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]

“Reagan was the main author of the victory …”

Reagan’s War: The Epic Story of His Forty Year Struggle and Final Triumph Over Communism
Peter Schweizer
Doubleday, 2002

“It’s surprising what you can accomplish when no one is concerned about who gets the credit.” This lettered sign stood on Reagan’s desk during his presidency and since it reflected his attitude, he cannot have worried much that his own part in the downfall of Communism has been seriously underestimated, a judgement which Peter Schweizer labours to correct in this book. For its theme, Reagan’s War, was the war against communism. By leaving out other aspects and events which did not touch on it – Israel, the Palestinians, the Lebanon, the Falklands, or the home economy – an exaggerated impression may have been given of Reagan’s singlemindedness. Even the inclusion of the assassination attempt, so nearly successful, is with an emphasis on Reagan’s belief that he had been preserved by God to conduct this war.

Reagan began political life as a Roosevelt-admiring Democrat. He had been aware of the attempt by communists to dominate and subvert the American film industry as early as 1946 and become involved in countering it, almost certainly sidetracking his career as a film star. The Korean War (1950-3) reinforced his attitude and, while still a Democrat he campaigned for Eisenhower, though disappointed later by his lukewarm anti-communism, and even less impressed by Nixon. This was also the time when anti-anti-communism became intellectually fashionable, Reagan encountering it when he was hired by General Electric to host and act in GE Theatre on television. Travelling round the country as the company’s roving ambassador to its plants and business contacts he was able to give speeches entirely based on his own views, unhampered by any kind of censorship. Schweizer distances Reagan from Senator McCarthy, who, he mentions, was initially supported by John F. Kennedy and never censured by him (p. 37). Reagan met Nancy Davis, who became his second wife (after his first wife Jane Wyman left and divorced him) through being asked to exonerate her of communist connections, apparently a case of mistaken identity. → Continue reading: “Reagan was the main author of the victory …”

I love the smell of glamour in the morning

I have been to a marvelous party and now I am back.

The marvelous party was the CNE Capitalist Ball, held at the Belgian Stock Exchange in central Brussels.

Now before I go any further here, I have a confession to make. Two confessions, in fact. Last Thursday, I referred to Brussels as the ‘Heart of Darkness’. Well, I was wrong about that. I also suspected that I was going to find myself in Brussels amid a room full of musty, fusty academics plus a few corporate types and policy wonks. I was wrong about that too.

In fact, my travelling companion and fellow Samizdatista Antoine Clarke and I found ourselves in sumptuous surroundings with hundreds of European, British and American glitterati and illuminati from the worlds of business, finance, politics, journalism and academia. In other words, lots of clever, interesting men and lots of clever, interesting and head-turningly lovely women. They were smart, young, chic, funny and sexy.

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The belles are ringing for capitalism

→ Continue reading: I love the smell of glamour in the morning

Yes, it’s Oscar Night.

Well, it’s Oscar night this evening. The big question seems to be whether Mel Gibson will make an appearance as a presenter, and if so what he will say and what the reaction will be. (If his aim of releasing The Passion of the Christ was simply to make a lot of money, he has succeeded. The film has grossed $118m in five days and as Gibson put up the entire budget himself, almost all of the profits will go to him). However, as I promised I might when I wrote my overlong overview of what happened in the Holiday and New Year film season a couple of weeks ago, here are my predictions as to who are going to win the Academy Awards this evening. Some people might think that the Oscars are too trivial for a Samizdata post, but if you think this, don’t read. If it is good enough for Mark Steyn, it’s good enough for me. (How do I begin my campaign to be the next Spectator film critic).

I have of course refrained from using the special hotline that we Samizdatistas have direct to the Stonecutter World Council to find out in advance who the winners are, so I am just guessing using my judgement here. I will stick to the major categories, with perhaps occasional thoughts on the other categories.

As well as merely trying to predict the winners, as an added bonus, I give you a star ranking. Four stars means I will eat my metaphorical hat if this is not the winner. Three stars means I will be quite surprised if this is not the winner. Two stars means that I think this will be the winner, but that I think that there are other possibilities that would not be an overwhelming surprise. One star means that the category looks very open and I have no idea, but that I am willing to guess. I will give other people I think who are in with some kind of chance in brackets, and if I list more than one such person I list most likely first. I may or may not follow this up with a sentence or two as to why but I will try to keep it brief. In a couple of instances I will elaborate on my reasoning at more length on the special blog I use for that purpose, and will link to those comments.

Anyway, here goes.
The full nomination list is here. → Continue reading: Yes, it’s Oscar Night.

