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

A Conservative Government is an organized hypocrisy.

– Benjamin Disraeli

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

Barack and Dave

This is about Barack Obama’s relationship to a charming, well-meaning but ultimately rather contemptible chap called Dave.

This Dave. Another guy called Lawrence also comes into it as well.

I loathe the film Dave. As entertainment it’s fine. Politically it is a liberal (US sense) wish fulfillment fantasy with the sole redeeming virtue that it implicitly acknowledges that the only way they would get their way is by lies. In it a nice but dopey guy called Dave substitutes for his double, the philandering, i.e. Republican, President of the United States. The switch was intended to be just for one appearance at first but ends up being permanent when the President has a stroke.

From the synopsis: “When he takes the extreme action of reworking (with the help of his friend Murray, an accountant from Baltimore) the national budget in order to save a $650 million program for helping the homeless … ” When he takes the extreme action, you mean, of foisting on the American people a programme they did not vote for and presumably voted against when they elected a President who opposed it. Again from the synopsis: “…Dave convinces her [the president’s wife] to remain and keep up the ruse, when he realizes he has a chance to improve the nation.” You mean, a chance to impose his will on the nation. “Dave then holds a news conference announcing that he is firing Alexander [conniving Chief of Staff], and proposing a comprehensive full-employment program to Congress. [Liberal wish fulfillment fantasy.]

For some reason the film does not cover the bit where he gets hammered in the mid-term elections, having suddenly proposed a lunatic plan to Congress that seems to come from the manifesto of the sort of party that Ralph Nader voted for when young and silly.

None of the nice characters in the film seem troubled by the idea what they are doing – unconstitutionally replacing the elected leader with an unelected leader who takes the country in the direction he personally thinks best – scarcely differs morally from a coup d’état. All is justified by Dave’s goodness.

The plot of Dave, a movie that deeply annoys me, is very close to that of a science fiction novel I love, Heinlein’s Double Star.

Can I think of a better reason than political partisanship for claiming that the people who substituted Dave Kovic for a political leader in a coma in Dave acted wrongly and the people who substituted Lawrence Smith a.k.a. The Great Lorenzo for a political leader in a coma in Double Star acted rightly? I think so. Heinlein, who had thought deeply about democracy even if he did not always like it, went to some trouble to give John Joseph Bonforte’s staff as little choice as possible.

Most urgently, if Bonforte does not turn up at a Martian ceremony in which he is to be adopted into a Martian clan it will be taken as an insult graver than any human can imagine and will probably cause inter-species war. That’s the whole reason he was kidnapped.

Secondly Bonforte is not out of commission because of natural causes but because his political enemies kidnapped him and used drugs to damage his mind. In other words the substitution is stopping the bad guys benefiting from their evil deeds. People are being deceived, yes, but the deceivers are doing all they can to make what would have happened without the crime happen despite it, not to make new things happen.

Oh yeah, thirdly, he is not actually in office when the substitution occurs. The voters are not having someone they did not vote for secretly substituted for someone they did; they are subject to the lesser deception of being asked to vote anew (in an election part-way through the book) for someone who is not really who he says he is. I think that makes a difference.

Anyway, back to Barack. This “secret Muslim” theory is conspiracy crap, or possibly people having a laugh when answering surveys. He was born in the US and Trig is Palin’s child so you can all put away your warming pans. And the man has a rather distinctive physical appearance that would be difficult to duplicate.

Bodily he is but morally he is not the Barack who campaigned as a centrist. Which deceiver does he resemble the most, do you think, Dave or the Great Lorenzo?

Added later: I would like to expand on my last sentence above in the light of thoughts prompted by the comments. Having an elected leader diverge from the manifesto he or she was elected upon is sometimes the price you pay and sometimes the benefit you get for electing a human being rather than an automaton. Human beings adapt to circumstances, which may include justifiably breaking a promise. They also deceive or – and this is an interesting case – are happy to let others deceive themselves. Caveat emptor.

O Tempora! O Mores!

Two articles. Right next to each other on page 7 of today’s Times. I hope you lot are grateful; I can no longer link to the Times so I had to type all these quotes out myself. The first article is by Ashling O’Connor and Andy Stephens and is headed “Call for action against novelty sport bets”. The “action” to which it approvingly refers* is that of the government passing more laws to regulate cricket. The article says:

Cricket, with its complex rules and endless permutations makes it an ideal companion of spot-betting. Traditional British bookmakers avoid bets on what might occur during short passages of play and were not affected by the events allegedly manipulated at Lord’s on Friday. However, the more arcane aspects of the game attract huge interest in some parts of the world, especially Asia, where betting is unregulated.

