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]

Iraq’s enemies

Victor Davis Hanson provides some insight into the relentless negativity regarding the current reconstruction of Iraqi society. It turns out that, when you get right down to it, turning Iraq into a free and prosperous nation would be bad for nearly every other regime on the globe, as well as a significant slice of the American political and chattering classes.

After dispensing with the obvious opponents of a free and prosperous Iraq – the Baathist bitter-enders and all the other nations of the Mideast – he moves on to more interesting prey – the UN, the Europeans, and the Democratic “loyal” opposition. Read the whole thing, of course, but his conclusion seems well-supported:

It is no wonder that we have almost no explicit voices of support. Most nations and institutions will see themselves as losers should we succeed. And the array of politicians, opportunists, and hedging pundits find pessimism and demoralization the safer gambit than disinterested reporting or even optimism — given the sheer scope of the challenge of transforming Afghanistan and Iraq from terrorist enclaves and rogue regimes into liberal and humane states.

What a sad commentary on the state of humanity at the dawn of the Third Millenium, that creating freedom and prosperity in a formerly oppressed nation should evoke such widespread opposition.

We had it, and we threw it away.

I don’t believe the popular line that attacks on Coalition troops in Iraq take place because the Iraqis are angry about lacking electricity, water and other services. That theory certainly doesn’t explain the dreadful bombing of a mosque a few hours ago.

But there’s no denying that when you are trying to win over a country, it doesn’t help if nothing bloody works.

This story from Stephen Pollard made me think that some loyal US bureaucrats might as well go out and slit a few of their own soldiers’ throats. In a hot country like Iraq with intermittent electricity supply and a dodgy phone system, mobile phones make a tremendous difference. They save time, inconvenience and sometimes lives. So here’s how the State Department has gone about getting this great aid to the restoration of normality up and running:

Compounding the impact of the US’ military overstretch on security has been the State Department’s crippling bureaucratic mindset. Rather than recognising the exceptional nature of the Iraqi situation, officials have insisted at every point in applying the full rigour of US health and safety requirements, licensing procedures and other sundry impediments to progress. Take the mobile phone network. The sensible solution would have been to pick the most able and cost-effective operator and let them get on with it. But instead, the decision was taken to go through a full competitive tendering process, which takes an inordinate amount of time. One day, however, people suddenly found their mobiles working; a network had decided, to immense acclaim, to ignore the process and, indeed, get on with it. They were swiftly shut down, encapsulating just why things have been moving so slowly in Iraq: beauraucracy ahead of common sense.

They had it! They had one of the prizes they should have been striving for actually in their hands – and they let it slip through their fingers.

In the first years of the last century Count Peter Stolypin raced against time to enrich the Russian people fast enough to stave off revolution. The race ended with his assassination in 1911. Tough luck, Russia. What an irony if Stolypin’s counterparts in modern Iraq survive the assassins who are undoubtedly after them – only to be defeated by regulation.

Campbell quits

Rejoice, rejoice!

He’s gone, he’s history, he’s outta here. As spotted by the eagle-eyed Guy Herbert, Alastair Campbell has quit!

Ok, so he hasn’t really gone. He’ll still be on the phone ten times a day to the Boss, just like Mandy is, and he’s not ‘officially’ leaving for a few weeks. But I will still be breaking open a bottle of shampoo tonight, just for the hell of it. Cheers!

Aux armes!

The Guardian has an article about France’s rearguard battle against the invasion of English:

“What is at stake is the survival of our culture. It is a life or death matter,” said Jacques Viot, head of the Alliance Française, which promotes French abroad, warned last month. Hélène Carrère d’Encausse of the Académie Française was equally apocalyptic: “The defence of our language must be the major national cause of the new century.”

Within France, the language benefits from a veritable battery of protective laws, decrees and directives. Radio stations must play mostly music with French lyrics, and advertisements in English are, with few exceptions, outlawed unless accompanied by a translation.

Most of the legislation stems from the 1994 “loi Toubon”, which briefly threatened jail for anyone using words like “le weekend” or “le parking”. Even today, companies are occasionally prosecuted – although not as often as organisations such as the Committee for the Defence of the French Language, one of a myriad of similar militant bodies, would like – for using anglicisms in ads and brochures.

