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]

What next for Mail Rail?

The Royal Mail is to sell off the Post Office Underground Railway, better known as Mail Rail. For the uninitiated, this is basically the Crossrail project (the East-West rail link across London that is as eagerly anticipated by commuters as it is delayed by politicians and dreaded by taxpayers). The only differences: it exists in reality, not just as a gleam in John Prescott’s eye, and it only carries sacks of mail. Millions of them per day. Like Crossrail, however, it is too expensive – the Post Office says it is simply not economic to run any more.

The Times [to which Samizdata does not link], asks in today’s Leader for ideas on what use may be put to such a railway, bearing in mind it is only tall enough to carry passengers if they lie down like guests in a Japanese capsule hotel. Surely the collective ingenuity of Samizdata can come up with some good ideas?

Here’s two to start the ball rolling:

  • Cross-London packet sevice. Surely it could continue in its present role if anyone – private individual, corporation, courier or freight company – could use it. Modern barcode technology could make it easy to identify the right packet to serve up at the receiving station. Mail Rail is infrastructure; if the Post Office opened their pipes to competing “content”, like telcos and ISPs do, then perhaps the infrastructure would be viable, and even extended?
  • The real Crossrail. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to widen a tunnel that already exists than to build a new one? Everyone knows that Crossrail is desperately needed if London is not to sieze up – and risk losing companies migrating elsewhere to restore the balance. Everyone also knows that the £4bn estimate is likely to be spent several times over before the system goes into service – these projects always overrun. Isn’t this a good opportunity to cut costs?

The usual prize (kudos, not cash) for the most innovative suggestion.

Samizdata quote of the day

A referendum on joining the Euro will cause “all-out internal civil war”

- Dennis McShane, Minister for Europe

I never referred to… [civil war] in the Labour Party. Calling for a referendum… would launch a long civil war in the UK with everyone fighting everyone.

- Dennis McShane, Minister for Europe, subsequent clarification.

[Source: BBC News at Ten, BBC online]

Oh well, that’s all right then.

Samizdata slogan of the day

I have to pay 40% tax and everything. Which I don’t agree with. I can’t vote, why should I pay to a government I don’t necessarily agree with?

- Charlotte Church, chairing BBC2′s Have I got News for You. Out of the mouths of babes and children

Report of the Special Committee on the Quality of Life

Others already having remarked that it is a slow news day here on Samizdata, I share the following extract by Harry Turtledove in the spirit of a sunny Friday evening. Have a good weekend.

30th November 1491
To: Their Hispanic Majesties Fernando II and Isabella
From: The Special Committee on the Quality of Life
Re: The environmental impact upon Spain of the proposed expedition of the Genoese navigator Cristóbel Colón, styled in his native Italian Cristoforo Colombo.

The commission of learned men and mariners, established by your Majesties under the chairmanship of Fr. Hernando de Talavera, during the period 1486-90 studied exhaustively the proposals set forth by the Genoese captain Colón and rejected them as being extravagant and impractical. → Continue reading: Report of the Special Committee on the Quality of Life

Samizdata slogan of the day

In the short term, foundation hospitals will worsen inequalities, as they would have easier access to capital than other hospitals, enabling investment in better facilities and more advanced services.

- Labour MP David Taylor explains “Why I’ll defy party line over reforms” and vote against foundation hospitals, in today’s Evening Standard (print edition only)

“Euro means end of NHS”

The European Central Bank has said that joining the Euro would mean the end of the free NHS, reports The Times (we do not link to the Times). Apparently the April edition monthly report of the ECB said that:

Governments should distinguish between “essential, privately non-insurable and non-affordable services”, such as emergency treatment, and those where “private financing might be more efficient”.

In truth, the actual ECB report [pdf file] does not say anything quite so bluntly. The actual report is full of careful conditionals and non-assertions: “governments may have to rise contribution rates”, such co-payments could increase efficiency”, “pre-financing [of geriatric care] has been proposed” and “It has been argued that setting of budget caps…can improve overall performance”. (page 45) → Continue reading: “Euro means end of NHS”

Tory infighting

Crispin Blunt MP, a frontbench Conservative spokesman on trade, has resigned and called for Iain Duncan-Smith to be deposed as party leader. Having the largest share of the vote, more councillors and more councils than any other party just isn’t good enough.

