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]

Samizdata quote of the day

I’d have more faith in an offer of protection from the Mafia (if I paid) than Mr Cameron’s referendum. The cavets are, broadly, if he wins a majority, and if he renegotiates membership terms with the EU, then he’ll put his new deal to a referendum. If the EU declines to negotiate, a condition precedent fails, no referendum. I might as well offer you a buggy ride at my local country show, if a Bull agrees to wear a saddle, and if it agrees to tow you.

- Samizdata commenter Mr. Ed, who may or may not be a horse of course.

Samizdata quote of the day

Underneath the contempt for UKIP lies a careless assumption by the antiseptic metropolitan elite that their condescension is universally shared — that these beery coves with fag ash down their golf-club ties are demographic dinosaurs in a Britain ever more diverse, more Muslim, more lesbian, more transgendered. But the Britain to which UKIP speaks resonates beyond the 19th hole. It was not just that the party won an unprecedented number of seats in May’s elections, but that they achieved more second-place finishes than anybody else. Beyond the leafy suburbs and stockbroker counties, in parts of Britain where the traditional working class has been hung out to dry by Labour in pursuit of more fashionable demographics, UKIP has significant appeal.

- Mark Steyn

Elephant rights?

Yesterday, I encountered this Economist advert (one of this set), in the tube, which included the following argument that booming Chinese investment in Africa is bad for Africans:

Elephant numbers in Africa are falling fast because of the Chinese demand for ivory.

My immediate reaction was that elephants should maybe be farmed. That would soon get the elephant numbers up again, and it would also be good for Africans, because it would provide them with lots of legal jobs. If you google “elephant farming”, you soon learn that an argument along these lines already rages.

People much like Doug Bandow (and like me) say: Why not farm elephants? And people like Azzedine Downes, as and when they encounter this elephant farming idea, are enraged:

These days, it seems like any idea casually dropped in a coffee break conversation can be, if repeated often enough, and forcibly enough, taken seriously by those not really interested in finding solutions. They are looking for sound bites and this one was a doozy! I have seen these arguments take on a life of their own and so struggled to overcome my own vision of elephants in iron pens being kept until they could be killed for their teeth.

“First of all”, I started. “No-one needs ivory.” “Secondly, your proposal raises so many ethical questions that I don’t really know where to start.”

“Don’t get upset”, he said. “I was just wondering. You are right, it is an awful idea.”

I hope I never hear that idea coming up again and, if I do, I hope it will be just as easy to convince the next misguided soul that it is an awful idea.

I’m afraid that Azzedine Downes is going to hear this notion, seriously argued, again and again, unless he covers his ears.

I think I get where he is coming from. Killing elephants, for any reason, is just wrong, like killing people. Downes doesn’t spell it out, because he is not in a spelling things out mood. (“I don’t really know where to start.”) But it seems to me that what we have here is the beginnings of the idea that certain particularly appealing and endangered and human-like animals should have something like a right not to be killed, just as you and I have such a right. If someone kills us, the government will, depending on its mood, go looking for who did it and maybe, if it catches the miscreant in question, punish them in some way or another. Killing elephants, says Downes, is likewise: murder. See also: whales.

Farming a bunch of humans for their bodily organs would also be murder. A kidney farmer pointing out that he was raising his clutch (herd? pack? flock?) of humans not just for the serial killer hell of it, but in order to profit from selling their kidneys, would make things worse for himself, legally speaking, because this would provide the jury with a rational motive. Motive is not justification. Motive gets you punished, not acquitted.

In the matter of elephants, pointing out that farming elephants for their tusks might, given the facts on the ground in Africa, be the difference between African elephants as a species surviving, and African elephants being entirely wiped out by ivory poachers (for as numbers diminish, so prices will rise and rise), or perhaps entirely replaced by a newly evolved species of tuskless elephants, is, for Azzedine Downes, entirely beside the point. Farmers killing the elephants for their tusks doesn’t solve the problem, any more than the slave trade solved the problem of slavery. The problem of slavery was slavery, and the problem here is people killing elephants, which they would do even more of if they farmed them for their tusks. This is absolutely not just about the mere survival of a species. It is about not doing something morally repugnant. The elephants must be saved. They must not be murdered. End of discussion.

