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.

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The Dixie Chicks

Just a brief comment regarding the Dixie Chicks. As no one has been threatening to sling their boney arses in jail, I do rather think the ‘fighting against censorship’ and ‘striking a blow for free speech’ meme that is floating around is a bit odd.

They freely said what they wanted, as have the people who freely slagged them off for doing so… that they may have suffered negative commercial consequences for this entirely fair use of their gobs is neither here nor there regarding their right to sound off.

That we have the liberty to speak our minds is vital and an objective right, the absence of which means tyranny pure and simple… but that does not always make it a good idea. You may think your boss is a stupid malodorous clown, and you cannot be sent to jail for saying that to him whilst the entire office listens, however…

Borne on the wings of a lie?

I came across this article, via Jim Henley, and the piece does raise some uncomfortable – to put it mildly – questions about how advocates of the recent Iraq war should feel if it turns out that Bush and Blair told untruths (perish the thought) about the existence and scale of WMDs in Iraq.

If Bush, Powell and the Rest lied deliberately to us to boost the case for war, then that is baaaaaad news, in my view. For starters, pro-war folk like me who took the stance we did on proactive self defence will feel betrayed. We have been made to look like twerps. Yes, I know that you might argue that we should not have been so naive in the first place (ever trust a politician?), but the WMD threat seemed to be pretty genuine, if only because of what happened under Saddam’s rule these past two decades or more. And of course the onus was on him, not us, to comply with the terms laid down by United Nations weapons inspectors. He didn’t as even Hans Blix’s report made clear shortly before hostilities commenced. Even so, the feeling of betrayal will be immense if turns out that Bush and Blair seriously exaggerated the evidence.

Which may suggest that our whole approach to self defence needs a major rethink. It suggests to me that the CIA and other intelligence services in the west require a massive overhaul, if not outright abolition. I haven’t seen any examples in the media of such folk getting the sack. Far too many of them have been allowed to stay in their cushy jobs despite manifestly screwing up. If it turns out that they gave false info to gin up the case for war, that is very bad.

And in case any warbloggers’ blood pressure is rising dangerously about the above two paragraphs, no, I am of course thrilled we stiffed the Ba’ath regime in Iraq, but forgive me, that wasn’t the original reason why we committed blood and treasure to deal with Saddam.

A splendid lesson for Blair

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses,
And all the king’s men,
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

– Traditional English rhyme

Vladimir Putin, the hero of Chechnya, has in essence told Tony Blair to take his attempt to paper over the disagreements regarding Iraq, now that the allied takeover is a fait accomplis , and stick it where the sun does not shine.

Moreover, the French, Germans and Belgians are going to continue to work towards a new ‘European’ alternative to NATO aimed at reducing US influence, whilst all the time keeping a straight face and claiming they have no hostility to the USA, of course.

This is all truly excellent news.

Now whilst it was clear that Tony Blair was willing to go a long way in the interests of a return to the ante-bellum political status of seeming harmony with ‘Europe’, the USA is highly unlikely to have much desire to take such a conciliatory position. Blair however was obviously willing to let slide the fact the French and Russians hurt him quite badly politically by scuppering his attempts to get a UN imprimatur for the liberation of Iraq.

My big worry post-Iraq was that the Axis of Weasels and their Russian cohort, having failed in their diplomatic objectives of safeguarding their economic sweetheart deals with the Ba’athists in Iraq and pandering to domestic anti-Americanism, would avoid paying a price for these positions. I thought the key to their ‘damage limitation’ would be to play on Tony Blair’s manifest desire to “be at the centre of Europe” whilst at the same time remaining best buddies with the United States in his ‘warrior prince’ role.

They would use this huge psychological weak spot to get Blair back on-side and eager to be a ‘Good European’, leveraging the fact the US manifestly ‘owes Tony a big one’ to mitigate any political and economic cost to them of their placing the wealth of the Elf Aquitaine Oil company and its Russian counterparts over the lives of Iraqis living under Ba’athism, not to mention US geo-political interests.

Well I am delighted to see that are not nearly such devious political operators as it is so often claimed. Putin in particular continues to confirm my views far from being the wily fox that pundits describe; he is in fact a true dunce with delusions of his own importance as he presides over a basket case economy with an imploding society that is drinking itself to death on homemade vodka.

