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]

Mapping your tax dollars or pounds at work

Via those observant followers of tech weirdness, Boing Boing, here is an electronic map that identifies where US bailout money gets spent. I am not quite sure of the accuracy of the plots, but cynics will have their views confirmed that a lot of bailout money seems to be clustered in politically sensitive places.

Whatever the flaws, I am all in favour of such “gimmicks” if they help people to visualise the scale of the state, taxes, and so on. For example, I support the way the UK’s Adam Smith Institute and others make a point about “tax freedom day”, the day in the year when you cease to work for the state and your earnings go to you. Such things can ram home just what government costs in way that no amount of elegantly written treatises can do.

Samizdata quote of the day

“What I’m saying is that this does set me apart. One of the most frightening things about your true nerd, for many people, is not that he’s socially inept – because everybody’s been there – but rather his complete lack of embarrassment about it.”

“Which is still kind of pathetic.”

“It was pathetic when they were in high school,” Randy says. “Now it’s something else. Something very different from pathetic.”

“What, then?”

“I don’t know. There is no word for it. You’ll see.”

- Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon

Would the global triumph of English be so bad?

So asks John McWhorter:

The main loss when a language dies is not cultural but aesthetic. The click sounds in certain African languages are magnificent to hear. In many Amazonian languages, when you say something you have to specify, with a suffix, where you got the information. The Ket language of Siberia is so awesomely irregular as to seem a work of art.

But let’s remember that this aesthetic delight is mainly savored by the outside observer, often a professional savorer like myself. Professional linguists or anthropologists are part of a distinct human minority. Most people, in the West or anywhere else, find the fact that there are so many languages in the world no more interesting than I would find a list of all the makes of Toyota.   So our case for preserving the world’s languages cannot be based on how fascinating their variegation appears to a few people in the world. The question is whether there is some urgent benefit to humanity from the fact that some people speak click languages, while others speak Ket or thousands of others, instead of everyone speaking in a universal tongue.

See also this article about Indians who write their novels in English rather than in one of the local Indian languages, partly because they just do, and partly in order to increase their potential readership around the world. The piece is by Chandrahas Choudhury, himself the author of a novel in English. He also blogs.

Both pieces were recently linked to by Arts & Letters Daily, to whom thanks.

I suppose a danger of everyone on earth speaking the same language, as was explained in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, is that we would all of us then understand each other’s insults.

… the … Babel fish, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation.

But this is to assume that hostility causes wars. I think it is at least as true to say that wars cause hostility.

Quite aside from the rights and wrongs of English conquering everyone and everything, there is the intriguing question of whether it in fact will so triumph, or whether any other potential universal language, like Spanish or Chinese, will triumph, in the nearish future. Perhaps English will triumph, but in the process it may itself fragment. If one language does triumph, it may well be English, but not necessarily English as I know it.

Another great line from Mr Woods

“The Japanese government did absolutely everything the Austrian theory suggests it should not do in order to fight recession. It engaged in every single activity that Keynesians like Paul Krugman recommended. As a result, its slump went on for a decade and a half. Keynesians continue to recommend these very policies for the United States, as if the debacle in Japan never occurred. In late 2008 financial newspapers in the US actually began to speak of a revival of Keynesian thinking (claiming, absurdly enough, that the present crisis gave the ideas of Keynes, one of the twentieth century’s collection of inexplicably respected crackpots, a new lease of life) again with no mention of Japan.”

Thomas Woods, Meltdown, A Free-Market Look at Why the Stock Market Collapsed, the Economy Tanked, and Government Bailouts Will Make Things Worse. Page 84.

This book is full of great passages like this. I have already quoted a nice line from Mr Woods mocking the contention that the enormous expansion of government spending in WW2 helped “solve” the Great Depression. Incredibly, there were people who actually defended this absurd idea on our comment boards. It never fails to amaze me that people overlook a basic fact of economic life: we work to produce stuff that people want to consume. The kind of state domination of a country during war, with its rationing, government direction of labour, and of course, mass conscription, hardly sounds like the sort of policy that anyone interested in increased prosperity should favour.

There is one point where I disagree with Mr Woods. He says the veneration of Keynes is inexplicable. It is in fact pretty easy to understand: he had a sort of superficial plausibility, and of course his ideas were meat and drink to politicians looking for intellectual cover to expand their powers. Even so, I do kind of wonder if Keynes would be embarrassed by some of the people who claim his name as justification for their views.

Wine goes very technical

Here is a diverting read: a trip to Napa Valley’s wine country. It involves a robotic grape picker. The Singularity is coming!

Talking with Paul Marks about the financial crisis and about the badness (i.e. Marxism) of President Obama

Yesterday I recorded a conversation with Paul Marks, a regular contributor here. My purpose was to enable all who are curious about who and what Paul Marks is to learn more. And the best way to learn more about Paul Marks is to listen to him talk not about himself (which we only did for about ten seconds) but about some of the things that he has been thinking about in recent years and in recent months.

In recent years, Paul has been brooding on the impending financial disaster which he saw coming. You know, the one that “nobody saw coming”. Well, he did. How come? More recently he has been pondering the Marxist background and foreground of US President Barack Obama. What, Barack Obama as bad as Ho Chi Minh? Yes, he replied. He didn’t just say it, he explained it and he justified it.

