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]

Put out the Ash

Scott Baines calls for the government to allow an fair debate on smoking.

There is conserable pubic debate at present about the role of government in regulating smoking. The Prime Minister has called for a “Big Conversation” on whether local authorities should be able to ban workplace smoking. Yet the government seems unwilling to allow a fair debate. Instead, it is hugely bankrolling one side.

Action on Smoking and Health, which calls for smoking to gradually be made illegal, received £177,640 last year from the Department of Health. It also received £136,936 from the Welsh Assembly. This is money earned by taxpayers, including the especially heavily-taxed smoker, which goes towards an organisation that persecutes them. Ash offers an entirely negative contribution to society. Its funding should be stopped.

Scott Baines

The Summer Movie Season gets going

The summer movie season in the US used to start on the Memorial Day holiday, and the box office statistics used by the major studios until recently reflected this fact. However, ever since Twister was a big hit when released two weeks before Memorial Day in 1996, the studios have started rolling out their big summer movies starting from two weeks before Memorial Day. A couple of years ago, the box office statistics compiled by AC Nielsen EDI were adjusted to reflect this fact.

However, this year the first big summer movie was released three weeks before Memorial Day. (This may be a one off thing. Memorial Day is late in the month this year. Or perhaps the summer movie season is now always going to start three weeks before EDI tweaked the definition of summer again to take this into account. Perhaps in a few years “summer” will be statistically redefined to start in February). That first move was Universal’s Van Helsing. That was now three weeks ago, and we can start to see the first few indications of what the summer would be like.

The story of last summer has been told. Hollywood released lots of sequels, lots of high concept movies based on comic books, old television series, video games and theme parks. With one or two exceptions grosses were down from the summer before. There was lots of speculation as to whether the advent of DVDs meant that people were less likely to go and see movies in the cinema, or whether it just meant the year’s movies weren’t very good. Certainly, though, people were and are watching lots of movies on DVDs, and Hollywood was making unexpectedly immense amounts of money due to this, which sort of made up for the decline in box office revenues. (Of course, when the DVD format was introduced in the first place a few years back, a number of Hollywood studios waited a couple of years before releasing any movies on the new format. Studio people were frightened that the high quality digital nature of the new format meant that releasing films this way would make them more vulnerable to piracy, and they could not see any upside, as obviously all that would happen is that people would rent movies on DVD the way they had on VHS until then, and giving people a high quality digital experience at home would not cause them to rent or buy more movies. Obviously. Hollywood always runs away from new technology like this, and has an amazing inability to see upside in it. But the upside almost always seems to come).

Hollywood went into last summer believing that sequels were going to gross substantially more money than did the original films they were sequels to, but it didn’t happen and they get their noses bloodied a little. It takes two years for the lessons of a bad summer to sink in to Hollywood, but none the less this summer has fewer sequels and the like scheduled than last summer did. The lesson they should probably have learned is that sequels to good films can gross more than sequels to bad films, but the trouble with Hollywood being run by corporate types rather than people who genuinely love movies is that they are sometimes slow to see things like that.

One other thing that has been happening this year is what is often called “day and date” international programming. Traditionally, films were released in the US first, and would be rolled out throughout the rest of the world over a period of months. This is now happening less and less for big movies. Films are being released on the same weekend in most major markets. There are two reasons for this. The first is that Hollywood as always is afraid of piracy. Certainly they are losing some money to pirates. Once upon a time I was frequently offered illicit CD and VCDs and VHS tapes when walking down the streets of Asian cities, but if I wanted them in developed countries they would be harder to find. These days I cannot walk down Oxford Street in London without encountering someone selling illicit DVDs of movies current in the US that have probably not been released in the UK yet. Releasing movies in large swathes of Europe and Asia on the same weekend as in the US certainly reduces the window in which this activity is profitable, and this is the main reason given for the fact that there are now simultaneous worldwide releases.