Thoughts anyone? How about the Azzedine Downes tendency proving their love of elephants by buying lots of elephants, and large elephant habitats, and then spending more money protecting the elephants from ivory poachers, but without farming them or otherwise exploiting them, other than as objects of photographic devotion by tourists. Presumably this is sort of what they are already doing, even as the idea of people owning elephants sticks in their throats, just as does the idea of people owning people.

Here’s another thought. How would Azzedine Downes feel about elephants having their tusks removed and sold on to Chinese ivory carvers when the elephants die but not before they die? Die of natural causes, I mean. As a matter of fact, are the tusks of elderly elephants, just deceased, still worth enough for that to be any sort of economically viable compromise? And as a matter ethics, would the Downes tendency tolerate even that?

Elephant tusk donor cards? Well, not really, because how would you know, in this new world of elephant rights, how the elephant or elephants actually felt about such a scheme? In this connection, the recent proposal that humans should be presumed willing to part with any or all of their useful-to-others organs when (as above) they die but not before they die, unless they explicitly say otherwise by carrying a non-donor card, is surely relevant.

Another thought: Will it soon be possible to make something a lot like ivory with 3-D printing? Or with some sort of magical bio-engineering process? Perhaps, but if so, that would presumably take much of the fun out of ivory. But then again, so might ivory farming, if it got too efficient.

Perusing the Samizdata postings category list reminds me that maybe similar considerations apply, or soon will apply, to hippos.

Time for me to stop and for any commenters, who want to, to take over.

The days when companies put pictures of their factories in their adverts

Back in 1913, the Times has just published a supplement on the textile industry. Just about every company that has advertised has included a picture of its factory.

For example:


I think they look fantastic: big, modern, solid, clean even. But why are they used in adverts? Perhaps the question should be why companies don’t use them any more? What it does suggest is that at the time they were regarded as far from the dark, satanic mills of modern-day folklore.

Discussion point: what should have been done with Typhoid Mary?

The Daily Mail has published eerie pictures of the abandoned medical facility in North Brother Island, to which Typhoid Mary was exiled by the New York public health authorities.

She meant no harm, certainly had not committed the sort of crimes that usually result in a life sentence, yet she caused several deaths. What should have been done with her?

Mary Mallon ended up causing more deaths by her stubborn refusal to believe that she was a carrier, and her breach of her undertaking to cease working as a cook. What should be done with someone who through no fault of their own carries a dangerous disease and unlike Mallon tries their best to act responsibly – but who nonetheless still causes deaths by their mere proximity to other people? We are horrified at the medieval leper’s bell and the leper colony but our sense of superiority rests on the fact that we now can treat leprosy. New plagues might arise that we cannot treat…

…yet we can be certain the plague of tyrannical abuse of power in the name of health will always be with us.

I think Dan Drezner cheerleads a little too much about US developments

Daniel Drezner - who like me, is a Salma Hayek fan – has an article up in the latest edition of the UK’s Spectator (behind a paywall), entitled, “America is Back: Why The superpower is beating the slump – and Britain isn’t.”

There is a lot of good in the article. Drezner contrasts the go-for-it approach to shale gas – “fracking” – in the US with the Green-induced obduracy of the UK government, although I suspect there might be changes here. He talks about the revival of US manufacturing, in part due to the issue of sharply falling energy costs. He notes that the US budget deficit, as a percentage of the national economy, has fallen.

Even so, the scale of the debt that the US has is huge; and it is far from clear to me that that country – or indeed other indebted Western nations – can look to recent US actions with much relief.

So what to make of this?

“The US system of government has been surprisingly nimble despite its perceived political paralysis. In the five years since the financial crisis, Congress has passed legislation that saved the US financial system, rescued the car-making sector, enacted the largest fiscal stimulus programme in the world (which contained substantial tax cuts), overhauled its financial regulation, passed ambitious health care legislation, and then took steps to control spending.”

