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]

Newsflash! McCain calls himself liberal Republican…

John McCain has called himself a ‘liberal Republican‘.

In other news today, Maria Sharapova called herself a ‘tennis player’, Nicolas Sarkozy called himself ‘President of France’, Natalie Portman said she was interested in Scarlett Johansson’s breasts and Terry Pratchett called himself ‘an author’.

Samizdata quote of the day

Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.

- Ronald Reagan

Not quite junk mail

I do not normally like receiving emails selling me products, but I thought I would have to make an exception for this:

Dear Antoine,

Virgin Galactic is delighted to announce a new destination… space. Climb to 360,000ft. at a cruising speed of almost three times the speed of sound, in unprecedented levels of safety and comfort. See our beautiful planet from 63 miles up and experience the magic of weightlessness.

Redeem 200,000 miles to receive 10% off the cost of a spaceflight, that’s an incredible $20,000 saving!* Join our future astronauts and book your place in history.

I look forward to the Nigerian version:

“My name is Mr.Moses Odiaka. I work in the credit and accounts department of Union Bank of NigeriaPlc,Lagos, Nigeria. I write you in respect of a foreign customer with a Virgin Galactica ticket. His name is Engineer Manfred Becker. He was among those who died in a plane crash here in Nigeria during the reign of late General Sani Abacha.

Since the demise of this our customer, Engineer Manfred Becker, who was an oil merchant/contractor, I have kept a close watch of the deposit records and accounts and since then nobody has come to claim the airmiles in this a/c as next of kin to the late Engineer. He had only 18.5mllion air miles in his a/c and the a/c is coded. It is only an insider that could produce the code or password of the deposit particulars. As it stands now,there is nobody in that position to produce the needed information other than my very self considering my position in the bank.”

Limited government candidate in New Jersey

Dr. Murray Sabrin is running for the United States Senate in New Jersey and reportedly has devoted his career to promoting limited government and personal freedom.

There will be an online fund raising event today (February 29) and Dr Sabrin hopes to raise $1.5M by getting 15,000 Americans to pledge a minimum of $100 each. If he succeeds, he will be the favorite to win the U.S. Senate seat against Frank Lautenberg.

I do not personally know much about him but we can certainly do with all the real constitutionalists in DC that we can get.

Not Matt Drudge’s finest hour

The Ministry of Defence is to be commended (not often I write that) for the way they have handled Prince Harry going to Afghanistan. Aware that knowledge of his presence would greatly increase the risk to him and those serving with him (killing a Royal Prince would be a propaganda coup for the Taliban), they hid the fact for ten weeks, which is no small feat in this day and age. Their tactic was to both appeal to reason and to in effect ‘buy off’ the highly competitive UK media by promising juicy photos of Harry if they kept their collective cakeholes shut whilst he was deployed… quite clever really and it is a credit to the wiser heads amongst the UK press that they could see there was no broader ‘public interest’ at stake here (quite the opposite in fact).

I am all for the media and new media reporting the news and in particular news that the powers-that-be might be discomforted by. However reporting a wartime operation detail likely to increase the chance particular group of serving soldiers will attacked by the enemy (namely revealing the presence of a political ‘high value target’ in the war zone) fall way outside acceptable behaviour. Even if you oppose the war, such behaviour suggest you are not so much against the war as actually on the other side. It is at the very least socially despicable and quite frankly giving aid to an enemy in wartime. Unsurprisingly that is something far beyond the ken of a dim bulb like that self-important idiotarian ass Jon Snow.

Matt Drudge and the German Newspapers were not the first to mention where Prince Harry had been deployed, that dubious ‘honour’ goes to the Australian publication New Idea, who have at least expressed regret that they blew Prince Harry’s cover, suggesting they may be guilt of a lack of thought rather than callous disregard for someone’s safety in a war zone. The MoD kept quiet when New Idea first broke the story, suggesting they rather sensibly assumed an Australian woman’s magazine was probably not high on the reading list of many Muslim fundamentalists and indeed it took over a month for it to get picked up elsewhere. But the person who really moved this into wider circulation and got the story picked up globally was Matt Drudge. Although the Berliner Kurier and Bild also reported this, Drudge was at some point claiming this as an ‘exclusive’ and claiming the ‘credit’ for himself, so I will take him at his word and call him an honourless shit in that case.

Michael Jennings talking about maths and about international passenger aviation

Somewhat over a week ago I did a posting here about maths. What use, I asked, is it? I always knew there were plenty of good answers, but the quantity and quality of what the Samizdata commentariat came up with amazed and delighted me, as it did a number of those same commenters. Someone even suggested we have other postings here about what use other educationally controversial things are, like poetry, Latin, and so on (I am thinking: media studies, which I definitely do not assume would have to be useless).

At the end of that piece I mentioned that Michael Jennings and I were about to record a conversation on this subject. Its been up and listenable to at my Education Blog for a while now, so apologies for the delay in mentioning it here, but far better a week late than never. This is not the kind of thing that will be going out of date any time soon. Here is the link to it.

I did most of the asking, and Michael did most of the answering, and it must be admitted that Michael is not what you would call a hundred per cent fluent speaker. It sounds like he suffers from the mild remnants of a childhood stutter, which means that he would not be the ideal choice to perform on Just A Minute, a BBC 4 radio show where your mission is to talk uninterrupted nonsense and where you get penalised for the slightest suggestion of hesitation or repetition. For, on the plus side, Michael does not do nonsense either, which is part of the reason why he still often hesitates. He wants to get things right. Basically, the man just knows so much, about so many things, which means that when he answers a question he is as likely as not choosing between four or five equally relevant facts that he might then serve up. You can see why the people in the City of London get so rich, if they have people like Michael keeping them informed about the world and its business. I strongly urge anyone who resents even the hint of a lack of verbal fluency to, as the Americans say and pardon my split infinitive, deal with it. I found my talk with Michael about maths and its uses absolutely fascinating. Word of mouth already tells me that others have liked listening to it also, and I know that many more will if they click on the above link.

