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]

Down Mexico way

This item about Mexico, via the ChicagoBoyz group weblog, is shocking. The scale of violence in Mexico – largely centred on the drugs trade – is rising rapidly. It ought, really, to be the top security issue for the United States. It is hard to justify actions in the MidEast with this sort of crap happening just across the border.

The war on drugs is proving an even bigger disaster than libertarians typically state.

Regime smashing in Libya

Others have been complaining about how long it has taken, but I have been surprised at the speed with which the West has responded to events in Libya, and have been unable to shake the feeling, until today actually, that the reports I was reading were send-ups for comic purposes of some kind.

I am an agnostic about Western intervention in foreign parts rather than an outright atheist, but I respect the atheist position and deeply fear the true believer, “nation building” idea. Governments are good at destroying stuff, but tend to be shambolic at any kind of creativity. The more creative they try to be, the more destructive they typically end up being. People do creative, not governments.

This operation seems to be mostly destructive, which is all to the good. I think it reasonable to hope that it accomplishes some good, rather than only fearful that it will all go horribly wrong.

The West’s leaders are telling Gadaffi that maybe he can rule his country, but not the way he has been for the last fortnight or so. Bombing it and shelling it into submission is not allowed. Do that and we’ll do the same to you. Govern your country with riot police. Maybe arrange some elections, and then fix them. Bribe people into supporting you, rather than just killing them like they are armed soldiers. Above all, and now I’m going by what David Cameron said this afternoon, don’t announce ceasefires and promise them to your fellow members of the Head of Government Club, but then not deliver them.

This was one of the big things that Saddam Hussein did wrong, as I understand that earlier story. He didn’t just invade Kuwait. He told other members of the Head of Government Club that he wouldn’t. Lying to your people is okay. They all do that. That’s business as usual. But lying to fellow members of the Head of Government Club is not the done thing. Do it and you get blackballed, by which is meant that your armed underlings, the basis of your power, get slaughtered. Provided, that is, you are not bossing a serious power, and Westerners slaughtering your underlings would start a serious war, as opposed to an “asymmetric” war (i.e. a slaughter of your slaughterers).

LOL!!!: Just watched a British military talking-head-in-a-suit on the BBC, when asked to say what success for this operation would mean, say: “removing Saddam”, and then hurriedly correct himself.

Well, well, well

WikiLeaks: Cuba banned Sicko for depicting ‘mythical’ healthcare system.

According to the Guardian (!):

Cuba banned Michael Moore’s 2007 documentary, Sicko, because it painted such a “mythically” favourable picture of Cuba’s healthcare system that the authorities feared it could lead to a “popular backlash”, according to US diplomats in Havana.

The revelation, contained in a confidential US embassy cable released by WikiLeaks , is surprising, given that the film attempted to discredit the US healthcare system by highlighting what it claimed was the excellence of the Cuban system.

But the memo reveals that when the film was shown to a group of Cuban doctors, some became so “disturbed at the blatant misrepresentation of healthcare in Cuba that they left the room”.

Castro’s government apparently went on to ban the film because, the leaked cable claims, it “knows the film is a myth and does not want to risk a popular backlash by showing to Cubans facilities that are clearly not available to the vast majority of them.”

Back in 2007 I mentioned a milder version of the same reaction among British people to Moore’s depiction of “empty waiting rooms and happy, care-free health workers” in the NHS.

UPDATE: Hat tips to commenters Jock and Alisa. The Guardian story has now been corrected to say that Sicko was shown in Cuba, confirmed on Michael Moore’s own website. Pity. That was a fun meme while it lasted, but truth must prevail. Moore says that the cable was purely a lie. Not necessarily: indecision as to the “line to take” is not exactly unknown in totalitarian regimes. Both showing the film and forbidding it have their dangers from the point of view of the Cuban rulers.

This round to Michael Moore, but I shall defiantly repeat something I said in 2008:

When the history of Fidel Castro’s rule in Cuba comes to be written all that stuff about the excellence of the healthcare system will turn out to be lies but the claim of high literacy rates will be more or less true.

Communist education gets results because force is near to the surface. I acknowledge but do not approve … A further advantage of communist education is that the wishes of the teachers are given almost as short a shrift as those of the pupils.

Force works well in education because the forcers can look at the forcees all the time they are doing the forcing. It works less well in healthcare and very badly indeed in agriculture.

No wonder he is wonely…

It’s official. The North Koreans torpedoed the South Korean navy ship. I have this excerpt from a Jane’s newsletter:

Torpedo ‘only possible explanation’ for Chon An sinking, says report. A torpedo attack led by North Korea is the only possible explanation behind the sinking of the South Korean corvette Chon An, argues the final joint investigation report released by Seoul on 13 September. The 305 page-long report, seen by Jane’s , rules out any other possibility – such as a sea mine – to explain the disaster that killed 46 sailors in the Yellow Sea (West Sea) on 26 March

There was a time when this form of international behavior had a name: “Act of War”.

