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]

Cool Britannia is losing out

In conversation with a business associate, Alan Moore of SMLXL, yesterday, we got on to the topic of how the UK really is lagging behind when it comes to anticipating and preparing for the seismic shifts that are happening in business. I’m not sure if it was Alan or me who came up with this line, but it is as if they are standing at the foot of the volcano, having a picnic and drinking champagne. Maybe if they pretend everything is going to be okay, they won’t have to change. (See, on this note, SMLXL posts passim, including yesterday’s Another business model under threat.) Yes, we have covered this ground with Alan before.

Similarly, the UK market is way behind when it comes to blogging. I met in Paris last week with Guillaume du Gardier of PR Planet, and he was surprised to hear that France is much more developed on the blogging front than Britain. Does that make sense? On the surface, no, it doesn’t. The UK, sharing a common language with the US, should be much more up to speed on these things.

I am sure it can be annoying for a Brit to hear it from an American, but I suspect that one of the reasons for the slow uptake of blogging in the UK is that in general it is quite unlike Brits to get overly excited about anything. It is almost something of a sin to be wide-eyed and evangelical about anything, no matter how worthy that thing may be. Brits excel at cynicism and being understated and controlled; they are not entranced by the sort of hype that excites people in the US. (I again emphasise the generality, as I know and work with many Brits for whom the appearance of cynicism is not a concern.) In Britain, it is far more the done thing to be looking the other way when the bandwagon rolls up, and then scoff and roll your eyes when you finally see it, as it goes past…and then run run run to jump right on it, usually about 18 months behind the rest of the developed world.

Indeed, I remember as far back as a year ago, observing many conversations in British blog comments and on UK-based blogs, wherein bloggers themselves were turning their noses up at the buzz being whipped up in the US about blogging. Sure, it is good enough for them and they spend hours a day in the blogosphere, but God forbid they appear genuinely enthralled by this ‘phenomenon’! No, it is far easier to seem cool towards blogging. A shrug of the shoulders and a yawn would suffice…and then back to updating the blogroll and commenting on their daily tour of their niche of the blogosphere.

And so it goes. In the end, all you can do is shake your head and smile at such people – they can appear as unfussed as they like, and the bandwagon will roll on with or without their enthusiasm. But it is a shame for Britain that it once again is playing catch-up with the rest of the world when it comes to blogging and to the shifts in business that will be necessary for success in the coming decades. At times like these, that usually charming cynicism costs – big-time.

This post has been cross-posted to the Big Blog Company blog.

Prison in Hong Kong is better than life in Vietnam

Current blogger enthusiasm of mine Harry Hutton says that this is an interesting story. It is.

Nguyen was discovered trying to enter Hong Kong illegally hiding beneath a truck crossing the border with the mainland. A routine search revealed the Nguyen was carrying two bullets inside his right shoe and a small kitchen knife wrapped in plastic.

Despite the grave threat to public order posed by these weapons, Judge Sweeny contemplated waiving jail time and deporting this dangerous felon … at which point Nguyen became indignant and insisted that he be imprisoned for the maximum possible term.

The defendant explained that he had paid HK$1,500 (US$200) to a snakehead to arrange his illegal entry into the SAR, with the hope of being caught and jailed on immigration and weapons charges. The fee included transportation the cost of the two bullets and a knife, which were provided by the smugglers. Once captured, Nguyen counted on receiving, courtesy of Hong Kong’s taxpayers, room, board and prisoner’s pay of HK$5,600 (US$720), or about US$25 per month, after deducting the snakehead’s fee.

Nguyen considered this a better prospect than those on offer in Vietnam.

Applying the Solomonic wisdom for which he is renowned, His Lordship pondered the situation for a while and then declared that the law is, after all, the law and, moreover, releasing Nguyen wouldn’t be fair to other Vietnamese immigrants – of whom it turns out there are quite a few – currently serving time for trying to cross the border with two bullets and a kitchen knife …

The Washington Times further elucidates:

Hien is the latest in a series of mostly young Vietnamese men arriving in Hong Kong on the “two bullet tour,” for which they pay a fee to a gang in their homeland. The package deal includes transport to mainland China, instructions on how to cross into Hong Kong, plus two bullets and a knife.

