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 medley of interesting things

Sean Gabb has been a busy chap lately. As mentioned in an earlier post, the latest issue of Free Life Commentary exposes the fraudulent nature of the British Conservative Party’s ‘intellectual revival’.

Also Sean will be on BBC Radio 5 Live on Sunday 1st April at 11:30am UK time, to discuss whether ‘junk food’ advertisements should be banned (no prizes for guessing what his position is). This programme takes calls and so some of Samizdata.net’s readers might like to ring the relevant number and air their views. All the BBC Radio 5 details, such as telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, and on-line listening, can be found here.

Another thing of interest and relevance: the Libertarian Alliance has released its latest pamphlet called Habits Are Not Illnesses: A Response to Dr Robert Lefever, by Joe Peacott.

Mood music

Whatever you may be doing this weekend, whether it’s playing a few rounds of golf or taking a trip to the seaside or pruning your rose bushes, let us help you to set the mood and deepen your sense of tranquility and peace with this admirably tolerant, progressive and diversity celebrating video.

Relax and enjoy!

A big admission

The other night I had a look at the 18 Doughty Street internet-based public affairs TV programme. I quite like what Iain Dale and the others in that outfit are trying to do with internet TV: breaking into the arena now dominated by BBC, ITN and Channel 4, channels that are by and large infused with the meta-context of the liberal-left. 18 Doughty Street is unashamedly pro-liberty, pro-capitalism, pro-America and anti-Big Government in its thinking. My main doubt is whether it can keep going without being able to make hard cash. Anyway, it is also attracting guests from across the spectrum, and it is an appearance by a leftist blogger on the show the other night that got my attention.

Dale was interviewing three bloggers about events of the week, and one of the guests was Alex Hilton, the author of the blog Recess Monkey, a leftist site with a sense of humour that may or may not to be to one’s taste. He recently got into a bit of a pickle by posting the ‘news’ that Margaret Thatcher, whom Alex loathes, had died. She is, of course, very much alive. Iain Dale phoned up the BBC after seeing the ‘story’ and promptly Hilton had to retract and publish a rather grubby apology, albeit one with a fairly nasty sting in the tail. What a nob, I thought. Then I saw his appearance on 18 Doughty Street. Fairly boilerplate lefty, I thought, a bit cocky, not a bit ashamed of spreading an untrue story, in fact, denying that that the death of Mrs T. would be a ‘story’ at all (any newspaper editor would turn him down on the spot if he thinks that the death of a famous politician, however old, is not a story. I certainly would).

Anyway, the interview went on. I was interested in how Hilton described how he came to hold the views he did, which is always interesting, in my view. His family background is working class – printing and coal mining, two industries that succumbed to the crackdown on subsidy and the trade union closed shop thanks to the Thatcher years (I strongly support both such changes, naturally). Hilton is a reminder, however, that a lot of people experienced the hard side of those changes, necessary though they were. I was a bit disappointed that Dale did not ask the question, “So Alex, are you in favour of massive coal subsidies and the old print union methods, then?”, which was a pity. But at one stage we got a really interesting admission. Hilton was talking about leftist economics bloggers, and said it was a pleasure to come across such folk, because on the whole, “economics is an emotional issue for socialists”, or some such. I certainly remember the use of the word “emotional”. Bang. For a socialist to actually admit that their views on economics are driven, not by logic, factual evidence, by reason, but by “emotion” is a big admission. It is an admission of intellectual defeat if you do not say that you have reason as your main motivator. It is to run up a big, white flag in the battle of ideas. When Marx was writing about class and the rise of the proletariat, he did not present his arguments as “emotional” – though of course they were in many respects. He used the language of science a lot. The left used to talk about ‘scientific socialism’. Their posters had big pictures of factories, machines and aircraft on them, all waxing lyrical about technology and the power of reason. The left is now a very different, post-modernist beast. Reason is out. Emotion is in.

Socialism just took another little step towards its coffin on that show. Nice one Alex. Keep up the great work. Just do not try to kill off Britain’s greatest post-war Prime Minister ever again.

