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]

See more of the world by taking a dive

My father told me a while back that I was distantly related to Henry Blofeld, landowner and legendary cricket commentator. The Blofelds are an old Norfolk landowning family. Well, if it turns out I am related to a family that has the same surname as one of the greatest Bond villains, then maybe I should invest in something suitably sinister.

It may be cheaper than a hollowed-out volcano, if only slightly.

Staying with the Bond theme, you can now, if you have the wealth, live in a beach resort in the same part of Jamaica as Ian Fleming’s old beachside home of Goldeneye. Back in 1956, during the Suez crisis, Anthony Eden, then prime minister, stayed at the Flemings’.

I just wish Rod Liddle was less careless

On some, if not all issues, Rod Liddle is a man of sound views. He loathes the nanny state; he is unconvinced that we need to crack down on freedom of speech in order to avoid giving offence to religious groups. He is a patriot. In this week’s edition of the Spectator, where other authors rant away splendidly, Liddle rails against the six-month-old government ban on smoking in all public buildings, including privately owned ones (apart from private homes), such as pubs and restaurants. He makes a good case and some of his paragraphs are cheer-out-loud material:

Of course, one shouldn’t drop a policy simply because the pubs are having a rather hard time of it as a result. But in which case, don’t bother to pretend that they’re not, that actually there are queues all down the street consisting of shiny, happy people who wish nothing more than to drink in a new, healthy, smoke-free environment. Stop lying. Say, instead, that the smoke ban is putting pubs out of business but actually we couldn’t give a toss. Truth is, the government — and the health charities — are caught by their previous, gerrymandered poll findings which purported to suggest that the entire country was in favour of a complete ban on smoking everywhere, when — and again, do a quick vox pop if you doubt this — the reverse was true. People would like to see genuinely smoke-free areas of restaurants and pubs, for sure — but only chose a complete ban on smoking when the alternative on the poll sheet was ‘or would you like your testicles sawn off?’.

Or this:

Perhaps it is true, though, that because of the ban, I shall live for ever, for which many thanks, Dawn. But I doubt it; we will have recourse to one or another means of killing ourselves, such as driving a car (4,000 deaths per year), drinking more (40,000 deaths per year) or visiting a doctor (30,000 deaths per year through negligence or incompetence: never forget that figure. It exceeds the numbers killed through smoking-related illness. And it really, really hacks off the doctors).

But as always with Mr Liddle, the carelessness with which he chucks around numbers makes me wonder if any reader will want to get past his first paragraph:

I am still not sure what I hate the most about this government: its decision to invade Iraq and thus either effect or facilitate the murder of 500,000 Iraqis, or its decision to stop me from smoking in pubs and restaurants.

500,000 Iraqis? Is that correct? Liddle gives no source for this or attempts to do so later in the piece. Now Rod may be right to suggest that the overthrow of a power-mad, dangerous dictator was even worse than letting him stay in power (I occasionally wonder why a certain type of right-winger is so indulgent towards evil men like Saddam). But if he is going to make an argument with statistics as part of his core argument, it is probably not a great idea to kick off an argument with a massive figure based on, whatever.

Oh, in case anyone asks, I don’t smoke, except on National No Smoking Day.

Euthanasia campaigner arrested in New Zealand

The controversial Australian euthanasia advocate and doctor Phillip Nitschke has been arrested in Auckland, New Zealand, and books that he had in his possession have been seized. Nitschke, the moving spirit behind Exit International, had gone to New Zealand to host some ‘workshops’ on euthanasia.

Regardless of the rights and wrongs of euthanasia, this seems to me to be a clear case of ‘thoughtcrime’, and New Zealand authorities deserve nothing but scorn for this.

American Gulag

I was rather surprised to discover that Oklahoma, of all places, is using State power not to just silence critics, but to send them to prison for up to ten years!

I simply never expected this sort of political repression to take hold in America. The Oklahoma government should simply be ashamed of the way they are sullying the American ideal.

I would suggest to Oklahoman’s that they fight fire with fire. The outside agitators who are being shipped in and paid should be investigated and the leaders named and shamed. A private sting operation should work nicely: place a Ballot initiative canvasser somewhere where it is certain the roving gangs will find them. You should have a few photographers assigned to take photos of the individuals who start causing the trouble; then have a few others ready to slip in with ‘wires’ and pretend to be part of the group

Once you have the evidence, put it all in a blog or a web page… and send us the link!

