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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

A mistaken reason for bashing Barack Obama

There are many reasons to hope that President Obama is a one-term president, and they have been rehearsed on this blog many times. But occasionally there are arguments against him that strike me as seriously off-base. One such has surfaced during the recent commentary about how he is not “doing enough” in the Middle East and North Africa; he is not, apparently, giving enough angry speeches about Egypt, or Libya, or sending vast carrier fleets to the Med, or the Gulf, or generally behaving like a Teddy Roosevelt and doing the “let’s give those furriners hell” thing. Well, at the risk of drawing heavy fire from the hawks who lurk around this site, I would argue that funnily enough, there may be a measure of method in this supposed madness.

For instance, I fail to see what, really, the US or other major powers could or should have done about Egypt. Far better, in my view, to let the Egyptians take ownership of their country’s problems and challenges. If anything positive does come out of the “Jasmine Revolution” (whoever comes up with these terms?), better that it be an achievement by the locals, a source of pride and genuine self esteem, not something associated with “abroad”. For far too long, the Middle East, and many other places besides, have had this oh-so-convenient excuse that their problems were all the fault of the Great Satan and his arrogant, silly interventionism in pursuit of oil, or whatever. The US has often played the part, not always willingly, of being the world’s designated driver (the person who stays sober so he can drive his drinking buddies home at the end of the evening). The trouble with being a designated driver is that it starts to encourage the drinkers to drink even more, become more rowdy, and then they can start to vomit on the street, get into fights, or then almost resent that goody-goody who is always there, with the car, to take them home again. Time for some adult responsbility rather than constant reliance on the West.

I am not of course suggesting that Obama has necessarily been taking a wise, cautious stance based on thoughtful reflection. Other issues may have played a part. But I think we should perhaps give a bit more credit where it is sometimes due here. There are limits on what even the most powerful of countries can and should do. In the case of Egypt, and possibly Libya, the smart policy may be to watch, pay close attention but in general, to stay out of the mess. It is, in fact, a conservative stance. Maybe, just for once, The Community Organiser has shown a bit of common sense. He may, in short, be behaving like a “Swiss”, but I fail to see why that is necessarily terrible or something to be ashamed of. (It should be noted that since Obama’s ascendancy to the White House, the US has put the Swiss banking system under relentless, even hysterical, attack).

Normal service will be resumed later. Stay tuned.

UPDATE. Well that did not seem to persuade anyone. But read carefully, gentle readers. I am not suggesting that this is all a consequence of deep thought, or of anything broadly benign. It may well indeed be that The One is paralysed, out of his depth, a silver-tongued twerp who is in over his head, whatever. But unlike Christopher Hitchens in the article to which I link, I do not think that what the North African crises call for is mass-scale US interventionism. Sure, the US could and should have been quicker to get US nationals out; maybe also it should have acted faster to realise the fallout of all this. But why should the US, given its heavy commitments in other areas (Iraq, Afghanistan) feel called upon to sort out the mess of yet another region of the world?

Samizdata quote of the day

Socialists love analogies to Sweden. But they are always unconvincing because they are based on some fantasy Sweden, rather than on an actual Nordic country bordered by Norway and Finland. In the Sweden of lore, every single woman is also 18 years old, blonde, busty, lonely, naked and waiting for you in the sauna.

Claire Berlinski, Why Thatcher Matters. Page 154.

One of the highlights of the book are the interviews she carries out with Neil Kinnock, former leader of the Labour Party. He comes across as the buffoon he is with a layering of rather pompous Welsh charm. And for those who might have forgotten the mid-80s, there is a vivid pen portrait of Arthur Scargill, leader of the National Union of Mineworkers. He was not just a Marxist, he was an avowed admirer of Stalin.

An unusual camera

This is a funky-looking camara from Sony – one of its “Alpha” models. When I first saw this picture over at Engadget, I thought it was an underwater camera – I am planning on doing more scuba diving later this year. Then I realised it was just a transluscent design.

