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]

Here be dragons

Yesterday, upon arriving at Pula airport in Croatia, I found a helpful map on one of the walls, showing the highlights of the country, and with a useful inset showing where Croatia fits in with other nearby countries.

I suppose they could have sent explorers to discover what actually exists in that uncharted wilderness to the east of Zagreb and Bosnia, but I suspect it was not worth it.

It would take a heart of stone not to laugh

One of the tedious features of that TV phenomenon, the celeb chef, is how so many of them go on and on about the wonderfulness of buying local ingredients, implying that those evil, globalised behemoths – supermarkets – grind the faces of farmers, sell insipid products to the masses, etc. Like the US blogger Timothy Sandefur, I tend to take a dim view of those who turn up their noses as the many benefits of trade and the division of labour. And Mr S. has spotted this rather grimly satisfying story.

As I have said before, people who refer to such things as “food security” or the supposed joys of self sufficiency can sometimes overlook the fact that Man’s best insurance policy against shortages is a global division of labour when it comes to producing food.

Straight from the horse’s mouth

“I have a feeling that climate change may be an issue as severe as a war. It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while.”

So says James Lovelock, originator of the Gaia theory.

Other than the fascism, Mrs Lincoln, he talks some quite good sense. For instance he says that “You need sceptics, especially when the science gets very big and monolithic.” I presume he envisages a situation where sceptics are still allowed to talk but not to vote.

On the road

On the BBC’s morning news show, was a short spot about unruly school pupils. One of the issues that was raised by the presenter was the fact that in a lot of schools, headteachers do not really have a very strong idea of what goes on in the classroom. A bit later in the show, a female headteacher was asked about this and she said something to the effect of “Well, I am on the road a lot and out of the school attending conferences and so on, but I have children of my own”.


African Poverty is Falling…Much Faster than You Think!

I confess I have done no more than skim this paper by Maxim Pinkovskiy of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Xavier Sala”i”Martin of Columbia University and NBER. I will have a go at reading it properly later. I got the link from Tim Worstall, who gets distracted from “ragging on Ritchie” into a rather moving defence of his belief that capitalism is the system that actually works when it comes to lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.

I liked the title. I liked it so much I think I will type it out again.

African Poverty is Falling… Much Faster than You Think!

The hunting ban might turn out to have been a good thing

Waitrose sells Horse and Hound magazine.


Didn’t they ban hunting, like, years ago? Yes. Yet Horse and Hound is still there on the hotly contested shelves of the Waitrose magazine rack, and in the posh aspirational section right next to Country Homes & Interiors to boot. I suppose some of the reason for H&H’s survival must be down to upping the quotient of writing about Princess Zara and her horse Toytown and downing the quotient about hunting. Even so, it must be galling for the anti-hunting activist community. Not what they imagined back in the heady days of 2004 when they were offering to help the government and police enforce a hunting ban.

At this point I could either launch into a detailed, link-filled account of whatever it is hunts actually do these days or I could just vaguely mutter some half-remembered stuff about how there is some get-out clause that allows them to chase the foxes with as long as they don’t actually kill them, or if they do it’s collateral damage or done for research or something. I shall do the latter and make a virtue of it, because vague half-remembered perceptions and their political consequences are what this post is actually about.

It didn’t stick. Thirty years plus of campaigning, thousands of letters to the editor, millions of Ban Hunting Now badges, at least three private members’ bills, Royal Commissions galore, keeping the faith in the dark days of Thatcher, then the dawning hope that this Bill might be the real deal, First Reading, Second Reading, Committee, Third Reading… then that last minute farrago with the Parliament Act when the Lords cut up rough, then finally Royal Asssent (through gritted Royal teeth, yeah)… all that and it still didn’t bloody stick. The hunts are still there, shooting foxes by firing squad or whatever they do, and the sabs are still there cutting off peoples’ heads with gyrocopter blades or whatever they do, and when the Tories get in, as they almost certainly will in three months time, they will repeal the ban.

I will rejoice. I have never seen the appeal of hunting, still less hunt-following, but hundreds of thousands of my fellow-citizens seem to like these pastimes, as their ancestors did, and a large proportion of the human race still do. The anti-hunt argument that does have some power to move me is the one about preventing suffering of a creature who can suffer. I myself prefer not to think too deeply about Mr Fox getting killed by dogs – but I do not see that it differs much from what Mr Fox does to rabbits. It’s a predator thing. As for the argument about humans, get lost. On those grounds the new puritans had about the same moral right to stop their fellow humans hunting foxes as they would have to stop their fellow mammals, the foxes, hunting rabbits. Another thing, it bugged me to hear people who, if they were to learn that Amazonian tribesmen, having been forced to give up their ancient traditions of the hunt, had taken to soccer and Playstations instead, would be heard from here to the Amazon squealing about Western cultural oppression – it bugged me to hear these same people cheering on the Western cultural oppression of their own tribesmen.

