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]

Live 8… Opportunity or moronfest?

The usual collection of fabulously rich but economically illiterate show biz twits are going to assemble for Bob Geldof’s Live 8 event timed to coincide with the impending G8 conference in Scotland on 6-8 July. Now God knows lampooning rock ‘n’ roll’s A-list ‘idiocracy’ is fun and easy sport, but I must confess that I have always regarded Geldof as an intellectual cut above your typical gormless entertainer, so perhaps a closer look at what is going on is in order.

Live8 is going to be a freak show, that is for sure, surrounded by pro-poverty activists (by which I mean people who argue for a world structured in a way in which more people will be a great deal poorer) such as identity obsessed feminists, pro-Saddam communists, eco-luddites and all manner of other folks with very strange ideas about the nature of reality.

Yet unlike Live Aid, the objective of which was to raise money to mitigate a clear and present humanitarian disaster in Africa, Live 8 aims to raise political awareness on African poverty. Well that sounds like a splendid idea to me. Clearly the overwhelmingly largest cause of the destitution of large areas of sub-Saharan Africa is cause directly by corrupt African governments. So it would be fair to say that as the main obstacle to African prosperity and liberty is political, then the solution too will need to be political.

To his credit, Tony Blair has often said that it makes little sense to send aid money to corrupt regimes (which makes his infatuation with the UN all the more bizarre, given that it is an institution whose job it is to disburse money which mitigates the political cost of tyranny the world over) and so perhaps if the aim of Live8 is to work up support for the disintermediation of African government from the process of solving African problems, well, that is an idea I could certainly get behind, at least in principle.

Likewise I am all in favour of gathering political support for an end to all trade barriers that keep African products out of First World markets, empowering people at both ends of the trade relationship. Now this is something calculated to split the left in an interesting way as lefties who actually do care about doing something effective for the Third World inevitably succumb to the logic of Free Trade as opposed to the current system of subsidized Western agriculture and discriminated against Third World agriculture.

So it seems to me that although the din of idiotarian drum banging will be deafening, there is actually a fairly laudable message that might, just might, come out of this whole process. Perhaps it is time for some anti-idiotarian meme hacks? I certainly hope Bureaucrash are going to put in an appearance or two in Scotland…

Coldplay toppled by Crazy Frog

The artistic version of the Labour Theory of Value is restated, at its natural home, here:

One song hails from an album that took years to craft and perfect, the delays in its conception seriously denting profits for EMI as fans across the world awaited its release. The other was obviously whipped up in a matter of minutes by a dodgy German dance act with an 80s record collection and a sampler.

Nevertheless, following the cliche that there is no accounting for taste, the Crazy Frog ringtone appears to be jumping over Coldplay’s Speed of Sound towards this week’s number one spot.

And appearances did not deceive. Yes, this was the big Frog head-to-head over the last few days. An electronic rehash of the dominant tune of Beverly Hills Cop: would it get to number one? Yes? Or no.

The samizdata.net meta-context is sometimes a bit hard to work out and apply, but in this contest, I think we all know where our sympathies lie. Do we vote for the oh-so-late album of a bunch of dreary navel-gazing complaint rockers, aimed at dreary ageing complainers (a big market, I do agree), or for a spirited up-beat can-do problems-are-there-to-be-solved need-for-speed aquatic cartoon creation? I think we know the answer to that one, don’t we girls?

Normally, I would not myself be so partial to the Crazy Frog, if only because I also quite like his deadly rival Sweety. But the Frog does seem to get up all the right noses, so all power to his legs.

Next stop for the goggled one, Korea.

Outflanking the Eurosceptics

Dennis McShane, former Minister of Europe, does not appear to have fallen away from the limelight completely, given his recent appearance on Question Time and his subsequent interview for UPI. Cheerleading for Europe with Dimbleby will not tax anyone, but McShane provided some more interesting comments that may cast some light on the current thinking about Europe within the Blair administration, or what backbenchers have to say if they wish to be considered for the next reshuffle.

From the first, McShane makes a point of viewing the French referendum in the faint tones of a realist who accepts a verdict of imprisonment. It is a counsel of acceptance and stoicism, of truth-telling and endeavour; that infamous stranger to the truth, Blairite candour:

“Britain will hold a referendum if there is a treaty to hold a referendum on,” MacShane said. “But a French Non means the new Treaty of Rome cannot be ratified. It was always a mistake to call a Treaty a constitution. But a constitution needs the confidence of the people and powerful, united leadership. Europe lacks confidence and effective leadership today so it was not a propitious time to hold plebiscites on the new Treaty. There may be some who hope this Treaty can be made to fly but it would be an insult to France and her citizens to say the Treaty they reject will continue on as a dead man walking. We will have to begin again.”