The weapons are to ensure that the immigrant will get a long prison sentence. For Hien it means free shelter, food and $50 a month in pay while he is incarcerated. He paid about $200 for the package deal.

Goodness, they must be short of prisoners in Hong Kong. They pay people to attend. Oh well, I suppose this is a nice, simple, market-based solution to the problem of getting udesirables off the streets.

Everyone says how clever those Vietnamese were to defeat the USA in the Vietnam War. But winning was stupid. The clever thing to do would have been to lose.

Jimmy Buffett and the Hash House Harriers

My annual reminder that less government equals more wealth, or why I am English and poor, has come round again, with another vacation in the United States of America. This year, to combat the ennui and Autumn chills, Florida and the Keys beckons.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of a trip out West is finding some facet of American life that affirms the surprising echoes and extraordinary mixtures of the British Isles and other cultures. Such experiences confirm that the Anglosphere is certainly a cultural, if not a political project, although this is heresy in some quarters.

This year, my sojourn in the Keys coincides with the “Meeting of the Minds”, an annual shindig for the Parrot Head Clubs, an organisation that I had never heard of. Since their gathering cramped my search for accommodation, this piqued my curiosity. The Parrotheads are fans of Jimmy Buffett, a country rock singer and aficianado of the island lifestyle, who I had also never heard of. He became a far more likeable figure as soon as a website on music banned by the BBC revealed that he was censored:

Jimmy Buffett’s single, “come Monday” contained the line, “I’ve got my Hush Puppies on.” Since the BBC considered this to be advertising he re-recorded that line so it said, “I’ve got my hiking shoes on.”

The Parrotheads are a reminder of the strong links between civil society, charitable activities and other interests which bind individuals together. Such associations are now rare in Europe. The knowing classes would no doubt laugh at the voluntary activities of such simpletons and point out that their activities are wonderful examples of ‘false consciousness’.

It is therefore no surprise that, in the most modern of societies, the prevailing moralism is a hard nut to crack for radical critics. This moralism is not only a theoretical matter, a form of false consciousness. From the seamstress to the First Lady, people have an urge to practice the ideals of altruism, modesty, honesty, compassion, charity, etc. Everyone donates to the Cancer Fund, UNICEF and so on. People join associations which promote stupidity in young people, firmly believing that this is an opportunity to experience something workaday life denies them: community of purpose, solidarity, friendship. They compensate for the necessity to compete against each other by forming disgusting groups on the basis of their ideals, even if their idealism demands further sacrifices.

However, groups still crop up amongst the British and their expatriate communities, proving our traditional bent for voluntarist activities. A recent phenomenon is the Hash House Harriers: running clubs that replicate the joy of hare and hounds:

The Hash House Harriers is a more social version of Hare and Hounds, where you join the pack of hounds (runners) to chase down the trail set by the hare or hares (other runners), then gather together for a little social activity known as the On In or Down Down. In most groups, all are welcome, young and old, fast or slow. The only prerequisite to hashing is a sense of humor, so check out a hash near you.

To split the cultural difference, the emphasis is on humour rather than charity Still, if they ban hunting, this will provide suitable enjoyment for the interregnum, until liberty returns.

What is reasonable force?

After seeing an encouraging headline on the front page of yesterday’s Daily Express (“AT LAST, A JUDGE BACKS A MAN WHO SHOT A BURGLAR”), I bought the paper, read the story, and looked for further enlightenment by googling “Judge Andrew Hamilton” “Kenneth Faulkner”. I got these headlines:

Judge stirs debate on self defence

Shot burglar case sparks debate

Judge Backs Farmer Who Shot Burglar

Sadly, however, there is rather less to this story than meets the eye:

Prosecutor Michael Auty told Judge Andrew Hamilton that charges against Mr Faulkner had been considered but not brought, since his intention was to frighten; there was no evidence to suggest “anything other than acting in legitimate defence of his property and person”. In addition, Rae had suffered only pellet wounds to his lower leg.

Rae suffered “only pellet wounds to his lower leg”. So, although charges against Mr Faulkner had been considered, they were not brought. Had it been worse, it would also have been far worse for Mr Faulkner, is the clear implication.

