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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Americanism: Style and Dissent

One of my occasional forays in the United States has washed me up on the shores of historic Provincetown, on the tip of Cape Cod. Looking back over the Atlantic to the West Coast of Ireland has reminded me of how the weather can be just as bad over here as it is at home.

Anti-Americanism remains as popular at home as it is misunderstood here. What was originally considered a prejudice has now transformed into an orthodoxy, where the demonisation of the United States, its people, culture and contributions has acquired the power of an aesthetic reaction. The reaction is not an ideology, although the attacks are structured as such within various contexts, especially as formed by the Left or the Green movement who merge the USA with a wider system of empire, capitalism or oppression. Ideologies tend to wither if they drift too far from reality. Anti-Americanism has acquired the power of an aesthetic, a style derived from its audiences and reproduced from T-shirts of Che Guevara to a new orthodoxy amongst the educated elites. Like left-wing satire of the nineteen-eighties, it has ceased to be funny and its proponents look down on those who disagree with them.

Politics and style are a dangerous combination. Supporting Bush is not the same as accepting America on its terms, good and bad, but orthodox behaviour encourages polarisation in argument. When confronted with an anti-American style that is no longer based upon argument and is winning the culture war, you provide the ‘fishbone statement’ that will make these people choke. To stand up for the Stars and Stripes can be considered a form of private dissent, allowing you to needle those whose views you hate.

Church and state

“America’s militant agnostic minority has totally distorted the meaning of separation of church and state. It doesn’t mean banning religion and religious values from the public square. It doesn’t mean Howard Stern’s off-color (and frequently off-the-wall) ‘humor’ is protected speech, while the free _expression of religion is banned. It means the United States will establish no official religion, while remaining equally hospitable to all religions — and to those who practice none. Religious principle is not something to fear and loathe and banish from the public square; it is a code of conduct on which we can and should rely to guide our personal and civic behavior”
– singer Pat Boone, writing in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

I know, I know – Pat Boone? But he seems to me he got this one about right (except for the implication that Howard Stern’s humor may not be protected speech).

Contrary to popular belief, “separation of church and state” is not found in the US Constitution. What is found in the Constitution is a prohibition on the establishment of a state church (which is why it is known as the Establishment Clause) reading thusly “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” The ‘separation’ meme comes from correspondence between Jefferson and Madison, but was never enacted in Constitutional language.

A nice, fairly even-handed intro can be found here.

Personally, I think that the issue of impending theocracy and separation of church and state evaporates, once you take seriously the US Constitution’s limited grant of power to the national government. If the national government is held to its enumerated powers, then it lacks the power to implement into civil law most behavioral controls that various religions might promote. Since the federal government restricted to its enumerated powers has no Constitutional basis to, for example, ban abortions, it simply cannot be used for that purpose by the purported theocrats among us.

The various left-wing ninnies who are running around bleating about theocracy are, in effect, hoist on their own petard. Having spent generations destroying the idea of limited government and creating an all-powerful national state, it ill becomes them to complain now that their tool is being turned to different ends. Even so, it is astonishing that virtually none of them realize that the uses to which the Republicans want to put federal power are inevitable, once you establish an all-powerful state in a country that is actually quite Christian and conservative, all told. It is sad but unsurprising that none of them are willing to attack the problem at its root by calling for limited government. No, the only solution the statists can imagine is seizing power again, themselves.

Huffing and puffing

Ooooh..I am so excited! It will not be long now before I will be able to gorge myself on yet another body of incoherent babbling:

When the website huffingtonpost.com launches on May 9, it will eventually see contributions from Norman Mailer, David Mamet, Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Harold Evans, Tina Brown, Gwyneth Paltrow, and the woman who played Elaine in Seinfeld. They will offer a “round the clock commentary on our life and times”…

I don’t know about you, gentle reader, but I am positively aquiver with anticipation to discover what Diane Keaton has to say about my life and times. Yet, my enthusiasm is perhaps somewhat tempered by the inexplicable absence (thus far at any rate) of the great Professor Streisand.

