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]

Samizdata quote of the day

Do you want to help to kill an African? It’s very easy. Just sign Christian Aid’s petition against free trade.
Stephen Pollard

The Future has finally arrived

I have for some time been suspicious other big things were going on behind some scenes into which my vast network of spies and informers does not reach. I have had nods of confirmation when I voiced my opinions… but nothing specific as to precisely what was going on. The possibility of a Richard Branson and Burt Rutan alliance and something else secret going on in a Mojave hanger has been very much in the back of my mind.

Today, the Branson part of that became public fact. Whether there is more to it – and I believe there is – at least this much is now admitted openly. According to an article from the Dow Jones Newswire of 5:25 a.m this morning, emailed to me just a short while ago:

U.K. entrepreneur Richard Branson said Monday that Virgin Group (VGN.YY) plans to launch commercial space flights over the next few years.

Virgin has signed an agreement with pioneering aviation designer Burt Rutan to build an aircraft based on Rutan’s SpaceShipOne vessel, Branson said.

This I expected. I also have been wondering if they are secretly working on a next generation vehicle already. What I did not expect was major commercialization to happen quite this soon:

“Virgin has been in talks with Paul Allen and Bert throughout this year and in the early hours of Saturday morning signed a historical deal to license SpaceShipOne’s technology to build the world’s first private spaceship to go into commercial operating service,” Branson told a news conference.

The new service will be called Virgin Galactic and expects to fly 3,000 new astronauts within five years.

“Virgin Galactic will be run as a business, but a business with the sole purpose of making space travel more and more affordable,” Branson said. “Those privileged space pioneers who can afford to take our first flights will not only have the most awesome experience of their lives, but by stepping up to the plate first they will bring the dream of space travel for many millions closer to reality.”

Start saving me lads and lasses! We are bound for the stars and the government may go sit and rotate upon an aging ICBM.

UPDATE: Richard Branson was in the studio for the evening news on Channel 5 here; Channel 1 (which is really Channel 4!) gave far less coverage and used some subtle tricks to give it a negative spin.

First: Channel 5, my current favorite for UK news and not just beause the presenter is good looking. Which she is. Branson will be charging UKP 115K per person initially. He is buying into the venture with Allen and Rutan to the tune of UKP 15M. The first vehicles are to be ready for customers in three years. They will carry six. Five fare paying passengers and a pilot. It will retain the ‘shuttlecock’ re-entry mode. The fee will cover 3 days of pre-flight training with people like Buzz Aldrin; the flight will not be very long itself, with only a few minutes of freefall time. They will all fly past the 100km altitude which makes them civilian astronauts by current practice. Branson will fly on the first flight and says he might even take his very elderly father along if he is still healthy at age 90 because he does want to go. The first ship will be named… (drum roll)… the SS Enterprise.

The Ch5 presenter then went off into questions about UK rail schedules on Branson lines; the possibilities of polluting space – which Branson put into perspective by noting there are as many stars out there as there are grains of sand on the Earth; and the risk. Branson was up front that this is pioneering technology… but safe enough that he will fly, his elderly father might fly and even his kids would be allowed to go.

Ch1 on the other hand… the background music was rock with lyrics “Military Mission to Mars…” They played on the fear factor a great deal more and overall gave only a minute or two to the story. They were much more interested in what Gordon Brown had to say today.

Of Schmiberals and Schmibertarians

Natalie got there ahead of me but I also noticed the preposterous attempt by the pseudo-liberals of Crooked Timber to lecture us “Schmibertarians” in the ‘correct’ libertarian stance towards Iraq.

I thought it might be informative to examine the Crooked consensus and some of its logical implications. I would summarise the “Samizdatistas are schmibertarians” argument – and anyone who suspects I’m setting up a straw man here is invited to read the relevant posts and particularly the follow-up comments – as follows:

  1. ‘Proper’ Libertarians oppose major government programs funded by coercive taxation, the Iraq war is such a program.
  2. ‘Proper’ Libertarians are wary of any kind of social-engineering, so the neoconservative plan to remodel Middle Eastern countries as democracies is futile folly.
  3. Thus anyone who supports the war against Saddam is necessarily a sham libertarian who just thinks it’s cool to blow things up.

