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]

Not the smoothest of starts for the iPhone

Whoops, looks like this spiffy-looking gadget has not achieved a trouble-free start but it may be too early to scoff. Even so, even a gadget nut like yours truly is sticking to his Blackberry (yes, I am semi-permanently attached to it) for the time being. Does any reader own an iPhone and have any views about whether it is worth the money?

For people with the sort of money to burn on one of these things, surely a spot of good, old-fashioned luxury is more appropriate if you want to have something snazzy to show off to your friends. I think a few members of the Samizdata crew should pay a visit to the wine and cigar department of the glorious Wonder Room of Selfridges. (Mr Jennings, Perry?) Keep a tight hold on those credit cards.

Burma, ‘gun control’ and David Hume

Burma is a good example of ‘gun control’, i.e. a state of affairs where firearms are a legal monopoly of the government forces. One side has good intentions and the other side has loaded rifles, and the result (so far) has been the same as it was in 1988 – or even back in 1962 when the late General Ne Win first set up his socialist administration.

However, me being a cold hearted man whose mind starts to wander even when shown scenes of murder and other horror, the situation reminds me of the philosophy of David Hume. This mid 18th century Scottish philosopher claimed that government was not based on force – but rather that it was based on opinion. Hume did this to mock the claim that there was a great difference between the ‘constitutional’ government of Britain and the ‘tyranny’ of France – under the skin both sides are basically the same, was his point.

This was part of David Hume’s love of attacking what his opponents (such as Thomas Reid) were to call “Common Sense”. David Hume was involved in what are now called ‘counter intuitive’ positions. Hume claimed (at times) that there was no objective reality – that the physical universe was just sense impressions in the mind. This did not stop him also claiming (at times) that the mind did not exist, in the sense of a thinking being, that a thought did not mean a thinker – that there was no agent and thus no free willed being.

Whether David Hume actually believed any of this – or whether he was just saying to people “you do not have any strong arguments for your most basic beliefs – see how weak reason is”… is not the point here. The point is that many people. including many people who have never heard his name, have been influenced by the ideas of David Hume.

For example, Louis XVI of France did not actively resist his enemies, going so far as ordering others, such as the Swiss Guard, not to resist, because he had read David Hume’s History of England – it was his favourite book. In his history Hume claimed that Charles the First did not get killed because he lost the Civil War (as a simple minded ordinary man might think) – but because he had fought back against his enemies at all. If he had not resisted his enemies, they would have seen no need to kill him (a clever counter intuitive position).

So Louis XVI did not resist. It is possible that he was given cause to doubt Hume’s wisdom right before his enemies murdered him, and so many others, but we will never know the answer to that I suppose.

In Burma, as in so many other places, many people seem to have thought that opinion, namely the good intentions of the majority, were more important than firepower – they appear to be mistaken.

“You are showing lack of respect for the dead” – perhaps, but I am warning people not to stand against men with rifles when you are unarmed. Get the firepower, one way or another, and learn how to use it, then you may have a chance at liberty – you can not have it, or keep it, without firepower. And that remains true even if you win some soldiers over to your side with appeals to their reason.

Caution! Official mind at work

For every rational cause you can guarantee there will be someone who tries to pursue it in a crazy and counter-productive manner. A Cambridge school caretaker has just been gaoled for sending letter bombs in protest against the surveillance state. Quite how he thought it might help is obscure; there is no Bakhuninite theory of precipitating revolution on offer, nor the intimidation/revenge motive of animal-rights terrorists. Perhaps he is a product of what the LM people identify as “therapeutic culture” and believes (compare Mr Blair) that strength of feeling is truth, and demonstrating the strength of one’s feelings by hurting others – a Big Howl – is persuasive.

All of which is by way of introduction to the strangest point in the whole affair: the post trial commentary from the officer in charge of the investigation. This is becoming a standard feature of any notorious case, one which I dislike intensely. I think the job of the police is to investigate crime disinterestedly, and they should not have a say in or comment on the process of the courts, any more than they should prejudice the position of suspects beforehand.

Detective Superintendent George Turner, from Thames Valley Police, said of the criminal,

“He utilised his interests in anarchy, terrorism and explosive devices in support of his political views.”


Let us be clear. This is not a slip of the tongue. It is a pre-prepared statement, given out in a press release to be reproduced verbatim.

How could an interest in anarchy (which does not seem to have been made out in any account I have read, and I would be grateful to be pointed to the evidence) have utility in bombing people? It might, just, provide motivation, although there are lots of pacifist anarchists and few violent nihilists, but practical assistance?