The critique proffered is interesting, since it borrows and begs arguments from the Eurosceptics, in order to incorporate them into pro-EU swaddling. McShane recognises the hostility with which the smaller countries attacked the removal of their representation on the Commission and yet, defends the existing Constitution as a “coherent response” to the problems of the European Union. However, the Constitutional answer (to a question that none of Europe’s electorates ever asked) was found wanting. The leaders of Europe could not inspire their voters and the European economy was ruined by:

“… wrong decisions by the European Commission with its obsession on over-regulation and by the failure of the European Central Bank to respond to the economic standstill,” MacShane said. “Political-constitutional advances have to be based on economic and social confidence. ”

The Eurosceptic critique of the project needs to respond to the flanking movement of pro-Europeans like McShane, who borrow their ideas in order to promote different conclusions. Like some grinning, drooling revenant, that refuses to die, unlike the rest of the reactionaries that pass for social democrats these days, the Third Way has been resurrected as an unlikely combination of welfarism, market economics and environmentalism to provide a new moral backbone for coercion in the name of the public good that is Europe.

“The answer will not be found by the gentlemen of Brussels but by the willingness of political actors in Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Britain and the rest of Europe to rethink out-of-date 20th century economic and social ideology. We need a new 3-way historic compromise between economy, society and environment. Unfortunately we only hear the shrill protectionism and rejectionism of those who know how to say No to the future rather than work collaboratively to build a new Europe.”

“I hope this shock will force pro-Europeans to unite and defeat the reactionary forces of the left and right who have unleashed a politics of fear in place of the hope all Europeans need,” McShane added.

It is too early to tell if this forms an altered vision of Europe, one that may appeal to moderates and one nation Tories. By acknowledging its current failures, McShane’s arguments may provide a pleasing lure for those who argue that the European Union can be reformed. It also gives pointers to Blair’s approach in the forthcoming British Presidency of the European Union. As such, the Eurosceptic movement needs to counter conservatives and reformers within the EU, forcefully argueing that such approaches will prove inferior to the development of a free-trading area.

Today is Tax Freedom Day UK

Yes, three days later than last year but that comes as no surprise, right?

Good ruling

The US Supreme Court today overturned the obstruction of justice conviction of the Arthur Andersen accounting firm. This comes too late, of course, to save Andersen, which was largely destroyed by the conviction, but it nonetheless injects some common sense back into the rules around withholding information from the government (it can be legal, you know, a fact which the SCOTUS felt the feds needed to be reminded of) and document disposal (a topic on which I spend far too much of my time).

In a unanimous opinion, justices said the former Big Five accounting firm’s June 2002 obstruction-of-justice conviction – which virtually destroyed Andersen – was improper. The decision said jury instructions at trial were too vague and broad for jurors to determine correctly whether Andersen obstructed justice.

. . .

[I]n his opinion, Rehnquist noted that it is not necessarily wrong for companies to instruct employees to destroy documents, even if the intent is in part to keep information from the government.

Like a mother who advises a son to invoke his right against compelled self-incrimination out of fear he might be convicted, “persuading” an employee to withhold information is not “inherently malign,” Rehnquist wrote.

“The instructions also diluted the meaning of ‘corruptly’ so that it covered innocent conduct,” Rehnquist said.

The Andersen case was of a piece, really, with Martha Stewart’s conviction. Both were convicted, essentially, of failing to cooperate in their own prosecution. Give Martha cred for serving her time, but I wonder if she wouldn’t have won out on appeal. Eventually.

Samizdata quote of the day

We have already had people from the commission this morning talking about how they ‘interpret’ the French vote. What don’t they understand? No is no.

If the government in this country or the commission try to breathe life into this corpse, then we in Britain we must have a say to deliver the final blow.

- Liam Fox, Tory Shadow Foreign Secretary

The game is afoot!

With the decisive French ‘Non’ to the EU Constitution, clearly the whole project for European super-statist integration has taken a hit unlike any in its history thus far. In many ways the most significant feature of this is that it has made the intellectual and social disconnect between whole peoples in the EU’s constituent nations impossible to paper over. In short, the nation called ‘Europe’ is seen to be a fiction and the ‘inevitable march of progress’ has been shown to be an illusion.

So what happens next? The obvious move by Tony Blair is to cancel the UK’s promised referendum as being moot now that the process has been derailed. Yet there are already frantic attempts going on by the integrationists to prevent that from happening, on the basis that it would be an admission that the process really is over.

Now this attempt to get the UK to vote anyway is really splendid news and I hope that other people who share my views that the EU is an abomination will remember Napoleon’s dictum “never interrupt the enemy when he is making a mistake” as any UK vote will almost certainly be a vote against the EU which will just widen the rift in political cultures between France and the UK.