My first reaction was to the irony of being lectured in ‘correct’ libertarianism by a bunch of egalitarian, social-engineering collectivists who presume to identify as “Liberal”. Indeed it is precisely because this previously unambiguous term has been suborned by those who display a cavalier disregard for the classic liberal values of autonomy, individualism and limited government that many of us reluctantly adopt the libertarian moniker in the first place.

The premise behind the argument is dubious to say the least. It is generally taken to be the case that arguments are accepted or opposed on their own merits and without reference to whether they conform to some theology to which those making the argument are perceived to subscribe. I were to argue against, say, a Creationist, it would seem to me to be a pointless task to identify what a ‘real’ Creationist ought to believe prior to debunking his theory. Indeed, the logical consequence of a position which states that the correct libertarian ought to oppose the Iraq war according to libertarian first principles is that those who oppose the war are implicitly endorsing those specific libertarian principles. So, the next time some wonky twig proposes a massive government intervention or other, one can remind him that, as his opposition to the Iraq war demonstrates, such social engineering ought to be avoided.

It is also curious to note the partial isolationism adopted with regard to Iraq, considering the enthusiasm regularly displayed for action against third world ‘exploitation’. Thus, according to the Crooked Timber moral calculus, it is not ok to interfere in the affairs of another country if its citizens are being tortured or murdered but it is ok to interfere to prevent those (remaining) citizens getting a good job with a dreaded multinational corporation!

They hunt in packs

The dogs of the ‘fat war’ are chalking up their first victory:

Confectionery companies have agreed to phase out many king-size chocolate bars as part of the campaign against obesity.

The concession is part of the food and drinks industry’s efforts to persuade the Government that tough new laws on issues such as labelling, advertising to children and school vending machines are unnecessary.

The bitter lessons of appeasement are as valid on the domestic front as they are on the foreign front. This ‘concession’ is merely the first of many, many more.

Like frightened villagers, the chocolate manufacturers have thrown some meat to the ravenous wolves in the hope that their hunger will be satisfied and the wolves will leave them alone.

But the wolves have a bottomless appetite and they will be back for more. Very soon.

Needs must when the devil drives

A series of posts on Crooked Timber criticise pro-Iraq war libertarians, mentioning this blog in particular. The posts (and still more the comments) differ in their degree of charitability to our position but the general thrust is ‘… can we think of a new name for libertarians who think it’s a good idea to invade other countries and overthrow their governments, like maybe “shmibertarians”?’

Apologies to those who have heard me saying this before.

It is all much simpler than you think.

When I see my house burning down I do not wait for the evolution of private fire brigades.

Mark Steyn trashes John Kerry but is too kind to the Old Left

My nuanced prediction a week ago to the effect that President Bush is going to win huge and that Kerry is going to be put through the electoral mangle is starting to look rather (if you will pardon the expression) silly. It is not so much that the prediction is wrong, more that it is looking more and more obvious by the day. I sold my few remaining Kerry stocks when the Kerry graph was already in free fall.

In addition to the insights I offered in my earlier US election posting – that Bush is clever at suckering his enemies into ground of their choosing, but also of his, and then killing them, and that he is doing this just now (a) in Iraq to the Baathist/Islamofascist/Moonbat tendency and (b) in the USA to Kerry and his cohorts – there are about another two dozen reasons why Bush will win, most of them to do with all the many different ways in which Kerry is a stupid, ignorant twat. Every time he opens his mouth the Anyone But Kerry vote gets that bit bigger.

And since so few people actually seem to like the guy, the fact that he is conducting himself so ineptly in all the pseudo-crises, that must necessarily be heaped upon a non-incumbent Presidential candidate to check out how good he is in actual crises (and the more crass these tests are the more of a test they are), becomes yet another reason not to vote for him, which only intensifies the larger crisis that his entire campaign has now become. He is losing, and do we want to vote for a loser to be President? No. Anyone but Kerry.

