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]

This sounds rather vindictive. I like that.

Bob Neill MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department for Communities and Local Government, has written to all local authority leaders.

Yes, I know, be still my beating heart, a post about local government. I will try to keep it brief and malicious, like Bob Neill’s letter.

Remember how John Prescott’s Standards Board for England curbed freedom of speech for local councillors under the guise of “standards”?

Remember how its supposedly reformed local sucessors demanded that councillors “show respect and consideration for others”? This meant, for example, that John Dixon, a Cardiff councillor visiting London who tweeted while passing the Scientologist church in Tottenham Court Road that he just hurried past “in case the stupid rubs off” was reported to the local Standards Board. He was cleared, but as so often, and as the Scientologist who reported him knew very well, the process is the punishment.

Well, the local Standards Boards have in their turn been abolished and new rules come in tomorrow. I have not studied them in detail and am slightly less likely to do so than to gnaw off my own legs. They will probably go bad in their turn. The new rules, not my legs. But just for today, I find myself happy about this part of Bob Neill’s letter:

However, given the importance that the new arrangements are, and are clearly perceived to be, a wholly fresh start we are minded to make further provision so that any former member of a standards committee appointed under the transitional arrangements as an independent person can hold that office only until 30 June 2013.

So we bid farewell today to some quangocrats. And just for once the revolving door that smoothly glides in front of such people as it leads them from one sinecure to the next has stuck.

Samizdata quote of the day

It’s not capitalism when private individuals stand to gain from their actions but the taxpayer carries the risk. When risks are socialised and potential profits huge, individuals are bound to be reckless: why be responsible? It’s no good agonising about the culture of banking without considering the astronomical moral hazard endemic in the system today. Of course people who do not have to bear the negative consequences of their actions behave badly.

Steve Baker MP

A good day for limited government

There is a lot of conflicting opinion being fired at the US Supreme Court’s ruling(PDF) on “Obamacare”. It is certainly a curious ruling both on first and subsequent reads. I think the opinions in the decision make a great deal of, perhaps complete, sense when viewed in the terms of ‘doing a Marbury v Madison‘. That was a decision written by Chief Justice Marshall in 1803. From that decision, Marshall is regarded as the founder of the Supreme Court and the Judicial branch as it came to be understood and accepted in the balance of powers.

In this article, I am not addressing the merits of the Affordable Care Act, I am speaking to the Constitutional elements at work in the decision.

Roberts declares his view of judicial legislating in one succinct sentence. “It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.” Notice he said “political” choices. If something can be allowable under the Constitution, then a restrained Court goes out of its way to accommodate it to the Constitution. If something is Constitutionally permissible, then whether or not to do it is entirely within the sphere of politics, not Constitutional law. We will never find perfect masters and expecting the Supreme Court to attempt that role is contrary to limited government. Roberts appears to be channeling Mencken with this declaration. → Continue reading: A good day for limited government

Samizdata quote of the day

If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it’s free.

– P. J. O’Rourke

What ever happened to ‘war correspondents’?

It may be a minor thing but why oh why do people who cover the world’s conflicts seem to have so little technical knowledge of the subject they cover? I saw an article in the Telegraph with an image captioned “This image made from amateur video released by the Shaam News Network, purports to show a Syrian military tank in Homs, Syria”… except it is clearly not a “tank”, it is a BMP… an infantry fighting vehicle.

This is not new. I spent much of the 1990’s in various parts of the former Yugoslavia and was often exasperated to grab a western newspaper in Zagreb and see pictures of “Croatian tanks”… which more often than not captured former Yugoslav OT M-60 APCs pressed into service by the Croatian, HVO or BiH armies… or even rather exotic Croatian improvised armoured personnel carriers (in effect armoured trucks with a machine gun). More recently I also recall a clip on CNN describing “British tanks” in Iraq that were in fact AS-90 artillery vehicles.