Most foreign aid is a crime based on a lie

It will come as no surprise to anyone with a 100+ IQ and a modicum of knowledge about how the world works that Robert Mugabe and his murderous kleptocrats have appropriated more that £100 million (US $190 million) in aid sent to Zimbabwe by Britain and the EU.

As that was only to be expected, I cannot say it adds significantly to my loathing of the Mugabe regime. What does fill me with utter contempt is that the people responsible for this utterly predictable outcome still allowed the money to be sent in the first place.

As I have previously argued many times before about foreign aid, to send money for ostensibly humanitarian aims to a nation governed by a tyranny is to become the logistic support arm of that tyranny: insulating the regime from the economic (and hence political) consequences of its actions and thereby indirectly, but in a very real sense, making the regime more likely to survive than would otherwise be the case. That is true even if the humanitarian aid does indeed reach the people and projects it is targeted at.

This however is even worse than that. To send aid to Zimbabwe is to underwrite the tyrannical Mugabe regime directly as according to the latest report, 89% ends up in the pockets of Zimbabwe’s rulers rather than being spent on the humanitarian objectives for which it is intended. Thus not only can the people who sent the money not bask in their delusions that they have at least done good for those who benefit from the worthy projects, they might as well be buying weapons for Mugabe’s police and paramilitaries, not to mention making the bankers and shopkeepers in Zürich rather happy. They are directly supporting the tyrants with large cash injections.

As I disinclined to believe that the people in charge of the governments and agencies in question do not know full well where the money is going to end up, that makes them knowingly supporters of the regime. Which means they are supporting this:

Hilary Andersson, of the BBC’s Panorama programme, reveals how thousands of youths are being taught to rape, maim, torture and kill in Zimbabwe’s terror training camps – and now Robert Mugabe intends to make the camps compulsory for all the country’s young men and women

[...]

A former official with the Ministry of Youth, Gender and Employment Creation that oversees the camps, explained the government’s thinking. “You are moulding somebody to listen to you, so if it means rapes have to take place in order for that person to take instructions from you, then it’s OK,” he said. He was so horrified that he left his job with the ministry in disgust. Rape is just one of the ways camp commanders are able to turn their charges into unquestioning automata. The training methods vary from camp to camp, but the pattern is consistent.

If all that was happening was that the Guardian reading classes were getting a warm fuzzy glow because they were supporting British tax money going to ‘help stamp out poverty in the third world’, then that would be bad enough, given the reality of what this distorting flow of cash really does. But as Zimbabwe slowly morphs into an inept ‘North Korea Lite’, the platitudes and wilful ignorance of some are now directly funding truly monstrous horrors and misery because they are too damn lazy to think the whole issue through.

Of course if our political masters did not know this was going to happen when they decided to send huge chunks cash to a place like Zimbabwe, then they are naive to the point of idiocy and have no business being in charge of vast amounts of other people’s money to begin with.

So which is it?

Spying on the UN? I should bloody well hope so!

There are several things which annoy the hell out of me regarding the ongoing ruckus over whether or not the British intelligence services have been spying on Kofi Annan and the UN generally, as alleged by Claire Short.

Firstly, the UN is nothing less than a logistics agency for tyrants around the world, insulating them from the economic consequences of their policies and ostensibly giving them equal standing with liberal human rights respecting regimes. Thus the notion that this institution’s leader, Kofi Annan, is some sainted figure beyond reproach (and beyond espionage) is both bizarre and repugnant. If we are to get any value from our pilfered tax money at all, I would hope some of it is spent spying on the corrupt functionaries at the United Nations.

Secondly, whilst I will defer to our in-house lawyer David Carr as to whether Claire Short’s actions constitute treason, at the very least I can only marvel how she was not immediately charged under the Official Secrets Act and thrown in jail… but silly me, I forgot there is one rule for the political, establishment and another everyone else.

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Needlestack

90% crud has an excellent post about government, security and privacy. He includes a quote by Bruce Schnier about central databases and data mining programmes from his article How we are fighting the war on terrorism/IDs and the illusion of security.

But any such system will create a third, and very dangerous, category: evildoers who don’t fit the profile. Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, Washington-area sniper John Allen Muhammed and many of the Sept. 11 terrorists had no previous links to terrorism. The Unabomber taught mathematics at UC Berkeley. The Palestinians have demonstrated that they can recruit suicide bombers with no previous record of anti-Israeli activities. Even the Sept. 11 hijackers went out of their way to establish a normal-looking profile; frequent-flier numbers, a history of first-class travel and so on. Evildoers can also engage in identity theft, and steal the identity — and profile — of an honest person. Profiling can result in less security by giving certain people an easy way to skirt security.