Oh boy. Let’s take these in order. First of all, is it really the case that it was legislation that “saved the US financial system”? What happened was that the US taxpayer, at vast cost, bailed out the Citis, Goldmans, AIGs and the rest. While the subsequent return of TARP money may have happened at a profit, we ended up with a banking system more rigidly regulated than before under the vastly complex, and possibly, unconstitutional, Dodd Frank legislation. The US financial system is also far more concentrated than before: about half a dozen big – “too big to fail” – banks such as Wells Fargo, BoA and JP Morgan now have control of a big chunk of the total market. Is this sustainable?

Second, the “rescue” of the US car-making industry. I assume that Drezner is talking about the bailouts of GM (and done at the expense of bond-holders in GM and to the benefit of Obama-voting unions). It is the good fortune of the auto sector in the US that cheaper energy makes that industry more competitive against overseas rivals, but the Washington DC has precious little to do with that, other than the negative achievement of not messing it up, or at least not much.

The large fiscal stimulus programme: it is a case of “not proven” as to whether there was much of a clear, Keynesian multiplier effect to justify the enormous sums spent. Peter Suderman at Reason magazine suggested the impact was possibly actually negative a few months ago.

Financial legislation overhaul. Well, all I can say about Dodd Frank is that if this is an overhaul, goodness knows what a bad piece of legislation will look like. Again, a book from the Mercatus Center suggests that Dodd Frank may encourage further crises.

The health care legislation is “ambitious”. Well, instead of ambitious, one might want to say “downright reckless” or something else. The legislation takes the US closer, much closer, to the socialised medical regime that Britain has, with its decidedly mixed results, as shown by the Mid-Staffs scandal.

So yes, America is resilient, and yes, rumours of demise are greatly exaggerated; yes, it is not obvious that China is taking over the world and some of the more breathless boosters of Asia need to get a sense of perspective. That is all fair enough. But spare us too much gush the other way, even though annoying the America-bashers is always good fun.

Here is another piece by Dan D, “Who’s your economic hegemon now?”

Meanwhile, it would be good if the US could wake up to the annoyance caused abroad by such things as the FATCA legislation, which is and remains an awful piece of regulation, although I suspect it will be moderated and changed over the years.

They should have just said they were members of Hezbollah…

Although I think it is a mistake to consort with the EDL, does it not seem strange that the two US bloggers behind Jihad Watch and Atlas Shrugs should be banned from entering the UK… whilst Mohammad Al-Arefe can come into the country and preach the overthrow of Western Civilisation?

A light has gone from my life

I did so enjoy contemplating the coming inevitable defeat of Julia Gillard and the Australian Labor Party. Unimportant in the greater scheme of things, I know, but just to contemplate the ululations of grief and ritual cries of “misogyny” that would have come from the Guardian the morning after the next Australian election was a little thing that gave me a few snatched moments of innocent pleasure in this hard world.

Now, however

The problem with Doctor Who

I enjoy watching the BBC’s new Doctor Who episodes. They are fun and light and occasionally even have good science fiction ideas. But there is a problem I have always struggled with, and I stumbled on this beautiful description of it:

Now, one might think that a 900 year old time travelling alien who has fought and survived genocidal interstellar wars would have a slightly more mature perspective on socio-economic conditions in late 19th century Britain than would a bien pensant upper-middle-class Islington leftie BBC employee living in the early 21st century. But one would be wrong.

I imagine similar criticism might be made of almost any TV series.

From commenter Steve 2 via another comment about LETELU via David Thompson via Brian.

Samizdata quote of the day

We need to get people of all races, colours, and creeds to come together and agree with Sharon Kyle.

- Jim Treacher is not impressed by the Netroots Nation 2013 version of “diversity”.

David Thompson also likes the bit with this sentence in it.

Gifted, cursed, whatever

In response to a rather gushing article by Sally Gardner, a dyslexic novelist, entitled “Dyslexia is not a disability – it’s a gift”, one Alftser responded that if he or she had been given that gift “I’d find the receipt and get a refund.”