It seems odd to me that so few modern war correspondents are ex-military and thus, with apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan, far too many of them cannot tell the difference between a Mauser and a javelin (and neither can their editors it seems). This is certainly why I find Michael Yon so refreshing… he actually understands what he is looking at up the sharp end.

Samizdata quote of the day

To hire an opinion pollster as a strategist is to put a spinning weathervane where a compass needle ought to be

Fraser Nelson in the Telegraph.

Now where did I see the leader of this dismal crew described as a weathervane before back in 2007?

Nuke the entire court from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.

No, I don’t mean the US Supreme Court. The lads were doing their best. If they got a bit obsessed on the question of whether Obamacare was constitutional rather than whether it was a bad idea, you can’t really blame them. Obsessing on constitutionality is what they are paid for.

The court that is pre-eminent among the “many, many things in this so-termed civilization of ours which would be mightily improved by a once over lightly of the Hiroshima treatment”, as Robert Heinlein once put it, is Doncaster Crown Court, particularly when presided over by Judge Jacqueline Davies. It was she (styled ‘Her honour Judge Jacqueline Davies'”) who in November 2010 found against Paul Chambers in his appeal against conviction for “menace” for jokingly saying on Twitter that he was going to blow up an airport if it did not reopen quickly enough after being closed by snow. He did not say this to anyone at the airport, I remind you, he said it to the internet friend he was flying to meet. Then some security loser decided to reenact the story about the old woman who rings up the police to say her neighbour is standing naked at his window. If you recall, the cop asks sympathetically whether she is very shaken up. “Dreadfullly,” she says, “I was so shocked when I saw it, I nearly fell right off the stepladder.” Only this time the police thought the joke would end better with an arrest.

Supported by, among many others, the comedians Stephen Fry and Al Murray – good for them – Paul Chambers has appealed again and a High Court hearing was held yesterday. Judgement has been reserved for a later date. Now it is our turn on this side of the pond to get tense about a judicial decision affecting liberty.

Just warning you guys….

You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I’m going to be sure. From orbit.

More on “Fast and Furious”

There might be a tendency, I think, among some world-weary types to say that this whole “Fast and Furious” disaster now unravelling is nothing more than the US equivalent of the sort of “Westminster Village” obsessions that we Brits got engrossed over more than a year ago. Nothing much to see here, please move along, etc. But I don’t see it that way. The use of executive privilege to squash oversight of key decisions made by this administration seems to be a serious matter that ought to concern the wider public, not least as people got killed and hurt.

Jennifer Rubin weighs in on the subject of the lamentable US Attorney General, Eric Holder:

“If he were a first-year law student asked to explain how the president could refuse to allow House oversight on a botched operation in which Americans and Mexicans died and the administration has twice had to cop to providing erroneous information to Congress, Eric Holder’s letter would get an “F.” He doesn’t set out the nature of the document being withheld, the type of privilege being asserted, or the argument as to why it supersedes the right of Congress to oversee executive branch misconduct. Congress is certainly within it rights to hold him in contempt. But really the president should can Holder.”

Bear in mind this appeared in the Washington Post, the same newspaper that we associate with the Watergate scandal, and hardly a bastion of the “vast rightwing conspiracy”.

Bjorn Lomborg asks why the only disasters that get attention are “sexy” ones

Here is a great video featuring “Skeptical Environmentalist” Bjorn Lomborg, talking to John Tierney, . Lomborg discusses his views about how any debate on improving lives of the poor around the world requires us to understand that resources are scarce, and that being obsessed by “sexy”, attention-grabbing issues means we ignore the less glamorous, but often far more severe issues. Of course, the media and political world tends to push attention towards the “eye-catching initiatives” (to use Tony Blair’s formulation). But that doesn’t mean we have to settle for this. Lomborg is terrific. No wonder he drives deep Greens nuts.

I recommend pretty much all his works, especially his book, Cool It.

Anton Howes on Michael Gove’s plan to impose a government exam board monopoly

The answer to a market where the participants compete to make things worse by following bad incentives is to ask what is creating those bad incentives and to stop doing that, not to impose a monopoly.

