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]

The spending challenge

This blogger makes the sort of point that ought to be on the lips of any member of the UK government right now. On the BBC Breakfast TV show this morning, one of the presenters tried to make out that the UK government’s planned £6 billion cut in the current financial year would be painful (cut to photos of concerned civil servants, etc). But in the context of the gigantic sums the UK government spends every year, £6 billion is chickenfeed. It is practically a rounding error. Even the tiniest adjustment in spending and revenues renders such a number utterly nugatory.

So what gets me is why this fact is not made clear by the government. And in addition, when asked: “So Minister, are you planning to make public sector staff redundant?” the answer must be, “Yes, there will be cutbacks. The state has taken on hundreds of thousands of folk, not in front-line services, but in the long tail of administration. Some of that has to go, hopefully by voluntary redundancies and the like but there will also have to be compulsory cuts. It will unpleasant, but the idea is to shrink the state, non-wealth creating bit of the economy and expand the wealth creating bit. There has to be a significant adjustment. Thank you very much and enjoy the Chelsea Flower Show”.

That’s what I’d say, anyway. Guess that’s why I am not an MP.

A thought-provoking essay

Following on from Brian’s recent essay in which he wonders about the point of spacefaring, here is a sort of related essay by the science fiction author, John Scalzi. Strongly recommended. (H/T, Boing Boing).

I have read a number of Scalzi’s novels and I enjoyed them a lot. I recommend that people who are interested start with Old Man’s War.

A view from 2004

Brown is on the ball yet again

Gordon Brown’s continuing success as Chancellor is a journalistic frustration. His economic forecasts prove more accurate than those of his self-righteous and near permanently wrong critics. It is boring that brick by tedious brick he is laying the foundations of an economy and society that copies Scandinavia’s successes as much as those of the US. And it is infuriating that the predictions that his sums will end in a terrifying black hole never come true.

– Will Hutton, writing in the Guardian, December 2004

“Dear Chief Secretary, I’m afraid to tell you there’s no money left”

– Gordon Brown’s departing Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liam Byrne, writing to his successor, May 2010.

Samizdata quote of the day

I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.

– Groucho Marx

Cultural mashups can be fun…

As seen in a signature on a Star Wars: The Old Republic games forum:

[Luke:] I can’t believe it.

[Yoda:] That is why you fail.

[Ayn Rand:] Success does not come from believing in a steaming pile of mystic gibberish, you stupid little green man [ignites her lightsabre and advances threateningly]

– Act IV, The Fountainhead Strikes Back

Home Information Packs: a cautionary tale of the modern State

Ian Cowie at the Telegraph has an instructive little piece about that now-abandoned scheme of the recently departed government, the Home Information Pack.

So, farewell then, Home Information Packs (HIPs). You were about as much use to homebuyers and sellers as a chocolate teapot. You were even worse value for people who spent time and money training to become HIP inspectors.

Home Information Packs, for the benefit of our overseas readers were… sorry, my brains are going to flee at speed through my nostrils if forced to spend more than a gonzosecond contemplating a thing engendered by John Prescott and Yvette Cooper. HIPs were a very boring thing to do with selling your house where you had to pay the government to send around a fluffy tailed squirrel to tick a box saying you had double glazing. The original idea was not obviously stupid. It was going to stop gazumping by – by – John Prescott! Yvette Cooper! Alert! Alert! Imminent overload! – anyway, there is some similar scheme in Denmark where they have nice painted furniture and socialism works. Alas, they did some research and found that gazumping is only a factor in 2% of UK house sales. Time for the chop, then? No, Minister. Not after they had thought of the name and everything. Won’t somebody think of the publicity? “Minister in a hip new idea!” “Hip, hip hooray for HIPs!”

So HIPs were reinvented as being all about the Home Condition Report, these being something like quickie house surveys except the seller rather than the buyer has to arrange them and pay for them.

Do you see the problem with that?

Full marks. Not very many marks, though, because so did practically everybody else. That, dear readers, is the particular aspect I wish to highlight as being typical of the modern state. The modern state is like the stupid driver at 5 minutes 30 seconds in the Demented Cartoon Movie.

Sure, everyone hates surveyors and has heard a horror story about them, but you did not have to be a genius to figure out that buyers were still likely to want a professional they could sue carrying out the survey rather than a government squirrel. All the home condition report would mean was that in practice the sellers and the buyers would both have to pay. Everybody, even the government, seemed to know it was not going to work but somehow it lumbered on.

Adverts appeared in the jobs freesheets for squirrel-training. It seemed a nice government-backed job for people who were somewhat educated but not very good at getting jobs. Thousands of well-spoken but slightly desperate people took out loans for this training.

