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]

J K Galbraith on the USSR

“Partly, the Russian system succeeds because, in contrast to the Western industrial economies, it makes full use of its manpower.”

John Kenneth Galbraith (1984), an American intellectual who passed away yesterday.

John Kenneth Galbraith, 1908-2006

A firm friend of government interference passes on.

Save Charles Clarke!

I am not the fondest of the Home Secretary. But he does serve his providential purpose, which of late has been to bluster to bully and to sneer at anyone who dare suggest there was anything wrong with the Blair administration’s attitude to liberty. This has been a valuable service to the nation, as it seems to have woken the liberal chattering classes from their torpor to realise that People Like Them (the New Labour elite) will do infinite evil with the best intentions. We need to keep Charles Clarke.

On the other hand, the Home Office itself should go. The spiffy new office in Marsham Street should be levelled, and the the glass pieces, broken small, preserved on the site as a sterile three-acre monument, eternally reminding us that it is more useful than what it replaced. Some parts a reasonable state needs, and they could be transplanted to places they might flourish.

What parts of the Home Office would we be better without?

The entire Communities Directorate for a start. Whether you like the CRE or not, it is hard to see any benefit in a subdirectorate in the Civil Service for “Race, Cohesion, Equality and Faith”. Are those things anything a government can, let alone should, control?

Then there is the Office for Criminal Justice Reform, a nasty project to seize control over the Criminal Justice system and get rid of all that inefficient unpredictable matter of fair trials, messily standing between the police and the prisons that the department owns. It is at best Home Office empire-building, at worst a threat to the rule of law.

Everone here knows my views on the Identity Cards Programme by now. The state has no right to determine who you are, permitting it to keep a life-long permanant record on you is a recipe for totalitarianism.

Without a department one would not need a mountain of shared and administrative services. They probably would not be missed. Entirely incidentally, those most offensive bits of the Home Office, the organs that originate sheaves of new criminal offences every year, and continually tweak the law to make convictions easier, would be gone.

What’s left? Crime. ‘Offender Management’. Immigration. Passports. → Continue reading: Save Charles Clarke!

HIV/AIDS in Africa

I recently had a very interesting chat with my good friend, Steve Edwards, who is currently without his own blog – although probably not for much longer. He is a regular at libertarian.org.au, however. In the course of our conversation, he informed me that HIV risk-of-transmission rates are not nearly as high as I previously thought. Consider this – for every 10 000 exposures to an HIV-infected source, it is estimated 5 will contract HIV via insertive penile-vaginal intercourse. 10 will contract HIV via receptive penile-vaginal intercourse. These figures assume no use of a condom. Click the link for the risk via other routes of exposure.

This got us both thinking about the HIV/AIDS epidemic epicentre of Sub-Saharan Africa. Given the very low rate of HIV transmission through sexual intercourse, is it really feasible that a country like Botswana has an infection rate of 30%+? If the ratio mentioned above is correct, an African male with an average number of vaginal sexual encounters can have unprotected sex with only HIV positive partners for a lifetime and still stand a reasonable chance of not contracting the virus. How could a virus that difficult to catch spread through a population so comprehensively?

I am not saying that HIV/AIDS is not an enormous problem in Africa – of course it is. And I do not discount the anecdotal evidence of health professionals who report a multitude of AIDS orphans and hospitals groaning with AIDS-riddled patients. I am sure this is the case, however from the limited perspective of a person’s experiences, how could they possibly tell if this casualty rate represents 30% of a population of several million or 3%? 10% or 1%? Sick people do tend to cluster in hospitals, and health professionals go where the need is great. Given this working environment for doctors and nurses treating HIV in Africa, they could be forgiven for believing an inflated number. Conversely, if a foreign doctor spent a month in the wealthier parts of Nairobi, they would probably report to the folks back home that they saw no signs of HIV/AIDS at all.

I do not doubt that there is a large amount of research that has gone into producing the figures commonly cited when detailing the scope of the HIV outbreak in Africa. I would, however, ask sceptics to ponder the beneficiaries of an inflated threat of this disease. The NGOs, university teams and (most) African governments are in accord regarding the magnitude of the AIDS threat. To use the old saying; well – they would be, wouldn’t they? This issue is a magnet for foreign aid and grant money. After all, African despots need to keep their wives in the style they’ve become accustomed to. Not to mention one’s stooges who require regular buying off. NGOs need to run their fleets of SUVs, hold their conferences in five star hotels and generously employ their “support staff”. University professors need grants to carry out their research. I should not forget the UN – regarding that sprawling organisation’s potential conflicts of interest, the mind boggles. These people all have a stake in talking up the HIV/AIDS problem. These are also the people who provide us with data concerning HIV rates in Africa.