The endless complexity of international aid

John Hillary, Executive Director of War on Want, has written an article for – amaze me some more – the Guardian. Here it is: A myopic Tory approach to fighting global poverty

Mr Hillary, I am sure, sincerely wants to fight global poverty. The trouble is that he and his colleagues in the development “community” have become a mini-class in their own right, complete with a class interest. I am forever saying that people often have an incredibly sensitive “nose” for their own class interest that operates a little below the conscious level. In this, Marx had a point. Classes always convince themselves that whatever benefits them as a class is also to the benefit of the world.

What benefits the aid community is that aid is seen to be very complex and difficult, so you need a special class of people to mediate giving aid.


“Ultimately, a country’s development path is determined by historical forces and political choices at a far higher level than aid, and it is these more complex factors that risk being overlooked in a narrow focus on measurable, short-term outputs. “

I do in fact agree with this statement – although my view of which political choices have which results might differ from that of Mr Hilary. I also agree that it really is complex and difficult to work out how best to use the government’s aid budget, assuming that one has decided that there is benefit in doing this at all. But the intense practical complexity of (making up an example) arranging for perishable medicines to reach a flood-stricken area before they go off, a process that might involve both technical and human factors, is not the sort of complexity that John Hillary means here.

That sort of complexity in a problem can be solved by clever people making clever plans or by average people making individually minor but cumulatively clever adjustments and innovations. The success of the plans or adjustments then shows up in measurable outputs – if not in the very short term, at least in the medium term. That does not serve the class interest of the aid community. It needs aid to be philosophically complex, basically so that their class will always be needed.

Hence one could predict that the aid community will favour un-measurable and long term (“long” tending to “infinite”) solutions. It is also likely to favour indirect solutions. Every stage of indirectness is an evolutionary niche for someone in his sub-class to find sustenance. Sure enough, in the Guardian article Mr Hillary is indignant about the government scrapping the DfID’s global development engagement fund, “a scheme designed to increase public understanding of the causes of global poverty and to mobilise action in support of international development.” He imprudently included a further link that said that the cancelled projects included:

£146,000 for a Brazilian-style dance troupe in Hackney, London; £55,000 to run stalls at summer music festivals; £120,000 to train nursery school teachers about ‘global issues’; £130,000 for a ‘global gardens schools network’ and £140,000 to train outdoor education tutors in Britain on development.

We laugh. But we should no more blame Mr Hillary for thinking that the Hackney dancers or the global gardens schools network have some use in ending poverty than we should blame a General Motors executive for saying, and sincerely believing, “What’s good for General Motors is good for America.”

Adam Smith on international laws and national relations

“The regard for the laws of nations, or for those rules which independent states profess or pretend to think themselves bound to observe in their dealings with one another, is often very little more than mere pretence and profession. From the smallest interest, upon the slightest provocation, we see those rules every day either evaded or directly violated without shame or remorse. Each nation foresees, or imagines it foresees, its own subjugation in the increasing power and aggrandisement of any of its neighbours; and the mean principle of national prejudice is often founded upon the noble one of the love of our own country.”

Adam Smith, taken from “The Wisdom of Adam Smith, A Collection of His Most Incisive And Eloquent Observations, Edited by Benjamin A Rogge, page 173.

Samizdata quote of the day

“The Obama administration came into office promising to press the “reset” button with the rest of the world after eight years of the so-called arrogant, swaggering Texan cowboy blundering his way around the planet, offending peoples from many lands. Instead, Obama pressed the ejector-seat button: Brits, Czechs, Israelis, Indians found themselves given the brush. I gather the Queen was “amused” by the president’s thoughtful gift of an iPod preloaded with Obama speeches – and, fortunately for Her Majesty, the 160GB model only has storage capacity for two of them, or three if you include one of his shorter perorations.”

Mark Steyn.

It is amazing how a foreign leader can get away with being brusque to allies so long as he or she does not speak with a Texan accent. After all, Mr Obama got the Nobel Prize for Peace!

Haiti had how many NGOs before the earthquake??

Just read an article by Afua Hirsch in the Guardian called “How can lawyers help Haiti?

“By going away” was the general opinion expressed in the comments. A little harsh, I thought, given that establishing a more solid rule of law might indeed help reconstruction there. But I am not really interested in that coz my gob just got smacked. In passing, Ms Hirsch mentioned this little fact:

…what is happening to millions of extra dollars pouring into a country that already had a staggering 10,000 NGOs before the earthquake. For an island with a population of fewer than 10 million, there is at least one NGO per 1,000 people.

