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]

Poking into people’s privacy is rarely admirable

What follow is a somewhat edited version of a comment I left on a Hollywood gossip blog called JJ’s Dirt. As the blog owner decided not to approve my comment (as is indeed his right of course, so no nonsensical bleating about ‘censorship’… it is JJ’s blog and any comments on his turf are quite rightly at his unconditional sufferance. His blog = his rules), so I thought I would post my comment here. As it never saw the light of day, I have slightly expended it to more fully express my views.

I came across the article in a google search for something quite unrelated and saw a short list of people who are purported to be homosexual or bisexual in various so called ‘public’ walks of life in the USA. Although I am utterly indifferent to people’s consensual sexual behaviour provided it is not aggressively thrust unwanted in my direction, I have always been deeply uncomfortable with the self-righteousness of people who ‘out’ others. This was the trigger phrase that moved me to comment and my (slightly expanded) reply follows.

“The failure to come out on the part of figures in the public eye seemingly sends a message that homosexuality or bisexuality is something shameful that needs to be hidden.”

Or maybe they just have the notion that it is none of anyone else’s damn business and that unless they choose to openly discuss their private life, they should have their privacy respected by others when they are not on the job.

If someone is a politician, they are a person controlling the violence backed means of collective coercion and quite reasonably should have no right to privacy whatsoever, be it sexual, social or financial.

Being an athlete or actor/actress on the other hand is just a job, not a public office. Why should your wish to ‘out’ someone trump their wish to perhaps not have what they do in private known? Certainly no one can or should force you to stop this (unless they feel you have defamed them, which is a rather different issue that I am not addressing), but that does not make what you are doing right. Perhaps you define yourself by your sexuality but most homosexual people I know do not, so why try to force them to make common cause with you when they may well feel no affinity with you or your world view at all? It is already the case that in most of the civilised world (i.e. the western world) the law does not prohibit homosexual public displays of affection. You have legal protection against violence directed at you and being homosexual no longer mitigates your legal right not to be assaulted… and rightly so of course.

Moreover by and large you have tolerance socially too, in that people will not take action to try and stop you holding hands with your partner. That is what tolerance means. It is the natural right of everyone to have their consensual behaviour with others tolerated.

However if your ‘comfort’ means it is ‘acceptance’ you want from straight people, rather than just tolerance, well you may ask people for it but you have no right to it and a significant number of people will choose to not accept you. No one has a right to be accepted. As long as someone tolerates you (as they must), it is their right, not yours, to judge you according to their sensibilities.

In short, if all someone does is sneer at you and your partner holding hands in public, deal with it. The world is full of jackasses and always will be. But please, stop poking into people’s private affairs if they do not want them poked into. I do not think what you are doing is immensely harmful but it is neither admirable nor justified.

Time to give Paul Marks a bailout – to save the Financial System

Giving Bear Stearns Bank a bailout was vital – otherwise the financial system and the thing that unkind people call the “credit/money bubble”, would have collapsed.

Bailing out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac was also vital – otherwise the financial system would have collapsed. Senator Dodd and and Senator Obama were not paid a fortune by Fannie and Freddie for nothing.

And bailing out AIG was vital to – otherwise, again, the financial system would have collapsed.

And now all the “bad housing debt” of all the financial services companies must be taken up by the government – otherwise the financial system will collapse.

And Paul Marks must be bailed out too. After all once one has spent a trillion Dollars, more Dollars than there are stars in the sky or cells in your hands, what is a few Dollars more? His judgements were no worse than that of the bankers and other such. In fact they were better – after all he did not take on a lot of housing loans without even knowing who the money had been loaned to or which people had a chance of paying the money back.

And Paul Marks did not play complex games with the housing loans – treating a debt as an “asset” (“normal banking practice” of course) on which a vast castle-in-the-air could be built. The endless “lower interest rates” by the Federal Reserve system and the Bank of England, i.e. the endless flow of new credit/money that created the mad lending and manipulation in the first place, are not enough. Paul Marks must have a proper bailout – and he must have it now. If Paul Marks does not have a bailout I can assure you that the credit bubble financial system will come to grief.

