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]

“Such impertinence!”

Over at EU Referendum under the heading “Caught red-handed” there is an instructive YouTube video. It shows a bunch of MEPs showing up at their place of work at quarter to seven in the morning. Exemplary devotion to duty? Well, no. What they are actually doing, suitcases in hand, is signing the attendance register on a Friday morning before heading home for the weekend. Then they will be paid, most lavishly, for working that day.

The cat really lands among the pigeons around 2 minutes 30 seconds in. Watch the MEPs dodge back behind doors as they register the camera’s unwelcome presence. Listen to the cries and squeals. “It is not your business!” “Such impertinence!” I did not catch the name of the genial chap who claimed to be about to start work in his constituency before running for the door, but Irish MEP Kathy Sinnott (of, I am sorry to say, the EU-sceptic Independence and Democracy Group) said she had already been at work for seven hours, and Hiltrud Breyer of the German Green Party really ought to look at people when she talks to them.

We bloggers often criticise the mainstream media but I take my hat off to Thomas Meier, the intrepid journalist here. He represents a tradition of – literally – foot-in-the-door reporting that the “colleagues” would like to put an end to if they could. In this case, as soon as they could, they did. The fun ends with Herr Meier being escorted out by seven heavies.

If EU Referendum’s video is down, this link might work, or search YouTube for “Expense allowance abuses by MEPs”.

An apologist for Mugabe

Danny Finkelstein has noticed something highly dubious about the coverage of the Zimbabwe catastrophe by BBC veteran foreign correspondent, John Simpson.

To put it bluntly, Simpson is an over-rated arse who seems to bend over backwards to present Mugabe’s actions in a favourable, or at least not unfavourable, light. I have found that too much of his coverage, while affecting the “Our brave correspondent in Godforsaken Country etc” often glides over serious problems and issues. He is often wheeled out by the Great and The Good as the example of the impartial British journalist, so much better than all those simplistic Americans with their strange ideas about right and wrong. Sorry, I am not buying it. For sure, unlike some people, I do not regard the BBC’s foreign coverage as an unmitigated evil, but stuff like this does not exactly help.

Thanks for Stephen Pollard for the tip.

I wonder whether they have thought this through

The BBC reports that our mad government is about to attempt to warp time by the application of law:

The government is to bring forward new legislation to outlaw all forms of age discrimination, the BBC has learned. Equalities Minister Harriet Harman is expected to announce the plan on Thursday as part of a package of measures in an Equalities Bill.[…] Travel, health and motor insurance is also expected to be included, where cover is simply withdrawn beyond a certain age or is prohibitively expensive.

How is this going to work with mortgages, and those annuities that HMRC forces people to buy with their pension funds on retirement? Women live longer, so they get less for their money in retirement annuities, which they wouldn’t with another investment.

(Digression: Annuitants also pay more tax than they might from some other forms of investment. This is one explanation for HMRC maintaining insurance companies in this monopoly. That’s slightly more creditable than the one that senior tax officials and treasury ministers are accustomed to give more effort to understanding of the problems of the big financial institutions than those of ordinary pensioners because they have an eye to supplementing their own retirement funds by directorships and consultancies.)

It gets weirder:

Under plans to make workplaces more diverse, Ms Harman wants to allow employers to appoint people specifically because of their race or gender. The proposals would only apply when choosing between candidates equally qualified for the job. But it means, for example, women or people from minorities could be hired ahead of others in order to create a more balanced workforce. Some employers argue they already do this, while others may say these policies will need careful handling to reduce the risk of causing resentment amongst existing staff.

You don’t say. The capacity for bureaucrats lunacy, personal distress, and horrifically abstruse legal dispute where racial and sexual discrimination is both banned and permitted at the same time is going to be vast.

I predict an efflorescence of debates between ‘equalities’ officials in which several contradictory standards are created. (Should recruitment ‘represent’ the locality or the country at large? is its current makeup relevant? Or can you hire an exclusively Kazakh workforce because they are the only Kazakhs in the country?). Ethnic and other demographic categorisation of individuals will be even more ramified. And employers will be under more pressure to collect information about people’s family background and personal habits in order to ensure they are either correctly not discriminating, or discriminating correctly.

The government has faced criticism from some quarters for presiding over a society which has arguably become more unequal.

All animals are unequal, but some animals are more unequal than others. All it requires is an official licence.

Make way for the President!

The day before yesterday, while travelling on the London Underground, I came across an interesting little news item in one of those free newspapers, about how a visit by President Bush to Britain caused disruption at Heathrow a week or two ago. Heathrow being near to Bush’s destination, which was Windsor Castle, he or someone decided that he would arrive there, rather than at a military base. Only last night did I remember to chase it up on the internet. Here is the original version of the story I encountered.

