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]

Of meetings and plagues

I am in my kitchen, reporting on one of my last-Friday-of-the-month meetings. It is still in full swing. Most of the London events you read about on Samizdata are booze-ups at Perry’s, and at my meetings, there is also booze. From 9.30 pm until around midnight the drink flows and the conversation bubbles merrily, and I can hear it bubbling now. But there is also, always, an agenda. Starting at 8 pm, and proceeding until 9.30 pm, there is a speaker lead discussion.

I have been hosting these things since the late 1980s, and there a moment, a few years back, when I was finding them something of a drag to organise. Only the enormous inconvenience that would necessarily have continued, every last Friday of the month, even if I had stopped holding these meetings, in the form of regulars knocking on my door and demanding entry to a non-existent event and then having to be diverted (which might not be much fun) or told to go away (which might not be wise or kind), persuaded me to persist with these events. But then along came email, to the point where even I had it, and now they pretty much run themselves. I fix a speaker, email everyone on the list on about the Tuesday telling them of exactly who will say approximately what on the Friday, and of any other future meetings that have already been fixed. (Speakers for July and November are now settled, but nothing else is certain as yet, other than that someone will speak.)


Tonight, Sean Gabb spoke about “Demography and History”. He is the second from the right in the picture, with our own David Carr lending an ear in the foreground. The guy in the corner is Bruce, a real photographer, who would have done a far better picture, but with him as with me, you get what you pay for, photographically speaking.

When Sean speaks about current affairs, he is always interesting, but so are most of us. We all have worthwhile opinions about what is happening now. But when it comes to speaking about the whys and wherefores of the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire in the Sixth Century or for that matter about the history of Eastern Europe in the years before the outbreak of the First World War, Sean is, in the London libertarian scene, in a class of his own. Not being burdened with false modesty, Sean was recording his talk, on his laptop computer, and I understand that it will be available on the Internet. He had to leave promptly at 9.30 pm to catch his train down to the South Coast where he now lives, so I can not be sure of the details of this, but I will supply a link to his talk as soon as I can, and maybe some more comment on it. → Continue reading: Of meetings and plagues

Biometric IDs OK With U.K.

The new Wired has an article about a survey by MORI that found out that about 80 per cent of 1,000 British adults want a biometric identification card, citing concerns about illegal immigration and identity theft.

Though the survey shows that most Britons back national identity cards, there’s a wrinkle: Half said they won’t pay for it, and few were very familiar with the cards. Contrast that with the government’s plan to charge 35 pounds for an identity card good for 10 years, or 77 pounds for a card including passport, for every family member 16 to 80 years old.

Concerns about Big Brother? Try “bumbling brother,” with 58 percent of surveyed Britons predicting the government won’t be able to roll out new ID cards smoothly, and one-third saying their stored information won’t be safe. Still, most support such cards, principally to tackle illegal immigration and identity theft. The latter costs the United Kingdom 1.3 billion pounds per year.

In the United States, popular opinion and embarrassing biometric-test failures have blunted overt national ID card efforts, though U.S. passports and some states’ driver’s licenses will store biometric information soon, leading privacy activists to warn the IDs could become de facto national IDs.

Samizdata quote of the day

Never trust a man who, when left alone in a room with a tea cozy, doesn’t try it on.
– Billy Connolly

Mobile phone music from some German Pandas

I do not understand how this works, but it sounds like fun, or at any rate like a ripple of the future:

A band from Germany has adopted a novel approach to getting their music heard by millions.

Super Smart have turned their backs on vinyl and CDs and instead have decided to just release their album as ringtones.

The album, Panda Babies, is published by a German company that focuses on digital music for mobile phones.

So if there’s there is no CD, what does the word “album” mean in this connection? And, if Super Smart are a “band”, what is a Super Smart live gig like? A bunch of Germans waving their portable phones at the audience?

The identity of the four-piece from Munich is shrouded in mystery and in photos they appear with giant panda heads.

“Shrouded in mystery” presumably means that Super Smart is actually one person, and anybody can be a Panda for the photo shoots. The individual, by wearing a uniform, is subordinated to the Greater Whole, dominated by one “Super Smart” individual. Germans eh? – they never change. But I suppose much the same could be said of the Wombles.

I have yet to acquire a mobile phone, so none of this will make any difference to me. But I do have some questions. For example: Can mobile phone music play more than one note at a time, or is it like solo violin music without any double stopping? How long can it go on for? Is any of it any good?

