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]

What do they mean common nudity?


I will concede the point on the weapons, however. Unlike some of the other Samizdatistas, I am not particularly into guns. I am partial to a good set of knives, however.

(This came up when I attempted to access this site on an internet terminal in a McDonald’s in Cardiff. The empire is clearly getting a bit lame. Also lame was that I had to use this in the first place. My attempts to find a coffee shop with a free hotspot where I could simply use my laptop had not gone well).

Samizdata quote for the day

He was controversial for other reasons, too. Brubeck’s music was too optimistic for the critics’ taste. There was and still is nothing cool about being an optimist. Cool, rather, is supposed to be about seeing the dark side, the essential absurdity of life, and taking pains to numb yourself against the existential angst of modern civilization. But here was modernism with a smiley face. Crazy Daddy-O.

Excerpt from a delightful piece marking jazz legend Dave Brubeck’s 85th birthday. The great man is still playing live gigs decades after many of his supposed “cooler” contemporaries have faded from the scene.

Strange how exactly?


Good riddance to the 1970s

Yesterday, while briefly surfing Britain’s terrestrial TV channels in hope of something amusing to watch, I came across a film based on the old UK “comedy”, On the Buses, which chronicles the life of a bunch of London bus drivers and conductors. Made in the late 60s and early 70s, the series adopted the leery, bawdy humour of the Carry On Films, although unlike the Carry On movies at their best, (like the wonderful Carry on Up the Khyber) lacked the sort of great gags that to this day can make me laugh out loud. On the Buses can be safely relegated to a footnote of British television history, thank goodness.

It was quite a shock watching the film. It was a reminder of how greatly Britain has changed since the early 70s. For starters, the constant leeriness towards women, the assumption that any vaguely attractive woman was nothing more than mattress-fodder, makes even yours truly – no fan of political correctness – feel uneasy. One of the main themes of the story is how the manager, in a drive to improve the efficiency of the layabout male staff, decides to hire a group of women drivers. The men regard this move as a disaster and a threat to “their” jobs (probably correctly). What is particularly striking is how the shop steward of the bus-drivers’ union makes it clear that as far as his union is concerned, women have no place in a bus, except either as a customer or as someone he can molest. For any trade unionist watching this film today, the message must be most uncomfortable in that it reinforces the important idea that free markets and competition are in general good news in particular for women as well as racial groups often subject to discrimination, as noted U.S. economists Walter Williams and Thomas Sowell have pointed out.

There were a few good things about the 1970s – although it is sometimes hard to think of any – but watching this low-point of British cinema only made me realise how much life has improved since then.

Samizdata quote of the day

But, whatever the crimes of our forefathers, this is the country of Drake, Clive and Kitchener, not of Tipu Sultan, Shaka Zulu or the Mahdi.
Max Hastings

Thinking outside the box

I am not a great fan of Max Hastings but he does have a rather good article in the Guardian that makes points which should be obvious to everyone except state apparatchiks. He decries educational utilitarianism and Labour’s lack of realism about the dominance of western culture and the relevance of British history in view of that undeniable dominance.

However I think he rather misses the point that this attitude has been a significant element for quite some time under governments of both parties. Perhaps what makes this government more alarming is their taste for depreciating any sense of cultural identity for English people and, most importantly, failing to provide any historical context for the modern world. To have a broad grasp of history is to have an understanding of the present and future possibilities and it would appear that is not seen as helpful for the broad masses of people who the state would rather see concentrate on mere technical skills.

I wonder if there are some in Whitehall who really do think that ideally as few British people as possible should know there was not always a socialist ‘National Health Service’? If people do not know of a past without something they are perhaps less likely to imagine a future without it either. Perhaps none would really see things in quite such totalitarian terms yet it is not hard to see the attraction of such a view if you do not want people even discussing things which might reduce your power and influence by questioning certain axioms.

It is often my experience that the very notion that most regulatory planning is a quite modern imposition strikes a lot of people as bizarre. They think that without politically driven planning, everything would be chaos, and that must always have been true, right? Yet before the Town and Country Planning Act 1947, which was the single most destructive abridgement of British liberty ever, people owned property with several rights that are unimaginable today. Civilization would not end if such conditions prevailed again tomorrow (far from it) yet the meta-contextual reality is that in 2005, most people quite literally cannot imagine a world without planning regulations and that makes it rather hard to have a discussion about the issue if you take a radical perspective (i.e. the mainstream perspective of about one hundred years ago).

