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]

Disarray in Kabul

There was an interesting but infuriating article in The Times by Simon Jenkins today where he describes the current state of affairs in Afghanistan. The shorter Jenkins is that things are not going very well. The crux of the problem is that Nato’s force in Kabul is in shambles with the United States and the United Kingdom in disagreement over their basic strategy, the Canadians having had enough, and the Continental Europeans contributing more trouble then they are worth.

But what really struck my nerve with this article was the praise that Jenkins heaps on the Taleban adversaries. He describes them as the ‘toughest fighters’ on earth. I am admittedly not qualified to pass judgement on that score, but I would have to question the real fighting skill of men who are barely literate, fed or able to maintain basic hygiene. Given the disarray that NATO forces are in, and the difficulties that they are inflicting on themselves, it is no wonder that a numerically larger, motivated and home based insurgency is able to maintain a serious military challenge.

If the challenge posed by the Taleban is to be met by NATO or the government of Afghanistan, then NATO have to take this crisis seriously. The chances of this happening are approximately zero, of course, so the rational thing to do is to look forward to the day when the Taleban regain power in Afghanistan. Given the total bankruptcy of NATO’s military strategy and the weakness of the United States, it is likely that terrorists will regain their safe haven in Central Asia in the medium term.

Such an outcome would be to the total discredit of Western political leadership. Had they committed a serious military effort to Afghanistan, and united behind a common strategy, Afghanistan would have settled down under corrupt but peaceful leadership years ago. But there is no evidence of any politician in the West taking Afghanistan seriously.

Samizdata quote of the day

Every child should have authoritarian parents, because then they’ll grow up to be libertarians.

-Oddball Australian journalist Paddy McGuinness, as recounted at his funeral this week by Bill Hayden.

Euthanasia campaigner arrested in New Zealand

The controversial Australian euthanasia advocate and doctor Phillip Nitschke has been arrested in Auckland, New Zealand, and books that he had in his possession have been seized. Nitschke, the moving spirit behind Exit International, had gone to New Zealand to host some ‘workshops’ on euthanasia.

Regardless of the rights and wrongs of euthanasia, this seems to me to be a clear case of ‘thoughtcrime’, and New Zealand authorities deserve nothing but scorn for this.

Coppers. Friends or foes?

In the Daily Telegraph, Simon Heffer gets stuck right into police forces, and especially the constabulary of Kent, for various offences against liberty and common sense. It is a rather populist article, designed to stir the pot, but I think it is a pot worth stirring. I myself on the other end of the world share his disdain for my local police force, which I regard as nothing more or less then the armed enforcers of the Treasury Department.

I certainly have reservations about their ethics, methods, and purpose, and I suspect much worse of them. Given that the head of Australian Federal Police is trying to push for a media blackout of its anti-terrorist activities, a power that could easily be abused, I think I have good reasons to fear the worst from the boys in blue.

How did it come to this? My own guess is that police forces are just reflecting the nature of the governments that supposedly control them. Monkey see, monkey do.

That is one small step for man, one giant leap for private enterprise

With all the attention being on new private initiatives in space travel hogging the headlines, it is worth noting that there is the real prospect of a new space race taking place between China and the United States, with China planning an eventual lunar landing as a prelude to a mission to Mars.

There would be plenty of people who would welcome such a development, but I am not one of them. As I see it, there is a legitimate role for government funded space programs, but there must be a sensible trade-off between costs and benefits. The Voyager Space probes were sensible investments that produced wonderful results; the Apollo Program, for all the hype, was not something that was worth the immense cost.

I say this because the way that technology is developing, private ventures are expanding in their capabilities quite quickly, and they are much more suitable enterprises to carry the torch of humanity into space. The original space race between the USA and the USSR carried awfully nationalistic and ideological connotations, and a future race between China and the USA is certainly going to have a stench of nationalism about it. Private enterprise ventures have a much greater capacity to bring in international participation.

It cannot be denied, of course, that government ventures are capable of achieving far more, and far quicker, then private ones; having the power of the state to extract wealth from its citizenry, and a powerful will, can cause amazing things to happen. The Apollo Program is a case in point, and so was the Manhattan Project. That does not mean that they are justifiable.

China’s space program is still at a relatively modest stage; they only succeeded in putting an astronaut into orbit in 2003. But if they invested enough money in it, they could progress quite quickly. It is simply a matter of how high that they consider it in their list of priorities. If they give it a high priority they could certainly reach their goals, especially given that Chinese taxpayers are not in a position to object.

How long is it going to take private explorers to get to do serious space travel? That point is no longer moot. From 2004 the progress of private ventures has been impressive, and if this momentum can be continued, it might well be that the first private entrepreneur on the moon might not be that far behind the Chinese and American astronauts. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the first explorer on Mars represented a private consortium?

