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]

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

Business enterprises are often attacked for selling people ‘junk food’ and not telling them about the health benefits of vegetables.

Well recently ASDA (the British arm of Walmart) labelled its vegetables, explaining that people who eat certain types of vegetable have a lower chance of developing certain forms of cancer.

ASDA was promptly prosecuted and punished. It seems that ‘making health claims’ is not legal in Britain.

Oh well, back to selling junk. The state is not your friend.

How capitalism grows human capital as well – the example of Hong Kong

Last Friday, on another blog, I did a link-to/short-comment-on piece, linking to and commenting on this report. It was about Chinese students lying about their qualifications in order to get into British Universities.

Harry Hutton (esteemed writer of this hugely entertaining and clearly much frequented blog) added the following very interesting comment to my posting:

It’s a big problem with the IELTS exam in mainland China – people turn up to do tests for other people. They also come in with live mobile phones, to record the script. But there is zero cheating in Hong Kong. I don’t know why this big difference, but it is so.

Cards on the table, I do not know why there is this big different either. And never having been to – or for that matter anywhere near – Hong Kong, or mainland China, I am a lot less qualified even to guess than Harry Hutton is.

However, I choose to offer a guess nevertheless.

Hong Kong has been a rampantly capitalistic economy for the last half century, and rampantly capitalistic economies make people more honest. → Continue reading: How capitalism grows human capital as well – the example of Hong Kong

An inaugural speech worth listening to

Although I am interested in elections, I rarely feel moved to comment on them at all. But I understand that US voters go to the polls this week. Who can predict who they will elect?

Whoever may get elected, they will have to write an Inaugural Speech in January – and there are parts of this Inaugural from Calvin Coolidge, that some US taxpayers may feel merit a second airing… → Continue reading: An inaugural speech worth listening to

US government owns you and your smoke

For years, more precisely since 8 July 1963, Cuban cigars have been a banned pleasure for U.S. citizens but at least when abroad they could legally indulge. Earlier this month the department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control has announced that Americans are barred from not only purchasing Cuban goods in foreign countries, but also from consuming them in those countries.

I quote from the OFAC’s Cuban cigar update (pdf):

The question is often asked whether United States citizens or permanent resident aliens of the United States may legally purchase Cuban origin goods, including tobacco and alcohol products, in a third country for personal use outside the United States. The answer is no. The Regulations prohibit persons subject to the jurisdiction of the United States from purchasing, transporting, importing, or otherwise dealing in or engaging in any transactions with respect to any merchandise outside the United States if such merchandise (1) is of Cuban origin; or (2) is or has been located in or transported from or through Cuba; or (3) is made or derived in whole or in part of any article which is the growth, produce or manufacture of Cuba. Thus, in the case of cigars, the prohibition extends to cigars manufactured in Cuba and sold in a third country and to cigars manufactured in a third country from tobacco grown in Cuba.

The penalties for violating the prohibitions include maximum criminal fines for individuals of $250,000 and imprisonment for up to 10 years. Corporations can be fined as much as a million dollars.

What this means is that the US government claims ‘ownership’ of its citizens. It extends its jurisdiction beyond the territory of the United States and imposes its restrictions wherever you are. If that is not the state’s way of saying it owns its citizens, I do not know what is.

This is not the first time we got our knickers in a twist over this modern form of slavery. Here is what Perry de Havilland says about the matter when you get him started on the US citizenship.

American citizenship particularly (more than any other advanced nation’s citizenship) is rather like being branded like livestock. To have that brand means that, unlike almost every other state on earth, the US government will always claim a pecuniary interest in the private property that you acquire, even if you live outside the USA and make your living outside the USA and keep your assets outside the USA. Unlike other countries, which by and large lose interest in you the moment you step outside their borders, the USA actually makes itself your super-owner. The USA do not just claim a territorial monopoly on the means of force, it actually claims to own part of your labour regardless of where you are.

There you have it. You cannot hide. The US government wants to see even through the haze of your cuban. The good news is that you are welcome at Samizdata HQ as I light up a lovely Trinidad fundadore. Just remember not to inhale.

via Ben Hammersley

Two years until doomsday

Tony Blair has given himself until 2006 to win round a sceptical British public to a new European constitution after having signed the ghastly document yesterday in Rome. Whilst nothing is certain in this life and two years is a long time in politics, I think a third term in the White House for Ronald Reagan is slightly more likely than him succeeding on that count.

There will come a day when the obfuscation and doublespeak will finally come to an end and it appears that day will be in 2006. British people have it within their grasp to smash the brittle foundations of the European Union and I hope that there will be many people working to ensure that is exactly what happens regardless of what the apparatchiks of all three main parties want.

I see some interesting times ahead.

Justice delayed is justice denied

At long last the shooting death by police of a man ‘armed’ with a table leg has been ruled an ‘unlawful killing’. It has been a damning indictment for so many years a couple servants of the state can gun an innocent man down in cold blood with impunity whilst at the same time other British subjects are denied the right to legitimate self-defence in any meaningful sence.

We have written before about the killing of Harry Stanley in September 1999 and I can only hope now that not only will the perpetrators of this act face prosecution for murder, the careers of everyone who worked to prevent charges being brought in the first place will will come to an absupt end, as an absolute minimum, and if there is any evidence that there were attempts to pervert the course of justice, then additional charges will be forthcoming higher up the chain of command.

