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]

Samizdata quote of the day

Doubtless politics has always had its dark side. But the depths to which it has sunk over the last 12 years under New Labour has been unprecedented in this country. Of all the legacies left by this Government the poisoning of political discourse is surely the worst. Gordon Brown, foul-tempered and intolerant, has been at the very centre of this mess.

Gordon Brown never was fit for Number 10 and, given the wreckage of the economy, the public finances and the financial regulatory system, was never fit for Number 11 either.

Ruth Lea adds to the admosphere now being created by the WAGS. Have those Blair Babes finally justified their existence?

Not what I would call an inspired appointment

I guess it is a sign of the times that when the UK ruling Labour Party is in such a mess, the appointment of a character such as Sir Alan Sugar, the businessman and brash TV show main man, gets a collective raspberry, rather than the coos of applause and “well dones” that would have been the case say, five years ago. It is a largely pointless appointment.

Sir Alan, who is also the front-man for the BBC TV talent show, The Apprentice – modelled on the US one fronted by Donald Trump, is a Labour supporter, believing that there is a large, possibly even larger, role for the state in business. For all his image of the self-made man, he is in many ways quite a corporatist in this sense. And in his demeanor, he represents what a lot of leftists think business is: cut-throat and aggressive. Socialists often buy the idea that commerce is not a positive-sum game, so when they go into business, they behave like the worst caricature of the cliched 19th Century mill-owner. The whole vibe of “The Apprentice” is dog-eat-dog, pandering to the worst impressions that many people have about business.

And make no mistake, Sir Alan, even if he is a nice guy in his private life, comes across as a bully. And this is not a snobbish point, by the way, about his London accent or razor-dodging demeanor. I watched a BBC TV programme the other day when he was asked about his trip to see Gordon Brown, and the media outlets were rife with speculation on what he was doing. Sir Alan could hardly be surprised to be asked about it. Instead, he brushed aside this situation by almost telling the news presenter to shut up. “I’m not gonna talk abaaat it.” For one minute I thought the BBC was going to cut the interview short. It should have done so.

In the fag-end of Labour’s days in power, the elevation of this man to the peerage and a pointless job in “enterprise” will be seen as a rather bizarre footnote.

So why is this not front-page news?

To quote David Davis MP, three months ago, “How will we know we are living in a police state?”

Is it when the police conduct a systematic campaign of false arrests in order to gather information on people who might commit a crime? Is it when they do that, and public reaction is no more than a shrug? A couple of days ago, The Daily Telegraph reported discoveries made by my local Liberal Democrat PPC, excellently living up to the first bit of her party’s vaguely oxymoronic name:

Officers are targeting children as young as 10 with the aim of placing their DNA profiles on the national database to improve their chances of solving crimes, it is claimed.

The alleged practice is also described as part of a “long-term crime prevention strategy” to dissuade youths from committing offences in the future. […]

A Metropolitan Police officer made the claims after figures were released showing that 386 under-18s had their DNA taken and stored by police last year in Camden, north London.

The officer said: “Have we got targets for young people who have not been arrested yet? The answer is yes. But we are not just waiting outside schools to pick them up, we are acting on intelligence.*

“It is part of a long-term crime prevention strategy. If you know you have had your DNA taken and it is on a database then you will think twice about committing burglary for a living.

“We are often told that we have just one chance to get that DNA sample and if we miss it then that might mean a rape or a murder goes unsolved in the future.”

Acting “on intelligence”, that is, hearsay, unsubstantiated allegations, and prejudice, when they know they have no evidence let alone reasonable suspicion of any actual crime — for intelligence is not evidence, it is a substitute for evidence in its absence — the Metropolitan Police are making unlawful arrests, in order to take samples (fingerprints and DNA), that it is deemed by the human rights court to be improper for them to hold in any case. And that fact has not caused public outrage. It has yet to reach any broadcast news service, as far as I am aware.

A quiescent, compliant public and a quiescent, compliant media, are the handmaidens of a police state.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Food, we are told, is the new sex. It is certainly true that food has taken over from sex as the principal concern of what I call the “interfering classes” – the nannyish, middle-class busybodies who have appointed themselves guardians of the nation’s culinary morals, and who are currently obsessed with making the working class eat up its vegetables. We no longer have the prudish Mary Whitehouse complaining about sex and “bad language” on television; instead, we have armies of middle class amateur nutrionists and dieticians complaining about all the seductive advertisements for junk food, which are supposedly corrupting the nation’s youth. By which they mean working-class youth; everyone knows that it’s the Kevins and Traceys who are stuffing their faces with fatty and sugary snack foods, not the Jamies and Saskias.”