The final google headline that I harvested yesterday went like this:

Housebreaker accepts victims have the right to fight back

How very sporting of him. The idea that you need the moral assent of your burglar before you may counter-attack him is ridiculous, not to say contemptible. Although come to think of it, I suppose that in the debased criminal justice culture of this country just now, it probably counts as news that this particular burglar has no plans to sue his victim for the crime of resisting. As is the fact that a judge is saying this kind of thing too. → Continue reading: What is reasonable force?

Not lifting a finger, old chap

Samizdata readers may have noticed a distinct absence of postings from me in the last couple of weeks. To those who miss my regular outbursts I offer my hearty apologies and the excuse of an unusually heavy workload. To those who rejoice in my absence I say, enjoy it while it lasts for I expect normal service to be resumed quite shortly.

In the meantime, however, I have noticed that the UK Times is carrying a banner headline that is so tempting that I am forced to drive a crowbar into the midst of my packed schedule and prize open enough space to briefly comment:

Barroso calls for help to avert crisis at the heart of Europe.

Don’t all rush now.

[Note: link to UK Times may not work for readers outside of the UK.]

Clinton rewritten

I do bits for this blog about intellectual property issues, and on Monday the guy who runs it emailed me with a link to this marvellous story from the New York Times. It seems that in China, they have produced a revised version of Bill Clinton’s autobiography, entitled My Life, with his love for all things Chinese greatly exaggerated, and his occasional complaints about Chinese human rights violations deleted.

…The fake version reveals a Clinton family obsessed with China’s strong points, with how Chinese science and technology “left us in the dust.” Readers will learn that the future president, to impress Hillary’s mother, had rhapsodized about such things as the Eight Trigrams, documented in “The Book of Changes” several thousand years ago. Another retranslation of the pirated translation last summer has Mr. Clinton explaining to Hillary that his nickname is “Big Watermelon.”

My Intellectual Property Editor would not, however, want me to regard this as a wholly amusing matter. China is being very naughty.

In the Western publishing world – in fact, in the Western business world – such purloined texts are no laughing matter. The American Chamber of Commerce recently singled out China’s lack of enforcement of laws against counterfeit goods and its failure to protect intellectual property rights as problems. American publishers estimate that they lose at least $40 million a year to Chinese forgeries.

This is true. I mean, it is true that China’s Intellectual Property misbehaviour is a big issue these days. If you google, as I often now do, “Intellectual Property”, you get lots and lots of hit, of two kinds. First, there are reports of how China is now going to really, really enforce Intellectual Property rights, hold a conference at which enforcing Intellectual Property rights will be intensively discussed, and generally jolly well do something about it, this time it will be different, etc.. And second, you get a chorus of complaints that this is all hot air and window dressing. Oh, and third, you get American law firms saying they can sort it all out for you: hire us and get rich, shun us and be ruined.

To be a bit more serious about the rewritten Clinton memoirs, I cannot feel very sorry for Clinton, but in any case there are other victims here. All those Chinese readers who genuinely want to read what Clinton has genuinely written (or signed) about China are getting swindled. And I would like to know if these (re)publishers rewrote the book in order to pander to Chinese readers, or to the Chinese Government. Either way, it shows the way what an enormous cultural impact, for good and for bad, China seems likely to make upon the world during the next few decades. (India also, of course.)

I wonder if this story will get really noticed, that is, noticed some more. I suspect that it might. Media scribblers are notoriously indifferent when it is merely industrialists or industrial designers having their ideas nicked, their profits stolen or their businesses regulated out of business. But when a writer has his sacred words stolen, and then worse, far worse, changed, well, that they can all really understand and get angry about.

Kudos to Alex Beels of Harper’s Magazine for translating this rewritten Clinton book back into English and thereby getting the story seriously started, although I can find no reference to this story here.

Attention, fat corporate bastards!

I do not believe that this excellent rant against clueless corporate drones’ plans for the internet can be linked to enough. There is lots of juicy goodness there, and the entire thing should be read, but this is certainly worth keeping in mind:

If you actually had even the faintest glimmering of what reality on the net is like, you’d realize that the real unit of currency isn’t dollars, data, or digicash. It’s reputation and respect.

Learn it, live it, love it. As the author says, If you don’t understand right now, don’t worry. You’ll learn it the hard way. We’ll be there to help you learn, you filthy corporate guttersnipes.

And for those who are reading this and scratching their heads, wondering what a Samizdatista might have against big business, here is some worthwhile background reading: Big Business is often the enemy of capitalism.

