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]

Looking kinda interesting…

Occasional inhabitant of these pages, Andrew Dodge, has joined the current vogue in blogdom and acquired a new masthead for his site and pretty funky it looks too.

In fact, on close inspection, there are some, er, veeerrrrrrry interesting symbols indeed! He also echoes some earlier comments by yours truly and Perry de Havilland about the idiocy of the current Church of England and its idiotarian Archbishop, who threatens to replace Chris Patten (or is it Petain?) as my number One Target. That is until George Michael regales us with more wit and wisdom on the war against terror, of course.

God’s Idiot, revisited

As Perry mentioned earlier today, you have got to hand it to him, the new Archbishop of Canterbury has already gotten off to a flying start. Already known as the scourge if Disney and kiddie’s computer games and skeptic of military action against Iraq, the new top prelate Rowan Williams has became an honorary Druid! Yes, honorary Druid. What next? Will the Pope embrace Objectivism? Will Ozzy Osborne take up Holy Orders? Will Yassir Arafat become a paragon of truthfulness?

Granny and grandpa go AWOL

As human lifespans in the prosperous bits of the planet get longer, the older generation is able to live life much more fully. And it seems this is causing a few problems. In a lightly amusing but also poignant article in the Spectator , Nicholas Coleridge writes that granny and grandpa are now so busy with fund-raising, taking exotic holidays or other activity that they don’t have the time to babysit for the children any more, thereby making it harder for working couples to take the odd weekend off without the kids.

I guess this is part of the demographic shift now affecting us. We are living longer, having children later in life, and traditional networks of childcare are breaking down. On the one hand this is not always a bad thing, since it means people are living full lives well into their 70s and 80s, but it also has its costs. I was looked after by my grandparents several times to help out my parents. I will treasure those memories until the day I die.

Fitting parallels with Prohibition

I enjoy reading Iain Murray’s blog The Edge of England’s Sword but I fear he comes a cropper in his anti-drug legalisation screed today.

He attempts to refute the idea that the War on Drugs is every bit as big a disaster of social policy as Prohibition was back in the 1920s.

Excuse me, but the parallels between Prohibition and the War on Drugs are striking and compelling evidence in my view that the current approach to drugs needs to be changed. Criminalisation of drugs has swelled the ranks of organised crime, corrupted law enforcement bodies, artificially driven up the price of drugs to levels so high that addicts commit crimes to fuel their habits, and apart from anything else, is an assault on the core liberal idea that our bodies are our property, not that of the State.

In one paragraph that stands out, Murray writes:

“In any event, the main difference between the two is that society has decided it prefers alcohol legal (there are no polls about restoring alcohol prohibition because it’s such an outlandish suggestion), but is more convinced that drugs confer more harm than benefit overall.”

I love that use of the word “society”. In one fell swoop, logic and evidence are brushed aside. “Society” has “decided” booze can be legal but cannabis cannot. The argument seems to be that because we have had centuries of booze and developed customs to civilise its consumption, we can stick with the current approach, while drugs are relatively new and therefore easier to ban. Even if this were broadly true, longevity is not logic. Alcohol arguably causes far more damage to the fabric of “society” than drug use. Consider the amount of assaults perpetrated by people who are drunk, for example. Consider also issues such as worker absenteeism, chronic ill-health and premature death. Consider how once-brilliant athletes are turned into shells of their former selves through drink.

There is one issue which also comes into play here – The Welfare State. I have no doubt that much of the harm caused by drugs of all kinds is magnified by welfare dependency and the loosening of self discipline that goes with it. I am one of those libertarians who are wary of legalising drugs without first replacing State welfare with a more benign variety.

Bogus flying rights

Nice piece by fellow blogger Patrick Crozier on Tuesday about the tale of a group of passengers using low-cost British airline Easyjet who refused to leave a plane and make way for a different set of customers.

It centres around the wrong-headed idea that a consumer has a “right” to something beyond the specific contents of a contracted service, such as a flight taking one from A to B at a set time. Enforcing such “rights” via government intervention will inevitably mean higher costs on the rest of us. If folk want to be able to fly at flexible times, then that entails a higher cost, since airlines can’t be sure exactly when their planes will be full.

The price mechanism is a great way to let consumers and providers balance the pros and cons of flexibility versus cost. I should know. I just booked a return flight to San Francisco from London on the Web for just 450 pounds. It is non-refundable and requires me to fly at a set time. If I turn up late and bawl about my “rights”, I’d rightly be regarded as a fool.

A milestone

Happy birthday, Professor Milton Friedman! Chicago’s greatest academic passes the 90-year milestone today. Now there are many ways we Samizdatistas got to hold the views we do, but speaking for myself, Prof. Friedman was a key factor.

I recall reading his book Free to Choose when I must have been in my mid-teens, and found the clarity of his writing and often wry comments about the insanity of Big Government a compelling combination. As a youngster, I found his arguments easy to understand but they never patronised the reader. He surely ranks alongside Ludwig Mises, Murray Rothbard, Ayn Rand, F.A. Hayek and Robert Nozick as one of the giant figures in the libertarian counter-revolution after the Second World War.

All that glitters

Call me an incurable optimist, but I can’t help wonder whether the recent jarring fall in the price of gold to near the psychologically-key $300 per ounce level may be a sign that the worst is over in the global stock market.