That Tony Blair’s world view has received such a public kick in the bollocks from the people who should logically need his good will and support at this point in time is…simply splendid news. It may even start to break through the cloying desire in the Prime Minister’s head for logic-free €uro-harmony, that the world changed forever on September 11th 2001. He can stay with the dynamic Americans and spend his political capital wisely or he can piss it away with sclerotic Old Europe. He cannot do both and maybe even he will start to see that now as he heads back from Russia with his tail between his legs.

May Day

As is so often the case, it’s the little things one should watch out for. The nature and effect of seemingly insignificant or passing incidents can so often provide a more accurate insight into the political topography of any country than the sweeping op-eds of the mainstream press.

A good example is provided by Stephen Pollard who has just attended a Conference of Head Teachers in Brighton:

I have seen no more apposite comment on the state of the Conservative Party than this: one of the speakers this year was Damian Green, Shadow Education Secretary. Not only was he relegated to one of the break-out sessions; there were just 19 people present – out of some 300 – at his talk. Even at a meeting of public school heads, most of whom one might reasonably assume are Conservatives, almost no one gives a damn what he or his party thinks.

This is exactly the kind of nugget that speaks volumes about the reality of life on the nitty-gritty ground and yet is not controversial or glamourous enough to inspire editorial column inches. And, in response, I can only agree with Stephen. No-one giving a damn is quite the most damning indictment of the British Conservative Party. Contempt may be damaging but indifference is surely the killer.

Whilst the great and the good still ruminate about the future of the Conservatives in the broadsheet stratosphere, down on planet Earth they are in danger of dropping off the political radar screen.

A more tangible examination is 24 hours away. Tomorrow, May 1st, Britain goes to the voting booths in nationwide Local Council elections. Ostensibly, this is all about local issues such garbage collection, street lighting, libraries and the such. No ‘big policy’ stuff. Still no-one seriously believes that it is not, at least to some degree, a reflection of political support at the macro level as well.

The Labour Party is anxious to see if they benefit from ‘Baghdad bounce’ or ‘Baghdad backlash’ and, realistically, they will lose some seats but probably not enough to seriously dent them. Likewise, the Conservatives will pick up some seats but probably not the several hundred they need to fix the impression in their own minds, as well as everybody else’s, that they are a serious party of opposition.

In other words, business as usual. Except for angry, buzzing little fly-in-the-ointment; the British National Party. Although still a very marginal movement the fact remains that they have been doing alarmingly well in local and mayoral elections across the North of England and the Midlands, thus proving that their plain-talking, tub-thumping brand of whites-only socialism has a certain resonance in the working class heartlands where the ‘cafe latte elitism’ of New Labour is the source of growing irritation and disillusionment.

Tomorrow, the BNP will be fielding a record number of candidates; over 200. They are full of beans and righteous froth and earnestly believe that they are on the verge of some sort of breakthrough. I think that is probably and overstatement but I am disinclined to bet against them doing well.

Come the end of the week, it will still be ‘politics as usual’ but perhaps the wearyingly familiar mummery of the settled consensus will be underscored by the distracting backbeat of a whole host of panic pulses.

S. Weasel’s handy guide to American voting

Here’s S. Weasel’s handy guide to American voting:

  1. If the race is dangerously close, and there’s a clear difference between candidates, vote the better candidate.

  2. If the race is not close, and there’s an interesting third-party candidate, vote the third party…just to rattle the bastards a little.

  3. If the race, close or not, is between two hopeless losers, stay home and cast a vote for apathy.

It’s an imperfect system, but it’s my own.

Server strangeness and The Move

We may be moving servers as soon as tonight (or if not, hopefully tomorrow), so we may have a few hiccups in Samizdata.net availability.

Also, our comments seem to be having a severe case of deja vu (multiple entries) at the moment. As we are bit server lagged, do not keep pressing ‘Post’ when adding comments or we will get your pearls of wisdom again…and again…and again.

SARS is the health of the state

Last night I watched a Channel 4 TV documentary about SARS.

