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]

A rant about the Big Media

Last night, at my own personal blog, I found myself getting really quite exercised about this utterly banal and ignorable headline…


…which I snapped yesterday afternoon. And in a very Samizdata-ish manner, a style that has been eluding me somewhat, of late. So, here is a link to my rant from Samizdata.

I got up at 6 am yesterday, which would be early for most people, and is about the day before yesterday for me, and I spent all of the morning and half the afternoon working extremely hard. Now it is 6 am today. I am up again, and face a similar day. So maybe my rant resistance is, just now, lower than usual. Maybe now, unlike usually, I am angry.

But it was not all rant. I also found myself weaving in my favourite cock-up of the World Cup so far, which was committed last night by an English referee, during the game which saw the Aussies going through to the last sixteen of the competition.

Technical difficulties

We are having technical difficulties with comments and article posting at the moment and are working to fix the problem.

Update: All fixed! Cheers to Tech Goddess Annette at Hosting Matters for extracting our derrieres from the combustibles

Vlogging a blogger

There is a rather groovy bit of videoblogging on HopperVideo showing samizdata.net’s Adriana discussing the issue of Net Neutrality in San Francisco. What I really like is how the vlogger uses floating text over the video to emphasise the points Adriana is making.

Musical musings

Top of the Pops, a BBC programme that has shown Top-40 pop acts since the days of the Beatles, has been axed by the BBC. I grew up in the late 70s and 80s watching the show, including favourite bands of mine like the Stranglers, Undertones, Madness, Ian Dury (RIP) and the rest. Now it is all gone. Some of this must have been driven by shifting demographics. When ToTP started, there were relatively more folk under the age of 20 versus the rest of the population than is the case now, and the music industry tended to chase after what was thought to be a large and expanding number of young people with money in their pockets.

The development of new musical techologies, CDs, downloading and the Internet has also affected, and is continuing to change, the way that people listen to music and the sort of styles that get played. This is also affecting how folk come across music for the first time and how a band or act can make a “breakthrough”. The old music labels, under threat as they must be from the changing music industry, are no longer able to support something like a “Top 40” on which something like the old BBC programme could be based. This is neither a good or bad development, in my view, just a change driven by shifting demographics and technology.

So making it to “Number One” no longer has quite the same resonance now that it may have done in the heyday of the Beatles or Duran Duran. Some may regret the passing of all this, but I am indifferent to it. I increasingly hope that new technologies will make it possible for talented artists to circumvent Big Music and push their own offerings on to the Net, using such avenues as the wildly successful GarageBand route. (Uber-blogger Glenn Reynolds has written about this recently in a book).

Anyway, the demise of Top of the Pops should not lead one to conclude that a supposedly vibrant era of great music is going to be replaced by something worse. It is the error of any age to assume that whatever went before is better than what is happening now (a sure sign that one is getting old. I have just passed 40 and intend to resist that trap). This book by Tyler Cowen points out, for example, how the often wildly controversial music of the R&R era in the 1950s has taken on the mantle of classic music in the ears and hearts of many people (including me):

“Musical pessimists also have claimed that contemporary music provides an aesthetic that is overly accessible and directed at the lowest possible denominator. They view rock and roll and other genres as a succession of pop songs, well suited to catch the ear of the casual listener but of little lasting value. We should keep in mind, however, that many western creations have stood a test of time, one of the most significant indicators of cultural quality and depth. It has now been more than forty years since the release of the early classic works of rock and roll, such as Chuck Berry and James Brown.” (page 179)

Or this, (page 178)::

“Contemporary music, for the most part, encourages freedom, nonconformism, and a skeptical attitude towards authority. The totalitarian states of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union did not hesitate to permit Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. Jazz, swing and blues were banned. The free and vital sense of joy communicated by these musical forms clashed too obviously with adherence to totalitarian ideals. Similarly, the communist and socialist leaders in the Eastern bloc saw rock and roll as a special threat to their authority, precisely because it was based on the personality of the individual performer.”

Rock on.

Samizdata quote of the day

The argument for collectivism is simple if false; it is an immediate emotional argument. The argument for individualism is subtle and sophisticated; it is an indirect rational argument.