And can I buy a compilation CD of mobile phone Greatest Hits?

Do “anarchists” really want anarchy?

As Mayday approaches and with it the traditional harbingers of summer, such as the sight of a freshly dug paving brick in flight, with its comet’s tail of dirt particles, tracing an arc towards a McDonalds plate glass window or the contents of a looted Baby Gap whirling in the breeze, blue bibs and striped sleepsuits hanging off street lights, my thoughts turn to that strange creature who has emerged from winter hibernation, the anti-globalisation “anarchist”. This creature represents a conundrum: While he professes to favour anarchy, he is more likely than not to owe his current indolent lifestyle to a most un-anarchical social welfare system. How to reconcile this contradiction?

The first thing I’d like to say is that I am not anarcho-libertarian. I do understand the arguments, I just remain unpersuaded. But my intention here is not to provide a rebuttal of anarcho-libertarianism, rather to compare it with the “anarchism” more prominent in the popular imagination, that of a Mayday protester. If you take such an anarchist at his word and grant that he will be happy to forego the benefits of a redistributive welfare state once his utopia arrives, where does his purported philosophy differ from an anarcho-libertarian or anarcho-capitalist?

It occurs to me that the principal difference lies in the respective attitudes towards private property. The anarcho-capitalist respects private property, his own and others. The “anarchist” considers all property to be theft and asserts a right to expropriate such property as he needs or wants from others. As a welfare state needs a state to sustain itself, the anarchist presumably imagines that the “needy”, in lieu of state handouts, simply steal what they “need” from others. Of course if you are one of those “others” you may not be so keen on this happening. As there would be no state police force, the task of defending property devolves to the individual who may contract it out to private security services. Thus the anarchy favoured by the “anarchist” turns out strikingly similar to that proposed by anarcho-capitalists. Is this really what he wants?

I suggest that what the “anarchist” really wants is short term anarchy. An afternoon or so of mayhem, “for kicks”, and then a return to an un-anarchical world where the welfare state remains to inadvertently subsidise his “alternative” lifestyle.

It has to be permanent

A letter to the editor of the Daily Telegraph, from Dr Chris Williams, European Centre for the Study of Policing, Open University, Milton Keynes:

One problem with the proposal for a national ID card (News, Apr 27) is the security of the information in its “clean” database.

Although police all sign the Official Secrets Act, and are well paid, well supervised and largely trustworthy, at least one policeman has been sent to prison for selling the information on the Police National Computer to the highest bidder – in this case, credit reference agencies. HM Inspectorate of Constabulary recorded their concern over this practice in 1999 and recommended measures to stop it, yet the Police Complaints Commission admitted in 2002 that “there will always be a few officers willing to risk their careers by obtaining data improperly”.

So we can’t trust the police to keep a sensitive database watertight. Can we trust other state institutions or outsourcing companies such as Capita? To be usable, an ID card database has to be accessible by hundreds of thousands of people. And the security has to be permanent.

In 1938, the Gestapo took over the files of Interpol’s predecessor when they entered Vienna. If we put all our data eggs in one basket, we need to be certain that a DVD with all our details on it never gets to al-Qa’eda, the IRA or the unknown evils that the future doubtless holds.

Guard your banana!

The thing I really like and admire about capitalism is its attention to detail, made possible by the division of labour. While we Samizdatistas get sucked into Political Class worries – like the EU and the Iraq War, overpopulation, underpopulation, etc. – capitalism continues to crank out solutions to problems so small that they can actually to be solved. Someone, somewhere (actually: Canada!), instead of worrying about the Iraq War (over which, he probably decided, he had no influence), has instead been worrying about bananas and how to guard them.

Consider this problem:

Are you fed up with bringing bananas to work or school only to find them bruised and squashed? …

I know I am. I have lost count of the number of times I have done damage to a bagful of Important Things, as a result of a neglected banana at the bottom of everything which I put there three days ago and then forgot about. But what to do? Bananas taste nice. You never know when a banana in your bag might come in handy.

So how do you stop it being crushed and becoming a sticky, destructive mess, dangerous to everything around it? Well, when a capitalist asks an arkward question like the one above, you just know that he will very soon start in on the answer, and this capitalist is no different:

… Our unique, patented device allows for the safe transport and storage of individual bananas letting you enjoy perfect bananas anytime, anywhere.

A perfect banana. Tell me more.