The Bail Bondsman

American readers will no doubt be familiar with the long standing trade of the bail bond companies. Non-American readers may not be so familiar with the system, in which private companies post bail for defendants in return for a fee. It is a process which is not allowed in most other countries, but it seems that it is a highly effective system in ensuring that defendants appear for their trials.

I myself had no idea about the bail bond industry until I read this article about it in the New York Times. The American Bar Association hates the practice, it seems, and given the grip of lawyers in other legal systems, it is very unlikely that the practice will be emulated elsewhere. Which is a pity; some of these American innovations have a lot going for them.

These kids these days…

A long time ago, when I was a wee nip of a lad, my parents would keep me quiet by turning on the television and having me watch such classics as Sesame Street. Little did they know that what I was watching was not suitable for children! I know that now, because the early seasons of Sesame Street have come out on DVD and they have been given a parental advisory, no less.

The first few seasons have just been released and come with, of all things, a warning.

“These early Sesame Street episodes are intended for grownups and may not suit the needs of today’s preschool child,” the warning reads.

“Sesame was created in the ’60s, and it was a bit edgier, if you will,” said Sherrie Rollins Westin, executive vice president of Sesame Workshop.

What parent today would want their child to see kids running through a construction site or jumping on an old box spring? Scenes like the ones included on the new DVD would probably not make it into today’s program now.

“We wouldn’t have children on the set riding without a bicycle helmet,” Rollins Westin says.

And what’s that little girl doing with that man?

“In the very first episode, Gordon takes a little girl’s hand who he’s just met on the street, befriends her and takes her into his home to give her ice cream,” Rollins Westin said. “That’s something we wouldn’t do on the show today.”

And rightly so. You wouldn’t want your kids to turn out like us dreadful Generation X old fogeys, after all!

A military coup in Australia

It is not widely known even in Australia that in 1808 the NSW Corps of the British Army deposed the Governor of New South Wales, William Bligh, in a coup. This is known as the ‘Rum Rebellion’, but it was not really about rum. Reading about it on Wikipedia, it is clear that Governor Bligh, a Captain in the Royal Navy, who had already endured the Mutiny on the Bounty, was not fit to govern a colony like New South Wales was at the start of the 19th Century.

For there were already free settlers in New South Wales at that time, and they wanted their rights and liberties as British subjects respected. Chief among them was John Macarthur. Michael Duffy writes about the rebellion and Macarthur’s role in it here.

As for myself, since it is also Australia Day today, I am going to do the patriotic thing and toast my nation onwards- with good old Australian Rum.

Disturbing allegations

In 2004 in this space, Gabriel Syme noted some disturbing revelations from an FBI translater, Sibel Edmonds. It turns out that Edmonds had, in fact, plenty more to say, but had kept her own counsel. Until now.

A WHISTLEBLOWER has made a series of extraordinary claims about how corrupt government officials allowed Pakistan and other states to steal nuclear weapons secrets.

Sibel Edmonds, a 37-year-old former Turkish language translator for the FBI, listened into hundreds of sensitive intercepted conversations while based at the agency’s Washington field office.

She approached The Sunday Times last month after reading about an Al-Qaeda terrorist who had revealed his role in training some of the 9/11 hijackers while he was in Turkey.

Edmonds described how foreign intelligence agents had enlisted the support of US officials to acquire a network of moles in sensitive military and nuclear institutions.

Among the hours of covert tape recordings, she says she heard evidence that one well-known senior official in the US State Department was being paid by Turkish agents in Washington who were selling the information on to black market buyers, including Pakistan.

The allegations, to say the least, are explosive. The FBI has denied everything, as you might expect. But a disturbing picture is emerging, and given the fairly dodgy reputation of American government officials to start with, it is not hard to believe that Edmonds, if anything, understates the scale of the dirty dealings going on between the United States and various regimes.

To the stocks!

Equity investors are having a rough time at the moment.

All of Asia’s major stock markets plummeted on Tuesday morning, continuing a bloodbath in share prices that saw London’s FTSE 100 suffer its biggest one-day fall since the 9/11 terror attacks as fears of a worldwide recession gripped the markets.

I wonder what brought that on? Could it be that the lack of easy money going through the financial system will finally impact on company earnings? I have no idea; I don’t work in the industry. But with the bears rampant, it will be interesting and worrying to see our political lords and masters promise ‘interventions’ to ‘stabilise’ the market. Good luck with that!

Benny Lee Ferguson shows democracy has its moments

The US Libertarian Party’s candidate for Kansas State House district 104 is a little bit different. Ferguson has also filed to run for President as well.

Glenn Reynolds famously declared in 2004:

Personally, I’d be delighted to live in a country where happily married gay couples had closets full of assault weapons.

This isn’t quite the same thing, but it is certainly keeping with the spirit. Good luck to Benny Lee!
(via Catallaxy Files)

Official Secrets

The British Government does not seem to be able to keep anything secret.

Still, this is ‘only’ 600,000 people affected, which is quite modest, when you compare it to other recent fiascos.