Watching the English, pages 306-307, by Kate Fox. A sharp passage from a perceptive book on the inhabitants of this odd, damp island in north-east Europe.

Rats in a sack, ctd

The meltdown of Gordon Brown’s Labour government continues. I was struck by this passage of resigning Cabinet minister James Purnell’s letter to the Prime Minister. It is very revealing in what it says not about the differences between these men, but their similarities:

“We both love the Labour Party. Party. I have worked for it for 20 years and you for far longer. ‘‘We know we owe it everything and it owes us nothing. I owe it to our party to say what I believe no matter how hard that may be. I now believe your continued leadership makes a Conservative victory more not less likely.

That would be disastrous for our country. This moment calls for stronger regulation, an active state, better public services, an open democracy. It calls for a Government that measures itself by how it treats the poorest in society.

Quite how one can “love” a party responsible for so much mayhem is an interesting question. There is something distinctly creepy about a man who says that he owes “everything” to a political party founded upon socialist principles. Everything? Does this man have no conception of a life beyond party politics? Does he not understand the concept of civil society, of a world outside government?

And although one can possibly agree on the need for better public services and open democracy, there is something revealing in his call for “stronger regulation” and an “active state”. We have, as this blog likes to point out with reference to the financial crisis, for example, had a bucket-load of regulation and state activism, and these have arguably helped create many of our problems, not solved them. I am also not aware that Mr Purnell, or his peers, would be any better than Brown in their stance on issues such as civil liberties and the database state, for instance. They might simply try to make it a bit more palatable.

So although one might be glad that this man has helped plunge a dagger into Mr Brown, it is not entirely clear to me that this fellow would represent a significant improvement. He wants the NuLab regulatory, interfering state to continue. I see no awareness of the disaster caused by runaway public spending. In other words, he’s not much of an improvement. A spell in the private sector, away from the party machine he claims to “love”, would be the best thing that could happen to Mr Purnell, if he wants to develop a wiser worldview.

Meanwhile, the BBC is asking the question about Gordon Brown: “Why has the man once regarded as one of Britain’s finest Chancellors [finance minister] in such trouble?”

Hilarious. This is a man who, as Chancellor, took hold of a relatively strong set of public finances, and over a course of 10 years, ran the UK into the red even before the credit crunch hit. Far from having been a “brilliant” finance minister, he has – apart from his keeping Britain out of the euro, arguably – been a disaster.

Update: the political situation in the UK is now having direct effects on financial markets.

Update: more resignations. It could all be over for Brown by the end of the weekend. Goodness knows what other countries must make of this.

The Historian-President

President Obama must have heard of my disappointment. He heard how my slothful and procrastinating ways lost me the opportunity to essay a therapeutic fisking, and considerately stepped in to give me another chance. I refer, of course, to this gushy article in the Times by Ben Macintyre. I meant to comment when it appeared on May 28 but I was busy and the moment passed.

I will get to Obama, but Macintyre first. After some mostly unexceptionable stuff about the importance of history in schools, Macintyre wrote:

History follows politics, and the Bush-Blair years were Dark Ages for the subject.

O frail flickering light of knowledge, only kept aflame by the devoted labours of Channel 4 documentary producers! I would say that we were a teensy weeny bit lacking of a sense of proportion here, except that all the history nobs these days say the Dark Ages weren’t. Plagues, Normans etc. can happen to anyone after all.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan showed scant understanding of the history of those regions.

Mr Macintyre wrote a well-received book on the American adventurer who was the inspiration for Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King. So I suppose he cannot really be promoting the currently popular racial theory that Iraqis or Afghans are essentially “unconquerable” or “untameable”. But let us put it this way, he is content to leave most of his readers with that impression. Personally it seemed to me that Afghan women were pretty much conquered and enslaved by the Taliban but I have high hopes that their untameable Afghan nature will be proved by their never again returning to that state.

Both Bush and Blair were technocratic leaders, more concerned with the mechanisms of power than the human context in which it was wielded. Neither possessed a historical hinterland.

Hinterland is one of those irritating words that dates the person writing it, usually to a wet Monday. Actually Bush read so much history that a professor of history at Yale had trouble keeping up with him. Blair, I suspect, is a man more fond of thinking about History than history, but all the same, I expect he reads enough to power his reveries.