The Banana Guard was specially designed to fit the vast majority of bananas. Its other features include multiple small perforations to facilitate ventilation thereby preventing premature ripening and a sturdy locking mechanism to keep the Banana Guard closed. The Banana Guard is of course dishwasher safe for easy cleaning.

Of course. Small perforations. There goes that attention to detail.

You can get your Banana Guard in an impressive range of colours, namely: Ravishing Red, Outrageous Orange, Mellow Yellow, Sublime Green, Skyhigh Blue, Brilliant Blue, Passionate Purple, Pretty in Pink, and Glow in the Dark.

My thanks to this Monkey.

Idiots (complete with a big list of idiots)

Useful Idiots
Mona Charen
Regnery, 2003

It must have struck many people besides myself that anti-Americanism, so much a world-wide sentiment and problem, is, to an extent it is hard to quantify, an American export. No nation, surely, has produced such a large volume of self-criticism, proceeding through self-denigration to self-hatred. Is it surprising that the rest of the world has listened to, copied, and amplified the message? Yet it was not always so; indeed Americans fought both World Wars and the Korean War with little dissent. Television may have been the ultimate morale-breaker in the Vietnam War, but why did those responsible use it for this purpose, even turning good news into bad, as with the crushing of the Vietcong “Tet offensive”? This book doesn’t give the motivations, just the facts.

“Lenin is credited with the prediction that liberals and other weak-minded souls in the West could be relied upon to be ‘useful idiots’ as far as the Soviet Union was concerned,” states the author and I have been unable (like her, I suppose) to find any source for Lenin’s insight in the handful of books of quotations I have consulted; it would be interesting to know to whom it was first contemptuously applied. If the function of a useful idiot is to support a cause detrimental to his best interests, then the definition is perhaps a little imprecise, for few, if any, of the useful idiots described in this book have received their come-uppance. But then, their cause didn’t triumph. Or didn’t where they lived; elsewhere, it was a different matter. → Continue reading: Idiots (complete with a big list of idiots)

The Daily BBC?

As a rule (well, more of a ‘guideline’ really) I do not fisk the ‘readers letters’ section of media organs.

There is no objectively good reason for me to refrain from doing so except that I regard it as bad form; rather too close to bullying for comfort. After all, the whole point of ‘readers letters’ sections is for the public to let off some steam and drawing attention to the wild and woolly nature of the some of the contributions hardly makes me a clever dick.

Still, this particular missive in the ‘Feedback’ section of the Spectator is so extravagantly barking that I am going to grant myself a (temporary) exemption:

It is an indictment of the pitiful state of our ‘democracy’ that Britain’s future role in Europe should depend on the whim of one egregious Australian-born businessman (‘The man who calls the shots’, 24 April).

I did not realise that Prime Minister Blair was an Australian-born businessman.

How to stop similar circumstances arising again? Our broadcast media — i.e. the BBC — is the envy of the world.

If that is true, then all I can say is that the world must be in a piss-poor state.

The solution is obvious: we need a British Press Corporation, an equivalent of the BBC for print media. The ‘Beep’ could run a small stable of publications from tabloids to broadsheets (and even perhaps weeklies too).

Of course!! (meaty slap to the forehead). The solution is so obvious. Damn my eyes for not thinking of it sooner!

It could be part-subsidised out of general taxation, and would therefore be more independent of the business interests whose ownership deforms the content of so much of our press.

It would have to be subsidised out of taxation. Nobody is going to voluntarily hand over hard-earned money for that crap.

Drawing as it would on the existing structure of news-gathering available to the BBC, the BPC would be cost-effective as well as provide an intelligent and informative source of news. Its competition would surely have the effect of undercutting the worst at least of the present tabloid excesses and the dominance of a handful of private individuals over the British polity.

Listen, buster, if any ‘handful of private individuals’ are going to have dominance over the British polity, then it is the Samizdatistas. Got it?

I may yet get to see America

I refuse to pay more than about £100 to sit in a tube for several hours, no matter how far it travels or how interesting the place at the far end, and even if they let me sit by the window and look at the clouds and, with extreme luck, at the beginning and the end of the journey, some actual views of earth. So until now, and given that no one else has thought it worth paying for me to visit, I have resigned myself to never actually seeing the (now sadly truncated) towers of Manhattan and the depths of the Grand Canyon (to name the two American things I most want to see before I die), plus whatever else American has to offer, such as those peculiar shaped small mountains in the desert wherever those things are, nice people, Carnegie Hall, an NFL football game, etc. But now, via the invaluable Transport Blog “In Brief” section (April 28th), I have come across this:

Transatlantic flights for as little as £60 could soon be available under a deal being forged between a German airport and US carriers.