But in reality this is more of a symptom than the cause. → Continue reading: The Summer Movie Season gets going

More possible Saddam-terror link stories

It is by now a familiar statement from anti-war folk that Saddam had no real links to Islamic terror groups of any consequence. The idea, dear boy, is totally incredible. The man, who after all was a “secular ruler” (conjuring up the image of the old bastard reading Voltaire of an evening). had a positive revulsion of Islamic religious extremism. To suggest a link is to fall prey to the fantasies of the great neoconservative/Zionist/whatever conspiracy now trying to rule the world. Right?

Well, no, actually. The Wall Street Journal has an article today setting out what it believes is rather a big lump of evidence pointing to terror links before and after 9/11:

One striking bit of new evidence is that the name Ahmed Hikmat Shakir appears on three captured rosters of officers in Saddam Fedayeen, the elite paramilitary group run by Saddam’s son Uday and entrusted with doing much of the regime’s dirty work. Our government sources, who have seen translations of the documents, say Shakir is listed with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.

This matters because if Shakir was an officer in the Fedayeen, it would establish a direct link between Iraq and the al Qaeda operatives who planned 9/11. Shakir was present at the January 2000 al Qaeda “summit” in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at which the 9/11 attacks were planned. The U.S. has never been sure whether he was there on behalf of the Iraqi regime or whether he was an Iraqi Islamicist who hooked up with al Qaeda on his own.

Okay, I know what the responses will be. It’s the Wall Street Journal! You can’t believe these guys! etc, etc.

But stepping aside from this specific article, consider this following general scenario: you have a military dictator who loves taking his nation to the brink even at great cost; his military forces are seriously damaged from two devastating wars and a sanctions regime; he craves revenge and enjoys humiliating his foes. To whom does he turn to help hurt his great enemy, the United States?

Exactly. Why is it so crazy, so bonkers, to think that terror links probably did exist, and that, if it were possible, it was vital for the intelligence services of the Western powers to check those possibilities?

You may say, why does this really matter now? Well, to be frank, the argument that we need to “reshape the Middle East” always struck me as dangerously ambitious, and the costs of such a venture struck me as potentially prohibitive. That is one part of the isolationist position I have some sympathy for, a fact which might surprise some. (“Johnathan Pearce has gone wobbly!”) For me, though, what counted was the potentially deadly nexus of terror groups, mass weapons, and rogue states able and willing to offer harbour and support to such terror groups. My conscience is troubled at the thought that we might have attacked a nation of no serious threat to us. Well, if the latest stories turn out to be even half-true, then the evidence of Saddam’s malignity just got a lot, lot harder.

Up and down… and up again tomorrow

For those who have already visited White Rose earlier today and noticed that the article One for the heart, is missing. It was written for someone else and forwarded to me for information only. We hope to get it cleared with the publication for which it was originally destined and aim to re-post it tomorrow. Apologies to those who were inconvenienced.

Nice Peace-keeping

I took some rather hot flak when I opposed international gun control as an excuse for invading Iraq (if Iraq’s nukes are “bad”, are France’s and China’s nukes “good”?). I have also taken some sharp criticism for saying that invading a country in order to make friends is an odd strategy (worthy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau “We will force you to be free!”).

From Wires blog:

As we were leaving Baghdad, taking a ‘short cut’ through Fallujah and Ramadi, we passed a US Tank involved in ‘Stop and Search’. It had ASSAULT AND BATTERY written on it’s barrel.

Nice Peace – Keeping.

Now I do not take everything fiona says as Gospel, although her first act in Iraq was to try out an AK-47 so she can’t be all bad!

It is clear however that there is no abatement of the resistance to foreign occupation of Iraq. It does not really matter whether the fault is that the occupying forces are too forceful, or failing to keep the peace because of politcally correct instructions, or a row between the US State Department and the Department of Defense. Either way it has all the potential for Vietnam II.

The only worthwhile achievement of invasion was the removal of Saddam Hussein. He has gone, it is time to leave also.

The only worthwhile debate now is whether to recognise an independent Kurdistan or not before the troops pull out and allow Iraqis to sort out their civil affairs.

Fat of the land

Growing up in the 1970’s I recall being rather spooked by dire warnings of an impending ice age and the threat that I would spend my adult life shivering in a cave. Some twenty years later that apocalypse vision had been melted clean away by the dire (and considerably shriller) warnings about global warming and, according to everyone who is anyone, I now face the threat of spending what remains of my adult life sizzling like a sausage.