Coppers. Friends or foes?

In the Daily Telegraph, Simon Heffer gets stuck right into police forces, and especially the constabulary of Kent, for various offences against liberty and common sense. It is a rather populist article, designed to stir the pot, but I think it is a pot worth stirring. I myself on the other end of the world share his disdain for my local police force, which I regard as nothing more or less then the armed enforcers of the Treasury Department.

I certainly have reservations about their ethics, methods, and purpose, and I suspect much worse of them. Given that the head of Australian Federal Police is trying to push for a media blackout of its anti-terrorist activities, a power that could easily be abused, I think I have good reasons to fear the worst from the boys in blue.

How did it come to this? My own guess is that police forces are just reflecting the nature of the governments that supposedly control them. Monkey see, monkey do.

That is one small step for man, one giant leap for private enterprise

With all the attention being on new private initiatives in space travel hogging the headlines, it is worth noting that there is the real prospect of a new space race taking place between China and the United States, with China planning an eventual lunar landing as a prelude to a mission to Mars.

There would be plenty of people who would welcome such a development, but I am not one of them. As I see it, there is a legitimate role for government funded space programs, but there must be a sensible trade-off between costs and benefits. The Voyager Space probes were sensible investments that produced wonderful results; the Apollo Program, for all the hype, was not something that was worth the immense cost.

I say this because the way that technology is developing, private ventures are expanding in their capabilities quite quickly, and they are much more suitable enterprises to carry the torch of humanity into space. The original space race between the USA and the USSR carried awfully nationalistic and ideological connotations, and a future race between China and the USA is certainly going to have a stench of nationalism about it. Private enterprise ventures have a much greater capacity to bring in international participation.

It cannot be denied, of course, that government ventures are capable of achieving far more, and far quicker, then private ones; having the power of the state to extract wealth from its citizenry, and a powerful will, can cause amazing things to happen. The Apollo Program is a case in point, and so was the Manhattan Project. That does not mean that they are justifiable.

China’s space program is still at a relatively modest stage; they only succeeded in putting an astronaut into orbit in 2003. But if they invested enough money in it, they could progress quite quickly. It is simply a matter of how high that they consider it in their list of priorities. If they give it a high priority they could certainly reach their goals, especially given that Chinese taxpayers are not in a position to object.

How long is it going to take private explorers to get to do serious space travel? That point is no longer moot. From 2004 the progress of private ventures has been impressive, and if this momentum can be continued, it might well be that the first private entrepreneur on the moon might not be that far behind the Chinese and American astronauts. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the first explorer on Mars represented a private consortium?

Nanotechnology Roadmap announced

The Foresight Institute released its Nanotechnology Roadmap today. According to the Press Release:

“For the first time, progress across all key nanoscale disciplines has been brought together into R&D pathways leading to atomically-precise manufacturing, with revolutionary applications to medicine, smart materials, and energy,” said Jim Von Ehr, Founder and chief executive officer of Zyvex Labs, Foresight Board of Directors member, and Roadmap Steering Committee member. “We look forward to hearing from technologists in industry, academia, and government on their thoughts about this roadmap, and their suggestions for improvement in the next version.”

You can find all of this and more here.

Arlo Guthrie endorses Ron Paul

Sometimes campaigns seem to be a battle of the celebrities, a matter of who has the best known Stars behind the podium. Ron Paul received endorsements from Barry Goldwater Jr and the Governor of Arizona within the last few weeks, but they are politico’s and that is just not the same. He finally has a real celebrity: Arlo Guthrie of ‘Alice’s Restaurant’ fame. You simply could not find a nicer guy to endorse you. Arlo says:

“I love this guy. Dr. Paul is the only candidate I know of who would have signed the Constitution of The United States had he been there. I’m with him, because he seems to be the only candidate who actually believes it has as much relevance today as it did a couple of hundred years ago. I look forward to the day when we can work out the differences we have with the same revolutionary vision and enthusiasm that is our American legacy.”

