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]

Zoot alors!!!

Signs of life have been seen from the famed Dissident Frogman, who has been been absent without leave from the blogosphere for far too long.

What the Greeks did for us

To say that the ancient Greeks have had a profound influence on Western civilisation is a truism so obvious to many who regularly read this site that it might seem silly to spell it out. The state of education in Britain, however, means that it is important and necessary to spell that achievement out and draw out the key elements of what the ancient Greeks ‘did for us’ as well as point to some of the shortcomings.

Charles Freeman’s The Greek Achievement is a splendid tour of ancient Greece, starting in the Bronze Age and finishing with the advent of the Middle Ages. It covers military campaigns, notably the long-running Peloponnese war; the changing fortunes of the dozens of city states; the development of democracy and city government and the eventual rise of Rome. Interwoven with this is a masterful survey of developments in philosophy, maths, science, astronomy, law and language. Freeman also is excellent at explaining the role of myth and ceremony in Greek culture, and does not fight shy of showing the lousy treatment of women and the huge use of slavery. → Continue reading: What the Greeks did for us

The state and the internet

The Register carries a scary story I have not seen reported elsewhere. Kieren McCarthy’s piece suggests that the independence of the internet may be one more casualty of the ‘war on terror’:

on 28 July 2005 at a special board meeting […] consciously and for the first time, ICANN used a US government-provided reason to turn over Kazakhstan’s internet ownership to a government owned and run association without requiring consent from the existing owners. The previous owners, KazNIC, had been created from the country’s Internet community.

ICANN then immediately used that “precedent” to hand ownership of Iraq’s internet over to another government-run body, without accounting for any objections that the existing owners might have.

Previously it had always been the case that ICANN would take no action (and only ICANN, through IANA, can actually change ownership of a ccTLD) unless both sides were in complete agreement. Now, ICANN had set itself up as the de facto world authority on who should run different parts of the Internet. The Iraq situation is more complicated than briefly outlined above (of which more later), but in a little under two hours, the ICANN Board set aside a process that had held since the very earliest days of the Internet. Not only that but it provided governments with instant, unassailable control over what happens under their designated area of the internet.

You have to read the whole thing, but the burden is that, far from preserving the net from the dictator’s club at the UN – a posture applauded by Samizdatistas here – the US has provided the political mechanism for its nationalisation. And that merely in order to do a couple of favours for client regimes.

Prediction markets

As 2005 draws to its close it is customary to make some predictions about the following year. I won’t do so. The world’s stock markets are ending the year in better shape than I would have expected a year before, notwithstanding the impact of higher oil prices and the devastating hurricanes that hit the U.S. gulf coast. What is interesting to me though is how the market in making predictions has continued to accelerate, spawining exotic derivatives connected even to the weather.

More than two years ago in the United States, some policymakers toyed with the idea of a predictions market to help figure out terrorist threats. The idea was killed off, partly, so it was argued, due to some terrible PR for the idea as well as a cowardly refusal to embrace controversial ideas. Lawrence Lessig takes a different view here.

The market in making predictions has, of course, been around for decades, if one thinks about the commodity futures markets such as the great wheat futures markets in Chicago, for instance. This Wikipedia entry I linked to shows just how broad the prediction market now goes, such as people taking bets on future scientific innovations, and so on. And these markets can be harnessed to garner useful knowledge about where certain things may be headed as well as fund valuable research.

That’s my prediction, anyway.

(Wikipedia link fixed. Thanks to a commenter for pointing out the error).

Snouts in the trough

Commenting on the previous posting, RAB says:

Being very non technical, I don’t know how to start a thread, but there is a good leader in the Telegraph today on the 800 million quids worth of government non jobs Bliar and co have created. If someone would like to start one, I’m sure Verity, for one, would have a field day!

It is not technology you lack, RAB; it is the right to do postings on Samizdata. But your point is a good one, I think, even though personally I loathe the word “Bliar”, because name-calling is the language of loser propagandists, I think.

But getting back to that 800 million quid’s worth of government jobbery (as this kind of thing used actually to be called), I think RAB is right to ask us to post about this, and presumably he is referring to this:

There you will see page after page of vacancies on the state payroll: outreach workers, diversity co-ordinators, policy advisers, liaison officers. Some of them come with six-figure salaries. Indeed, the average annual pay for the posts advertised in Guardian Society this year is £10,000 higher than the mean private sector wage.

I seem to recall Richard Littlejohn writing about this years ago, in a book. But that was then (i.e. 1995). This is now.

All governments start out reasonably honest (I speak comparatively), but get more corrupt as they persist, and as the army of camp followers finds its way around and finds out where all the treasure is to be found and how to dig it out and take possession of it. Well, I reckon a big clear out of this lot may now be due any general election now. If not at the next, then pretty soon. → Continue reading: Snouts in the trough

The best medicine

The other night, while getting better from having been rather ill (which was why I contributed so little here over Christmas), I channel-hop-watched TV.

Here were the two best things I heard on my travels up and down the channel numbers.

First, during a reshowing of an earlier Dr Who episode, a very anxious person said:

“That Dalek just absorbed the entire Internet! It knows everything!”

And the second fun snippet I heard was from a show about crumpet, i.e. nice looking and happy looking ladies with fine cleavages but not much to say for themselves in seventies comedy shows and horror movies. The unashamedly excited interviewer asked the one and only Ingrid Pitt if she ever had any reservations about taking her clothes off? Replied La Pitt:

“Only if it was cold.”

