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]

Evil, thy name is Mary

The Nevada Health Department attacked a private farm and forced the destruction of a feast of friends. I can not comprehend how people can sink to this depth. I used to think much more highly of Nevada, but it appears the rot is setting in even there…

Something is going to break. Americans are not going to put up with this crap much longer.

All my problems?

Mumbai, India. February 2012

What if my problem is “I cannot find anywhere to park”?

An interesting “Liberal Democrat”

That is what she is, it seems. A member of the House of Lords, Jenny Tonge has arguably now gone so crazy that the police might get involved, although as a libertarian, I defend freedom of speech absolutely, so I think any criminal prosecution would be wrong, just as I defend the right of a political party to eject her, shame her and put her head on a metaphorical spike outside the Tower of London.

Breaking: She has now resigned the Liberal Democrat whip. It is extraordinary she has been allowed to hang on for so long.

As Nick Cohen has written:

“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict explains the shabbiness of Lib Dem thought as it explains so many other shabby arguments circulating in Europe. Its leaders ought to know that the only moral position to take is to support a two-state solution in which a free and democratic Palestine lives alongside Israel with borders that approximate the dividing lines of 1967. In theory, everyone except far-leftists, Islamists and neo-Nazis knows this. In practice, Lib Dem opinion has been seized by a reactionary version of radical chic in which murder is celebrated and racism dignified.”

And later on, he writes this crushing paragraph:

“As it is impossible to write about Jews in the present climate and expect to have a sensible debate, let me replace them with blacks. Suppose a leading Lib Dem peer had said that black people were by their nature mentally inferior to whites. Would you expect liberal society to be satisfied if Clegg did not expel her from the party and screamed and shouted about his honour instead? I suspect most people would demand that he proved he knew the meaning of the word by taking action. Suppose the same Liberal peer were to go on to bring up the most poisonous myth of white supremacy and say that young black men were touring the cities looking for white women to rape. In those circumstances liberal society would consider it outrageous if Lord Wallace were to dismiss complaints by saying, “The reason why we resist expelling her from the party is that we do sadly find the current Zanu-PF party very intolerant of all criticism.”

The woman is a piece of delusional scum. There’s no need to be polite. Sorry if this offends anyone.

It is richly ironic that a party with the name “liberal” in it contains such a character. Guido has more on the background.

Samizdata quote of the day

“I think it’s an interesting reflection on politics today when the choice in a major election is between a drunken, possibly alcoholic, philanderer and a philanderer. I’ve nothing at all against booze, excessive consumption of such, extra-marital legovers nor even illegitimate children. All add enormously to the gaiety and variety of life and no society with even the slightest claim to being liberal or free would say different. But it is an interesting insight into the characters of those who rise to the top in politics, isn’t it?”

Tim Worstall.

Well, if you explore the history of the 18th Century and 19th, for example, you will find political figures who were drunks, wife-beaters, adulterers, duellists (Andrew Jackson, the US president, fought several, as did British political figures such as Fox, Castlereagh and Canning); indolent fools, frauds and con-artists. Plus ca change……

Another reason for opposing all government aid to other governments

Here is a pretty good article in the Telegraph, by Nancy Soderberg (who she?), arguing that taxpayers of the UK should not be giving money to Argentina. It is a country that, with hardly a shred of legal or other justification, wishes to claim back territories (the Falkland Islands) that it unsuccessfully attempted to capture 30 years ago by force of arms:

“Argentina, after all, is acting with scant regard for the international community. Over the past decade it has pursued a deliberate strategy of playing games with financial markets. Its default on £51 billion of debt in 2001 turned it into a financial pariah, a status that was not enhanced by two subsequent unilateral debt restructurings. To this day, Argentina remains shut out of the world’s capital markets. To make matters worse, it also nationalised private pension funds, thereby providing itself with a captive domestic market into which it could sell its debt.”

“The government has since been sued by creditors around the world as they try to force Argentina to honour its obligations. In the Southern District Court of New York alone, there have been more than 170 bondholder lawsuits, resulting in more than 100 judgments. Today, Argentina still owes more than £15 billion in old debts ranging from Paris Club loans, to bondholders, and to foreign investors holding arbitral awards from the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). In each case, Argentina has refused to play by the rules. It has demanded a Paris Club restructuring without the mandatory IMF monitoring, it has ignored New York court judgments, and it has insisted, in blatant disregard of its treaty obligations under ICSID, that arbitral awards be brought to Argentina for “approval” by its own courts.”