There’s another, even more dangerous, failure mode for these systems: honest people who fit the evildoer profile. Because evildoers are so rare, almost everyone who fits the profile will turn out to be a false alarm. This not only wastes investigative resources that might be better spent elsewhere, but it causes grave harm to those innocents who fit the profile. Whether it’s something as simple as “driving while black” or “flying while Arab,” or something more complicated such as taking scuba lessons or protesting the Bush administration, profiling harms society because it causes us all to live in fear…not from the evildoers, but from the police.

The rest of the post is equally sound:

The problem with these data mining programs is that they don’t work. There simply isn’t enough data to build a good terrorist model. Let’s take two recent American terrorists: John Allen Muhammad and Timothy McVeigh. What did their records have in common before they acted? The only common data point between the two is that they both served in the military. If we had a system that could spot these two men, it would also falsely identify every single male who served in the US Military.

That of course assumes that the data is properly mined and analyzed. But let’s go back to the initial story, where we find out that the TSA sucks at analyzing data. Where does that leave us?

Some might say finding an evil-doer among regular people is akin to finding a needle in a haystack. I say that since there’s no way to tell the bad from the good it’s closer to finding a specific needle in a needlestack. Is that really worth giving up our privacy for an illusion of security?

Bruce Cumings – professor of idiocy

Anthony Daniels, in the course of reviewing the work of someone more sensible (more about that book here), in the Telegraph, ends up devoting rather more space to nailing useful idiot Professor Bruce Cumings of Chicago University.

What is the antiidiotarian blogosphere for, if not for bouncing paragraphs like this around, and generally rubbing salt into well deserved wounds?

Like every useful idiot before him, Professor Cumings is much impressed by free child-care and kindergartens, much more so than by gulags and famines. There is no Potemkin village so transparently a fraud that he would not be taken in by it. Such matters as collective family responsibility, whereby entire families are severely punished for the political dissent of one of its members, do not impinge on his imagination – a faculty with which he is not much blessed.

While Cumings admits that the personality cult of Kim Il-Sung (who, though dead for 10 years, is still President For Eternity) is absurd, he attributes its extravagance entirely to the Confucian strain in Korean life, thus displaying a complete and startling ignorance of Communist iconography. Is he not aware that almost every Communist dictator was, according to the paintings of him, followed by an eager amanuensis capturing for posterity his on-the-spot guidance to farmers about how best to harvest potatoes, and to car mechanics about how best to change the spark plugs? The pictures of multi-racial crowds stretching their arms in the direction of the Great Leader as the only hope of Mankind are not unique to North Korea.

It is true that North Korea is the ne plus ultra of this vile and inglorious tradition, and that Confucianism might have been an added ingredient, but to overlook the part that Communism itself played, as Professor Cumings does, and blame mainly the Americans, is preposterous.

I feel a little sorry for Professor Cumings. He has spent his life studying the language, culture and history of a nation that not so long ago was disregarded and ignored, if not despised. Despite his erudition, however, he will, in the long run, be regarded as a buffoon. His works on North Korea will be seen in the same light as those of the Webbs on the Soviet Union. They knew everything about the Soviet Union except the truth.

Personally I feel a hell of a lot sorrier for the hapless people of North Korea, as Daniels does too, I do not doubt. I hope and trust that the US government is working busily for the demise of the vile regime which now imprisons them, and that their day of deliverance may not be too long delayed.

Educational conscription and its dissembling friends

‘The state hates competition… this is why it tries so hard to stamp out organised crime’

So goes the old joke. Yet there actually is more than a little truth to it. As someone who views conscripting children against their will into vast ‘educational factories’ as institutionalized child abuse, the fact that members of the state’s educational conscription elite should pick on a few isolated cases of private sector child abuse to justify moving against home educators surprises me not one jot.

Fighting for Right Not to Show ID

Wired writes about the case of a Nevada rancher who covets his privacy. Dudley Hiibel refused to hand over his identification to a police officer in 2000, an act which landed him in jail and his name on the U.S. Supreme Court’s docket.

At issue in the case, which will be heard March 22, is whether individuals stopped during an investigation of a possible crime must identify themselves to the police. Nevada state law says that individuals must do so if a police officer has reasonable suspicion that a crime has been or will be committed.

Hiibel’s attorneys argue that in such situations, known as Terry stops, individuals already have the right to not answer questions and that requiring individuals to show identification violates the Fourth and Fifth Amendments’ protections against unreasonable searches and self-incrimination.