As well as rejoicing to see these puritans discomfited, I will rejoice because the repeal of the ban is a retrograde step. When one has gone in a wrong direction a backwards step is a good thing. Every generation or so the progressives have the presumption buried in their name for themselves knocked out of them and the whooshing noise is pleasing. Yet for most of the my lifetime their presumption has been justified. The progressive ratchet slips a little but mostly it moves on. What a liberation it would be to see the clock turn back, just to show it could! What strange new vistas it might open if one bad law were repealed. We could repeal some more. The smoking ban… the European Communities Act 1972… it might even have an effect overseas; at present most people seem to assume that President Obama’s historic achievement in passing the US healthcare bill is just that, historic. A historic change is a change that stays changed. But history turns round sometimes, as the original puritans found out to their cost in 1660.

So the repeal of the hunting ban will be a fine thing, and on that morning even I shall hear something of the

..long-drawn chorus
Of a running pack before us
From the find to the kill.

But the end of a bad law and the good example its end sets will not be the only reasons to rejoice. Sure, repeal will annoy the progressives but – as the fox understands the huntsmen – a law going against them for once in a while leaves their worldview intact. What I really will value in the repeal is that it will be symbolic completion of a process that has already happened. The Royal Assent on this one may be good fun for her Maj, and me, but the really subversive thing is that people will say, “Oh, they’ve got rid of that law… didn’t know it was still on the books, actually. I’m sure I saw Horse and Hound on sale on Waitrose.”

Haiti had how many NGOs before the earthquake??

Just read an article by Afua Hirsch in the Guardian called “How can lawyers help Haiti?

“By going away” was the general opinion expressed in the comments. A little harsh, I thought, given that establishing a more solid rule of law might indeed help reconstruction there. But I am not really interested in that coz my gob just got smacked. In passing, Ms Hirsch mentioned this little fact:

…what is happening to millions of extra dollars pouring into a country that already had a staggering 10,000 NGOs before the earthquake. For an island with a population of fewer than 10 million, there is at least one NGO per 1,000 people.

Blimey. Ten thousand. Not ten thousand people, ten thousand organisations. Of the sort called “non-governmental” although that is a lie. And that was before the earthquake. Ah well, ’tis an ill wind that blows nobody any good. Just think, had not the earthquake come along all these helpers might have solved all Haiti’s problems and left themselves with nothing to do.

Samizdata quote of the day

“So you live beyond your means and rack up a bunch of bills you can’t cover. So you go to your rich uncle. He’s tapped out, alas. And tired of supporting you. So he goes to his rich uncle who’s even richer and known for his desire to keep the family name unsullied. But what if he’s tapped out? Those are my thoughts when I read this story that Sarkozy is supporting Merkel in getting the IMF to bail out the Greeks. The IMF is the richer uncle. Eventually the other guy runs out of money. We’re going to have to start borrowing from Mars or Venus soon.”

– Russ Roberts, at the Cafe Hayek blog.

Incredibly low flying

When I was a wee kid growing up on my folks’ farm in East Anglia, it was a common sight, in the 1970s and 80s, to see RAF Jaguar and Tornado jet aircraft practicing very low flying over the flat (ish) fields of that part of the UK. Typically, a Jag could fly no more than 100 ft off the deck, so low in fact that you could see all the markings on the side of the aircraft, what sort of stuff it was carrying, etc. The idea was to get under the opposition’s radar. These aircraft were practicing the sort of flying that would be needed against the-then Warsaw Pact ground forces of the time. (The Jaguar was a very effective strike aircraft).

But nothing, absolutely nothing, compares with flying as low as this. Ye gods!

Here’s another.

The Independent and sister Sunday paper sold for one pound

And guess who the new owner of this leftist newspaper is? I wonder how Robert “my brain hurts” Fisk, columnist at that paper, is taking the news.

How to wield the spending axe

It was grimly amusing to watch as TV interviewers tried to get some straight answers out of the UK government and the Tory opposition about what items of public spending would and could be cut to get the finances under control. George Osborne, shadow Chancellor, was pretty evasive, as I have come to expect. Well, for those who want to see some sort of shopping list of cuts, the Taxpayers’ Alliance has come up with a handy list of items deserving of termination.

A good short TV spot on Obamacare

A quick entry from me: take a look at this item via Reason TV spot about the monster of a healthcare bill that passed at the weekend in the US. (I love the Incredibles-style music in it, by the way). As Gillespie puts it, the government underestimates of spending on things like health is not a bug, but a feature. The message that comes through, of course, is one that applies to governments worldwide. Do we honestly expect that politicians who are capable of the sort of accounting tricks surrounding building projects like the Olympic Games in London can be trusted to give accurate, costed predictions on things like healthcare spending, or education, or defence procurement?

Bear that in mind as we read the latest performance by UK finance minister, Alistair Darling, today.