Of course a “bitter and cynical” person would say that the credit bubble financial system will come to grief even if Paul Marks gets his bail out.

But that did not stop all the other bailouts. Each bailout was supposed to “save the financial system” and clearly did not, but that did not stop all the other bailouts.

Now everyone is going to get a bailout, so Paul Marks must have one too!

Sarah Palin’s market credentials

The Cato Institute blog makes this observation:

Some commentators are suggesting that the McCain campaign has panicked about Sarah Palin’s appeal, trying to cram her head with policy-wonkery and then hiding her in a closet when that didn’t work. Let Palin be Palin, they say — let her show her authentic self, the gun-totin’, family-raisin’, reformist governor that Alaskans love.
Good idea. Let’s start with the bailout. Surely a rugged individualist reformer from way outside the Beltway is champing at the bit to denounce this $700 billion bailout for Wall Street insiders cooked up by Washington insiders behind closed doors, without public hearings, with the unanimous support of the mainstream media. Let ‘er rip, Governor Palin. Tell the Wall Street bankers that when a small business makes bad decisions in Wasilla, it goes out of business, and the same rules should apply to large businesses in Manhattan. That’s the Sarah Palin conservatives say America would love.

I am not holding my breath. It would be interesting to see the reaction if she did give the bailout the finger, though. Judging by some of the media coverage of her and the credit crunch, large parts of the MSM press would lose their minds completely.

A week in Crete

Yours truly escaped from the credit crunch, his computer keyboard and endless work hassles to get some much-needed relaxation in the Greek island of Crete last week. I can strongly recommend it, although not all aspects of life in that island are an unalloyed joy (they seem to assume that British tourists want chips with everything). I noticed that the locals have an agreeably “f**k you” approach to things like any smoking bans in restaurants, at least judging by my own observations. And I noticed that the driving standards have not improved much since I was last in Greece in 1992. A taxi driver who took me and the missus to the airport held a mobile phone in his hand, had innumerable phone calls and was busily texting his wife/mistress/whoever during a drive down a twisty lane. At one point I even suggested that this might not be a bright idea. I might as well have been talking to a martian.

Of course, such things are foolish and silly. And using a mobile phone while driving is dangerous. But maybe what has happened is not that the Greeks have got any nuttier or more reckless. It is that we Brits have, wittingly or otherwise, become even more safety conscious and worried about risk. Sometimes it takes a passage of time and a contrast with another culture to realise that.

Counter debate: the bailout boondoggle

The first portion of Reason’s Counter Debate is now available. I quite enjoyed listening to Bob Barr pointing out the economic nonsense of the two ‘major’ party candidates.

My impression from the debate is I agree with Bob Barr on his economics and McCain on the war that is coming to an end. It is, however, economics which look to be the big worry right now. It is a shame Bob Barr was not invited. He would have injected a little bit of capitalist free-market sense into the event.

Financial risk takers are like drug dealers, apparently

Watching the UK’s Channel 4 programme tonight, hosted by Jon Snow, whose leftist views are easily discernible, I sensed an aspect of the coverage of the present financial turmoil that bothered me. Several times, during various back-and-forth questions with such luminaries as the left wing journalist Will Hutton and the Cazenove economist Richard Jeffries (I know Richard, he is a smart guy), Snow came up with the idea that instruments such as financial derivatives were “peddled” by banks and other institutions to investors. You see, the viewer was supposed to understand, buying or selling a swap, or a future, an option, a warrant, or basket of bonds and equities is like buying or selling crack cocaine or a porno magazine, not that I have a problem with porn magazines.