Meanwhile, according to the Radio Times, over on Channel 5 they were showing the movie Outbreak, starring Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo. Sometimes Britain’s broadcasters cancel things at the last minute if they feel that the bounds of bad taste are being crossed, so I made a point of checking if Outbreak was actually being shown. It was.

The way that SARS is, we were told, being contained, is that the various people who took the lead in spreading it are being restrospectively tracked in minute and individual detail, so that all their contacts can in turn be tracked down and placed in quarantine. The movements of the “super-spreader” Professor Lee, who took the contagion from South China to Hong Kong, were recounted as if doing the research for the disaster movie script that all this will surely yield in due course. The scene where the already coughing Professor shares a lift with a young businessman called something like Johnny Chang will undoubtedly be in this movie, with very scary music.
→ Continue reading: SARS is the health of the state

… and pigs might fly

On April 23rd, the Daily Kos had an article called Bringing libertarians into the Dem fold. In it, the author proposes:

I have argued for the past year that libertarians (with a small “L”) have a more natural home in the modern Democratic Party than with the GOP.

He goes on to describe how the Democratic party can leverage Republican abridgements of civil liberties to show libertarians that the Democratic party is their natural home, and that it is in fact ‘The party of personal liberty’.

Demonstrating at least a partial grasp of the difficulties of selling this notion to libertarians, he concedes that for this to have any chance whatsoever to work, the party of Charles Schumer and Joseph Lieberman is going to have to abandon its position of progressively abridging the right to keep and bear arms.

Although I left a long comment about the article on the Daily Kos, and mentioned that the idea of trying to appeal to ‘the other side’ was something I also had views on, there are a few interesting things about this that make it clear to me why Daily Kos does not understand the nature of the pool they are fishing in. Whilst the author understands the right to bear arms issue as being directly related to the issue of personal liberty, he also clearly sees the great majority of other things the Democratic Party does as being either neutral or unrelated to maters of personal liberty and thus not being ‘deal breakers’ in his proposed hand of friendship to libertarians.

For example, when he wrote about how the Republicans have consistently opposed business regulation, admiringly quoting an article elsewhere decrying GOP attempts to deregulate economic matters, presumably Daily Kos thinks that having the state regulating the control of several means of production is unrelated to issues of personal liberty. Perhaps in his eyes anyone who runs a business is not a person-who-has-liberty but rather some sort of collective entity and creature of the polis to whom issues of liberty are simply not germane. Perhaps this is a product of the ‘them and us’ class warrior view of the world found amongst the statist mainstream on both left and right.

And when he writes about how backs Wesley Clark as a Democratic candidate for President to run against Bush:

As everyone here already knows, he’s my favorite in this race. He’s solid on national security, well-spoken, presidential, pro-choice, pro-gun, pro-affirmative action, anti-PATRIOT Act, and believes strongly that the government should provide for the less fortunate amongst us.

I read that and when I hit the bit about ‘pro-affirmative action’ I hear the sound of screeching brakes. Now whilst I may think ‘affirmative action’ (I prefer to use the term ‘anti-white and anti-asian male state mandated discrimination’) is not materially different morally to apartheid, the fascinating thing here is that Daily Kos obviously does not even see this as an individual liberty issue! So when a specific individual white or asian man does not get a job because of a force backed state law that requires a quota of women and certain favoured ethnic groups to be hired, presumably his personal liberty, and the liberty of the owner of the company offering the job, is simply not an issue of ‘personal liberty’ at all.

Then of course we have the ‘government should provide for the less fortunate amongst us’ remark, which to most libertarians is tantamount to an apologia for proxy mugging at gunpoint. Also implicit in this is the hilarious notion (to a libertarian) that the Republicans do not take money at gunpoint from various ‘fortunate’ sections of society to give to the ‘less fortunate’… and that would be, bad, presumably. Would anyone care to list the number of violence backed redistributive ‘welfare’ acts signed into law by Republican law makers in, say, the last 30 years? Please use no more than 100,000 words.

