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]

Put Americans in charge of the British banking system

Catoid Tim Lee grumbles about the American banking system:

When I was little, I’m pretty sure “bankers hours” meant something like Monday-Friday 9 to 5. So why do most banks in downtown DC close at 3 PM Monday-Thursday? Citibank is a brave exception, closing at 4. That still didn’t do me any good when I set out at 4:15 yesterday looking for a new bank.

The British banks – which used to close at 3:30pm – do at least stay open a bit longer these days, normally until 4:30pm. But that’s about all that’s going for the British system.

In the US system, you get a cheque, take it to the bank that issued it, and they will give you cash there and then. On the spot. Go to a British bank, and they won’t give you cash. It has to be paid into an account. Don’t have an account? It’s easy: all you have to do is to bring in your birth certificate and two utility bills. Don’t have any utility bills because you’re living with other people? Well, sorry, no bank account. It’s the law, you know. If you have an account, that’s great. No you can’t have the money. It’ll take four business days to process the cheque. We couldn’t let people have access to money instantly, after all. Instead, we’ve put cheque clearing in the hands of a lethargic monopoly, the Assocation of Payment Clearing Services.

The banking system in Britain seems to operate in many ways skewed in the interests of the banks rather than the interests of consumers. Maybe adopting American regulations – and replacing our banks with American ones – would make the system work better.

Necessary, not sufficient

The first Iraqi election, which I gather was to elect delegates to their constitutional convention, went off better than expected, and plenty good enough to go forward. The number being bandied about for turnout nationwide is 60% – higher in the Kurdish north and the Shiite south, lower in the Sunni triangle. This would make it higher than in any US election in recent memory.

At first, I thought the practice of requiring voters to be indelibly marked with purple ink was a major error, as it would target them for terrorist retaliation. As it happened, though, the purple finger has become a symbol of defiance against the killers and hope for the future. The illusion that the various terrorist gangs that roam a few neighborhoods in Iraq have the power to influence the course of this nation may have taken a mortal wound. Terrorism in Iraq has always lacked a popular base to speak of, existing mostly on foreign lifelines from Iran, Syria, and the Western media, but now the isolation of the terrorists from the Iraqis has been vividly displayed.

We don’t know who won, of course, but the fact that the Iraqis turned out to elect delegates to a constitutional convention is an enormous positive. Now, I know some find it fashionable to affect a certain ennui toward such bourgeois artifacts as elections and written constitutions, but I regard elections as a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for a free society, and a written constitution as damn useful sand in the gears of the seemingly inevitable expansion of the state. The Iraqis have taken their first step down the road. Lets hope they make it all the way.

Knowledge Creates Demand

One of the unspoken benefits of globalisation is the use that professionals make of the new instruments and techniques that are publicised over the internet or through the wider dissemination of networks to newly emerging economies, such as India. However, as one example demonstrates, medical professionals in India read or learn about new developments from the West in their specialism but are unable to apply them because they are too expensive or the instruments cannot be imported or the patients are not rich enough to afford them. This is providing a spur to entrepreneurial and philanthropic activity.

Narayana Hrudayalaya is a medical foundation established in India by Mother Teresa’s cardiologist, Davi Prasad Shetty. Acknowledging the dilemma faced by all professionals in poorer countries, Shetty aimed to pioneer low-cost cardiac surgery that would prove affordable, with charitable supplements and insurance for even the Bengali peasantry and textile workers inhabiting the countryside around Kolkata.

In an interview with New Scientist, Shetty understood that governments and international bureaucracies were a hindrance, not a benefit.

If there is one organisation that can be squarely blamed it is the WHO. Headquartered in Geneva, separated from reality, it runs its global activities with help from government representatives who are mostly bureaucrats. In the countries I travel to, bureaucrats are a class of people who are experts in nothing but authorities on everything. They are not best-suited to guide planning at the WHO. One of the WHO declarations was “Health for all by 2000″. How can a global body make that kind of statement when a country like Zambia does not have an echo-Doppler, without which you cannot detect any heart problem, or when one cannot find a single functioning ECG machine in many African countries?

Apart from the WHO, I have stopped blaming the politicians and bureaucrats. We are better placed to bring about changes by being outsiders, not by being a part of the system. All that the government can do is to stop being an obstacle. If it decides to be a bystander, things will fall in place. My belief is that within ten years, the government healthcare systems in all Third World countries will fold up. The government will not be able to pay even salaries, never mind offering healthcare. In that situation, organisations like ours should come forward to take over and manage it in a professional manner.

Whilst Shetty describes himself as a social worker as a libertarian, he has recognised that governments cannot provide the resources to meet his objectives and that it is best if they stand aside or collapse. When the state is no longer a factor, the economics or healthcare starts to add up.