Of course, given the way in which hedge funds have been accused of colluding to destroy financial institutions such as Britain’s HBOS – which is beyond daft given that only a small fraction of HBOS shares were available to be short-sold in the first place – we can expect more of this demonisation of financial markets. Please understand me, gentle readers. I am not saying that banks and other intermediaries are not at times at fault for what has happened. Clearly it sticks in the throat to see bankers earn vast salaries in the good times and then bawl like so many 1980s coalminers or wheat farmers when the taxpayer refuses to get them out of trouble. I was grimly satisfied to see that the US allowed Lehman Brothers to go down, since it showed that at least some policymakers in the US were willing to see risk-takers pay the price of risks that have gone awry. But let there be no mistake: the financial derivative instruments that are being credited with voodoo powers by financial dunderheads like Will Hutton or Mr Snow are not the essence of the problem.

Derivatives are, after all, borne out of the desire by people to offload risks and by the desire of others to take those risks on; they are a consequence of the different appetite for bearing risk that occurs in any open market economy. Some people like uncertainty, others do not. That difference explains how, in a world of price movement, it is possible for people to swap uncertainty for certainty and vice-versa. It is the basis of insurance, for example. Without speculators willing to bear risks of fluctuations in everything from wheat to interest rates, other, more timid souls would not have fixed-rate mortgages or upfront payments for their wheat. Without those hedge funds, other, more cautious investors would not get prices for their investments, and so on.

We are in the midst of a very scary time in the financial world and there is no point in my trying to obscure that fact. I work in the wealth management business and have seen even some of the smartest minds in the business lose their heads. But I detect a decidedly unpleasant whiff in the air of scapegoating in the current time. One almost can hear an echo of anti-semitism, or something very similar.

Meanwhile, Roger Kimball pins much of the blame on US policies designed to encourage risky borrowers to get credit. He has got a point. I would also repeat the point that with Japan and other Asian countries operating ultra-low interest rates for a long time, these countries acted like ATM machines for the rest of the world. As Paul Marks of this parish likes to point out, until interest rates are based on a genuine balance between the demand for and stock of savings, the monetary system of the world will keep creating bubbles like this.

Update: here is a fine essay by economics historian Robert Higgs about how disastrous policy responses in the US ensured that the Wall Street Crash of 1929 mutated into a decade-long slump. Over and over again, it is necessary to nail the myth of Roosevelt’s New Deal. Far from “saving” US capitalism from itself, FDR lengthened the misery; unemployment was higher by the outbreak of WW2 than when he was elected to office.

A slight contrast

Meanwhile, China legalises short selling:

China’s action contrasts with regulators in the U.S., Europe and Australia that have banned short selling in the past week to shore up financial shares battered by the global credit squeeze. China’s government is betting the changes will boost trading without spurring further declines after state share buybacks helped the CSI 300 Index rebound from a two-year low.

That is partly it. But mostly what China’s government seems to me to have been doing for many years now is tackling every domestic economic problem it has with a free market solution, and betting that even if such measures do not solve the immediate problem, they help in the longer run.

Via here and here.

Samizdata quote of the day

“The investment business is based on people being able to do what they want with their money. They may want to do some odd things. “People put their money where their thoughts are,” said one investment banker I interviewed. This means that there are a lot of men who are, so to speak, in financial topless bars, sticking millions of dollars into the G-strings of lap-dancing debts and equities.”

- PJ O’Rourke, Eat The Rich (page 27).

US Congress strikes back at libel suits from abroad

I have just read an article here (with thanks to Glenn Reynolds) which reports some really good news:

FURTHER UPDATE: The New York State law has now gone national. A House bill declares that foreign libel judgments are unenforceable in the United States. And Arlen Specter, Joe Lieberman and Chuck Schumer want to go further still:

Indeed, the ACLU, the American Library Association, the Association of American Publishers, the PEN American Center, the Families of the 9/11 victims, and many others support the Free Speech Protection Act, 2008 (S. 2977) sponsored by Senators Arlen Specter, Joseph Lieberman and Chuck Schumer. Their legislation would allow U.S. writers to bring a federal cause of action against those who bring libel suits against them, in foreign jurisdiction for writing that does not constitute defamation under U.S. law . The Specter bill, like King’s (H.R. 5814) would also bar enforcement of foreign libel judgments and provide other appropriate injunctive relief and damages by U.S. Courts.