What we have here is a fundamental failure to understand that what separates Republicans and Democrats is mostly a matter of policies within a largely shared meta-context (the framework within which one sees the world)… that is to say the Elephants and Donkeys both pretty much agree on the fact the state exist to ‘do stuff’ beyond keeping the barbarians from the gate and discouraging riots. The language and emphasis may be slightly different (forms of educational conscription with the tagline “No child left behind”… media control legislation described as “Fairness”… etc.), but the congress exist to do much the same sort of thing for both parties, just that whoever is their favoured group should have their snouts deeper in the trough.

Yet almost everything the Dems or Republicans do, beyond a narrow range of legitimate functions that can be counted on the fingers of one hand, are regarded as grievous abridgements of ‘personal liberty issues’ by almost all libertarians. That Democrats like Daily Kos cannot see that it is at the level of axioms and meta-context that libertarians disagree with them, not mere policies is astonishing. Sure, the absurdly named ‘Patriot Act’ is a monstrous abridgement of civil liberty, but the idea that this Republican law should make the Democrats more attractive to libertarians indicates just how little understanding there is of what makes libertarians think the way they do.

Of course, ‘libertarian’ is a broad term, as divisions on the war against the Ba’athist regime in Iraq have demonstrated, and many libertarians in the USA do indeed vote GOP on the grounds they would rather be ruled by the lesser evil (which is to say they vote against the Democrats rather than for the Republicans). But the fact so many people do not vote at all suggests to me that a large proportion say “a plague on both your houses”, and will continue to do so. If folks like Daily Kos realised the sort of disdain libertarians have for matters most in the statist ‘main stream’ would consider beyond debate, I suspect the hand of friendship from the Daily Kos would be withdrawn very quickly indeed for fear it might get cut off with an axe.

Democratic Party talent scout looking for libertarians

How printing caused nationalism

This is the first posting in what may or may not turn into a series on the general theme of the historic impact of the ever changing and evolving technology of communication, thoughts provoked by the talk that Michael Jennings gave at my home on the evening of Friday April 25th.

One of my fondest memories is of an earlier talk given by Sean Gabb in this same ongoing last-friday-of-the-month series, about the impact of the printing press. He described this not in the usual way, by telling the story of the printing press itself, and how it spread, and what it caused, but by describing how things were done before printing existed. He described how documents were copied before there were any printing presses to copy them, the central point being that such documents only lasted so long and it was all that the copyists could do to keep existing texts in continued existence. In such a world it was very hard for knowledge to grow. On the contrary, the only thing it could really do was shrink, which does a lot to explain why the Golden Age in those days tended to be placed in the past, rather than in the future as we now tend to prefer.

But another way to look at the arrival of printing is to look at it not just as a means of data storage, but also as a means of data transmission.

Consider. With any means of communication there are basically two problems to solve. First, you have to concoct the message in the first place. Second, you have to transmit it. Now, look at printing from these two points of view. Clearly, it does wondrous things to the first process, but equally clearly, a little compression aside, it contributes almost nothing to the second. Getting a book from Antwerp to Rome still depends on the speed of a donkey, just as it always did.

This simple fact had huge consequences for the way that printing impacted upon the wider culture. → Continue reading: How printing caused nationalism

Garlic powder sparks panic in Paris

Reuters reports:

A bag of powdered garlic, not something that would normally offend the French, set alarm bells ringing when it was left on a plane at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport and officials were unable to identify the substance.

The bag found on a US Airways plane which arrived from Orlando on Sunday sparked a security alert when police feared the whitish-grey powder inside could be a deadly toxin.

The abandoned hand luggage was taken away for laboratory analysis and several people who had approached it were taken to hospital for tests. However, the contents were found to be an innocuous stash of powdered garlic and other spices, which the owner later returned to collect.

The false alert came days after officials said an amount of powder found at a Paris train station and initially believed to be the lethal poison ricin appeared to be pulverised wheat and barley. France has been on high alert in recent months amid fears of attacks by Islamic radicals.

The death of education

Well what would a dyslexic swine like me know about education? I can not even spell and my knowledge of grammar is revoltingly poor. As for my knowledge of languages (ancient or modern) this is confined to my (somewhat limited) knowledge of English. Oh, by the way, my knowledge both of mathematics and the natural sciences is rather limited as well.

However, I am going to comment about one recent incident which I believe shows (yet again) the decline of the classical vision of education (education in moral principles and general good conduct).

