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]

Images of the brain like you have never seen them before

These pictures are pretty cleverly done. (Via Andy Ross).

Calling Michaels Jennings and O’Leary

During the recent LA/LI Conference, Sean Gabb, half of the two-man team that now runs the Libertarian Alliance (Tim Evans being the other half) sat himself down next to me and asked me to suggest good speakers for next year. My best two suggestions were two Michaels.

Michael Jennings will be well-known to regular readers here as an expert on technological trends and much else besides. He would be exactly the kind of second-tier speaker, and I mean this in no disrespectful way, who maybe isn’t a superstar name who would cause dozens more attendees to sign up in the first place, but who would add greatly to the enjoyment and enlightenment of the event for all who did attend. Technology, I am sure you will agree, can be relied upon to keep on supplying interesting trends for someone like Michael to talk about.

And the other Michael I suggested was Michael O’Leary, the boss of Ryanair. Okay, definitely a first-tier speaker, but equally definitely a long shot. But what’s the worst he can say? No, too busy running Britain’s largest low fares airline, you can afford my air fares but not me but the best of luck anway being what he probably would say, if anything, if asked.

Ryanair press releases are actually fun to read (like some of Sean Gabb’s, come to think of it). Here is a typically populist and opportunistic snippet from the latest one:

Ryanair, Britain’s largest low fares airline, today (31st Oct) offered to rescue Jonathan Ross after he was ‘Sent to Coventry’ by the bigwigs at the BBC. Ryanair will help Ross jet off to much more exotic surrounds as it sent him free tickets to escape the media spotlight and sample how those who don’t earn £18million a year live.

Ryanair, called on the black sheep of the BBC, who will lose £1.5million over the next 12 weeks, to make his money go further by escaping the high cost of living in Mayfair and fly on one of Ryanair’s over 350 UK routes where he can live cheaper, get a tan and gear himself up for his return to the beeb next year.

Does Coventry have an airport, I wonder?

O’Leary’s open contempt for state monopolies of all kinds, but especially in the airline business (on the ground and in the air), is most pleasing. A growing trend in public opinion, especially since this latest wall-of-taxpayer-money bailout of dodgy banks, is the alignment of enthusiasm for free markets with populism, while statist solutions to problems are becoming regarded more and more as elitist manipulations, the rich helping themselves to public money on scale that the poor could never dream of. O’Leary feeds into that current, I think, especially in the way he bangs on about how much more you often have to pay the government, when you fly Ryanair, than you have to pay him.

Michael Jennings, constant globetrotter that he is, could doubtless tell libertarians about the impact of low fare airlines on the world, even if Michael O’Leary is otherwise engaged.

Is England cricket now Stanford’s WAG?

There’s a rather comical culture clash now being played out in the West Indies, between new money and cricket:

Senior ECB officials, who almost bent over backwards to welcome Stanford and his millions at Lord’s last summer, were also under fire with calls for them to stand down after failing to undertake adequate checks on Stanford. Rod Bransgrove, Hampshire’s chairman, told the Daily Telegraph that the position of Giles Clarke, the ECB chairman, was in doubt. “I asked the ECB to do a lot more checking on Stanford and this competition. We made it very clear we that we should not enter into this agreement without proper checks but he [Clarke] had already done the deal. The board should resign collectively”.

The ECB and Stanford agreed on an unprecedented US$100 million deal in the summer, spread over five years, but the inaugural competition this week in Antigua has attracted mounting criticism in England.

The flack really started to fly on Monday when Stanford was pictured with Matt Prior’s wife on his knee and with his arms around two other girlfriends of members of the England team during a match the night before. It provoked a strong reaction from parts of the media, and in addition, one England player reportedly said: “If that was my wife he’d put on his lap I would have wanted to punch him”.

Last night’s planned cocktail party with the teams was cancelled at short notice, with officials rather unconvincingly claiming there were “logistical problems over a venue”. One journalist was unconvinced. “As if Stanford would ever have trouble in securing a venue for anything in Antigua,” he noted. “He owns most of them.”