I always enjoy reading what Mark Steyn has to say about things in general, and about John Kerry and his supporters in particular, but this piece, of course also linked to by Instapundit which is how I got to it today, is especially fine. → Continue reading: Mark Steyn trashes John Kerry but is too kind to the Old Left

What Troll is that?

You’ve all seen trolls, and know that they come in various guises. You might even be a troll yourself. To find out which sort, some bright spark has put together the Internet Message Board Wandering Monster Table, an essential resource for any blogger with comments.

(Via A.E. Brain.)

English cultural rage

The unfortunate but wholly predictable result of British government meddling in the affairs of the countryside:

Militant pro-hunt groups are targeting Labour MPs and government ministers in a growing campaign of abuse, threats and intimidation over the decision to ban hunting.

An MP had a large lump of concrete thrown through his constituency office window while the private homes of three MPs have also been targeted.

What about the root causes of the hunter’s anger and frustration?

Time to dump PayPal?

There has been a disturbing development in which PayPal seems to be threatening to withdrawn its services from blogs which violate their acceptable use policy. Fair enough on the face of it, as it is certainly PayPal’s right to offer to do business on whatever terms they wish.

But then take a look at what those terms are:

The Policy prohibits the use of PayPal in the sale of items or in support of organizations that promote hate, violence, or racial intolerance; items which graphically portray violence or victims of violence; or items closely associated with individuals notorious for committing murderous acts within the last 100 years.

So… write about or show pictures of the victims of a terrorist atrocity, or show pictures of Osama bin Laden and suddenly no more PayPal for you, as Bill Quick of Daily Pundit has found out.

They do not want to do business with Bill Quick? Well I am not so sure I want to continue to do business with PayPal then. Clearly Samizdata.net is going to have to review whether or not we will continue to have those PayPal buttons you see at the moment in our sidebar.

Samizdata quote of the day

Satan has no suicide bombers
– Unknown

End the envy tax

The British Conservative Party is contemplating making a pledge to sharply cut inheritance tax as part of their election manifesto commitment, as reported here. That is fine as far as it goes and does at least hold out a glimmer of hope that the Tories are willing to name the sort of taxes they want to cut, if not scrap entirely.

But of course, inheritance tax needs to be abolished in toto. All taxes are bad -some libertarians regard them as forms of licensed theft – but this is a particulary bad one. It taxes a person twice on the income already earned or the profits made, and hits the laudable desire of parents to bequeath wealth to their offspring to help in later life. If the Tories have the conjones to get rid of this tax, they should make it part of a broader policy of cutting, and drastically simplifying taxes on savings in particular.

Inheritance tax is borne out of a mindset that holds that wealth and opportunity is essentially fixed, so that if person X inherits a million pounds, that person in some way gets an ‘undeserved’ headstart in life against person Y. But in a world when opportunities are changing and expanding, no such ‘headstart’ exists. As the late libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick pointed out, to hold this view is to regard human life like an athletics race around a fixed circuit towards a pre-determined finish line. Clearly, if life were like that, then an athlete given a headstart or has an unfair advantage (this explains why drug use is such a heated issue in the Olympics). But real life is not at all like that. It is, as Nozick pointed out, about different people pursuing different ends.

Also, consider this – if I do not ‘deserve’ to inherit any money from my father, then neither do you deserve my father’s wealth, either. So socialists who insist on seizing that wealth are in fact seizing something they do not ‘deserve’ in any meaningful sense. The logical thing for such egalitarians to do would be to destroy the wealth.

Finally, there are many incidental, utilitarian reasons for opposing inheritance tax, including the fact that if the law was scrapped, it would force thousands of people to do something more productive with their time and brains than negotiate the shoals and reefs of the tax code. It also encourage a long-term point of view in that it opens up the goal of not just getting rich, but enjoying the idea of making one’s children and descendants rich as well.

Is Science the ‘new Latin’?

Christy Davies has an interesting article on the Social Affairs Unit blog which looks critically at one of the educational ‘given’ of our age:

Science we are told is something that every child should and must study. Most children hate it, fail to master it and never use it or think about it again after they have left school. It is forced upon unwilling and inept pupils because it is supposed to be good for them. Science is the twenty-first century’s version of Latin.

Interesting stuff. Read the whole thing.