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]

Interesting-looking paper on dealing with pirates of the non-cyber kind

Via Instapundit, is an academic paper on the issue of how merchant vessels can protect themselves from pirates. This will not break new ground for Samizdata regulars, of course, but I recommend it.

Talking of merchant shipping, if this volcanic ash problem continues to mess up air travel, then merchant shipping is likely to get a boost in the short run. Bring brack the transAtlantic ocean liners, maybe. Here’s a website where you can even buy such monsters of the sea. Bit out of my price range, alas.

Humanity + UK 2010

The United Kingdom Transhumanist Association has organised a small shindig at Conway Hall, the Mecca for freethinkers, to present and discuss issues that become less radical every year. This takes place next Saturday, April 24th.

The UK chapter of Humanity+, an organisation dedicated to promoting understanding, interest and participation in fields of emerging innovation that can radically benefit the human condition, announced today that registrations are on track for record attendance at the Humanity+ UK2010 conference taking place in Conway Hall, Holborn, London, on April 24th.

Always worth making the case that emerging innovation requires the precondition of liberty.

I note that there may be some absences if Iceland continues its revenge.

Arm Our Children With Media Studies! (Waddle oo tikoo dop?)

I thought that this quote, by a commenter called “Berlinerkerl” in response to a Guardian article that really was called “Arm our children with media studies”, was too good to be left languishing in the “more than 50 comments” bilge tanks of a Comment Is Free article.

In his detailed study of Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men, Jones (2001) draws our attention to the mass of early post-modernist contradictions running throughout the series. Whilst Bill and Ben live in an idealised, hedonistic, not to say nihilistic world, they only come out to play when the Man Who Works in the Garden, the authority figure par excellence, goes to have his dinner. Whilst the Class Oppressor is therefore an absent figure, he nevertheless should not be ignored. Class Oppression is, indeed, a recurring theme, as every time Slowcoach the Tortoise appears, the Flowerpot Men dance on his back, as Marxist critics such as Stalin (1995, p786) have pointed out.

That the Flowerpot Men are invariably awoken by the Little Weed is a clear pointer to a drug-addicted subculture. The language used by the Flowerpot Men harks back to the Theatre of the Absurd – Smith (1997, pp 129-150) draws parallels with Ubu Roi.

Bee-bop-flobbalob :-)

Another commenter called Pressman56 suggested instead that instead of arming our children with media studies we arm them with Kalashnikovs.

Bill Clinton talks up Timothy McVeigh

I recall a time when President Clinton was really quite unpopular, or so it appeared from where I was sat, then as now, in London. It was during his first term. In particular, I recall a libertarian friend who had recently been in America (although he may not himself have been American – not sure about that), sitting on my sofa in my living room, at one of my last Friday of the month libertarian talk evenings, telling me that President Clinton was absolutely not going to be re-elected. Too many people just did not like him. I pressed for details. Are you sure it’s not just that you don’t want Clinton to be re-elected? No, he isn’t going to be re-elected. And the point is, my libertarian friend was sort of right. Clinton wasn’t going to be re-elected. At the very least he didn’t then look like being re-elected. But then, Timothy McVeigh blew up that big office block in Oklahoma and from then on, Clinton never looked back.

Politics is all about story telling. It is about, as we like to say here, the meta-context. And what this explosion accomplished for Clinton was that it completely changed the story being told at that time about what the state was and is. It turned the state from an economic and regulatory threat to the people, into the leading protector of the people. And it turned right wing grumblers about all those damned taxes and regulations into enemies of the state, and hence enemies of the people. Clinton no longer had to struggle to tell the story that he had been trying all along to tell, of the state as the necessary partner of the people, and of the people who were suspicious of the state as people who, at best, simply did not get this. Timothy McVeigh did that for him. And I remember how my heart sank when I heard about the Oklahoma bombing, and who had done it, and why, because I feared exactly the story switch that then happened.

Now the grumblers against taxes and regulations are back being the people. And the Democrats might yet find themselves losing their epic battle, the one which was supposed, in the words of Kyle-Anne Shiver, to have …

… delivered the plum of America to the international socialist collective, or at least pushed us past the point of no return.