As I said at the end of the convsersation itself, and as I repeated in the posting I did about the conversation on my personal blog soon after it had been recorded, I think it went well. Since then, I have listened to it right through again, and I remain very content with it. If, on the basis of this plug, you feel inclined to have a listen yourself, this will occupy somewhat under half and hour of your time. Enjoy.

It’s finger lickin’ good…

What is the world coming to? A man who has not confiscated money from taxpayers, oppressed anyone or plundered their way into wealth was allowed to enter the UN and shake hands with all manner of sainted kleptocrats who are supposed to be there!

This is an inexcusable lapse of security… the predators of the world and their willing minions must be protected from being mocked by harmless capitalist restaurateurs! This must not be permitted to happen again!

The Lisbon Treaty

It may seem late in the day, but those fine people at the Taxpayers’ Alliance are putting around a petition urging support for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, aka the European Constitution. The Czech Republic is, at present, the last country to stand in the way of what will be a dangerous acceleration in the move of the EU towards the status of being a complete state in its own right.

Here is the link for those who are interested.

As an aside, I see that the TPA has spawned a leftist website using almost exactly the same URL. The TPA, is, according to this outfit, an evil, right-wing (booo!) organisation that er, wants to do terrible things like curb the spending of the state. This lot appear to be almost as capable of tax-doublespeak as the absurdly misnamed Tax Justice Network .

Garbage in, garbage out

Fact One: preposterous surveys cost the British economy £1.38 billion

Fact Two: prior to the invention of Twitter, no one employed in British offices knew how to waste time that should be spent working, as no one was surfing the internet, flirting with co-workers, staring out the window at that hottie over there with the short skirt and high leather boots, photocopying their bums, telling jokes, gossiping…

Fact Three: 97.4% of all statistics are made up on the spot.

Samizdata quote of the day

Encourage adults to consume alcoholic beverage in a bar setting. Set an arbitrary closing, thus to encourage rapid consumption during the final 15 minutes. Throw out on to the street, inebriated, disenchanted drinkers, mostly young males. And here’s the clincher, all at the same time. Ensure that all other bars in the immediate area follow the same pattern. Then act surprised when incidents of violence and criminal damage spike.

Suppose for one perverted moment that an increase in violence and criminal damage were the intention. The present arrangement could hardly be improved upon.

- The hilariously pseudonymous commenter ‘Mustapha Jihad

It is not even to protect the children, apparently

Well, I cannot say I am remotely surprised.

An estimated 11.3 million people – including parents who join school rotas to take pupils to sports events – already face having their backgrounds checked to allow them to work with children.

But Sir Roger Singleton, the chairman of the Independent Safeguarding Authority, said the scope of the database could increase significantly because companies would fear losing business if they did not have their employees vetted.

It is really hard to know how a satire publication like the Onion or Private Eye can make a living these days.

WTF?

I am in one of my favourite bars, in a railway arch in Peckham in South East London. Good music. Friendly staff and customers. Czech beer on tap. A quite decent Mendoza malbec. Fast and free Wifi (yes, I am hiding behind my laptop. Yes, I am a nerd. If you do not like that, well fuck you). The woman opposite me seems to be staring a little too excessively into the eyes of the man opposite me. Nice for them, no doubt (and yes, I may be bitter, although I am perfectly sincere when I say that this is nice for them and I wish them well).

However, a member of staff just came over, telling me that (sadly) the bar was closing soon (it is 10pm), and asking me to sign a petition, requesting that their licensing hours be increased, so that they can close at midnight rather than the present 10pm.

The story behind this is this. During the first world War, licensing hours in Britain were imposed, requiring bars to close at 11pm. Allowing people to go out drinking after this apparently hurt the war effort. In my native Australia, a 6pm closing hour was imposed at the same time, In some jurisdictions this lasted until the 1960s. But I digress. And this is now generally gone.

My friends from the Latin countries have always been shocked by the 11pm closing hours in England. Coming from countries where they would barely considering going out before midnight, they have always found this odd, to say the least. But the 11pm close was fairly standard, none the less.

However, three or four years ago, things in the UK changed. Responsibility for licensing bars had for a long time been the responsibility of magistrates. If an applicant could demonstrate that he was responsible, then a licence to open a bar would generally be given.

However, the law was changed, so that licensing became the responsibility of local councils – theoretically elected, but much easily bullied by national government than magistrates. Theoretically, this meant more flexibility with respect to licensing hours. At the time, this was sold as allowing bars to open later. In some parts of London, this is true. Generally, the louder and less pleasant places to be are the ones with the later opening hours.

On the other hand, I am in a bar at 10pm on a Monday night. This bar is full of perfectly nice people who are no trouble to anyone. And we are being thrown out onto the street at 10pm.

Why?

Update: As I was on my way out, I stopped and asked the landlord for more details as to the situation. Apparently he has a “facilities licence” allowing him to keep his bar open until midnight, but simultaneously, the council has invoked “planning laws” requiring him to close at 10pm on most nights. He pointed out to me what I knew already, which was that his bar occupies an arch underneath the main London Bridge to Brighton railway, on which (loud) trains run 24 hours a day. My experience is that I was visiting a pleasant bar containing a few perfectly nice people enjoying themselves. Heaven forbid that.