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]

Another Public Service Announcement

It is a quagmire!

Jim Henley is right about one thing… Iraq is indeed a quagmire. Rather than a quick campaign with decisive results that vindicated their views, they are still fighting to prove their position was justified, struggling to massage the facts, trying to divert attention away from the reality of the effect of overthrowing a nation’s government as their loudly trumpeted ideas of a few short months ago ‘circle the drain’.

I am of course referring to the people who were Saddam Hussain’s ‘useful idiots’ and who opposed the armed overthrow of Ba’athist Socialism… and who are now desperately clutching at daily US casualty rates which can be counted on one hand as some means to snatch a tiny measure of victory from the jaws of absolutely crushing intellectual defeat. I expect more Americans are murdered by other Americans in any one of several major US cities every day than are dying in fighting in Iraq now, just to put it all into some perspective.

One does not have to support the way the US is going about running (or not) Iraq to nevertheless admit that the war itself was a triumph not just for the allies but for the Iraqi people. So to borrow Jim Henley’s tone, damn to hell all the ‘cowardly’ paleo-libertarians and their socialist confreres who really did not care what Saddam Hussain’s regime was doing to the people in Iraq and who still feel no remorse that all the horrors of Ba’athism would still be happening in Iraq today if they had gotten their way.

Don’t mess with Salam

Salam has got a great post defending himself and his family. A lot is happening around him, not least the news that Guardian just hired him to write a “Baghdad Blog” for them.

Salam’s passionate defence of his father was sparked off by comments from those who see conspiracy theories behind everything outside their everyday experience. Salam is real, alright, I have my reasons not to doubt him. Those who challenge his identity and connections are simply ignorant of the workings of a world profoundly different from theirs. It does not fit the same categories and does not conform to the same black&white distinctions.

The fact Salam is disillusioned with American ‘occupation’ of Iraq and that he falls into the same ‘liberal mindset’ traps as many intellectuals in the West is not a sign of Ba’atish mis-information machine at work, as some have suggested. Simply, Salam has seen enough of the West not to believe that it has a panacea for Iraq’s woes. Can you blame him for that? He may take a very different journey from that point to the one we take at Samizdata.net but so what? That can happen to anyone and it does not make them a KGB agent.

I do feel a bit of regret that Salam has been dragged to the media spotlights, not because I begrudge him the popularity but because his idiosyncratic style and personality will get edited and analysed ad nauseam. Until, of course, something else becomes the flavour of the day.

I hope Salam’s future is safe and wish him best of luck.

The Guardian chases down Salam Pax

Rory McCarthy of The Guardian has apparently tracked down Salam Pax in Baghdad, and describes him as a “quietly spoken, 29-year-old architect”. (Found via Tim Blair). Pax is still unwilling to completely reveal his identity, at least partly because he is gay, which is a relatively uncomfortable position to be in Iraq, and also no doubt simply because in a society as paranoid as Iraq must be after decades of Saddam Hussein, speaking too publicly is not something that comes naturally. No doubt the people who believe he is a Ba’athist will seize on this, but Pax seems no friend of Saddam Hussein. (This seems to be happening. Those who found Pax convincing are impressed by the Guardian article, while others are less impressed). He may not necessarily be a friend of the invading British and American forces, and he may not have enjoyed seeing Iraqis surrender, but he does seem to genuinely detest the former regime. (That doesn’t necessarily mean he was entirely unconnected from the regime, of course).

Like all Iraqis, Salam was familiar with the dangers. At least four of his relatives had gone missing. In the past year, for no apparent reason, one of his friends was summarily executed, shot in the head as he sat in his car, and two others were arrested; one was later freed and another, a close friend, has never returned.

Not only had Salam criticised the regime, he had written openly about the fact that he is gay. It was a frank admission in a repressive dictatorship and one that, even in the new, postwar Iraq, which at heart is still a conservative, Islamic society, represents a significant risk. And so he continues to guard his identity. “I am not going to be the first one to carry the flag. I hide behind computer screens,” he says

The simplest explanation may just be that he is introverted and rather shy, like many bloggers.