I recall boasting here a while ago that my grandfather was the captain of his local cricket team by virtue of the fact that he owned the pitch. This was in Dingestow, which is a small village in Monmouthshire. My cousin still lives there, in the biggest house there, which is called Dingestow Court. But that’s old money. Old money pitch owners would make irrational bowling and field placing decisions, but they wouldn’t mess with other cricketer’s wives or ‘girl friends’, i.e. ladies whom other cricketers were courting.

All of this trouble in the West Indies now has arisen because of the rather sudden eruption of Twenty20 cricket. It turns out that, unlike so much of old school test cricket, people will pay large amounts of money to go and watch Twenty20, even between relatively moderate players. Suddenly cricket has become a very, very big, very twenty-first century business. And the cricket world is finding it tricky to adjust. It hit me the other day what a huge impact Twenty20 cricket is having when I half noticed (as you do when watching the telly) a TV advert for some kind of computerised or perhaps gambling-related version of soccer, which they were also calling “Twenty20”. Cricket is now featured in the sports pages of the popular press in Britain in a way that it hasn’t been for years, except during an Ashes series.

Here is some more Stanford grumbling. English cricket, says former England captain Mike Atherton, has become Stanford’s WAG.

Dizzy says Barack Obama will become an equal hate figure but I say not

Dizzy, of Dizzy Thinks fame, recently made an interesting prediction, concerning the attitude of Brits towards the USA:

If Barack Obama becomes President-Elect next week, don’t expect any of the snide anti-american Brits, Aussie and others to change their tune. They’ve had a hate figure in Bush for the past eight years, and I don’t doubt that Barack Obama will become an equal hate figure within a short amount time.

I do doubt this. I think that much anti-Americanism is really anti- a particular part of America, and this hatred is felt with equal strength by other parts of America. President Bush, after all, is not only hated in Britain. Many Americans hate him too. And Obama is from a very different part of America to the part that gave us President Bush. Obama is from one of the parts that hates President Bush.

I recall the Clinton years. Had the (very large) part of Britain that now hates Bush wanted to hate Clinton, it would have had at least as much to work with as it has had with Bush. But it didn’t want to hate Clinton, and it didn’t. Likewise, it won’t want to hate Obama, and it won’t.

Well, we shall probably soon see.

So what are you going to do on November 4th?

Someone asked me what I was going to be doing on November 4th. I said I will most likely watch television, probably Battlestar Galactica or a re-run of Firefly. I may well go to dinner with my inamorata at some point and after that I may indulge my intermittent MMO habit and get a fix of virtual violence.

Gawd knows there is nothing else that I give a damn about happening on that day.

Thoughts on Ayn Rand’s continuing influence

Like a critical, if at times exasperated admirer of the novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand, I am interested to read books by people who are sharply critical of her work because it is a sign, as far as I can see, that she is starting to attract proper, scholarly attention. That is surely better than blind hatred or for that matter, Randroid hero-worship.

Hence I was quite intrigued when I came across the book, entitled “Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature.” Unfortunately, as this review of it at Amazon demonstrates, the author of the book mirrors a trait of the woman he criticises in one key respect: he writes in a state of furious anger and sarcasm, whiich rather undermines his own effort to take her arguments apart. Rand, for sure, was an angry writer – she had a lot to be angry about – but she was often guilty of abrupt dismissals of philosophers one might regard as giants or at least want to consider more gently: David Hume, for instance. And some of her judgements on aesthetic matters make me rub my eyes in amazement. For example, she regarded Beethoven as “malevolent”, which is a pretty bizarre comment on the creator of “Ode To Joy”, about as unmalevolent bit of music you can ever hear.

