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]

Samizdata quote of the day

I like to feel that programs get on to my computer at my invitation, rather than barging past me into the living room and demanding to know where the drinks are.

Charles Arthur on the Word 2007 converter. Which goes for all sorts of institutions and people. If someone is prepared to explain themselves, gives us an alternative, recognises our autonomy, then we incline to trust them simply because they have shown they understand that there is trust involved.

Comedy horror documentary

OK, I am biassed. NO2ID gets a credit on this film. But having been to a contributors’ screening last night, I think you could do worse than drag any friends or relations who are complacent about Britain being ‘a free country’ along to Taking Liberties (since 1997) when it opens on June 8th. If you have a black sense of humour, you will laugh.

Not much in the film will come as news to Samizdata readers, and to get anything like a coherent story out of so much material it has had to simplify, rather. But I was very pleasantly surprised that in doing so it avoids falling into the usual human-rightist traps of equating liberty with leftism. Teeters on the edge occasionally, perhaps. The sequence on Guantanamo is a little too long, and I think unbalances the section on the Blair regime’s complicity in torture. But there are few tendentious statements, and in most ways it is a conservative polemic. If there are heroes on screen they are mild-mannered middle-class pacifists. The off-screen heroes are Winston Churchill and the common law courts.

The points are made gently and methodically, ticking off, one by one, the broad civil liberties supposedly assured by the Human Rights Act, but actually removed by the same government that made such a fanfare of its respect for “our way of life”. Boiling the story down from a vast mass of information they could have included makes it very solidly founded. This is polemic, but the antithesis of Michael-Moore-style, concocted illustration of an artificial thesis. I spotted only very few factual errors, and I am an awful nitpicking wonk, as you all know.

What will stay with me, however, is what I had not seen before. Footage of lots of officious political policing and show of official force. Those who think we are softies whining about nothing will no doubt say that actually this just illustrates we are in no danger, Britain is still a healthy democracy (whatever that means). But is it really better to be smothered with a feather pillow than publicly garotted?

PS – Like a lot of small films this starts out in a few screens and hopes for a rolling release, so it is desperately sensitive to opening receipts. If you do go to see it when it opens, you increase the chance that others will get a chance do so too.

Facing down the Kremlin

The latest developments in the investigation into the assassination of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko, who was killed last November in London, is interesting, to say the least.

To no one’s surprise (at least no one who is not a Kremlin stooge), the person the British Director of Public Prosecutions has charged with the murder is an former(?) member of the Russian security services, just as his victim was. The Crown Prosecution Service is formally demanding Andrei Lugovoi’s extradition from Russia.

What makes this really fascinating is that the CPS is well aware that the Russian state has a policy of not extraditing Russian nationals to other countries (nor are they in the habit of surrendering their assassins to foreign police no matter how politely they are asked). The fact they went ahead and made the demand for extradition anyway shows that the government is at last taking the threat Putin and his cronies pose seriously and this is an excellent way of dealing him a no-win hand politically, even though it will not result in Lugovoi being brought to justice. Although no one in an official capacity is saying the Putin regime ordered this murder on British soil, you do not have to squint very hard to see the writing between the lines.

Update: an new article in the Telegraph seems to confirm what I was suggesting about a determination to face Putin down. Good.

The loss of a fine landmark – at least for a while

Libby Purves, the Times columnist, has a nice appreciation of the Cutty Sark, which was partly destroyed by fire yesterday. The burning of the Cutty Sark clipper ship appears, judging by some reports, to have been started deliberately. I have long since given up trying to fathom what goes through the minds – for want of a better word – of the pondlife who get a buzz out of torching old monuments like this 19th century vessel. An active hatred or pranksterish contempt for the past soon spills over into a defilement of the present and eventually, lack of interest in the future (very Burkean, ed).

Some time ago, I reflected on how the clipper ships like the Cutty Sark were a demonstration of how globalised the 19th Century was in terms of trade. Anyway, let’s hope the vessel can be restored. It is certainly one of the finest sights in Greenwhich, in the eastern part of London and a major tourist attraction.

The honest thieves

The other day I was watching the news and saw a story about a sudden influx of Romanian gypsy children into Slough (of all places). Several things struck me about the story.

Firstly, the children they interviewed were entirely candid about the reason they arrived in the UK: state welfare. They had come to Britain because they learned that all you have to do is turn up and you will be provided with free housing and food which is better than what they had in Romania.

They were entirely honest what their motives were. So I suppose unlike in Romania, they do not have to steal to support themselves, they are counting on the British state to do it for them. That said, several shopkeepers were also interviewed and they were aghast at the prospect of these new arrivals.

