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]

The future’s bright

Orange seems to be a pretty good colour at the moment. After all, the soundest thing to ever come out of the Liberal Democrats was called The Orange Book. Now there is a website by some classical liberals (rather than Liberal Democrats) called The Orange Path. The authors claim that liberalism is “bright, zesty and Orange”. They point out that:

Whether knowingly or accidental, some of the landmark texts of classical liberal scholarship have orange front covers – a curiosity easy to overlook. The University of Chicago Press published FA Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty in 1960, Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom in 1962/1982 and James Buchanan’s The Limits of Liberty in 1975 – all liberal, all free, and all undeniably orange

Well, whatever. The point is that The Orange Path is a useful resource, aimed at helping the left to understand classical liberal ideas. Take a look.

Why should anyone trust the Tories on Europe?

There is a fine article by Tory MEP Daniel Hannan in the Telegraph called The EU’s four-stage strategy to reduce Britons to servitude. It is an entirely accurate and reasonable article about the process of stripping British (and other European national) institutions of power and replacing them with Euro-level institutions.

He finished up with the notion that Michael Howard and the Tories will finally turn things around:

Mr Howard understands this very well. Not only is he a lawyer himself but, as home secretary, he clashed almost weekly with our judges – not least on immigration cases. He must have known that the EU would react as it did to his proposals: indeed, I suspect he was banking on it. He has said before that he wants to take powers back from Brussels but, until now, the issue on which he was planning to go into battle – the recovery of our fishing grounds – seemed rather marginal to most inland voters. Now he has found a casus belli where the country will be behind him.

It has been a besetting British vice that we ignore what is happening on the Continent until almost too late. But, when we finally rouse ourselves, our resolve can be an awesome thing. I sense that this may be such a moment.

But there is just one problem with that. The slide into the Euro-maw did not start under Tony Blair’s government. In fact it would be no exaggeration to say that the UKIP would not exist today if significant numbers of Euro-sceptic voters were not sick of being lied to again and again and again by Tory politicians. As I said to a table full of captive Tory grandees when I spoke at an event commemorating the end of Exchange Controls, a great many Tory voters simply no longer believe that the Conservative Party actually wish to conserve the things they care about and I very much doubt that any amount of rhetoric by any Tory will win back the trust of days gone by. Many of those former Tories who joined UKIP did so not just to oppose the destruction of Britain as a separate political entity but also because they truly hate their former party and see UKIP as a way to destroy it by making it permanently unelectable.

So what Mr. Hannan says is all good stuff, but what makes him think people should trust the party of Michael Heseltine, Ken Clark and Chris Patten to actually turn things around?

Samizdata quote of the day

By all means, wear pyjamas in the privacy of your own bedroom. Wear them round your own house, even. But I am frankly disturbed that the art of dressing oneself has transmogrified these days into a competition to see who looks most like they got their clothes out of a recycling bin. We don’t all have to look like the poor and starving in order to persuade others that we care. It’s a big lefty trend, and now is the time to reclaim the clothing-sphere as something capable of expressing more valuable ideas than, “I wouldn’t wear a Gucci suit if you paid me.” Improving your style isn’t about getting different writing on your t-shirt. It’s about conveying who you really are. You are not a sack of potatoes.

Alice Bachini last Sunday (good to see she still knows how to spell pyjamas)


One of my favourite jokes – and if you are any kind of friend of mine you have probably heard it several times already – concerns a man who goes, on his own, to the seaside. He swims around, having a good time. Then, two strong hands descend upon his shoulders and force him beneath the waves, and keep him under until he thinks that he is about to die, without even knowing why. Finally, the two strange hands allow him to the surface again, and it turns out that they are the hands of a total stranger, who excuses his strange and aggressive conduct by saying: “I’m sorry, I thought you were a friend of mine.”

Well, now, as David Carr is fond of noting whenever he sees it happening, reality seems to have gone one stage further than mere humour:

A teenager was hacked to death by three friends who attacked him with large scythes, a court heard.

What are friends for?

Samizdata quote of the day

For you to ask advice on the rules of love is no better than to ask advice on the rules of madness

Who pays the cost?

