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

German politicians view the monetisation of sovereign debt as the road to Weimar. They expect the ECB to be the heir to the Bundesbank and not the Reichsbank

Willem Buiter, Citigroup chief economist

Samizdata quote of the day

There seem to me to be very few facts, at least ascertainable facts, in politics.

– Robert Peel

Mayor Boris bashes the Met Office

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, boasts that his Transport for London is doing its bit to keep London up and running over Christmas, but complains that Heathrow has spoilt the London Transport picture. Why? Because it believed the Met Office:

… Why did the Met Office forecast a “mild winter”?

Do you remember? They said it would be mild and damp, and between one degree and one and a half degrees warmer than average. Well, I am now 46 and that means I have seen more winters than most people on this planet, and I can tell you that this one is a corker.

I am now 63 and I can tell you that snow lands and then settles in London, before Christmas, just about … never. Well, hardly ever. Until now. I should have made that clearer in this earlier posting here. The point is that this is not normal. I quite realise that they have somewhat more snow in Minnesota over the winter. But in London, in December, snow on the ground has been a rarity.

Back to Boris:

Never mind the record low attained in Northern Ireland this weekend. I can’t remember a time when so much snow has lain so thickly on the ground, and we haven’t even reached Christmas. And this is the third tough winter in a row. Is it really true that no one saw this coming?

Actually, they did. Allow me to introduce readers to Piers Corbyn, meteorologist and brother of my old chum, bearded leftie MP Jeremy. Piers Corbyn works in an undistinguished office in Borough High Street. He has no telescope or supercomputer. Armed only with a laptop, huge quantities of publicly available data and a first-class degree in astrophysics, he gets it right again and again.

Back in November, when the Met Office was still doing its “mild winter” schtick, Corbyn said it would be the coldest for 100 years. Indeed, it was back in May that he first predicted a snowy December, and he put his own money on a white Christmas about a month before the Met Office made any such forecast. He said that the Met Office would be wrong about last year’s mythical “barbecue summer”, and he was vindicated. He was closer to the truth about last winter, too.

He seems to get it right about 85 per cent of the time and serious business people – notably in farming – are starting to invest in his forecasts. In the eyes of many punters, he puts the taxpayer-funded Met Office to shame. How on earth does he do it? He studies the Sun.

We here at Samizdata have been studying the sun and how it causes cold winters, as in linking to people who are studying the sun and how it causes cold winters, for quite some time now.

Cold weather is now officially anti-left in its political orientation. So, on this issue, we here can either be warm, or correct. Take your pick. Personally I’m still mulling it over. The lefties will either be, against all current trends, warm and right, or will shiver and be wrong. (Sounds a bit like a certain Sondheim lyric.)

Samizdata quote of the day

“It is a slow day in a damp little Irish town. The rain is beating down and the streets are deserted. Times are tough, everybody is in debt, and everybody lives on credit. On this particular day a rich German tourist is driving through the town, stops at the local hotel and lays a €100 note on the desk, telling the hotel owner he wants to inspect the rooms upstairs in order to pick one to spend the night. The owner gives him some keys and, as soon as the visitor has walked upstairs, the hotelier grabs the €100 note and runs next door to pay his debt to the butcher. The butcher takes the €100 note and runs down the street to repay his debt to the pig farmer. The pig farmer takes the €100 note and heads off to pay his bill at the supplier of feed and fuel. The guy at the Farmers’ Co-op takes the €100 note and runs to pay his drinks bill at the pub. The publican slips the money along to the local prostitute drinking at the bar, who has also been facing hard times and has had to offer him “services” on credit. The hooker then rushes to the hotel and pays off her room bill to the hotel owner with the €100 note. The hotel proprietor then places the €100 note back on the counter so the rich traveler will not suspect anything. At that moment the traveler comes down the stairs, picks up the €100 note, states that the rooms are not satisfactory, pockets the money, and leaves town. No one produced anything. No one earned anything. However, the whole town is now out of debt and looking to the future with a lot more optimism. And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is how the bailout package works.”

This was sent to me as a joke via email from a friend. The problem is, that folk such as Paul Krugman would argue that this is sound economics. Happy Christmas!

No-man’s land

Like many other people trying to plan arrangements over Christmas, I am keeping a close eye on the weather reports. I have the grim task of driving to East Anglia on Tuesday for a family funeral; on Thursday, I am due to be flying to southern Germany to stay with relations but have no idea whether that is likely to happen. But at least I am able to be in the comfort of my home. Thousands of people are not so lucky.

