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]

Daniel Gross of Slate is a pissant

Pah. Not only do I know of French Basque cheeses, I have eaten them with cider in a bar in St-Jean-Pied-de-Port while two tables of Basques on either side of me got on with serious drinking song competition, and I am presently in the Palermo district of Buenos Aires (which reminds me oddly of the French concession of Shanghai – slightly urbane areas in two cities with wide, leafy streets that were in their heydays around the same time, I suspect) while I decide in which of the many wonderful parillas I am going to wash down my evening steak with Mendoza Malbec. Americans are such provincial wimps.

And I don’t go in for any of that “Good liberal while lingering over the Sunday New York Times” crap, either. It was just great burning so much carbon to get here.

Republicans want to vote for Republicans: who knew?

Andrew Sullivan, who seems to have bought into the Obama campaign wholesale despite Obama’s Big Government views – hardly what Sullivan claims to support – makes this pretty sweeping assertion against those who are unimpressed by Mr Obama and his interesting choice of friends and associates.

It’s extremely depressing that the first major national black politician who takes on the victimology of Sharpton and Jackson is greeted by the right with the kind of cynicism you see at Malkin or the Corner or Reynolds. It reveals, I think, the deeper truth: the Republican right only wants a black Republican to do this.

Well, I guess in the case of Malkin or National Review’s roster of writers at its Corner blog, they are, you know, Republican supporters. They are more interested in the views of the candidate across a whole range of issues – Iraq, spending, the size of the government, security policy, immigration, trade – than whether he or she is going to somehow change the “victimology” that Andrew Sullivan writes about. It is a bit like Sullivan moaning that Roman Catholics are only in favour of black priests who are Catholics rather than Protestants. Well, duh. As for Glenn Reynolds, he once supported the presidential run of Al Gore, if my memory serves, so he is hardly a blind follower of the GOP.

Sullivan’s critique of other bloggers would carry more weight if he could accept that US voters face essentially three big government candidates, albeit with subtle differences. I am surprised that Sullivan has not made more of why this is, and what to do about it.

This might not be a wise move

Swiss banks have not had a good time of it lately, which does rather dent their image of being sober-suited outfits able to protect your millions. UBS, the Zurich-based banking and wealth management group, has booked a total of $37 billion in losses connected to the credit crunch. Wow. Even other banking groups in the Alpine state, like Clariden Leu, Julius Baer and Credit Suisse, have suffered – though not remotely as badly as UBS, which possibly may break up or get taken over.

So I was a bit bemused to read that Credit Suisse has hired former US Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta as an adviser. Has no-one told Credit Suisse that this fellow used to be known unflatteringly as “Underperformin’ Norman” when he was in charge of sorting out airport security and other areas?

A right-wing newspaper columnist tears into another

I do not much care for Simon Heffer, the columnist who writes regularly for The Daily Telegraph. Even if I agree with him on certain issues, he has a way of making his points in a state of such constant anger that I find him rather wearying to read, rather like Paul Johnson in the Daily Mail – though Paul Johnson is to my mind much better when writing his history books, which I regard as superb. Mr Heffer also has a bit of a chip on his shoulder, if my judgement of this column, attacking Boris Johnson, is correct. Mr Heffer went to a grammar school in Essex, one of the best in the country, in fact. Boris Johnson went to Eton. For some people of a certain cast of mind, that is damning enough. But Heffer goes on to write a remarkably personal attack on BJ for his frivolity, lack of management skills, exploitation of old friends and colleagues, and so on. Blimey. I wonder what personal animus might bubble beneath the surface. It is not as if Johnson’s shortcomings were heavily classified secrets.

I sympathise with Heffer to an extent: if the Tories are going to challenge for the mayorality, is Boris really the best on offer? Maybe the harsh truth is that he is. For all that the mayor has a large budget and can make quite a difference to life in The Smoke, the job still has a slightly circus-act feel about it.

But as I have said before, I have reservations about why London needs to have a mayor in the first place. I am still undecided whom I will vote for on 1 May.

“It’s all in the database”

Laban Tall, blogging at Biased BBC, has posted the latest BBC public service advertisement warning citizens not to fail to pay for a TV licence.

I thought it might be of interest to Samizdata readers.


There are plenty of appalling things in the world, but the amount of media coverage is far from a reliable guide to what’s important or even real. Really bad things get scant notice if there’s no populist hook (“who now remembers the Armenians?” And see my last post, the story of which featured once in the most serious UK media and then disappeared).

Meanwhile non-stories, virtual risks, and popular panics are underwritten by massive investment in sensational coverage. If you have not read any coverage of horror stories surrounding a former Jersey children’s home, then read this first. If you have but now wonder why it has all gone quiet, I recommend this article on Spiked. I am left wanting to know more about what happened, when, in the investigation team itself.

Thoughts on a film

John Derbyshire, who writes for National Review, the conservative publication, is not a man I always agree with. On the issue of creationism, however, he is wonderfully scornful of some of its advocates. In commenting on the movie, Expelled, put together by Ben Stein, he has this to say:

Our scientific theories are the crowning adornments of our civilization, towering monuments of intellectual effort, built from untold millions of hours of observation, measurement, classification, discussion, and deliberation. This is quite apart from their wonderful utility – from the light, heat, and mobility they give us, the drugs and the gadgets and the media. (A “thank you” wouldn’t go amiss.) Simply as intellectual constructs, our well-established scientific theories are awe-inspiring.