As I have stated before, unlike David, I wish that France had voted ‘Oui’ so that Blair could not possibly wriggle out of his commitment to hold a referendum and thus allow Britain to vote ‘No’, thereby making the UK a virtual ‘pariah state’ to the French, Spanish and German political elites and as a result making them perverse allies in the effort to disengage the UK from the EU. Oh well, scratch one possible optimistic scenario but the situation is now alive with all sorts of other interesting possibilities.

But it is still hard to see the rejection of the EU Constitution by anyone as bad news. How it will play out remains to be seen but the attempt to sleepwalk Europe into an ever more dystopian regulatory super-state just got a bucket of cold water poured over it. The game is afoot and provided the Tory Party do not go and live up to their nickname name by choosing some member of the Quisling right to lead them, maybe even that collection of risk averse Grandees will realise that taking on the EU is something that can reap huge political benefits. Labour too must be looking at the spectacle of the French power elite being bitten in the arse by millions of common people who want the political system to impose economic and social stasis to a background rap of splendidly unintelligible gibberish from sundry French intellectuals and thinking “there but for the grace of God…”. At least some of them must be wondering if the downside of Euro-integration is worth the political risks.

The dismay is palpable. It is hard not to laugh. smiley_bagette.gif

How North Sea Gas has saved thousands of British lives

… or at any rate prolonged the misery.

I have been reading The Motivated Mind by Dr Raj Persaud, British TV’s most familiar psychiatric face. This book is, for me, rather less than the sum of its parts. There is a structure to it, in the form of the assertion that human motivation is often very complicated, and more complicated than many psychologists have said. But mostly it is a mixture of more or less informed pop psychology about how to get on with your career, love life, etc., and references to interesting learned articles. It reads more like a bundle of articles than a real book, and personally I would have preferred it as a blog, but that may just be me. So I have not been reading this book solidly. Rather, I have been dipping.

And near the end (p. 396 of my paperback edition) I did come across this amusing titbit:

For many years the most popular method of suicide in Great Britain was asphyxiation – sticking one’s head in the oven and turning on the gas. After the discovery of natural gas deposits in the North Sea in the fifties and sixties, most English homes converted from coke gas, whose high carbon monoxide content made it highly lethal, to less toxic natural gas. From 1963 to 1978 the number of English suicides by gas dropped from 2,368 to eleven and the country’s overall suicide rate decreased by one-third. Despite England’s varying unemployment rate and social stresses since then, it has remained at this lower level.

Maybe you knew that, but I did not, and I find it most intriguing.

The moral? Plenty of them, I suppose, but one would be the extraordinary mismatch that constantly occurs in life between trivial causes and portentous consequences. Economic analysis that it would be more dignified to apply only to such insignificances as chocolate bar purchases – in the form of transaction costs – turns out to illuminate self-administered death also.

For me, if suicide ever beckons, it will either itself be painless, or my continuing existence will itself have become so painful that one more spasm of further pain will make no difference. So it does actually make sense to me that if you remove what must at least seem like a reasonably painless means of exiting from life, many who would have slipped out by this door, instead remain living until death, by natural causes, reaches out to them.

Wrong reasons, right result

To all French crypto-communists, syndicalists, marxists, trotskyites, leninists, stalinists, national socialists, socialist nationalists, primitivists, Trade Union dinosaurs, student activists, greenie nutters, neo-fascists, old fashioned fascists, quasi-crypto-troglodyte-Pol-Pottist-year zero-flat-earthers, looney tunes and enviro-goons… Merci Beaucoup!!!!

I could kiss every single one of you (but I don’t know how to say that in French).

The technology of sports adjudication

Sport is going through an awkward transition phase just now, caused by the onward march of technology. During this phase, the problem is that the commentators often have technology to scrutinise and generally second-guess umpiring or refereeing decisions that are not available to the umpires or referees themselves.

This is quite natural. The commentators can afford to muck about with wild technological experiments. They can stick with them if they seem to add something to their descriptive and analytical efforts, and quietly discontinue them if they only confuse. And even if it takes them twenty minutes to come up with their techno-analysis, it is still worth them showing it to their viewers. But including technology into actual game officiating is a necessarily more cautious and cumbersome process. So there is bound, at any given moment, to be this mismatch between the techno-toys the commentators have, and what the umpires and referees have.

Trouble is, again and again, this technology makes fools out of the game officials. It makes chumps of the umps.

The other day, Liverpool won the European Cup. But would they have won it if the referees of the Liverpool Chelsea semi-final had been technologically assisted. Maybe that Liverpool goal would still have stood if the officials had been able to look at all that subsequent computerisation. But at least disgruntled Chelsea players and supporters would have known that the decision was based on a different interpretation of that information rather than on the opinion of people who were standing in entirely the wrong place to have a valid opinion on the subject.

Rugby, both league and union, already uses slow motion cameras to help them decide about contentious tries. Did his foot go over the side line before he touched down? Did he touch down properly? That kind of thing. (In rugby, unlike in American football, they do not call it a touch down, but you do actually have to touch it down.)