Watching the BBC’s rolling news channel today, I listened as a woman, who has been on board a BA flight to Pakistan, described how her aircraft has been standing on a runway, moving no-where for about 6 hours. Passengers were suffering panic attacks; the cabin was very hot and there was no water to drink; and of course there are few toilet facilities. One thing that the woman said struck me: the passengers were not allowed to try and get off the plane. If they did, she said, they’d be arrested. The staff were to all in intents and purposes holding passangers hostage, a nice inversion of a hijacking.

It seems to me that this situation is absurd. Given the privileged position of an airline operating under such laws governing international flight, there ought to be a clear “duty of care” on such airlines to provide all decent condtions, including things like food, water and so on, for passengers. If they cannot do this on the plane, then the passengers are entitled to ask to get off, go to a building and wait for developments.

What we are talking about are hostage conditions. I’d be interested to see if the passengers could join together and bring a lawsuit against the airline, and what the outcome would be.

The weather has been severe – and flight safety is a key concern, but the airlines are having a bad Christmas. And it does not look to be getting better any time soon. As far as I am concerned, I cannot wait to see the end of December soon enough.

Samizdata quote of the day

And Samuel told all the words of the LORD unto the people that asked of him a king.

And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots.

And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots.

And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.

And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants.

And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants.

And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work.

He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants.

And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day.

Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us;

That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.

– 1 Samuel 8 verses 10-20, King James Version

Well, well, well

WikiLeaks: Cuba banned Sicko for depicting ‘mythical’ healthcare system.

According to the Guardian (!):

Cuba banned Michael Moore’s 2007 documentary, Sicko, because it painted such a “mythically” favourable picture of Cuba’s healthcare system that the authorities feared it could lead to a “popular backlash”, according to US diplomats in Havana.

The revelation, contained in a confidential US embassy cable released by WikiLeaks , is surprising, given that the film attempted to discredit the US healthcare system by highlighting what it claimed was the excellence of the Cuban system.

But the memo reveals that when the film was shown to a group of Cuban doctors, some became so “disturbed at the blatant misrepresentation of healthcare in Cuba that they left the room”.

Castro’s government apparently went on to ban the film because, the leaked cable claims, it “knows the film is a myth and does not want to risk a popular backlash by showing to Cubans facilities that are clearly not available to the vast majority of them.”

Back in 2007 I mentioned a milder version of the same reaction among British people to Moore’s depiction of “empty waiting rooms and happy, care-free health workers” in the NHS.

UPDATE: Hat tips to commenters Jock and Alisa. The Guardian story has now been corrected to say that Sicko was shown in Cuba, confirmed on Michael Moore’s own website. Pity. That was a fun meme while it lasted, but truth must prevail. Moore says that the cable was purely a lie. Not necessarily: indecision as to the “line to take” is not exactly unknown in totalitarian regimes. Both showing the film and forbidding it have their dangers from the point of view of the Cuban rulers.

This round to Michael Moore, but I shall defiantly repeat something I said in 2008:

When the history of Fidel Castro’s rule in Cuba comes to be written all that stuff about the excellence of the healthcare system will turn out to be lies but the claim of high literacy rates will be more or less true.

Communist education gets results because force is near to the surface. I acknowledge but do not approve … A further advantage of communist education is that the wishes of the teachers are given almost as short a shrift as those of the pupils.

Force works well in education because the forcers can look at the forcees all the time they are doing the forcing. It works less well in healthcare and very badly indeed in agriculture.

Class war sentiments in the US

Estate taxes – or what are called inheritance taxes in the UK – have been an issue in the public sphere lately. Russell Roberts, who writes over at the Cafe Hayek blog – a fine one – has an article criticising such taxes in the New York Times, typically a bastion of Big Government “liberalism” (to use that word in its corrupted American sense). Check out the subsequent comment thread. Here are a couple of my favourites for sheer, butt-headed wrongness:

“There should be 100% confiscation of all wealth at death; except for a family owned business, not incorporated! Passing on wealth is a huge negative for society and probably and even larger negative for those who get the moola; they generally end up with pretty wasted lives! There is no value to passing on wealth except for the egos of the passees!! And there should be a liquidation of all existing foundations, trusts, and other tax avoidance schemes as well! I know so many trustees and administrators who have no economic value whatsoever; and most of these things just perpetuate the arrogance of the founders!”