And now here is Ben Stein, sneering and scoffing at Darwin, a man who spent decades observing and pondering the natural world – that world Stein glimpses through the window of his automobile now and then, when he’s not chattering into his cell phone. Stein claims to be doing it in the name of an alternative theory of the origin of species: Yet no such alternative theory has ever been presented, nor is one presented in the movie, nor even hinted at. There is only a gaggle of fools and fraudsters, gaping and pointing like Apaches on seeing their first locomotive: “Look! It moves! There must be a ghost inside making it move!”

Update: Ben Stein has lost it totally.

Samizdata quote of the day

I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones that do violence to the Constitution, or that have failed in their purpose, or that impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden. I will not attempt to discover whether legislation is ‘needed’ before I have first determined whether it is constitutionally permissible. And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents’ ‘interests’, I shall reply that I was informed their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can.

– Barry Goldwater, US politician. As cited by David Mayer, over at his excellent blog.

Texas soap beats the UK version hands-down

My wife, during a business trip to Arizona, once sat in an aircraft next to the guy who now owns Southfork ranch, the place that achieved legendary status in the hit TV soap Dallas. Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch have this rather whimsical piece on how the show, despite portraying most people in business as either predatory villains (JR Ewing), or often losers (ie, anyone up against JR), was effective in inadvertently demonstrating the sheer, material wealth of US capitalism. I remember, as a teen, wanting to have a red Mercedes like Bobby Ewing.

Well, I don’t know how much you can really read into shows like this. I must say that Dallas was so full of outrageous storylines and crazy characters that it was compulsive viewing. My mum, bless her, was addicted to it. Watching it today is a bit scary – it reminds me of how far ago the early 1980s now seems.

What is true, though, is that the sort of aspirational message embedded in shows about rich people stands a universe apart from the depressing, tragic vision embodied in UK soaps like EastEnders. I once watched about half an episode of the latter show the other day. It is about 20 minutes of my life I shall never get back.

Meanwhile, here is an old post of mine about Italian daytime TV, which is, er, a phenomenon.

Born a hundred million years too soon

I am not certain whom I should pity the most: the Intelligent Design advocates of Homo Sapiens or the future Scientists of the next technological species on our planet.

Much of what we know of the past is built on the fossil record and most of the rest upon the exponentially increasing DNA databases of fully sequenced life forms. For us it is an easy matter, in a relative manner of speaking, to follow characteristics through the billions of years of the fossil record and to compare DNA of long diverged species for commonality. In all cases it is the downright bad engineering of life forms that screams out to the designer that these things just grew and developed by a series of random local optimizations.

This will not be true for our future brethren. When they dig up their rocks they will find a point in the fossil record at which there is an explosive radiation of new and interesting lifeforms that have total disconnects with past life forms. They will see a discontinuity in life itself. Geneticists will see the unmistakable evidence of engineering perfection in the deep past of critters of their day.

What will they make of it? Will they accept that a prior technological species lost in deep time re-engineered life? Will their theologians believe in a universe that created itself and then had a God descend and set it right? Or a God that created things imperfectly and came back to fix His screwups? Will they expect Him to return to Fix Things again? Will they have a Cosmic Tinker in place of a Cosmic Watchmaker?

Just a few thought for a Sunday afternoon…

John Redwood has no TV in his London flat but must still pay the TV tax!

From time to time you hear a familiar tale about how X has not bought a TV license because X does not have a television, but about how the TV license people are nevertheless harassing X mercilessly. X tells them repeatedly that he has no TV, but it makes no difference, and a sum of money way in excess of the license fee being unjustly demanded is consumed in fatuous bureaucratic intimidation. Why don’t they say it honestly? The TV license is not a license to watch TV. It is a tax on all householders and all households, regardless of TV ownership or watching habits.

Well, here is a new tweak on the old story. Now they are inflicting this idiocy upon John Redwood, who does watch TV in his main home, but who has no TV in his London pad. Not only is John Redwood an MP and a former (and perhaps soon to be again) cabinet minister. He is also a blogger, and quite a good one:

Governments should assume honest conduct by citizens unless there is evidence to suppose otherwise, and should have a framework of sensible laws and requirements that most people most of the time respect and wish to follow. As soon as government becomes heavy handed and imposes too many laws – and too many laws that do not seem reasonable to the governed – there is more chance that more people will deliberately or inadvertently break them, and more likelihood that government will then intensify its snooping and heavy handed enforcement. Such a progress makes public life coarser, and creates a growing gap between government and governed. The UK now is suffering from rapacious government, seeking ever larger sums of revenue to feed the bureaucratic monster. It will in turn create an angrier electorate, resentful of how the money is spent and cross about the bullying techniques used to extract it.

That “now” makes this sound like a recent development. The posting as a whole is entitled: “Now they want us to pay for services we do not receive!”, as if a government charging for something it doesn’t do is a new idea invented by Gordon Brown which Redwood has only just noticed. But since Redwood is a party politician, he is obliged to spread the idea that there are simple party political causes of and cures for such woes. Apart from that, good posting.

Samizdata quote of the day

If we want to build the country, maintain our dignity and solve economic problems, we need the culture of martyrdom.

– President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran replies to his critics (also quoted by Mick Hartley)