– Milton Friedman (via Ilana Mercer)

Please, just stick to ‘tyranny wrecking’ rather than ‘nation building’

Last year I suggesting it was time to think about pulling out of Afghanistan as one has to balance the positive effects of Western forces on the security situation with the negative effects on Afghan opinion of having foreign troops there for so long that they start looking like occupiers rather than allies.

However the Taliban has shown that it is not quite ready to lay down and die, as the various reports over the last few days have demonstrated the fighting is far from over. Nevertheless there is no real prospect for a Taliban return to power and in most of the country the security situation seems tolerable.

And yet… I worry what the actual objectives are in Washington and London. If the main strategic goal is to produce a stable Afghanistan (by local standards) in which the Taliban has no significant chance of being more than a minor insurgent irritant, then that is almost certainly an objective well within reach. That will leave the bulk of the country divided up between sundry (narco-)warlords and the ‘government’ of Hamid Karzai (or the ‘Mayor of Kabul’ as many call him), which in Afghanistan seems to be the natural order of things and, most importantly from a western view point, is hostile to the Taliban.

But if the objective really is a unitary nation-state run from Kabul, with a strong central government capable and willing to eradicate Afghanistan’s large drug cash-crop economy, then the planners in the Pentagon and Whitehall are, to put it bluntly, out of their collective geo-strategic minds. To recap the obvious, unlike Iraq which was invaded by large US/UK forces without any local allied elements, Afghanistan was largely ‘liberated’ by an alliance of Afghan warlords with massive US air support and an important but numerically small force of US/UK/Canadian/Australian spec ops and light infantry units… in other words the great majority of the manpower to overthrow the Taliban was provided by the same warlords who now run most of the country in loose feudal vassalage to Kabul.

Whilst Afghanistan is hardly a human rights paradise (the Abdul Rahman apostasy case comes to mind), it is still a great deal better off than it was under the Taliban. Provided the western objectives are not really ‘nation building’ but simple ‘tyranny wrecking’, I see no reason why this cannot all end up going down in history as a highly successful episode just so long as the dementing influence of the unwinnable ‘war against drugs’ is not allowed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Ahmadinejad is apparently a Holocaust Denier

The Guardian headline states that President Ahmadinejad’s support in Iran is “soaring” although there are no political polls to provide any firm evidence. Cue the quote from a Professor of political science at the University of Tehran that provides a figure without any indication of its accuracy:

“He’s more popular now than a year ago. He’s on the rise,” said Nasser Hadian-Jazy, a professor of political science at Tehran University. “I guess he has a 70% approval rating right now. He portrays himself as a simple man doing an honest job. He’s comfortable communicating with ordinary people.”

Other sources are “Iranian officials and western diplomats” although why their information should be treated as honest and impartial is not provided. We must assume that Iranian bureaucrats provide information about their elected President from a neutral stance. The article then states that the President is favourite to win a second term in 2009, which is only three years away. He may already be a lame duck given the electoral cycle! It is also attributed to his obigatory resistance to the United States.

Attributing his success to his populist style and fortnightly meet-the-people tours of the country, the sources said that as matters stood, Mr Ahmadinejad was the clear favourite to win a second term in 2009. The perception that the president was standing up to the US on the nuclear issue was also boosting his standing.

Further down, balance returns with alternative views that Ahmadinejad’s popularity stems from his lack of corruption and a high oil price that allows subsidies to be sprayed at the peasant and poor urban classes who voted for him. However, the recent unrest amongst minorities is wrapped into “US claims”: “US officials have described the Iranian president as a threat to world peace and claim that he faces a popular insurrection at home”. His denial of the Holocaust is only “apparent”.

Here, Iran is represented in the reporting as another democracy. with an emphasized subtext that Ahmadinejad’s popularity stems from threats by the United States as he is merely standing up for the rights of his country and resisting the demands of the West. An unbalanced article informed by unattributable sources, a lack of hard evidence, and a series of talking heads that are supposed provide a middle point from which readers infer the truth.

One click, two laughs

It has been a while since my last visit to the excellent India Uncut blog – too long.

