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]

A Future Fair For All?

Worrying words from Blair’s conference speech:

“And in a world of mass migration, with cheaper air travel, and all the problems of fraud, it makes sense to ask whether now in the early 21st century identity cards are no longer an affront to civil liberties but may be the way of protecting them.”

I don’t mind him asking the question, I just wish he’d listen to the answer.

Samizdata slogan of the day

I think our attitude toward America should change … we have a chance, in America, to be the moral leadership of America. The problem is when? It will happen, it will happen [Allah willing], I have no doubt in my mind, Muslims sooner or later will be the moral leadership of America. It depends on me and you, either we do it now or we do it after a hundred years, but this country will become a Muslim country. And I [think] if we are outside this country we can say ‘Oh, Allah destroy America,’ but once we are here, our mission in this country is to change it.
Abdul Rahman al-Amoudi, a prominent American Muslim leader

Two plus two equals five

It would seem Tony Blair has finally been sold on David Blunkett’s plans to chain us into perpetual serfdom. Along with the clap-trap flummery, the knocking of the opposition, and the other accoutrements of a Big Government leader under fire, I’m still struggling to believe I heard the following:

It made sense to ask whether identity cards were no longer an affront to civil liberties but a way of protecting them

A ripple of comfortable applause accompanied this slogan, from the Blessed Leader, at today’s UK Labour Party conference. Welcome to Oceania.

The ideological war: Alex Singleton on the significance of individuals and of small teams

Being a rather lazy person about everything except thinking, I love to think about how to ensure that the few feeble bursts of libertarian effort I manage to put in every few days actually have some beneficial impact. The well known link between fondness for strategy and fondness for sitting in armchairs is no mere coincidence.

So I was delighted when Alex Singleton chose, for the talk he gave at my most recent last-Friday-of-the-month meeting in my London SW1 home (email me if you want to be notified of future events in this infinite series), the subject of libertarian tactics and strategy, winning the ideological war for libertarianism, etc. etc. (Like me, Alex continues to use the L-word.)

Despite the word war being in the title it was a relaxed and good humoured evening, and not just because Alex is a relaxed and good humoured person, although that helped. More importantly, Alex is optimistic about the difference that free, self-controlling and even self-funded individuals or tiny groups of individuals can make to the libertarian cause. Because of that, he felt no urge to lay out a master libertarian strategy which all must be commanded, which in practice means begged, to sign up to. We were presented with no Big Central Plan for Libertarian Success. Which makes sense, given that we are so suspicious about Big Central Plans for other things.

Alex made much of that familiar scenario where there exists a universal statist consensus, which one individual then breaks. Peter Bauer breaks the consensus that Foreign Aid is an automatically Good Thing. Terence Kealey breaks the consensus that in the modern world Pure Science must be funded by the government in order to proceed satisfactorily. E. G. West breaks the consensus that The State was responsible for the rise of mass literacy and mass education in the now rich world, and that without State funding for mass education, mass education would cease.

In his own recent line of business, Alex and his small group of collaborators at the International Policy Network have been busily helping to chip away at the widely held belief – nothing like universal in this case (thanks e.g. to Peter Bauer) – that “globalisation” in general, and international free trade in particular, is a bad and scary thing, and that the only answer is a gigantic global tax system. (Not all globalisation is bad, it would seem.) A huge number of delegates can assemble for some international drone-fest in some First World enclave in the Third World, but it only takes a quite small number of cunning activists to piss very visibly into the consensual soup that is served up on such occasions, if only because the media do so love an argument. Free Trade bad? Just find a handful of local Third World farmers who love Free Trade and whose only complaint about it is that there isn’t more of it, tell all the media about them, and take some good photos of them and stick them up on the Internet.

The Internet has helped all this tremendously, as I surely don’t need to say here but will anyway, by putting professional presentation and idea-spreading into the hands of individuals and small groups, who now need only to be canny operators with the gift of the gab. Appropriately enough, Alex is about to start another job with another quite small group of schemers, namely the Adam Smith Institute (he’s already their blogmeister), who are likewise regularly assumed by those familiar with their ideas and impact but not with their working conditions to be a whole lot bigger and grander and better funded than they really are.

Plenty more of interest got said by those present, but that will do as a first reaction to a most convivial evening. I meant to stick this up on Saturday morning, but got diverted from doing that by not doing it. Luckily, there are some ideas in this world that are good enough to last a few days, the significance of individual and small team action definitely being one of them.

EU on the road to 1984

Statewatch reports that the European Commission has produced two draft Regulations (25.9.03) to introduce two sets of biometric data (fingerprints and facial image) on visas and resident permits for third country nationals by 2005. The biometric data and personal details on visas will be stored on national and EU-wide databases and be accessible through the Visa Information System (VIS) held on the Schengen Information System (SIS II).