The second article is by Mike Atherton. It is headed “Shift of power base to gambling-obsessed India fuels corruption”, and it says:

The only bookmakers who offer markets on elements of the game open to so-called micro-manipulation are those in India where bookmaking is illegal and designed to avoid tax and service the black market.

Two questions.
1) Why is the Times printing contradictory articles on the same page?
2) Which one is right?

Two comments. Firstly, even I know that Mike Atherton has played a little cricket in his time, has mixed with teams from all the cricketing countries, has made a genuinely successful career as a sports writer after his retirement from cricket, and might be presumed to know something about these matters. In contrast the O’Connor/Stephens article appears to have been churned out from a Play-doh Fun Factory using the Quango Calls for More Regulation extruder template. Secondly, they might be right and Atherton wrong even so.

*Dear Lord, what misery has been inflicted upon the world because no one ever looked good issuing a call for inaction.

Samizdata quote of the day

Love, when legislated, becomes hate.

– John B, from the comments here. (This is a SQOTDBPD, or Samizdata Quote of the Day by Popular Demand.)

The endless complexity of international aid

John Hillary, Executive Director of War on Want, has written an article for – amaze me some more – the Guardian. Here it is: A myopic Tory approach to fighting global poverty

Mr Hillary, I am sure, sincerely wants to fight global poverty. The trouble is that he and his colleagues in the development “community” have become a mini-class in their own right, complete with a class interest. I am forever saying that people often have an incredibly sensitive “nose” for their own class interest that operates a little below the conscious level. In this, Marx had a point. Classes always convince themselves that whatever benefits them as a class is also to the benefit of the world.

What benefits the aid community is that aid is seen to be very complex and difficult, so you need a special class of people to mediate giving aid.


“Ultimately, a country’s development path is determined by historical forces and political choices at a far higher level than aid, and it is these more complex factors that risk being overlooked in a narrow focus on measurable, short-term outputs. “

I do in fact agree with this statement – although my view of which political choices have which results might differ from that of Mr Hilary. I also agree that it really is complex and difficult to work out how best to use the government’s aid budget, assuming that one has decided that there is benefit in doing this at all. But the intense practical complexity of (making up an example) arranging for perishable medicines to reach a flood-stricken area before they go off, a process that might involve both technical and human factors, is not the sort of complexity that John Hillary means here.

That sort of complexity in a problem can be solved by clever people making clever plans or by average people making individually minor but cumulatively clever adjustments and innovations. The success of the plans or adjustments then shows up in measurable outputs – if not in the very short term, at least in the medium term. That does not serve the class interest of the aid community. It needs aid to be philosophically complex, basically so that their class will always be needed.

Hence one could predict that the aid community will favour un-measurable and long term (“long” tending to “infinite”) solutions. It is also likely to favour indirect solutions. Every stage of indirectness is an evolutionary niche for someone in his sub-class to find sustenance. Sure enough, in the Guardian article Mr Hillary is indignant about the government scrapping the DfID’s global development engagement fund, “a scheme designed to increase public understanding of the causes of global poverty and to mobilise action in support of international development.” He imprudently included a further link that said that the cancelled projects included:

£146,000 for a Brazilian-style dance troupe in Hackney, London; £55,000 to run stalls at summer music festivals; £120,000 to train nursery school teachers about ‘global issues’; £130,000 for a ‘global gardens schools network’ and £140,000 to train outdoor education tutors in Britain on development.

We laugh. But we should no more blame Mr Hillary for thinking that the Hackney dancers or the global gardens schools network have some use in ending poverty than we should blame a General Motors executive for saying, and sincerely believing, “What’s good for General Motors is good for America.”

Late-capitalist knickers run amok!

The problem is that hipsters are nothing like their namesake predecessors who attempted to operate outside convention with distinct agenda of cultural and social change. Nothing about the modern hipster is anti-anything. Rather, hipsters now are a manifestation of late capitalism run amok, forever feeding itself on the shininess of the Now: an impatient, forgetful mob taught to discard their products as quickly as they adopt them. They are not a cultural movement, but a generation of pure consumers. If capitalism were to really be altered in any way, the hipster as we know it would lose its raison d’etre.