Today history is suddenly central to politics again. Gordon Brown repeatedly invokes Adam Smith, an earlier son of Kirkcaldy, in his defence. David Cameron refers to the essential importance of “a shared history” in building a coherent society.

“Central to politics again” my hinterland. More like two routine examples of politicians ticking the boxes marked “famous person with connection to self” and “buzz word.”

And Barack Obama is the historians’ president, the apostle for a distinct view of the world seen though the prism of the past. His election campaign was firmly based on his own history.

A little too much so, some might say. His life prior to the presidency seemed to consist mostly of writing autobiographies.

His historical allusions are occasionally inaccurate,


but his references to Abraham Lincoln’s “Team of Rivals”, to the horrors of Auschwitz, to Churchill, to the Crash of 1929, are not merely political positioning (although they achieve that too), but a subtle recasting of politics that invokes a shared historical memory.

Anyone know what this means? When trying to work out what something means it usually helps to ask “as opposed to what?” but that gives no answer here. How does the new, recast politics invoke a shared historical memory in a way that the old politics did not? And does he mean any historical memory in particular?

Next week Mr Obama comes to Europe to mark the 65th anniversary of the Normandy landings, and to Ohrdruf, a satellite of the Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald that his Uncle Charlie helped to liberate at the end of the war.

The visit is a clever melding of personal and general history, evoking shared aims, spectacular heroism and the defeat of evil.

When Bush came to Europe for the 60th anniversary five years ago, was that a clever melding too?

But more than that, the historian-President will be enlisting the past to a cause, at a time when the power of history to shape our lives has never been greater, or more necessary.

Despite evoking so much gush that you would think Mr Macintyre had struck oil, the historian-President sometimes comes out with rather odd views. It might be more accurate to say that he does not notice when his speechwriters come out with some rather odd views. One example came up in the (generally pretty good) speech he just gave to the Muslim world. He said, “Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition.”

Hmmm. I do not claim to know much about Spanish history but I do know that the Reconquista was practically over – and was certainly long over in Cordoba (by more than two centuries, I see from Wikipedia) – by the time the Inquisition came along. To my chagrin, David T of Harry’s Place spotted the same gaffe while I was writing this post, and he seems to know a good deal. There are at least four comments before anyone makes a Monty Python reference.

Will the wristwatch ever die out?

In a break from the usual hurlyburly of current affairs and to protect my sanity and sense of humour, I like to scoot around to blogs such as the Deep Glamour site set up by Virginia Postrel, for example. There is a great entry by one of the contributors there on the subject of wristwatches. I have a few, mostly cheap, plus a nice, limited edition Breitling that is probably the most expensive thing I own and that I bought from a dealer for what I reckon was a bargain (no, not a guy with a briefcase in Hong Kong!).

Will these things ever die out? I don’t think so. Yes, you can tell the time by looking at your mobile phone – I know a few people who do this – but I find it such a convenient, reflexive action to look down at your wrist and see the time. And yes, there remains a fashion appeal, which applies as much to we chaps as it does to the ladies. Watches can convey a macho, outdoors “I am an astronaut/pilot/yachtsman in my spare time” appeal or a sophisticated look that goes well with a suit. And as long as people enjoy adornment, then the wristwatch, I think, will remain.

Which given the state of its banking sector right now, is good news for the Swiss.

Different standards?

Timothy Sandefur writes about the very different treatment in the media, as he sees it, of the case of the guy who shot an abortion clinic doctor and an Islamist who killed an armed forces recruiter in the US. I must admit that until I read Mr Sandefur’s piece, I had not even come across the story of the army recruiter. I am amazed not more of a fuss is being made about this.

A distant relative of mine used to be a US Air Force recruiter up in the Buffalo area. Recruiters are, and have been, targeted for attacks before. I hope this is an issue that is getting plenty of attention.

Working from rome

I am quite tempted to vote for Robespierre in the European elections, masquerading as Jean-Louis Pascual, a bus-driver who has lived in Reading for many years. Will he be asking, in monster mode, for cheese and wine orgies. Alas, no! His goals are more mundane: he wishes to become President of France. From 2006, since this competitor to Sarkozy has been around for a while:

The “Roman Party” is listed in the Evening Post as:

‘Jean-Louis Pascual, a bus driver who was born in France but has lived in this counrty for 11 years, explained the Roman Party referred to the phrase “When in Rome do as the Romans do”.