I like this selection of odd-looking cameras. Some of them look as if they were whisked up by Q Branch. “Now James, this is something I am particularly proud of……”

Judith Curry takes on the climate establishment

If you are interested in seeing the polemics around climate giving way to improved climate science – and lets face it, a lot of the comrades around here find the polemics more fun – do not miss the storm being kicked up by Judith Curry on her blog Climate Etc. Curry is ‘Professor and Chair’ of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology and a bête noire (or at least a ‘crazy aunt’, as she puts it) of climate alarmists, as she is one of those competent insiders who keeps putting spokes in their wheels. She has three threads running on the topic of ‘Hiding The Decline’, referring to Phil Jones’s notorious Climategate email. The basic message to her fellow climate researchers is: stop trying to defend the indefensible. Some money quotes:

It is obvious that there has been deletion of adverse data in figures shown IPCC AR3 and AR4, and the 1999 WMO document. Not only is this misleading, but it is dishonest (I agree with Muller on this one). The authors defend themselves by stating that there has been no attempt to hide the divergence problem in the literature, and that the relevant paper was referenced. I infer then that there is something in the IPCC process or the authors’ interpretation of the IPCC process (i.e. don’t dilute the message) that corrupted the scientists into deleting the adverse data in these diagrams.

McIntyre’s analysis is sufficiently well documented that it is difficult to imagine that his analysis is incorrect in any significant way. If his analysis is incorrect, it should be refuted. I would like to know what the heck Mann, Briffa, Jones et al. were thinking when they did this and why they did this, and how they can defend this, although the emails provide pretty strong clues. Does the IPCC regard this as acceptable? I am sure do not.


The subject of climate change is a complex and important topic; the public is counting on scientists to provide the best available information. When the public saw … climategate, with “hide the decline” being its slogan, there was a substantial loss of public trust. This is not a good thing for climate science, nor for policy deliberations.

The response to climategate (of which hide the decline is the slogan) of the climate scientists and the broader climate establishment has been to say to the public “not to worry, the science is still sound, nothing has changed.” No one is standing up to acknowledge the problems and talk about addressing them so that this kind of thing does not happen in the future. Restoring trust would have been easier a year ago than it is now.

Referring to supposed parallels between the hockey-stick controversy and a controversy over the relationship between hurricane intensity and global temperature:

When I ponder the hockeystick debate, and its differences with the hurricane debate, and then I read those emails, well, I don’t have much sympathy. They could have taken a different path in all this. The hurricane group (and certainly myself) are no saints, but they did the right thing and it didn’t take them all that long to do it.

It takes courage to take on her own profession’s establishment like this.

The Libya exodus

This is pure class, pure, unalloyed hilarity from today’s Evening Standard newspaper editorial, page 14, as it talked about how Britain has paid some sort of bribe to Gaddafi to get landing rights and extract British nationals:

“As with other aspects of the rescue effort, the comparison with the response of other nations does ministers no credit. It is difficult to imagine the French military asking permission for its air force to rescue French citizens earlier this week, much less paying special bribes to do so.”

The French don’t pay bribes. Riiiiight. (Cough).

A less daft argument, in the same newspaper, comes from Sebastian Shakespeare:

“It is a sad indictment of modern Britain that a crisis immediately turns into a blame game and everybody expects to be mollycoddled when the balloon goes up. But the days of gunboat diplomacy are long behind us. The time has come to put aside sentiment and face economic reality. The FO [Foreign Office] cannot perform miracles when natural or geopolitical disasters occur. Nor should it be expected to foot the entire bill.”

“And why should the FO be bailing out oil workers, of all people? Yes, they are British citizens but many won’t be paying tax in the UK but earning tax-free salaries. The companies who employ them are enough to charter a whole fleet of 747s to repatriate their staff. They should bear the costs. And why should we put the SAS at risk? BP could hire its own private army.”

