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]

They just won’t go home

There are those who think the United Nations does a good job of “nation building”. I’m among those who think otherwise and I’m happy to see there are those in “high places” who agree with me:

When foreigners come in with their international solutions to local problems it can create a dependency. For example East Timor is one of the poorest countries in Asia yet the capital is now one of the most expensive cities in Asia, local restaurants are out of reach for most the Timorees and cater to international workers who are paid probably something like 200 times the local average local wage. At the cities main supermarket prices are reportedly on a power with London and New York or take Kosovo a driver shuttling international workers around the capital earns 10 times the salary of the University professor, 4 years after the war the United Nations still run Kosovo by executive fiat. Decisions made by the elected local parliament are invalid without the signature of a U.N. Administrator and still to this day Kosovo ministers have U.N. overseers with the power to approve or disapprove their decisions. Now that’s just a different approach I’m not saying that maybe okay for Kosovo but my interest is to see if we can’t do it in a somewhat different way. Our objective is to encourage Iraqi independence by giving Iraqis more and more responsibility over time for the security and governance of their country.

I find myself in violent agreement with SecDef Rumsfeld yet again.

A tale of an EU whistleblower

I believe this is not the last story of this sort we will see coming out of Brussels:

[Robert McCoy] has worked for the European Union for more than 30 years. His friends regard him as an upright and loyal bureaucrat, keen to uphold the EU’s name against its critics, whether in Brussels or back home in Britain.

Yet Robert McCoy must steel himself before he walks the corridors of his own EU institution. If he is lucky, senior colleagues at the glass and concrete headquarters of the Committee of the Regions – a Brussels talking-shop for local government representatives, set up under the Maastricht Treaty – merely ignore him, turning their heads ostentatiously as he passes.

If not, he may be on the receiving end of abuse. “Gestapo! Gestapo!” angry fellow workers once taunted him. One manager spat on the floor as he walked by, friends say.

As the Telegraph reports Mr McCoy’s offence – as it was apparently regarded by some EU staff and politicians – was to stumble upon, investigate and then seek to correct a series of financial irregularities within the Committee of the Regions (CoR), whose annual budget is €38 million (£27 million).

Last week, Romano Prodi and Neil Kinnock insisted that since EU commissioners were ignorant of Eurostat’s problems until this year, they could not be held responsible for what happened earlier. The frauds, and the culture that permitted them, were a one-off and had long since ended, Mr Prodi assured MEPs during a tense closed-door meeting in Strasbourg on Thursday.

In a devastating letter to a senior MEP, seen by The Telegraph, Mr McCoy details his three-year campaign to stamp out suspected fraud within the CoR, and his vain attempts to persuade senior managers to summon outside expertise to investigate the problems.

His inside account, and documents obtained by members of the European Parliament’s budgetary control committee, reveals an approach by some EU officials which helps explain how at least ?3 million (£2 million) could disappear from the coffers of an organisation like Eurostat without anyone noticing – or complaining.

I felt that I had repeatedly hit a brick wall in my efforts to do my job. I have nowhere else to turn, having exhausted all administrative and political avenues available to me within the CoR.

After Mr McCoy sought the official attendance sheets to make a spot check on the signatures, the Secretary General angrily rebuked him. “Robert, I am very displeased with this affair,” Mr Falcone wrote in an e-mail which has circulated among MEPs. “The Financial Controller is not the police.” One can only speculate why the officials in charge reacted with hostility rather than reward his for a job well done. McCoy comments:

We now know that there have been huge problems at Eurostat over many years, caused by the same kind of culture that I have encountered at the CoR. Who knows how many other EU institutions are similarly affected?

A rather late and rude awakening for Mr McCoy. The rot goes to the heart of the institution, there can be no perestroika.

Corruption harmonized on a Europe-wide level

Britain’s ‘grey army’ mobilises for action

David Carr got the general gist of news today in his post on Goodfellas government and their audacity to charge your for wanting to do things as well as for not wanting to do them anymore because the government made them too expensive. Apart from drafting regulations in the style ‘damned if you do, damn if you don’t’, the anal bureaucratic busybodies have been, well, busy putting the local council taxes up.

