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]

Learn an important truth while calculating

The ideal gift idea for that collectivist friend in need of enlightenment and help in doing maths. (Thanks to those clever folk at the von Mises Institute.)

Samizdata moron of the day

Here is a powerful new rationale for gun control from the macho actor, Daniel Craig, who is playing 007 in the upcoming James Bond release. Perry, it is time to change that Samizdata banner pic. Argument over:

I hate handguns. Handguns are used to shoot people and as long as they are around, people will shoot each other <...> Bullets have a nasty habit of finding their target and that’s what’s scary about them.

Prominent movie actors; under-informed and over-exposed since 1898.

No burka on free speech…

… but the Dissident Frogman is still waiting for someone to give him the suitable translations for his banners in Arabic. Any takers?

Samizdata quote of the day

Whoever said “there is no such thing as bad publicity” obviously never had their career “Dan Rather’ed” into tiny pieces by the twenty thousand bloggers.

Giving away value disrupts the state

Gervase Markham, who blogs at Hacking for Christ, works for the Mozilla Foundation, a non-profit “dedicated to promoting choice and innovation on the internet”. He writes about his recent encounter with a UK Trading Standards officer:

They had encountered businesses which were selling copies of Firefox, and wanted to confirm that this was in violation of our licence agreements before taking action against them.

I wrote back, politely explaining the principles of copyleft – that the software was free, both as in speech and as in price, and that people copying and redistributing it was a feature, not a bug. I said that selling verbatim copies of Firefox on physical media was absolutely fine with us, and we would like her to return any confiscated CDs and allow us to continue with our plan for world domination (or words to that effect).

Many people would find the official’s reaction to that surprising; but they do not call them disruptive technologies for nothing. The woman replied:

“If Mozilla permit the sale of copied versions of its software, it makes it virtually impossible for us, from a practical point of view, to enforce UK anti-piracy legislation, as it is difficult for us to give general advice to businesses over what is/is not permitted.”

As Carlo at Techdirt writes:

It’s unclear exactly what role the Mozilla Foundation plays in enforcing the UK’s anti-piracy laws, or exactly why they shouldn’t be allowed to license their software however they want, just to make things easier for some civil servants. If nothing else, it merely indicates how deeply ingrained people’s preconceived notions about software “piracy” are. And it’s disappointing that a government officer whose job it is to enforce copyrights can’t seem to get their head around the idea that there is another way to license software than how most entrenched developers and companies handle it.

Disappointing? Yes. Surprising? Not really.

Crossposted from the Engagement Alliance

Understanding the Radical Centre

Guy Herber’s excellent article The public mood (while the public moo-ed) got me thinking about the nature of the ‘Radical Centre’.

The Radical Centre seem to have the same obsession with control that the fascists and communists had but unlike them, it is control for control’s sake rather than in the service of some clear ideology: there is no Blairite or Clintonite (or even ‘Bushite’) ‘The Communist Manifesto’ or ‘Mein Kampf’. They do not seek the triumph of Volk or the dictatorship of the proletariat, they just seek to replace all social interactions with politically mediated interactions. They seek to regulate everything via a total state that does not organise mass rallies or collectivise farms, it just wants a world in which nothing whatsoever is private, everything is political. Their symbol is not the Hammer and Sickle or the Swastika, it is the CCTV camera.

Perhaps this also explains the radical centre’s transcendent hatred of the USA’s system of checks and balances: the US Bill of Rights takes whole sections of civil society and tries to place them outside politics (free speech, the right to have the means to defend yourself etc.). Sure, it fails miserably as often as it succeeds but at least the notion that not absolutely everything is subject to politics is part of the American cultural DNA and that, rather than the US government’s policy towards, well, anything, is what makes the US anathema to the Radical Centre (including the US Radical Centre).