Gold has shot up in recent months partly because it is seen as a safe store of value at a time of cratering equity markets, corporate scandals and worries about developments in the Middle East. Now that yellow stuff is getting cheaper again. A straw in the wind, perhaps. But without investing erroneous mystique in this metal, I think its recent fall from highs is the market’s way of telling us that better times may be ahead.

On the other hand, if an when the U.S. goes after Iraq, gold may go into hyperspace for a while.

Attack the idea, not the man

Journalist and writer of various leftist economic tomes, Will Hutton, comes in for a bit of a Fisking in this week’s edition of The Spectator magazine, as mention previously by Paul Staines.

Normally, I would be cheering such a piece on but I have my reservations about such articles. It is of course dead easy to belittle a person’s opinions, however dumb, by pointing to examples of hypocrisy. However, it always better and more intellectually powerful to confront a person’s views as such and argue about whether they are sensible or not rather than go after a person’s character. I recall reading Paul Johnson’s book Intellectuals some years ago in which his basic theme was that, whatever one might think of Rousseau, Hemingway and so on, they were all basically shits.

I like to think that we try to play a loftier game here at Samizdata. The libertarian meme will spread much faster if it is propelled by fairness and good manners. Well, most of the time.

Eastenders and Statism

I’d just like to say how impressed I was by the insightful piece on soap opera television by Patrick Sullivan the other day. It kind of chimes with an observation I made about the profoundly anti-business culture on television drama several months ago on Samizdata.

For me, what is so god-awful about Eastenders, and for that matter other soaps in the UK like Emmerdale Farm, Coronation Street and so on, is that they represent human beings as essentially victims of events, not as efficatious beings. If anyone is portrayed as strong, it is either a woman who is showing her strength by having to resist the charms of a dodgy man, or a crook or thug using his ‘strength’ to overpower or trick someone else. People in business rarely get presented in a positive light. Take Coronation Street. The shopkeepers and pubowners seem fairly wholesome types, if rather pathetic, put-upon folk who clearly are bored by the grind of their jobs. Any major businessman is a crook – period.

Another theme of British soaps is betrayal. Husbands and wives cheat on each other relentlessly. Indeed, infidelity, between married couples and long-term partners, is a constant theme. And lack of trust and loyalty is shown all the time in business.

In mitigation, all I can say is that the scripwriters feel that issues like betrayal and dishonesty add lots of spice to the stories, whereas wholesome behaviour is bound to be boring. I kind of understand that, but I think nevertheless that the genre in the UK is overwhelmingly skewed in one direction. Another problem is that soaps – with the odd glorious exception – rarely contain much deliberate humour. If you do laugh at a soap star it is usually at their expense for crummy acting or a silly voice.

If you watch a British soap for any length of time, you come away with one abiding message – Life Sucks. Which is pretty much why I loathe the whole lot of ’em.

Bring back Dallas…at least they were rich!

Killing Monsters is good for you

Newly-installed Church of England Archbishop Rowan Williams, about whom I made a brief mention on the blog yesterday seems an opinionated fellow, but I don’t want to discuss his particular insights on the possible invasion of Iraq, the bombing of Afghanistan or other foreign points. What really piqued my interest was his broad condemnation of consumerism, particularly the use by young children of video games, such as those which feature violence.

By happy coincidence, I have started to read a fascinating new book Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence by American comic book author and child psychologist Gerard Jones, who has written about how violent video games like Doom or Tomb Raider can in reality help children to master insecurities and fears of all kinds.

Jones explores the many fantasy games now on the market, the importance of superheroes in comics and television, ending with the broad conclusion that this stuff is essentially good for children rather than harmful. He points to the fact that during the 1990s, when such games became wildly popular in the United States, teenage violence decreased. Of course, some horrific school shootings prompted commentators to wonder whether video games were making youngsters more violent, but Jones’ book tends to weaken that argument quite strongly.

He even shows how comics, action hero films starring the likes of James Bond or Spiderman can in reality help children suffering from low self confidence become stronger, more assertive (in a good way), and better suited to coping with the inevitable difficulties of adulthood. In many ways the book is a re-working of the need for fantasy and make-believe in childhood development.

His analysis is light-years away from that of Archbishop Williams, and I would guess, from that of many mainstream commentators for whom video games are just another dread feature of global capitalism. For me, the profusion of amazing games and top-notch films are one its great glories.

The passing of a great pilot

de Havilland Mosquito

I am a near-religious reader of the Daily Telegraph obituary page, full of larger-than-life aristocrats, obscure explorers and dozens of extroardinary men and women who served during the Second World War. A classic of the genre is in today’s paper about the late Group Capt John “Cat’s Eyes” Cunningham, a famous night-fighter pilot and post-war civilian test pilot who was associated for many years with the de Havilland aircraft company, and no doubt Perry has heard all about his exploits*. I met him several years ago in Hatfield to see the restoration of a 1950s British fighter plane called the Venom, which my father worked on as a navigator around the time of the Suez Crisis of 1956. Anyway, give it a read. A must for aircraft nuts like yours truly.

* [Note from Perry: I also met John Cunningham many years ago]

God’s idiot

Newly-elected Archbishop of Canterbury…