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]

Olympic games

The line here, which I pretty much toe, is that the Olympic Games are an orgy of drug-sodden, politicised insanity, which Britain, London in particular, will spend the next century or more paying for, in the unfortunate event that Britain, London in particular, get the damn things, in 2012. That the politicians all seem to love the Olympics is enough to make me hostile, even though I do have a serious weakness for modernistical structures of the sort that they build nowadays to accommodate sporting events.

Luckily, Paris is now said to be the front runner. But, the news from Paris is deteriorating. On March 10th, that gang of bribe guzzlers known as the IOC (International Olympic Committee) will be visiting Paris, and the local unions, purely by coincidence I feel sure, happen to be agitating at that time against … the future basically:

French unions have rejected calls to shelve strikes planned for the day the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is due in Paris to assess its bid.

Seven unions are to take part in marches and stoppages on 10 March, to protest against government moves to relax France’s 35-hour working week.

Meanwhile, Mayor of London Ken Livingstone is up to his neck in a row about some insulting and borderline anti-semitic remarks he made to a Jewish journalist, in the course of his ongoing feud with a newspaper group.

The pressure on London Mayor Ken Livingstone intensified today as Tony Blair joined calls for him apologise for his Nazi jibe to a Jewish journalist.

In the capital, there were fears that the continuing row over Mr Livingstone’s outburst – in which he likened the journalist to a concentration camp guard – could damage the city’s chances of hosting the 2012 Olympics.

Well, it certainly could, and the French press is presumably spinning this story like a nuclear powered top. But, a possibility that does not seem to have been much discussed is that Ken Livingstone’s attitude during this ruckus might be what it is not despite the attempt to get the Olympics for London, but because of it. The initial insults sound less than calculated, but politicians like Ken Livingstone are nothing if not good actors. What if Ken picked this particular fight deliberately? Okay, that may be somewhat farfetched. But the aftermath? After Ken had had time to think things through?

Israel has called on Ken to apologise. “International” people, like the people in the International Olympic Committee, are just going to fall over themselves to obey Israel. Not.

Tony Blair wants Ken to apologise. And he is another focus of adoration throughout International land. Again, not.

I do not know the political attitudes of the IOC people, but I bet Ken Livingstone does. And what if he calculates that hanging tough, in the face of all this pressure, adding further insults to the original insults, will actually get him more points with these people than backing down?

Two minutes to midnight

The threat to civil liberties in Britain posted by the Labour government, with laws that make the Patriot Act in the USA seem like a mere trifle, is finally regularly getting the sort of attention it deserves, at least in the Daily Telegraph.

The notion that a politician would dare to try and take powers to deprive people of their liberty without recourse to courts and without even presenting evidence because they ‘know’ that they pose a threat is astonishing. It should also should answer all those people who shrug their shoulders and say “why get worked up about ID cards? We can trust the state.” House arrest without trial and without the ability to confront your accusers… and of British subjects on British soil. And the people who want to do this expect to just be trusted without at any point being required to present proof of a crime or threat to national security. If this is allowed to stand then truly, Britain stands on the brink of something truly dark.

Pressure on Iran

I reckon we ought to be a part of (better somewhat belated than never) this:

An online protest Tuesday of Iran’s crackdown against bloggers made an impact – even on Iranian officials.

So says a leader of the Committee to Protect Bloggers, the group that organized the effort to decry the jailings of Iranian bloggers Arash Sigarchi and Mojtaba Saminejad.

Reuters on Tuesday reported that Sigarchi was jailed for 14 years on charges ranging from espionage to insulting the country’s leaders, a move probably linked in part to the timing of the protest, said Curt Hopkins, the committee’s director. “I think there’s got to be some connection,” Hopkins said.

A message left with the Iranian mission to the United Nations was not immediately returned.

Hopkins’ group – whose deputy director is Ellen Simonetti, the former Delta Air Lines flight attendant fired over photos of herself in uniform that she posted on her blog – asked those who maintain Web logs to call attention Tuesday to the plight of Iranian bloggers through posting banner ads and contacting government officials.

Some notable members of the blogging community took up the cause. They included Jeff Jarvis, who runs the BuzzMachine site, and Glenn Reynolds, who’s behind Instapundit.

Hopkins said the response was just as impressive around the world. Hits on the committee site jumped from a daily average of about 500 to about 3,000 just during the Asian daytime hours. “It’s been going like gangbusters,” he said. “We’ve had people from Brunei and Saudi Arabia, and Japan and Russia.”