Blimey. Ten thousand. Not ten thousand people, ten thousand organisations. Of the sort called “non-governmental” although that is a lie. And that was before the earthquake. Ah well, ’tis an ill wind that blows nobody any good. Just think, had not the earthquake come along all these helpers might have solved all Haiti’s problems and left themselves with nothing to do.

Reflections from an airport lounge in Switzerland

My blogging activities have been a bit patchy of late – possibly my enthusiasm or ability to come up with topics to write about has run a bit dry after doing this gig for almost nine years. But one reason for my lack of output has been my business travels, since after a busy day heading around from place to place, it takes a bit of effort to crank up another posting. Anyhow, in one nation I visited in the past few days on business – Switzerland – I could not fail to be struck at how folk in that nation feel a sense of being under seige. Under siege, that is, from various financially ruined nations such as the US and UK who are becoming increasingly aggressive in chasing after taxpayers. And although Switzerland is far from perfect – they have their own bureaucratic foibles and petty rules – I generally like the cantonal system, which means that if the canton of say, Zurich, decides to impose some dipshit rule, another one might take a more liberal view. And on the issue mentioned by Perry de Havilland of the totalitarian tendencies of certain medical lobbyists, I’d argue that Switzerland falls pretty well near the liberal, if not libertarian, end of the spectrum. Take the issue of smoking in privately-owned places. Yes, there are bans in some places, but I noted, for instance, that at Zurich airport, there was a rather smart-looking cigar bar. (Smokers are treated fairly well on the whole). In the hotel I stayed in, folk were smoking in one part of it without provoking any kind of anguish from anyone else.

I occasionally write about this nation because it is useful to have an example out there of a nation that has managed to resist the siren songs of being a “good European” and joining the EU behemoth, and because its people seem to still have a sort of cussed independence of mind that is a pleasing contrast to what I come across elsewhere. No doubt the Eyeores in the comment thread will tell me otherwise.

As an aside, I find the Swiss accent of German as hard to understand as ever, and I thought my German was quite good.

The Haiti earthquake

The news out of Haiti today has been uniformly grim. As I watched the TV footage of people trying to find survivors from underneath the rubble, it was natural to wonder whether we haven’t been rather pathetic here in Britain to carp about the harsh winter, since, although the winter snows have not been a ton of laughs, it has not meant the kind of devastating loss of life and wreckage of homes that happens in an earthquake event.

Rand Simberg makes the point that while there is never complete protection for any kind of country against natural disasters, it tends to be a pretty useful rule of thumb that richer countries, with superior building standards and better means of rescuing those in danger, tend to fare better when nature strikes. Maybe he is right – I think the Japanese, for instance, with their almost constant experience of earthquakes, are in a better position, due to the wealth and technical prowess of that country, to deal with such events than a miserably poor, conflict-riven nation such as Haiti.

But frankly, even the richest, most technically savvy nation on earth is going to be clobbered hard by a high-category quake. Let’s hope help can get to those who need it most. Here is a site that seems to be offering shrewd advice and links to those involved in the relief efforts.

Disarray in Copenhagen – oh I do hope so!

In an earlier posting today, I expressed the fear that this Copenhagen nonsense would lead to quite a few more stupid laws. But the news right now seems to be rather better than that:

The UN Copenhagen climate talks are in disarray today after developing countries reacted furiously to leaked documents that show world leaders will next week be asked to sign an agreement that hands more power to rich countries and sidelines the UN’s role in all future climate change negotiations.

If this shindig can be a total fiasco I really do not care why (for his own idiot reasons this guy agrees). Sadly, I fear that this leak may just be negotiation as usual. The bodge that results will still probably be pretty terrible.

On the other hand, maybe the rich countries do not actually want a deal. Reading that Guardian report, you can almost hear the rich country negotiators muttering amongst themselves that they would prefer to stay rich. But maybe that is a step too far towards being sensible, and too much to hope for.

Fingers crossed.

Playing for time

Often I read, in various Climate Alarmist articles, words to the effect that “time is running out on a global climate deal“… which is great news if it is actually true. It suggests to me that perhaps they realise that the “universally accepted” One True Apostolic Eco-Faith is really the very epitome of a paper tiger as there is far from a genuine consensus on the subject.

So if time is running out, it would seem hard to overstate the importance of running interference and generally throwing spanners into the works for as long as possible. To prevent the latest transnational ‘tranzi’ red-wrapped-in-green statist power ploys, friends of liberty need to do whatever they can to ‘run out the clock’ and then encourage as much international political recrimination post-failure as possible, in order to keep the ball out of play for as long as possible. I think it is time to suggest creative but practicle ways to help sow discord and disunity amongst the predatory political elites (and their supporters) of the various countries seeking to extend ever more control over their national subjects under the cloak of green politics.

Certainly if overtly totalitarian measures like carbon rationing are ever brought in, truly the time for unambiguous direct resistance to the state will have arrived, so preventing things getting to that stage is more than a little important.