British Airways has criticised Heathrow owner BAA for allowing George Bush to fly into the UK’s biggest airport, forcing the cancellation of at least 69 flights and disrupting the travel plans of 40,000 passengers.

Willie Walsh, BA chief executive, said he was angry that the presidential entourage, which included two Boeing 747 jets and four helicopters, caused chaos 10 days ago as runways were closed and planes grounded. “The decision to allow President Bush and his fleet of aircraft to fly into Heathrow rather than a military base was one all of Heathrow’s users could have done without,” he said. “I am also angry that this was allowed.”

Walsh said the disruption began two days before the president’s visit on June 15 and lasted for the two days that his party stayed in the UK. Heathrow was reduced to one working runway for 30 minutes on June 15 and 16, after its other runway was closed temporarily for the arrival and departure of Air Force One.

I know, I know. If it had been any other President, the Guardian would not have been half so exercised. And had it been President Chavez causing all this fuss, they would have found a way of saying how splendid that was. But this time I happen to agree. Read the rest of the article to learn the full scale of the disruption.

I remember being shocked, in Edinburgh I think it was, when by chance I happened to observe the then Prime Minister John Major being driven past, in the midst of a huge fleet of black cars and police motorbikes. Ordinary motorists were swept from the road to make room for all this shinily mechanised pomposity. It is one thing to object to “statism” in an abstract sort of way, as I had long been doing even then. It’s quite another to observe the actual state in action, in a great flurry of self-importance such as this was. Nothing I was doing was deranged, luckily for me. But I know just how little all these people in their black cars and their blaring motorbikes would have cared if my plans and activities had been thus interrupted. And now these people are crashing through major airports and screwing them around, as if air travel wasn’t chaotic enough already. In the old USSR they used to have dedicated central lanes for the fat cats to be driven along in their convoys of fatcatmobiles. Now the whole world seems to be heading in that direction.

I am not an admirer of British Airways. From what I hear, the habit of BA’s senior management of shouting at anyone who tries to tell them bad news (they call this procedure, bizarrely: “NLP”) was a major cause of the recent Terminal 5 luggage catastrophe. Lots saw this disaster coming. They tried to tell their bosses. Instead of listening and taking the necessary corrective steps, the bosses simply shouted. But I like what BA’s top boss said about this more recent episode very much.

Maybe Mugabe won’t outlast Brown after all

There seems, finally, to be a concerted effort going on to rid Zimbabwe of its appalling President, Robert Mugabe. The disgust felt by the entire civilised world at from the farce of the recent Zimbabwean election, won in the first round by the opposition but now about to be scrubbed out by pure force, was too much even for President Mbeki of South Africa to resist. Today Nelson Mandela made a short speech giving voice, finally, to his disgust at Mugabe’s behaviour. And now that Mandela has spoken, Britain has felt able to chip in by forbidding a Zimbawe cricket visit to Britain next year, and by stripping Mugabe of a knighthood of a particularly grand and vacuous variety that was conferred upon him some years ago. As the Tesco adverts say, every little helps.

But Mugabe will never go merely because of trivial indignities such as those. He has no better nature to be appealed to, no shame. It is being said that if South Africa pulls the plug in some way on the Mugabe regime, that will finish it. I hope that some time during the next few days or weeks, we will all get the chance to see if that’s true. When the lights don’t work inside Mugabe’s palaces, when the electric fences guarding him stop hurting anyone, when his bodyguards don’t know where their next meal is to come from, then that will indeed be the end of him, and this can’t come too soon for the wretched people of the country he has ruined. It’s all very Shakespearian.

I don’t know if Mr Brown will deserve any particular credit for such an outcome, if and when it finally materialises. I recall Mr Brown lining himself up some weeks ago with all this anti-Mugabe activity, speaking out against this grotesque man at the UN or some such place. But I suspect that this was only done then so noisily and so newsworthily because this was about the only uncontroversially respectable policy that Mr Brown still had on his desk at that time, which was, you will recall, a time of impending elections. I remember at around that same time speculating that Mugabe would outlast Brown. I hope that this turns out to be wrong, or, if right, that this is because Mr Brown succumbs to mysterious medical problems brought on by Labour Party fundraising difficulties, some time during the next few days.

Oil profits do not fall like manna from heaven

As the US television journalist John Stossel points out, when politicians start calling for “windfall” taxes on oil or other evil firms for making “obscene” profits (which begs a question of what the right level is), they ignore the fact that such taxes will reduce dividends and shareholder returns, including those of pension funds. And the pension fund members – us ordinary Joes – lose out when politicians decide to come a-lootin’.