Yes, it’s very different. In Western hospitals, about 60 per cent of the revenue is spent on salaries, while in government hospitals in India, 90 per cent goes on salaries. By contrast, in our hospital only 12 to 13 per cent is spent on salaries. That doesn’t mean our doctors are being exploited. Since their output is ten times more, unit operating costs are very low. To earn a given salary in another hospital, a doctor would have to perform one operation a day. With us he might have to operate on five patients. We also work with zero inventory, so the burden lies with the supplier. And since we are the largest consumers of medical disposables, we procure them at a discount of 30 to 35 per cent.

Increasingly, for the pragmatists of the world, freedom provides the answers that the state is unable to.

Good luck, Iraq

Iraqis are going to the polls. I hope the whole process goes well. I came across this link here which gives all kinds of information about the election and the participants. Cynics may dismiss the whole process and of course the problems of that tortured country will remain for a long time. As an uncertain supporter of the war to topple Saddam, my main reason for deposing the vile Baathist regime was that its removal was in my view the least-bad option, but the chance of sowing the seeds of liberal democracy in the Middle East was a key bonus. I hope that the citizens of Iraq can start to look forward to a better future.

Is Labour rattled?

As we mark the sombre 60th anniversary of the opening of Hitler’s murder factories in Belsen and elsewhere, those prize asses at the Labour Party come up with an anti-Conservative poster portraying leader Michael Howard and shadow finance pokesman Oliver Letwin as flying pigs. Both men are Jews.

Now, I will be charitable to the Labour Party and assume that the creators of this piece of rubbish were so dumb as to fail to think through the significance of this poster and are not anti-semitic, which is an extremely serious charge to make. As I am a hardline defender of free speech, I would of course say Labour is entitled to engage in any manner of roughhouse advertising. I certainly do not think the party should be dragged before the courts. In fact I think Labour has scored a bit of own goal. Some Jewish voters may shun Labour at the national polls, widely expected later this year.

This poster may suggest something quite encouraging to the Conservatives. Maybe this government, which is not exactly shooting the lights out in the opinion polls, is rattled at the Tories’ willingness to talk regularly about cutting the State down to size and cutting taxes. The Tory plans are hopelessly cautious, in my view, but credit to them anyway for pointing out that the government’s spending binge has failed to deliver discernible results and that a major reorientation of policy is required.

Mind you, I still haven’t forgiven Mr Howard for his support for compulsory ID cards.

The fantasy coffin makers of Ghana

We curse and rage at the BBC here, a lot, but you have to admit that this is a great story.

Even Ghana’s director of tourism may have to admit that Accra has its work cut out competing with other tourist destinations in Africa. Yet just outside the capital, is the suburb of Teshi and it is here that tourists are coming to look at a relatively new tradition – the fantasy coffin makers.

So how did this happen?

The story goes that in the first half of last century one Ata Owoo was well-known for making magnificent chairs to transport the village chief on poles or the shoulders of minions.

When Owoo had finished one particularly elaborate creation, an eagle, a neighbouring chief wanted one too, this time in the shape of a cocoa pod. A major crop in Ghana.

However, the chief next door died before the bean was finished and so it became his coffin.

Then in 1951, the grandmother of one of Owoo’s apprentices died.

She had never been in an aeroplane, so he built her one for her funeral.

And a tradition was born.

The only bit of what might be BBC politically correct boringness that I could detect in this report came a few paragraphs before that last quote, where it said:

Many of their clients want to bury loved ones in something that reflects their trade.

Even if that means being buried in a Coca-Cola bottle.

Even? I suppose if you are the BBC, that is the ultimate horror. But, if being buried in an airplane or a car or a cockerel or a cocoa pod is okay, then what on earth is so wrong with being buried in a Coca-Cola bottle? (Not Diet Coke obviously. That would be stupid.)

Something tells me that in these post-Christian times, this might spread to other parts of the world. Our boring British death industry could certaionly do with a shake-up. What kind of giant object would you like to be buried it?

ElephantCoffin.jpg

It is good to read some good news coming out of Africa. True, African people are dying, but they are mostly dying of natural causes and are going out in style.

Say hello to Maurice and Gerhard

If you have not checked out the marvelous Social Affairs Unit blog recently, please let me commend some simply splendid articles that have appeared of late, such as Stumbling towards the EU door marked exit. In particular, keep an eye out for all the ‘Maurice and Gerhard’ articles.

Artic Circle or Mason-Dixon Line?

I was on the road again today, or perhaps I should say ‘rail’. The US northeast is still very much in the deep freeze as one can see from this photo I took somewhere before Baltimore.


Photo: Copyright Dale Amon, all rights reserved.

The AMTRAK Acela train seemed to require more resets than a Microsoft Operating system. We were stopped a half hour on a siding while they attempted to ‘reset the air'; and later for problems in the lead locomotive. My ‘express’ train trip took nearly five hours from Penn Station NYC to Union Station DC and wrecked my plans for meeting up with some aerospace types in town. I will not complain too loudly though. The trains have normal AC power available for your laptops, you have enough legroom and arm room to actually type… and you can use your mobile phone.