The council tax is the amount local governments are allowed to raise on top of the ‘grants’ (i.e. taxpayers money) they receive from the central government. The modern and fair NuLabour government has for the last five years increased the council tax by between 3 and 4 percent above the rate of inflation. It has also ‘redistributed wealth’ away from the South of England to the North, where most Labour supporters reside. The South may be richer than the North but its local governments are no less greedy and are making up the ‘shortfall’ by increasing taxed by about 15 percent.

This is leaving many pensioners on the verge of poverty and they are getting angry. Tony Fowle does not look much like a revolutionary, more like the kind of grandfather that he actually is: a retired finance manager with a love of steam railways, an ex-National Serviceman who proudly wears his RAF tie. Yet this week he is organising a march in Bornemouth where the Labour Party’s annual conference is taking place:

If the Government doesn’t listen, there’s going to be a mass rebellion. In 1994 my council tax bill was £507.50. Now it’s £1,166.30. I’ve had enough. Every pensioner has had enough. Yes, I might withhold payment. Yes, I’m prepared to go to court. I’m fighting for those applying for benefits because they can’t afford these council tax hikes. I am a law-abiding citizen. I have never disobeyed anybody in my life. It is really upsetting me that these kind of actions are needed now.

Leaving aside our views on government taxation and its distribution, local or otherwise, this is portentous. The British are not a protesting people and the fact that large number of pensioners across the country are willing to engage in civil disobedience is verging on absurd. Imagine your favourite auntie dragging herself away from her tea doilies in order to march in protest to the government…

Nevertheless, this is the generation that remembers the times when collective effort meant something and I just hope they will mobilise with the same determination they had some 50 years ago.

So what exactly is an art critic for?

Art criticism is something about which I only rarely touch on when something particularly interests me. But in today’s Sunday Telegraph (print version only), Ian Hislop has written an interesting piece called Now I’ll be labelled a pervert on how playwright Andrew Lloyd Webber has been scorned and derided by the British ArtCrit set because he has the temerity to not just collect Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite paintings, but to actually exhibit them to the public.

Having consented to display his collection at the Royal Academy last week, Webber was duly given a good kicking by the critics, who lined up rubbish both the pictures and their owner. The pieces ranged from the hysterical, in the case of Brian Sewell1, to the merely critical, in the case of the critic of this newspaper.


What appears to really annoy a lot of the critics is the literalism of the paintings: the idea that there is a story or a message, or even something as vulgar as a moral in the artwork, rather than just an impression or a mood or an emotion. Brian Sewell says that Webber has “a literal eye” and that this “has nothing to do with Art”. Nothing at all? This seems rather harsh

1= free registration required

And for me, therein lies the rub. Most art critics hate literal art because literal art can be understood by anyone who takes the time to learn a bit about the context within which the art was created. Now I am not someone who thinks ‘modern art’ is an oxymoron but it is true than much of what passes for art these days is so obscure that it requires an ArtCrit, such as Sewell or Saatchi, to give it some meaning. I guess what I am really saying is that much of what the likes of Tracy Emin does is so devoid of intrinsic meaning that only a professional arbiter of artistic values and taste can tell us poor muggles what the hell it means. No wonder art critics love ‘cutting edge’ modern art!

And now for some art you might be able to figure out for yourself…

Lady Godiva

The boss of the whole neighbourhood

“Business bad? fuck you, pay me. Oh, you had a fire? fuck you, pay me. Place got hit by lightning, huh? fuck you, pay me!”

Some of our officials have become so self-important that they not only charge through the nose for imposing their regulations upon us, they even want to charge those who can no longer afford their attentions. Last year I reported on the Scottish care home which, when it was forced to close by the cost of regulations imposed by social services, then received a bill for £510 from the same department for giving the owner permission to go out of business.

A similar problem has been presented to John Swain, whose metal finishing firm Anopol employs 30 people in Birmingham. Some years ago, as a service to other metal finishing companies who used his chemicals, he offered to accept their used chemicals back for storage in holding tanks and safe, environmentally-responsible disposal. Under EC directive 91/156, however, he then had to acquire a waste management licence, for which he had to pay the Environment Agency £3,897 a year.

This helped to make Mr Swain’s service uneconomical, so he told the agency that he wished to surrender his licence. He would continue to use the tanks for his own waste chemicals, but could no longer assist his customers. The agency sent him an eight-page questionnaire and a bill for £2,427 as a “surrender fee”.

This isn’t ‘government’, it’s Goodfellas!