But the fact is that in my mind, much of what she stood for and argued about is as relevant and useful now as it was half a century ago. Her impact on driving a libertarian movement, even if she spurned the term, cannot be denied. On art, for example, I find a lot of her ideas very fruitful in explaining why I respond to some works of art and cannot abide some others. I like the way that she understood, for example, the appeal of so-called “bootleg romantic” culture such as pulp thrillers and popular action film heroes and heroines. I think she played an important role in invigorating the Aristotelian tradition in philosophy and has encouraged me to follow this up by reading writers such as Henry Veatch and these fellows. Meanwhile, I keep coming across references from people saying that the present credit crisis and the governments’ response to it is something out of Atlas Shrugged. So it clearly annoys leftists that she is still cited in this fashion. The fact that Rand is part of the current intellectual conversation is one reason why I am not quite as gloomy about the state of affairs in this world than I might otherwise have been. Let’s face it, had one of her former acolytes, Alan Greenspan, stuck to his early disdain for central banking before he became part of the system, we might not be in this mess today.

This blog looks pretty interesting for critical fans of Rand.

October snowfall in London

Snow in London last night. The BBC news report I just watched (having come home past the BBC’s television studios which were covered in the white stuff) mentioned it on the East coast of England, but no mention of it in London.

For those not familiar with London weather, the last time I can find when snow was even claimed here this early in the autumn was 1974. One eyewitness suggested it was really hailstones. I don’t remember. All I know is that today, October 28 2008 is the earliest proper winter that I can record.

Now here’s where it gets interesting. Only a few weeks ago, we were hearing that South Africa had snow, and not just that, but of the very late variety (South of the Equator, this time of year should be warming). But don’t worry, we must have a flexible view of reality: when it gets hot, it’s warming; when it gets cold, it’s warming; and when it seems to stay the same, it’s warming twice as fast.

Does global warming predict the weather right now? Only in the sense that Nostradamus predicted the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in the 1985 edition, and the fall of the Shah of Iran in the 1980 edition.

What does predict the weather we’re having is the sunspot cycle and we can now add some idea of what reduced solar wind does. [Hat tip, Instapundit]

Here’s a somewhat better forecast of the end of 2008’s weather than anything cooked up by the “capitalism causes tsunamis” crowd. Farmer’s Almanac? Maybe astrology is more scientific than the ecofascists.

Ross rebranded via satanic slut

Jonathan Ross has not followed his own advice. His new book is entitled “Why do I say these things”. How apt!

Perhaps he should employ a chimpanzee as a personal censor. Especially when his foolishness focused upon a member of the satanic sluts. I would not dare to cross them.

Paul Marks was dead right – Obama is a Marxist

It is becoming increasing difficult for me not to concur with Paul Marks’s ahead-of-the-curve branding of MARXIST upon the much kissed behind of Barack Obama. At the very least, his political compass swings disturbingly left on economic issues – to a degree I was not aware of. Previously, I could dismiss his “spread the wealth around” comment that arose from the infamous encounter with “Joe the Plumber” as a spot of ill-chosen populist rhetoric in a campaign unusually heavy on populist rhetoric – which, by the standards of US Presidential elections, is saying something. However, the rediscovered 2001 radio interview in which Obama explicitly advocated redistribution of wealth suggests to me that Americans ought to take him at his word when he talked of spreading the wealth around in that Ohio driveway.

Of course, this is electoral kryptonite in the USA, and the Obama campaign’s denials came hard and fast. Quoting from a CBS News article:

“This is a fake news controversy drummed up by the all too common alliance of Fox News, the Drudge Report and John McCain,” said Obama spokesman Bill Burton.

“In this seven year old interview, Senator Obama did not say that the courts should get into the business of redistributing wealth at all.”

That is technically correct, but Burton is lying by omission. It is indeed true that Obama did not say in the interview that the courts should get into the business of redistributing wealth. However, what Burton neglects to mention is that he said they should not because they wouldn’t be any good at it and that going through the legislature would be much more effective. He also went on to say that the civil rights movement’s greatest tragedy was that it failed to massively redistribute wealth to the victims of racial discrimination in the USA. This 2001 recording of Obama advocating a redistributionist policy has convinced me that Obama’s “spread the wealth around” remark to Joe the Plumber was a genuine insight into his inner beliefs – beliefs that he would not dare expose to the American public who, by and large, fundamentally oppose them. In 2001, Obama stated that the legislature would be a better tool for redistributing the wealth of others to black people. Then, he was in his mid to late 30s, an age when most people’s political views have solidified. In 2008, one wonders if he now believes the executive would be even more efficacious? It is not such a stretch.