Notice how, what with this being from News.com (www address: news.com.com, which I rather like), it is full of links. Old Media stuff which has merely been shoved online but without links, even to things mentioned in the text with .com in them, or to bloggers that they deign to name, are starting to look, even to a www latecomer like me, very dated.

As for Iran, my understanding of Iran now is that it is rapidly moving towards being a very sensible country, and that a little pressure from outside, of the sort described in this posting, will be all that is required. It only needs for the priests to stop getting above themselves and go back to being priests, and to let politics be done by politicians, with plenty of overlap between these two trades, but nevertheless a distinct separation of realms also.

Any attempt at military conquest from outside is, or at least should be, out of the question. Mind you, it does help that the country next to Iran has been conquered. When that happens, and you then say things like “… out of the question …”, it still causes flutters, even if, like me, you absolutely mean it. They do not know that, is the point. Without the Iraq invasion, the Iranian government would not be nearly so bothered about all this blog chatter. Anyway, it all looks like a situation well worth watching.

I would love to be able to say that I saw this kind of thing coming before Iraq was even invaded, and, looking back to then, I reckon I did. Many of the comments on that posting also look even cleverer now.

Flat rate be damned

Well it seems that today, short little link-pieces are okay, so here is a short little link piece, with links to these mealy-mouthed trimmers, arguing for a flat tax, and to me, arguing that mere flatness is not the point. Just having a flat roof to the graph is a hideous compromise. It must be flattened until it is zero-height roadkill. (Metaphor muddle there, but I hope you get the picture.) Seriously, this is one of my best diatribes (“THE TOP RATE OF INCOME TAX SHOULD BE CUT TO ZERO”) from my time as a Libertarian Alliance pulpit banger, and I recommend that you read the whole thing, even if it is only a .pdf.

When the world in due course sees the wisdom of this proposal and enacts in universally, the result will be that there will remain a top rate of income tax, but that whatever money you earn above the level at which the top rate of income tax kicks in, you keep. All of it. These flat-raters say that it should be fifteen percent or whatever for everything you earn. I say, once you have paid your share of the rent, you should keep the lot.

Sorry, I went on a bit there.

Massive engines!

For the last several weeks I have been watching with growing pleasure, every Monday night from 8 pm to 9 pm, two episodes at a time, one of those Channel 5 TV series that tend to pass without much comment or many claims of significance, called Massive Engines.

Last night saw the airing of the final two episodes, number 9 about massive pumps, and number 10 and finally, about the massive jet engines that enable modern airliners to ply their trade. The presenter was Chris Barrie, who is probably best know for comedy-of-embarrassment characterisations like Rimmer in Red Dwarf, or Brittas in The Brittas Empire, and in Massive Engines there are occasional Rimmer/Brittas style, self-send-up moments of leaden humour. The impression you get is that Barrie is not as sure as he would like to be that he is keeping his audience’s attention.

For myself, I absolutely do not think Barrie need have worried. Whenever, which was most of the time, he forgot about being comical and concentrated on explaining the whys and wherefores of his various massive engines, often while himself operating them and with every sign of knowing pretty much what he was doing, I was held, and fascinated.

I learned all kinds of things I never knew. For instance, in the last show, about aircraft engines, I learned that on an early aircraft engine, not only did the propeller rotate, but the cylinders also, firmly attached to the same bit of the engine as the propeller, and rotating along with the propeller. To keep them cool. Amazing. Well, you probably knew that, but I had no idea. You probably also know that whereas petrol engines work with regular explosions, diesel engines (names after a German bloke called Diesel) do not feature externally induced explosions. The pressure caused by the cylinder coming back up again is enough to set fire to the next lot of fuel. Well, I sort of vaguely did know that. But now I know it a little better.

In general, throughout the run of the show, Barrie’s quick and clear explanations of the principles behind all the mechanisms he was describing were, well, amazingly quick, and amazingly clear.

The only episode which I found a bit weak was the one about motorbikes, which featured rather too much footage of Barrie trundling about rather pointlessly on a motorbike, in between the serious explanatory stuff. The trouble with motorbikes is that frankly, they are not massive. They got as big as they will ever be many decades ago, and anyway, the point of them is speed, plain and simple, rather than speed (or anything else for that matter) achieved through massiveness.