Hmm. I guess if people travel and work for high salaries in places known to be dangerous – and Libya and many other thugocracies are clearly dangerous – then it is a bit much to get this sudden surge of moaning when the home country does not immediately come to the rescue. Fair point. And it is also a fair point that oil companies could afford to give good security to their staff. Many do so. Security is a huge growth industry not just for oil industries, but also for the likes of many other multinationals, such as banks. I know of a few ex armed forces guys, including an ex-SAS officer, who earn very good money in this area. This topic has a slight connection to my posting about piracy on this site.

Having said all of which, I think Shakespeare is perhaps being a bit too dismissive, here. A citizen from country A who temporarily – a key point – lives in country B while working for a firm does not, in my view, surrender the protection of his host nation entirely. Of course, simple prudence and commonsense suggests that people who choose to work in a dangerous place are taking a risk and cannot expect that risk to be underwritten by fellow taxpayers who live in safer places. But I am not entirely at ease with the idea that we say to expat workers, even very rich ones, that we leave them to their fate. This is particularly so if such people are working for firms that play a part in the prosperity of say, the UK. This is not a cut and dried issue, in other words.

In the meantime, this whole business must be surely forcing some people in the Ministry of Defence to wonder whether recent UK defence cuts – driven more by understandable cost issues rather than strategic thinking – need to be thought through more carefully. For instance, does it make sense for the Royal Navy to go without any kind of working aircraft carriers for years until the new ones arrive, leaving the UK with no real ability to project airpower to protect things like UK shipping? Here is an interesting associated article at Standpoint.

What a lot of Koch about businessmen backing, er, business

The US-based Koch brothers, who back organisations such as the Reason Foundation and the Cato Institute, are used to getting plenty of hostile media and political criticism from statists of various hues, who of course, are perfectly happy to receive money extracted by state-backed violence – tax. The Obama folk, the unions and some cheerleaders in the MSM will be doing everything they can to discredit the Kochs, hurt their business empires, etc. Good luck with that. The Koch brothers have been patiently supporting classical free market organisations for decades and are hardly likely to retreat now. Excellent. Back here in the UK, the support for free markets and classical liberalism by business owners has been far more muted, in part for tax reasons, in part because there is less of a climate in favour of these ideas. But there have, of course, been honorable exceptions: the Institute of Economic Affairs, for instance, was founded with backing from a businessman/ex-RAF officer, Antony Fisher, in the post-WW2 years.

In any event, considering how the likes of George Soros, Ted Turner and others have shovelled gazillions at various statist causes in recent years, what is clearly really upsetting the Left is that the playing field is not as uneven as they would have hoped. And this whole nonsense also demonstrates the utter stupidity of the McCain Feingold unconstitutional assault on the First Amendment, carried out in the last decade. Far from driving private and corporate money from US politics, all it has done has to encourage money to adopt a different route.

Here is an amusing item on the matter over at Pajamas Media.

You can imagine the thought-processes of your average Obamaniac: “These businessmen are supporting the free market! This is terrible: there oughta be a laaaaaaawwwwwwww!”.

Update: more insanity via Reason’s Hit and Run blog.

Congratulations guys!

Many congrats to the samizdatista;s at XCOR Aerospace on their new contract. They have been quite busy selling the Lynx suborbital space-plane, what with the wet leasing offers and the KLM frequent flyer miles deal. A sale of 6 flights to Southwest Research Institute is definitely a good start to a hopefully long and profitable life for the Lynx line.

So come on guys, please don’t stick me on that test flight! I know you should make me prove I trusted the numbers that came out of that simulation code! Please don toss me in that briar patch Br’er Greason! 😉

Frankly, if the Space Invaders arrive I will be grateful for NATO

Seriously though, isn’t being opposed to NATO membership rather 1985?

Samizdata quote of the day

“There must be a way for Tony Blair to make money out of all this”.

Commenter on an article about the situation in Libya and other parts of N.Africa and Middle East. Well, our Tone has done jolly well so far.

Reflections on the Middle East and the arms trade

The current eruptions of civil unrest and protest across North Africa and the Middle East – no wonder oil prices are surging – has also thrown into unflattering relief the issue of Western arms sales to some regimes, such as that of Libya. And no doubt the argument will be made that, for example in the case of the recent, unlamented Blair/Brown governments in the UK, the administration put export earnings (oil, arms contracts) above such niceties as basic morality or even, arguably, long-term national security.

