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]

I’m not dead!

Despite taking a big one amidships with the Hutton Report, the BBC is still at it. If anyone happens to be watching right now, they are showing a ‘documentary’ about ‘How the Americans and British got it Wrong’.

The documentary consists primarily of every single photo or film clip they have of civilian deaths. Nearly every segment begins with the line ‘The Americans were fearful …’. I’m not exaggerating and given the calibre of writers at the BBC it cannot concievably be accidental. It is an intentional construction of a rhetorical framework.

These people hate us with a white fury I have difficulty fathoming. I finally had to just walk away from it.

I wonder if I can sue the BBC for Hate speech against Americans? Yeah, that’s the ticket. I have Rights too! The EU says so!

A reader has noted that I was completely incorrect and the show was actually on ITV\Ch4, not BBC. Mea Culpa. I was certain the TV had been set to BBC and the announcer’s style was so BBC that I just assumed it was. My apologies for this error.

Support Cecile du Bois

Cecile du Bois is getting grief at her school for opposing affirmative action. Her teacher asked her what she thought about it, and Cecile told her the truth. She is against it. And for that, she got all the grief.

And I’m not complaining, I am merely expressing my frustration with the atmosphere of being “weird, and going against the flow”. My very own friend advises me not to speak my mind if I am going to offend anyone. And yes I did, I poured it all out, given the opportunity because the discussion was on womens rights and for some reason my teacher asked me if I agreed with affirmative action. Does affirmative action relate to womens rights? Not in my world it does. I guess in her world where being against illegal immigration and calling African-Americans “black” are racist, it does. Well, if asked a question, I am compelled to answer honestly. My mother suggested I could have asked her what it had to with Mary Wollstonecraft, but I was so flustered by her laughter at me, I replied. I said “No”. And did that cause commotion!

Go to Cecile’s blog and read the whole thing.

I can just about understand (although I despise) the way that Cecile’s classmates (if that is the right word) are treating Cecile, but some way ought to be found of communicating to Cecile’s ‘teacher’ that she is now being deservedly trashed for profoundly unprofessional conduct on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, and everywhere else in the world where the blogosphere counts for anything if this posting has the desired effect.

Isn’t education supposed to encourage people to tell the truth and to stick up for their ideas? Someone she can not manipulate and ridicule should also tell this Grade A Bitch of a teacher that there are impeccably non-racist arguments against affirmative action, like: affirmative action exposes all those people from ethnic minorities who do get ahead to the accusation that they are only did well because they were given an unfair advantage, even if they actually got ahead entirely on their own merits and by their own efforts. Affirmative action encourages racism, in other words. Hasn’t this ignorant woman even heard of this line of argument?

And even if she has not, she has no damned business encouraging all her other pupils to pick on one pupil, just for expressing an opinion, honestly and courageously.

If you agree with me about this, please do at least one of the following things.

  1. Add a short comment to Cecile’s own blog, supporting and sympathising, and do it now. Warning: when I tried to do a quite long comment I came up against a thousand character limit, so don’t try to write at too great length. Something short and nice, and soon.
  2. If you are yourself a blogger, then write about this thing yourself, and link to this posting. Link to Cecile’s blog as well, of course, but the particular advantage of linking to this piece is that the number of linkers will be automatically counted and announced here, and people reading this will be able to swing straight over to your blog, and then link to you themselves. I’m going to do a piece about this on my Education Blog just as soon as I can.
  3. Put a supportive comment here as well, especially if you want to say something that makes use of more than a thousand characters. Cecile will definitely get to read it because I’ve already promised this posting in my comment at her blog.

It is not strictly relevant to the rights and wrongs of how she is now being (mis)treated, but since it may cheer her up, I will add it anyway. In my opinion Cecile is a terrific writer, and very possibly destined for literary superstardom. (She is certainly obeying rule number one for being a writer, which is to Live Interestingly, and rule number two, which is to get started with Living Interestingly good and early.) Be sure to scroll down, past all her links to other people, to the links to her own archives and previous postings. I particularly enjoyed her description of going to the movies with her Dad and brother, which Cecile’s Mum also liked. LOR: LOL.

If only for coining the phrase prostitute college, Cecile du Bois is destined for world fame sooner or later.

cecile_sml.jpg

They got what they wished for

In 1998 the Human Rights Act swept in on a bow wave of heady expectation. It was the dawn of a new era and the end of the dark ages. Britain was, at long last, a properly civilised country where everyone was going to have tons and oodles of rights for everything they could possibly want and anything they could possibly imagine and the whole thing was to be busily administered by an army of publicly-funded lawyers and functionaries. The Human Rights Act was heralded was the modern Social Democrat version of the Magna Carta.