Eventually the government got cold feet about the slowdown in the housing market and said that it would remove the requirement that Home Condition Reports were compulsory. So there was no point left in HIPs and they might as well be dispensed with altogether? No, no, HIPs were still totally vital because they were all about the … the … the Energy Performance Certificate. How could a prospective purchaser live without knowing whether his potential dream house was a nice A (short green stripe) or the blood red and scarily long stripe that denoted a wasteful G?

Fine, it turned out. Purchasers were already able to figure out that Ye Olde Cottage with the leaded windows was a G with a Stripe of Shame as long as your lower intestine and if they wanted Ye Olde Cottage they did not care, and if they did not want Ye Olde Cottage but Ye Modern Boxe they could already see the double glazing. After two re-brandings HIPs had became a national moan. Still the Stupid Driver faced with the demand from the on-board computer to steer moaned, “But I’m bad at that.”

With the election and change of government the HIP finally died, unmourned. Even the Association of Sadder and Poorer Little Squirrels accepted the game was up.

Except that in the graveyard something stirs… the Energy Performance Certificate is required by the European Union.

Mohammed emoticon


This is my entry to “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day”. It is scarcely original, and the less original the better, I guess.

I take no pleasure from violating other people’s taboos. It is not polite and I wish to be polite. In ordinary circumstances if I want to do something that will annoy others I am willing to put up with moderate inconvenience in order to do it out of their sight. These are not ordinary circumstances. People are being threatened, harassed and sometimes murdered by fanatical Muslims for exercising free speech. The media and academia, fearless defenders of free speech so long as there was nothing to fear, have by and large caved in. So maybe it is time for ordinary people to step up. Lots of them. Spread the risk.

Incidentally, it was good of the Pakistani authorities to help so much with the publicity.

Space – the immediate barrier

Incoming from Michael Jennings, alerting me to this:

UK survey calls iPhone ‘more important than space travel’

The headline could equally well have said: UK survey calls Sky+ ‘more important than Post-it Notes’, but the iPhone and space travel were what they zeroed in on. Fair enough.

I agree about the relative triviality of space travel, except insofar as it makes things like iPhones work better. I mean, you couldn’t have those maps on your iPhone telling you where you are and where you’re going were it not for GPS, as in S for Satellite, now could you? So, space rockets of some sort are needed for iPhones. But space travel? How significant is that? The bigger point, made by all those surveyees but then contested by the headline writer, is that space travel is now rather oversold, compared to how things are – insofar as they are – hurtling forwards here on Earth. Which, I think, it is.

The people who are for space travel keep going on about how Man Needs to Explore the Universe, and no doubt Man does. But is Man anywhere near ready to make a serious go of that yet? The trouble is that there is so little out there, in the immediate vicinity, accessible to actual men, easily and cheaply, now.

I suspect that the problem is that people, especially political people when composing political speeches, automatically assume an equivalance between the expansion of Europe circa 1500, and the expansion of Earth circa now. But the rest of the world in 1500 was full of stuff, much of it really very near to Europe, and much of it right next to Europe. There was continuous positive reinforcement available to any explorer brave enough to give it a go and lucky enough to hit some kind of paydirt. Now? Communications satellites? Weapons? Tourism? Astronomy? All we can yet really do in space is make various very Earthly enterprises work that little bit better. Which is not a trivial thing, and I’m certainly not saying we should give up even on that. All hail Virgin Galactic! Go SpaceX. But for many decades, most of the important space action will be in geo-stationary orbit rather than anywhere beyond.

And as for that constant libertarian refrain you hear about how Earth is becoming a tyranny and we must all migrate to space, to rediscover freedom, etc. … Please. People found freedom in America because there was this great big place to feed themselves with. America. Settlements in America were, pretty soon, potentially if not actually, self-supporting. Our technology has a long way to go before a colony on some god-forsaken wasteland like the Moon or Mars, without even breathable air, could ever be self supporting, in the event of Mission Control back on Earth getting shut down by something like an Earth war of some kind. Profitable, maybe, eventually. But able to stay alive without continuous contact with Earthly back-up of various kinds? That will take far longer. The reality is that for the foreseeable future, any humans who set up camp on the Moon or Mars or wherever will be far more dependent upon the continuing and sustained goodwill of powerful people back on Earth than the average Earthling is. There is no America out there, or China, or Australia or Africa. Those early European pioneers found a world full of land and resources, to say nothing of semi-friendly aliens whom we Europeans could trade with. But now? Just a few little rocks and gas blobs bobbing about in a vast sea of utter emptiness, emptiness that is an order of magnitude emptier than our actual sea, which is a cornucopia by comparison. And apart from that, for decades, nothing seriously big that isn’t literally light years away. It’s an entirely different state of affairs to Europe in 1500.