Argentina is refusing to let UK-registered vessels enter any of its ports, and has also sought to enlist other Latin American countries in putting the squeeze on the UK. Now of course some of this can be dismissed as “sabre-rattling”, and no doubt, in their quieter moments, many Argentine people who have endured a variety of useless or vicious governments will think that the latest antics of their government are absurd. But it is clear that bullies need to be confronted eventually. The UK government should terminate any aid to Argentina without delay. Indeed, it should terminate aid, full stop, to any country, democratic or otherwise.

One of the things that stuck in my mind when reading the late Christopher Hitchens’ brilliant “Hitch 22” memoirs was his description of how he felt about the Thatcher administration in confronting the military junta of Argentina in 1982. I think it was Hitchens’ first realisation that his youthful leftism meant he had to take sides with some pretty stupid people, and that he began a long, slow reappraisal of some of his ideas. As the Falklanders no doubt asked themselves in 1982, do we really want to be taken over by this lot?

Of course, it is all about ooooiiilllll!

For a bit of background, here is a reasonably fair account of the history of the Falkland Islands, which have been attached to the UK since the 1830s, an era when Argentina had only begun to exist as an independent nation in its own right.

Bill shock

Bill shock is what happens when you go abroad, let your phone download some emails, then return home to an enormous bill. It has happened to me and at least one other frequently traveling samizdatista. The BBC is reporting that the European Parliament’s Industry, Telecommunications, Research, and Energy Committee has just voted to cap the price of mobile data in order to prevent bill shock.

Which does not quite make sense. The problem of bill shock is not that the bill is too high, though it is surprising and arguably silly that the price of a gigabyte can vary by a factor of 1000 or more depending on where you are, but you are told the price in advance. The problem is that the bill is unexpected. If phone companies are guilty of something, it is that they make it difficult or impossible to detect that you are running up an enormous bill before it is too late.

A simple solution would be to use SMS to warn customers what is happening or to allow them to set a limit after which data stops working. And although the BBC article does not say so, this is exactly what was regulated in July 2010. This bit of regulation regulates a sensible solution to a real problem, even it it is not sensible that regulation was used to achieve it.

The rest of it, the arbitrary caps on prices of this and that, is just price fixing.

Newt is not the only one worrying about EMP

here is another item from Janes:

UK urged to prepare for EMP threat.
The UK House of Commons Defence Committee (HCDC) has warned of the potential danger posed by a deliberate electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) attack, pointing – in a report published on 22 February – to Iran and non-state actors as particular threats. Citing evidence given by the US EMP Commission, the HCDC stated that “Iran, in particular, is reported to have been conducting what appear to be missile tests to simulate a nuclear EMP strike”

It sort of makes me glad that I and my own computers are in an out of the cross-hairs corner of the world…

The Global Cold War in the Middle East

Here is an item from a Jane’s email newsletter that caught my attention:

Iran-Israel shadow war escalates
The covert war between Israel and Iran has seemingly escalated, with attempts being made on the lives of Israelis in both India and Georgia. On 13 February, CCTV cameras in New Delhi, India, captured footage of a motorcyclist attaching a magnetic bomb to a vehicle being driven by the wife of an Israeli diplomat

I fear the Middle East will be a self-curing problem through self-immolation in a localized Armageddon. We must not forget the hatred for Israel is secondary to the hatred of some elements of each of the major Islamic sects for each other. Once Iran has a viable stockpile of deliverable nuclear weapons, the Saudi’s will do the same. Pakistan already has them. Israel has them. It will be a nuclear free-for-all that will only stop when there is no one left standing. We can hope the Israeli’s can manage to survive with more of their society intact than the others, primarily because they are not stark raving lunatics like many of those with whom they share the region.

‘Elf and safety

“Back in Britain, the Mail on Sunday ran an interesting feature this weekend about a different example of what certainly sounded like a health and safety overreaction. It told the tale of a man who drowned in a shallow boating pond in his local park, after suffering an epileptic seizure while feeding swans. A passer-by (a woman who was in charge of a small child so did not dare enter the pond) called the emergency services. But the first firemen to show up announced that they only had Level One training, for ankle-deep water, and needed to wait for a specialist team with Level Two training for chest-deep water. By the time that team arrived, the man had been floating in the pond for 37 minutes. While waiting for that specialist help, the same firemen also strongly urged a policeman not to attempt a rescue in the pond, even refusing to lend the policeman a life-vest. Then the policeman’s control room told him not to enter the water, as the victim had been in the pond so long that it was a body retrieval mission, not a rescue.”

Writes a columnist in The Economist.

Then there is this:

“It is tempting to conclude that Britain has fallen into a serious problem with regulation, red tape and crippling risk-aversion.”

You think so? In fairness, the column is pretty good and it even goes on to wonder whether there is something seriously wrong with the UK national character. I tend to be a bit wary about such broad generalisations, though.