The managing director of Cologne-Bonn airport, Michael Garvens, says he has been negotiating for several weeks to establish the service, which would take low-cost travel into a new realm.

Under the proposals, carriers such as Hapag-Lloyd Express and Germanwings would fly passengers from Cologne-Bonn to New York, Chicago and other destinations in America and Canada for as little as £60 per stretch. The deal would require passengers to pay for refreshments and to book online.

“We are currently holding concrete discussions with American carriers,” said an airport spokesman. The airport said its goal was to combine the strengths of budget airlines.

Concrete discussions, no less. (Interesting that “concrete” in this connection means a discussion that is actually going somewhere. Often “concrete”, applied to conversations, means the opposite of that.)

Two possibilities suggest themselves. Either Cologne-Bonn to America will shortly be followed by (e.g.) Stansted to America, or Stansted to Cologne-Bonn by Ryanair or scumbagair or reallyeasyjet or gojet or whatever can be stuck on the front of the journey, and I could be in the USA for something around or not far above my £100 limit.

The world is getting smaller.

So, now, who will pay my American hotel bill and cab fares, or put me in their spare room and feed me for a fortnight, having collected me from the airport? Some pocket money would be nice. A few speaking engagements (but not too many), some TV and radio appearances in which I can air my opinions to the American masses and become an instant celebrity, maybe some girl friends for the duration (see the Kris Marshall scenes in Love Actually for details), …

Who will start the bidding? America is the land of opportunity, right? So America: prove it. Show me some opportunities. (And please: no “we will pay this much for you to stay at home” nonsense. Well, actually, yes, that might be good too.)

Dishonouring the fallen

An interesting question for those concerned about creating a more free society is how such a society, be it a model of constitutional, limited, minimal government, or even an anarchist one, would actually defend itself from attack. What sort of practical ways would such societies employ, and would such societies require armies, navies, air forces and the like?

It seems pretty fair to me to assume that outside some sort of pacifist utopia, any such model requires defence and people with the skills and willpower to serve as soldiers, pilots and the like. That is why in the absence of the draft, which libertarians rightly abhor, we need people who can volunteer to serve in the armed forces, giving up the comforts of home. That is not sentimental military-speak, but hard reality.

Hard reality is something of a stranger to the author of this diatribe, full of twisted logic, presumptiousness and lies against the late American soldier and former NFL star, Pat Tillman.

I will not bother to fisk the piece. The illogicality of it is so glaring, its vile intent so obvious, that a line by line response would merely insult the intelligence of this blog’s readership. Suffice to say that a man gave up the promise of a fat paycheck and the comforts of a loving family to go and join the army, knowing that in so doing he might be called upon to fight in situations those moral perfectionists in our academic world would find abhorrent.

Whether one agrees with the war against Saddam and the Taliban or not, on a broader point, it seems obvious to me that we will need people willing, like Pat Tillman, to defend us. This is a point that about which a “chickenhawk” like me who is too old to serve in the forces any more is only too painfully aware.

Remember the name of the woman who wrote this shabby article. As the years go by no doubt she will continue to enjoy the benefits of a world made rich by a model of free enterprise she hates, and defended by “macho” men she despises. But I will not forget. This sorry excuse for a human being has not just traduced the memory of a very brave and good man; she has done so against all those who believed they were fighting to defend the freedoms we enjoy.

(Please post comments on the Daily Collegiate website I linked to. They deserve to hear what you think).

Chirac: “the travelling salesman for enlargement”

A mindboggling article on the TF1 (French TV) website.

Apparently, Jacqeues Chirac is dedicating today’s presidential press conference to the subject of EU enlargement. The analysis is that this will dillute French influence in the EU, shift the balance of power in a more “Atlanticist” direction, and help bring about back-door free-market reforms.

The French Socialist Party has decided to make the threat of a libertarian Europe (Europe libérale) the main plank of its European election campaign, citing the EU constitution as part of the potential problem. They think it is going to be amended into something terrifying (i.e. good). Especially horrible for the European left is the prospect of cross-border private welfare arrangements: buying private pensions and health insurance without the ‘protection’ of nationalized welfare monopolies. Get your life insurance in France, health insurance in Germany and your pension in the UK for example.

Jacques Chirac as the agent of Anglo-Saxon capitalists! Priceless.