Perhaps just as Orwell wrote about ‘newspeak’ and posited a totalitarian state which wanted to abridge the language to make even conceiving of dissent impossible, there may be some amongst the political class who like the idea of most people receiving nothing more than technical training as the less people know of radically different world views that are never the less relevant to western culture, the less likely they are to imagine society functioning just fine without a great many of the state institutions taken for granted today. What would happen if people start imagining a world which works just fine without much of the regulatory statism that the state wants you to accept as inevitable and natural?

Creating a non-statist meta-context in which such things can even be discussed is something I have often banged on about. By this I mean establishing frames of reference within which one develops and expresses opinions that are broader than those generally found in the mainstream media or academia today. This matters because the meta-context within which most discussions and analysis take place tends to define the basic range of views that are likely to emerge: for example, if the only method for effecting changes people can imagine involves force backed democratic political processes, their views will tend to develop with that underpinning assumption in mind.

I would be curious to know if people like education minister Charles Clarke really think about that sort of thing. I am quite willing to believe that rather than an sinister overarching world view designed to make us all technically trained drones monitored with panoptic surveillance and ubiquitous state enforced database monitoring, we are just seeing the results of dreary political hacks looking for ways to eliminate things they are too limited to see a use for themselves. Stupidity rather than malevolence is generally a more reliable explanation of wickedness than conspiracy theories… and yet when you take the broader view of this apparent dislike of non-technical education within the context of widespread abridgement of civil liberties by both main political parties, well, it makes you wonder.

Something to cheer about in the New Year?

Do not count on it but there is a much belated push on in Westminster to undermine the ID cards legislation that, if successful, would in effect make them voluntary. The Tories and LibDems peers (the later of which have at least been consistent in their opposition to ID cards) are at least going through the motion of blocking this monstrous intrusion by the state but I will believe it when I see it.

So… will David Cameron make the immediate scrapping of ID cards and abolition of the national register a manifesto pledge? If not then clearly it is still very much the party of Michael ‘a touch of the night’ Howard. Even if the move to prevent back-door compulsion succeeds, as long as the infrastructure of surveillance and branding us like cattle remains in place, Britain will remain nothing more than a Police State being held in abeyance.

How many died in Myanmar?

On the anniversary of last year’s tsunami, is it time to revisit the damage that this natural disaster may have caused in Myanmar? The secretive and totalitarian government is not known for providing welfare to its citizens. The official death toll was finalised at 86, although sources from within the country placed the number of deaths in the hundreds.

The official death toll was established by the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) in co-operation with the Myanmar Red Cross. The Myanmar Red Cross (pdf file) works closely with the Myanmar state and 23 members of the 37 member governing council are appointed by the government or act as representatives of its ministries. The IFRC, the Myanmar Red Cross, the United Nations Development Programme, UNICEF and World Vision were already working within the country and inspected the affected islands in January 2005. Their conclusions were in line with the government’s assessment:

The group concluded that Myanmar has been largely spared from the destructive forces of the earthquake and subsequent Tsunami, and that the initial emergency needs have been met by the Government and by the aid community. The group’s assessment of the scale of impact is in line with the Government’s own findings. The group confirms a death toll of 60-80, and estimates the longer-term affected population at 10-15,000, of whom 5-7,000 are directly affected……

Over the course of the last 10 days a series of assessment and verification missions were undertaken by one or more of the partners already working in Myanmar – to the Rakhine Coast, the Ayeyarwady Delta and the southern coast including the most populated islands of the Myeik archipelago and the islands off Kawthaung around Lampi Island.

Moreover, Kerry Howley, assistant editor at Reason, questioned these statistics on January 7th 2005. All of the organisations that carried out the assessments were unlikely to disagree with the government’s figures since they wished to continue their own work.

I spent last year working with a weekly newspaper in Myanmar, where I attempted to cover some of the worst floods to hit the country in 30 years. Getting people to talk about the flooding, which left thousands homeless last August, was tantamount to asking them to denounce the dictatorship. Government officials hung up when my translator asked for specifics (except for one who helpfully explained, “it’s not our culture to talk to the public.”) The government’s Department of Meteorology and Hydrology would not reveal the water levels or would simply lie. The local Red Cross representatives claimed they couldn’t tell me about the floods because the branch office in that area was, in fact, flooded. Major International NGOs like WorldVision were afraid their operations would be halted if they so much as revealed how many blankets they were distributing. After much hand-wringing, WorldVision representatives gave me the story, at which point a government censor perused the piece and expunged all reference to death and destruction.