Another proposal for the inclusion of biometrics and personal data: “in relation to documents of EU citizens, will follow later this year”.

Statewatch summarises the proposals:

  1. biometric documents for visas and resident third country nationals to be introduced by 2005
  2. biometric passports/documents for EU citizens to follow
  3. “compulsory” fingerprints and facial images
  4. data and personal information to be held on national and EU-wide databases
  5. admission that powers of data protection authorities cannot cope
  6. no guarantees that data will not be made available to non-EU states (eg: USA)

Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, comments:

These proposals are yet another result of the “war on terrorism” which show that the EU is just as keen as the USA to introduce systems of mass surveillance which have much more to do with political and social control than fighting terrorism.

Secret go-ahead for ID card database

The Guardian reports that the cabinet has secretly given the go-ahead to the chancellor, Gordon Brown, to set up Britain’s first national population computer database that is the foundation stone for a compulsory identity card scheme.
The “citizen information register” is to bring together all the existing information held by the government on the 58 million people resident in Britain.

It will include their name, address, date of birth, sex, and a unique personal number to form a “more accurate and transparent” database than existing national insurance, tax, medical, passport, voter and driving licence records.

The plans for a citizen information register have not been announced and the only official reference was a brief mention to a feasibility study in the government’s consultation paper on identity cards published last July. The scheme is a joint project between the Office of National Statistics and the Treasury and is designed to ensure that “public sector organisations have the right records about the right people at the right time.”

Closing the deal

Two nights ago, Channel 4 screened a 90-minute drama called ‘The Deal’ the broadcast of which has sent the British press into something of a tizzy.

I watched it and found it quite gripping. Even those with little time for the jungle warfare of the Westminster village could not fail to have been impressed by the consumate performances and razor-sharp direction. Nor was the enjoyment dependent upon any sort of plot twist or surprise ending. Everyone knew in advance what is was going to be about and how it was going to end. I suppose it was a voyeuresque appetite for power-play and intrigue that had so many (including me) tuning in.

‘The Deal’ dramatised the close friendship between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown throughout the many years that the Labour Party languished in hopeless opposition. Both men (allegedly) knew that the Party had to be reformed in order to become electable and, with equal conviction, both reckoned that Gordon Brown was the man who was born to lead Labour to that new dawn. Or so it seemed. As Blair’s ambition and self-confidence grew, so Brown found himself outflanked. The climax (‘The Deal’) has Brown agreeing to step aside and let Blair stand for the leadership provided Blair would step down in his second term and hand the mantle over to Brown.

Tony Blair has publicly denied that any such ‘deal’ was agreed but few appear to believe him. Or, perhaps more accurately, they (and by ‘they’ I refer to Labour Party members) don’t care if there was or was not a ‘deal’: they want Blair out. → Continue reading: Closing the deal

Samizdata slogan of the day

Whenever a politician starts talking about “the children”, keep one eye on your wallet and the other on your liberty.
– Anonymous

Some things are objectively evil

Islamic culture gets bashed quite enough in the blogosphere without me sticking my oar in, but I wonder what the kumbayah singing disciples of multiculturalism think of this?

A strict Kurdish Muslim who slit his daughter’s throat after she started seeing a Christian boy has been jailed for life. Abdalla Yones, 48, tried to commit suicide after murdering 16-year-old Heshu and pleaded with the Old Bailey to pass a death sentence on him. Heshu was beaten for months before the “honour killing” and had planned to run away from home, begging her father to leave her alone.

The court heard Yones was “disgusted and distressed” by her relationship with an 18-year-old Lebanese student and launched a frenzied attack at their family home in Acton, west London. Heshu was stabbed 11 times and bled to death from her throat being cut.

Sentencing Yones, Judge Neil Denison said: “This is, on any view, a tragic story arising out of irreconcilable cultural differences between traditional Kurdish values and the values of western society.”

Or more correctly, a tragic story arising out of an Islamic Kurdish culture with no real notion of objective moral truth beyond what they have been told is written in some book and a Western one which at least imperfectly aspires to find such a thing.

All cultures have problems, flaws and idiocies but that does not therefore mean all cultures are equal. When Islamic culture is not tempered by secular influences, it is particularly prone to produce monstrous crimes like this one. Not that irrational secular creeds cannot produce evils aplenty (such as fascism and other forms of socialism), but at least most strains of Western Christianity and Judaism have had their more demented fundamentalist edges worn off by centuries of secularism.

