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]

Sometimes the real nature of protectionism comes through

This startling story from France even made yours truly, who has become a jaundiced observer of French political life, sit up and take notice. Apparently, a bunch of people styling themselves as protectors of the Gallic wine industry have issued an ultimatum to new French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, that unless those evil cheap imports from countries such as Australia (the horreur!), New Zealand (Rainbow Warrior, anyone?), South Africa (enough said), America (the Great Satan) and other places are stopped, then supermarkets, offices and other places will be dynamited.

Suppose that people in such venues get killed. I think that such a terrible outcome might begin to get across to the politically and economically uncommitted the true nature of the thuggery that sometimes accompanies protectionism and any form of coercive interference with voluntary economic exchange. Ultimately, such folk believe that you, the consumer, or worker, or entrepreneur, are beholden to buy, produce or sell not on the basis of freely consenting exchanges with your fellows, but on account of some state of affairs that the protectionists deem right and proper. In this case, the wine industry of France, or at least the mass-produced bit of it, is under threat from the cheaper stuff from other parts of the world. (I think it is safe to assume that the producers of Latour or Lafite are unlikely to be worried). I am actually off to Southwestern France in early June for two weeks’ much-needed holiday and the Languedoc region is one of the places where these thugs hail from, apparently. I tend to notice that whenever I visit France, which is quite often, it is hard to see non-French wine in the shops. So if these thugs are getting upset at the arrival of a relatively small amount of foreign imports, they would go totally batshit if they saw the mixed wine-racks in Sainsbury’s or Tesco’s in a standard English town.

Sarkozy’s time in office is unlikely to be a quiet one.

Defying Chavez

Venezuela is a case study of how democracy is no sure defence against tyranny and how it can actually be the means by which it comes about. I realise we already have the example of Germany in the 1930’s, but unlike the NSDAP, the democratic majority for Chavez was far less ambiguous than the ones that incrementally brought Hitler to power.

It was interesting to note how many on the left (with many honourable exceptions I must add) have supported the establishment of a state television monopoly in Venezuela once the Chavez regime announced it was going to shut down anti-government station Rádio Caracas Televisión.

However is good to see people on the street marching in defiance of Hugo Chavez. Will it make any difference? In the short run, probably not, but it is never wrong to make a stand against a tyrant regardless of how popular he may be.

Bring out your dead

Of course, you do realise that in 20 years or so, everybody will be smoking again:

WHEN the musical Grease opens in London’s West End this summer, and the teenage sweetheart Sandy draws on a symbolic cigarette, warning notices will be in place around the theatre alerting the audience to the danger she poses.

And that’s for a symbolic cigarette! Imagine the danger she would pose if she blazed up a real one?

The West End theatres fought successfully to win an exemption for actors from the ban on smoking in public places, which becomes law on July 1. But some are now concerned that onstage smoking may draw complaints from the audience.

They should put up a warning sign which says:”Anyone who complains about smoking on stage will have the snot beaten out of them”.

But whatever signs are erected will be temporary. When things get this deliriously insane, it means that the war on smoking is quite obviously and hopelessly lost.

He’s thinking of the children

At least one member of the British Government is thinking of the children:

Richard Caborn, the sports minister, has backed a drive by shooting groups to increase participation in the sport among children as young as 12. He believes that the sport helps young people to become more responsible and disciplined, and vowed that significant funds would be made available to help boost participation.

And what better way, I ask you, to foster a gun culture than to get them while they are young?

Truly, as volte faces go this has to be one of the most volte we have ever faced and, offhand, I can think of only three possible explanations: (1) the government is running out of projects at which to throw public money; (2) we have finally reached the apogee of the safety/nanny paradigm (probably a bit optimistic); (3) the “broken watch” principle rears its head.

But, whatever the reasons, a taboo has been broken.

Hearsay (2)

Mr Clarke: Concerns about police powers have been widely expressed, particularly in regard to stop and search. I want to make it clear that the Bill, and the introduction of identity cards, will make no difference to the general powers of the police to stop people for no reason and demand proof of identity. The Bill will make no difference to the powers that exist under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. In fact, quicker, reliable access to confirmed identification would help to reduce the time a suspected person might spend in police custody. The effect of that would be to reduce the number of people wrongly held in police custody while their identity was being checked, which would be of benefit to the individual and to the police.

I also want to confirm that there is no requirement to carry an identity card at all times, as there have been many questions about that.

Hansard, 28 June 2005

NEW anti-terrorism laws are to be pushed through before Tony Blair leaves office giving “wartime” powers to the police to stop and question people.

