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]

Great moments in technology

Remember when mum and dad used to get you to mow the lawn as punishment for skimping on the washing up? Well, those days of pushing a mower along the lawn while sneezing with hayfever are over, thanks to this great new development.

Proves that one of the great motivators of human ingenuity is sheer laziness.

John Galt says hi

It appears the story that a number of Conservative MPs are thinking of breaking off from the main Tory party and are part inspired by the views of novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand has triggered some comment. In the right-leaning weekly journal the Spectator, writer Michael Harrington attacks the late Miss Rand and all she stood for in an article so full of bile that he succeeds in raising her in my estimation, even though I have problems with bits of her philosophy.

Let’s take a look:

She is still a hero on the Libertarian Right in the United States but it is rare to hear her name in English Conservative circles.

True (heroine actually). But the libertarian meme is spreading in the UK, and Michael, be very afraid.

Margaret Thatcher never really meant to say that there was no such thing as society, but Ayn Rand would have said it and meant it.

And your point is?

Though few people noticed it, Atlas Shrugged is a long, inverted and malevolent parody of the New Testament. (John) Galt convinces his followers, without much difficulty, that they have been working too hard on behalf of others instead of spending all their time on their own interests. They are being exploited by a corrupt semi-socialist polticial system. And by allowing themselves to be used they are enabling the system to continue.

Eh? I am not aware Rand thought of the novel’s essential structure as being an inversion of the Bible. What exactly is malevolent about her doctrine of Man’s right to live for his own sake rather than sacrifice it to others? Come on Mr Harrington, don’t be shy. Give us some reasons why you think Miss Rand’s brand of ethical egoism is wrong. After all, an egoist could justly claim that benevolence towards others is in fact often very ‘selfish’ since it still means doing something of value to the actor as well as the beneficiary. Ultimately, the rational (as opposed to non-rational) egoist believes life is not zero-sum, either in a material or non material sense.

I fear that Harrington has missed the essential point of what Rand is about and why she continues to motivate libertarians, and Conservatives, to this day despite any criticisms we may have of her views. The essential point is that she made it clear that the case for liberty cannot just be won showing that it produces X more GDP than socialism or some other ‘overall good’. Ultimately, the case needs a moral foundation, and Rand provided a pretty powerful one.

Good news from the Lone Star State

The cause of a free market in energy has been given a right bashing from the collapse of US energy trading firm Enron and the electricity blackouts in California. But it seems the guys and gals in Texas are showing that a properly deregulated energy market can really work. Here’s a chunk of a report in the Financial Times (not availiable on FT website):

Critics warned that the state would face its biggest challenge in the heat of the summer, when power usage is greatest. Yet, already mid-way through August, Texas is still passing the test, boasting 30 percent more electricity than it needs.

I would contend that the key to this success is that Texas has gone for full deregulation, rather than the dog’s breakfast of a mess created in California. In California, wholesale distributors of electricity were allowed to set their prices in a market but the retail distributors had their charges capped. When electricity prices went into hyperspace over a year ago, a lot of California’s power retailers saw their balance sheets blow up. Ultimately, if the price mechanism is not allowed to work properly, how is rising consumer demand going to create the incentive to increase production?

Of course another problem in California has been the baleful influence of the Green movement, killing things like nuclear power, but that is another argument for another time.

England Expects

Right. I’ve had enough of American women whining about why English chaps are such terrible dates. It is surely up to us, or at least those of us who are single guys, to step up to the plate, so to speak, and bury the issue once and for all. The latest of American ladies to lambast the English male, the delectable New Yorker and frequent visitor to these shores, Gwyneth Paltrow says she hardly ever gets asked out for a date when she is over here.

Come on male Samizdatistas of London. Let’s do our duty. We could even get Gwynnie to start a blog.

Seriously in need of an Englishman

Taken apart

One of the great things about the blog phenomenon is that it gives we humble writers the chance to subject the frequently idiotic views of newspaper columnists to systematic criticism. In the past, the best we could hope for would be a letter published in an editorial page. Blogs often contain line-by-line dissections of an article which shred an argument in a way that reminds me of a particularly rigorous university seminar.