I am not yet a hundred per cent. Still coughing, alas, and with my ears afflicted by tape hiss, although the headache is largely gone. But those two snatches of chat did help me get a bit better.

TV also tells me that I am not the only one thus suffering. The cold cure adverts do not sell anything that will cure you, but they do provide definite evidence that you have only got a dose of what lots of other people have also got.

I could have had it far worse, and far scarier. Patrick Crozier was recently struck down by appendicitis. In Japan.

A small interaction with the old media

Almost two years ago, David Carr posted a piece on this blog about statues in Trafalgar Square. In the comments, I made a brief observation that the person I would commemorate with a statue there was mathematician Alan Turing, who is rather inadequately commemorated given that his achievements were that he won the second world war and invented the computer. (Yes I am exaggerating, but not truthfully by all that much).

Yesterday, I received a couple of e-mails and then a phone call from the letters editor of the Evening Standard newspaper here in London. The paper had a couple of days earlier published an article on a plan to put a statue of Nelson Mandela in the square, and they wanted to publish some responses from readers. He thought that my comment (that he had presumably found by Googling) was very interesting, and would I write a short letter to the newspaper saying the same thing?

I was happy to oblige, but I asked that if they publish the letter that they credit this blog as well as me personally. And that is exactly what they did. They published my letter in this evening’s newspaper (slightly edited for space, unfortunately) and credited me as “Michael Jennings, samizdata.net” at the end.

If you are a newspaper editor who wishes to use the blogosphere as a source, this is exactly the right way to go about it. Contact the blogger first, get him to update what he wrote, and always credit the blog and publish its address. We bloggers love being linked to.

Samizdata quote of the day

Now that they have a fairly sensible and popular sceptic policy on Europe, the Conservatives react with wounded surprise when polls say that the public still do not respect them on the subject. But the reason is very simple: again and again, their actions have belied their words.
Charles Moore

Welcome to Vodkapundit the Second!

Wonderful news. Stephen Green, creator of the splendid Vodkapundit blog, and his wife Melissa, have had a baby son. I had the great pleasure of meeting Stephen at one of Perry de Havilland’s summer parties last year and can testify to what a nice fellow he is. Congratulations to the Green household. It would be only right to hoist a fine vodka martini to little Preston Davis Green.

David Cameron’s interesting start

David Cameron, newly elected leader of the Tories, has got off to a wonderful start, as I am sure readers will agree. He has signed up Sir Bob “give us yer fokkin’ money” Geldof to advise on world poverty; Zak Goldsmith, the environmentalist, has been also approached to advise on how to save the planet, and in a recent masterstroke, Oliver Letwin, a Tory MP, opined that the Tories should be concerned with redistributing wealth. Splendid. I am sure the sort of voters who deserted the Conservatives in 1997 and failed to return will be thrilled at this embrace of what looks like a sort of social democratic touchy-feely product by the Wonder Boy of Notting Hill. Or again, they may not.

All that remains is for Cameron to steal Labour’s old Clause Four promising nationalisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange. Then on to victory!

Meanwhile, Tim Worstall is similarly underwhelmed by Cameron.

Apologies for my sarcasm. Been a long day in the office.

More holidays in hell for Michael Totten

Michael Totten seems to be acquiring a taste for visiting totalitarian hellholes. This time he is wanding around the socialist paradise of Libya. As usual he paints an interesting picture.

Moralistic insanity on prostitution

As someone who follows such things I had expected the latest Home Office consultation exercise to go according to the standard pattern, thus:

  1. Home Office makes suggestions for changes in public policy…
  2. …’evidence’ is taken from interested parties including police in search of promotion, contractors in search of contracts, and researchers seeking posts on the new quango to be created…
  3. Home Office considers, announces its plans have ‘general support’, ticks box marked ‘public consulted’ and carries on with making legislation for parliament to approve.

So I was gearing myself up to write a piece on the repulsive sight of a department torn between the desire to regulate everything and to maintain PC social norms. Citing the ignominious failure of the Victorian Contagious Diseases Acts, I was going to pour scorn on the futility of a regulatory regime that licensed brothels while denying the most basic economic rights to prostitutes, and created ‘zones of toleration’ in an effort to buck the market while punishing the streetwalkers it purported to protect.

The Goverment has shot my fox. And it turns out the fox was packed with explosives. Someone has overturned the (paradoxical) regulatory liberalisers and has decided puritan prohibitions are what we need. The move is instead to be to “Zero Tolerance” of ‘kerb crawlers’ – and quite without comment, the continuation of zero civil-law rights and next to zero criminal-law protections for prostitutes themselves.

The Home Office minister Fiona McTaggart was quoted yesterday on the BBC as saying that prostitution “is child abuse” because many prostitutes begin selling sex below the age of consent. That is an insane argument driven by the demands of moralism. By the same token unpaid sexual contact must also be child abuse, because most people’s sex lives begin before that arbitary, if increasingly rigidly totemic, mark. Someone, somewhere, is making David Blunkett, who was responsible for the original pseudo-tolerant proposals, look like a liberal.

Does the devil’s name begin with B? The emphasis on cleaning up public untidiness by bullying is of a piece with the respec’ agenda. And there have been suggestions that the inate liberalism of the Home Office – not something spotted by many commentators before now – is interfering with the operation of the Anti-Social Behaviour Unit.

Just another brick in the wall, perhaps. But turning the public agenda on a sixpence, and producing plainly mad arguments for doing so, are ominous. The Head Boy is ever more a dictator, and ever more the apostle of social conformity.