As opportunity arises – I am now on another gig and my meter is running – I will catch up on a few photo stories left over from Manhattan.

Like the first crocus of Spring

At a Samizdata social gathering a few months back, one of the attendees (I think it was Patrick Crozier) posed the question of how much influence the blogosphere was having on the ‘real’ world.

The answer I gave at the time was plain and direct: none. A rather negative prognosis for sure but sincere and truthful as far as I was concerned.

However, my candour was not well-received. My dear chum Brian Micklethwait, in particular, took issue with me claiming that the blogosphere could well have be having an impact in ways that were not yet manifest. I countered this with the contention that in the absence of evidence of influence, one must assume that there is no influence at all.

Anyway, if memory serves, the rest of the bickering trailed off into a lake of libation and no firm conclusions were ever reached (are they ever?).

Since then, I have been forced to qualify my above-stated position because, in common with most other bloglodytes, I am all too familiar with the ‘Rathergate’ scandal over in the USA; a incident of such profile that it has made it impossible to deny that blogging is now having some degree of impact on the wider American polity.

But, as far as the UK is concerned, I have maintained my stance. Sadly and frustratingly, neither the blogosphere nor anything else seems to have been able to lay a glove on the great, heaving, suffocating beast of the hegemonic British intellectual climate.

That was my view. Until today. I required some proof to the contrary and now there is infallible proof:

Online journals and camera phones are a “paedophiles’ dream” which have increased the risk to children, the Scottish Parliament has been warned….

Rachel O’Connell said adults could use weblogs to learn about children….

She said: “This is just a paedophile’s dream because you have children uploading pictures, giving out details of their everyday life because it’s an online journal.”

I refuse to even attempt a rebuttal of this ludicrous and obviously desperate smear, preferring instead to let it stand naked in all its ignominy. Besides, it will not be the last. Blogging has clearly begun to make an impression on the minds of the political classes and they fear it.

The blogosphere has now landed in Britain.

Internment

Although Samizdata concerns itself with more important things than mere politics (thankfully for our collective sanity), it seems wrong that we should pass let without record the government’s announcement of its intention to introduce indefinite executive detention for UK citizens. For those who missed the vigourous Parliamentary debate (which must have lasted at least 15 minutes), in future anyone may be locked up indefinitely in their own home on the say-so of the Home Secretary, based on evidence known only to him.

The Daily Telegraph appears to blame the Human Rights Act, noting that this decision is ostensibly being taken because the Law Lords said that it was illegal to empower the Home Secretary only to detain foreigners arbitrarily. This view is advanced notwithstanding Lord Hoffman’s ditcta that applying such a equally rule to British citizens is no more defensible. But it is an absurd idea that such unlimited arbitrary power of arrest and detention is something the government reluctantly finds has been thrust upon it.

On the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, I am tempted to wonder about the timing. Is this just a good day to bury bad news? Is it some kind of sick joke? Is the government double-daring libertarians to announce the beginning of the police state on the day we remember the ghastly outcome of arbitrary rule? Whatever the truth, it is a black day.

When someone shouts “Shark!”…

… it pays to ask if they are in a shark-repellent salesman before deciding just how risky swimming really is.

Do bad people use the Net to find victims? Without doubt they do and I would not make light of the harm that can be caused by ‘paedophiles’. Yet so often when I hear of the ‘epidemic’ of child abuse going on, it turns out that the story emanates from some agency or NGO who just so happens to have its funding come up for review or who are in some way rattling their begging bowl. But of course who would deny funding to people who only want to protect children? And who would questions the additional motivations of people who make their living in this line of work, not to mention the veracity of the figures for just how serious a problem it really is? To ask those sort of things runs the risk of having your motivations and ‘interests’ questioned in ways that would make most decent folks rather uncomfortable.

But just as legitimate grievances about civil rights have in many countries spawned monstrous civil rights industries that are little more than vehicles for shaking down certain sections of society and which have a vested interest in perpetuating the idea that some problems are worse than they really are, I have little doubt that legitimate concerns about internet predators have already led to something similar in the ‘preventing child abuse industry’. Oh, do not get me wrong, I neither doubt child abuse is a real and legitimate issue nor do I think everyone who works to prevent it is just looking to pad their bank accounts, but given how much I surf the net, I cannot help thinking that the scale of this problem does not seem to match the shrill rhetoric we hear on the subject. To listen to some people the fact I managed to grow up going to untended playgrounds and not treating adults as probable abusers… and yet somehow managed to never attract the attentions of a ‘kiddie fiddler’ must make me the luckiest lad around. Yet somehow I rather doubt that.

Cynical? You bet.

Oh.My.God

This is beyond the pale. It is completely insensitive and at a time like this, what idiot would shoot an advertisement for TV that used suicide bombers? Appalling…

…Yeah. But I must confess, I howled with laughter.