IDS responded to the resignation by sacking frontbench spokesmen called Burgess, Maclean and Philby, just to be on the safe side.

The Honourable Member for Baghdad Central

The Daily Telegraph is running an impressive scoop of documents allegedly proving that George Galloway MP was in the pay of Saddam’s regime. George Galloway has long been ridiculed as the “Member for Baghdad Central” for his defense of Iraq; now it appears that he was motivated by pure greed rather than just a love of controversy.

It is impossible for outside commentators to be absolutely certain of the authenticity of these documents. Perhaps they have been planted by British intelligence. Perhaps they were written by the Iraqi foreign office as a prepatory insurance policy, for blackmail. Perhaps there is even an innocent explanation, though I do not see how there could be.

Occam’s razor, however, suggests that George Galloway MP was corruptly attempting to change government policy towards an hostile nation from the floor of the House of Commons, that he was giving aid and comfort to the enemy for personal gain.

I believe there is a legal term for that.

The Sound of Silence

Eason Jordan, CNN’s chief news executive, confesses to covering up torture and murder by the Saddam regime in the NYT (free registration required; link via The New Republic and Instapundit).

Jordan bleats that he had to protect CNN staffers who were also Iraqi citizens, even if this meant hiding terrible atrocities. If this is true, I fail to understand why CNN employed Iraqi citizens, rather than US citizens who could be brought back to safety. An organisation like CNN could readily train new translators if Iraqi-Americans would not have been granted visas. Failing to report these events, and failing to give a proper characterisation to the brutality of the regime, certainly risked prolonging the suffering of the Iraqi people; either that, or CNN is merely in the light-entertainment business, in which case it should not have been in Iraq at all.

Two days after publication, this may be old news, but with no previous mention here I thought it was shocking (literally, shocking) enough to post belatedly.

Flying the Flag, Part 2

Defences of US marines raising the US flag in Baghdad may have been missing the point. Before that statue fell, the topic was war. As soon as it hit the ground, the question is “What next?”

There are some pretty major fights going on behind closed doors in Washington at the moment, it seems pretty clear. Tony Blair seems keen to side with American doves – and the views of France, Russia et al are even more predictable than they are irrelevant.

The question is this: whose flag shall fly over the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance? At the moment US troops have that special diplomatic immunity that comes from firing big guns. But when things settle down a little, will they be subject to Iraqi law? Will there be a semi-permanent US forces base established in Iraq, under US jurisdiction? Will General Garner, the designated head of ORHA, be answerable to the Iraqi head of an Iraqi Interim Authority, or will it be the other way around? Most of all, will ORHA have a free reign to root out Ba’athists and stamp on ongoing corruption? → Continue reading: Flying the Flag, Part 2

Flying the flag

Egged on by their BBC interviewers, a number of pundits and Iraqi exiles have been criticising the use of the American flag as an “execution hood” over the statute of Saddam. It was “inappropriate” and it “should not have been done”. Voiceover commentary on News 24, as I type this article, added “Better judgement prevailed and the flag was removed”.

To me, there seem to be three immediately obvious polite answers to such criticism:

  1. The Iraqi crowd cheered when the US flag was raised. Rageh Omah, BBC reporter on the spot, could not hear the sonorous commentary in the studio, and made the possibly career-limiting mistake of answering the question “How is the crowd reacting to the American flag?” with the simple truth. This answer has obviously not been repeated in evening bulletins.

  2. The U.S. flag was raised by an over-exuberant marine, and removed within minutes when seen by a commanding officer. This was no indicator of imperialist policy, quite the opposite. Conquering armies rape and pillage, the Americans leant the use of their M-88 Armored Recovery Vehicle to a celebrating crowd.
  3. The flag was not raised over a public building or other centre of power. It was attached to a symbol of the old regime that was about to be destroyed. If you insist on reading undue symbolism into this, then the message would be not “America rules the roost now” but “America delivered you from the tyrant whose statue you are destroying”.

But the overwhelmingly obvious response is not so polite: I’m just glad the Iraqi people in the street aren’t such ungrateful SOBs!