Brave individuals can use reason to transcend the confines of their culture, but all cultures are not the same and I do so wish some people would stop pretending otherwise.

The New York Times on RFID tags

The New York Times has an article today on the pros and cons of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) being attached to products in supply chains and in stores. A couple of highlights.

Tags with the technology known as radio frequency identification, or R.F.I.D., transmit a digital response when contacted by radio signals from scanning devices. Older versions of the technology have been around for decades, but now major manufacturers and retailers and the Defense Department are pushing to speed the development of a new version that could be read by scanners anywhere in the world, making it cheaper and more efficient to track the flow of goods from global suppliers to consumers.

The Defense Department expects to issue a statement in the next few days calling on suppliers to adopt the new version of the technology by 2005. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. made a similar announcement in July when it said it was requiring its top 100 suppliers to place tags with the new technology on cartons and pallets shipped to its stores by the end of 2004.

The Department of Defence. A government mandate for doing business with that part of the government. One doesn’t have to be cynical, here. There are obvious reasons why the DoD needs and wants this technology that have nothing to do with taking away people’s privacy. (It simply allows them to run their logistics better, and potentially to keep track of what is going on on a battlefield). However, these are not the sorts of people I expect to want to put protections in place that safeguard my privacy, either.

Ms. Albrecht and other critics say that companies and government agencies will be able to monitor what people read or where they assemble from radio tags embedded in their books or woven into clothing. Unlike bar codes, which cannot be scanned unless a laser has a direct line of sight to them, the radio tags can be read through walls, and multiple tags can be read in an instant.

“R.F.I.D. certainly has value in the supply chain and in inventory management,” said Beth Given, director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse in San Diego. But she added that “there are so many potential issues once it gets beyond the point of sale that consumer protections need to be written into law.”

And thus we once again hit the usual quandry. There are potential benefits, very real ones, in adopting these sorts of technologies. And yet the privacy and surveillance implications are such that if we adopt them we give up a lot of privacy and hand the information to governments and large organisations almost automatically. Once again, what needs to be said is that it is possible to design such technologies so that the benefits are there and the privacy violations are not, or at least so that the privacy violations are transparent and we are informed when they are happening. But to build such safeguards in, these issues have to be discussed at the very beginning, by which I mean right now. And on the whole it isn’t happening. Do I actually expect to see such safeguards put in place. Well, to tell the truth, no.

(Link via slashdot).

Taiwan hands out 22 million ID cards

ZDNet UK reports the Taiwan government has completed the distribution of 22 million Java-based ID cards to its citizens, in one of Asia’s largest deployments of such cards. The country’s Bureau of National Health Insurance (BNHI) adopted US-based Sun Microsystems’ Java card technology primarily to prevent identity theft, according to a statement from the computing firm.

Each card contains a microprocessor with 32 kilobytes of memory that allows data such as allergy information, emergency contact numbers, medication, and personal insurance to be stored. Daniel Yu, Sun Microsystems Greater China vice president of global sales operations said:

Java card technology allows card issuers to modify the services and applications on the card as the user’s needs change, without incurring additional costs to replace the card.

The distribution of the 22 million health cards started in July last year to replace its original paper-based system was expected to finish by May this year. The cards cost around $2 (£1.21) each.

In an even larger scheme in Thailand, the government plans to issue a Java-based national ID card to all 61 million citizens, according to a report in the Bangkok Post. The card will contain biometric identification, as well as insurance, tax and welfare benefit information. The scheme is expected to be launched later this year.

Retard watch

You just could not make this stuff up. Schools that won’t tell parents their kids have lice because it will hurt their feelings. Fraternities run through re-education camp equivalents for theme parties and such some thin-skinned zealot found offensive. Towns councils threatening to fine parents for allowing their children to play with toy guns… and even advising against allowing them to play in camo-gear. Schools that ban superhero costumes. The list just goes on and on.

It is time for an all out anti-idiot offensive. Parents in idiot-enclave towns and students in moron-managed colleges must set out consciously to seek and destroy the legitimacy of the PC army. No one can take a laughingstock seriously, so we must laugh at them and share the laughter with our friends, neighbors and classmates.

Public humiliation is a powerful weapon and it is easy to make fools of these people. They have already done the hard work for you.

Harsh satire and extreme exaggeration work nicely. I once ran a guerilla theatre troop in Pittsburgh. We would appear suddenly at an appointed location in downtown or on campus with costume, leaflets and a prepared “theatrical production”. Our theatrical shock tactics were timed such we’d be on our way before anyone thought about it.

It worked well. I only got kicked in the arse once.

You will find a lot of the details on PC gone mad referenced here.