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]

Free Tommy Chong

In a press conference yesterday, I heard President Bush proclaim (and he is likely correct) that the increased propensity of terrorist factions within Iraq to perpetrate ever more vicious attacks on ever softer targets is evidence that, like a wounded and dying beast, they are lashing out in their death throws. My words, not his.

We are seeing similar behavior from terrorist factions within the United States government – those promoting and carrying out the Evil War on Drugs. With both their mantra and their life’s work coming increasingly under question, and unable to strike any significant blow against their enemy’s core, they have turned their attentions more and more towards its soft periphery, and proceed to attack it in an increasingly vicious manner.

The most glaring example of this is the Justice department’s ‘Operation Pipe Dreams’, and its selectively harsh enforcement against actor and comedian Tommy Chong. → Continue reading: Free Tommy Chong

Japanese internet cafe surveillance.

I am right now in the “Yahoo Cafe” airside in Terminal 2 at Tokyo Narita international airport, in transit on my way from London to Sydney. This internet cafe is absolutely free, and I have been using it for 45 minutes or so and nobody has asked me to stop. (There is a sign up saying that the cafe is there to advertise Yahoo and Toshiba – the computers are Toshiba laptops). This is great, partly because I always enjoy getting things for free without having to pay for them, and secondly because I do not have any Japanese money, and there are no cash machines airside. (Given the lack of enthusiasm that the Japanese have for credit cards, getting a beer is going to be harder).

However, there is a sign up outside the cafe stating that people who wish to use the cafe must provide their passports (or some equivalent form of ID) to be scanned or copied, so that use can be monitored. It is stated that “This request is in compliance with various Japanese laws”. As to whether this means that the laws require this, or whether they merely allow this, I do not know. It also says that people who do not wish to have their use monitored in this way should not use the cafe. (I will take a picture of the sign, and I will post it when I am in Australia. I could try to do it now, but the machine has no free USB ports. For reasons I will get to).

When I asked to use one of the computers, I handed over my (machine readable) passport, and my passport was actually scanned by a machine, which presumably read my passport number and other details electronically. I was then given an electronic key device, which I was required to plug into the USB port of the computer I want to use. Therefore, my internet use is being connected with my passport number.

I do not know if the “government regulations” require lead to things like happening at all internet cafes in Japan, or just those at the airport. However, I cannot imagine that this sort of system is very hard to subvert with the internet in present form. I am sure that actual criminals have no trouble using the internet anonymously, and that it is only normally law abiding people like me who get their use monitored. (I am almost tempted to go to a porn site to see if I am instantly thrown in a Japanese prison, but I rather doubt that would happen. For one thing, this is the land where people quite openly read pornographic comic books on the subway. They are rather more relaxed about this kind of thing than the Americans).

However, there are lots of proposals in place (justified in a lot of cases by fears of copyright violation) to build computer hardware in such a way that monitoring of this kind is ubiquitous and automatic for everyone everywhere.

However, it’s interesting and a little troubling to see that one government of a democratic and in some ways quite liberal country is trying to do it now.

Update: It is perhaps less sinister than that. I went to the bar for a little while, and I came back to the internet cafe. I was recognised and handed another USB key thingy without checking my ID again. As I doubt they remembered my name, it seems they are not matching internet use to actual people, but are merely checking ID. They could switch to matching very easily and without anyone noticing, of course.

XCOR on the telly

In case anyone was watching, a couple of our inimitable readers were to be seen on “Future Flight” earlier tonight. The show, on ITV Channel 5, spent fifteen minutes out of an hour program showing the EZRocket in flight and on the ground. Jeff Greason showed up as a talking head, as did Aleta Jackson. I think I saw Dave Jones also but I’m uncertain. Maybe he’ll confirm to us if he was in camera range.

Erratum: Doug Jones. Sorry Doug! Insufficient caffeine. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

Tax increases coming?

Bruce Bartlett has an interesting perspective at National Review Online on when and how the next round of tax increases will be foisted on the American public. First, he reviews the legacy of that famous tax-cutting President, Ronald Reagan.

The year 1988 appears to be the only year of the Reagan presidency, other than the first, in which taxes were not raised legislatively. Of course, previous tax increases remained in effect. According to a table in the 1990 budget, the net effect of all these tax increases was to raise taxes by $164 billion in 1992, or 2.6 percent of GDP. This is equivalent to almost $300 billion in today’s economy.

Then, he looks at how past tax increases have been foisted on the US.

But when all the political and economic elites of this country gang up on a president to raise taxes, history shows that they always get what they want. Indeed, they were even able to get Bush’s father to raise taxes in 1990, even though his political advisers knew that it would likely lead to his defeat in 1992, which it did.

How do the elites break down presidential resistance to tax increases? They do so by promising the moon. Tax increases, they say, will lead to huge reductions in interest rates, which will power economic growth and reduce unemployment. The rich only pay them anyway, which makes the president look like a populist. And tax increases are the price that must be paid to get spending cuts.

This last point is especially laughable.