The second thing that really stuck me was the sheer idiocy of the spokesman that was quoted (I assume he was from Slough Council), who said “we are working to figure out how to reunite these children with their parents”, or words to that effect… as if these parasites were washed up after a storm rather than having intentionally travelled from Romania to Slough. Quite rightly the reporter commented that there was no indication these children were likely to oblige as they were clearly very satisfied with what they were being given.

However my guess is that once they have established themselves, they will indeed be “reunited with their parents”… who will arrive in the UK to do exactly the same.

It is interesting to contrast this with the highly successful influx of Polish, Czech, Slovak, Hungarian and now Baltic immigrants into the UK over the last few years. High initiative, quickly integrating Eastern Europeans attracted by the more dynamic economy of Britain, have joined the work force and broader British society generally to the noticeable benefit of everyone… but in this case in Slough, the welfare system has attracted the worst kind of bare faced parasites from a predatory sub-culture. An interesting contrast and proof yet again that ‘immigration’ is not a problem, it is immigration-plus-welfare-handouts that causes the problems.

Samizdata quote of the day

He [Michael Moore] travels to London to show off the beauty and brilliance of the British National Health Service. He talks to an unstressed doctor who has a four bedroom house in Greenwich and a £100,000 salary from the NHS. He films empty waiting rooms and happy, care-free health workers. He even talks to Tony Benn about how this wonderful marvel came into existence in 1948.

What he hasn’t done is lie in a corridor all night at the Royal Free watching his severed toe disintegrate in a plastic cup of melted ice. I have.

- James Christopher, reviewing Michael Moore’s film Sicko in the Times.

Security or liberty?

I am traveling via AMTRAK to Boston today [Actually yesterday: I did not get a network connection until this morning]. Given the hassles of airline travel I have grown to prefer it. Additionally there is the accessibility of an AC outlet for my laptop and enough space in front of me to actually use it.

When I picked up my ticket though, I noticed a display running through a whole long list of new rules and regulations. It seems the powers that be are not satisfied with wrecking the flight travel experience: they want to ruin train travel as well.

The people who think up these rules are really more in tune with the needs of a totalitarian regime than a society of sovereign individuals. One has to ask what problem are they really solving? As I had a forty five minutes wait whilst waiting for my gate announcement to go up on the schedule board., I did some mental arithmetic

What if we took train security back to what it was when America was still a free country, perhaps back in the fifties before the do-gooders gained any real power? What would be the likely result?

Assume we get a few Jihadi’s loose in the US and they manage to blow up three trains a year. Given the numbers from the UK and other places in Europe, these sorts of things usually kill 100 or fewer people. That translates to a 300 in 300,000,000 chance per US citizen per year: a 1 in a million chance. Given modern medicine and a bit of rounding up to 100 years lifespan, that would be 1 in ten thousand per person total or .01% chance of that being the mode of your death, rather than cancer or heart disease.

One has to ask whether this kind of risk level is worth what we are giving up for it. What do we get in return? We get treated like criminals, assumed guilty, herded through transport facilities like cattle into pens, with our civil liberties violated right and left. I would much rather they took all the security folk from here and shipped them over *THERE*.

As a thought experiment, imagine an insanely aggressive strain of Africanized bees shows up in your town. How will you deal with it? Will you run all over the town killing bees in ones and two’s? Will you try to make every place in town bee-proof and pass regulations requiring people seal their homes and businesses?

I know what I would do. I would track down the nest and wipe them out at source.

Space Development Conference in Dallas this week

It is that time of year again, when a young (or perhaps not so young) spacers thoughts turn to thoughts of the International Space Development Conference (ISDC). This year it is in Dallas – Fort Worth at the Intercontinental Hotel, over the Memorial Day weekend. In total it will run from Thursday May 24th to Monday May 28th although the core events are Friday through Sunday.

You can find out much more at the web site. This is going to be a great event. Many of the principals of the new commercial space revolution will be there so it is a great place to network if for you “Happiness is the Earth in my rear view mirror”.

I will be heading there immediately after I finish my webcast edit job on a big JP Morgan Technology business conference in Boston.

F-word or N-word?

Myself I do not think the state should be in the business of subsidising housing. But if it is in that business then I do not think it is tolerable for the state to pick and choose whom to subsidise on the basis of other than individual circumstance – not group belonging.

New Labour minister Margaret Hodge begs to differ. She writes in The Observer today:

We should look at policies where the legitimate sense of entitlement felt by the indigenous family overrides the legitimate need demonstrated by the new migrants. We must debate these difficult questions.

If you have an ounce of conscience or historical background the questions [sic] are not difficult at all. Someone’s sense of entitlement does not trump someone else’s need – by which she necessarily implies it should curtail the second person’s legal rights – because the first person is ‘indigenous’. We know where that leads.