Two decades in which to manage a complete polar reversal in doomsday-scenario is pretty good going but it pales into ‘also-ran’ status by an eerily similar polar switch in the rather more mundane field of eating disorders.

This is from the BBC website in July 1998:

Doctors have hit out at the media and advertisers for encouraging anorexia by portraying skinny supermodels as the beauty ideal instead of ‘more buxom wenches’.

The British Medical Association’s annual conference in Cardiff voted overwhelmingly for a motion condemning the media obsession with ultra thin supermodels.

Dr Muriel Broome, a former director of public health, said “the constant image of very thin models” encouraged girls to develop eating disorders. “We urge the media to be more responsible and show more buxom wenches,” she said.

I know not whether Dr Broome’s advice was acted upon, but I am now informed that we have, indeed, taken on the mantle of buxomness with some considerable gusto. From the BBC website today:

Improving children’s eating habits is the key to tackling an obesity “timebomb”, MPs have warned.

The Commons Health Select Committee attacks the government, food industry and advertisers for failing to act to stop rising levels of obesity.

From ‘ultra-thin models’ to ‘obesity timebombs’ in the space of slightly over half-a-decade. Now I am no statistician but I think even I am qualified to regard that as a quite remarkable national metamorphosis. → Continue reading: Fat of the land

Bad news and good news

Thoughts here have turned towards what good news might consist of, what with most of the news from Iraq lately having been so bad. Do we really want the media to be dominated by the stuff? I mean, might good news not be rather … boring?

Personally, what I dislike is not bad news as such. It is the drawing of wrong conclusions from it. Yes, there has been a terrible flood in the Dominican Republic, and I want to be able to read the details of it. But this does not mean that all the people out there live all of their lives in a state of permanent Tidal Wave of Mud Terror. You think that is an exaggeration? Well, I was living in a hotel in Krakow for the first weekend of the Iraq War, the easy bit. All I had to learn about the war was BBC 24 hour news, and this was, as I am sure you all vividly remember, the exact mistake that the BBC made. Hey, here are some soldiers who have been ambushed! Ergo, Iraq is one Great Big Ambush. No, it was just an ambush, and actually, even I could deduce that, despite all the gloomy commentary, My Team was winning big. Here was a classic piece of good news that the BBC truly did misread and misreport as bad.

But unlike the good news of how well that war was actually going, a lot of good news is genuinely dull, compared to bad news. → Continue reading: Bad news and good news

Rim shot

Gotta give Matt Drudge credit for these back to back headlines:

Putin fights off ‘authoritarian’ charges…

Report: Russia Guards Told to Smile More…

Mistaken Identity, missing politicians

A belated account of Mistaken Identity, a public meeting on ID cards that took place in London last week. Unfortunately, we missed it as we were in Geneva protesting against something else. Fortunately, Stand have recorded the event and Privacy International has the full address by the President of The Law Society.

Thanks to infinite ideas machine (link now added to the blogroll)

Bush’s speech

I dunno about you, but I was bored stiff. I was driving home from work when it came on the radio, and I damn near dozed off and drove into a light pole.

Sure, the delivery was that kind of Rotary Club tumpty-tump that we have come to expect from W, but really, substance aside, couldn’t the text have been a lot better? This is just mediocre writing, the kind of dull crap that I expect from a third-rate consulting firm, not from what should be the pinnacle of any writer’s career.

In this particular war, in which all the meaningful battles are being fought between the ears of Iraqis, Americans, and a handful of other nationalities, having such an ineffective communications team on our side is probably worth at least an armored division to the Islamonutters.

Fire art

This is tragic. Truly tragic. In fact I am extremely surprised that David Carr has not had a chortle about it at least six hours ago:

Today a painful task will begin in Leyton, east London: picking through the remains of a devastating fire which destroyed a huge warehouse containing priceless works of art.

Many of the lost works are from the collection of Charles Saatchi. It is thought that they may include Jake and Dinos Chapman’s Hell.