John Reid, the home secretary, who is also quitting next month, intends to extend Northern Ireland’s draconian police powers to interrogate individuals about who they are, where they have been and where they are going.

Under the new laws, police will not need to suspect that a crime has taken place and can use the power to gain information about “matters relevant” to terror investigations.

If suspects fail to stop or refuse to answer questions, they could be charged with a criminal offence and fined up to £5,000. Police already have the power to stop and search people but they have no right to ask for their identity and movements.

The Sunday Times, 27 May 2007

BBC online’s heading on the latter matter was “Stop and quiz powers considered” which seems much less frightening.

“Good evening, Sir. What was the subject of the Pet Shop Boys’ 2006 single Integral?”


The Kaffirs believed that all kinds of misfortunes came upon them through wizards and witches, and every tribe had a “witch-finder,” whose duty it was to “smell out” these witches. When any misfortune came upon them, the tribe was called together. Then the witch doctor, fearfully painted and adorned with all kinds of terrible savage grandeur, rushed about among them. Trembling and anxious, the people stood waiting, each man knowing that his life was unsafe, until the witch doctor, pointing to one among them, accused him of being the cause of all the trouble. Then the poor wretch, who had no more to do with it than you or I, was seized, tortured, and killed without more ado.

– H.E. Marshall in Our Empire Story (1908)

Procedural aspects of trials for political offences (such as espionage, subversion, terrorist acts, and treason) leave even more to be desired. The court may try the case in camera, may refuse to call witnesses for the accused, may receive the testimony of witnesses not present in court, may use unpublished evidence in reaching its verdict, and may cut off argument for the accused or deny him counsel entirely. Explicit provision is made for trial without the participation of the accused” and with no right of appeal. Procedural norms in such cases are observed only in “demonstration trials” where the fate of the accused is decided beforehand and the trial is held exclusively for propaganda purposes.

– Robert M Weiss reviewing Soviet Millitary Law and Administration by HM Berner & M Kerner (1957)

So the fault is not with our services or, in this instance, with the Home Office. We have chosen as a society to put the civil liberties of the suspect, even if a foreign national, first.

I happen to believe this is misguided and wrong. If a foreign national comes here, and may be at risk in his own country, we should treat him well. But if he then abuses our hospitality and threatens us, I feel he should take his chance back in his own home country.

As for British nationals who pose a threat to us, we need to be able to monitor them carefully and limit their activities. It is true that the police and security services can engage in surveillance in any event. But this is incredibly time-consuming and expensive, and even with the huge investment we have made since 2001, they simply cannot do it for all suspects. Over the past five or six years, we have decided as a country that except in the most limited of ways, the threat to our public safety does not justify changing radically the legal basis on which we confront this extremism.

Their right to traditional civil liberties comes first. I believe this is a dangerous misjudgement. This extremism, operating the world over, is not like anything we have faced before. It needs to be confronted with every means at our disposal. Tougher laws in themselves help, but just as crucial is the signal they send out: that Britain is an inhospitable place to practise this extremism.

– Tony Blair, in The Sunday Times (2007)

The Prime Minister read jurisprudence at the University of Oxford. What do you mean, you can
not tell?

Live from Space Blogger Summit

Just a brief note… You can probably find stories from Rand and Glenn who are also here in Dallas at the 26th International Space Development Conference. Alan Boyle from MSNBC is with us and Jeff Foust is acting as the cat-herder.

Memorial Day


I, {insert name here}, do solemnly swear, (or affirm), that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

Airport Conversations

I met Stephen Pollard in the queue at Heathrow yesterday. This was not my first encounter with Spectator’s own as we had exchanged a few pleasantries at one of the Adam Smith Institute’s forums on blogging a long time ago. One would not expect face recognition from a brief conversation, but one wished to exchange pleasantries.

My brief and polite inquiry was transformed by the Spectator’s star blogger:

I have a good memory for faces and names and was certain I had never set eyes on him before. It turns out that he has read articles by me, and recognised me.

‘What are you doing here?’, he asked. Hmmm. Bag drop queue. Heathrow. It’s a tough one to work out.

Now the question, “What are you doing here” would usually be interpreted as a general inquiry on whether you are going on holiday, visiting relatives, or undertaking one the many activities that channel cattle into Heathrow for flights. Why would anyone take such a question literally?

Mr Johnson? We’ve been expecting you

A told-you-so moment. Us Samizdatistas have been exercised by the new charities law in Britain for a little while. See me here, and Perry here, for example.