The case runs as follows: Police responded to a report of an altercation between Hiibel and his daughter in Hiibel’s pickup parked on the side of the road. Hiibel was outside the pickup when deputies arrived and asked for his identification before asking about the alleged fight. A tape of the incident shows Hiibel refused 11 requests to produce identification, after which the deputy arrested him for impeding a police officer.

Police then arrested Hiibel’s daughter, Mimi, when she protested the arrest of her father. Both her charge of resisting arrest and the domestic violence charges against Hiibel were later dismissed. He was, however, found guilty of obstructing a police officer and fined $250, but the public defenders on the case appealed the conviction to a district court and the Nevada Supreme Court. Hiibel said:

I feel quite strongly I have a right to remain silent and I didn’t commit a crime. (The deputy) demanded my papers. I exerted my rights as a free American and I was cuffed and taken to jail.

Harriet Cummings, one of three Nevada public defenders working on the case, said that while the case might seem like “no big deal,” the legal issues at stake are huge.

This goes to the very nature of what our society is going to be like. We believe that exercising your right to remain silent should not be something that can cause you to be imprisoned.

If an officer acting under suspicion that a crime has been committed comes up to a person, starts asking questions and demands identification, and if the person, as Mr. Hiibel did, declines that demand, they can be hauled off to jail. And we think that is not something that should happen in a free society.

Solicitor General’s Office and the National Association of Police Organizations also filed briefs supporting the identification requirement, arguing that it was a necessary and not overly intrusive tool in fighting crime and terrorism. Here we have it, crime and terrorism wheeled out yet again…

Though the hearing is still weeks away, the case is already being widely debated in the blogosphere, thanks to the publicity efforts of privacy advocate Bill Scannell.

And on the topic of databases and governments – the Electronic Privacy Information Center’s brief ties the identification requirement to large-scale law enforcement databases, such as the FBI’s criminal database. The problem, according to EPIC staff attorney Marcia Hofmann, is not just that a police officer can use a driver’s license to pull up reams of data on a person from massive databases. It’s also that the encounter itself will be added to the system, Hofmann said.

Every little time something like this happens, the police question you and want to know who you are, it’s an incident that gets put into a database. And there will be a record of it thereafter, regardless of whether you did anything wrong.

Quite.

The dolls were only Presidents and Secretary Generals but now they are… rock stars!

Via the constantly diverting Dave Barry comes news of the state of the popular arts in Russia.

You know those nesting dolls they have there. Putin on the outside. Undo him and you get the Fat Drunk Guy, undo him and you get Splotchtop, then another Fat Drunk Guy, then Andropov, then Brezhnev, and so on down the list of the Soviet Hall of Shame. This could all be in the wrong order and I could well have left out a couple of Drunk Guys, but you get my drift. Those dolls, is what I mean. Well, now they have nesting dolls with rock star faces on them.

The really cunning one would be a set of different Elvises, starting on the outside with Very Fat Elvis just before he died, and working back via Las Vegas Elvis, GI Elvis, to Original Elvis. But I do not think they have yet got around to doing that.

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Nevertheless, I love it. Says it all. Think who the dolls used to be, and now look at them. Another triumph for capitalism.

The politics of listed skirtings

The other day, in connection with my soon-to-end duties as the Libertarian Alliance Phone Owner, I got a call from a householder who is having a run-in with his local politicos. I gave him the same answer I give to all such persons. Write down your story, and send it in. If it is a story worth telling, we will spread it around. Here is an email to send it to. Oh, all right then, here is an address. (No email is a very bad sign. You can’t do any sort of politics these days without email.) Sometimes I then have to add that we are a (heavy emphasis) publishing organisation and not a “campaigning organisation”, i.e. zero expense lawyers and PR experts who will do all your fighting for you. Generally that is the last we ever hear from such persons.

But this latest call was different, because today I received an email, exactly as was promised, and these people have clearly taken the trouble to be easy people to help (a very important art if you want to get ahead in the world, I think):

Dear Brian,

As per our discussion please find below some information on my fight against overarching government Please let me know if you have any questions and if you list the story at one of your blogs. Please let me know if you have any other ideas of how I can drum up support or highlight this excess of regulation, loss of property rights and waste of taxpayer’s money.

Thanks for your help

Christian
____________________________________________________________

Government spending &pound100,000+ to have our skirtings lowered by less than an inch!

This is a personal call for support. Hammersmith and Fulham Council has taken issue with the internal renovation of our home of a Grade II listed building (a detailed description of the dispute is on www.stpaulsstudios.com). The council asserts that the skirtings we inserted are 0.8 inch too high and has pursued us in court three times over the matter and losing each time. We have recently won again in the Court of Appeal. During the proceedings Lord Justice Longmore called the council’s conduct vexatious. Despite having already spent more than £100,000 of tax payer’s funds, some council officers want to continue this extremely wasteful activity.