Big Gubmint, NGOs, and Vacation

Today’s entry from Mark Steyn surveys the incompetence and general fecklessness of big gubmint and the quasigovernmental NGOs, in terms to warm any libertarian’s heart.

One of the reasons I’m in favor of small government is because there’s hardly anything the government doesn’t do worse than anybody else who wants to give it a go. Usually when I make this observation, I’m thinking of, say, Britain’s late unlamented nationalized car industry. But when the government of a G7 nation can’t run a small marijuana sideline as well as a college student with a window box, that seems to set an entirely new standard for official underperformance. Big government goes to pot, in every sense.

. . .

[E]very do-gooding cause eventually floats free of whatever good it was trying to do and becomes a self-perpetuating business all of its own. The racism industry, for example, is now so large and lucrative and employs so many highly remunerated people from the Rev. Jesse Jackson down that it has a far greater interest than the Klu Klux Klan in maintaining racism.

. . .

The humanitarian touring circuit is now the oldest established permanent floating crap game. Regions such as West Africa, where there’s no pretense anything will ever get better, or the Balkans, which are maintained by the U.N. as the global equivalent of a slum housing project, suit the aid agencies perfectly: There’s never not a need for them. But in Iraq they’ve decided they’re not interested in staying to see the electric grid back up to capacity and the water system improved if it’s an American administration at the helm. The Big Consciences have made a political decision: that it’s not in their interest for the Bush crowd to succeed, and that calculation outweighs any concern they might have for the Iraqi people.

Nothing to argue with there, but go read the whole thing.

With that, I am off for a week or so to hunt for the noble mule deer in the wilds of southern Wyoming. Complete written report on my return.

And now Italy…

Italy has just had a major blackout.

Let’s see now… USA, UK, Italy… I wonder if Spain has had one yet? Each blackout has a prosaic explanation, but taken all at once this rash of failures flags these blackouts unusual in a statistical sense if nought else.

Iraqi forces take over

You cannot train an army over night. You certainly cannot instantly ingrain alien concepts like “human rights” into rebuilt remnants of Iraq’s security forces. It takes time but we are now seeing results.

Iraq’s own forces are now controlling the Iran-Iraq border. Congratulations to them, and congratulations to the fine people who trained them.

With solid foundations in place, we will now be seeing Iraqi’s take over their own security at an accelerating pace.

Set your inner Martian free

I’m sure we’ve got a few closet Martians out there. You know who you are. Last month during the opposition were you standing out in the back garden every night staring up at that bright red dot with something akin to homesickness? Then have I got the t-shirt for you! This new fashion delight from Kim Poor is just the ticket!

Also, Kim’s a great guy and has a lot of other fine space art on sale. It’s worth a click or two just to see the artwork.

Cabinet Split Over ID Cards Widens

Speaking on BBC1 Question Time yesterday, Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt made public her “grave reservations” over Big Blunkett’s plans to introduce compulsory National Identity Cards for innocent UK citizens.

By going public on the eve of the Labour Party conference Hewitt is taking a large political risk. She needs our support.

Cross-posted from The Chestnut Tree Cafe

Libertarians: The Next Generation

It is good to see we have a new generation of activists coming up through the ranks. Andrew Danto, 18, is running for the O’Hara (Pennsylvania) Town Council. It started out as a Fox Chapel class project on government… but you know how these things can turn into a life’s work.

We wish him luck!

I escaped to Ireland fifteen years ago just before the local LP decided to draft me as a Pittsburgh City Council candidate or some such thing. My regards to Henry Haller if he’s still active there.

Fly-away data

In America, the airline Jet-Blue Airways is now facing several lawsuits for illegally handing over the passenger data of more than a million customers to a Pentagon contractor. The contractor, trying to set up a programme to enhance security at military bases, wanted access to commercial databases in order to assess the risk of a person turning out to be a terrorist.

Jet-Blue Airways has apologised for the surrender of the information, while at the same time trying to drag back a little dignity by saying that at least it did not pass the details on to a government body – scant consolation to anyone who has just had their secrets stolen from them.

The general point of this episode is that whenever a new intrusion into privacy emerges – entitlement cards, identity cards, Customs’ swaggering taste for impounding cars and goods – the Government defence comes down to the old adage, “the innocent have nothing to fear”.

Well, that just plain isn’t true when the system breaks down because of incompetence or malice. Those little boxes in adverts saying “Tick if you would prefer that your details are not passed on to other organisations” aren’t always watertight.