“chaotican”, from New Mexico.

Here’s another, from someone called “jmfree3”:

Finally, there is the big government is intrusive arguement, which is most commonly made by cold-hearted conservatives (are there any empathetic conservatives or is it wrung out of you all in Young Republican meetings?). Wanting the most greedy people in America to be able to keep the fruits of their greed is not really defensible unless you believe, as most conservatives do, that people who cannot help themselves should be left to die in squalor before the government takes one penny from the more fortunate to help them. Fortunately, liberals care more for there fellow human beings and fight for those who cannot fight for themselves (which is how I know most Democrats in Congress are NOT liberals). After all, isn’t there something in the Bible about “as you treat the least of these”?

Okay, there are other comments from people which are more sensible, such as making the point that there are other examples, besides estate taxes, of taxing people twice. The double-taxation aspect of inheritance tax is not, in my view, the worst thing about it. Rather, it is a tax on the maker of a bequest; it effectively says, “We, the State, are going to ban you from giving all your legitimately owned money to whoever you want, and we demand that a large chunk of it should return to the State that nourishes you and protects you”. If you read the comment from “jmfree03”, that is pretty much what such people believe. They don’t, not in any rooted sense, believe in the idea of private property and respecting the wishes of the owners of said.

Now, of course, the NYT readership is not typical of US public opinion as a whole, if the recent mid-term Congressional elections are a guide. I would also wager that while there has always been a strong egalitarian strain in American life – more so than here – that it has tended to avoid a general denigration of someone just because they are born to rich parents. After all, everyone born in the USA these days is, on this basis, a very lucky person compared with say, someone born in the former Soviet empire, or large bits of Africa, for example.

I remember, many years ago before I started this blogging business, having a chat with Brian Micklethwait and we commented on the size and power of the left in parts of the US, especially in the big universities and other such places. A theory of Brian’s was that it is precisely because the US is so fabulously rich in its mostly capitalist way, that it can afford to support a large class of people inclined to attack it.

It is, of course, ironic that the left supports confiscation of inheritance, since a large element of the left in the US can be described as “trustafarians”; over here, as is sometimes noted, a lot of the Greens – such as Jonathan Porritt or Zac Goldsmith – are born to money and privilege. The Toynbees and the rest are fairly well minted.

Here is one such article here, back in October 2007, that addresses this whole idea that inheriting lots of money gives someone an “unfair” advantage in life over someone else, as if life were like a pre-defined race, such as the Tour de France. But that gets things entirely wrong. It is the fallacy of the zero-sum approach to life generally.

And here is another article by me on the same subject, responding to a letter in the Times (of London) newspaper.

Samizdata quote of the day

“American conservatives who want to blame pet villains like the public-employee unions for the insolvency wave in the U.S. are missing the forest for the trees. Those unions are doing nothing but rational minimaxing within a system where the incentives are broken at a much deeper level. And it’s no coincidence that the same problems are becoming acute simultaneously nearly worldwide, because the underlying problem transcends all details of any individual democracy’s history or particular political arrangements. Between 1880 and 1943, beginning with Bismarck and ending with Roosevelt’s New Deal, the modern West abandoned the classical-liberal model of a minimal, night-watchman state. But the redistributionist monster that replaced it was unsustainable, and it’s now running out of other peoples’ money. We are living in the beginning of its end.”

Eric Raymond.

A nice late present for Christmas

If you have friends with a fondness for great, acerbic wit and writing, then get them this collection by H.L. Mencken, the “Sage of Baltimore”. Here is a good article in the Times (of London) about a nicely bound double volume of his writings.

I’d love to have seen him get to work on Obama, iDave, and for that matter, Silvio Berlusconi.

Wikileaks reveals the most stunning… er… revelation… of all

If you think the previous leaks were amazing, check out this.

Global Warming: another straw in the cold wind

Hello, what is this? BBC comedians (Armstrong and Miller, no less) making fun out of the failure of Global Warming to be … warm?

Spotted by the ever-alert Delingpole, who has the video up at his blog. It’s under a minute long and is a must-see, if you’ve not already seen it.

I wonder if it was that earlier viral video, the one in the classroom with the exploding kids, that alerted these guys to the comedic possibilities of this debate? The reaction to this latest piece of (I trust) internet virality will be interesting.