Even if regular people forget what turned this kind of story around for Democrats last time around, Democrats surely do remember. And just in case anyone has forgotten what a difference Timothy McVeigh made to the story told by President Clinton in particular and the story of America in general, Clinton is himself now reminding everyone.

But Bill Clinton, not for the first time in his life, is taking a chance. The danger for the Democrats is that they risk looking like they want another Timothy McVeigh. As quite a few of them surely do.

However, if the Democrats do get lucky and another McVeigh really does materialise, there is a big difference between now and the time when the original McVeigh did his thing. Then, there was no internet. The story was whatever the then mainstream media decided it was. But that rule no longer applies.

A great name


Rzeszow, Poland, April 2010

Yes, I understand that this is actually a straightforward translation of a common word into Polish, but if I ever open a bar, “Alkohole” will be a great name for it.

As it is, I am now in the Ukraine, a little to the east of Rzeszow. Given the closure of most European airspace, I have no idea whatsoever how or when I am going to return to the UK. One option would be swearing.


This is also presumably a straightforward translation into Polish?

Another option, and the one I will be taking up, would be to just potter around for a bit. I am in no pressing hurry to return to London, and pottering around in this part of the world is not expensive. I could try and return by surface transport, but crowds and crushes and expenses and sold out trains and ferries do not sound like much fun. I may even head east for a bit. Odessa and Crimea sound interesting.

Samizdata chuckle of the day

It has been said elsewhere that the Leader demanded ‘cash’ from the Icelandic types, and they thought he said ‘ash’.

– Commenter ‘Chuckles

The English language is universal


Lviv, Ukraine. April 2010

I was given a fairly serious “These foreigners are crazy” look when I started photographing the salt and pepper shakers in the restaurant. Such are the joys of being a photographer. On the other hand…


Lviv, Ukraine. April 2010

Volcano woes

Alas one of our redoubtable Samzdatistas is marooned at Newark Airport as all flights into the UK have been delayed due to the volcano eruption in Iceland.

I am still pondering some way to blame David Cameron for this…

Dave Cameron’s bold vision – more of the same… renamed

According to the Telegraph

The Conservative leader presented a bold vision of Britain in which communities – rather than government – worked together to solve shared problems. In calling for the role of the state to be scaled back, Mr Cameron sought to establish a philosophical divide with the Government after 13 years of public sector expansion under Labour.

According to Samizdata…

The Conservative leader presented a bold vision of Britain in which when communities work together, which happens in something we call ‘markets’, nice caring Dave will regulate them and give us MORE state, which the media will call LESS state… and magically it will cost less money… somehow… and yes any claims he is going to scale back the state in any meaningful way is pure and utter bollocks, but it suits the needs of both main parties to pretend otherwise because in fact there is no philosophical divide. Confused? Just shut up and vote and then go back to your reality TV.

Nothing to see here, move along, move along.

Michael Jennings rescued by Tesco

Incoming email from fellow Samizdatista Michael, just received:

This morning, I forgot to pack the charger for my laptop before heading for the airport. Therefore, once the battery had run down, I was faced with the real possibility of being without a computer for a week.

The horror, the horror.

Obviously, this could not stand, so I needed a charger. I had to do this is Rzeszow in Poland, or perhaps in Lviv in the Ukraine tomorrow. (Lviv is a bigger city, but Ukraine is a more backward country). After trying a few local stores, and a branch of Media Markt (the German equivalent of Curry’s), I eventually found a universal laptop charger. I found it in a branch of an obscure, East European chain named “Tesco”. The price was very reasonable, too.

“Markt”? Is that proper spelling, or just email spelling?

I have no idea whatsoever why so many people in places like London find the spread of Tesco – really a wonderful company – to be such a bad thing.

Well, here are some ideas. They are snobs who only want good stuff to be available to richer people such as themselves? They are anti-capitalist scum who hate humans and want humans to die out, but only after they have died first? They oppose international free trade in food (or in anything) and blame Tesco for it? They used to run inefficient food shops that sold stale and overpriced food, until Tesco drove them out of business?

I’m sure commenters can suggest further motivations for Tescophobia.