That thought is my response to, and my almost entire agreement with, an ASI blog posting by Anton Howes, which is critical of Education Minister Michael Gove’s plan to replace competing examination boards with a state monopoly examination board. Gove says these are now racing each other to the bottom, racing each other, that is to say, in lowering standards.

But, says Howes:

The proposals to limit exam board competition to monopolies for every subject (or duopolies between O-levels and CSEs) would therefore exacerbate the problem by limiting healthy academic discrimination even further. With only one exam board to be lobbied for each subject, we would face a system where every self-interested education minister could easily ‘dumb down’ the system even further, no matter how much an overhaul could raise standards in the immediate short term.

Howes is spot on in identifying one of the biggest reasons why state action is so frequently resorted to, even by politicians generally inclined to favour free market solutions. To start with, state action sometimes seems to improve matters, definitely so to many eyes. Only later does the arrangement revert to brazen, monopolised incompetence. Markets, on the other hand, often start out as a bit of a shambles, and only yield their benefits to politicians who are prepared to be patient. In the long run, markets are incomparably superior, and some politicians do know this. But politics mostly happens in the short run.

Howes also notes that “free marketeer” Lizz Truss MP supports Gove in this move towards state monopoly.

Alas, Howes himself gets a bit confused in his final paragraph:

… the real solution to grade inflation may lie in more accurate and discriminating government league tables, …

Excuse me! Now who is putting his faith in a government monopoly? But before even the next full stop arrives, Howes corrects himself.

… or even their replacement with a competing system of tables by universities, employers, and other private groups.

Quite so. But lose that “even”.

The truth about Che

A few days ago I nearly photoed someone wearing one of those idiotic Che T-shirts, but I missed the shot.

This is the kind of thing such T-shirts ought to be saying:


Although, I’m not quite sure about the wording, the bit at the bottom I mean. Truly, I’m not sure. It looks to me somewhat like an admission of defeat, rather than an assertion of victory. It’s like the bad guys really have succeeded in burying the truth about this appalling person, and the good guys are conceding this. But the first bit digs up that truth and proclaims it, and that’s good.

I found it here.

More about the real Che in this earlier posting here.

Brian Micklethwait versus Jimmy Carr – Laurie Penny versus David Starkey

I have just been reminded by a spam commenter that long before denouncing Jimmy Carr was fashionable, I denounced Jimmy Carr, in September 2008. Quote:

I am watching the late night rerun of 8 Out Of 10 Cats on the telly, and I have a complaint. Carr has just said that: “It’s true. 68 percent preferred brains to beauty.” No Carr. If you join me in thinking about this, Carr, what you will realise is that 68 percent of people said they preferred brains to beauty.

Time was when we ordinaries just had to put up with media distortions of this kind, but now, the internet has changed the balance of power. We can now shout back at our tellies, and be heard. The world will never be the same again.

Indeed not. Don’t bother following the link to read the whole thing, because you just did.

More seriously, on a related note to the one sounded by me in para 2 above, here is a posting at Guido’s about how Laurie Penny threw some mud at David Starkey, calling him a racist, and he then threw some more mud back at Ms. Penny. Two short video clips show both bits of mud flying through the air.

This is the first time I have ever see Laurie Penny in action. I definitely prefer her beauty to her brain.

Time was when the original mud thrown by Ms. Penny would have stuck, and Starkey would have been muddied for ever, even in the minds of those who would have sympathised with what he said, on account of the original performance by Starkey on Newsnight that was the basis of Ms. Penny’s accusation not being available for anyone to check, even if they saw it first time around. But the game no longer plays out like that.

As is further illustrated by the fact that, in trying to recover her position with subsequent tweeting following the debate shown in those video clips, Ms. Penny only dug herself deeper into her hole, also exposing her original racism accusation to yet another audience and enabling commenters to clarify the whole spat still further.

The complete video of the event over the weekend is still, alas, stuck behind the Sunday Times paywall. It will surely emerge soon.