Cricket is the sport I know most about, when it comes to adjudication technology. And cricket is, and always has been, full of tricky decisions that the umpires have to make. Technology is slowly being introduced to help the umpires make fewer errors.

Cricket umpires already use slow motion cameras to decide about run out decisions. This is when a batsman fails (or does he?) to complete a run by reaching the line that matters before the fielders hit the stumps with the ball. And this has greatly improved these decisions. With their being less doubt, batsmen now get less benefit from it, but so what? These decisions are now clearly better.

A big problem remains, however, with LBW decisions. That’s “leg before wicket” ? when the ball strikes the batsman’s leg and would have hit the wicket. Or would it, question mark question mark, argument argument. There was a series not so long ago between England and South Africa which was settled in England’s favour with a series of highly dubious LBWs in the deciding match, and that kind of nasty-taste-in-the-mouth we-was-robbed stuff happens quite often. But at least that happened, as I recall, before the age of Hawk-eye.

Hawk-eye is the machine that tells us, as well as anyone or anything can, whether a batsman was out LBW or not. And although the ultimate truth of the matter is still hard to be sure about – because, after all, the machine is still only guessing where the ball would have gone, rather than measuring anything it actually did do – Hawk-eye looks pretty convincing to me. Put it this way. If I were a batsman being given out, or a bowler begging in vain for the verdict, I would rather that Hawk-eye was supplying the verdict rather than some one-eyed umpire.

The cricket commentators also have their “snickometer” to determine whether the ball has touched the bat while passing it or not, and in some cases to work out whether the ball touched the bat before hitting the pad, and therefore whether or not a batsman can be given out LBW. (If he hits it first, however gently, it is not out.) The Snickometer produces an output that looks like a voice analyser, and expert interpreters to tell what kind of noise that spike is, and exactly when it happened. So the Snickometer can really help, with things like snicked catches to the wicketkeeper.

But, although the commentators, and hence also all the TV viewers like me, have Hawk-eye and the Snickometer, the umpires, as yet, do not. Time and again, they give their instant verdicts, based only on what they just saw, at full speed, and then moments later (fewer and fewer moments as time has gone by) Hawk-eye and/or the Snickometer have given their verdicts. Often they differ. Invariably, the technologically aided decisions are more convincing, and often embarrassingly so. → Continue reading: The technology of sports adjudication

Non will mean oui

For what it may or may not be worth, Channel 4 News has just said that a leaked exit poll gives the Non side victory with between 53 and 55 per cent of the vote.

Meanwhile, the EU Referendum blog reports that it has read a document which explains that Non will not actually mean No:

In short, the authors conclude that, in the event of one or both countries voting “no”, the ratification process should be neither suspended nor abandoned. They assert that all member states have expressed a commitment to proceed with ratification by virtue of Declaration 30, appended to the Constitutional Treaty. Member states cannot unilaterally or collectively decide to change the ratification process.

Thus, member states which have not already ratified should continue with the process whence, once 20 members have done so, the matter should be referred to the European Council.

In the meantime, the authors caution that “the European Union must not remain paralysed”. Rather, they say, “it must continue and intensify its efforts to relaunch its policies, even by implementing in advance, where possible, the provisions of the Treaty that do not meet with open opposition”.

Thus, the considered response in the event of a rejection of the constitution should be “full steam ahead”. Member states should implement it even faster than they are doing already.

Very helpful. I wish I could be equally helpful in return on this question:

So what, precisely, do we have to do to stop this thing?

I read the EU Referendum blog in the hope of getting answers to questions like that. If they have to ask that, what is the chance that anyone else will have an answer?

Delusional Europe and Authoritarian Britain

The fact that large numbers of French people are going to vote against the ghastly EU Constitution because it favours too much free trade and does not isolate Europe from competition even more than it already does is almost beyond parody. That most British people will (if given the chance) vote against it because it does quite the opposite just shows that the notion of having both nations as part of the same political structure is truly unsustainable.

Similarly the idea that some doctors could call for sharp pointed kitchen knives to be banned without being widely ridiculed in the press for being evil totalitarians indicates that Britain too has some grave social and intellectual deficiencies amongst the media classes. For all their bizarre political notions regarding that big-statist’s charter called the EU Constitution, it is hard to see the French trying to ban pointed kitchen knives from people’s homes.

So what will it take to snap people back to reality? Or is it just too damn late for that and the only thing left is to get the hell out and leave the lunatics in change of the asylum?

Maybe that is exactly what the US needs too, an influx of liberty seeking (or at least sanity seeking) folks from Europe who have seen the reality of what happened to a culture when it allows all the things the Democrats (and quite a few big-state Republicans) want to do in the USA. Who knows, if enough of them get citizenship they might be around in time to help make sure that Hillary only gets one term in office. Shudder.