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 book worth re-reading

This week end I got caught up in re-reading a book which I come back to at intervals: L. Neil Smith’s, ‘The Probability Broach’. Even if you have read the full novel and the numerous sequels about that parallel universe where there is real freedom, I strongly recommend you try the graphic novel treatment by Scott Bieser. It is great fun and a pleasant read and re-read and re-re-read.

Smith explains libertarianism by showing you what sort of world it would be if America had truly gone down the path of liberty instead of bureaucratic state control. His alternate universe is an educational one… and enticing. Bieser’s rendering of it in classic comic book format draws you in and injects our memes directly into your lower brain stem. Read this book and all your bases are belong to LP!

I always have it sitting in view, ready for me to thumb through at the odd moment.

On parents, religion, and children

My comment the other day about a rather imperfect – if interesting – article about the late F.A. Hayek suddenly turned into a comment thread argument about whether religious parents have the right to have the genitalia of their children adjusted (as in the Jewish, Muslim, Christian, etc cultures). Now, I am not all that interested in the specific health or medical arguments here, although I would be interested if those with actual medical knowledge could give some ideas on the value or otherwise of said. What interests me, as a defender of liberty, is what should be the boundaries on what parents should observe when it comes to raising their children when it comes to actions that actually affect the bodies of their kids. For example, suppose a parent of religion/ideology X decided that he or she really wanted to put a small tattoo on the forehead of their son with the symbol of their family faith? Suppose the operation to do this was painless. Would it be justified? (In my view, no).

I put this point because in the comment thread attached to my post about Hayek, one commenter called Gabriel argues that banning such operations on children done for religious reasons constitutes discrimination against his faith. Such an argument is, I think, an example of multiculturalism gone mad.

On a related theme of protecting kids, David Friedman – son of the great Milton Friedman – has thoughts.

More action from the Home Office

When I made my last post about the small piece of incompetence I had encountered from the Home Office upon attempting to apply for a passport immediately upon becoming a naturalised British citizen, I wrote the sentence

Theoretically, when I became a citizen, one thing I gained was the right not to suffer the petty humiliations and bureaucratic hassles and incompetence from the Home Office that a non-citizen goes through just to live here.

One commenter left a response that more or less translated as “You poor deluded fool”. I concluded the post on a surprisingly upbeat note, however

My passport will hopefully still come in a couple of weeks…

It is now two and a half weeks later, and all I can conclude is that yes, I was a poor deluded fool. However, the situation is somewhat more sinister than this.

The general layout of passport application forms has not changed particularly since the Home Office started setting up its apparatus for ID cards and databases. Essentially you are asked to prove that you are a British citizen and also prove your identity. If your claim to citizenship is based upon being born to parents of particular nationality and/or in particular places at particular times, the combination of supporting documents required can be very complex, as the unravelling of the British Empire and the creation of many different kinds of citizenship in the former empire when there used to be only one has led to British nationality law being extremely complex. However, if your claim to citizenship is a simple one, the supporting documents requested are quite simple. There are (at least so I thought) fewer simpler and less controversial proofs of citizenship than an obviously genuine naturalisation certificate dated the previous Wednesday. In addition to this, I was also requested to send my Australian passport as proof of identity. The Home Office probably at least partly wants this to record its details and index them with my British passport in its database so that my movements and actions become clearer to then, but this is a reasonable thing to ask for. Checking that my place of birth and date of birth on my Australian passport are the same as those on my naturalisation certificate, and that the photograph and signature in my Australian passport and the new British one are obviously of the same person.

In any event, these documents were all that the form and its supporting notes asked me to send. They proved pretty unambiguously that I was a British citizen and that the new passport was being issued to the same person who had been naturalised. I was not expecting any problems. The form had sated that people applying for their first British passport might be required to attend an interview, so I thought this was a possibility. Although the Home Office have set up “passport interview offices” as part of the infrastructure for issuing ID cards in the future, this is again something I don’t find inherently wrong. Asking the person who is applying for a passport to appear in person to confirm that he is indeed the person in the photograph doesn’t strike me as particularly unreasonable, and when I had to replace a stolen Australian passport the Australian officials did precisely this.