I submit that huffingtonpost.com will prove to be a one-stop, on-line resource for all serious students of thespianomics (advanced module). For everyone else it should be a ‘target-rich environment’.


Letting off steam in Brussels

For those of you not able to drag your attention from our fascinating British national poll (okay, I’ll turn the snark button off now) there is always the European Union to keep us all amused. It emerges that the EU Commission has gotten a bit red-faced after it emerged that two saunas were installed in the new Brussels HQ out of consideration for its Scandanavian staff.

This seems a bit mean. It must be nice to unwind and loosen those muscle pains after a hard day churning out interminable directives and figuring out new ways to shaft Chinese textile exporters. In fact, I would like to make a modest proposal: perhaps all such officials could spend a lot more time in saunas, not to mention theatres, cinemas, restaurants, nightclubs, race courses and football grounds. In fact, anywhere but their own offices.

The maiden flight of the Airbus A380

Whatever you reckon on the politics of it all, it is still a big (and I do mean big) step (jump?) forward for aviation. I refer to the maiden flight of the gigantic Airbus A380, which has just been successfully completed.

The A380 – designed to carry as many as 840 people between major airports – took off from its production site in southern France at just after 0830 GMT.

“The speed on take-off was exactly as we had expected,” said test pilot Jacques Rosay.

“The weather is wonderful. Everything is absolutely perfect and we are very happy.”

The crew took the plane out over the Bay of Biscay, before returning to base.

This, though, the Antonov An-225, featured last Monday evening on C5 TV’s Massive Machines show, is even bigger.

Airbus will not mind about that, but they may be more worried about this:

WASHINGTON – Buoyed by an influx of new orders, Boeing Co. appears to be turning the corner in its battle with archrival Airbus.

So, will all this airplane competition make global warming worse, to the point of eventual global disaster? My sister goes on about the globally warming badness of jet airplanes is every time I meet her.

I must remember to ask my nephew, her son, what he thinks about this issue, next time I meet him. He is an airline pilot.

A national electronic database – what ID cards are really about

Two recommendations. First, a general recommendation for this news site. It is the work of a law firm, and there is a definite bias in the direction of news stories about internet law, intellectual property matters, and such like. You will not get relentless civil liberties based complaint about the way things are going, the way you do here, but you will, if you tune in regularly, learn quite a lot about the legal facts around which such arguments rage.

If there is a general message, it is: It’s complicated! Call us before you do anything! Fair enough. Here is yet another example of how to do Internet business. They ‘advertise’ themselves and their services, not by having silly adverts saying, e.g.: “It’s complicated! Call us before you do anything!”, but by giving away helpful and informative content where that is only one of the subtexts.

And second, a particular recommendation for this article from last week, which explains what the ID card argument is all about. → Continue reading: A national electronic database – what ID cards are really about

Beyond clueless about blogging

It is better to be thought a fool than to
open one’s mouth and remove all doubt
– attributed to various folks

The Sun, a British tabloid newspaper more famous for what happens on page three than its news reporting, has an article on their website called Blogging for your votes written by Corinne Abrams. There are three pictures of young people representing the main parties and under each there is a link to view their ‘blogs’.

Click on one of the links and you get taken to a pop-up window rather like a non-interactive comment pop-up with a single scraggly bit of undated and unlinkable polemical text about their party and views… perhaps I am missing something (if so please set me right!) but that actually appears to be their “blog”! smiley_holy_crapola.gif smiley_laugh.gif

Is that really what The Sun thinks a blog is? Given the amount written about blogs in the media these days and the number of journalists who have their own blogs, to drop such a clanger seems extraordinary.

The Chinese cheap clothes menace

This Friday, Michael Jennings will be doing my last-Friday-of-the-month talk, about China. Emergence of, economic miracle, impact on rest of world, and so on.

And, as if determined to assist me in my efforts to publicise this event, the European Union, in the person of Euro-Panjandrum Peter Mandelson, has been uttering anti-Chinese fatuities:

The European Union has called on China to reduce its clothing exports to Europe or else face enforced limits.

That was the warning given by EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson, as he launched an EU probe into nine categories of Chinese textile exports.