Last Thursday evening the Cambridge University Union held a debate on the motion:

“This House would gag the bad”.

By ‘House’ they (of course) did not mean someone’s home, they meant the Union (acting like a legislature) would, if it could, use the threat of violence to prevent people it regarded as bad expressing opinions by voice or in print.

As a publicity stunt the Union invited the French National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen to be one of the speakers against the motion. Various young people then expressed their ‘antifascism’ by smashing up Mr Le Pen’s car.

In the debate itself over 200 students voted in favour of the motion and 12 voted against the motion.

In short in the whole of the University of Cambridge only 12 students exist who have the decency and courage to come and vote against even such an obscene violation of liberty. The rest of “the House” did not even have the wit to understand that the power they wished to have to gag those with whom they not agree could also be used against themselves (some future government could regard them as bad).

As for the 12 just students, will they be part of the ‘saving remnant’ once written about by such writers as Irvine Babbitt and Paul Elmer More? It would be nice to think so, but it is more likely that these students (because of their unfashionable decency and courage) will be forced out of the intellectual and cultural world into dead end jobs where their impact (short or long term) on life will be close to nil.

“Oh well, we are just talking about a mob of students – they will change their opinions when they leave university”. It is true that many people become more ‘moderate’ when they leave university (i.e. they make compromises between their abstract principles and the situations they find themselves in), but it is not true that most people adopt new basic principles once they leave university.

If someone has not learnt decent moral principles by his early 20’s it is quite likely (although not inevitable) that he never will.

March of the Falsettos

Events appear to be developing rather faster than I thought they would. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that they are snowballing.

I doubt very much whether either Monsieur Chirac or Herr Schroeder have spent any time in the blogosphere but, judging from the news in the UK Times their reaction to the ‘Axis of Weasels’ slur was to take it deadly seriously:

At a meeting in Brussels with the Prime Ministers of Belgium and Luxembourg, President Chirac and Gerhard Schroder, the German Chancellor, want to clear the way for a common European defence system that would start with a core of volunteer states.

To be honest, I am trying very hard to suppress my natural inclination to double over in hoots of derisive laughter. Perhaps they will rent a seedy, run-down office, kit themselves out with a set of overalls and call themselves ‘Yankbusters’. It is hard to imagine what else they could do with armies that consist of time-serving pensioners and conscripted students.

There is nothing new about the idea of a common EU defence pact, of course, only now the French (and it is primarily the French) appear to be driving the issue with an unseemly haste. It bears all the hallmarks of panic and, given the growlings emanating from Washington of late, that panic may be more than a little justified:

Although the Germans have qualms about a confrontation with Nato, the French are not hiding their aim to achieve their long-standing goal of unhitching the United States from European defence. This has become more pressing with the reported plans of the US to punish France for its stand on the war in Iraq by excluding it from Nato decision-making.

I don’t suppose that the French are under any real illusion as to the capacity of Belgium to ride to their rescue. No, this is just the French doing what the French have always done; desperately seeking alliances in order to advance their own national interests. Not having the sufficient wherewithal to rule the world (as they believe they rightly should) they seek instead to project their influence by building blocs which must be configured in such as a way as to enable the French to dominate them. Mock we may, but for the French political classes this is as serious as a heart-attack and, possibly, a last throw of the dice.

Panic, however, is not merely confined to Paris. Tony Blair can see exactly where this is heading and it’s giving him the the big-time jitters:

“I don’t want Europe setting itself up in opposition to America. I think it will be dangerous and destabilising.”

Mark those words. Blair has a very clear idea of the stability he wants and knows every bit as surely that this isn’t it. Blair, being neither pro- nor anti- anything, is the consumate internationalist. Harmony is what he seeks. At home he has adroitly neutralised all opposition by gathering everybody into a big tent of consensus. Abroad he hoped to be the golden bridge that brought the USA and the EU together to sing melodiously from the same hymn-sheet in a global choir of co-operation.

It’s all off-key now and the discord is grating harshly on the ears. The American Star Tenor that Blair adores simply cannot work with the pushy European falsettos he hopes to please and now everyone is about to flounce off in a huge huff, leaving only the Fat Lady. She isn’t singing yet, but she’s clearing her throat.