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

“Liberal democracy is not about “paying a fair share” based on the exigencies of the moment and the vagaries of public opinion. If it were, Parliament would be little more than a trading floor where the freedoms of minorities were bartered away for temporary fixes and periodic bond repayments. True liberal democracy was and still should be about protecting and preserving freedom, equality in liberty and equality before the law – even when it is not, financially or politically, in our best interests to do so.”

PJ Byrne, over at the Adam Smith Institute blog. Alas, “true liberal democracy” is hard to achieve, given the strong urge by politicians to persuade one group of electors to rob another group, or indeed, even to rob themselves.

Has United ruined Continental?

I have for many years used Continental Airlines for most of my travel as I have found them reasonable and relatively easy to deal with. They always worked with me to solve problems and I never had any complaints about their service. I was a bit worried when United merged but at first it did not seem to cause any problems.

Now, the penny has dropped. I have been extending my travel here in the US and have changed the return date 6 times. Suddenly they have decided my ticket is ‘not changeable’ and the 6 people who have done so in the past ‘were in error’. I actually do not believe this is the case. What I believe has happened is that the unfriendly skies have now taken hold and these people are totally bureaucratic and have no concept of working with their customers.

This does not bode well for the merged company. If they can leave a long time, loyal customer stranded, I suspect they are going to make many, many enemies amongst their potential customer base.

If I had their stock right now, I’d sell.

Samizdata quote of the day

“More and more, this society feels like a tacit civil war between the state, with its armies of employees, and the few of us still left who are not involved with it in some way, whether in making up the rules or implementing them. No shots are fired, but it is a conflict nonetheless.”

Fabian Tassano

Britain’s inflation problem

I occasionally get sent material about the economy, and fresh data on today’s ugly UK inflation figures must surely set the alarm bills ringing in the City and Bank of England.

UK consumer price inflation – which unlike retail price inflation, does not factor in mortgage interest payments – comes out at 4.4 per cent in February, the highest in 28 months, according to the Daily Telegraph. RPI rose to 5.5 per cent, the highest level since the early 1990s, back in the period when the hapless government of then Prime Minister John Major was in power and trying to fix the system by tying sterling to the-then Deutschemark. How well that worked.

It is going to be harder and harder to ignore the inflation problem. If you compound the effect even over, say, five years, an inflation rate of about 5 per cent will massacre savings, while of course being just marvellous news for borrowers. And I have this sickening feeling that while some policymakers may fret publicly about inflation, some of them are quietly happy to have this huge wealth transfer via inflation persist. The capital structure of the West’s financial system will be further distorted.

Here are the figures as shown by the Office for National Statistics. They don’t make for fun reading.

One of the few MSM journalists in the UK has been onto this subject early and frequently is Fraser Nelson at the Spectator. Here’s his latest. (The comment thread shows how depressingly silly some people are about inflation).

Anti-growth policies would not make earthquakes less bad

Tim Worstall, the redoubtable debunker of flat-earth economic nonsense, comes across a particularly juicy specimen in relation to the recent terrible earthquake in Japan. It is worth quoting at some length, because this “localism” stuff needs to be endlessly trashed:

Take local food. So, if everyone in North-Eastern Japan were to be reliant upon local food supplies then everyone in North-Eastern Japan would now be condemned to starvation in the next month or so. Not just the ten or twenty thousand who have already died, but the hundreds of thousands, millions, that make up the entire population. For in the wake of an earthquake that destroyed much and a tsunami that swamped the rest, there is no food, no saved food storage and no damn chance of growing any for the forseeable future.

“Localism” would kill all of these people. And the same would be true of localism in Pakistan when it floods, Queensland when it floods, Cockermouth when it floods, any damn where when there’s a drought and, in fact, any part of the planet that could be hit by any of those natural disasters which a vengeful planet can plop upon us, from the flood and drought already mentioned through to hurricanes, cyclones, potato or banana blight and plagues of frogs

Speer’s battle with freedom

Gitta Sereny, the dark chronicler of Nazi Germany, spent many hours in conversation and correspondence with Albert Speer, the organisational genius of that regime. From this sprang her study of immorality, dishonour and ambiguous redemption, “Albert Speer: His battle with truth“. Gitta Sereny’s mother was also the wife of Von Mises from 1938. This connection sprang to life when Abert Speer sent her a clipping in 1977. The clipping was an article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on the theories of Von Mises.

Manfred von Poser recalled that Speer had two strong beliefs: a maximum of individual initiative at the expense of state power and a European Community. Whilst the latter may have been expressed in some dark, racialist principle, the former was stillborn within Speer’s thoughts and actions. It is pointless to ask if Speer was a libertarian: since these are principles arrived at through understanding freedom in all its forms, not the inchoate grasping of a malformed mind that understands the damage caused by the state he supported and the evil that it perpetrated.

Yet, Speer understood the failures of the state in some shape and form. He understood its inability to meet its requirements, its responsibilities and the monstrous outcomes of state planning. Not at the beginning of his career within the National Socialist movement, but a gradual awareness as his own responsibilities grew. Speer’s experiences show that a comprehension of state failure is insufficient without a moral framework. It is observing freedom through the wrong end of the telescope. Speer’s alternative did not champion individual liberty at the beginning. It was an instrument for achieving better outcomes and efficiencies. Perhaps during his process of coming to terms with what he did, Speer finally knew that freedom is a moral value. We will never know.