Exports of certain Chinese clothing items to Europe have surged by more than 500% since an international quota system came to an end on 1 January.

Heaven forbid that the people of Europe should be allowed to buy really cheap clothes, as much as they want. Clearly this is a retrograde step, and must be resisted.

“Europe” still lectures places like China as if places like China are the Third World, and Europe, obviously, is the first. But this has a very eighteenth century Asia feel to it, to me. Europe can no more prevent itself being swamped by, flooded with, etc. (although “sold” would be a better word) cheap clothes now than Asia could then prevent the incoming tide of pots and pans, cups and plates, and shirts, made in what was then the English workshop of the world.

This nonsense seems all to be based on some Agreement that was signed a few years ago. And it perfectly illustrates the folly of such agreements, which serve only to allow the supposedly protected industries to remain somnolent for a few more precious years, thereby to lose all touch with economic reality beyond the protections behind which they briefly shelter, to the point where the pressure of economic reality becomes so immense that it is impossible to resist, at which point the protection collapses and economic melt-down duly happens.

It also illustrates Public Choice Theory rather nicely. You can be sure that hundreds of desperate European shirt and trouser makers are even now busily conspiring to explain that Mandelson is talking sense rather than nonsense. Meanwhile the people whom Mandelson is trying to harm (everyone else in Europe plus many thousands of poor workers in China) will be too busy with other things to object very loudly. After all, each of us will only suffer a bit, and anyway, what can any of us do if the EU/Peter Mandelson has decided to harm us all, a bit. That is not news. That is Euro-business as usual.

In due course, the benefits to all of us of free trade with China will be concentrated into the hands of a few illegal clothes importers. But the clothes will not be quite so good or quite so cheap.

Reuters reports on the Chinese response here. My thanks to Alex Singleton of the Globalization Institute for the links, via this, which continues to happen at the ungodly hour that was originally promised. Tim Worstall comments on the same story at the Globalization Institute blog, making similar points to mine about the concentration of the (temporary) benefits associated with protection, but the dispersed nature of the costs, and about how previous restrictions have only stored up trouble.

Meanwhile, how else is “Europe” responding to the menace of people working too hard? By having a law against it.

Blogging Les Blogs

Today’s reason for light blogging is that the Samizdata editors are in Paris(!) attending a blogging conference Les Blogs. Blogging is making some waves in France and this conference is truly international, bloggers from 20 countries are present. We have met many a blogger we have known virtually and putting faces to blogs is always an interesting experience.

For those who are interested in the blog trends and biz, head over to the Big Blog Company blog for some furious blogging of the conference.

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The reason for light blogging this weekend…

Three reasons actually: One engagement party (between two Samizdatistas, no less), one St. George’s day party and a party of Samizdatistas in France…

We lured the famous Dissident Frogman away from his Northern stronghold to meet up with us south of the French heart of Darkness for much hilarity at the expense of the French establishment and a great deal of good food.

Virgin in Space

According to The Australian, Richard Branson wants an Australian site for his new suborbital space planes. That in itself would not be particularly unusual: others before him have seen and considered the Australian launch advantage.

A final design for Virgin’s flagship spacecraft, the VSS Enterprise, is expected to be signed off on this year. A US base is expected to be training 3000 astronauts for the $US190,000 sub-orbital flights in as little as three years.

Sir Richard said in Sydney that the plan was to build sufficient spaceships to allow the establishment of separate bases around the world.

It may not have done so for many of you, but this sets off tinkling bells and flashing lights for me. If you are at all close to the space industry you will know there is an excellent near equator site in Australia where there has long been interest for a Spaceport. I have not been following it much lately, but I do remember there was an intent to launch Russian rockets from there. The current status is neither here nor there: Australia is the only Anglospherian country with existing space infrastructure and near equatorial lands.

When a spaceship takes off it gets an extra boost from the Earth’s rotational velocity. The further from the equator you are, the less advantage you get. Imagine you were at the North Pole. The Earth is rotating your spaceship on the pad once every 24 hours and when you launch, your engines have to supply 100% of the velocity required for orbit.

If you are at an intermediate geographical location, like KSC at Cape Canaveral, the rotating planet is moving your spaceship at a significant eastward velocity before it even leaves the ground.