Back in the eighties when I lived in my native Pittsburgh I regularly worked the local music venue’s as did my room mate. I vividly remember him telling me about the night he opened for Arlo at one of our regular gig locations. Unlike many stars Arlo backstage did not do the Star thing in either attitude or drug ingestion. In fact, he sat down on the back stairs with my room mate for a long time after the show. They swapped stories of the life, chords and songs and had a merry old time sitting there on the group W… er the Grafitti’s back stairs.

I just love the idea of Arlo playing an inauguration ceremony… Now that is cool!

Correction: the Governor in question is the former Governor of New Mexico, not Arizona. My mistake. More here

The Bail Bondsman

American readers will no doubt be familiar with the long standing trade of the bail bond companies. Non-American readers may not be so familiar with the system, in which private companies post bail for defendants in return for a fee. It is a process which is not allowed in most other countries, but it seems that it is a highly effective system in ensuring that defendants appear for their trials.

I myself had no idea about the bail bond industry until I read this article about it in the New York Times. The American Bar Association hates the practice, it seems, and given the grip of lawyers in other legal systems, it is very unlikely that the practice will be emulated elsewhere. Which is a pity; some of these American innovations have a lot going for them.

Samizdata, almost literally

A most interesting document has come into our possession – and quite coincidentally, we understand, into the possession of several other well-known blogs. It is a scan of the internal document of the Identity and Passport Service outlining the new implementation strategy for the UK’s identity card scheme, liberally annotated by the experts at NO2ID.

We think it tends to disprove the denials only just issued by HM Government in relation to the scheme, as well as some half-lies and full lies they have been telling all along. (It may also show up the feeble grip of Gordon Brown’s paper Stalinism. “In government, but not in power,” ministers will rubber-stamp anything – just as long as it doesn’t look like a retreat.) But judge for yourself: (pdf 1.17Mb)

News shocker – Rory Bremner isn’t remotely funny

Via the glorious Devil’s Kitchen blog – it’s not for the squeamish or easily offended – I cam across this collection of comments made in the weekend press by various supposedly eminent people on how they would improve Britain. Some are quite good. But our Devil reserves his sulphur for Rory Bremner, an impressionist whom I used to rather like (his impersonation of Tony Blair is brilliant), but who has become boring. Bremner’s pet idea is to force teenagers to serve in “community projects”, a sort of civilian version of an army. Whenever the issue of youth delinquency comes up, as it has recently due to the problems of youth crime in our major cities, you can always count on parts of the right and left to join ideological hands over the idea of making youth “serve” their nation in some way. The objections to this are, however, considerable:

Young people are not the property of the state. This may come as a shocking revelation to anyone straying on to this blog for the first time in their lives, but there it is. You own your own life, and no-one else. The idea that after having been forced, on pain of legal penalty, to endure education until the age of 18, that one should continue to be forced to devote X hours of your time to “serving” the nation in some ill-defined way is monstrous. The issue is about inculcating the virtue of self-responsibility; state-run schemes are not exactly famed for doing that.

It is unlikely to provide a solution to things like crime. It might encourage some kids to become mildly less unruly than before, but the substance of the problem is that far too many youngsters are borne to single-parent families with no male role models. (Yes I am aware of the many children in these circumstances that turn out fine, but the general trend cannot be denied). I am not sure that coercing people into some form of state-run scheme is really going to reverse any problems, although I suppose some people might enjoy it, like the bureaucrats who will be employed to run whatever schemes get thought up.

It says something about the quality of TV “satire” that an advocate of collectively forcing the “nation’s youth” into some form of national service scheme can be voiced by a man who no doubt thinks he is a radical lefty. But then it is not really so strange at all, when you think about it.

Islam’s long siesta

The perception of Islamic science, perhaps properly called natural philosophy, has been shaped by Bernard Lewis and his strong programme of senescence instead of renaissance. The development of scientific knowledge follows a pre-ordained path to scientific revolution and those cultures that failed to ignite need to be explained. Is not exceptionalism the oddity? A review in the Times Literary Supplement adds to our understanding:

After all, the scientific and industrial revolutions did not occur anywhere in the world except in Europe, and therefore one needs to explain the peculiarity of European history, rather than adduce some kind of Islamic brake or blinker.

→ Continue reading: Islam’s long siesta