This was the pot of gold at the end of the Entitlements Rainbow; the sweet reward for decades of interminable squawking, marching, banner-waving and shouting the word ‘fascist’.

Courtrooms would now become shopping malls where anyone can just swan in, pick up some rights (in size and colour to suit) and leave with bags full of them, gift-wrapped.

I took a rather different view. My appraisal of the Human Rights Act was that it was a pernicious harbinger of Swiftian stupidities and a cornerstone of a permanent nanny-state. Nothing since has given me the slightest cause to review my initial opinion, indeed, it has only been reinforced. But, interestingly, it appears to be dawning on some of the dewey-eyed believers that this is not the New Jerusalem they were expecting:

I am not the only one who worried that the introduction of the Human Rights Act might backfire on those of us who worry about little things like rape, murder, child abuse and prostitution. Certainly some of the fears many feminists had about fancy lawyers defending all sorts of scum in the name of “rights” proved well founded. HRA cases have included the right of a man accused of rape to hear details of a complainant’s sexual history for the benefit of his defence and – turned down only after serious deliberation – serial killer Dennis Nielsen to be allowed gay pornography in prison, based on the argument that heterosexual serial killers are allowed theirs.

In countries in which real human rights violations blight the lives of millions, there is confusion about why we westerners are using the act to argue, for example, that a man has the right to sunbathe naked in his own garden. Is that really the best we can do?

Cry me a river.

If I had my way, the wretched Human Rights Act would be repealed and every copy in the land would be fed into an industrial shredder.

A suggestion for new teminology

While reading some DOD press briefing transcripts tonight I was struck by the total dehumanization inherent in a person choosing to be a suicide bomber. At the instant they strap on the explosive belt or seat themselves in a car bomb they cease being a person. They become nothing but an expendable munition, bombs in a deceptively human form.

I suggest a new name for them: SPM’s.

Self Portable Munitions.

Yet another blog about the BBC

In today’s Telegraph Charles Moore has an excellent summary of what is wrong with the BBC, its deeply entrenched institutional bias and its undeserved influence:

It seems to me that the BBC today is the enemy of conservative culture in Britain. This is not immediately obvious, because elements of the BBC’s output, particularly on radio, are justly loved by many conservative-minded people. But it is nevertheless the case. The few glorious programmes are used as the camouflage behind which political correctness can advance.

How does the BBC approach subjects such as American power, organised religion, marriage, the EU, the Middle East, the actions of the Armed Forces, the rights of householders to defend their property against burglars, public spending, choice of schools, or any perceived inequality?

Who will be more politely treated – Gerry Adams or Norman Tebbit, a spokesman for Hizbollah or Paul Wolfowitz? If someone appears on a programme described as a “property developer” with someone described as a “green activist”, who will get the rougher ride? If a detective drama features a feisty lesbian and a chilly aristocrat, which is more likely to be the murderer?

And when it comes to a war – it applied both in the Falklands and in Iraq – the BBC takes a pride in being what it calls “even-handed”, which means inventing moral equivalence between the forces of our country and those of aggressive dictatorships.

None of these attitudes is unique to the BBC, but what is unique is the BBC’s power to impose them. In order legally to have a television in your home, you have to pay the BBC £116 a year. This allows it to dominate virtually all forms of broadcast media, many of which have nothing to do with any idea of “public service broadcasting”.

Out of the deference that this power instils, senior BBC executives are paid more than anyone else in the entire British public service. Greg Dyke, the now ex-director-general and editor-in-chief who seems to have been too busy to edit, got £464,000 last year. BBC executives are like the princes of the Church of England before the commutation of the tithes. They are rich and powerful, and no doubt they mean well, but there comes a time when non-conformists get fed up with paying for their sermons and their privileges.

That time is surely near. We must find a way of abolishing or hugely reducing the licence fee while reviving the core of public service broadcasting. How half-witted of Tory Britain to hand this chance to Tony Blair, instead of claiming it for itself.

Apologies for such a long quote but apart from a tiny disagreement about the license fee – it should be scrapped, not just reduced – I have nothing to add.

Frog-bashing gets out of hand

As any reader of this blog would have realised by now, the French political establishment is viewed with varying levels of disdain. I yield to no-one in my loathing of French President Jacques Chirac, who, let us not forget, would probably be an inmate of a jail for corruption were it not for the immunity from prosecution afforded to the holder of his office.