I am not a scientist, and I have no specific expertise in this field. I could be omitting important variables that make the scale of the HIV/AIDS problem in Africa that we’re told about more tenable. However, when considering the far lower than popularly believed HIV contraction rates, I smell a rat. What makes me even more suspicious is the fact that the beneficiaries of an overinflated HIV threat in Africa appear to be African governments, NGOs and foreign researchers. Even in rich nations, resources are scarce. We need accurate information to distribute them in optimal fashion. Please set me straight if I am wrong to question, but are we being lied to about the scope of the HIV/AIDS problem in Africa?

The sin of Envy

The Catholic church wants people to boycott “The Da Vinci Code”. From the sounds of it, they are rather jealous of Islamic violence over the Danish cartoons:

“I hope all of you boycott this film,” the Italian agency quoted Amato as saying. He said the film, based on the best-selling novel by Dan Brown, was full of “offences, slander, historical and theological errors concerning Jesus, the gospel and the church.”

“Slander, offenses and errors that if they were directed toward the Quran or the Shoah would have justifiably provoked a worldwide revolt,” he said, referring to Islam’s holy book and the Hebrew word for Holocaust.

“Yet because they were directed toward the Catholic Church, they remain ‘unpunished,”‘ he said.

This is exactly the kind of slippery slope I worried about with the reactions to the Danish Cartoons. One wonders if the company with yellow borders will continue to stock the book version? Or perhaps Catholics have not yet learned the lesson that threats of violence are a successful tactic when dealing with cowards.

I will be on the road for the next month but I will make a point of seeing the movie.

David Miliband’s promotional blog

David Miliband, Minister of Communities and Local Government, is happy for (undisclosed) government employees to post comments full of praise for him on the taxpayer-owned blog he uses to promote himself and his department. When a taxpayer – in this case, journalist David Tebbutt – asks if the fawning comment is indeed from a government employee, Miliband will not even publish the query, let alone answer it.

This, in a blog discussion about how MPs and ministers can prove to us through blogging that they do listen to taxpayers and are not as out of touch as we silly people imagine.

The state is not your friend and politicians certainly do not work for you, no matter whose propaganda (theirs or the taxpayers’ rights’ groups) you have bought into. Taking your money under threat of violence and actually working for you are not the same thing. David Miliband is one of many who take your money and work on their own agendas, on which self-promotion is paramount. This is an obvious fact, and David Miliband’s abuse of his taxpayer-owned blog is just one more piece of evidence which proves it.

I submitted the following comment to the David Miliband promotional blog:

Dennis Howlett – who I know personally and like – misses the point about the difference between other blogs and this one: This blog is not the private property of David Miliband. It is being financed by the taxpayer and is using government (taxpayer-funded) resources.

Which makes it all the more disgraceful that David Miliband refuses to publish comments that might make readers realise his ‘integrity’ is not quite what it seems. (I do not expect this comment to be published, either, but only hope it imbues David Miliband with some degree of shame when he reads it, if he is capable of feeling such a thing.)

Quite apart from this abuse of a taxpayer-funded blog, this is a sterling example of abhorrent customer service. Then again, when the customers don’t actually choose your ’service,’ and are forced under threat of violence to pay for it, you have the freedom to be endlessly selective about which ones you pay any mind. Right, Minister Miliband?

The BBC will not ‘reinvent’ its thugocratic model

Jeff Jarvis is consulting the BBC, and is excited over the Beeb’s claims that it wants to “reinvent” itself. Here is what I said to Jeff:

Jeff, the point is that the BBC doesn’t want to ‘reinvent’ the very worst element of itself: the funding via shakedown of Joe Public. We’re not talking about a situation where a small percentage of the income tax or sales tax a person pays over a year is diverted to the BBC. One cannot own a radio or television without paying a ‘protection fee’ – Mafia-style – to the BBC. Don’t pay? You get a huge fine, and if you don’t or can’t pay it, you are thrown in prison.