The article gives the story from Pax’s point of view about how he became a blogger and how his message got out to the world, which is more than a little interesting. He also rather seems to resent the fact that some people assumed that he was a fake because he knew so much about global popular culture. He describes them as “culturally arrogant” and I think he is probably right. People in western countries don’t always realise just how far the details of popular culture stretch into the rest of the world. (The producers of the Academy Award ceremony in Los Angeles are always trying to prevent presenters and winners from making obscure industry in jokes because they don’t believe that viewers outside LA will get the jokes. They are wrong. The viewers in Tashkent are fully aware who Harvey Weinstein is). Pop culture does stretch even to war torn dictatorships, at least among the children of the middle classes.

What do I think? Well, I always believed Pax was authentic in the sense that he was really an Iraqi and was really blogging from Baghdad on his own initiative. As to who he actually was, I found it hard to say. I found the “Tokyo Rose” theories suggesting that he was somehow an agent of the Ba’athists deeply unconvincing, although we should be probably prepared for intelligence agencies to try this trick next time we fight a war. He was obviously middle class, and from a family that largely kept their heads down, and this seems confirmed. It is not impossible that he has some less than savoury connections, but my feeling is probably not. Oddly, I think that this is someone who is exactly what he claims to be.

However, for now, he continues to write very well

A day before that I talked to Rory from the Guardian. He paid for a great lunch in a place which had air-conditioning and lots of people from foreign. You know how much you would pay for a pizza before [attack of the media types II] started? Two thousand five hundred dinar, a bit more than $1. Do you know how much it costs now? Six thousand dinars, a little less than $6. Plus the exchange rate is totally fucked up and the real estate market is getting bizarre. You can follow the trail of the foreigners by how much things cost in a certain district. Of course, Rory didn’t buy me the 6,000-dinar pizza – that would have been too cheap. He paid an extra $3.

What I would like to know is the precise details of how the real estate market is getting bizarre. If we can get some details, this is likely a better way than most of finding out how things are actually going in Iraq post-war.

The Guardian have also signed Salam Pax up to write a regular column for them. This is a smart thing for them to do, and I hope he has negotiated a good fee. That said, Jeff Jarvis’ observations on how the Guardian have edited him already tend to suggest it might be best if we continue to read the blog rather than the newspaper.

“Federast” in Parliament

OK, so I Googled for federast too. And yes, we are the first result and we rock. Whatever.

But unlike this commenter, I looked beyond the second result and look what I found. A record of Parliamentary debates dated 20 Apr 1999 (column 687) that shows that “federast” was not used by David or Perry for the first time (sorry guys, but this is worth it).

I have reproduced most of the debate as I think it is interesting to see what discussions our ‘representatives’ were having in 1999 about the EU:

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Ms Joyce Quin): The Government are in favour of a European Commission that is efficient, transparent and accountable. The independent experts’ report revealed a catalogue of deficiencies in the Commission’s internal structures and practices, but the resignation of the Commission gives us an opportunity to ensure that, in future, the Commission carries out its functions more effectively and makes much better use of taxpayers’ money. The Berlin European Council took a decisive step towards that by agreeing the nomination of the new Commission President.

Mr. Blizzard: Does my right hon. Friend share my view that the only sensible words ever uttered by the noble Baroness Thatcher were that “advisers advise, Ministers decide”? That is the principle that underlies the civil service in this country; should it not also be true of the European Commission? Will the people of this country not accept more readily the institutions of the EU if they are confident that decisions are taken by democratically elected Ministers, rather than by unelected bureaucrats? Will my right hon. Friend use this opportunity to press for reform of the European Commission that brings about that state of affairs?

Ms Quin: The Government have tabled a number of proposals for reforms. It should be emphasised that, in European decision making, the elected Council of Ministers has the final say and is responsible for making final decisions; that is a system of which we approve. As for the accountability of the European Commission, a great deal can be done to improve matters in terms of its relations with both the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, and we have made proposals in that respect.

