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]

Calais

Yesterday, I travelled as a foot passenger to Calais on the ferry from Dover, as part of a group celebrating the birthday of a long-standing friend. It was ironic to read the Times on embarkation controls and experience the poorly organised efforts of the Immigration Service. After checking in, all foot passengers are taken on a courtesy bus towards the ferry. However, as the embarkation infrastructure was dismantled in 1998 to save money, they have established an ad hoc arrangement. You have to exit the courtesy bus twice, once to show your passport, the other time: to check your luggage. Such practices were not in evidence on the return journey from France.

We noticed that there were two or three Asian men holding camcorders and filming stairwells, restaurants and the maps of the ferry. This may be innocent behaviour but we took photos of them. The photos have been passed on to the Kent constabulary. This could be something or nothing, but vigilance is the purview of the alert citizen, not a monopoly of our less than competent authorities.

Calais, itself, is a nondescript town whose tourist potential is undermined by the large numbers of illegal immigrants who loiter around the parks and telephone boxes. Most appeared to be from the Middle East of the Horn of Africa. For a Saturday afternoon, they did little apart from sit or chat, cultivating indifference to the French or the holidaymakers. When attempting to look at a map of the town of Calais, that a group of them were obscuring, they quickly got out of the way. Perhaps this indicated past encounters with the French police and a fear of transgressing unspoken rules. Whatever the set-up, they have no place to go apart from the public spaces.

The local beer is worth imbibing and we found a well-stocked Irish pub near the main square that deserves patronage. Nearby is the local war museum, housed in a bunker, with jumbled momentoes of the occupation. Calais suffered heavy damage during the Second World War and testament is apid to this suffering with the photos of local landmarks, just situated outside the bunker, surrounded by piles of rubble and destroyed buildings. A vivid and revealing contrast of sixty years of peace.

To conclude, Calais does not cater for the tourist. We had to walk out of the ferry terminal and into town. Unlike any previous country I have visited, there was no sign for taxis or taxi ranks to pick up arrivals. One existed at the local station in the town although we had to wait for some time before a people carrier appeared. One could muse at the unmet demand for transport from strangers which the locals did not appear to consider a profitable enterprise. You could not help commenting that, in Britain, some of those sitting in the parks would obtain work by driving minicabs, and relieving the taxi drought.

Whilst governments hesitate, the market provides

Piracy in the Straits of Malacca has been a serious problem for many years now and shipping companies have grown tired of waiting for governments in the region to do something effective to stamp it out.

modern_pirate.jpg

So they are hiring private companies to do it instead. Sounds like an exciting line of work.

Taking the fight to the enemy

Attempts to use the Kelo ‘eminent domain’ ruling to take property in New Hampshire from US Supreme Court Justice David Souter have now been extended to trying to do the same to Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

This is splendid but maybe it would be good to extend this to Senators and Congressmen and particularly much lower level local politicians who collude with property developers. Some of these people often have property outside the jurisdiction they live in (and thus maybe be vulnerable to politically or personally motivated grudges from other elected representatives).

The important thing is to make as many members of the political class uneasy that they could be targeted. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

Ghana – trouble now but plenty of hope for the future

Franklin Cudjoe, Director of the Ghanaan think tank Imani, who has been visiting the UK in order to contest the nonsense being spouted about how to solve Africa’s problems by Live 8 etc., gave a fingerclickin’ good talk at my home on Friday. The fingerclickin’ being a reference to the amount of money stolen every second – $4,700 – by African governments. My thanks to Helen Szamuely for also reporting on this event.

Ghana sounds like a relatively prosperous and urbanised country, by African standards, and it was interesting to hear an African talking about the complications of airline deregulation and exactly how much members of parliament get paid per day (enough to keep them snugly on board the gravy train, no matter what they may have said at election time), rather than just famine, malnutrition, etc.