The Radical Centre has also been called ‘Authoritarian Populism’ because it seeks to impose the popular will by force and it does not much care what that will is. Just as liberty for liberty’s own sake is the objective of the Classical Liberal/Libertarian rather than some ‘overarching narrative’ as was the case with the radical statist left and statist right in the corpse filled 20th century, the Radical Centre seek control for control’s own sake with no particular grand reason in mind other than to perpetuate a political class whose reason for existence is to make decisions about other people’s lives.

The reason they dislike us so much is that to attack regulatory statism is to attack these people’s very reason to exist and we challange them on a profound psychological level. They need to control other people just as we need to control our own lives.

The Radical Centre is our demonic reflection.

The public mood (while the public moo-ed)

I am feeling less of a lone loony than I did. After a decade of my saying the key thing wrong with the demon eyes campaign was that the slogan ought to have been: ‘New Labour: Old Danger’ because the electorate should not have the purported newness reinforced, more and more people in the chattering classes seem to be accepting that there is a danger. Even such fringe lefty agitators as Clifford Chance LLP have offered severe warnings about the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill. Too late?

The War on Liberty may never end, but it became a general action only in the 90s – just about the time, the Wall being down, and the net routing round borders and censorship, we free-lifers had begun to feel we were winning. Now I find I am doing my bit with NO2ID and we are gearing up for a ten-year campaign. Grand constitutionalist coalitions are being proposed left, right, and centre (which I’m sure are meritorious). The differences between Peter Hitchens and Mark Thomas begin to be indistinguishable when the establishment is of the extreme centre…

What worries me is that this ferment is still superficial, a speck of mould on Mr Blair’s Horlicks. It concerns the tiny minority of the population that reads the serious press, say 10% – and of those only the avid followers of politics, maybe a quarter of that. The readers and writers of blogs are fewer still, and more introrse.

The mass of the population of Britain is nescient, complacent, and has no interest in the abstractions of liberty, or the threats from power assumed only to be threats to others, to bad people. Many people are happy to claim the status of an ‘ordinary’ person, with “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” from officialdom, while being paradoxically susceptible to fears of everything else. Passively concerned with material welfare, security against virtual risks, and gossip, they graze and are milked as the livestock of the state.

This is Foucault’s concept of governmentality in action. Not, pace his fans on the left, a neo-liberal order, but a post-liberal order in which the foundational institutions of liberalism – liberty and individuality, rule of law, the separation of private and public life, a civil society and a political sphere distinct from one another – have ceased to have a meaning for even the bulk of the middle-classes.

Where is the cattle-prod that will change the public mood?

Interesting Amnesty International non-job opportunity

‘Stoatman’ from ‘Zuid Holland’ writes in with a remarkable bit of hypocrisy from the Human Rights Industry

Amnesty International, as part of its ongoing struggle for universal human rights, is looking to employ a Discrimination and Identity consultant for its Dutch branch.

The Discrimination and Identity team consists of three paid and two volunteer positions and is concerned with influencing government policy and societal views regarding discrimination on grounds of skin colour, ethnicity, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. … In this position you will develop policy and strategy in the field of Discrimination. This includes research into discrimination, and the development and organisation of lobbying regarding the fight against discrimination in the Netherlands. You will also be responsible for the development and implementation of actions and campaigns concerning discrimination worldwide and in the Netherlands

Before you dust off your CV which bulges with non-jobs in local government and crack open the Dutch taped course, there is just one problem before you can claim your £21-26k salary:

Considering the composition of the team, we are seeking someone from an ethnic minority group

Has it reached the stage now that such discrimination has become so mainstream that nobody even bats an eyelid to such brazen hypocrisy?

(hat tip – The Amazing Retecool)

Pro-Test in Oxford!

If you are in Oxford on Saturday and want to join a protest against animal rights extremists, check this out. The Research Defence Society blog has more, as does the Social Affairs Unit and Laurie‘s own blog.

“Are you friends with Satan?”

For those of you who are following Michael Totten’s interesting Middle Eastern adventures, he has written about one of the more interesting religious groups in that part of the world.