It is a national disgrace that it has taken this long for the family of Harry Stanley to see anything even approaching the first glimmer of justice.

So maybe Elvis really is alive!

Unless it turns out to be an artful fake, it seems that contrary to my long held views, Osama bin Laden may indeed still be alive.

Quite why it has taken this long for a video of him saying something timely is hard to fathom, but then many of the things the likes of bin Laden do defies rational analysis. I am astonished by this turn of events.

Samizdata quote of the day

Blogs are the c[e]rebrum of the Net.
Doc Searls

Blunkett presses on with compulsory ID card plans

Silicon.com reports that despite government figures showing growing opposition the government will now issue standalone compulsory biometric ID cards as part of changes to the draft ID card bill issued by Home Secretary David Blunkett.

The cards will be issued with passports but will not be incorporated into either the existing passport or driving licence as previously proposed, with a standardised online verification service used to check card details against those held on the National Identity Register (NIR). Blunkett said:

I will now bring forward legislation to bring in a compulsory, national ID card scheme.

A new executive agency incorporating the UK Passport Service and working with the Home Office’s Immigration and Nationality Directorate will now be set up to deliver and run the ID card scheme.

The Government would not agree with the use of the word ‘sensitive’ to describe most of the data to be collected and stored. Most of the data which will be held by the scheme is already public and is used routinely in everyday transactions, like opening a bank account or joining a library.

The ID card consultation summary can be found here and the Home Office’s response to the select committee report can be found here.

“This was all 20 years ago and I’d rather it all went away”

I recommend this posting at the highly recommendable Social Affairs Unit blog, by Anthony Glees, about Christopher Hill, John Roper and Robin Pearson. (SAU Director Michael Mosbacher, who is presumably the one who recruits the writers for this blog, is doing a remarkable job with this blog, I think.)

The stuff about Christopher Hill interested me particularly. What a vile man. I knew that he was a bolshevik, but I had not realised how vile a bolshevik and how much damage he did to the cause of civilisation.

The vile Hill wrote many highly regarded works of academic scholarship. This little bit from Glees’ posting throws a different light on the sort of academic that he was:

One of Hill’s unsavoury measures (showing his interest in Britain’s academic culture) was his proposal to dismiss for “political reasons” (Hill’s own words) all White Russian university teachers in the UK and replace them by Soviet citizens to be nominated by the Russians themselves (that little phrase, “for political reasons” is chilling). Hill wanted Churchill and Stalin to agree to this at the Potsdam Conference in 1945.

While googling for more about Anthony Glees, I came across this 1999 BBC report, which included this quote, from another of the vile academics whom Glees writes about, Robin Pearson of Hull University:

“This was all 20 years ago and I’d rather it all went away.”

I just bet you would, matey.

It is a pity that Glees had to promise the vile Hill to keep quiet about what the vile Hill told him about his (the vile Hill’s) bolshevistic activities until he, the vile Hill, died. But then again, the vile Hill had to die knowing that his full vileness would in due course fully emerge. That is justice of a sort, although not nearly enough of course.

Treating these people as badly as they really deserve seems difficult these days, but it is important to make them squirm a little, and to die in the knowledge that their support for barbarism has been thoroughly revealed and stands a fair chance of being the only thing about them that will be lastingly remembered. Well done Professor Glees.

(And again, well done Michael Mosbacher for getting him to write for the SAU blog.)

The right to hold old-fart views

I take my good news where I can find it. The chaos in the EU corridors of power over the refusal by the EU parliament to ratify the proposed new line-up of EU Commissioners may only last a few weeks but hey, a few weeks in which the EU leviathan is unable to act is surely a net gain for humankind.

The fracas has been caused by opposition from PC types to the views of Commissioner-designate Rocco Buttiglione, who said that as a Roman Catholic, he regarded homosexuality as sinful. Well, he also said that he would not allow his moral views to support any laws against homosexuals, on the grounds that what is immoral should not necessarily be illegal. Such issues, he said, should be outside politics. I agree. If this man had supported bans on gay couples or use of State action against them, it would be an entirely different issue, but he said nothing of the sort.

By making that remark, the gentleman actually expressed a central feature of a liberal civil order. Many aspects of human dispute cannot, and should not, be dealt with by the law of the land. It is vital that there should be a space in which humans can disagree on moral matters without having recourse to law to make their views victorious. I support the wishes of gay men and women to get married, largely on the grounds that the State has no business telling us with whom we form binding relationships in the first place (so long as it involves consenting adults). But gay men and women should beware since the campaign to oust Mr Buttliglione as an example of how so-called liberals in positions of power in Europe are not really concerned about liberty, but power.

Where the EU is concerned, t’was ever thus.

Fly me to the Gherkin

Do you remember all of those science fiction movies where air taxis would soar across the skyline taking paying customers from highrise to highrise? Neither do I but air cars were included in the visions of the future that the twentieth century popularised. That future is now creeping up on us.

A firm in the United Kingdom called Avcen has developed a short take off and landing prototype called the Jetpod.

Mike Dacre, Avcen’s Managing Director, says “We are expecting a great deal of interest from around the world in this unique form of localised air transportation.”

The Jetpod T-100 air taxi and the P-100 personal transpeeder can operate quietly in tiny city-centre landing sites that will be one tenth of the length normally required, thereby opening up cities to true pay-on-demand, free-roaming air taxis.

This is preferable to the train or tube and could prove the disruptive technology that ends New York’s taxi licence cartel.