Mr. Bercow (Buckingham): In backing for the presidency of the European Commission Mr. Prodi, who says that economic and monetary union and political union are two sides of the same coin, why can the right hon. Lady not admit in Britain what is widely acknowledged on the continent–that Mr. Prodi is a committed “federast”, who is determined to create a single defence policy, a single economic policy, a single foreign policy, a single immigration policy, a single social policy, a single constitution, a single Government and a single state called Europe?

Ms Quin: First, I remind the hon. Gentleman that the appointment of Mr. Prodi at the Berlin Council was linked firmly with Commission reform, and that is why he received the support of all member Governments. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman obviously has a short memory. I am not sure whether he was in the House when Romano Prodi’s predecessor was appointed, but I remember the press coverage at the time about the fiercely federalist Jacques Santer, who was the Conservative Government’s appointee.

Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow): Does the Minister agree that, in taking forward the essential reform process, we must establish a mechanism whereby individual acts of proven misconduct against individual Commissioners can result in their disciplining or dismissal? We should not always have to take the nuclear option of forcing the entire European Commission to resign.

Ms Quin: My hon. Friend makes a very important point. We must not only move ahead in appointing a new Commission, but consider the terms and conditions that govern such appointments in order to address some of the issues to which my hon. Friend referred.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe): Mr. Prodi has declared his intention to use his presidency to create a single economy and a single political unity; yet the Foreign Secretary said recently that the Maastricht treaty was a high water mark of integrationism. How can those positions be reconciled?

Perhaps, we should warn Mr John Bercow, MP about the company he keeps…

Calling a chair ‘a cow’ will not make it go ‘Moo’

With Orwellian double-think, the preamble to the European Convention begins with a quote from Thucydides:

Our Constitution is called a democracy because power is in the hands not of a minority but of the whole people

So should we not vote on it?

It is�about as ‘democratic’ as the Warsaw Pact Treaty.

Paul Staines

Ticket, check passport, check eye drops

Robert Matthews, a regular writer for QED column in the Sunday Telegraph, looks at the “wonders of technology” David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, decided it was time we should all benefit from.

Mr Blunkett appears to have fallen under the spell of biometric methods, which use characteristics ranging from fingerprints to handwriting to verify the identity of people. He seems to favour a particularly sophisticated version of the technology, which uses the unique iris patterns of the eye to check ID.

…there is still a stunning lack of awareness of a basic mathematical result that shows why we should all be very wary of any type of screening, biometric or otherwise.

In the case of screening – whether for breast cancer or membership of al-Qaeda – the [Bayes’s] theorem shows that the technology does not do what everyone from doctors to Home Secretaries seems to think it does.

To take a concrete example, suppose a biometric screening method is 99.9 per cent accurate: that is, it spots 99.9 per cent of imposters, and incorrectly accuses one in 1,000 bona fide people (in reality, these are very optimistic figures). Now suppose that every year a horde of 1,000 terrorists passes through Heathrow airport. What are the chances of the biometric system detecting any of them?

The obvious answer is 99.9 per cent. But, in fact, Bayes’s Theorem shows that the correct answer is about two per cent. That is, when the alarms go off and the armed response team turns up at passport control, it is 98 per cent likely to be a false alarm.

Why? Because not even the amazing accuracy of the biometric test can cope with the very low prior probability that any one of the 60 million passengers using Heathrow each year is a terrorist. Sure, it boosts the weight of evidence in favour of guilt 1,000-fold, but that is still not enough to overcome the initially very low probability of guilt.

So there you have it. You just need to calculate your probability of being one of the incorrectly accused one in 1,000 bona fide people and books your ticket accordingly.

Why we are not Eurosceptics

1. skeptic, sceptic, doubter — (someone who habitually doubts accepted beliefs)

… so in reality we are not truly ‘eurosceptic’ as we do not ‘doubt’ the harmful nature of the EU, but rather we regard that as axiomatic. What is more, we have nothing against Europe per se, it is the regulatory statist political entity called the European Union we abominate. Hell, I used to work for the EU which probably explains why I dislike it so much: I know how it really works.

Scepticism seems to imply ‘doubt’. We have no doubt whatsoever.

“There are excessive plenty of beautiful girls”

Asks b3ta.com:

Men: Like looking at pretty ladies? Like laughing at bad translations of Russian mobile phone conferences? You’re in the land of luck as this site combines both.