However this is not what happened. Instead, a few days after I had sorted out the payment issue (and after I had passed that “Your application cannot be processed further until….” roadblock, I received another letter. This one rather sadly needs fisking.
→ Continue reading: More action from the Home Office

D H Lawrence and England

Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and D. H. Lawrence’s own explanation, the “Propos”, do reveal how the consumptive both embraced and escaped his country. Lawrence encapsulated a rootless contempt for his background and his people, the coalmining communities of the midlands. His last novel, rewritten three times, rails against the perceived deadened inauthenticity of English life; the mannered abstraction of a scientific worldview denying the consummate union of man and wife in a real marriage. Thus, science, technology, capitalism and money are unified into a system that saps and destroys what it means to be human.

This is not a particularly old or unusual message. Nevertheless, Lawrence weaves and reinterprets conservative themes in modernist frames. Authenticity will invigorate marriage and the nation of England. To view this focus as a conservative strand within Lawrence’s writing is to surrender to political constraints, when the author restructured his sense of alienation against his country. The consumptive’s exile pours out through the novel, as he tries to explain why using obscenities as norms becomes a marker for an honest world of sexual union, recreating an England worth living in for the author (though it does lend the novel an air of pomposity and ambitious challenges for bad sex writers to the present day).

How sad that exile and censorship obliterated our understanding of a state of the nation novel that set out an ideal of England, standing foursquare in a wider artistic tradition that speaks with more urgency today.

What’s next*?

Following Brian’s lead, I predict a legislative scorched earth as well as a financial one, when the UK parliament returns. It is not just that the present administration realises its days are numbered and will try to get more of The Project through, and to construct extra-parliamentary power structures as bunkers to occupy in opposition. All over Whitehall, departmental pet projects will be being dusted-off (e.g) and presented to weak ministers, the hope being to get them through before a new, critically-minded, Government takes office and crowds them out with plans of its own.

The question I have for Samizdata readers is this: what will the neo-puritans set out to regulate… suppress… ban next? Smoking is nearly fully suppressed. The work on alcohol has truly begun. Government intervention into our personal lives: what’s next?

* [This is an allusion, so I pray our editorial pantheon will let the contraction stand. I’m I am not about to write anyone an email like this one, however funny it might be. And I suspect they’d they would take my login away if I did]

The new Batman film

I definitely want to see the new Batman film (it pays to book well in advance, Ed). Here is an interesting take on some of the politics of the film. Another useful review – without spoilers – is over at Bob Bidinotto’s blog. In a nutshell, he says he liked the film a great deal but felt the film tried to cram too many themes and plotlines into it.

Mind you, I am looking forward even more to the film based on the Watchmen story series. Bring it on!

Samizdata quote of the day

“Weren’t the eighties grand? Cash grew on trees or, anyway, coca bushes. The rich roamed the land in vast herds hunted by proud, free tribes of investment brokers who lived a simple life in tune with money. Every wristwatch was a Rolex. Every car was a Mercedes-Benz. A fellow could romance a gal without shrink-wrapping his privates and negotiating the Treaty of Ghent. Communist dictators were losing their jobs, not presidents of America and General Motors. Women wore Adolfo gowns instead of dumpy federal circuit court judge robes. The Malcolm who mattered was Forbes. Bill Clinton was only a microscopic polyp in the colon of national politics, and Hillary was still in flight school, hadn’t even soloed on her broom. What a blast we were having. The suburbs had just discovered Martha Stewart, the cities had just discovered crack. So many parties and none of them Democratic…Back then health care was a tummy tuck, not an inalienable right. If you wanted a better environment, you went to Laura Ashley.”

PJ O’Rourke

Samizdata quote of the day

I often wonder how different individual lives in Britain would be if alcohol had never been invented. Just imagine all the couples who would never have got together without a little encouragement. All those unsent text messages and undeclared intentions. Can you imagine dancing, let alone pulling, in a sober club?

Iain Hollingshead, Twenty Something: the quarter-life crisis of Jack Lancaster

Now for the Labour implosion

For the leader of the Labour Party and our Prime Minister things are terminally frightful, but they are now looking just as bad for the Labour Party as a whole. I have been pondering the consequences of the latest Labour electoral reverse by reading the Coffee House blog, which is now my favourite political (as in who’s-in-who’s-out) blog, as opposed to the metacontext stuff that we do here. Several points stand out:

For the benefit of those who have not been following this, Labour have just lost their twenty fifth safest seat in a by-election, to the Scottish Nationalists this time. If they can’t hold seats like this, what can they hold? Gordon Brown is clearly electoral death, even in Scotland, maybe particularly in Scotland. For as long as this appalling man leads their party, no Labour MP can feel safe. So, you would think, all they need to do now is get on the phone to each other and decide on an alternative.