The onslaught continues

The British government is preparing to launch a further assault on the English Common Law by eroding the presumption of innocence in jury trials involving certain categories of offence. In short, the government wants it to be possible for a defendant’s previous convictions to be made known to a jury unless there are compelling reasons in the eyes of a judge against it.

It does not take a lot of imagination to see why prosecutors and even the odd well meaning but deluded politician think this is a grand idea. It must be disheartening for a prosecutor to see a serial rapist, mugger or thief get off on a technicality and for the defendant’s nefarious past to be undisclosed to a jury. But – and it is a very big but – keeping previous convictions a secret except in certain conditions is designed to ensure that juries examine a criminal case on the facts as they are presented, and not by trying to guess the motives of the accused or rushing to a conclusion on the basis of a hunch.

Also, by withholding information about previous convictions, police and others are forced to present their evidence as strongly and as competently as possible. The Law of Unintended Consequences applies here. My fear is that prosecutors and others could become lazier and more slapdash in how they present evidence if they think that they can always shove X’s seedy past in front of a jury as part of the case.

I must say it is hard to summon up feelings of surprise or even anger any more at what our political classes are doing to the traditional checks and balances of our criminal code. To be fair, much of this process began long before Tony Blair, although this most authortarian of governments has set about destroying our liberties with a zeal not seen in decades. I hold little hope that the Conservative Party or the Liberal Democrats will offer much resistance, given their terror at being thought to be ‘soft on crime’.

And so we go on, changing processes of law in ways which will undoubtedly lead to more unsafe convictions. The present government, like all too many before it, is extraordinarily hostile to process and the understanding of the long-run bad consequences of interfering with constraints of law and custom.

The likelihood, of course, that all this messing around with the Common Law will reduce crime significantly is, I confidently predict, zero.

The intellectual bankruptcy of the anti-globalizers

Anti-globalizers fail to look at the world in an aggregate way. Instead, they base their beliefs on anecdotal evidence. They find a worker in a factory who has been badly treated and blame this on globalization, and label all factories producing for Western companies as sweatshops. But they turn a blind eye to the big picture. They do not see the effect of inward investment in creating competition for labour, which pushes up wages and conditions. They do not know why the Asian Tigers are now rich. They do not see the economic growth rates of those countries – like India – who have liberalized, believing that globalization simply produces poverty. Indeed, they tend not to use any aggregate data at all. Because the big picture does not fit in their worldview, they junk it. They stick their fingers in their ears and then continue to argue against globalization with anecdotes.

The anti-globalizers are very good at confusing capitalism with absence of capitalism. They point to countries which have not liberalized and are therefore poor, and then blame this poverty on globalization. Because the facts do not fit their worldview, the facts must be wrong.

They want those in poor countries to become rich but without making the same ‘mistakes’ as Western countries. To the extent they support trade, it is a very odd form of trade. It involves people doing exactly the same type of work as their ancestors did, but with the wages being higher. They regard trade as a redistributive process rather than as a way of creating wealth. They do not see how wealth creation is anything more than a capitalist myth – after all, they say, we live in a finite world. All the evidence for the existence of wealth creation is ignored, because their worldview is trapped by the Fixed Quantity of Wealth Fallacy.

The anti-globalizers claim that the environment is getting worse. But the facts are not on their side. They look at the roads in London, see lots of cars and say that air pollution is getting worse and worse. They fail to look at the data – they do not need to because their worldview tells them that the environment is getting worse. The data however shows that the air quality in London is the cleanest since records began in 1585. On most measures, the environment is getting better.

Nevertheless, in the name of helping the environment, they promote the idea of a future Britain where we all live simpler lives, use local currencies, work locally and buy from local organic farmers. They have a romantic image of the Middle Ages economy, with people all happier, picking buttercups in the fields. They completely ignore that the economy of the Middle Ages was nasty and oppressive for the majority of those living under it, where people died at a young age. They fail to grasp that with wealth comes the ability to solve environmental problems. Instead they prefer to oppose the creation of wealth.

The anti-globalization movement is intellectually bankrupt. It is capable of shouting slogans and protesting international meetings. But in terms of providing solutions to the world’s problems, it has nothing to offer.