It certainly does. Eldar Murtazin is impressed, and Andreas Von Horn (that’s what it says) translates:

Year by year, visiting CeBIT, catch myself at idea, that they have better organization, and exhibits for the first time are shown exactly at this exhibition, instead of wandering on the world, turning in an antiquity. But there is one big advantage of the Russian exhibitions and of SvyazExpocomm as one of the most appreciable, there are excessive plenty of beautiful girls on one square meter of the area. The last year one my foreign friend after visiting the exhibition has left in prostration and has told, that knows where to look for a wife. Girls in city centre which caused the genuine interest and remarks in the excellent form, have simply ceased to exist. The friend all the rest three days has spent at the exhibition, and according to him has not been sorry at all about it.

On results of the first day has collected about 500 photos of girls from various stands, a part from them we’ll publish in this picture story. I can not give up to myself such pleasure, and the reputation needs to be supported, in fact the tradition began the last year. To try listing all photos is senseless, further are photos that have appeared by will of case beside and have pleased me.

For knowing people and visiting the exhibition not the first year, CBOSS name talks a lot about, but I beg to assume, that in the last turn about billing. However, judge, I in my turn dream to shake hands with the person, which selects girls for this company!

Ah, those wacky foreigners.


The King is dead, long live the King!

It was strangely disconcerting to suddenly see our blog-father off the ether for such a long time, particularly as, like Glenn, Samizdata.net also resides on Hosting Matters servers.

For those of you who do not know, Hosting Matters had an electrical fire and whilst it took us off the air for only a few minutes, the James Brown of the Blogosphere was silenced for most of yesterday.

But he is back and blogging his heart out once more. The world is back running in well-oiled grooves.


Fat cats

I am all in favour of the recent decision by shareholders of European drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline to vote down a proposed ‘golden parachute’ payout to its chief executive in the event that he ever got the boot.

The payment would have been $36 million, and while I yield to no-body in my admiration for the capitalist system, it seems perfectly fair if the owners of the firm – the shareholders – felt such a proposal was going too far. A case of property owners using their property as they say fit. Of course, by ‘too far’ we are entering the field of subjective judgement. It seems a bit odd that in an age where few bat an eyelid at the sums earned by Formula One racing drivers or footballers, so many get riled at such payouts to company bosses.

In any event, we are going to see more examples of big groups of shareholders like pension funds getting upset about this sort of pay regime. One thing slightly bugs me in that some of these pension funds are increasingly being seen by anti-globalistas and similar-minded folk as ways of inflicting their views on the world. The buzzword out there is ‘shareholder activism’. Let’s be clear here. It is our retirement money at stake. By all means let’s not vote in big pay rises for hopeless bosses, but tomorrow’s pensioners need the wealth generated by good firms of today – and often that means hiring the best people.

And that sort of thing comes at a price.

The significance of the new Test Match Cricket international ranking system

My excuse for writing about cricket is that writing about cricket means writing about Zimbabwe, which is one of the wretched-of-the-earth countries just now, lest we forget. But the truth is that I just love cricket, and that I have loved it ever since the days of Hutton, Compton, May, Cowdrey, Laker, Statham, Truman, Dexter … and those are just (some of) the English names.

So, what is the big story in cricket just now? Read Jennings, and the news is just that people have been, you know, playing cricket. Look at the cricket web sites and it’s just cricket as usual. Who’s in and who’s out. Who’s firing on all cylinders, and who has a cylinder injury and will be missing the next few games. Earlier in the week, the British cricket pages were full of how well the new England quick bowlers had done, and how badly the Zimbabweans had batted against them on that horribly one-sided Saturday when nineteen wickets fell and by the end Zimbabwe had lost by an innings in three days. (Girls and Americans: “by an innings” is very bad, and three days is not long at all.)

Yet above and beyond all these regular comings and goings, I believe that cricket posterity will have no hesitation in deciding that the current big cricket story happened just over a week ago, just before the England-Zimbabwe series got started, in the form of the newly announced ICC Test Championship table.
→ Continue reading: The significance of the new Test Match Cricket international ranking system