Step forward Pejman Yousefzadeh for this brilliantly detailed take-down of Brian Whitaker, a writer for the British daily, the Guardian, who wrote a sneering piece about the website MEMRI, a site charting the often violently anti-semitic content of certain Arabic-speaking newspapers. The wretched Whitaker, in accusing MEMRI of being a shady organisation and therefore of dubious value, only fuels precisely the kind of mindset which MEMRI is determined to highlight. Pejman’s piece of Fisking is a must-read.

Auntie’s Global Ambitions

As David Carr pointed out on these pages earlier, Britain’s state-subsidised British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is increasingly indistinguishable from a ward of the state. It is not a free standing commercial organisation which has to persuade folk to watch or listen to it out of their free will, but rather has a license fee which is essentially a tax on owning a television. Broadcasting peers around the world are therefore getting annoyed that the BBC seems bent on grabbing a share of their audiences despite it having the unfair advantage of a guaranteed income. An article in the Financial Times (sorry, link requires registration) indicated:

“In the past two years, that output has largely transformed the BBC from a largely domestic news service oriented around two analogue channels – BBC1 and BBC2 – to an international competitor among commercial satellite and cable broadcasters including CNN and Fox News of the U.S.”

One question which is begged by the FT article – if the BBC is posing such a threat and is not a fair commercial competitor, but one with coercive funding, how come domestic or international competition authorities like Mario Monti of the EU Commission are not kicking up a stink? Maybe they should do so. As a reporter for one of the oldest and greatest news services in the world (creep!), I feel I have a small stake in the matter!

Great moments in agriculture

As a son of a Suffolk farmer, I am delighted to see that arable crop production in the west, pressured by the lure of cheap imports from the rest of the world, could yet be saved by this rather cunning invention.

Well, it made me laugh.

A policeman’s lot

I imagine that the life of a satirical magazine like Britain’s Private Eye or the hilarious Brains Trust website must be getting progressively harder when you come across the increasingly insane forms of real-life eccentricity sweeping much of the planet.

The latest example is this news story about the fact that Britain’s police forces, are, apparently, “too Christian” for the liking of many would-be recruits, and moves are afoot to change small details in police badges to accomodate this.

Now I am an atheist with no particular axe to grind on this, but I cannot help feeling that the growing willingness of old British institutions to lose any trappings of anything remotely “western”, “Christian” or, heaven forbid, “British”, is not something to be welcomed. It is a sign that our civilisation is losing its nerve. Little things like this all add up to something bigger.

A killer argument

The other day I made my humble effort at trying to make the case for why we (the U.S., Britain and a few other Anglosphere nations) should boot out the odious regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. I must confess it is a tough call for a minarchist verging on anarcho-capitalist to make.

Well, Mark Steyn in the British weekly magazine, the Spectator, has penned what is for me the best argument for why deposing Hussein is necessary and will trigger off beneficial consequences in the Middle East, and by extension, everywhere else. It is a must-read.

Further proof also, I reckon, that Mark Steyn is the best columnist around. And he regularly refers to bloggers in his articles, showing he knows where the real intelligent action is.

Islam’s capitalist meme

It is nice to think that the lure of filthy lucre might help spread the capitalist bug around the planet to even the most inhospitable regions. In a story which caught my eye, Reuters reports that a host of western banks are gearing up to cash in on growing demand in Islamic countries for bank services.

Ok, the banks will have to negotiate their way around the thicket of prohibitions on interest payments and so forth, but even so, if commercial ties spread, I think that is a good thing. And over time customers may even get to realise that interest – damned as wicked usury in the Islamic credo – is in fact no more than the price attached to deferring current spending over future gain. It is another chink in the armour of ignorance about business, another step in that great and glorious thing – globalisation. Who knows, one day Muslim investment bankers will be holding conferences on “how to spread business to backward statist economies in Europe”? You read it here first.