And “in support of his political views”? No, quite back-to-front. His crimes were in (mistaken) pursuit of his political views. There is a worrying muddling of means and ends there. What Cooper did was wrong; it does not support his views in the slightest. The criminality is founded in his intent to damage property and injure people. But we are left with the impression that the views are the mens rea.

Except I do not think he should be making it at all, I would have no quarrel with D-Supt Turner’s prepared statement had it said:

“He utilised his interests in terrorism and explosive devices in support of a politically motivated criminal plan.”

What he actually said is a disturbing glimpse of an official mind-set in which non-conformity and violence, dissent and criminality, are confounded.

The principled-stand-of-the-week by Dave Cameron

Dave Cameron is actually a very funny guy. His faux sincerity and Forceful Leader hand gestures (no doubt practised in front of a mirror for best effect), combined with crassly obvious weathervane-like changes of political position, are the perfect stuff of parody. I expect most politicians to be insincere as it is more or less a job requirement, but I find the combination of mannered earnestness and whore-like opinion poll based ideology-of-the-week strangely compelling viewing.

In truth the principle-free pursuit of power he represents is so toxic that I want to have an endless series of Two Minute Hates at the mere mention of his name… but then when I see that phoney baloney shtick of his in full televisual motion and pimple enhancing digital hi-rez colour, I find myself grinning from ear to ear at the sheer absurdity of the man (and indeed the party that voted for this bozo to be its boss). He changes direction faster than a startled fish and the fact anyone believes anything that comes out of his mouth is a source of morbid fascination to me.

So… was it nukes?

The Israeli raid on a Syrian target earlier this month has mostly faded from the news, but to my knowledge there has been no definitive report on exactly what was bombed. My own best guesses are either a big Hezbollah staging area or a Syrian nuclear weapons related facility, but my gut guesses and ten cents will buy you a cup of coffee if you have access to a TARDIS.

This item, by a former Jerusalem Post editor is about the best discussion I have run across.

What’s beyond question is that something big went down on Sept. 6. Israeli sources had been telling me for months that their air force was intensively war-gaming attack scenarios against Syria; I assumed this was in anticipation of a second round of fighting with Hezbollah. On the morning of the raid, Israeli combat brigades in the northern Golan Heights went on high alert, reinforced by elite Maglan commando units. Most telling has been Israel’s blanket censorship of the story – unprecedented in the experience of even the most veteran Israeli reporters – which has also been extended to its ordinarily hypertalkative politicians. In a country of open secrets, this is, for once, a closed one.

Read the article and make up your own mind.

Something to look forward to

I’ll be poised to grab a cinema seat for this one when it comes out.

Adding to our costs one step at a time

The government has – with virtually nil consultation or fanfare – announced changes to what has been known in English law (I do not know how this works in Scotland) as Enduring Power of Attorney (EPA) – an important process for people who want to put the control of their financial affairs in the hands of close family members or friends whom they trust, to deal with the sad circumstances of senility and extreme old age.

Naturally, the British government, in its determination to prevent us poor little dears messing up, has decided to regulate the practice, which will make such a process far more expensive. Added to the recent fiasco of what are called Home Information Packs (HIPS), this lot seem keen to inflate the costs of housing transactions or handling the affairs of a close relative. This makes the current supposed enthusiasm of Middle England for the present government even more of a mystery, although I guess what it really shows is how little confidence people have that the Tories would reverse one iota of this sort of thing. Depressing.

Some striking phrases

Regular readers will be familiar with my theory that Britain’s current system of government is ‘soft fascism’. The Labour Party conference has been providing lots more support for the idea.

There on the front of the podium for every speech, in stark red letters, is the slogan for the event, “Strength to change Britain.” Four words, capturing the key fascist notions of power, forward movement, and national identity. Because it is a slogan, we know that an offer is being made to us; but the content of the offer is naked power, not what will be done with it. It is not for us to evaluate whether the change will be for the better. Impressive concision.

Then there was Gordon Brown’s speech. Do read the whole thing. Plenty of people have noticed how authoritarian it was in tone and content. But one vague, putatively educational, promise struck me as an epitome. It sounds like a promise, but think about it and it can only be interpreted as a threat.

My message, our message, is and must be: if you try hard, we will help you make the most of your talents.

The important questions are begged. “Try hard’ at what? Who decides what counts as trying hard? The state, that’s who. Officially approved activity will be supported, but anything else is on conditional sufferance. Your choices are a privilege granted by the state, and how you exercise them will be watched.

