pernicious aspect of this planning officer’s behaviour was not just that she had the power to insist on all manner of things which she should have had no power to even influence, but that she also used her actual powers to suggest that she possessed other powers as well, which means that in a sense she really does possess these other powers too. Not many people would have been as cussed about his legal rights as Madsen Pirie was. And as Madsen himself asks, how many others even question where the legal line really does lie?

It would be interesting to know if, and if so, just at what stage in all this to-ing-and fro-ing, this lady planner found out who, as it were, she was dealing with.

The point is that having fights with people like this planning officer count twice if you are someone like Madsen Pirie, once for the advantage gained by winning, and then again for the experience that can be talked about, written about, ideologised about, and of course now that there is an Adam Smith Institute Blog, blogged about. Nothing like a good juicy fight with a real live state bureaucrat to enliven a blog devoted to denouncing state bureaucracy, is there? So, you square up to a person like Madsen Pirie, in a matter like this, at your peril.

Lesser personages, on the other hand, are far easier to subject to “recommendations”.

And that’s hardly to mention the powers that this lady does now legally possess, even over the likes of Madsen Pirie, and over anybody else begging for permission to build something on what is supposedly their own property, within her domain.

So, even though Madsen won his particular little pantile battle, this is still a very nasty war and not one that our side is anywhere near to winning.

One film to rule them all

I staggered blearily back to an Internet connection this morning and looked for the Samizdata Lord of the Rings review so I could add my comment of a single word, ‘Triumph’, before staggering even more blearily through to the New Year.

But though I looked high and low in the Gladden Fields of Micklethwaitian cultural commentary, this review appeared to have rolled down the Anduin bit pipe and down into the sea of review history long ago. Or had it even appeared at all? A bit more searching and still nothing appeared. So it seemed the task had fallen to a simple Oxfordshire resident, rather than one more worthy.

I must apologise in advance if this review starts falling apart in its latter stages. I watched most of the last twenty minutes through a tearful blur of homoerotic emotion just glad the lights were down so nobody could see the big blubbing bloke in the corner. → Continue reading: One film to rule them all

Europe’s Enron

I am a bit surprised there has not been more attention paid in the blogworld to the recent demise of Italian food group Parmalat, one of the country’s largest businesses employing more than 35,000 people. The firm, due to problems centering around its debt and some allegedly dodgy investment decisions, is on the brink of falling down a deep black hole.

Now, there are certain specific features of the story that pertain only to Italy and Italians. But more broadly, this saga also reminds us of how, in the higher reaches of the corporate world, accounting standards are falling short. In fact, there appear to be no standards at all.

I am sure readers will recall how the American model of capitalism was mocked for its supposedly laissez-faire nature at the time of the Enron, WoldCom and other collapses. A certain smug tone was detected in the pages of European newspapers. Well, now we have a prime example of Enronitis in Europe. Of course, European business shenanigans have been legion – witness the Byzantine affairs of French banking group Credit Lyonnais, for example. And the accounting practises of the European Commission are also a wonder to behold.

Maybe Parmalat will, however, instill a little humility among editors of European business news channels. There’s always hope.

But will he be ‘elected’ or ‘appointed’?

Is it still the law in America that a person has to be born in the USA in order to be elected as President?

If so, then doesn’t that rather scupper the prospects of this campaign to get Tony Blair elected as US President in 2004?

Between the babbling of George W. Bush on the right, the blathering of the anti-war left, and the cluck-clucking of media hens everywhere, stands Tony Blair, articulate and principled.

Many Americans understand and support Iraqi Freedom because of the leadership provided by Mr. Blair, and many of us would feel much safer if Mr. Blair occupied the White House.

I have chosen to ignore the instincts that are screaming the word ‘spoof’ into my ear and play along with this for a moment because I can wholly understand where these people are coming from. Would not Our Glorious Leader, a slick, media-savvy (but ‘principled’) social democrat internationalist with hawkish defence policy credentials, make for the ideal Democrat candidate? Would those qualities not press the all the right buttons in just about every constituency to which the Democrats can possibly hope to appeal? Could he even win?

We will never know. If it was up to me, they could have him. Today. With considerable pleasure and relief. But it is not up to me. Had Mr and Mrs Blair senior taken it into their heads to up sticks and settle in California then I would not be in the least surprised to see Governor Blair as runaway favourite for the Democrat nomination in 2004.

And therein lies the story here. You can pretty much discount all the guff about ‘Iraqi Freedom’. Having decided that none of their home-grown candidates stands a cat in hell’s chance of dislodging George Bush, this particular faction is seeking comfort and refuge in an acted-out fantasy of what-might-have-been.