But as proud individualist and opponent of all attempts to lump people together under a single banner, I regard attempts to attack someone for being ‘French’ no better than doing so for being, say, American. Yet the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto does precisely this regarding Democratic wannabe Commander in Chief John Kerry. His constant snipes at Kerry for being “French-looking” are bigoted nonsense.

Well Mr Taranto, I would like to point out that many of the ideals enshrined in the US Constitution, which presumably is revered by the Wall Street Journal, originated in France. Voltaire, Montesquieu, Bastiat, Condorcet, Benjamin Constant and Alexis de Toqueville, all giants of classical liberalism, were all French.

James Taranto’s “Best of the Web” column used to be a must-read for its snappy and often hilarious takes on the various media comments of the day. Alas, he seems to be little more than a cheerleader for George Bush these days. Maybe Taranto’s talents, which are considerable, could be put to better use.

Why so many left-wing architects?

Running your own business is a pretty good way of disabusing yourself of any lingering enthusiasm for state regulation and mandatory collective provision. That those in business tend to be capitalists is an obvious, platitudinous assertion but there remains one profession which is perversely immune to free-market reason and where public sector boosterism persists, my own: architecture.

If you take the most prominent prosperous ‘progressives’ subtract the entertainers and journalists, those cosseted in extravagant public sector sinecures and those endowed with a generous inheritance, you can be sure that there is a preponderance of architects among the ‘productive’ remainder. Take George Galloway’s podium partner and erstwhile Blair buddy: Richard Rogers. He is arguably one of Britain’s most celebrated architects and certainly one of its wealthiest, yet his political beliefs are barely more developed than the average student union firebrand.

The architectural media shares the same core assumptions about society, economics and the public sector as the likes of The Guardian, The Independent and the BBC and if you are unfortunate enough to wade through a turgidly worded missive from the Architect’s professional institutes – in Ireland we have the RIAI, in the UK, the RIBA – you will find little from which a Guardian-reading career bureaucrat would demur. Sustainability, Public Realm, Social Justice etc. etc.

Leaving aside the obvious fact that architects in the public sector or benefitting significantly from public sector work tend to favour an expanded public sector, there are a number of factors which explain why architects in general are often prone to left-leaning politics. → Continue reading: Why so many left-wing architects?

Samizdata slogan of the day

State funding of abortions is, however, a completely different matter. The pro-choicers say it’s a matter of choice. Let it stay that way, then, without forcing people who oppose infanticide to fund it.
- Tomas Kohl

Cargo Cult Finance

Mathematician John Allen Paulos, in his most recent book (A Mathematician Plays the Stock Market, Basic Books, 2003) coined a term which I had hoped would catch on throughout the finance community. He describes under-researched puff pieces on personal finance (e.g. Five Hot Stocks to Pump Up your 401k NOW!) as “financial pornography.”

One of the biggest purveyors of financial pornography online is the MSN.com website, and this column doesn’t disappoint: Seven Signs a Stock is Ready to Soar. The author purports to explain how to locate ‘hot’ stocks, those that are about to appreciate rapidly in price, by reviewing some research on what types of conditions most often preceded (notice I did not say caused, and neither did the research) a price increase.

It should not take a Wharton MBA to figure out what is wrong with the premise of the article. The cited research identifies the seven conditions that most often preceded a big run-up in the price of a particular stock, but nowhere does it suggest that these conditions were sufficient (or even necessary) to cause a stock price to take off.

Obviously, all of the conditions that make up the ‘CANSLIM’ acronym are desirable things for a corporation — for its management and for its ownership. But that doesn’t mean that the stock in question is about to outperform the market. I’m not a hard-and-fast believer in the semi-strong efficient market hypothesis — I think a few super-stud investors can outperform the market — but for the average investor reading MSN’s Money Insight column, the CANSLIM approach is not going to turn those people into super-stud investors. EMH is still going to apply to those investors; there are just too many other investors who have the same type of information and insights at their fingertips.

In his 1974 commencement address to Cal Tech, the late Richard Feynman described what he called “cargo cult science:”

In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During [World War II] they saw airplanes with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head to headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas — he’s the controller — and they wait for the airplanes to land.

Feynman (about whom I will have much more to say in an upcoming post) was using the term to deride psychics and ‘paranormal’ advocates like Uri Geller. But the MSN piece is urging investors to do exactly what Feynman describes the naive south island natives as doing: falling hook, line and sinker for a post hoc fallacy.

