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]

Giving thanks for our daily bread

There is a nice article in the Daily Telegraph today talking of how humans, be they religious, pagan or unbeliever alike have celebrated the festival of the harvest, in this time of Keats’ “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”. And as we remember the other day after the death of “Green Revolution” scientist Norman Borlaug, the harvest has been something that we not only take for granted these days, but have even reached the point where, in recent years, our political leaders have thought fit to actually pay farmers not to grow stuff. The idea of set-aside subsidies was, if I recall rightly, one of those many terrible ideas of Roosevelt in the Great Depression.

Some idea of how far we have travelled comes up in this nugget of information from David Carpenter’s account of early Medieval Britain, The Struggle for Mastery. On page 36, we come across this:

“On the estates of the Bishop of Winchester yields of wheat remained around eight to twelve bushels per acre (a bushel is 36 litres), where on modern farms they are in the seventies.”

Such a massive increase has a lot to do with why, despite the population increase since the 12th Century, Britain had a sufficient surplus of food production to embark on an Industrial Revolution several centuries later. For in the time of William the Conqueror and for some time thereafter, mass famine was a grim reality of life.

So I will be celebrating the harvest this year and salute the scientists, farmers and yes, the commodities speculators of Chicago and elsewhere for making our daily bread as plentiful as it is. Here’s to them. Now, shall I go for wheat beer or the barley variety later this evening?

A question on why some UK engineering projects take so long

I don’t want to use these hallowed pages as a forum to moan about the odd personal gripe, but I think I can find an excuse as there is a larger point. What am talking about? I am talking about the fact that at my local London Tube (underground for you non-Brits) station, the down-escalator has been taken out of service for almost nine months. It is in Pimlico, and serves the Victoria line, one of the deeper of the stations in the capital. Result: I, along with everyone else, have to walk down a long flight of stairs, which was a bit of a problem recently after I suffered a painful foot injury (now mercifully healed). It also meant that it is impossible sometimes to use that station if you have heavy luggage. A disabled person would have to go to another station, which is hardly a great advertisement for public transport.

The explanation given for why it has taken this time to service and replace an escalator seems to be something like this: spare parts for these things are incredibly rare and specialised and take months to make. I can even remember once reading several years ago about how the Tube engineers were trying to find spare parts on Ebay. Now, a thought occurs: surely, in this era of computer-aided design, or CAD, and just-in-time stock inventory systems, it should be possible for an engineer, supplied with the correct measurements, to fabricate whatever spare parts he or she needs to fit into something like an escalator, or for that matter, an aircraft engine. And yet this does not appear to be the case.

Of course, another explanation is that the building contractors who work on the Tube, while they may contain some excellent staff, contain an awful lot of leeches who are happy to pocket the contract money and then spin out their contracts for as long as possible. So it may be that the procurement process is woefully inefficient. Even so, our forefathers who built much of Britain’s industrial landscape would regard such delays with contempt. I bet this guy would not have been very happy.

Israel’s technological creativity

George Gilder – author of such books as the Spirit of Enterprise, has a nice essay up about the technological savvy and business prowess of Israel’s IT sector. Makes a change to read something about that country that does not involve armed conflict. But then, as we should remember, it is the sheer success of Israel as an economic unit, as much as anything else, that drives its would-be destroyers nuts, because it shows up their own massive failings.

I would like to get Gilder’s new book on Israel. As if my reading list were not long enough as it is.

Samizdata quote of the day

“We’ve heard ample warnings about extremist paranoia in the months since Barack Obama became president, and we’re sure to hear many more throughout his term. But we’ve heard almost nothing about the paranoia of the political center. When mainstream commentators treat a small group of unconnected crimes as a grand, malevolent movement, they unwittingly echo the very conspiracy theories they denounce. Both brands of connect-the-dots fantasy reflect the tellers’ anxieties much more than any order actually emerging in the world.”

Jesse Walker, talking about how the likes of Glenn Beck and other conservative commentators are being targeted by an increasingly jumpy “liberal center”. This is a good article and it has a certain relevance too here in Britain. If something like talk radio or a UK equivalent of Fox were to take off, just imagine the commentary from the MSM.

“We want less!”

My favourite banner [registration required] from the Washington DC protest last Saturday which did not happen, judging by many media outlets, was a few “tens of thousands” of right-wing protesters, according to the Washington Post, but drew rather a bigger crowd, according to the Daily Mail, than the new Messiah’s botched swearing in ceremony.

What I would like to know is when “we want less” became an extremist position?

Seeing the enemy

Presently people are very angry about Barack Obama’s speech to young children (with the, now withdrawn, “how you can help your President” stuff), but the real damage is done in the ordinary days of propaganda – ordinary school days, and ordinary school textbooks, that parents do not even notice. For example, American and British schools teach the “Herbert Hoover and his free market policies” legend.

Barack Obama has given the enemy a face – but what matters more is the collectivist movement (that which has for more than a century worked to gain influence in all institutions in the West). Yet many people can not see past the bogey man Obama and ignore the vast movement without which he would be unimportant. Just a Marxist son of Marxist parents – making impassioned speeches in parks (to no one in particular).