I laughed at that. However stripped of all the self-dramatisation (a pardonable sin in a novelist) and the wishful bagging of Einstein, Steve Jobs, and any public figure who ever misspelled a word as fellow dyslexics, Ms Gardner’s story is quite impressive: she is a winner of the Carnegie Medal who did not learn to read until she was 14. In a sense one cannot quarrel with her assessment that her own dyslexia has been a gift – and not just because she has been successful but because one cannot quarrel with anyone’s experience of their own lives. Well, one can quarrel with it. I’ve known people who could quarrel with the speaking clock. But you know what I mean.

Sadly, for most dyslexic people dyslexia is a pain in the part of the anatomy that I will exercise sufficient self control to not make a joke of misspelling, because dyslexics have heard all the jokes before. Most children with dyslexia are not going to have their inner genius unleashed even when presented with positive role models because they do not have an inner genius. Humanity is like that: mostly supplied with the inner genius slot vacant. Dyslexia may indeed, as Ms Gardner suggests, promote the skill of navigating the world by other means than arranging the written word, but in most cases this skill is simply not as useful as the one it substitutes for. That’s tough, but not insurmountable. Surmount it.

For a minority of dyslexics and quite a few pretenders, the diagnosis is a means to get free laptops, extra time and marks in exams, and a ready made victim identity.

Free stuff takes a very strong spirit to refuse. The extra marks are OK, so long as you do not end up deceiving others or yourself. But DO NOT TAKE THE VICTIM IDENTITY. It is poison.

ADDED LATER: G K Chesterton once said, “The dipsomaniac and the abstainer are not only both mistaken, but they both make the same mistake. They both regard wine as a drug and not as a drink.” I think that those who, like Sally Gardner, regard themselves (without irony) as being special because of their dyslexia (“Dyslexia is not a disability – it’s a gift. It means that I, and many other dyslexic thinkers can portray the world through images because we think in images. I can build worlds, freeze the frame, walk around and touch. I can read people’s faces, drawings, buildings, landscapes and all things in the visual world more quickly than many of my non-dyslexic friends. I paint with words; they are my colours.”) and those who embrace victimhood are making the same mistake. They both regard dyslexia as an identity and not as a condition.

Steve Davies supplies some different and better history dates

I have long admired the libertarian historian and activist Stephen Davies, my previous posting here about him being this one, in connection with a talk he recently gave to Libertarian Home, in the superbly opulent setting of the Counting House‘s Griffin Room, in the City of London.

Here is a photo of Davies that I took that night:


Here is another, together with a photo of someone else also photoing him.

The Davies talk was predictably excellent, and this on a day when he had also given another talk elsewhere in southern England somewhere, to a bunch of sixth formers. I know this because I happened to share a tube journey with Davies afterwards, during which we talked about, among other things, his day, and why he was so very tired. I don’t recall where this other talk was, but do recall that it was definitely out of London and that Davies also organised for three other speakers to be present, as well as himself speaking. All this being part of the networking and speechifying enterprise that Davies masterminds from the IEA, along with his IEA colleague Christiana Hambro.  LLFF2013 was but a London manifestation of a nationwide libertarian outreach programme.

The way Davies seems to operate is that he has a number of set-piece performances on particular themes, each of which he delivers pretty much off the cuff, with almost intimidating fluency but which he will typically have done several times before you get to hear it. So, when a particular audience assembles, they get to choose from a menu. There’s that history of libertarianism talk, which Davies did for Libertarian Home, having previously done it for the Essex University Libertarians and presumably for plenty of others besides. There is a healthcare talk, which I heard Davies do at LLFF2013, which he also did for those sixth-formers earlier in the day of the Libertarian Home performance. And there are several more of course, which I also asked him about, during that tube journey. I know. He was by then just about dead on his feet, but just sitting there and not asking such things would have felt even ruder than picking his exhausted brain.

A particular favourite of Davies himself, and of me now that I have heard about it, concerns history dates.

→ Continue reading: Steve Davies supplies some different and better history dates