Samizdata quote of the day

Civitas – otherwise the most authoritative and radical of modern policy institutes… has published the longest petition of intellectual bankruptcy I have read in years. I do most strongly urge David Green to withdraw this book at once and remove it from the Civitas catalogue.

Sean Gabb, reviewing Danny Krueger’s new book On Fraternity: Politics beyond Liberty and Equality

What next, Mr Blair?

How should we assess Britain’s success in its diplomatic efforts to release the hostages? Iran, more bellicose and intransigent, is now determined to use them as predigree prisoners for propaganda purposes and possibly put them on show-trials. The key to success is acquiring more levers to influence Iranian behaviour and exact a price for their actions.

Britain cannot bring military force to bear, due to the underfunding of our armed forces. We are unable to acquire a united diplomatic front following the debacle at the United Nations. Our sailers’ plight will not be met with a range of new sanctions. At a meeting of foreign ministers in Europe, there was strong condemnation on the bogpaper press release that all such meetings issue. None of the Member States were willing to entertain the notion of real action: freezing export credit guarantees to Iran. Let us hear their reasons for turning their back on their ally:

EU foreign ministers meeting in Germany called for the sailors to be freed but ruled out any tightening of lucrative export credit rules. The EU is Iran’s biggest trading partner. British officials are understood to have taken soundings on economic sanctions before the meeting but found few takers.

France, Iran’s second-largest EU trading partner, cautioned that further confrontation should be avoided. The Dutch said it was important not to risk a breakdown in dialogue.

Republicans in DC have rightly branded the government’s dependence on international law and sanctions as “pathetic“. Rightly, in this instance. The government prefers to maintain its reputation for upholding international law and ruling out other strategies that could exert greater influence in Iran, such as interdicting their oil trade. Blair’s prissiness in holding the moral high ground is achieved by making all the right noises and going through the (bowel) motions. Yet, after the EU and the UN, the cupboard is bare. What next, Mr Blair?

Watch what you eat…

.. because someone else may be watching, too.

Pippa King is rightly outraged by the bad bargain Bury schools appear to be getting for taxpayer’s money with their their “cashless” fingerprint-based school meals systems. However, I do not think that is the most disturbing element of the story.

There is nothing wrong in principle with using a biometric instead of a separate token to charge an account. And cash-handling is expensive, so you need to minimise it. When I was a child, the school took dinner-money once a week and issued paper tickets: one ticket, one meal. What you ate for your ticket was up to you, though choice was limited. Poor children entitled to free school meals were handed the tickets free, and what money changed hands from whom was invisible to all other children. Each stage involved discrete self-checking transactions in truck/tuck, with no need for continuing accounting for individuals.

Having created individual accounts, the system might still be a simple acounting tool, if those accounts were private. But much more than that is happening here.

Pupils even register points for making healthy choices and are rewarded for healthy eating.

And this being information on ‘risk’ to children – the risk of eating chips, in this case – it will be shared with other authorities, common law confidentiality is expressly excluded [Children Act 2004, s12]. But the information need not be collected; it is because it can be.

The concept of limited government power under law is almost dead: any system in the hands of a British public authority, whatever its ostensible purpose, now acquires a function in surveillance and behaviour control.

The right of French people to take photos

I seldom encounter much in the way of verbal discussion attached to Flickr photos, because the kind of Flickr photos I usually look at are things like pictures of footbridges, concerning which there is really not a lot to be said, given how many such snaps abound on Flickr. But this snap (catchily entitled “DSC07222.JPG”) is different because it is a photo of a rather violent political demo in France. This was taken by an accredited photographer, who had his card examined by the Police but who was then permitted to keep his snap. But, says one of the commenters:

i got all the photos and videos i took yesterday on my camphone deleted by a policeman who told me he would arrest if he ever saw me doing again. I don’t know if he had the right to erase the photos, i should see about that.

Presumably not. My thanks and congratulations to Norwegian media blogger Kristine Lowe for the link to that, and for spotting the above comment. Kristine blogged earlier about the new French law.

