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]

A farmer laments

This essay, which I found while browsing the excellent website of Stephen Hicks, will resonate on both sides of the Atlantic.

As a farmer’s son, I sympathise with its message, but more optimistically, I’d argue that in some ways, life in the countryside is still a lot less regulated than in the towns, perhaps rightly, since when people live in close proximity and have to get along, more rules are required, if only tacit, rather than written, rules. But the sort of restrictions this farmer writes about are not caused by that sort of issue, but by the ongoing move by the state to regulate agriculture.

Cynics may argue that farmers have signed a Faustian pact with the state; they have accepted massive subsidies and can hardly be surprised if the providers of said increasingly demand to control the actions of the recipients. I agree with this. The sooner that the Common Agricultural Policy and its equivalents are obliterated, the better.

Terrorism by any name

Why is this scum called animal rights activists?

A notorious extremist group says it has tampered with more than 250 items containing the antiseptic, which is mainly used to treat children suffering from cuts and grazes, as part of a long-running campaign against an animal testing laboratory.

The group, calling itself the Animal Rights Militia, said it targeted Savlon in a “clear and uncompromising” manner because it believes its Swiss manufacturer, Novartis, to be a client of the research centre Huntingdon Life Sciences.

And it warned its campaign would continue unless the pharmaceutical firm ends its links with HLS.

The Telegraph article seems to serve as a platform for their statement and agenda instead of a report that these criminals have been arrested and appropriately dealt with.

At least he made the trains run on time, sort of

Correlli Barnett, a long-standing critic of the Coalition overthrow of Saddam’s Ba’ath dictatorship, gives us this in this week’s Spectator:

“In Saddam’s strictly secular Iraq, al-Qa’eda and other forms of Islamist extremism were ruthlessly put down. Is it not plainer every month that we would all (including Iraqis) now be much better off if Saddam Hussein had been left in power,but under continued allied air surveillance?”

The regular trope that Saddam was a “strictly” secular leader won’t wash. The “strictness” was in fact pretty variable. What is Barnett trying to say, that Hussein kept copies of the complete works of Voltaire and Richard Dawkins under his bed? Surely, to be serious, Saddam was capable and willing to use and invoke religion when it suited his purposes; I have no idea whether he thought there was a supreme being or not, but frankly, what consolation would it be to the tens, hundreds of thousands of people who were brutalised by his rule to be told that he was “strictly” secular? The Marsh Arabs, the Shiites, the Kurds and other groups may want to ask Mr Barnett what benefit they had from being oppressed by a “secular” ruler. Stalin was “strictly secular”, as was Mao, at least as far as I know.

In fact, this argument is so silly that it got me wondering about what exactly is so marvellous about “strictly” secular regimes that cause havoc on a mass scale; Stalin’s Russia, for example, with its attendant mass famines, the Gulag, and the rest, surely drives a stake through the notion that the absence of revealed religion automatically brings a better state of affairs. I am a lapsed Christian, and no admirer of much that goes under the name of religion (that’s puttting it mildly, ed), but there are so many examples of evil, secular regimes, that it is hard to summon breath to point this rather obvious fact to someone like Barnett.

Then there is this claim that Iraqis and others would have been “much better off” with the old brute in power. That is frankly impossible to judge, and sitting here in the comfort of my apartment, is not one I feel fit to make, but then neither does Mr Barnett. I guess the henchmen who ran Saddam’s torture chambers and his security services feel that their circumstances have taken a big turn for the worse; George Galloway and the various other lowlifes clearly may mourn his passing; arms dealers in the West, East and elsewhere may rue the missed orders and deals no longer struck (that includes Britain, I am ashamed to say), but if Barnett wants to make this claim with seriousness, he needs to weigh the costs of what is now happening in Iraq with the toll of the Iran-Iraq war, the invasion of Kuwait, the gassing of villagers in northern Iraq, etc. And he needs to consider whether, and for how long, Saddam’s regime could have lasted, even without sanctions, and what would have happened thereafter.

The other problem I have is Barnett’s casually thrown-in comment about the Allied air surveillance – he means the “no-fly zones” in the north and south of Iraq. They cost money to enforce, there was exchange of fire between the airforces and the Iraqi forces on the ground (breaches of the 1991 Ceasfire, for those who bleat about the “illegal” invasion of 2003). It is naive to imagine those flights could have remained indefinitely, or have been enforceable beyond a certain point. Sooner or later, the air cover would have been reduced, leaving those in the north and the south to the tender mercies of Saddam’s/his son’s forces on the ground. Not a happy prospect.

There are good arguments to be made against the war: Saddam posed us no immediate threat; his armed forces were degraded after 1991 and there were more serious threats around which required more of our attention. There are also prudential grounds to avoid war if possible, starting with the old adage, which ought to be familiar to libertarians: the law of unintended consequences. I have found myself, more than once, rueing the entire enterprise as an object lesson in the folly of interventionism and chided myself from falling off the wagon in this respect. But the only problem is that I start getting those neo-con urges as soon as apologists for dictatorship like Barnett put pen to paper. The anti-war folk may have many arguments in their favour, but so many of them give me the creeps.

(Update: topic heading changed: this article has nothing to do with Korea!)

Those dirty polluting humans

This glorious article in the BBC website appeared today. I’d love to know whether the person who wrote this has a sense of irony. There is just a hint that he might:

Britons are “addicted” to cheap flights and confused about the climate impact of flying, according to research.

Well, at least the writer had the good grace to put addicted inside scare quotes.

Britons want to fly for a cheap fare. The horror.