This has been done to put a total stop on efforts of individuals who, just to invent a hypothetical case mind you, travel from Saudi Arabia to the United Kingdom to sue a publisher in the United States. I can not imagine anyone doing something like that of course…

Bailout boondoggle news

I have heard a bit of backchannel news from the network infrastructure guys in North America. It appears that the text of the Bailout giveaway went up and the government server got hit by the Slashdot effect. It became unreachable due to the huge volume of traffic caused by people attempting to get their hands on the Reid-Pelosi financial free for all bill. From what I have heard, this is not just pork… it is the whole damn pig sty.

SpaceX Falcon 1, Launch 4… live from Kwajalein

The launch live webcast link is here..

2322. This could be an interesting evening. As you know, the third launch failed at staging. It was quickly determined that the cause of this was a ‘burp’ from the Merlin engine after shutdown. There is some fuel and oxidizer left in the system when the engine shuts down, and in a regen engine there will be a bit more because the oxidizer is warmed and the nozzle cooled by running it through tubes around the outside of the bell. When they checked test data they found this had actually occurred in a ground test but the transient was ‘down in the weeds’ at sea level pressure and had not been noticed as it was perhaps only a tenth of an atmosphere of pressure and thus hidden in the 1.0 sea level pressure. At high altitude the ambient was near zero so the burp was significant. What happened then, was that after a perfect first stage burn and a flawless staging… the engine burped perhaps 2 seconds after sep and was enough to cause the first stage to ram the second stage just as it was ready to fire.
For flight four they have raised the delay from first stage cutoff to stage separation from 3 second to 5 seconds to account for this. There were no other flight anomalies of any significance on flight 3; flight 2 with the earlier Merlin regen engine has successfully staged and fired the Kestrel engine almost to second stage cut off so I am hopeful we will see a successful orbital insertion today.

2349. Fueling is in progress and near completion, or at least as near as they will go this early. The final top off will not occur until later in the launch. I am wondering if this might be partly to prevent the RP1 (kerosene) from chilling down as much as it did on a previous flight. Ah, the webcast has just now gone live.

0011. They are into the terminal count but they have been giving us loads of talking head chatter instead of the interesting stuff. I’d much rather listen to the real internal loop than people assigned to interpret to us. There is in any case only about 5 minutes to go.

0013. As you can see if you are watching the video, the tower is retracted, and we are now hearing the real control loop. 2:30 to go! Launch director gave a green, range is green, about 1 minute to go!

0018. She’s going up and looking great so far! Max Q… first stage going great. Getting close to time for pitch over and MECO.

0021. Second stage is burning beautifully!!!!!! There is no roll problem this time. Now we wait 4 minutes as she goes down range.

0022. No sign of roll anomalies like on flight 2. The slosh baffles are doing their job. 315 km high now…

0024. Almost there… the bell glows red hot but it is built for that. We now have lost signal, probably due to range.
We are waiting now for whether we got the orbital insertion…. and…. THEY HAVE DONE IT!!!!!!

0043. They are in orbit with their dummy satellite. The only things we need to hear now is whether they get a successful recovery of the 1st stage from the Pacific. It should have come down on parachutes but I don’t expect I will hear about that until ‘tomorrow’. I feel a bit like Elon… I hardly know what to say. I must admit that I was here screaming like the SpaceX employees and I now feel just limp, tired and very, very happy. So… another Falcon 1 launch latter this year and then on to the much larger Falcon 9 next year!

Sunday launch expected

The SpaceX test flight 4 of the Falcon 1 launch vehicle is scheduled for Sunday. That means around midnight in my part of the world and earlier in the USA.

I will be here as usual, giving a blow by blow live-blogging of the event. My gut feel says they make it this time. But that and a shiny new pound coin will get you a small cup of coffee at the local coffee shop.

Here is a very nice Q&A with Elon Musk done by the Washington Post.

2300. The launch webcast link is now up.. Coverage should start in about a half hour.