The Cost of “Choice”
Edited by Erika Bachiochi
Encounter Books, San Francisco, 2004

This is a frankly partisan book, and though subtitled Women Evaluate the Impact of Abortion, it would be fair to say that positive claims for any impact are given short shrift, and the editor is someone who has changed her mind. Changed her mind in what sense? Perhaps the greatest difference between British and American attitudes – and I must make clear that this is not the same as British and American practices – is that while here we regard abortion as a range of moral options, Americans have been polarised by their legal system into only two: for or against. This is an American book (the experience of other countries is hardly mentioned), the editor is American; she was once for abortion and is now against it. Under all circumstances? It is fair to say that this not much discussed.

The landmark decision on abortion in the US was the Supreme Court ruling (which has been strengthened by several subsequent ones) in Roe v. Wade in 1973, five years after the Abortion Act was passed in this country. Both effectively legalised abortion on demand, at any stage in the pregnancy, so that it was it was perfectly permissible to kill someone who, if born, could survive if supported by present-day technology, or even without it (p. 6). Personally I would like to think that such cases are uncommon. However, the on-going US debate on “partial birth” abortion, where parturition is induced so that the emerging baby can more conveniently be killed (p. 19), suggests otherwise. Congress passed a law against it, which was vetoed by President Clinton, but signed by President Bush in 2003; it may yet fail at the Supreme Court, which in 2000 declared partial-birth abortion legal.

Although in this country the matter was debated in Parliament (though without its later ramifications being even suspected) and laid to rest when the Act that legalized abortion passed into law, in the US “the decision of Roe v. Wade launched a civic debacle… [when] the Court abruptly brought this process to a halt (p. xii)”. There is no doubt that this decision, tortuously argued from a “right to privacy” not mentioned, let alone enshrined, anywhere in the US Constitution, was correctly called by one of the dissenting judges “a power grab” and by another “an exercise in raw judicial power”. And if legislatures could be circumvented in this way, where would it all end? → Continue reading: Who pays the cost?

The importance of confronting the unjust

The Countryside Alliance continues its quixotic fight to use the approved levers of power to overturn the ban on hunting with hounds. Somehow the realisation that there is nothing at all ‘undemocratic’ about the fact they are being oppressed by the state has still not percolated through those worthy but rather thick country skulls.

Mr Jackson said the Countryside Alliance believed that the House of Commons acted unlawfully in forcing through the Parliament Act in 1949, without the consent of the House of Lords. Mr Jackson stressed that he was not challenging the supremacy of Parliament.

But why not? If Mr. Jackson believes that what is being done to him by Parliament is unjust, then why not challenge the supremacy of Parliament? There is nothing sacred about a bunch of lawmakers and a law is only as good as its enforcement. If the Countryside Alliance actually have the courage of their convictions, they must start challenging the right of the state to do whatever it wishes just because its ruling party has a majority in Parliament. Maybe if they realised that they are a minority and will always be a minority they would be less inclined to trust the old way of doing things. There is a long history of civil disobedience to duly constituted authority in the defence of what is right. That matters far more that what is or is not legal.

Battlestar Galactica

It would be fair to say that when I heard that 70’s space opera ‘Battlestar Galactica’ was going to be remade, I was dubious: face it, the original made Star Trek seem like Shakespeare. Moreover when I later discovered that a leading character in the original series called ‘Starbuck’ (well before the term became synonymous with coffee) was going to be ‘re-imagined’ as a woman, I became downright contemptuous: “Oh gawd, another sickeningly politically correct bit of drivel spewing forth from Hollyweird”. Moreover womanising hard drinking cigar smoking Starbuck was one of the few engaging characters from the original series.

In a sense I acquired the DVD of the mini-series more as something to blog about, so I could actually say I had seen a piece of science fiction that was worse than that hymn for a limp-wristed California vision of ‘inclusive transnational socialism’ (well, maybe not all that inclusive), called Star Trek, a series which hit its nadir with the execrable Enterprise. So yes, I fired up this disc with extremely low expectations.