Samizdata quote of the day

The reason welfare is bad is not because it costs too much, nor because it “undermines the work ethic,” but because it is intrinsically at odds with the way human beings come to live satisfying lives.

- Charles Murray, US author.

(I greatly enjoyed his recent volume, Human Accomplishment)

Korean military ‘assistance’? No thanks

By caving into the demands by the Taliban to get their troops out of Afghanistan in return for the return of South Korean hostages, the Korean government simply entourages more of the same tactic. Clearly the US seriously erred accepting military ‘assistance’ from Korea given that the South Korean government are not just utterly craven, they seem to have no concept of cause and effect. The only way to demotivate hostage taking is to respond in the opposite manner to what is being demanded.

If I was the US government I would be making a simultaneous complete withdrawal of US forces from South Korea, timed to coincide with the departure of Koreans forces from Afghanistan. Quite why a wealthy nation like South Korea requires US forces to keep its psychopathic neighbour at bay is unclear anyway. Perhaps this incident will shake loose any residual attachment to the value of subsidising South Korea’s defences in the minds of US taxpayers and politicians. There are parts of the world that it may well suit the US to defend but surely South Korea is more that wealthy enough to look after itself given how primitive North Korea is.

George Monbiot finds the great neo-lib. conspiracy

Tim Worstall has a bit of fun with poor old George Monbiot, who frets about the origins of all that terribly nasty “neo-liberal” (ie, classical liberal) thinking that dared to suggest an alternative to Man’s future in a great socialist project.

Well, I have been to a few events hosted by think tanks like the Institute of Economic Affairs, have been a member of the Libertarian Alliance for 22 years (!) and have been even known to correspond with likeminded people in foreign countries. The sheer horror of it, Georgie!

Seriously, articles such as Monbiot’s suggest to me that the “neo-liberals” have been winning at least some debates, or at least getting under the collars of collectivists of various types. That has to be a good thing.

For a grown-up analysis of the revival of classical liberal ideas in the West, Brian Doherty’s book is a great read. It mainly focuses on the US, however.

Autumn could be getting more blustery for Brown

Well, that is probably inevitable anyway. Political honeymoons that last a long time tend to be followed by savage changes in fortune (Nicolas Sarkozy, please note). Gordon Brown enjoyed a bounce in the polls after he killed off, er, sorry, I meant took over from Tony Blair; he was able, however spuriously, to appear all statesmanlike amid the various natural disasters, almost-successful terror plots. But the shooting of the young boy in Liverpool, adding to a spate of gun crimes, has put crime higher up the political agenda, which may hurt Brown; the recognition that Brown has, after all, been finance minister since 1997 and therefore bears a fair share of the current difficulties, is starting to break into the public awareness. And the latest issue which could really wipe the smirk off his face is Europe. His attempt to slyly sign up to a EU Constitution in drag is unacceptable, and thank goodness if it is true that many Labour MPs and some ministers feel the same way.

Seeing is believing, of course. But somehow, I think life is going to get a lot rougher for the government. The question as always is whether the opposition will fully exploit it.

Those predictable unions

I have no problem with unions existing; freedom of association is an important right and one that should never be taken away from us. The problem I have is with unions always seeming to be on the wrong side of every damn issue. And so it goes with patent reform. Way not to break precedent, guys.

Impressionists by the sea

If you are in central London and want to see some wonderful art, I can recommend this. The ticket prices are a bit steep and the collection is not quite as big as some, but definitely worth it. It makes me want to get across the Channel and sip wine in a nice restaurant in Normandy or Brittany.

There is something strange about contemplating a peaceful scene on a Normandy beach, painted in say, 1870, to realise that 74 years later, the place was swarming with Allied troops slugging it out with the German Army, or what was left of it.

Has the Euro enabled Belgium’s ‘Big Crisis’?

There is an interesting article about the current political crisis in Belgium on Libertarian.be. Yes, yes, I know, when is Belgium not having a political crisis? But if this article is correct, this might be The Big One… and it could be the single currency, the €uro, that made it all possible.

State security theatre

This is a public service announcement to save time for those who would rather get on with irrelevant vituperation and not bother digesting the point of my post: In a moment I’m going to say something positive about Gerry Adams.

First, consider this from The Washington Post:

The government’s terrorist screening database flagged Americans and foreigners as suspected terrorists almost 20,000 times last year. But only a small fraction of those questioned were arrested or denied entry into the United States, raising concerns among critics about privacy and the list’s effectiveness.

A range of state, local and federal agencies as well as U.S. embassies overseas rely on the database to pinpoint terrorism suspects, who can be identified at borders or even during routine traffic stops. The database consolidates a dozen government watch lists, as well as a growing amount of information from various sources, including airline passenger data. The government said it was planning to expand the data-sharing to private-sector groups with a “substantial bearing on homeland security,” though officials would not be more specific.

….

Jayson P. Ahern, deputy commissioner for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said focusing on arrests misses “a much larger universe” of suspicious U.S. citizens.

“There are many potentially dangerous individuals who fly beneath the radar of enforceable actions and who are every bit as sinister as those we intercept,” he said.

Gotta love those adjectives: “Potentially dangerous”, not “dangerous”. “Dangerous” would invite the question: How dangerous, exactly? And: What mayhem have these invisible pseudo-threats caused that the forces of security could not have created all by themselves? As for the visibly suspicious, the “sinister”, just how threatening they are is shown up by the US Customs and FBI’s own account – a “small” number of arrests, not necessarily related to terrorism, a number in the hundreds turned back at the airport. Which can happen even if you have been arrested without charge at some other time in your own country and didn’t realise that in consequence you need a visa.

Which brings us to Mr Adams. → Continue reading: State security theatre