The BBC is not going to ‘reinvent’ the threat of violence under which they operate. It’s not even a remote possibility. Ask some of your contacts there what the odds are, and I assure you they’ll laugh in your face.

The facts are inconvenient and chilling, but they are facts. Isn’t that what journalism is supposed to be about?

I really do not understand how people – not just Jeff, because there are a hell of a lot of them – who would be outraged over being shaken down by corporate interests can be so qualm-free about being shaken down by politicians and bureaucrats. Then again, these are often the same people who fully realise how incompetent and corrupt politicians and bureaucrats are, yet want to give them more and more responsibility for running a big chunk of our lives (healthcare, education, you name it). Cognitive dissonance, anyone?

The job opportunity I have been waiting for

This vacancy should send my career into orbit!

The UK government meltdown, ctd

Events in UK politics are moving so fast at the moment that it is hard to know what will be the composition of the British cabinet by the end of this Bank Holiday weekend. Reuters, along with other news media is reporting that five of the foreign nationals released from British gaols – who should have been deported back to their original countries – have re-offended. The scandal of the released overseas prisoners back on the British streets looks set to send Charles Clarke down the political U-bend.

All very bad and I weep no tears for the jug-eared Home Secretary. A thought does occur to me, though. We make a fuss about foreign prisoners being released onto the streets rather than being deported, and of course a primary duty of a government is to protect its citizens from foreign menaces. But many thousands of British-born prison inmates who are released from often pathetically short sentences re-offend too. A few years ago I was mugged, an experience all too common in London, and it is frankly no difference to me whether the person was a foreign re-offender or British.

The negligence of Clarke’s department means he must resign, in my view. But let us not, in our understanderble desire to send these creeps, fools and knaves to the political dustbin, ignore some rather basic facts of penal life. My problem is not simply that we should send offenders back to their country of origin, it is that we send them to prison for often insanely short sentences in the first place.

An offer they decided to refuse

Well, I guess one has to admire the guts of these fellows:

A group of 100 shopkeepers in Palermo, the nerve centre of the Sicilian Mafia, have staged an unprecedented rebellion against the Cosa Nostra by refusing to pay protection money. Until now, almost every business in the Sicilian capital has quietly paid off the Mafia or faced retribution. But since Bernardo Provenzano, the 73-year-old “boss of all the bosses”, was arrested two weeks ago after decades in hiding, the island’s anti-Mafia movement has gathered momentum.

This may end badly, I fear.

Swampy redux

I know how many readers and Samizdatistas enjoyed the glorious “Sod off, Swampy!” story from last year. Like the incorrigible news truffle pig he is, Tim Blair found that particular happy tale. This time Tim has prime beef on the menu. Here’s a taste:

Protester Angie Stephenson says it was terrifying.

“The workers, they were standing around cheering and whooping and yelling and making lewd comments so we had to call the police and tell them to get out here straight away,”

A great example of workers’ enterprise in the face of protesting menaces attempting to hinder a perfectly legal activity. I think I will pop down to the shops and buy some expensive fillet steak for dinner to further enjoy the labour of underappreciated abbattoir workers like those mentioned above.

Chirac: Corrupt and ignorant

Not only is Jacques Chirac, no matter what he thinks and says, NOT funding a French ‘Google killer,’ he “doesn’t even know what a mouse is”. And that comes directly from a guy who is a partner in the French non-‘Google killer’. Search expert John Battelle interviewed the guy, Francois Bourdoncle, and writes:

So what is [Chirac] funding? Well, according to Bourdoncle, there will be no single Quaero site. Instead, Quaero is a program, a long term effort to spur various European competitors toward creating better search related technologies. Participants will share R&D, for example, as well as become each other’s customers. In other words, this is a government funded attempt at pulling together a keiretsu of sorts.

Not exactly a European Google killer, I commented. Nope, Bourdoncle responded, and attempting to do that would be a pretty stupid move. I couldn’t agree more. Sounds to me, I thought to myself, that Quaero is simply a way for huge companies like Thompson to insure a steady flow of dollars from its government, and if using the Big Google Is Going to Kill European Culture meme helps along the way, so be it. Before I could even mention that idea, Bourdoncle addressed it head on, saying he was sure folks might see it that way, and he was not one to say if it was true or not. “I’m not really sure what (Thompson’s) strategy is,” he said. “They don’t tell me that.” Sounds like the keiretsu is shaping up nicely, no?