Joining the dots on tax

Allister Heath, over at CityAM, the free daily newspaper with a strong financial twist, seems at times to be about the only journalist in London making a robust case for free market capitalism, limited government and low taxes. Given how such a message is almost deemed off limits these days in the Conservative Party, and even City types seem shy about doing so, Allister’s editorials are a rare blast of good sense. He’s on good form today with this:

“Economics is not always intuitive – and that is what makes it such a fascinating and important discipline. Take what economists call “incidence” – the study of who actually bears the burden of a particular tax. It is obvious enough that employees pay income tax. But it is much harder to actually work out who really ends up paying for other taxes; voters are often fooled into thinking that somebody else, usually big business, is being hit by higher taxes while in fact it is them who are picking up the tab, albeit in a way that is impossible to detect.”

Exactly. With a lot of economic arguments, such as law of comparative advantage, the insight is not immediately obvious. That is why, for example, protectionist politicians can win votes by claiming that those evil foreigners are “taking our jobs” – it takes a bit of understanding to see the fallacy in this. And the tax incidence issue that is highlighted here is a good one. There is not just a tax incidence effect where a tax on a sector, such as banks, hits everyone. There is also regulatory incidence too. I don’t know exact numbers, but all the various health, safety, equality, and other rules that are imposed on firms add greatly to the total cost of buying a product. Consider how much of the regulatory burden, for example, translates into the actual price you pay for a car, fridge, or even step-ladder.

So the Tories, in their bid for power, want to impose a tax on banks, and imagine that most voters will cheer and say, “good on yer iDave, give the banks a hard time!” and then fail to join the dots when they wonder why the interest on their accounts is so poor, or why it seems a bit harder to get a loan these days or why buying foreign exchange appears to be a rip-off.

IPL and the changing culture of cricket

Recently I’ve been suffering from shingles, hence my silence here in recent weeks. Shingles has been no fun, but it would have been even less fun had it not been for Indian Premier League cricket on the television to take my mind off my discomforts. For the last forty and more days, there’s been at least one twenty-overs-each-way slogfest every day, and often, as yesterday, two. The last Brian Micklethwait posting here, written originally for here but then featured here (which cheered me up a bit just when I most needed that – thank you JP), was about the IPL, and about one of the things I most like about the IPL, namely the fact that it involves lots of Indians getting rich and being happy.

I know what people mean when they claim that IPL-type cricket – slam bang, slog slog, all over in three and a half hours – is very unsubtle compared to proper day-after-day first class and test match cricket. I know what they mean when they say it’s not real cricket. But for me it’s real enough, and I like it, just as I like pop music and classical music. I also like very much that ITV4’s IPL coverage is free. I have never subscribed to Sky Sports, because that would mean wasting forty quid a month on a very few sporting events that I care about (mostly test match cricket in my case), and then, even worse, being tempted to waste the rest of my life watching a lot of other sporting nonsense, just so as not to waste all that money. If only I could spend a tenner a month and get all the best cricket, but nothing else.

But there is still a price to be paid for IPL watching, in the form of adverts between overs, advertising logos all over the players’ shirts, and constant commercial self-interruptions by the numerous, obviously very well paid and hence thoroughly compliant commentators. Nothing exciting ever happens in IPL without it being described as a “City moment of success”, whoever or whatever “City” (“Citi”?) might be. All catches are described as being “carbon” Kemaal (sp?). Actually it’s Karbonn – a mobile phone enterprise, I think. And there is a big blimp that hovers above the grounds with “MRF” on it, which is something to do with a fast bowling scheme paid for by a rubber company, that the commentators talk about incessantly for no reason except that they have been commanded to. But I don’t care. For me this is all part of the Indians making money angle. And if all the Karbonn City Moment of Success DLF Maximum (a six) Maxx Mobile Time Out (a bigger than usual advertising break) crap gets too annoying, then I wait an hour or two and instead watch my recording of it all, fast forwarding through all the commerce. Which is also a way to waste less of my life. This didn’t matter when I was ill. Wasting my life watching cricket games all day long was all I was capable of, other than sleeping and being depressed. But now, as I improve, that’s an important consideration. → Continue reading: IPL and the changing culture of cricket