But, the trouble is that, closely related to the above, the semi-plausible Labour Party leader, among the half-dozen or so semi-plausible choices, with a majority that is most likely to survive the next general election is … Gordon Brown! Pick any of the others, and what remains of Labour could go into the next Parliament with a leader who has just lost his seat.

Even if they do pick another Prime Minister, he or she will be a new Prime Minister. This is not like the chaotic Conservatives of the nineties and noughts picking yet another new Opposition Leader. This will be a rabble of discredited politicians choosing another national political leader, having just themselves picked the previous dud. That uncontested succession is looking like more and more of a blunder, and what is more a blunder by the Labour Party as a whole, not by the mere Prime Minister. And as the travails of the present incumbent incompetent illustrate so well, you never really know how well or how badly some new guy will do. Even cabinet ministers don’t get anything like the kind of sustained media glare shone on them that Prime Ministers do. A new guy will be a leap into the unknown. If he’s no better than Gordon Brown …

The governing parliamentary party is now a complete shambles, and worse, a complete shambles which seems to have no obvious way of rescuing itself, which is what the word complete always means in such circumstances. David Cameron is now saying: let’s have an election now. The country can’t wait until 2010. I think Cameron’s timing is spot on. Earlier I here speculated about the already then widely touted idea of scorched earth, between now and the next election, the scorchers being Gordon Brown and his Labour Party, and Britain being the scorchee. Now it looks like the Labour Party is about to get a terminal roasting right now. Maybe others can see some kind of way out for these people now, but I can’t. → Continue reading: Now for the Labour implosion

Russia forces BP top executive to flee

One reason I fervently hope that the oil price eventually crashes if new energy sources are developed, is so it will pull a rug under thuggish regimes in places such as Venezuela and Russia:

The future of BP’s investment in Russia hung in the balance last night after Robert Dudley, the chief executive of TNK-BP, decided to leave the country.

In a humiliating defeat for Britain’s largest company, BP’s chief executive, Tony Hayward, said that Mr Dudley had left Russia temporarily, after an intense campaign of harassment by TNK-BP’s Russian co-owners, Alfa, Access and Renova (AAR), that had been “deeply unpleasant” for Mr Dudley and left him unable to carry out his job. Mr Dudley’s departure from Moscow was not disclosed until he was in the air en route to an undisclosed location.

I would like to think that if the BP executive were physically threatened or harmed in any way, that the full fury of the UK state would descend upon that gangster regime, but of course that is most unlikely and probably unwise anyway, so it is a folorn hope. As long as oil is so strong and countries in Europe are such heavy importers of Russia’s natural gas, this sort of bullying will continue. But it surely is also a reminder that investment in that country is fraught with danger. The hedge fund manager, Bill Browder, was kicked out of the country a few years ago for his role as the asker of awkward questions when it came to investing in Russian firms. If ever Russia hits economic difficulties in future, as happened in the debt crisis of 1998, I hope that when Russia goes asking for aid, that other nations have the good sense to tell that country to perform sexual acts on itself, so to speak.

Stories such as this make me convinced that among the “Brics”, Russia is not a good long-term bet, at least not until the political complexion of that vast nation changes for the better. That is going to be a long wait.

Aviation in free world

At the beginning of the week I reported that in the EU you can no longer purchase a ticket to fly in a DC-3. However, if the need for the classic warbird experience strikes you, there are some truly amazing opportunities available in the US.

I was just perusing my August issue of The Aeroplane and found a special offer in it. With the reader code from that issue you can fly in not one, but two incredible aircraft, a B-17 and a B-25, for about four hundred quid. Check out the Yankee Air Museum if you want to see these gorgeous babes in flight.

They are scheduling flights from several locations in the US over the next several months so if you are traveling in the US, see if you can align your stars for an experience that I would just about die for.

The lucrative world of teaching Chinese

If you can speak and write mandarin Chinese to the extent that you can also teach it, then chances are that this is going to be one hell of a lucrative career right now, according to this report.

I fear that this is a trend I am going to miss out on. Even if I had a flair for languages – and I speak French and German a bit – Chinese is a whole different ball game. And at my age – 42 – it would be probably far too late to start anyway. Mind you, an old colleague of mine who is in his 40s had been learning for several years and is how working in China, in the media business. So it is possible if one is determined enough, I guess.