One Year on: when will we know how many died in Myanmar? A United Nations report that ‘agrees’ with the Myanmar government’s own figures should be treated with grave suspicion. The final damage and death toll remains hostage to the murderers of Yangon.

The naming of Royals is a difficult matter

The Christmas season often brings forth stories that act as an ‘Indian summer’ for the silly season, reminding us of warm August evenings, listening to the closing overs of a test (rain permitting), and a time when you can sit outside a pub drinking Ordinary in any London green. Summer nostalgia aside, this year’s theme revolves around name changes.

In Manhattan, Jorge Luis Espinal sent a reporter to new heights of expression with his legal petition for the Second Coming:

A Manhattan man’s holiday spirits soared to celestial heights today when a judge gave him permission to change his name to Jesus Christ.

Jose Luis Espinal, 42, said he was “happy” and “grateful” that the judge approved the change, effective immediately.

Espinal said he was moved to seek the name change about a year ago when it dawned on him: “I am the person that is that name.”

The article provides some further information on the legal framework governing legal name changes. You can be a name but not a number in South Dakota. You can be Jesus Christ so long as your intention is not to defraud others by your actions or avoid an obligation. Jose has more chance of changing his name than a convicted conman, or possibly, a politician such as Tony Blair, if the latter wished to change his name to that of the Christian Messiah.

The judge said she held a hearing in which Espinal, who also uses the last name Tejeda, testified. She said he was aware of the “common law right to assume another name without legal proceedings so long as the change is not made to deceive or perpetrate a fraud or to avoid an obligation” but wanted to go the formal route anyway.

The judge said Espinal’s “reasons were primarily those applicable to his own private religious beliefs and he stated no desire to use his proposed name to secure publicity, to proselytise, to fund-raise or advise others that he had been cloaked by the courts or government with a religious authority”.

Jose’s example has been followed by that closet nominalist Prince Charles who is reported to be seeking coronation as King George VII. Changing the name of the Prince or Princess on accession to the throne is quite common and the Royal Family supposedly views the name Charles as jinxed, due to associations with decapitating Puritans and rebellious Jacobite pretenders.

Patrick Cracroft-Brennan, a genealogist from Cracroft’s Peerage, said: “There has been a tradition over the last century for the regnal title to be different to the christian name. The change would make sense.

“Monarchs called Charles have not had much luck. One was beheaded, one was in exile, and one was a pretender to the throne.

While the Prince of Wales is known throughout the world as Charles, there is enormous goodwill to the name George. George VI was an outstanding and popular king who took over in the aftermath of the abdication crisis and rallied his people during World War II, Mr Cracroft-Brennan said.

“King George and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother were wonderful. I think George VII and Queen Camilla sound wonderful, too.”

A swift name-change to airbrush the excesses and eccentricities of unfortunate heirs seems all too common with the Hanoverians. If our heir to the throne will adopt a name off Rainbow, surely Zippy or the more accurate Bungle would prove just as gracious and popular.

Merry Christmas from Samizdata

From all of us at Samizdata to all of you, our valued readers and commentariat, a very Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah and a Happy New Year. May the blessings of liberty shine upon your every endeavour!

Belfast City Hall Christmas display
Photo: Dale Amon, all rights reserved

A brief Christmas note from deepest Suffolk

Well, Christmas is nearly upon us. I am shortly off to demonstrate my serious limitations as a singer down my local church. (I write this from Suffolk in eastern England at my folks’ farm. The weather has been sunny although snow is promised later in the week). One of the things that I certainly valued this morning was my ability to get out of central London by car. People reliant on public transport have been reminded, alas, that public sector trade unions are among the most cussed groups of people around. The London Underground system is threatened with a strike on New Year’s Eve, which would seriously mess up many people’s celebration plans. And as this story suggests, it may even tempt some people to use their cars, even if they are over the alcohol limit.

Anyway, enough of such glum thoughts. May I wish my fellow contributors and Samizdata readers a very happy Christmas and prosperous 2006.

Samizdata quote of the day

These whiners are the same people who complain of American cultural imperialism because people like Coke and Starbucks. [Yet] there is no more rigid, aggressive, ignorant bunch of cultural imperialists in the world than Muslims who, as a group, are intent on forcing their preposterous beliefs on the rest of the world. Give me Starbucks any day.
– Commenter Verity on the ‘Satanic Cartoons’ controversy.