It was the movement that made sure he went to the best universities, it was the movement who gave him the comfortable positions on the boards of the various charitable trusts, it was the movement who supported him in his various campaigns for political office.

Sometimes the movement can become a parody of itself – for example when the “mainstream media” try to cover up for a loud mouth like Van Jones. Being a Communist is fine, but going around telling people what you are is not fine at all – it is astonishing that Van Jones was picked for high office for he lacks basic self discipline (the ability to keep his mouth shut about what he is), a quality Barack Obama has so much of.

Nor is Van Jones alone: The “Diversity Officer” (Commissar) who goes around praising the Venezuelian regime, and explaining (in detail) his evil plan to destroy free speech in the United States, violates the first rule of being a bad guy (do not tell your potential victims what you are planning to do to them – at least not till they are tied up in your underground laboratory): The science Commissar going on record gloating about the prospect of forced abortions: The health Commissar musing about how the old are useless and do not enjoy life and therefore…

Too many of the Commissars go about thinking they can say anything they like without it getting to Homer Simpson (who they see as the typical American voter) – because the mainstream media (both broadcasting and print) will never tell the bald, fat man what they intend to do him and his family. But the mainstream media do not have a monopoly of information these days. The movement should have made clear to Obama that he should not pick people who have film and audio records of what they have said. That he should only pick people who have learned to keep their secret plans… err… secret.

However, overall the movement is very effective – on a totally different level from the pro liberty side (who are like a bunch of cats – moving in all sorts of directions and with plan of campaign, more chaos than cosmos – although it is cosmos, non forced cooperation, that we are supposed to believe in, against the taxis, forced order, of the movement).

Still economic law (the nature of reality itself) is the great enemy of the movement – and it may save the West yet, in spite of the chaotic nature and crass incompetence of the defenders of Western civilisation.

Great article on free markets and banking – in the Guardian!

From time to time, the Guardian, to its credit, likes to shake up its leftist readership with a dose of sanity. Here is a fine example.

Samizdata quote of the day

“By the end of that summer, I had concluded that the population cannot be divided into an intellectual class and a nonintellectual class; instead, I concluded, everyone is to some extent an intellectual. The college professor is an intellectual who, it is hoped, applies his intellect to his teaching and research. The skillful auto mechanic is an intellectual who uses logic to eliminate various possible causes of an engine’s failure in order to narrow it down to the actual cause. Everyone is an intellectual. Compulsory schooling has robbed millions of people of the knowledge of their intellectual birthright.”

David Henderson, reflecting on how he learned to be less dismissive of folks who had not been to university. I am glad to say that I have never suffered from that form of snobbery: having a smart-as-hell dad who could have gone down the academic route but who chose a different path does help, of course, in providing a firewall against striking superior attitudes.

The way things are going, not going to university will be a badge of pride.

Ticking the boxes

Here is a quick thought: in the aftermath of various financial crises – the 1997 Asian crisis (remember that one?), Long Term Capital Management (1998), various business blowups (Enron, etc), and of course, the latest excitements, one invariably hears from the Great and the Good that what we need to stop is the “box ticking mentality” when it comes to regulation. We need, so the argument goes, to rely a lot less on making sure the correct forms are filled in, and to require people in business and enforcers of laws to use more common sense. So true.

And yet. Every time a new problem emerges, what happens? You guessed it right: more box-ticking. Take the case that this blog has written about in the past few days concerning the attempt to put a quarter of all UK adults under some sort of oversight in case they come into contact with children, and other groups. What is a distinguishing feature of such a bureaucratic, and in fact dangerous, development is that it is bound to involve people answering various forms, entering various answers into a sort of database. In other words, box-ticking. So if you pass the test, then voila! you are in the clear. And so certain crooks and villains will continue to get through, because they have passed the test.

So the next time you hear a politician piously informing us that we are going to “get beyond the box-ticking approach”, do not believe them.

Primitive barbarism in Indonesia

Indonesia, the most populous muslim nation in the world, is often held up as an example of how moderate islam can be reconciled with modernity.

Indonesia’s province of Aceh has passed a new law making adultery punishable by stoning to death, a member of the province’s parliament has said. The law also imposes severe sentences for rape, homosexuality, alcohol consumption and gambling.

Apparently not.

A moment of respect is due

Norman Borlaug has died. He may well have saved more lives than anyone else who has ever lived.

Samizdata quote of the day

“We have an incoherent attitude to freedom in this country. We imagine that we value freedom above almost everything else and yet at the same time we are neurotically averse to risk. Every time something terrible happens, such as the murder of a child, the public clamours for something to be done to ensure that such a thing never happens again. Such unspeakable suffering must not have been in vain; inquiries must be held and systems must be put in place; all such risks to children must be eliminated. Yet the harsh truth is that risk is the heavy price of freedom.”

Minette Marrin.

She points out that the development – as elaborated below on this blog by Natalie Solent – will poison civil society and discourage volunteering. I think that is actually part of the idea. I have long since abandoned any notion that such developments are introduced by well-meaning but foolish people. Their intentions are to Sovietise British society, to put all law-abiding adults under a cloud, and rip up the autonomous, private spaces that make up civil society. There is a comment I remember being made by the late Tory MP, Nicholas Budgen: “Old Labour wanted to nationalise things; New Labour will nationalise people.”