If you can’t beat ‘em, bribe ‘em

Almost everyone has heard about the list of persons and organizations purportedly bribed with oil by Saddam Hussein. You can find the partial list here at MEMRI.

Enjoy!

Privatise Hubble Now!

The US bureaucracy’s space branch (NASA) wants to scrap a Shuttle flight to carry out a servicing on the Hubble telescope. A petition has been started by Fernando Ribiero, a Brazilian, to “Save the Hubble“.

As one commenter on the site points out, it is easy for someone living outside the USA to demand that US taxpayers’ money and US lives be risked in a leaky Space Shuttle. For all sorts of American reasons there is a petition but only Americans can sign.

Surely the answer is obvious: privatise Hubble!

I am sure someone could set up a website taking credit card donations to pay for the upkeep of Hubble. Without the NASA inter-departmental bickering, it should be feasible for a few dollars per subscriber a year. I for one would consider this a far preferable use of my money than most government schemes I can think of.

If no trips to service the Hubble telescope are made, it will cease operating by 2007. At some point after that we can assume that the telescope would come crashing down to Earth (statistically not going to do any damage). So the privatisation method I would suggest is that used by the British government to dispose of the Trustee Savings’ Bank in the late 1980s. A price was set, to encourage some sorting out wasters from serious operators and the net proceeds were used to boost the bank’s capital. A variation of this method should keep Hubble up for the next 10 years.

Admiral Gorschkov goes to India

India has closed the deal for the purchase of the ‘Admiral Gorschkov’, a Cold War era Russian aircraft carrier. It is expected this ship will come into service with the Indian Navy around 2008, just in time for the retirement of the INS Viraat, their current aircraft carrier.

Gorshkov

It is quite interesting that there is a continuing armaments relationship between the Russians and India, despite the seismic geopolitical changes of the last decade. An untutored alien landing for the first time on Earth would make no sense of it. The roles of the US and the USSR in that region should be reversed, Russia should be partnered with the alternating military dictatorship and semi-democratic kleptocracies of Pakistan and the US with India, the oldest liberal democratic state in Asia.

Relations between nations have layers within layers and oft-times deep and conflicting historical roots, I am aware of some of the public history of the region, but cannot help wondering if there is a bit more to it, an unspoken geopolitical undertext.

India has centuries of liberal European traditions behind it. It is also not likely to change very much even under severe pressure. Generations would come and go before the paperwork for change was properly submitted, checked, authorized and filed. In a Cold War world the risk of India actually going Red was rather slim and thus of less worry than perennially unstable Pakistan.

Pakistan borders China and is within spitting distance of Russia across a ultra thin panhandle of Afghanistan. The region is wild and uncontrolled and right in the hotspot is the contested Kashmir Province. Given the location and the consistant interest in access to the oil and southern oceans shown from Tsarist through Soviet days, Northern Pakistan was absolutely ripe for fun and games with the KGB. It seems obvious checkmating this move was of far more Realpolitik value than telling the Indians how much we admired their history.

With the end of the Evil Empire, much of Geopolitics changed, but the full extent of the re-alignment of interests in this part of the world did not really click into place until September 11th, 2001. Islamic fundamentalists were already a clear and present danger to the Russians. Nutcases don’t even have to board an airliner to get to Moscow. They can drive there. After 9/11 they were also top priority to the US.

Over the last century or so, the Russians have ticked off a lot of people on their borders and they know it. They’ve done a far better job at this than the US… so it is somewhat in their interest for the US to take the brunt of whatever direct ire is caused by sorting out the problems. Otherwise they would have to deal with it, and given their level of success in Afghanistan and Chechnya, I would not have much hope for solutions from that direction.

From the Russian viewpoint, it is ideal if the US stabilizes Pakistan and acts as the lightning rod for fundamentalist ire; meanwhile they help arm India so that in the worst case, a fundamentalist takeover of Pakistan, India can keep Pakistan occupied and looking away from Russian territory.

The Russians see the regional problems up front and personal; they are damned pretty much whatever they do and aren’t very good at building stable liberal democracies. They haven’t even worked the bugs out of their own yet. The US is somewhat less at risk from the downsides of action in the region since it is far, far away and bordered by oceans and democracies. Not that such is a total protection. It just means the crazies have to expend more energy and more resources to carry out their attacks. To put it bluntly, the US stands to lose a smaller number of cities to the fundies than would Russia.

So there is method to this madness. You just have to sit a moment in everyone’s chair and ask ‘what’s in it for me?’