That episode aside, all the engines on show got steadily bigger and more effective throughout their history. They are not necessarily massive any more. The pumps, for instances, that shift water hither and thither used to be a lot bigger, when they were steam engines, than they are now, now that they are diesel or electrical engines or whatever. But a good few of the engines Barrie talked about with such enthusiasm are huge right now, and getting ever huger.

The earth moving kit they now use is unbelievably huge, as was proved with a trip to a massive open cast coal mine in Germany, where there were also earth-shifting lorries with wheels the size of terrace houses. The machines used to dig tunnels are now as massive as they have ever been. As are those aircraft engines of course.

I expected the airplane episode with which the show ended to be a commercial for the Airbus A380, but actually it was a commercial for the Rolls Royce Trent Alphabetsoup engine. No Airbuses were mentioned, but a Boeing was, the two engine 777, which is apparently almost as huge as the four engine 747.

I recall no mention whatsoever of the wickedness of massive engines from the environmental point of view, which was most refreshing. On the contrary, massive engines got massive because they were used, again and again, to solve massive environmental problems, such as the environmental mess that the London sewage system had become towards the end of the nineteenth century, or the massive problem of travelling vast distances across the damn environment, most especially the sea. (There was an episode devoted to massive ships.) The entire show was a continuous hymn of praise to the God of the Technical Fix. You have a problem? Building a massive engine to solve it.

I cannot claim to remember all the technical details that were laid out before me on Massive Engines, but when they were being laid out I recall very, very clearly that they did make perfect sense, at the time. Had I written the stuff down, I am confident that only my own handwriting would have then stopped it making perfect sense now.

What I am really saying is, if I come across DVDs of this show at a suitably miserly price, I would definitely consider buying them, and watching the whole show again, repeating the quick and clear explanations and fast forwarding through the motorbike trundling.

As a potential interester of intelligent and intellectual curious children, boys especially of course, these shows would, I feel sure, prove excellent.

And Chris Barrie’s Rimmerisms might even help from that point of view. By the end, even I was enjoying the rest of it so much that I found myself smiling instead of wincing when Barrie started up yet another massive engine not with a “right let’s start this thing up”, but instead by shouting rather self-consciously: “let’s rock”. Very embarrassing dad. But when you really like the serious work that someone is doing, you can put up with mannerisms and foolishnesses that would drive you insane if it was just another pointless idiot doing them. And when they are gone, you even find you miss them.

So, an outstanding show, and particular proof of the value of having lots of different TV channels, allowing lots of different points of view besides the official one, which as far as massive engines is concerned is now that massive engines are, at best, a necessary evil, and at worst, just plain evil.

So how free is Britain?

This is the question asked by Anthony Daniels over on the Social Affairs Units blog. His article conveys the sense of mounting unease that I certainly share. Read the whole thing.

Grabbing Brussels by the balls

I thought a few more images from the splendid Capitalist Ball last week in Brussels would not go amiss…






And whilst in the Heart of Darkness, there were some anti-Bush protesters in town (well, I know most of the people who work for the EU fall into that category but that is not what I mean… and as a result security was somewhat tighter than usual. Someone I always imagined Berlaymont, the HQ of the European Commission, as being a place that has a great deal of barbed wire in its future.


The interesting things about the protesters for me were…

… firstly their very small number and secondly, their fascinating choice of protest placards which decried US military action against a mass murdering fascist regime in Iraq, a mass murdering fascist regime in Yugoslavia, in support of a democratic regime in Bosnia, against a right wing dictator in Panama …

Very revealing, would you not agree?

Samizdata quote of the day

I bought a DVD of Nabucco the other day. It’s the usual story: boy meets girl; girl’s father attacks Jerusalem; Hebrews carted off to Babylon. “Sack, burn the temple,” says the King of the Babylonians. “This cursed race shall be wiped from the earth.” But first, let’s all have a sing-song.

I saw it in Hong Kong a couple of years ago. It was the Latvian National Opera, so I was watching Latvians, in China, pretending to be Jews in Babylon, and singing in Italian. Well that’s all right. I can take a joke.

Harry Hutton last Friday. More about Nabucco here.

Demonopolising postal services: the front door problem

Alex Singleton says that this is good news:

The Royal Mail will lose its monopoly on delivering Britain’s letters on Jan. 1, an industry regulator announced Friday – 15 months earlier than originally planned.