Actually, all the points are laughable, but the last one is the worst. Giving someone who is overspending a big raise is the best way to cut back on their spending, right? How dumb do they think we voters are?

Pretty dumb, obviously. Too bad the voters as a class don’t do anything to prove them wrong, like voting the duplicitous bastards out.

The article ends by noting that:

It will be interesting to see how Bush reacts when his staff tells him that taxes need to be raised.

Very interesting indeed. President Bush has shown no spine whatsoever on domestic issues, with the sole exception of his tax cut. I will predict that he stood up for his tax cut because his father lost his reelection bid due to a tax increase. After next year’s election, when he is in his final term (assuming he wins), I don’t see any reason to believe that President Bush will resist the pressure for a tax increase.

The means to the Conservatives ‘eNZ’

Tim Sturm sees some interesting parallels between the British Tory Party and the New Zealand National Party.

UK Conservatives concerned with the current leadership battle might take note of similar events in New Zealand, where the NZ equivalent, the National Party, has just voted in Don Brash1, former Governor of the Reserve Bank, and a classical liberal, as its new leader.

The similarities between National and the Conservatives are many:

  • National has been the dominant party since at least WWII and considers itself the natural party of government
  • It is currently floundering in the polls in its second consecutive term in opposition
  • It is unable to counter the lefty backlash against the ‘Thatcherite’ reforms of the 80’s and 90’s and is apparently unwilling or unable to articulate any clear policies or principles.
  • It appears to be self-destructing through infighting and ineffectual leadership.

Hopefully much of this is about to change.

The elevation of Brash to the leadership role can be seen as a firm pronouncement of principle, even if a reluctant one for some. Brash is not necessarily the best politician in the tactical sense, but he is certainly the highest profile man of principle the party has.

For instance, he is unashamedly supportive of the earlier reform programme. His central bank reforms were a key part of that programme and became a model (albeit flawed) for central banks around the world.

What’s more, his principles are generally quite good. In his maiden parliamentary speech, he said:

People are generally in the best position to make decisions for themselves and their families. This argues for the maximum amount of freedom for the individual.

(Brash also, incidentally, subscribes to and has occasionally written for The Free Radical, New Zealand’s premier libertarian magazine).

National has finally therefore drawn a clear dividing line with the ruling Labour government, which is staunchly antagonistic to the earlier reforms and to free markets in general.

It remains to be seen whether this attack of principle will be successful in lifting National out of the poll doldrums. Frankly I do not care about that. The long term future of conservative politics lies in principles, not in random shifts of sentiment that National and the UK’s Conservatives have been hoping for.

I only hope the Conservatives are watching.

Tim Sturm

1 = The linked article overstates Brash’s ‘social conscience’. Brash has written extensively for a reduction in the size of the welfare state. See for example here.

Condescension and infantilization

Interesting story out of Oregon on their state health insurance scheme. Much to the relief of Oregon taxpayers, no doubt, some 40,000 people have dropped out of the Oregon Health Plan program, which provides state-subsidized health insurance.

The reason they dropped out? I don’t know, really, but it is interesting that the newspaper casts the story entirely in terms of the poor folk being dropped from the program. I say the participants dropped out because they apparently chose not to pay the premiums, which are as low as $6.00 per month. The response of “advocates” for the poor is just priceless.

Advocates for the poor say the premiums are too expensive for some people and the government may have overestimated the ability of people to mail a check.

“It’s an enormous barrier,” said Ellen Pinney, director of the Oregon Health Action Committee. “Let alone the $6, there is the whole issue of writing a check or getting a money order, putting it in an envelope with a stamp and putting it in the mail to this place in Portland that must receive it by the due date.”

$6.00 a month too expensive? Give me a break. This sounds to me like a classic example of “I can’t afford it” as code for “I have other things I would rather spend the money on.” If you forego a single trip per month to McDonald’s, you will save enough to pay a $6.00 monthly premium.

Really, though, the notion that poor people are incapable of mailing a check has got to be the last word in condescension and infantilization. Believe me, anyone who can fill out the paperwork to qualify for Medicaid or other state-paid health insurance (or find someone to do it for them) is capable of writing a check or getting a money order and putting it in the mail.

I’m not sure what larger point this story illustrates, to tell you the truth. Perhaps the corrosive effect of the welfare state on its recipients. Perhaps that, if you support the welfare state, sooner or later you will start to sound like a total ninny.

Thanks to OpinionJournal for the link.

Mr 45 per cent

Mr Duncan Smith has become famous at last. He has also managed to get 45 per cent in a confidence vote. To British readers, used to three way elections where such a score would guarantee a big majority in the House of Commons, IDS seems to have done well. But in a two way contest, especially as the incumbent, it’s not so good.

I recall that François Mitterand had the nickname "Monsieur 45 pour cent" because he could never break that barrier in French presidential election contests from the 1960s until 1981. For my part, I really thought that Mr Duncan Smith would be a lot more capable than he in fact turned out to be.

Lucky Tony Blair. Unlucky Gordon Brown.