This is the right time to have your view heard. There is a meeting by the Planning Application Committee on March 8. We would like to ask you to either get in touch with one of the councillors on the committee (preferred solution) or to express your support to us. Despite it going on for 4 years none of the committee members have asked for a site visit!

Colin Aherne, Labour, Tel: 020 8753 2192
email colin.aherne@lbhf.gov.uk

Will Bethell, Conservative, Tel: 07980 017 569
email will.bethell@lbhf.gov.uk*

Michael Cartwright, Labour, Tel 020 8741 5238
email michael.cartwright@lbhf.gov.uk

Caroline Donald, Conservative, Tel 020 8749 3859
email caroline.donald@lbhf.gov.uk*

Greg Hands, Conservative, Tel 020 7381 2593
email mail@greghands.com*

Wesley Harcourt, Labour, Tel 020 8749 3298
email wesley.harcourt@lbhf.gov.uk

Jafar Khaled, Labour, Tel 020 8753 2020
email jafar.khaled@lbhf.gov.uk

Dame Sally Powell, Labour, Tel 020 8753 2021
email sally.powell@lbhf.gov.uk

Frances Stainton, Conservative, Tel 020 7385 3672
email frances.stainton@lbhf.gov.uk

Charlie Treloggan, Labour, Tel 020 8753 2013
email charlie.treloggan@lbhf.gov.uk

The councillors with an asterix are new to the committee.

Your action can rescue us from this futile and erroneous legal interpretation and save all of us from our tax money being wasted (the rates already high enough as they are).

Yours Sincerely,
Christian and Katya Braun
137 Talgarth Road – London W14 9DA
020 8563 0612 – Fax 020 7691 7185
support@stpaulsstudios.com

Now that is how to campaign. That is how to get other people to help you. And if you follow the link in the paragraph under their subheading, you’ll find further details of the dispute, just as it says, and you will be even more impressed.

This listed building thing has really got out of hand. It has got so that if they list a building no one wants to own it and it collapses into a ruin.

The billion dollar man

It is a well-worn aphorism that you should avoid meeting your heroes, because up close and personal they will often disappoint you with their inevitable human foibles, as compared to their superhuman attributes as witnessed from a worshipful distance, often spilling tomato juice down the tie of your admiration. But although I have personally found this to be true, with an old Sheffield Wednesday sporting hero of mine who I once discovered sneakily chatting up a girl I was after, the cad, I still feel one must gather one’s rosebuds from life. So despite the aphorism above I always take the risk of meeting heroes, however briefly, on the rare occasions when I get the opportunity to do so.

And last night, when I met one of them, alas very briefly, it proved no risk at all. For not only was my hero just as good in the flesh as he is as a picture on the Internet, he was even better. Far better, a true heroic star, a man of penetrating intelligence with a hint of self-deprecatory humour, a man of sparkling West Coast eloquence with an ability to make uninteresting questions put to him seem vital and imaginative, and a man of such devastating rhetorical ability that in just half an hour he managed to destroy a New Left edifice, constructed out of glue and matchsticks over three decades, to leave it as a dusty pile of splinters on the floor.

He was outstanding. He was inspirational. He was magnificent.

And no, I’m not talking about David Carr. Because I met him last year. I am, of course, talking about Bjørn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist. Michael Jennings, below, details Mr Lomborg’s short talk for the Adam Smith Institute, last night, so I’ll break my usual habit and keep this short. First, you must buy the book, if you haven’t done so already you naughty person. Second, we’re not going to run out of Shale Oil until about the year 5000. Third, that won’t matter, because we’ll be off fossil fuels by the end of the 21st century. Fourth, I was the first one to get my book signed last night because I’m one of those sorts of people. Fifth, if you ever get the chance to hear Bjørn Lomborg speak, yourself, just stop everything. Take that opportunity!

My greatest hero of all, Ludwig von Mises, once stood alone to take on the entire world before he then beat it. Bjørn Lomborg is a man in that vein. Almost alone, and despite copious icebergs of abuse, he has dragged the gun down from our heads that Greenpeace eco-warriors were gleefully pointing at us and wiped the imminent smile of success from their faces. Think Agent Smith. Think Mr Anderson. He is the one.

The book is available on all good websites everywhere. It’s a no-brainer. Just buy it.

[BTW, for all Lomborg groupies, such as myself, there is another great review of the event here, by Andrew Medworth of the ASI]