Regulator Postcomm said that from the beginning of 2006 private companies will be able to bid for licenses to deliver letters, previously the sole preserve of the state-backed Royal Mail Group PLC.

Postcomm chairman Nigel Stapleton said more competition would create “a more innovative and efficient postal industry.”

“This is only the first step in a process which the commission hopes will eventually see market forces replace regulation as the main driver of an efficient and effective mail industry,” he said.

Bulk mail delivery is already open to competition, but domestic letter services are the exclusive domain of the Royal Mail.

I agree. I have no problem with the principle that postal services ought to be competitive rather than monopolistic, and most of the arguments I hear which allegedly defend that monopoly strike me as misguided. For instance, I have never understood why sending a letter to people living at the far end of beyond in the deep, deep countryside, should cost no more than sending a letter from a dweller in a city to another dweller in the same city. If a competitive postal delivery service wants to have a one-price-fits-all policy, as many do, for simplicity’s sake, fine. If it wants to deliver non-urgent packages sent by me to someone half a mile from me by sending them to Birmingham and back, again: their problem (and their solution) rather than mine. But if other postal services want to ‘skim’, that is, do only easy deliveries (and maybe do them really, really quickly), and thereby force a little product differentiation into this market, well, again, why not? Making a bicycle is easier and cheaper than making a luxury car, and bikes accordingly change hands for far less. Where is the problem with that? Why should both cost the same?

Add all the obvious advantages associated with competitors competing with each other to establish reputations for reliable, efficient and really clever service, and you get a compelling case for a free market.

There is also the point, which I was only reminded of when deciding whether to label this as being about “globalization”, that postal services these days cry out to be global, rather than merely national with global stuff treated as a bolted-on afterthought.

However, I believe that I do see one problem with this particular exercise in demonopolisation. → Continue reading: Demonopolising postal services: the front door problem

Samizdata quote of the day

It’s one thing to have people looking at your sex tapes, but having people reading your personal e-mails is a real invasion of privacy.
-The anonymous source who took the story of Paris Hilton’s hacked BlackBerry to the press

The heart of darkness pierced by Samizdatistas

If Samizdata has been a bit quiet of late, you can blame it on the fact that so many of the contributors have been in Brussels for the Centre for the New Europe‘s 2005 Capitalist Ball. (Some of you may remember David Carr’s eye-pleasing entry about last year’s soiree.) Many of last year’s attendees were present this year – including the tall, glamourous Texan from David’s 2004 entry – and the whole event was nothing short of splendid. To be in a room with hundreds of people who broke into enthusiastic applause when one of the speakers quoted Father Juan de Mariana‘s assertion that any individual citizen can justly assassinate a king who imposes taxes without the consent of the people, seizes the property of individuals and squanders it, or prevents a meeting of a democratic parliament was, to put it mildly, very refreshing.


Without any collectivists in the room at whom they could snarl, Perry and Jackie were forced to smile


Brian was not pleased with his date’s smugness over forcing him into a dinner jacket and out of his beloved Birkenstocks


There was no prize for best posture or most regal attendee, but we had a winner for both of those categories on our table anyway

Brussels itself is a somewhat drab – if not totally miserable – town. Upon arrival, I was surprised to see a workman on a ladder in the train station, doing a bit of welding – without a properly fitted protective mask, and with sparks raining down mere inches from passersby. This total disregard for the cult of ‘health and safety’ was an oddly pleasing sight.

We took it as a good sign when the two flags flying right outside our hotel room window were the Union Jack and the American stars and stripes. Even more cheering was this sticker on a lampost near – I kid you not – Rue du Gouvernement Provisoire (Provisional Government Street):


It is the “as much as possible” that made us smile. Keep trying, scumbags.

And speaking of scumbags, it seems the local communists know they have a bit of a PR problem, to say the least:


Roughly translated, they are trying to sell the line that being against capitalism does not necessarily mean being in favour of the gulag. I suppose that may be true, in much the same way that being against breathing does not necessarily mean that one is in favour of a horrific death, but…Again, keep trying, scumbags. The pro-liberty contingent that gathered in Brussels this weekend are not the only people around who know you are full of crap. From the looks of the city’s Grand Place, a European stronghold of capitalism since the 17th century, it would appear that the denizens of Brussels have had that one figured out for quite a while. With any luck, and exposure to the free market principles celebrated at the CNE’s Capitalist Ball, the young communists of Belgium will get on the winning side of things any day now.