“The time has come for concrete and targeted action,” said Michel Herbillon, a campaigning conservative MP who recently completed a report on France’s language problems within the EU. “The union recognises the principle of equality for all official languages, and that principle is manifestly being flouted. It is wholly unacceptable.”

The situation is serious enough for President Jacques Chirac – who speaks excellent English but avoids using it as a matter of principle – to intervene. Earlier this year, he asked France’s media companies to come up with plans for a French-language global news channel, a kind of “CNN à la française”, to ensure France’s voice continues to be heard in the world.

What can we say to that? C’est la vie…

The hand of history

You know, I’m beginning to suspect that Rod Liddle is on the same journey I took, albeit in a higher plane, from New Labour placard-waver, to semi-rabid libertarian back-street raver. There have been several excellent articles in The Spectator, recently, topped off I think by his latest piece on the travails of the Reverend Tony.

I did have Rod pegged as being a straightforward leading member of the liberal elite, with his column in The Guardian, and his editorship of the Today program. But ever since the BBC let him go I’ve really begun to welcome his regular appearances on Channel4 News, his pieces on the stupidity of over-regulation, and his devastating broadsides against the Spin-Meisters of the champagne socialist lie machine.

So is the end in sight for Boris’s demise as editor of the Speccy? As a South Oxfordshire resident, an occasional bag-man for Boris, and a one-time writer for his magazine, my opinion is torn in two opposing directions. But if Boris is happy to give up the mantle, to concentrate better on his task of becoming a serious politician in the mould of Lord Salisbury, then is there a better potential editor around than Rod Liddle? I’m becoming ever more confident that Lord Black doesn’t think so.

And following Jonathan Pearce’s earlier article, on the matter, would a change be a good thing anyway, for one of my favourite magazines?

One thing though, Rod, if you’re reading. Gonna have to give up that Guardian column. Sorry.

In Cuba, no-one can hear you scream

Seeking out fiskable material in the Guardian is altogether too much like spearing fish in a barrel. It’s almost unfair. Callous, even. In fact, spoilt for choice, I generally elect to leave the tiddlers and save my energies for the succulent, fat ones that drift serene and oblivious to my cravings for their ample and oily flesh.

Dinner is served, courtesy of one Brian Wilson who takes his readers on a moist-eyed trip down memory lane:

Twenty-five years ago this month, I visited Cuba for the first time. The occasion was the World Festival of Youth and Students, which drew 20,000 to Havana from 150 countries – probably, to this day, the country’s biggest display to the world of its revolutionary wares.

Come on over, Mama, whole lot of schtoopidity goin’ on.

Yet, for our Brian, these were the salad days:

But for me, that visit was the start of a life-long love affair.

Ah yes, the romantic boulevards of gay Havana, where Brian strolled arm-in-arm with the Revolutionary Vanguard of the Hoopty-Squat Dirtbag 25th of November People’s Liberation Front Army (or something).

There is no need to confuse that statement with uncritical acclaim for everything about the place. But criticism should never ignore the fact that Cuba’s primary service to the world has been to provide living proof that it is possible to conquer poverty, disease and illiteracy in a country that was grossly over-familiar with all three.

Where’s the ‘living proof’, O Besotted One? Why isn’t every Cuban Embassy on the planet besieged with sick, starving, illiterate people all clamouring for passage to Havana and salvation? → Continue reading: In Cuba, no-one can hear you scream

Samizdata.net HQ reporting

All is well at the Samizdata.net HQ as one of its current inhabitants missed the blackout by a few minutes having just left the affected area. The blackout was reported to have ocurred at 18.20, halted the traffic in Central London with effects spreading as far as M25 (a beltway surrounding the London metropolitan area). I left the City, which has the post code EC1 after 17.30 and managed to avoid the traffic lights failure all the way to South West London. As far as I know there was no power failure in this part of town and everything seems fine now everywhere.

The Hutton Inquiry

Am I the only one to find the Hutton Inquiry news coverage terribly boring and trivial? Almost the entirety of ITV news tonight was taken up by it. The feeding frenzy is so all encompassing George Bush was blamed for a world problem only once or twice in the entire hour!