I wrote all of the above with my own personal blog in mind, but now realise that Samizdata is the place for it, if only because of all the enlightening and perhaps contradictory comments that may become attached. And since this is liable to be picked to pieces by people most of whom are far more technologically savvy than I am, it behoves me to rephrase it all as a question. Which can basically be summarised as: Is that right? Am I missing something here?

Am I, for instance, getting too hung up on mere distance? Yes the Solar System is almost entirely empty. Yes, the Asteroid Belt is a hell of a way away. But, if you are willing to be patient, is it actually quite cheap to send rockets there? Does all that emptiness cancel itself out as a barrier to travel, because of it being so easy (and so much easier than our Earthly sea) to get across?

I actually would quite like to be told that I am wrong about this. In particular, I really really wish that there was somewhere else nearby where the Fight For Liberty blah blah could be restaged, but on better terms to how the same fight seems now to be going here on Earth. But I just , as of now, don’t see that happening any time soon.

The moonbat crazy right

A ‘muslim’ babe called Rimah Fakih wins a beauty pageant in the USA and apparently this is a Hezbollah conspiracy.

Rimah Fakih poledance.jpg

Rimah Fakih strikes a nice Islamic pose much favoured in Hezbollah circles whilst onlookers chant “Allahu Akbar!”

Rimah Fakih_4.jpg

Rimah Fakih contemplates sharia in Michigan

Rimah Fakih_2.jpg

Rimah Fakih models the latest in approved burqa fashions

Yup, clearly a sign of how deep radical muslim infiltration of key American institutions go. Moreover as we all know that beauty pageant winners are known for their original thinking and deep political insights, and moreover some radical in Lebanon (this one, not this one) shares her family name apparently, the Islamisation of the good ol’ USA is clearly at hand.

I have posted these images as a wake up call to American to act before they are overrun with bikini wearing pole dancers intent on destroying the home of the free and land of the brave.

No need to thank me… just another high minded public service from samizdata.net

That last patch of scorched earth

Those of us who lived through the previous end of Labour rule, in 1979, recall how that moment was remembered as the time when rubbish was lying in the road uncollected, thanks to strikes by the bin men. That little story summed it all up, and ushered in an age of union bashing. And Labour Party bashing, for several general elections.

Will this story be the abiding memory of the end of Labour rule now?

Civil servants came under increasing pressure from ministers in the dying months of the Labour government to carry out expensive orders that they disagreed with and responded by submitting an unprecedented number of formal protests in the run-up to the general election.

The five separate protests came in the form of written ministerial directions – requested by the most senior civil servant in a department when they disagree with a minister’s decision so strongly that they refuse to be accountable for it.

For me that perfectly captures the public squalour that is always unleashed by dead-on-their-feet Labour governments, as they madly pursued that last ounce of private affluence for their various client groups, and damn the consequences for the country.

Labourites are now pinning their hopes for an early return to office on the notion that the government that now has to clean up their mess will get most of the blame for that mess.

This is partly why Labour sorched all that earth. It wasn’t only tribal greed. It was deliberate political calculation. But if it becomes firmly established that the current mess is indeed a Labour mess, and that all the grief that followed immediately after their time in government was Labour grief, then Labour could be out of business for far longer than they now calculate.

Personally, I hope Labour are out of business for ever. And see also this posting I did for here a couple of years ago, which also had “scorched earth” in its title. This holds up quite well now, I think, especially the final sentence, as do many of the comments.

Michael Jennings then argued, from the behaviour of idiot Australian voters in similar circumstances, that as soon as the mess is cleared up, Labour spendthrifts will be back to create more mess, to scorch more earth. I really hope he’s wrong. But then, two years ago, I also hoped that the above kind of behaviour would itself cause a Labour electoral wipe-out, and that didn’t really happen, did it?

Maybe the Conservatives will now decide that the mess must never be cleared up, that the earth must remain permanently scorched, so that the country never feels able to afford a Labour government ever again. This certainly seems to be their current policy. Which might be great for the Conservatives. Shame about the country.

As good as any reason to learn Russian

I commend this fascinating article to those who have not yet come across it – A Hidden History of Evil:
Why Doesn’t Anyone Care About the Unread Soviet Archives?

The archives contain “unpublished, untranslated, top-secret Kremlin documents, mostly dating from the close of the Cold War”, yet their guardian “can’t get anyone to house them in a reputable library, publish them, or fund their translation.” Amongst numerous other tidbits, there is some very interesting stuff about Soviet dealings with François Mitterrand, Neil Kinnock, and several past and present “European Project”/EU bigwigs.

(From the excellent Michael Totten, who’s doing a fine job of holding the fort over at Instapundit)

A nuke in the basement, next to the washing machine

This is the sort of story that must give the anti-proliferation folks nightmares. On a more positive tack, though, it is testimony to the continuing trend towards minaturisation that we see in fields such as computers, engineering and medical technology.

Original link fixed. My apologies.