As for the Obama camp’s deeply duplicitous claim that the 2001 interview was deliberately misinterpreted by the Right, well, why break the habit of a campaign and start being honest? I am not denying that the McCain campaign has, on several occasions, twisted the truth out of all recognition over a number of issues. But at least they don’t cloak themselves in self-righteous, holier-than-thou fervour while doing so. If I had a vote in this election, the constant and largely unchallenged spectacle of Obama and his camp trumpeting their integrity – whilst they dissemble and weasel their way to November 4th – would be as good as any motivation for me to pull the lever for McCain.

(2001 Obama interview and CBS article both sourced from Drudge)

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…..

I must say I find all this global warming business to be jolly exciting.

Banks and limited liability

William Rees-Mogg has a nice, rather wistful account of the days of when bank managers actually knew their clients, knew their economic circumstances and were not in the business of lending money to folk with little or no credit history. Mr Rees-Mogg is a devotee of the gold standard. However, in talking about the changing nature of banks and the quality of their staff, he does not touch on an issue which struck me the other day: limited liability.

Under limited liability laws and with central bankers acting as lenders of last resort, there is an element of moral hazard. Some free marketeers like Sean Gabb – whom I mention below – think limited liability laws are a statist curse on the capitalist system, since they would not arise without active state adjustments of corporate law. I am not sure about whether limited liability would exist in a world of pure laissez faire. It might, I guess. Also, not everyone buys the idea that LL is a distortion of the market or would not exist without state action.

However, there are still some nooks and crannies of the banking world where unlimited liability still exists and works successfully. The Swiss private bank Pictet, founded in 1805 in that memorable Napoleonic battle year of Austerlitz and Trafalgar, operates a partnership system where the bank partners face unlimited liability. As a result, Pictet operates a very conservative lending and investment policy. During the fat years of the ‘Noughties, Pictet may have seen some of its more aggressive competitors steal a march, but now the bank is attracting inflows from investors who appreciate the structure of the firm. At a time when Swiss banks have sometimes attracted bad headlines due to massive losses undertaken by over-confident people, the example of Pictet is an interesting contrast.

The LA/LI Conference – good work and good luck

I too was at the LA/LI Conference held at the National Liberal Club over this weekend, which was excellent, as Johnathan has just said. The organisation of this now solidly annual event was indeed the best yet.

Not everybody likes the star system, but reality does not care what you think of it. The dumb fact is that certain people, in the libertarian world as in all other human milieus, put bums on seats. Other performers, however excellent, can contribute mightily to the success of an event like this – our own Guy Herbert, who spoke most eloquently on the Sunday afternoon about the Database State, springs to mind – but such lesser luminaries do not each cause another three dozen people to show up in the first place, having booked encouragingly early.

The arrival in our midst of David Friedman (talking about this) was nevertheless a stroke of luck, conferred by Friedman himself, next to whom I sat at the Saturday dinner. I’m afraid he was too tired from travelling and speaking at other events, and I too star-struck, for our conversation to amount to much, but he did tell me that he was at the conference because he had already semi-booked to do another talk nearby, in Germany or some such place, and he would only agree to do that if he could achieve economies of scale by giving a handful of other talks on the same trip. So, he contacted the Libertarian Alliance and asked if they’d like him to speak at this conference. Oh, I imagine we could just about squeeze you in, they replied. All of which reminds me of that remark by the golfer Gary Player, to the effect that the more work he did, the more luck he had.

I hope I will have more to say here about what was actually said at this gathering, but in the meantime, first impressions first: like JP said, it was a good show.