“The right for company boards to make their own decisions, but obligations to the rest of society too,” may come as a surprise to those who believed there were independent institutions in civil society and taking one’s own decisions was a consequence of free will, not a politically determined option. If it does, you haven’t been paying attention for the last 10 years.

“[A] Britain of mutual obligation” does not mean a Britain of mutual exchange. The voluntary mutuality of the co-operative movement is far behind us. ‘Mutual’ is a decoration, used to mean, if anything ‘universal’. The emphasis is on obligation. Ob ligare. Brown’s bondage. A country the opposite of free.

Ask for this great Deliverer now, and find him
Eyeless in Gaza, at the mill with slaves,
Himself in bonds under Philistian yoke

How my personal blog outage made me stop wanting to blog anywhere

From late June of this year until earlier this month my personal blog stopped working. All previous such outages had been either very brief, lasting only a few days at worst, or they were longer but purely voluntary breaks, while I went off on holiday or just recharged the blogging batteries. But this summer’s break was different. For boring bloggage reasons involving comment spam attacks (who by?) and Supergeeks who wouldn’t answer the phone, the details of which I will spare you mostly because I don’t understand them (although I hope and believe that my Geeks and Supergeeks do), my personal blog stoppage went on, and on, and on, and on, for the best part of three months. The stoppage only stopped about three weeks ago, and when it did I had become so used to not blogging that it actually took me about another week to jump back into it again.

When I started personal blogging, I supposed that if my personal blog was ever seriously interrupted, I would welcome the outlet offered by the other blogs that I have posting rights to, such as the Transport Blog, and of course Samizdata, to write whatever else I felt like blogging that fitted their remits. But instead, I found that I did not want to blog at all. Unable to avail myself of it, I found that blogging, anywhere, had lost its charm. I still wrote some bits for money, although the frequency of that also slowed during the summer. But that was work. It was not, you know, blogging. Why did this happen? Why did losing my own blog mean that my desire to contribute to anyone else’s blog evaporated?

The best answer I can offer is that for me, wandering about on the internet looking for stuff to mention on Samizdata or Transport Blog constantly results also in stuff I want to comment on and link to chez moi. So if chez moi is no longer functioning, it’s like having a gag stuffed in my face. I do not actually blog about everything I find that is of interest to me. But it hurts if I can’t. Starting a personal blog meant that, for me, the internet had finally become fully interactive. I can say whatever I like about it, to it, on it. Being unable to say whatever I liked, I switched back to reading books.

A cracking good Western

I liked this film, 3:10 to Yuma. The death of the Western is one of those occasional refrains, but this is fine piece of film-making. There were one or two clichés in it (those evil rotten railroad barons) but those clichés had some basis in fact.

The picture of the old West was almost completely bleak, but it made for great drama, and a terrific set of gunfights. For a rather contrarian view of the West, this book is worth a look.

Fact check, please

This is both an historical and an historiographical puzzle.

It might well be true. It would be interesting if it were.

I do not think it is of any consequence for current affairs or community relations whether it is true or not (and I could not give a damn what anyone thinks on that point either way). But I thought my naval history was pretty good, and I have absolutely no idea what he is talking about.

The BBC reports Trevor Philips speaking at an event today:

“When we talk about the Armada it’s only now that we are beginning to realise that part of it is Muslims,” Mr Phillips told the meeting. “It was the Turks who saved us, because they held up Armada at the request of Elizabeth I.”

Now what is he going on about? How would one arrange that with 16th century communications? Elizabeth certainly chartered a Levant Company, and had diplomatic relations with the Ottomans. But where is the evidence? Did the Turks hold up the Armada at all? And if so did they do it by arrangement? If so, what’s the new research that “only now” gives us this information? If not, where does Mr Phillips get the idea from?

A culture of efficacy

His supreme blogness, Glenn Reynolds, likes to put up posts about disaster preparedness and pretty much anything that encourages people to figure out for themselves how to deal with emergencies, protect themselves from danger and protect their loved ones or indeed strangers out of simple human generosity. Being a broadly libertarian character, Reynolds defends the use of firearms in self defence but there is much more to it than that, including knowing about first aid, dealing with sudden loss of electric power, drinking water, and so on (I would be interested to know how many commenters here have studied first aid or rescuing people in difficult situations, like from drowning).

Glenn has a round-up of links here which is pretty good. I could not help notice the contrast between Reynolds’ very American can-do attitude with the sort of pathetic, rule-obsessed attitude demonstrated by so-called police officers who failed to act, at least with great urgency, to prevent the drowning of a young lad.

When I hear people talk about the erosion of civil society under the impact of officialdom, it is tragedies like this recent story that demonstrate what I mean.