The delay in telling Samizdata readers about this recorded conversation enables me also to mention here another such conversation involving Michael Jennings that has been more recently immortalised by another of London’s libertarian recording angels (so to speak), Patrick Crozier. This time, the subject is aviation, landing slots at Heathrow, international aviation treaties, and the like. If you have any doubts about Michael’s credentials as an expert on this industry (which of course could never have got off the ground without the relentless application of mathematics), then do what Patrick Crozier suggests and have a(nother?) read of this Samizdata posting from way back, on this same subject. Sadly, there was a mix up with the first attempt to record all this (might Patrick perhaps benefit from a media studies course?). The first conversation got stopped in mid flight through a wrong button getting pressed, and a separate concluding recording was done. But here they both are, and they are both well worth listening to. Patrick’s brief bloggery about them is to be found at Transport Blog, here and here.

By the way, Patrick Crozier and I seem to have very divergent ideas about what is the correct volume at which to record these things, so be ready to do some nob twiddling if you go from one to the other. Technical comments about which of us got it wrong (both I dare say) and by how much would be very welcome. More media studies.

Getting back to what was said, there are many delightful moments in these discussions, especially in the maths one, which I would say, wouldn’t I? Nevertheless, my absolute favourite bit of all happens towards the end of the first of the two aviation conversations, a soundbite which Patrick also featured on the short trailer that he did for that. The dialogue goes like this:

Patrick: “Can you trade your slots?”

Michael: “Er … kind of. Not legally. Well, sort of.”

There are times when hesitation is the most eloquent thing there is. Listen, and all is explained.

A rare patriotic sentiment

I’m not generally proud to be British. It strikes me as absurd either to claim some sort of credit for an accident of birth, or to assume that the culture one is brought up in is ipso facto the best available to anyone. Nation is usually alien. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: when someone says “we”, I feel like a “them”.

However, I must say I get great pleasure from the fact that nobody does self-parody like ‘we’ do. There is a great British tradition of highly competent people doing extremely serious things unencumbered by wild eccentricity or a very silly-sounding name. It is therefore a matter of considerable joy to me that ‘our’ defence forces are led by Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup GCB AFC ADC DSc FRAeS FCMI RAF.

Discussion point XVII

Is capital punishment an acceptable legal sanction?

It has been a bit parky lately

It has been rather cold lately in different parts of the world. As this gentleman points out, if worries about man-made global warming can cite the early appearance of flowers or migrant birds in support of their case, the argument cuts both ways. In case any supporters of the man-made global warming thesis get sniffy about this point, I am not a ‘denier’ of the thesis: I think there is some evidence that it may be happening. The trouble is that my views are coloured by the fact that supporters of it tend to support a Big Government agenda. And frankly, I see an awful lot of dodgy investment ideas being sold on the basis of encouraging ‘Green’ technology.

I am looking forward to the first article, meanwhile, that tries to blame Britain’s earthquake this week on human activity. Take a good look at the British Geological Survey website: it is fascinating. Apparently, there have been even been quakes in Norfolk. Norfolk, fcrissakes.

I wish they could all lose

There is a depressing article at Reason magazine about the protectionist instincts of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. What the article does not tell us about much is whether McCain is much better (I honestly do not know, so I welcome comments about his voting record). And of course George W. Bush hardly made friends with Britain by slapping tariffs on steel imports – which also hurt American manufacturers and builders (but they lacked powerful friends in Congress). America is the largest economy in the world and despite what some of the more starry-eyed writers on China or the other ‘Brics’ might claim, is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.

Basically, America matters. If the country goes down a more protectionist path, it will hit the world economy in general. For all his many flaws, Bill Clinton’s signing of the NAFTA Treaty – admittedly when Congress was in Republican hands – was one of the few major achievements of his time in power. It has helped to fuel the ascent of the world economy, lifting millions into higher living standards: if any fans of trade restrictions out there want to contest that assertion, let them provide figures. Here are some official US ones that give some pretty punchy numbers.

As the title says, I wish they could all lose. I have had it with the media guff about how a McCain-Obama contest will somehow elevate American politics and ‘restore’ its image in the eyes of the world. What is the point of winning image points among the Guardian-reading classes if you pull a rug under the world’s economy through greater trade restrictions? How is that going to help America’s ‘image’, assuming that Americans could or should give a flying **** what people think of them in the first place?

What planet are these guys on?

Suppose that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs have lost your personal financial information (along with that of 25 million other people) on a set of lost CDs, or perhaps they have simply lost all the details of your VAT registration.

In any event, the criminals have your National Insurance number. You are worried about fraud. It is good that HMRC have provided information to help you deal with it.

(Via the Register).

A novel based on the Firefly TV series

A novel based on the Joss Whedon cult SF series, Firefly, which was one of the very best in recent years in my opinion, has been released and you can view it online, thanks to a Creative Commons platform, here.

If you have not seen the TV series, correct that ommission immediately. It beautifully blends western-style cowboy drama with its strong individualistic, screw-authority ethic with science fiction, nifty and authentically grimy spacecraft. There are plenty of dashing men and gorgeous women to please both sexes. And there are sword fights and lots of shooting. What’s not to like?