The anti-globalisation crowd say that multinational corporations are causing corruption in Africa. Actually, they often find it a huge barrier to trading in Africa. KLM wanted to run some flights from Ghana to neighbouring African countries, but the bribes demanded of them were too extortionate, and they pulled out. Travelling between countries in that part of Africa seems to involve choosing which bunch of state highwaymen you prefer to be shaken down by. It is understandable that, economically speaking, lots of colonial African countries used to look outwards, so to speak, with most of their trade being organised by their colonial masters. It is not so understandable why this is still the pattern.

I asked Franklin who in Ghana he thinks is doing the most to improve the place. His answer was the Ghana Centre for Democratic Development. What Africa needs is good government. And the way to start trying to get good government is to talk and write out loud with anyone who will listen – especially the next generation – about what that is and ought to be. There as here, in enterprises of this kind, the internet has helped

Franklin sounded a lot like Hayek – which is no coincidence, because he talked about how much Hayek had influenced his early thinking – in his insistence upon the intellectual struggle as the first step in trying to achieve anything more concrete. You get nowhere by nagging politicians direct. You have to change the assumptions within which they work. That takes time but it can be done, and by the sound of it he is doing his best.

Michael Jennings pointed out that all over the Far East, lots of those little upwardly mobile trading niches that used to be occupied by the Chinese diaspora are now occupied by the Ghanaan diaspora. Clearly there is nothing wrong with the talents of the Ghanaan people. They just need the right setting to flourish in.

Please note: the Provisional IRA still exists

Forgive me if I am not breaking out the champagne just yet at the announcement that the ethnic collectivists of the IRA have declared their ‘armed campaign is over’. Of course the fact their ‘decommissioning’ of arms will take place in private, in marked contrast to the indecent haste with which the UK government has started very publicly ripping down its fortifications, just conforms my view that Blair is a credulous fool.

Contrary to the woolly impression some of the media’s dafter talking heads are giving (I really must stop watching early morning TV, bad for the blood pressure), the IRA is not disbanding and unless I see large piles of semtex being burned in front of Stormont, I very much doubt anything more than a token number of already unserviceable weapons and expired explosives will be put beyond their reach as an organisation.

I may not be a huge fan of the ethnic collectivists of the DUP either, but they are the ones who seem to me to be exhibiting the most appropriate amount of continuing distain for Sinn Fein/IRA and so are offering only highly contingent acknowledgement of this latest ‘breakthrough’.

My guess is there is a lot less to this that meets the eye. Like the song says: “Don’t believe the hype.”

The Great British Beer Festival on Thursday

On Thursday a group of London-based individualists, libertarians, and other similar intellectual subversives will descend on the Great British Beer Festival in London Olympia. We will be celebrating the diversity of 450 British real ales – plus foreign beer, cider, and perry – which are able to thrive in the age of globalization because they give consumers what they want.

So come along from noon onwards, bring your digital camera if you are a blogger, and enjoy the cornucopia of delightful products the market provides!

Well done!

Police have now arrested all four of the would-be suicide bombers who attempted a second round of terrorist mass murders in London on the 21st July. This is splendid news. Kudos also to Italian police who picked up one of the targets in Rome.

Liberty and all this God business

Unsurprisingly, there is a lot of comment out there in dead-tree media and the electronic versions about religion and its relation vis a vis the state at the moment. (Full disclosure: I am a lapsed Anglican Christian who read a lot of David Hume, much to the annoyance of my old vicar, no doubt). There is a bracing essay in the Spectator this week about the nonsense spouted in the usual places about “moderate” Islam.

The blog Positive Liberty, which has become a group blog like this one – has an excellent piece looking at the religious, or in some cases, decidely lukewarm religious, views of the U.S. Founding Fathers. These men, to varying degrees, were acutely conscious of the dangers of religious fundamentalism, having seen within their lifetimes the human price of it. As we think about the dangers posed by Islam in our own time, the insights of Madison, Adams, Jefferson et al are needed more than ever. The linked-to article is fairly long but worth sitting back and sipping on a coffee for a good read, I think.