And I thought hipsters were knickers that came up to your hips. Now I know better. Chap in the Guardian says that because this clothes company called American Apparel went bust it just goes to show what he always said about capitalism.

Death spirals of a co-opted public relentlessly co-opting itself, knowing acceptance of our generation’s role in the capitalist meta-narrative, knickers losing their raison d’etre… I tells ‘ee, one of these nights we’ll all be murthered in our beds.

Pakistan cricketers accused of match fixing

A couple of the best players in the Pakistan cricket team, their two best bowlers, have been accused of match fixing by a British newspaper, and the story is now front page news in all of them. What they have been accused of is bowling “no balls” at pre-specified times, concerning which bets were then taken. All concerned have been at pains to insist that the “result of the match was not in any way affected”, which is all part of how subtle this particular corruption was.

You can just hear them saying it. “It’s nothing, just a few no balls. You get lots of money and look after yourself and your family, and nobody else suffers.” Add to all that a dash of menace (perhaps including some peer pressure) concerning what just might happen to you and yours if you don’t oblige, and it must be hard to resist. Then, once the bait has been taken, the tempters have got you by the throat, and can move on to more substantial rearrangements of the results of games. That one of the most promising young cricketers in the world, the eighteen year old fast bowler Mohammad Amir, is one of the players in the frame just makes it that much worse.

I know, it’s all still at the stage of “allegations”, but the accusations are that no balls were demanded at specific times, no balls which duly occurred. It looks very bad.

The Pakistani second innings is disintegrating as I write this, with Mohammad Amir having got out for an ignominious zero, greeted by the Lords crowd with embarrassed silence. England’s spinmeister Graeme Swann and swing ace Jimmy Anderson would this morning be a handful for any batting side with their minds wholly applied to resisting them. For the Pakistanis in their present frame of mind they are irresistible, although a bit of meaningless slogging is now happening. And you can’t help wondering if the comparable disintegration of the first Pakistani innings yesterday afternoon was similarly influenced by this catastrophe, which they perhaps already knew was about to explode. Nine wickets have already gone, and it can’t be long now for this tainted test match.

What next? Will the one day games now fixed between England and Pakistan proceed? Who knows? Worse, who will care? Will anybody want to come?

The general opinion radiating from England’s cricket commentary boxes this summer has been that England cricket has done a fine thing providing Pakistan with a second cricket home, what with Pakistan itself having become an impossible place to play international cricket. I wonder if England’s cricket’s higher-ups are starting to regret their generosity, if that is what it was.

More positively, I also wonder if the rather fiercer legal environment of the UK might serve to administer the necessary clean-up upon Pakistan cricket that Pakistan’s own authorities have, over the years (this is by no means the first such drama), proved themselves incapable of imposing. That’s probably far too optimistic.

This is not the first time I have here noted allegations of cheating by Pakistani cricketers. A few years back some of their bowlers were accused of ball tampering and they refused to carry on playing. That was pretty bad. This is far worse, and for cricket fans like me, profoundly depressing.

I guess this makes it hard to enforce a speeding ticket?

Bucharest, Romania. August 2010.

Ancient and modern

Here, via the Flickr blog, is this charming photo (click on that to see it as big as you want), which combines an ancient agricultural procedure with some much more modern civil engineering, somewhere near Treviso, in north east Italy:


Ideal circumstances, all here will surely agree, for a James Bond car chase. Goldeneye, which was shown on ITV2 last night and is on ITV2 again tonight, has a car chase early on, on just such a road. No sheep are involved, but there are cyclists. Bond didn’t drive into them, like this, but he did drive past them and they all fell over.

Sadly, I think that the above road is probably too narrow for cars, and is actually a bespoke sheep track. I guess that sheep, in Italy, are objects of political worship, much as cyclists are here.

Climate change as a “weapon”?

I came across this article, which reads like a plotline from a Robert Ludlum thriller. Gloriously bonkers.

(H/T, David Thompson).

Charity’s tragedy and farce

Here is a video worth watching and in an easy-on-the-understanding format:

Thanks to The Geek Whisperer for the hat tip.

The Dragon has landed

I just read the details on the SpaceX Dragon capsule drop test which occurred earlier this month.