Attack of the PC zombies

I’ve just read an article in Fox News which has left me both speechless and in a fury:

A 14-year-old New Jersey schoolboy — whose dad and stepdad are in the military — was suspended for five days because he drew a “patriotic” stick figure of a U.S Marine blowing away a Taliban fighter, officials said yesterday.

It further notes:

Scott Switzer, of Colts Neck, was sent home last week from Tinton Falls Middle School after a teacher saw the image on a computer and described it to the principal.

Scott, who turned 14 Tuesday and was headed back to school Wednesday, said he was unjustly disciplined for his sketch of “a war scene.”

This sort of treatment of a young lad for simply being a young lad is incredibly destructive. You can’t repress the natural expression of, well, being a boy. Boys like imaginary wars and fighting battles in the back yard, climbing trees, hiding under porches, jumping off porch roofs and playing ‘paratrooper’ by swinging as high as they can before letting go. You can’t stop them from going bang-bang at passing cars – transmogrified by imagination into Russian or Nazi or Jap or Iraqi tanks, depending on the generation.

If you were to succeed, you would destroy them as thoroughly as if you’d taken them in a backroom and buggered their wee bottoms. Worse, actually. One can recover from mere physical abuse… rape of the soul is forever.

I used to draw all sorts of battle scenes when I was 14. Lots of aircraft diving and strafing, even an imaginary Nazi Spaceship after reading Robert Heinlein’s “Rocketship Galileo”. I’m sure these morons would have loved me.

At one point we had a long running series of water gun ‘assassinations’ in the halls of Coraopolis Senior High School. One group of us were the “Nazi’s” and another were “Codename Jericho” and “Operation Bluelight” from the TV series of the time. This included secret coded messages being passed around and sometimes captured and passed on to me as the senior Herr codebreaker. I’d just gotten my first book on Codes and Ciphers through the Scholastic Book Service. Since both ‘sides’ were working from the same book, it was fairly easy to crack them!

We finally caught a ‘double agent’ and surrounded him in the basketball court bleachers during some ceremony in which a Pennsylvania State official presented our school a State flag. When it ended, our target tried to run for it, but we surrounded him. The ‘we’ being all of us zombies who’d already been watergunned over the last few weeks. The rules were that those already ‘dead’ weren’t allowed to take out anyone else.

Our designated assassin then emptied the watergun on him.

These politically correct fruitcakes in New Jersey would simply have adored us. They would probably have sent me and the others in for Indoctrination and Re-education.

High Noon Seven O’Clock for IDS

In an hour from now, we will know if Iain Duncan Smith has survived as leader of the Tory Party…

…or more accuratly, some of you will know, because I have just noticed that there is going to be a fascinating wildlife documentary about the mating habits of the Northumbrian Lesser Spotted Leaping Tree Vole on one of the documentary cable channels.


Well guess what...

Sad loss

Ruth Lea, the head of policy at Britain’s Institute of Directors (IoD), has been fired. What a pity. Lea put forward views that truly took account of the needs of business, even though the government did not like them.

On an unrelated point, I wonder if George Cox, the IoD’s Director General, is now in line for a knighthood?

Arrival of the big one

I just had a long series of crackles on my speakers in time to the flickering of the overhead lights. One of the others in the flat noticed problems with his radio this morning. These all could be signs of the incoming solar storm. It is one of the three largest since records have been kept on such things. The last really big one, in 1989, took down a big chunk of the Canadian power grid.

If it hits us just right, there could be spectacular aurorae tonight. It is worth going outside tonight and looking up, just in case. There may be nothing or there may be one of the more spectacular heavenly sights you have ever seen. There is just no telling.

At the moment my upward view is rather grey and the outdoors is cold, damp and rather miserable. I doubt I will have the pleasure of seeing this natural lightshow unless the weather changes drastically.

Liberty groups attack plan for EU health ID card

Disturbing news in the Telegraph about the European Union taking its first step last week towards the creation of an EU-wide health identity card able to store a range of biometric and personal data on a microchip by 2008. Approved by Union ministers in Luxembourg, the plastic disk will slide into the credit-card pouch of a wallet or purse.

The European Health Insurance Card is intended to end the bureaucratic misery of E111 forms currently used by travellers who fall ill in other EU countries. Eventually it will replace a plethora of other complex forms needed for longer stays.

But civil liberties groups said it was the start of a scheme for a harmonised data chip that would quickly evolve into an EU “identity card” containing intrusive information off all kinds that could be read by a computer.

The European Commission confirmed that the final phase in 2008 would add a “smart chip” containing a range of data, including health files and records of treatment received.

The ultimate objective is to have an electronic chip on the card, as the technology improves.

Tony Bunyan, the head of Statewatch, said it was part of a disturbing Union-wide erosion of privacy since September 11 2001.

We all know where they’re heading with this. They want a single card with all our data on one chip. It’ll be a passport and driver’s licence rolled into one with everything from our national insurance numbers, bank accounts, to health records.

Yeah, I think he just might be on to something…