New realities – separate realities

This list is getting quite a bit of attention. It is a report of some of the many things that Jay Rosen talked about when being interviewed by a guy from the BBC:

– Political attacks seeking to discredit the press and why they’re intensifying

– Scandals in the news business and the damage they are sowing

– The era of greater transparency and what it’s doing to modern journalism

– Trust in the mainstream media and what’s happening to it

– Bloggers, their role in politics, their effect on the press: their significance

– How the Net explosion is changing the relationship between people and news

– The collapse of traditional authority in journalism and what replaces it

– Amateurs vs. professionals; distributed knowledge vs. credentialed expertise

– The entrance of new players of all kinds in presidential campaigning

– The producer revolution underway among former consumers of media

– Jon Stewart and why he seems to be more credible to so many

– “He said, she said, we said” and why it’s such an issue this year

– The “reality-based community” thesis and the Bush Administration

– The political divide and the passions it has unleashed this year

– Why the culture war keeps going, this year reaching the mainstream press

– Why periods of intense partisanship coincide with high involvement

– The problem of propaganda and the intensity of its practice in 2004

– Why argument journalism is more involving than the informational kind

– Assaults on the very idea of a neutral observer, a disinterested account

– And then there’s this: the separate realities of Bush and Kerry supporters

I think that there is one huge thought missing from this list, so huge, and so completely in the faces of both the people having this conversation that they both missed it. Jay Rosen did anyway. This is: that these two people were talking to each other from opposite sides of an ocean.

The internet has taken politics global. The row about the Guardian trying to influence the US election by getting Guardian-readers to send pontificatory emails to the voters of Ohio is only so visible because it was so funny, but in a quieter way, the Guardian is now influencing US elections, by the simple fact of it publishing its stuff online, and Americans (and everyone else) being able to read it all, quickly and cheaply.

Another version of this same fact is the way that the Bush supporters in the USA took great heart from, and accused their local mainstream media of downplaying, the result of the recent Australian election. → Continue reading: New realities – separate realities

Three worlds

This morning I was left deep in thought after a seemingly innocuous article in Scientific American about Ebola vaccines. It sent me off into a bit of internal philosophizing. I have long intended to explicate a particular set of thoughts here but have never quite found the time. I do not have it right now either, but will nonetheless dedicate an hour to it. The day it deserves will never come.

There are three worlds. Not worlds in the sense of planets or matter but of realities. The first one is the world as it is. You may subdivide it any way you wish, but no matter what you do, there is still a here and now and all of the events unfolding as we speak. Whether we can understand or agree upon the details of the objective reality of this instant makes no particular difference to my thesis.

Second is the world of dreams. The one across the dream bridge. The one of our imaginations. The place where all Utopias exist and prosper. The place where perfection is possible and things just work themselves out according to great visions.

Third and last is the world of becoming. It is the first world of tomorrow or the day after that or the century after that. It is one which will one day be an objective reality on which philosophers will debate.
→ Continue reading: Three worlds

CafeDirect’s Mexican coffee

I was at the University of Paisley last week debating the subject of free trade. One of the other speakers was Martin Meteyard, Chair of CafeDirect plc, a corporation which sells ‘fair trade’ coffee. He had brought with him a packet of Mexican ‘fair trade’ coffee which he proudly showed to the audience.

I was a bit surprised that he had chosen Mexican coffee. After all, compared with other coffee producers, Mexico is a rich country. Granted, Mexico’s wealth is not at British levels. But with a per capita GDP of $8900, the country is considerably better off that other coffee producers like Kenya ($1100), Uganda ($1200) and Tanzania ($600).

Mexico also has much better trading terms than other coffee producers. It is part of the North American Free Trade Area and has a free-trade agreement with the European Free Trade Area (and thus the EU). Industry accounts for 36% of the economy and services 69%. Only 5% of Mexico’s economy is agricultural.

The fundamental problem in the coffee industry worldwide is that there is too much production. This means that the price is low. What is needed is for people to exit the market, and in Mexico it is easier than anywhere else to turn your back on coffee – after all, agriculture accounts for only 5% of the economy. (Yet, according to CafeDirect, 25% of ‘fair trade’ coffee comes from Mexico.) Is CafeDirect really engaging in a great moral act by helping Mexicans stay in the market?

Paying a few pence extra for a cup of ‘fair trade’ Mexican coffee might make you feel like a better person. Unfortunately, how you feel does not make the world a better place.