The enduring brilliance of Bastiat

“But is not the consternation these classes feel a just punishment? Have they themselves not set the baneful example of the attitude of mind of which they now complain? Have they not always had their eyes fixed on favors from the state? Have they ever failed to bestow any privilege, great or small, on industry, banking, mining, landed property, the arts, and even their means of relaxation and amusement, like dancing and music – everything, indeed, except on the toil of the people and the work of their hands? Have they not endlessly multiplied public services in order to increase, at the people’s expense, their means of livelihood: and is there today the father of a family among them who is not taking steps to assure his son a government job? Have they ever voluntarily taken a single step to correct the admitted inequities of taxation? Have they not for a long time exploited their electoral privileges? And now they are amazed and distressed that the people follow in the same direction! But when the spirit of mendicancy has prevailed for so long among the rich, how can we expect it not to have penetrated to the less privileged classes?”

Frederic Bastiat, quoted over at Bleeding Heart Libertarians. I also liked this following paragraph:

It’s is a terrific substantive and rhetorical point that I think has largely been overlooked in the contemporary libertarian commentary on Occupy Wall Street, yet Bastiat had it 160 years ago, and with style and panache. Bastiat may not have made any real contributions to economic theory, but no one in the history of economics has been a better economic rhetorician than he was. He knew how to take ideas and put them in a form that was persuasive and memorable. It is a skill more economists could use as we continue to try to push back during a time when bad ideas we thought were dead are reappearing, zombie-like, across the landscape.

Bastiat is also described in this piece as a “Ninja”. Nice!

So much for the unhampered power of big corporations

We are often told, even by so-called “left libertarians” who claim to be in favour of markets but not corporatism, that modern corporations, with their evil limited liability protections, favours from the state and so on, can roll over a democratic government and shaft the general public. Up to a point, Lord Copper. In fact, the situation is far more complicated. Some firms seem remarkably weak when confronted with some pressures, which makes me wonder why Hollywood movies still insist on portraying corporate executives as flinty-eyed, heartless bastards on the take. (The irony is, of course, that some of the most ruthless corporations are in the film business).

As evidence, Brendan O’Neill has this excellent piece in the Telegraph about Tesco’s, workfare, and the influence of the “Twitterati”:

“What could be worse than the government’s workfare programme?”, almost every columnist in the land is currently asking. I can think of one thing worse: the awesome and terrifying power of the commentariat and its slavish groupies amongst the Twitterati to strike down initiatives like workfare and almost any other government project that they don’t like. That’s the real story here. Forget the historically illiterate wailing about young people being forced into “slave labour” or the idea that getting yoof to work in return for money is the Worst Thing Ever. The ins and outs of workfare itself pale into insignificance when compared with the new power of tiny cliques of cut-off people to override public opinion and reshape modern Britain.

The speed with which first Tesco, that supposedly arrogant monolith of the high street, and then others withdrew from the workfare scheme was alarming. It was a testament both to the sheepishness of modern corporations (remember this next time someone starts banging on about “free-market fundamentalism”) and to the authority of the therapeutic, suspicious-of-wealth, pro-state, anti-big-business sections of the well-fed media classes, who can now put powerful institutions on the spot simply by penning a few ill-thought-through articles with the word “SLAVE” in them.

One possible quibble: has this not been the case for decades, even centuries? Consider that the opinion-forming classes have tended to be concentrated in the London area, have tended to have an influence out of all proportion to their numbers? This is hardly new. What has changed, clearly, is that in the age of the internet, the speed with which this class can make its voice heard accelerates.

I always thought it was a bit optimistic to imagine that blogging, the internet and so on would massively shift the balance of forces in terms of who gets to influence debate in a country like the UK. The mainstream media still carries big influence, especially television. And our political class, drawn as it is from a relatively shallow pool of talent, is as susceptible to the influence of such opinions as it ever was. However, what I think has changed for the better is that more of us, such as O’Neill and so on, can attack the conventional wisdom through the medium of the internet rather than hope that our letters get printed in some corner of a newspaper.

There is also more of what we might call a “swarm effect” these days with certain issues; I think the internet definitely magnifies this phenomenon. Another consequence is that memory of certain events gets ever shorter as the news cycle spins faster and faster. The Singularity is near!!!.

Update: Guido Fawkes has a delicious twist on this whole business about “workfare” – it involves the Guardian.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Penn takes the direct opposite side from his government and country”

That’s not a problem. I do it all the time. ALL the time.

Penn’s problem is he’s an idiot. (Fine actors are frequently just a splurge of emotion and empathy. You want superhot steam in a calliope. You don’t want it under your desk with the PC and the genitalia.) ‘His’ government happens to be equivocal on the point currently. But if it agreed with him, it wouldn’t make his view any less idiotic.

– Guy Herbert