I have often suggested that the New Labour programme is a ‘soft’ form of fascism. I wonder now whether I was rude enough.

How to spoil an argument

Writers who hate a lot are often more compelling to read than pleasant, nice folk. We want some, if not all, of our newspaper columns to have a fair measure of sulphur, a bit of bile and a pinch of basic malice. Rod Liddle of The Spectator comes to mind. Christopher Hitchens, when he is on form and slaying some religious nonsense or attacking George Gallway, fairly curls the edges of a newspaper. But the supreme purveyor of sustained, gratuitous nastiness is AA Gill. He sometimes hits the target with great accuracy, but there is this level of personal animus that he directs to certain targets that makes me wonder what exactly is eating this man, or whether he is ever so slightly off his trolley (“Nurse!”). Many of his targets seem to come from the same background, in terms of income, culture and education, as himself. There seems to a lot of score-settling between that small, suffocating clique of London media types going on, if you read between the lines of Gill’s writings, which must leave a lot of ordinary folk bemused.

Consider this paragraph about a recent TV documentary by Ian Hislop. Hislop profiled the founder of the Boy Scouts, Robert Baden-Powell, who founded the movement 100 years ago. Hislop was rather kind to the man, and although he mentioned the imperialistic overtones of the Edwardian times in which B-P operated, generally urged us to admire the old fella. For Gill, who clearly loathes so much about England and its history, Hislop’s sin is unforgivable:

Hislop is good at documentary TV. He has a bright, hobbity enthusiasm and is smarter than he looks, which, frankly, isn’t much of a stretch. He comes from a great tradition of English pamphleteers and iconoclasts who are very eccentric and partial about the bits of the Establishment they want to put on the tumbril and those they want to preserve in aspic. Baden-Powell’s Scouting for Boys was, predictably, a good thing, though very few of today’s scouts were allowed to sully the halcyon, Hentyesque nostalgia for a simpler, stiffer, perter time.

He has half a decent point, of course. Hislop is editor of Private Eye, which unfailingly hammers away at all manner of targets, not all of them deserved. On the Have I Got News for You satire programme, Hislop and his opposite number, Paul Merton, send up the news stories of the week through a generally left-liberal lens (a lens that I suspect is shared more or less by AA Gill). But occasionally Hislop goes “off the reservation” and says nice things about people, which must clearly upset Gill. Hislop once, memorably attacked the European Union on the show, to the horror of his fellow panelists. Hislop is also a devout Anglican Christian and clearly has a lot of affection for many of the traditions of this country. He comes from the sort of upper-middle class background that formed much of the backbone of institutions like the old Indian Civil Service. Gill’s insult about his intelligence is a cheap shot and damaged what could have been an actually quite decent argument (Hislop may be selective in his choice of victims and heroes.) But Gill’s vileness gets the better of him and masks the point. A shame. If you read the link to the article and read his first point about another, awful TV programme, you can see why Gill remains the master of sustained and justified invective. But he needs to cut out the personal and thank his lucky stars that the practice of duelling is now outlawed.

Outstanding photographs of Mars

It looks like another candidate for my Amazon wish list. A thumping great book showing stunning photographs of the red planet, as taken by the recent US rover machines. The link here is to the Chicagoboyz blog site, which has a good review of it. There is also also a film about the exploration. Great stuff.

Football and architecture

Some of the more innovative and exciting buildings these days are linked to the world of sport. This may not be surprising given the vast sums of money – alas, sometimes taxpayers’ money – that swirls around sport these days. Take this picture of the Barcelona FC stadium, for example. Ever since the Roman days, in fact, sports stadia have been among the most impressive buildings in human civilisation (the arena at Arles, in the South of France, has a spooky, imposing quality of its own, for example).

But of course today, if you are a sport-loving Englishman like yours truly, today matters because the FA Cup Final is being held at its traditional home, Wembley (for non-Brits, this is in west London). The new stadium looks pretty damned impressive. The project to build it has not gone at all smoothly (a sign of the possible difficulties we might expect from the London Olympics). But the wait is worth it. It is magnificent.

One of my happiest days as a youngster was in 1978, when my local team, Ipswich Town, beat Arsenal 1-0 to win the FA Cup (the Blues won the European UEFA Cup three years later. Ah, those were the days). Even watching the game on the television, you were struck by the atmosphere. In 2000, when Ipswich were promoted in a playoff, I went with friends to the stadium in the last fully competitive game to be held before the old stadium was pulled down.

Update: a pity the match between Manchester United and Chelsea did not live up to the billing. Chelsea won. Well done to them (I think one or two Samizdata contributors will be rather chuffed about that).