But here is a thing: according to Shariah law, it is prohibited for Muslims to invest in things such as the arms trade. Making weapons of war is put on the same banned list as pork, gambling, usury and pornography (sounds like all the really good things, Ed). So let me get this straight: some of the most fanatically Muslim regimes on the planet, such as Saudi Arabia, insist on sweeping prohibitions on making arms, but are more than keen to spend all that oil wealth on buying Typhoon fighters or whatever. This is surely an example of the contortions that Islamic law imposes on people. Another case being usury, as I have noted before.

Of course, all belief systems, secular and “religious” variety, come up against the issue of awkward realities and human hypocrisy. But when you next read a story bashing Western arms manufacturers for shipping instruments of death to the Middle East, perhaps it would be well to remember that the locals are apparently banned from making these instruments, but some of them are quite happy to reach for the wallet and buy them.

And lest you think this is just an issue for Islam, it is arguable that even those investors who put money into “ethical” funds that avoid arms trades would do well to reflect on where they think governments buy weapons for even strict self defence? I make this point in case anyone claims I am singling out Islam in general; I mention it in this case since obviously, much of the current buying of weapons is being driven by the Middle East.

Dealing with the modern nautical piracy problem

It appears that the shipping insurance industry, taking increasing hits from the sheer volume of kidnappings by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean, has decided to come up with some new responses to this. Market forces in action.

Watching a Channel 4 programme last night about a recent capture of a vessel and subsequent shootings, a figure came out that about 780 people hostages are still being held captive by these vermin. Kerist.

Here is a previous posting on the issue by Perry back in 2009. Here is another comment on this issue by yours truly, responding to a particularly silly claim.

Brian Micklethwait has also written on this issue over at his blog.

I studied Dead White Males at University – you got a problem with that?

We have recently had a bit of a storm in a thimble about the subject of university degrees and how this apparently fuels the “Enemy Class/hegemony/Nanny State-which-must-be-smashed-by-something” sort of issue. The original subject was nannying government threats about issues concerning diet. Suddenly the issue came up of the sort of folk pushing for this: David Cameron with his Oxford University PPE (Politics, Philosophy and Economics). Regular commenter IanB then constructed what I regard as an unwarranted and extraordinarily broad-brush thesis. He caused so much offence to our editor, Perry de Havilland, that, entirely within Perry’s rights as owner of this turf, IanB’s subsequent remarks were deleted. Now he has responded, over at the Counting Cats blog. He’s clearly upset, or at least, does not, in my view, fully grasp the reasons for the annoyance his remark caused.

This is my take on the matter. There is certainly a “bubble”, or malinvestment issue, in higher education in much of the West. I also think that the school leaving age should be reduced. Heck, I also have argued that labour market rules should be eased to make it easier for firms to take on apprentices so that young people can do something productive and lucrative. A lot of graduates are likely to come out of universities feeling bitter and betrayed at having degrees that are of limited market use and yet are saddled with heavy debts. The whole model needs to be rethought, and radically. I have said so in the past and intend to repeat this point from time to time.

But to target liberal arts degrees such as the polymath forms of PPE, Greats, History, in the particular way that IanB does is truly mad.

Consider this paragraph from this comment thread: (February 20, 2011 05:35 PM)

“The PPE degree is entirely sinister. The university system, and the education system beneath it are primarily sinister. We live in a sinister political and social structure, designed by sinister people, for sinister ends. There is no shame in hating that which is evil. That some proportion of PPE graduates do not go on to participate directly in the evil of the State no more disproves the general observation than finding a few good eggs in your local Communist party would exhonerate Communism.”