Tush, said critics, there is no clear intention:

No where does it suggest that the state wishes to ‘harness’ charities. Indeed, a central theme of the report is concern that charities accepting money from the state start to lose independence. This is, IMO, as much the fault of the charity as the state.

– commentator, J on “Stand and Deliver” {pdf}

And some people who should know better welcomed it, and wanted more. For example in this spectacularly badly timed article in the Independent on Friday, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC – who has a good record of skepticism of the state in her own field of criminal law – writes:

More recently this has led the newly formed Office of the Third Sector to actively promote an enhanced role for the voluntary sector, not just in service provision, but as the “voice” of a disenfranchised citizenry that needs to be empowered to talk directly to Government. But to flourish in this role we need a legislative framework and guidance that recognises the unique role that the sector is playing in articulating people’s views and promoting political debate.

“Guidance” forsooth!

Guidance is the poisoned fang of the state. And just today some teeth are bared in a political cause. Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, and a Labour deputy-leadership candidate, has given the Daily Telegraph an interview.

Mr Johnson said he wants private schools to take pupils on secondment from local state schools, open their science labs to comprehensives and offer many more bursaries to poor families.
“Private schools need to do more to earn their charitable status,” he says. “It’s not enough just to lend their playing fields, it’s about the science lab, it’s about teachers – there are excellent Maths teachers in private schools. Let them give a bit of their expertise to the state sector.”

An interesting operational definition of “give”. Was not the Government celebrating the abolition of the slave trade only a little earlier this year? Apparently the Department for Education and Skills is going to make suggestions, to the supposedly independent Charity Commission* that they impose such things on schools that are charities. If the commission, so decides, then it is not as if the schools have the option of foregoing the tax breaks. Their assets were effectively nationalised under the ultimate control of the commission in 2006.* And the board of the commission? Well it is appointed by ministers and members are deemed civil servants. Of the nine commissioners and non-executive directors – The Nine? – two have had careers in organisations beyond the shadow of the state. I wonder whether how amenable they will be to departmental suggestion?

Meanwhile anyone holding a position in any of Mr Johnson’s rivals, for the deputy leadership of a party that hates private education more than it loves tax-and-spend, may wish to sell.

* It is little noticed that the 2006 Charities Act as well as changing the functions of the Charity Commissioners, actually abolished them, transferring the role to an entirely new para-statal body, the Charity Commission, which just happens to have a very similar name, and whose officers are referred to by the same name as the former commissioners.

A strangely selective conscience

There is an article on the Guardian site called Throw a pebble at Goliath: don’t buy Israeli produce, by Yvonne Roberts, in which she urges people to boycott Israel because of its human rights record.

Now I know nothing about Yvonne Robert and have never even heard of her before, but I assume she also an avid campaigner for people to boycott products from Cuba, Burma, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, China (good luck doing that), Iran, Syria, Belorus, Zimbabwe, North Korea (assuming they actually produce any products) etc. etc. etc… after all, if she is such a tireless campaigner for human rights, surely she could not possibly feel it was alright for people to trade with all those places, given the state of human rights in those places. Right?

Anyone want to take any bets on this?

Cisco Systems is watching you

CNet news.com reports:

The networking giant announced late Monday that it plans to buy privately held BroadWare Technologies in an effort to bulk up its video surveillance business.

Just what we have been waiting for… with the kind of record Cisco has in China (and probably elsewhere) it is not a comfortable thought to have them helping their customers to be able to monitor, manage, record and store audio and video that can be accessed anywhere by authorized users through a Web-based interface. Especially, if some of those customers are the most oppressive regimes in the world. And even without that I would not find much enthusiasm for this particular technological advancement until individuals have some kind of recourse and defence against the jungle of surveillance cameras already in existence.

Marthin De Beer, senior vice president of Cisco’s Emerging Market Technologies Group, said in a statement:

Cisco views the video surveillance infrastructure market as an immediate high-growth opportunity that requires the ability to support both IP and analog device installations. Through the acquisition of BroadWare, Cisco will be able to address both existing and greenfield video surveillance opportunities.

How innocuous the corporate-speak phrase video surveillance opportunities sounds!

There is a reason why we keep saying here that we are not pro-business but pro-market…

Update: Mike Masnik of TechDirt has a great post Surveillance Camera Video Finding Its Way To YouTube.

This seems like a good time to second the call for some recognition of Harper’s Law: “The security and privacy risks increase proportionally to the square of the number of users of the data.” Remember that the next time the government wants to set up some large database and insists your data will be kept private.