I humbly submit I’d prefer Tony Blair to come out of this with his teflon coating intact. Why? If he loses and resigns we might well find ourselves governed by Gordon Brown.

If Tony wins, the BBC can be taken down that final peg or two. It could lose its’ semi-governmental ability to tax every telly in the land.

Tony’s time in power is limited but the Beeb is forever. Let’s think of the long term.

It can’t happen here…

News says there is a massive electrical grid failure in London and lots of the London Underground is out of service. I’m sure we’ll hear more from our London HQ if the lights are on there…

RFID blocker may ease privacy fears

CNET News.com reports that the labs at RSA Security on Wednesday outlined plans for a technology they call blocker tags, which are similar in size and cost to radio frequency identification (RFID) tags but disrupt the transmission of information to scanning devices and thwart the collection of data.

According to Ari Juels, a principal research scientist with RSA Laboratories. Blocker and RFID tags are about the size of a grain of sand and cost around 10 cents.

RFID technology uses microchips to wirelessly transmit product serial numbers to a scanner without the need for human intervention. While the technology is potentially useful in improving supply chain management and preventing theft in stores, consumer privacy groups have voiced concerns about possible abuses of the technology if product-tracking tags are allowed to follow people from stores into their homes. Many retailers view RFID as an eventual successor to the barcode inventory tracking system, because it promises to cut distribution costs for manufacturers and improve retailing margins.

RSA’s technique would address the needs of all parties involved, according to Juels. Other options, such as a kill feature embedded in RFID tags, also are available, but with blocker tags, consumers and companies would still be able to use the RFID tags without sacrificing privacy.

Samizdata slogan of the day

Judging cultures is not the same as judging races. One’s race is unchosen; no-one can be condemned for membership of a racial group. However, culture is chosen, so a person can be condemned for their acceptance of an immoral culture. The equivocation of culture with race is one of the commonest forms of racism today: it is based on the racist view that one’s race determines one’s ideas and outlook.
Andrew Medworth

Blair ‘would have quit if dossier story true’

With a single bound, he’s once again overcome his latest ‘greatest test’, the Prime Minister who claims to be both responsible for everything, including all the decisions, but who didn’t know anything, or indeed take any of the decisions. Confused? That’s what we’re all meant to be.

What a performance. You’ve got to hand it to him, Teflon Tony, the wizard apprentice of Slick Willy. He really has become the Master.

However, this showdown today was never going to see Tony storming from the witness box to drive up to Windsor to tender his resignation to Her Majesty in a fit of petulance. He’s had the government’s finest lawyers and QCs rolling him over red-hot coals for five days, attacking him in every possible way, to prepare him for this, plus years of experience shrugging off John Humphrys et al, in hundreds of tough media interviews.

But Downing Street’s QCs haven’t been entirely successful mainly because Geoff Hoon refused to lie down and die, yesterday. Blair has therefore been forced to adopt the American presidential stand-by defence, the passive voice of deniability. Remember this?:

Mistakes were made.

Who made them? Everybody. Who in particular? Nobody in particular, and besides, it’s all water under the bridge anyway, so could we move on now, and draw a line under this whole thing?

Marvellous. But I’m afraid Mr Blair, that Mr Richard Nixon tried this line once too, and look what happened to him. I don’t know if there are any smoking tapes here, or whether Dr David Kelly was the Deep Throat of this piece, who had to be silenced by MI6, but there is something very rotten in the state of Denmark this day, and the smell is still very clearly emanating from 10 Downing Street. And it is not going to go away, however fond your hopes remain that it will.

You may even be telling the truth, most of the time. But nobody, including even you, knows when that is. Which 5% is the lying 5%? Or is it 10% of lies? Or is it 50% of lies? I know some of it is lies. But is all of it lies? Surely not? It’s so hard to tell as we watch that Cheshire-cat smile slide all over your face.

I do know two things for certain though, Mr Blair. You will never again see a glad confident morning, so long as you remain in British politics, and it’s going to be great fun watching you go down. Is that cruel of me? Possibly, but I’ve paid for the privilege and I’m going to make the most of it.