The show starts slowly, setting the scene in some detail, such as the fact we foolish humans were the ones who actually created the Cylons, the show’s homicidal robotic bad guys, and that Battlestar Galactica itself (more or less an aircraft carrier in space) was an obsolescent relic of a pervious war against the Cylons some 50 years earlier and was due to be retired from service after many years of peace. We see the back story of Gauis Baltar, who in the original series was a comical pantomime style ‘villain’ and arch-traitor, and who is this time ‘re-imagined’ as a deeply flawed genius (sort of a cross between Albert Einstein and Bill Gates, brilliantly acted by James Callis) who is psychopathically self-centered and thus tricked by an all too human looking ‘female’ Cylon into unwittingly dooming humanity. All better acted, better directed and far better written than I expected but only Baltar was particularly engaging initially.

But then the Cylons make their move…

Wow. A show which truly, truly, truly does not pull any punches and proffers a middle finger to the sugar coating of so much of Hollywood’s offerings that are aimed at the mainstream. We see nothing less that genocide: the steady nuclear annihilation of the human race. We see men women and children (yes, children) killed pitilessly in one of the darkest bits of sci-fi TV drama I have ever seen: the Götterdämmerung on 12 planets. Moreover we see the handful of dazed and traumatised survivors on the Galactica and the refugee fleet which forms around this last remnant of the human military, act like, well, people who have just seen their entire civilisation and 99.9% of their species exterminated by an implacable enemy.

In many ways this is a story that owes much to the dramas set in World War II that were made in the 40’s and 50’s and posit that there is a great deal more to being in command than saying “Make it so”. Even the look of the Galactica itself is a million miles away from the antiseptic interiors of Star Trek’s spaceships: it has manually opened pressure doors, old fashioned wire cable intercoms and chinagraph pencil plotting tables that would not have looked out of place on USS Yorktown during the Battle of Midway. As in that earlier genre of movies from a less timid era, heart rending decisions are forced on characters, and not just the military commanders (who I am pleased to say actually act like real military commanders in Battlestar Galactica) but also the new president of the colonial government (very well played by Mary McDonnell), who is faced with desperate no-win life and death choices. The biggest surprise for me however was the character of Starbuck, who I was simply determined to hate. Actress Katee Sackhoff plays Starbuck as a hard drinking cigar smoking tomboy and does so with an almost feral gusto and real panache. Her hard bitten mocking grin, snappy dialogue and the almost maniacal gleam in her eyes had me won me over within about 15 minutes.

I have no idea if the series following the mini-series will live up to its potential but damn, it is nice to see such a refreshing bit of drama in the science fiction genre.

Censor says: I am trying to help

Regular readers of this blog will know that the student newspaper at the University of St Andrews was evicted by the student union after it fell foul of the union’s “Equal Opportunities Policy”. One of the principal student union officials responsible for the ban says that he is just trying to help students:

I am so close to resigning from the Union. I don’t think that people realise that I spend all my time working there and sit up at night working to represent students better. And with Preston [a member of the Liberty Club] trying his hardest to fuck people over, it just compounds the problem. I’m not trying to run a fatwah, I am trying to help students. But no. Let’s ignore that and blame me because we all love the Saint [newspaper], don’t we?

Believe it or not, this virtuous student censor’s job title in the union is “SS Officer”.

The real Tax Freedom Day

Today is the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in 1916 that income tax is a violation of the Constitution.

So the politicians had to change to Constitution.

Toward a taxonomy of God

Last week I spent an evening pubbing with Samizdata reader ‘Spacer’ who writes for the Wall Street Journal now and again. As you can see, he was fully prepared for the Arctic conditions of the Upper West Side.

Photo: Copyright Dale Amon, all rights reserved

At the second pub we stumbled upon a group of his friends and next thing I was deep into a Cambridge style philosophical discussion on the existence of God. I am sure most readers know I am not the least bit religious in a fundamentalist way. I usually deflect the topic by declaring myself a “nonpracticing atheist”. This unusual label typically confuses the opposition sufficiently to allow me to make good my escape.