It is in my view essential for the west’s future that the benefits of separating what is God’s from what is Cesear’s is made as loudly and as often as possible. Muslims must be made abundantly aware of this point for if they do not, the consequences could be dire. Maybe because of the role played by the Church of England in our post-Reformation history, we don’t have the tradition, as in the States, of keeping a beady eye on the blurring of the edges of temporal and spiritual. Cynics have of course argued that nationalising Christianity via the CoE has helped the cause of fuzzy agnosticism and atheism more than the complete works of the Englightenment. Well, maybe. It may have as much to do with the relative openness of British society, our ironical sense of humour (religious enthusiasm has often struck the Brits as slightly silly or unhinged, ripe for Monty Python treatment) and desire not to give offence.

I fear that sense of humour is going to be tested for the remainder of my lifetime.

V for Vendetta

People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people

Oh I am soooo up for this

Mother Nature wreaks havoc again

A powerful tornado has swept through the city of Birmingham in the West Midlands.

The twister struck earlier today, cutting a swathe of devastation through the districts of Kings Heath, Moseley, Quinton, Balsall Heath and Sparkbrook.

Mercifully, there are no reports of any fatalities but initial estimates put the cost of the damage as high as £7.50.

The Light of Asia into western eyes

The Buddha and the Sahibs
Charles Allen
John Murray Publishing, 2003

It came as something of a surprise to me that so much that is now known about the Buddha (the “Wise One”, not an exclusive title in his time) seems to have been discovered by Europeans, who, later joined by the Americans, played a large part in the revival of Buddhism in the East, as well as its spreading into the West. It may be a fault in this book that the reader is really left in the dark as to the actual tenets of Buddhism. There have been plenty of investigators eager to claim significance for their discoveries, but their painstaking translations are rarely quoted and Asoka’s famous much-carved edict, triumphantly deciphered after 2000 years of incomprehensibility, and generally deploring violence, is more noted for the rarity of such an expression of its sentiments than for anything profound or even unusual about them.

Undoubtedly a historical person, the Buddha was born Siddhartha, prince in a small Sakya kingdom on what is now the Indian-Nepali border, into the Gautama tribe or clan: Sakyamuni and Gautama are thus other designations, as well as Burkhan (holy). The trouble with written records in the subcontinent at this time and for many centuries to come is that they were extremely perishable, ranging from bark in the north to palm leaves in the south. There were inscriptions on rocks and pillars, but ability to read them had long been lost. Oral traditions, however venerated, could not be regarded as reliable.

Most histories and reference books I have looked up give 568-463BC for the Buddha, or a few years earlier, linked to the known reign of the Mauryan king Asoka, 273-232BC. Allen favours the Sri Lankan source for 624-542BC, as Buddha’s lifespan, while Keay in his India, a History puts his death between 400 and 350BC, two or three generations before Alexander the Great’s incursion.

Enter the sahibs, from the late 1700s on, mainly younger sons or others from impoverished families or both, joining the East India Company, where it was possible to make a fortune, if one survived, for in that climate mortality was heavy. Enough of them manifested curiosity about the country to which they’d come to learn its languages and look at its monuments. Sanskrit (spelt Sanscrit by those who wrote about it at the time), the ancient language, from which the various languages and dialects of North India were derived, was kept by the Brahmins as far as possible a secret from others trying to find out anything about it. → Continue reading: The Light of Asia into western eyes

Give me the empirical evidence

In the debate on software patents, the defenders of patents use moral and theoretical arguments, but avoid using data or facts. Different people are good at making different types of arguments. I am a believer in the division of labour. So not everyone will use empirically-rooted arguments. But it seems a bit odd to me that I cannot find anyone who writes things like:

Because Microsoft did not have a patent on the graphical user interface, it made a decision not to invest in operating systems, but because it had a patent on X it increased R&D in that area by 582%.

Instead, the supporters of software patents concentrate on theoretical arguments. As an example, take this article by a patent lawyer writing about software:

In a market where inventions cannot be protected in order to yield a return on the invested resources, very few would be prepared to make those investments available.

I like theoretical arguments, and the argument in the paragraph above is a perfectly reasonable position to have. But if patents really do have a beneficial effect in software, shouldn’t someone somewhere be able to give us some figures to back up that idea? Where is the empirical evidence?