Tracey Emin’s famous Everyone I Have Ever Slept With may be another: the tent appliquéd with the names of her past lovers was the star of the famous Royal Academy Sensation! exhibition and to many became emblematic of the endeavours of a generation of young British artists. “I don’t know what specific pieces have been lost,” Mr Saatchi said yesterday. “So far it has been a day of many rumours.”

The warehouse belonged to Momart, the country’s leading art handlers, who undertake storage and transport for the Tate, the National Gallery and Buckingham Palace, as well as Damien Hirst and Rachel Whiteread.

The confusion about which pieces have succumbed stems partly from Momart’s uncertainty about what was stored in the building, Mr Saatchi said. Work by Sarah Lucas, famed for substituting parts of the human body with poultry, fried eggs and vegetables in her pieces, was also feared to have been destroyed.

No no no. This was not “devastating”. This was an art happening. These people need to dispense with their outdated ways of seeing so-called “reality” and instead look at the world in a new way. This fire did not destroy, it merely moved some objects from one state of being to another … We need to think beyond “specific pieces” to the totality of life …

As for all this “uncertainty”, well, what I say is can one ever really be “certain” about anything? Surely we have learned by now not to seek an illusion of certainty in an inherently uncertain world. There is no certainty. There are only different ways of looking at things. We need to get away from the single point of view, the one fixed, bourgeois way of seeing everything, within one fixed frame … blah blah blah … etcetera etcetera etcetera … insert Carr-isms at will.

Sometimes Modern Art contrives a happening which really hits the spot and grabs the headlines. Sensational or what?

Although, I would advise Buckingham Palace to think about making other arrangements for its art transport needs.

Climate change and other alarms

The Satanic Gases
Patrick J. Michaels & Robert C. Balling
Cato Institute, Washington DC, 2000

Adapt or Die: the Science, Politics and Economics of Climate Change
Edited by Kendra Okonski
Profile Books, London 2003

Challenging Environmental Mythology: Wrestling Zeus
Jack W. Dini
SciTech Publishing Inc, Raleigh NC 27613

The Satanic Gases I found a somewhat difficult but reassuring book, published in 2000, so presumably not too out of date. In the overview at the beginning, the authors state: “Assuming a constant sun, we find that planetary surface warming should average around 1.3 degrees Celsius in the next century,” with twice as much warming appearing in winter as in summer (p. 3, 210), with warming occurring most at night (p. 137). Other mitigating features are that the tropics warm least (p. 182) and the coldest air-masses are warming most (p. 91), both according to observations and to modelling. Also, as is already known, higher carbon dioxide levels greatly benefit plant growth (Ch. 10). Some of these features will also be found in the other two books reviewed here.

The authors set out, in Ch. 11, p. 191-198, how government funding has strengthened the alarmist consensus, though they point out that any scientific paper denying it that gets past the rigorous peer review has greater impact. This is the silver lining” (p. 197), but it seems rather thin and faint, with the political opposition wielding, at the time of writing, a big vice-presidential stick (by Gore, p. 198). The public perception of what has been happening is also distorted by claims that anything in the way of bad (even unusually cold) weather can be put down to global warming. Clinton and Gore are guilty in this respect, Gore especially, with some over-the-top quotations included here (p. 198) from his Earth in the Balance.

The El Nino phenomenon (the periodical change from cold to warm masses of water arriving off the South American coast) has distorted temperature records, and sometimes not been taken into account (Fig. 5.5, p. 82). It is not related to global warming, having been in existence, and recognized, as a periodic effect long before the rise in carbon dioxide. This did not stop it being dragged into the debate as a symptom of global warming, all the same (p. 47). The alarmist Newsweek cover of 22 Jan 1996 (p. 140) the authors find “disappointing, to say the least” (p. 147) and “infamous” (p. 174). Some scares can be refuted: there are fewer hurricanes, less drought and more rain than there used to be – and that indeed, is consistent with computer modelling (Ch. 7). Underlying all the controversy is the problem of devising computer simulations which match the known observations which themselves must be disentangled from “contaminants” such as urbanisation which tends to overgrow land-based weather stations. → Continue reading: Climate change and other alarms