A correct explication of my beliefs requires far more explanation and odd looks than I typically care for when my pub intent is to be chillin’. In truth I am more agnostic than atheist. I do not believe I can prove one way or the other that there is a higher being. In and of itself that is not an unusual belief set. The difficulty comes when I attempt description of the God of whose existence I am unsure.

I do not believe in the supernatural God of scripture; nor in a God of the First Cause. No God created itself and the initial Universe, but the Universe may quite possibly have created a God or God’s, any one of which would be utterly indistinguishable from the all powerful God of earthly religions.

You may ask yourself, “What the hell is he talking about?”.

So I will tell you.

A Taxonomy of Physically Possible Gods

We can describe different levels of Godness:

  • An entity with a command of all which physical law allows but which exists in a localized region of space and time.
  • An entity which in addition is able to control space and time.
  • An entity which exists at the end of space and time and can operate on any point in that continuum.

There are a number of paths by which entities may reach a state which we would call God.

  • God of the Simulation. If, as David Deutsch suggests in some of his writings, there is one reality (a multiverse) and untold numbers of simulated realities, then the initiator of a simulation is an all powerful God, limited only by the rules and initial conditions it chooses to follow.
  • God of the Universal Mind. If Strong Nanotechnology really is possible, then any technological species will eventually gain the ability to build anything physical law allows. It will take control of its own shape, its own mind, its own destiny. Sentience may become a property of matter and the adage “God is Everywhere” become literally true.
  • God of the Singularity. If we gain control of space and time, it may be possible to create an entire space-time universe bubble to specification. The creators may or may not be able to ever again interact with their creation, but they have set the parameters which define its evolution. The creator of such a bubble is a Creator, but not the Self-Creator of religious texts.

There are a number of different origins for these entities. Some origins do not apply to some God-types:

  • The entity could be ‘ourselves’ from a future time, or from the ‘end’ of time if our space-time is closed.
  • The entity could be a progenitor from pre-existing space-time.
  • The entity could be an alien civilization that developed past some threshold before we did.
  • The entity could be some combination of any of the above, for instance, a mass mind existing at the end of time made up of all sentient species which passed the threshold for membership.

The type of Universe also may affect the possible types of God.

  • If there is a final big crunch, then the amounts of available energy per unit time and space increase exponentially as does the ability to compute. [This is from Deutsch].
  • In a Freeman Dyson open universe scenario, a civilization has exponentially less available energy per unit time and space, but adjusts by exponentially slowing down the speed of its own thoughts. It has forever to play with, so why rush?
  • Entities which come to a full understanding of Space-Time may simply end-run all of this and move their thoughts to a new bubble universe.

All or none of these or any combination may be true. They are as beyond our ability to test as is the existence of the Biblical God.

The only thing they are not beyond is our imagination.

So just how big a threat would a ‘Nuclear Iran’ be?

And by that question I do not mean ‘might they give nukes to Al-Qaeda’ or sundry other Islamic loonies, but rather is the claim that they would promptly nuke Israel as fast as they could strap a warhead onto a missile actually credible?

The author of the linked article, Edward Luttwak, is a good but uneven commentator and analyst. His book Coup d’Etat: a practical handbook is probably the definitive ‘how to do it’ book on the subject… however his prediction on the outcome of the western attacks on Iraq were embarrassingly off-target. Luttwak says that Iranian government figures said:

Some members of the government have even boasted how they would use them: to destroy Israel. “Islam could survive the retaliation,” they insist, “but Israel would be gone forever.” The thought of ayatollahs with nuclear bombs should terrify everyone – especially in Europe, because the Iranians could soon put those bombs on the top of rockets that could reach European capitals.

And whilst I feel it is entirely possible they said exactly that, given the nature of the Islamic theocracy in Iran, I do not think I can just take Luttwak’s word for it. Oh how I look forward to the day when newspapers do what blogs do: always always always link to a supporting source when you say “they said this”.

Can anyone helpfully provide links to other reports where Iranian government figures have actually said such things? Forming a sensible view on how to react to the Iranian state is far too serious a matter and the more sources of information that can be gathered, the better we can form theories about what would be the best course of action and what sort of policies should be supported by whom.