One size fits all?

I am just as keen on universal civil liberties as the next Samizdatista, however I must concede that the case of India vis-à-vis the Danish cartoons made me briefly question my blanket commitment to the freedom of the press. I yearn for a major Australian newspaper to have the stones to print these cartoons in self defence and defiance, however I would argue that any editor of an Indian publication who allows them to be published is astonishingly irresponsible, given India’s history and continuing record of bloody communal violence. If these cartoons found their way into a publication with a moderate degree of circulation, the question would not be “will there be deaths?”, but “how many?” Upon reflection, I certainly do not believe that government censorship is the answer, however it is marginally more justifiable there than in any other nation I can think of. Because of this, it is crucial that Indian editors exercise their judgement wisely – and not publish the cartoons. Hopefully there will come a time when India is not the exception (regarding this issue) amongst countries governed by the rule of law.

I should mention that I have huge faith in the wisdom of Indians.

An injustice of the past is (kind of) put right

In 1982, Disney released the movie Tron, the first film incorporating large amounts of computer graphics. (Actually it only included about 15 minutes of actual graphics. The rest of the film was drawn art designed to look like computer graphics, whereas today’s films are often full of computer graphics being used to look like more naturalistic things). The film was not successful at the box office, possibly because as well as being made by computer nerds, the film was also about computer nerds, and what might be referred to as the Silicon Valley culture was at that point extremely marginal, particularly in pop cultural terms. (Having said that, the film was set in Los Angeles, but I will forgive it that). However, for those of us that saw it, the film was rather mind blowing. It became a tremendous influence on many people working in computer animation and special effects today, and on people who were inspired by that technological culture in general. When these things did become mainstream, many of the people who were behind the scenes were people who had loved Tron.

However, the people who made Tron itself generally did not prosper from it. The film was too far ahead of its time, and Hollywood did not know what to make of it or what to do with the people who had made it. In what now seems staggering given that this is possibly the most groundbreaking film ever made from a special effects point of view, the film did not receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects. This was partly because the film was perceived as a failure, and the academy doesn’t often reward failure, but it also had to do with a peculiarity of the Academy Awards nomination process, which is that (usually) the people who nominate films in a particular category are those who have been nominated in that category before. In 1982 “Special Effects” meant mattes (ie drawn artwork) and models. Using computer graphics was seen almost as “cheating”, and as a minimum an entirely different thing from what members of the Visual Effects branch of the Academy did. So, no nomination. (Things have changed since then. A couple of years ago I made an observation to another blogger that Master and Commander had excellent effects, and in response I was told that they were “not special effects”, because it was done with models in a tank in Mexico rather than with computer graphics.

To many people today, “special effects” means computer graphics, and that is that). That said, Master and Commander does use some computer graphics, just nowhere near as intensively as, say, The Lord of the Rings). However, as far as I am concerned Master and Commander does use special effects, computer based or not, and in fact it uses them dazzlingly, as I felt that a 19th century ship in the Royal Navy was really like that. Getting this kind of thing right is breathtakingly hard, which is why that film a couple of years ago deserved the visual effects Academy Award. But (although it was nominated) it didn’t get it. (It did win a very well deserved Academy Award for cinematography, however).

If Tron had been nominated for an Academy Award when it was released in 1982, it might or might not have actually won. And this may even have been fair. It would have been up against Blade Runner, possibly the greatest achievement ever in matte based special effects. However, although that film was nominated, it didn’t win either. (Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial won). Such once again is the academy’s reluctance to give awards to movies not perceived as successes. But in retrospect the lack of a nomination was a travesty.

And as sometimes happens in Hollywood, it has been decided to acknowledge retrospectively that it was a travesty. Gary Demos, who was largely responsible for the computer graphics in “Tron”, has been awarded an honorary Academy Award this year. This may be ultimately unimportant and trivial, but it is nonetheless about time.