He said: “This is all about people coming to this country and becoming part of the community.

“There are some people who come here and stay separate, living in groups and keeping to their own culture.

“It is fine to keep in your own culture in your home, but outside it you should not be separate.”

Mr Pascual, 36, of Watlington Street, is standing for Reading Borough Council because he wants to be a “minister or president” in his own country.

He told the Evening Post: “I believe that if I get recognition in this country then I will be recognised in my own country. It is difficult to come to power in France if you are not wealthy.”

He said because he was single and without children and family here, he could not be corrupted.

He also suggests British jails should be moved abroad to Russia and the money saved should be spent on the NHS.

I rather prefer his criminal justice policy. Remember tomorrow is the day when you can stand up and be counted.

Terence Kealey talks science funding with the Oxford Libertarians

There is a certain kind of libertarian-stroke-free-marketeer intellectual whom I hold in particular esteem. I’m talking about the specialist consensus breaker. I gave a talk to the Oxford Libertarian Society last year in which I mentioned two of my favourite intellectuals of this sort. I talked about James Tooley, who says: education for the poor doesn’t have to state funded and it’s better if it’s not. And I talked about Peter Bauer, who said: government to government foreign aid does more harm than good. I could also have mentioned another such consensus breaker: Terence Kealey.

Happily, my failure to inform the Oxford Libertarian Society of Terence Kealey’s existence and stature did not do any lasting damage, because by some means or another they still managed to hear about him. Better yet, they invited him to talk to them about the consensus he has been busy breaking, the consensus that says that science is a public good which has to be government funded. Kealey says: not so. As with education for the poor, it’s better for science if the government doesn’t fund it. And even better yet, the Oxford Libertarians filmed Kealey’s talk.

The talk was given on May 22nd, and the video of it was posted on the Oxford Libertarian Society blog on the 23rd, so sorry for only just noticing it and mentioning it here. But this is not one of those arguments where a couple of weeks will make any difference. I’ve only watched about a third of it so far, but am confident about recommending all of it. The talk I gave to the OLS is here.

See also this recent Kealey book and this earlier one, both of which I have read all of and much enjoyed.

Browning out

Two fun comments on this brief report of the resignation of Hazel Blears.

From “Simon George”:

There is a term in electrical engineering. It refers to a kind of power failure that instead of occurring instantly, can take a long time to occur. It plays havoc with equipment and is usually much more damaging that a normal blackout

It’s called a ‘brownout’.

And this little snippet from a spoof speech by HB, penned for her by “The Penguin” (10:56 am, worth reading in full):

“My politics has always been rooted in the belief that ordinary people are capable of extraordinary expense claims, …”

I’m also dipping in and out of Prime Minister’s Questions, on the telly. It all illustrates what I more and more feel about how The Universe works, which is: that there are two kinds of questions. There are those that the questionee can ignore. And there are those that he finds he really must answer, because if he doesn’t answer them convincingly, something he is desperate to prevent will happen. Outside of Parliament, all kinds of questions are being asked of Gordon Brown, and not answered, and this now looks like costing him his job. But PMQs is a monument to the first kind of question. Brown is, it would appear, browning out, although I have learned the hard way not to state when the process will be completed. But you wouldn’t know it from watching PMQs.

A great lecture about the financial crisis

My good friend in the US, Russell E. Whitaker, has plugged this excellent lecture in a Facebook posting (thanks Russell!). The lecture is delivered by the investor and commentator, Peter Schiff. It runs for one hour and 16 minutes, so you will want to find an appropriate time to brew up some coffee or pour your favourite tipple, relax and enjoy. He is an entertaining speaker, who makes the issues intelligible without dumbing down. He also has ideas on how to protect your money during the fallout.

It should be seen in conjunction with this book, by Thomas E. Woods, that I have mentioned a few times before. As these men observe, it is nonsense for policymakers like Gordon Brown, Alan Greenspan, etc, to blame what has happened on reckless private individuals, “greedy” Wall Street bankers, and so on. What happened was clearly predictable once one understands how incentives to save, borrow, invest and spend have been skewed by ultra-cheap central bank credit, the moral-hazard drivers of state regulations, bailouts, and the rest.

I rather liked Mr Schiff’s idea that Bernard Madoff, the Ponzi fraudster, is ideally qualified to run the US Treasury Department, given his er, skills.

Update: After queries, I put another link on as there appear to have been some problems with it the first time around.