If you are at the equator, you are already traveling at a rate of 1/24 the Earth’s circumference per hour. An equatorial or near-equatorial site is ideal for a first generation orbital spaceship . It gives a starting velocity of a little under a half km/sec eastwards on your fully loaded spaceship before it even leaves the ground. This is a big win. You need roughly 7.5 km/sec to make orbit: you may think of the Earth’s equator as a free, reuseable first stage.

So. Inference one: Branson is already looking ahead to orbital flights.

Now notice he is considering more than one spaceport location. He is not talking of abandoning the US launch site in the Mojave. He wants to add another site for suborbital fares. He would have two sites at which he could operate suborbital space ship take offs and landings.

Branson is in the airline business and knows better than I what the size of the market is for people who want to take a short suborbital tourist hop… versus the number of high value business people who would pay extraordinary fares to reach the antipodes in 45 minutes. British Air refused to sell him the Concordes, but Richard might just laugh last and best.

Inference two: I expect we will at some point see a proof of concept flight of a Rutan vehicle which leaves the Mojave on a suborbital intercontinental ballistic trajectory and lands in Australia. If he has a vehicle capable of carrying 6 paying passengers for tourism, that same vehicle with a lone pilot can probably boost onto a trans-Pacific trajectory.

Branson, Rutan and Allen are smart cookies. They are not going to advertise their plans ahead of time. But if you are going to go into space and make it pay, this is the way to do it:

Step 1) Fund a suborbital test vehicle and get it partly paid for by winning the X-Prize. [DONE]

Step 2) Build a suborbital joy ride vehicle that mostly pays for itself going up and down. [IN PROGRESS]

Step 3) Fly the first intercontinental suborbital flight with that vehicle in a stripped down single pilot mode.

Step 4) Build a slightly larger vehicle that mostly pays for itself via trans-Pacific flights.

Step 5) Use that American built vehicle in a stripped down, single pilot mode to fly from an equatorial base into orbit. Perhaps it will be necessary to build a special vehicle to deal with higher re-entry heat loading, but there are now two revenue streams on line, not to mention Bob Bigelow’s $50M America’s Space Prize.

Step 6) Add another revenue stream. Sell astronaut transport services to NASA about the time the Shuttles are sent off to museums. Perhaps also sell delivery services to Bob Bigelow’s inflatable orbital facility for yet another stream.

Step 7) Earth orbit is “half way to anywhere”. The solar system is now your oyster.

As they say in the tech business, “It’s a plan!”

Evolving political forms and common culture: the Anglosphere

A review written by Keith Windschuttle has appeared in National Review. The book reviewed is The Anglosphere Challenge by James C. Bennett. (N.B. updated link allows access to US, British or Canadian Amazon and lets you read some of the book content.) I liked the book and liked the review and want to talk about them.

Let me start with a disclosure: I have biffed many an email to and fro with Jim Bennett, and have had the pleasure of meeting him once at one of Perry’s blogger parties. The ease with which that came to pass is of interest in itself. I cannot exactly remember how I went from hearing my husband say, ‘some bloke on the radio was talking about something called the “Anglosphere”‘, to talking to said bloke at a party. But it was not difficult and the internet was involved at all stages. There is nothing new about an interlocking network of informal communities (sustained by the exchange of letters) that include authors and people interested in their ideas, and whose existence is enlivened by the odd party. However what is new is that the ease of formation of such micro-communities has vastly increased. Their transaction costs have decreased.

People exchanging their writings (including but not limited to blogging) and ending up at the same parties are found at one end of an axis against which are plotted possible meanings of the word “community.” The quantity changing as one moves along the axis could be informality, size, fluidity, non-exclusiveness (in the sense that you can belong to many of them) or voluntariness: for any of these variables the resulting spectrum would still show the same types of community appearing in the same order. Libertarians by definition like the fact that email-swapping, partygoing micro-communities are voluntary, and they also tend to have a preference of taste for the fact that they are small, fluid, and non-exclusive. → Continue reading: Evolving political forms and common culture: the Anglosphere