Blogging will not necessarily save the Conservative Party

The Guardian is serious about blogging, and it is also serious about presenting the occasional non-left piece of writing. (They used regularly to publish pieces by Enoch Powell.) So the surprising thing about this piece about blogging is not that the Guardian published it, but that the name of Iain Duncan Smith appears where the author’s name goes. (I share Patrick Crozier‘s doubts about the piece’s true authorship. And when we are talking about blogging, being who you say you are is a big thing, I think.)

IDS (I will assume this to be real from now on) hopes that blogging will revitalise the right in Britain, and notes that blogging has already revitalised the right in the USA, and has utterly deranged the left by causing the left to drag their party away from electability.

I wonder. I suspect that the problems of the Conservative Party are more serious than that, and that blogging will as likely serve to dramatise all the many differences that are now contained, if that is the right word, within the Conservative Party.

The Conservatives now have a hideous problem. Having lost confidence in its own economic nostrums, with the collapse both of the old USSR and of its own attempts to galvanise the British economy by seizing control of it, the British dirigiste left is content to allow Blair – or, I suspect, any likely successor of Blair – to triangulate away into the sunset. Labour knows that for them, it is either New Labour or no Labour at all. Which means that the Conservatives are no longer united by Labour. Instead they are divided by New Labour.

I do not go out of my way to converse with Conservative Party activists or critics or cheerers-on, but every one of such persons I have met with during the last decade or so has had his own distinct plan for the future of the Conservative Party, consisting of his own preferred mixture of policies. Each activist knows that his particular plan is The Answer, and that all that is needed is for all those other Conservative morons to stop with the negativity and embrace his plan without reservation. Easy really.

The Conservative Party should take a firm stand about this (or its opposite), without compromise. But, it should fearlessly compromise on that, by either lying or not talking about it. Go hard with England, Britain, Europe, the Anglosphere, the World (mix and dilute to taste). Be anti-immigrant, pro-immigrant. Anti-ID-cards, pro-ID-cards. Smash the welfare state, buy voters with an even better welfare state. Cut pensions, raise pensions. Support state education, destroy state education. Defend fox hunting, ignore fox hunting. Applaud the Americans, denounce the Americans. (I once thought that the Conservatives could maybe agree about applauding the Americans and leave the rowing about the Americans to the Labour Party. Fat chance.) Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Every policy front is a distinct way to destroy Conservative Party unity.

It used to be that the Leader would decide all these things. Now they all want to be the Leader. And if they are not the Leader, and a different mixture of policies and attitudes is propose to their preferred mixture by the bloke who is the Leader, they are about as loyal to the Leader as a basket of low-IQ, but poisonous, snakes. As a result, the Conservative Party is now nigh on unleadable. It is not that they have chosen bad Leaders, or for that matter that they have chosen their Leaders by the wrong methods. It is that they cannot be lead.

I cannot see blogging being much help with all this. On the contrary, I think it will only allow the stupid snakes to hiss louder and louder. Blogging will be a whole new source of indiscretions and vituperations, a whole new way to destroy the Conservative Party. The anti-Conservative journalists could have a field day, and I think the Guardian knows it.

IDS says that blogging will put the fear of God into the “metropolitan elite”, and assumes that this will help the Conservative Party. It is just as likely to start a new civil war within it. IDS says that lazy journalists think only of the impact of this or that policy on the opinion polls. Which the leadership of the Conservative Party never does, does it? The title of IDS’s piece is “Bloggers will resue the right”. But what it blogging rescues “the right” from the Conservative Party?

But, we shall see. Politics is weird. Often something that seems utterly impossible one month, becomes unavoidable a few short months later. Maybe blogging will provoke a big Conservative revival.

Personally I do not much care one way or the other. I agree with Perry that a speedy return of a Conservative government would improve very little, and very possibly make things even worse. My loyalty is to blogging itself. This is where I have placed my bets. If blogging very publicly sweeps the Conservatives back into office, hurrah! If it rips the Conservatives into unmendable fragments, hurrah also!

Or then again, maybe the unanimous ignorance of the modern world and its possibilities will mean that the stupid snakes continue to neglect this new way for them to hiss, and we bloggers will have to spread our enthusiasm for this new and amazing medium by quite other means.