Battle: Los Angeles

I am not going to tell you much about it: only that it is one of the best SF movies I have seen in a long while and perhaps the best combat movie I have ever seen. The soldiers acted like soldiers. They were competently led by people who were very human and proud to be US Marines.

Go see it, and then tell all your friends about it.

Regime smashing in Libya

Others have been complaining about how long it has taken, but I have been surprised at the speed with which the West has responded to events in Libya, and have been unable to shake the feeling, until today actually, that the reports I was reading were send-ups for comic purposes of some kind.

I am an agnostic about Western intervention in foreign parts rather than an outright atheist, but I respect the atheist position and deeply fear the true believer, “nation building” idea. Governments are good at destroying stuff, but tend to be shambolic at any kind of creativity. The more creative they try to be, the more destructive they typically end up being. People do creative, not governments.

This operation seems to be mostly destructive, which is all to the good. I think it reasonable to hope that it accomplishes some good, rather than only fearful that it will all go horribly wrong.

The West’s leaders are telling Gadaffi that maybe he can rule his country, but not the way he has been for the last fortnight or so. Bombing it and shelling it into submission is not allowed. Do that and we’ll do the same to you. Govern your country with riot police. Maybe arrange some elections, and then fix them. Bribe people into supporting you, rather than just killing them like they are armed soldiers. Above all, and now I’m going by what David Cameron said this afternoon, don’t announce ceasefires and promise them to your fellow members of the Head of Government Club, but then not deliver them.

This was one of the big things that Saddam Hussein did wrong, as I understand that earlier story. He didn’t just invade Kuwait. He told other members of the Head of Government Club that he wouldn’t. Lying to your people is okay. They all do that. That’s business as usual. But lying to fellow members of the Head of Government Club is not the done thing. Do it and you get blackballed, by which is meant that your armed underlings, the basis of your power, get slaughtered. Provided, that is, you are not bossing a serious power, and Westerners slaughtering your underlings would start a serious war, as opposed to an “asymmetric” war (i.e. a slaughter of your slaughterers).

LOL!!!: Just watched a British military talking-head-in-a-suit on the BBC, when asked to say what success for this operation would mean, say: “removing Saddam”, and then hurriedly correct himself.

Samizdata quote of the day

“When Hollywood shows you an earthquake, an eruption, or a towering inferno, you see mass panic, stampeding crowds, maybe a looting spree. When sociologists study real-life disasters, they see calm, resourceful people evacuating buildings, rescuing strangers, and cooperating nonviolently.”

Jesse Walker, on how Japanese people are responding to the terrible events to have hit that country over the past week. (H/T, Instapundit).

Samizdata quote of the day

People who see virtue in doing without electricity should shut off their fridge, stove, microwave, computer, water heater, lights, TV and all other appliances for a month, not an hour.

Ross McKitrick abhors Earth Hour.

Melatonin really did kill my jetlag

Well, I am back in the UK after a very busy – but also very enjoyable – trip to the US, visiting both New York and San Francisco. One of the problems in flying eastwards from somewhere such as San Francisco, as I and my wife did yesterday, is the jetlag. People have their own solutions or countermeasures, such as making sure you drink plenty of water to combat in-flight dehydration, and so on. I rarely sleep much on aircraft unless I have the luxury of a very roomy seat and can recline it. Being the cheapskate I am, I flew economy, and kept partly awake for most of the 10-hour flight. (I flew Virgin Atlantic, which I think is pretty good).

So what to do? Well, a number of friends of mine in the US recommend Melatonin. You can buy this easily enough in any decent US drugstore. In the UK, so I am told, you have to get it via prescription. But there appear to be websites where you can buy it, so I am not sure what the legal issues are, if any. I took a tablet last night, slept the sleep of the righteous, and now feel fine. It does not necessarily work for everyone, but it works like a charm for me. I am told that you should avoid caffeine and booze for a while before taking the pill and hitting the bed.

I first read about this substance via the Extropian crowd of friends – a group of futurists and transhumanists – back in the early 1990s. Melatonin is a substance that is produced by the body, but it reduces with old age, and some have argued that taken in the right quantities and used sensibly, that it has beneficial health effects. Here is a Wikipedia item on Melatonin. I know people who have suffered from insomnia, and it is no joke. So something that might handle that issue can make a big difference to quality of life.

Chernobyl myths

Incoming from Michael Jennings, which started with the link to this Fukushima update piece in The Register (subtitled “Still nothing to get in a flap about”) which at the end says this:

Reaction to our earlier piece praising the actually rather brilliant response of the Fukushima reactors and their operators in the quake’s wake has shown that hoary myths and legends surrounding Chernobyl persist, and that one will still, even after all this time, generally be pilloried for suggesting that Chernobyl – far and away the worst nuclear incident ever which didn’t involve an atomic bomb – was genuinely not that serious.

We here at the Reg attended the launch of this rather excellent recent book, Flat Earth News, in which veteran Guardian investigative journalist Nick Davies dared to include the Chernobyl myths of thousands dead (actually the established figure is 56) alongside other great, baseless modern scares like the Millennium Bug.

Davies said that nothing else he has ever done in his life earned him as much flak as that.

Michael says:

I think most people are unfamiliar with the story of what actually happened at Chernobyl in 1985, beyond “There was a meltdown”. Basically, pretty much every possible fuckup happened one after another (from reactor design, to reactor management, to employee supervision, to safety procedures (there weren’t any, quite seriously) to after the fact disaster recovery. This of course had little to do with problems with nuclear power and quite a bit to do with problems of the Soviet Union. Not that I need to tell you this.

But I do need to pass it on.