(Emphasis mine)

Now that’s madness on a motorcycle. “Entirely sinister”. “Evil”. No ifs, buts, or maybes. No, if a 20-year-old goes to college to study bits of economics, philosophy, politics and maybe history, there is no redemption for them. While Mr “B” might concede that quite a few libertarians/classical liberals have done such degrees – I know around 10 who have – in general, it is “entirely sinister” and should, presumably, be suppressed. Yet I know of people who did this degree, or others like it (I read history), with no end-goal of working in government, or of propping up some “establishment”; in fact many seem to have worked in business or done things very different. The degree may have started out as an entrance exam for government, but that is by no means its only, or even dominant, use these days.

In any event, if we are worried about Big Government, nanny statism and the whole prevailing Precautionary Principle mindset – and we are – then it seems a bit arse-about-face to focus on the subjects that future politicians/civil servants choose to study, since how can we predict that learning a course A rather than B is going to turn out a certain mindset we approve or disapprove of? Sounds a bit like hubris to me. (Hubris, of course, is a word that comes from those poncey Greeks).

Rather, would it not make rather more sense to cut governments down to size and worry about what the Davids, Johns or Nigels will study later on, if at all? Who is to say that in a private education world, or homeschooling one, that there will not be quite a lot of demand for polymath arts-type exams, as well as others? Let a thousand flowers bloom how they may, I say.

A historical point: In the early 19th Century, many of the leading political figures of the day – Robert Peel (double-first at Oxford), W E Gladstone, etc, were classical liberals in their broad philosophy of government, and a grounding in the Classics, and understanding of the lessons of Ancient Rome and Greece, proved useful. Ditto the US Founding Fathers. They all did those dead languages about times long ago, no doubt to the bemusement of some. The writings and speeches of Cato and Cicero, or Seneca and Tacitus, were part of their mental DNA. Of course, some of this could have been self-taught, but without those fusty old universities, might not have been made nearly so widespread.

Anyway, I see that IanB has no desire to return to these comment threads, which is a pity, since he is more or less one of the good guys with whom I agree more often than not, especially on things such as the nanny state. But I feel that I need to state these points for the record lest he gets it into his head that he is some sort of wronged party here. Anyway, if he wants to chat to me about this over a beer or three, he’s got my email address.

Update: IanB has complained of my quoting him out of context, such as the paragraph containing all that use of the word “sinister”. Well, it was certainly eye-catching, and I was not going to reprint the whole thread.. I copied and pasted it because, as I replied to him in a private email, that was a paragraph that clearly summed up how he felt about these things. He’s a first-class writer; if you use words like “sinister”, or “evil”, to describe a fucking exam, then naturally, some folk are going to pick on it. We can do all we can with nuance and emphasis, but that paragraph was pretty plain in its meaning. Of course, we all write or say things we meant had come out a bit differently. I certainly have.

Another update: BTW, I have re-calculated in my head the number of people whom I would call classical liberals/non-idiotarian Tories/even a few more sensible lefties, who have done liberal arts degrees at the more swanky universities in the UK (I have not included all the various folk in the US, as this would be a very big number). I come up with about 100 people. (The figure includes recently graduated students, as well as one or two people who are sadly no longer with us, or getting on a bit, and who played big roles in the libertarian movement, such as Chris Tame, or in the more conventional conservative/liberal side further back, such as Anthony Flew, Roger Scruton, Michael Oakeshott, Isiah Berlin, Kenneth Minogue, Shirley Robin Letwin, etc).

Now, IanB might still claim that this is a tiny percentage, no significance, as is his wont. Then again, I would argue that this shows that the so-called “Enemy Class” is being quite effectively infiltrated by a fairly determined, if relatively small, number of folk on “our side”. I mean, take the think tanks: Adam Smith Institute, Institute of Economic Affairs, Taxpayers Alliance, Policy Exchange, Cobden Centre, Centre for Policy Studies…..Hardly a tiny, insignificant part of UK political/economic intellectual life. Many of them were founded, staffed and backed by people who did the sort of degrees that IanB largely writes off as “gatekeeper” exams. If they are “gatekeeper” exams, then it would appear that they are not quite performing as intended. In fact, the gate has a bloody great hole in it.