First laugh – Amit’s latest post links to a chef dispensing advice concerning prawns. As an Aussie, I was rather amused to discover some poor Seppo writing in, wondering what to do with that whole ‘vein thing’ running down the back of a prawn. Kiss it goodbye or let it lie? Basically, if you bought your prawns to impress – as a stand-out ingredient in some culinary masterpiece you’ve had up your sleeve for months – then you should clean them. Even if the prawns are merely a somewhat important ingredient amongst a few others, you should clean them. If you are using those bland tiddlers from Thailand – to add an interesting texture to your gruel or something along those lines – then don’t bother cleaning them.

I swear, I was born with that innate knowledge. Bewdy, mate. Throw another… oh, never mind.

Now, if you bought your prawns to impress, and in doing so you selected those aforementioned bland Thai tiddlers – then you should clean them, because that’s your punishment for being a tightarse. Apologies, the one minute I spent looking through idiotic online Strine dictionaries did not yield the definition of “tightarse”. Note to the confused; if you are a tightarse, you are cheap. And you know who you are.

Second laugh – some politically incorrect Indian astrologer has decided that “Mumbai” is somewhat unlucky, and “Bombay” is rather more auspicious. Whatever. All the terribly clever weathermen on Australia’s two publicly-funded television broadcasters take great pride in saying “Moom-Bye”, like it is a signifier of one’s magnificent cultural adjustment. A decisive strike in your valiant quest to bash down those imperialist Anglosized verbal imposts, comrade! When I was in Bombay, I did not meet a single Indian who termed their fair city ‘Mumbai’ – although a lot of Western tourists did. Having said that, perhaps the Indians did too, because I believe the correct pronounciation is “Mum (like your non-American, Pommy/Aussie mother) – Bay”, and – if you say it quickly (which is invariably the case, because Indians are the greatest communicators in the world) – that sounds rather similar to “Bombay”. Then again, I do not know, because I do not speak Hindi, and am basically a stupid Westerner.


I doubt that the Afro hairstyle will ever come back into fashion, which is a great shame for all blaxploitation fans. On the other hand, large swathes of sub-saharan Africa may become far richer than they are today, as globalisation deepens. This is worth celebrating.

Unsurprisingly, the market offers the solution

Reflecting on my recent, rather intemperate post about whaling, I have decided that I may have been a little too hard-line on the issue. Despite the current miniscule numbers of non-Minke whales culled by Japan (only Japan hunts species other than Minkes), it would not hurt to further encourage population growth in less populous whale species.

Thus, in an imperfect world where the chances of internationally roaming whales ever being made the property of individuals is about zero, I suggest a compromise with the pro-whaling nations as a best case scenario. Make an offer to Norway, Iceland and Japan to lift the IWC moratorium, in return for all IWC members (with the obvious but unspecified target being Japan) agreeing to the following stipulations:

i) all subsidies to whaling industries must be incrementally phased out

ii) whale hunting must be limited to the two Minke whale species with abundant populations, until the population numbers of other whale species have recovered sufficiently to remove them from the upper reaches of the ‘endangered’ list

Naturally, these conditions need refining; how to decide population numbers, how quickly the subsidies will be dropped etc. Regardless, if these two stipulations are broadly accepted by all parties, Japan can take such an agreement back to its belligerent and powerful pro-whaling lobby and present it as an ostensible overwhelming victory. Truth is, by letting market forces set demand – and hence supply – stipulation one would eventually harpoon (sorry, couldn’t resist) the whaling industry in that country, and stipulation two would protect the less numerous species of whale in the process. I would not expect the perpetually emotionally overwhelmed anti-whaling lobby to accede to such a proposal, but I think it stands as the most effective way of durably cutting back the industry – if that is what consumers demand. Let the market decide the future of whaling.

Samizdata quote of the day

I am not a driven businessman, but a driven artist. I never think about money. Beautiful things make money.
– Lord Acton

The human rights abuses at the heart of Europe

The Libertarian Alliance is highlighting the disgraceful way Belgium has been trying to intimidate people who hold politically incorrect views. Put an article up that the powers-that-be do not like and they will order you to take it down or face prosecution. But then what can you expect from a country which simply bans established political parties they dislike?

Support the right to home school your children? Advocate the right to self-defence? Want to express your views about Islamic culture? Prepare to be criminalised by the Belgian state.