Part of the trouble is the vocabulary. “Windfall”, like “windfall apple”, implies that a good – such as a juicy apple – has fallen to earth and the acquirer of said has done nothing to earn it. It is, so the argument goes, just dumb luck that the chap who found the apple did so. And so, to switch to those Big Oil firms, there is no merit in clocking up monster profits when the oil price spikes. But this ignores the fact that oil firms and their investors took a risk in seeking to find, process and sell oil products and those risks could easily have gone wrong. We tend to forget how risky, both physically and economically, investing in oil is. When Brent crude was trading below $10 a barrel in the mid-90s, did those politicians who want to chase a few votes by bashing Big Oil cry any tears for the oil firms that were taking big losses at the time? No, of course they did not. And frankly, given that petrol is so heavily taxed in many major nations today, it is, to put it politely, rank hypocrisy for any politician to strike attitudes on the supposed venality of oil firms at all.

By the way, John Stossel is a marvel. If only we could have a few of him in the British television media.

Samizdata quote of the day

I’m pretty sure that a lot of people’s (by which I mean Government’s) assumptions about a ‘digital divide’ are a myth. I think they have visions of a bunch of poor, obese black kids sitting in a council house eating turkey twizzlers, cleaning their guns, just wishing for the day they could access this internet thing that people are talking about.

– a friend who works in local government in UK, responding to Social networks may subvert ‘digital divide’.

The German sense of humour

I came across this from the online version of the German magazine, Der Spiegel (hat tip, Tim Worstall):

The scoundrels in Brussels have sold the European people a lot of things: a single market, the euro, the lifting of many border controls and, most recently, a binding global climate policy. These have all been good things, and they have helped make Europe an eminently livable continent. Despite the many dull moments and emotions that have been negative at best, the end result has been laudable.

“All good things” – oh really? The euro has not been a great success. Sure, it is a strong currency relative to the dollar at the moment, largely because of the Fed’s policy of printing money like it had forgotten all that sage advice from a certain late Professor M. Friedman, but the one-size-fits-all interest rate of the euro zone has proven a burden on the likes of enfeebled Italy, has boosted the Irish economy to boiling point, and now of course Ireland is in trouble, suffering a sharply contracting property and stock market. I am not sure how that impresses the Spiegel editors. For them, the whole project is going splendidly. As for the “binding” climate policy, I guess it does all rather depend on whether one accepts the thesis that Man-Made global warming is either happening; is happening at the speed some people claim, or justifies imposing heavy costs on industrial nations to correct it in ways that might affect other, more urgent human needs.

But this paragraph is the beaut, the one to savour:

Most of these improvements would have been held up, if not outright prevented, by referendums. Democracy doesn’t mean having unlimited confidence in citizens. Sometimes the big picture is in better hands when politicians are running it, and a big picture takes time.


Japanese murders

What the hell is going on in Japan?

Is it right that….?

Liberty is everywhere evident in licence and injured by licensing.

Another blow to quality of life

The State of Pennsylvania has made a very old CMU Fine Arts Department tradition untenable. The 89 year old quadriennial Beaux Arts Ball is so well known in the arts community that its passing rated a New York Times story. They call it “the original toga party”. That is putting it mildly.

Although the article presents a number of reasons for the passing, the biggest one is Statist intervention. They grey minded, grey suited, grey souled clones killed it:

‘The off-campus establishments have liquor licenses and are prepared to uphold the state’s liquor laws,” the dean said. ”Responsibility for alcohol is the main reason the ball was moved off campus.”

At the 1985 ball, which attracted more than 1,200 people, the building received more than $50,000 in damage. The Student Affairs office reported open drug use and under-age drinking. Since then, Pennsylvania passed a law requiring universities to be responsible for drinking on their campuses.

I might add I was costumed as sort of ‘Retief’ type interstellar adventurer at the 1985 affair, complete with cape, tights, a chestpiece glittering with LED’s and a mean looking laser side arm in my quite real holster.

And yes, it was … quite a party.

Samizdata quote of the day

I’ve spent more than a decade working as a nightclub doorman. I’ve been involved in hundreds of violent incidents, including many away from the club. I can state unequivocally that in situations where some of these punks decide they’re going to pick on myself, or someone with me, with the intention of stealing our property, terrorising us or just for shits and giggles, on the occasions I’ve been armed, the situation has suddenly resolved itself when I produce a weapon.

A doorman, quoted at the blog of Rob Fisher, occasional commenter over these parts.