If all French bloggers, podcasters, vodcasters, and even those snapping a picture with their mobile phone camera and sending it to a relative, could be put on trial or fined for publishing footage from the frontlines. How bizarre, troubling, surreal. …

Indeed. This is a huge issue. I was in Parliament Square not long ago and observed some hairy anti-war person being shoved into a Police van. The entire scene was surrounded by other demonstrators holding video cameras. They were subjecting to the Police themselves to surveillance, guarding the guardians you might say. I do not ever want that to be illegal in Britain, but in France, it would appear that it already is.

Expect a thriving market in fake “accredited photographer” cards. And expect things in France to get even more interesting, when, as they soon will, digital cameras become so small that it will be impossible for the Police or anybody else to spot them being used. In fact, expect things everywhere to get more interesting.

Meanwhile, I have been chronicling that brief moment when digital cameras are (were) quite small, but still visible in action.

The smile on the face of Mary, mother of Christ.

Swedish globalisation advocate Johan Norberg looks up a picture in a beautiful Italian church, and sees an early sign of where individualism comes from. Nice thoughts, succinctly expressed.

I hate the world today

I have always regarded it as reliably axiomatic that government departments are named after whatever it is they are trying to put a stop to. One need look no further than the Department of Education for practical proof of this principle in action.

For the same reason I have always regarded it as a blessing that the legal system has been administered by something called ‘The Home Office’. For all of its indisputable shortcomings, I took great comfort from the fact that we do not, nor have we ever had, a ‘Ministry of Justice’.

Until now:

New department: the Ministry of Justice

A Ministry of Justice will be created to provide a stronger focus on the criminal justice system, and on reducing re-offending.

This new ministry will take over the staff and responsibilities of the Department for Constitutional Affairs, and the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), including the prison and probation services, and have lead responsibility for criminal law and sentencing…

The Prime Minister said the new Ministry of Justice ‘will take the leading role in delivering a fairer, more effective, speedy and efficient justice system.’

I rather think that a more realistic appraisal will be opaque, incompetent and, above all, self-serving.

They may as well just go ahead and set up the Ministries of Truth, Prosperity and Freedom and I daresay that, in the fullness of time, they will.

You can’t talk to us like that!

Samizdata quote of the day

“The severing of Britain’s economic ties with its Commonwealth partners as a price of European (Union) entry further strained those relationships. Today, Germans arriving at London’s Heathrow airport breeze through the domestic arrivals line, while Australians who fought against the Germans at El Alamein for Britain’s sake wait in the foreigners’ line with the Japanese.”

Jim Bennett, The Anglosphere Challenge, page 279.

Not that I have a problem with Germans or Frenchmen “breezing through” customs.

From metal-bashing to great design

An old refrain from protectionists and other fixed-wealth folk is that it is terrible that Britain does not have a major car manufacturer any more. Japanese and other nations’ car plants are in Britain, true, but we have little home-grown stuff. Jaguar is owned by Ford. Aston Martin has been taken over from Ford by a private equity firm. TVR has gone. Morgan is just about hanging on. Land Rover, Rolls Royce, Bentley, MG… they are all in the hands of evil foreigners.

This is largely a function of globalisation, with a bit of help from decades of restrictive practices, crap design and poor quality during the 1950s, 60s and 70s and early 80s. The car industry never really recovered. A whole generation of people learned to loathe British Leyland cars and bought Saabs, Renaults, Citroens and VWs whenever they could. Even though some gems remained – Landrovers and some of the Jags were fine – the reputation of the British car industry was devastated. The same nearly happened to Italian carmaker Fiat when Communist-run unions nearly destroyed that industry as well. But at least Italy had Ferrari.

However, the situation these days is quite bright. Many of the world’s top Formula 1 racing teams are based in Britain, like MacLaren in Surrey. And as this article demonstrates, while it may be cheaper to make cars in China or Brazil or Poland, many of the hottest car designers are still British. In the information economy, the value-added areas of design are what count, and it turns out that Britain is rather good at it.