Arise Sir Alan

It seems Britain’s Labour government is quite keen to confer honorary knighthoods on men not usually regarded as being on the left from the United States. Earlier this year former New York mayor Rudy Guiliani was so honoured, and now it’s the turn of Federal Reserve Chairman no less.

Greenspan has come in for some stick of late for perhaps allowing the money supply to grow too fast during the helter-skelter stock market of the late 1990s, though as with all these things, hindsight is easy. But surely it’s ironic that the jazz-loving central banker, a former acolyte of Ayn Rand and one-time supporter of gold-backed money should receive a gong from a left-wing British government.

Exquisite appeasement

The arguments are intensifying at the highest levels about whether the U.S. and its closest allies could or indeed should, oust Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Let me get straight to the point – I am not 100 percent convinced, if it were ever possible, that moving against Saddam is top priority in the war against terror as opposed to say, moving against Saudi Arabia (where most of the September 11th hijackers came from), Iran (a major sponsor of terror), or for that matter some other nation/body which is potentially posing a lethal threat to our civilisation. However, as I will argue below, I think crushing Saddam is a vital necessity, though one fraught with risks.

Of course, as has occasionally been noted on this blog, some of those who would oppose military action against Iraq are idiots who dislike any such action, usually out of a desire to see America’s face ground into the dust. Their arguments can be dismissed as self-evidently malevolent in intent. The Robert Fisks, John Pilgers and most of the Left fall into this camp, albeit with honorable exceptions.

There is another camp of war sceptic, represented by such intelligent and good souls like Jim Henley of Unqualified Offerings who doubt the efficacy of military action and who also fear it may trigger off even worse crises, as well as swell the bureaucratic monster of the State and further erode remaining civil liberties. I have a good deal of sympathy with that view, given that war has almost always been attended by serious loss of liberty, often never to be reversed.

And there are those who argue that all we need to do is to contain Saddam and his ilk rather than pre-emptively crush his regime. Into this category falls former top British defence civil servant Sir Michael Quinlan, writing a critique of such action in today’s Financial Times.

His is one of the most closely argued cases against invading Iraq I have read so far. But reading the article through finally convinced me that we do need to take out Saddam’s regime. And he does this, ironically enough, with the opening paragraph of his article:

“Saddam Hussein is a malign tyrant with a history of aggression against his neighbours. He almost certainly has chemical and biological weapons and would like to get nuclear ones, in breach of United Nations Security Council edict. We can place no trust in his denials or his current manoeuvering.”

Well, Sir Michael, if that is the case, then clearly the U.S. and its allies have a clear duty to their citizens by taking this man out of circulation, seizing/destroying his stocks of weapons of mass destruction, and attempting to place a form of government less likely/able/willing to menace its neighbours! Of course the problem is that Saddam is not uniquely evil and there are other potentially lethal regimes (China springs to mind) which we could act against, but for the much greater risk. But just because we cannot take out all the world’s monsters in one go does not mean we should not move against some of them. At least doing so can deter others.

The bulk of Sir Michael’s argument becomes one, long eloquent case for doing, well, nothing. Apparently, poor old Saddam has no hostile intent, it is just that he is frightened of what other terrible folk next door will do to him. You know, like Joe Stalin invading half of Europe because he was worried someone would want to invade his socialist paradise:

“Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction, unconscionable thought it is, is entirely capable (entirely?) of explanation as an act of defiance, a bid for prestige (gotta kill those Kurds, impresses the ladies) and an insurance against mortal attack.”

The clincher argument for me is this – if Saddam has or is trying to get horror weapons, he is going to use them sooner rather than later. The evidence exists. He has used them before. He has invaded his neighbours, brutalised his people and sponsored terrorism abroad. We haven’t got time to wait for the monster to die of old age. I wish we could. I wish we could worry about school vouchers, restoring the right to trial by jury in full and ending the Nanny State. But priority Numero Uno right now is getting rid of regimes that could make our humble ruminations so much blather and radioactive dust.