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]

Heroes and cowards

Over a period of years we at Samizdata have noted cases of cowardice in those who are paid to rescue fellow humans in mortal danger. At least one organization maintains that level of bravery. The US Coast Guard motto is: “You have to go out. You don’t have to come back.” This is why I have no sympathy whatever for those who follow ‘regulations’ and hide behind them rather than do their jobs. If they did not wish to put their life on the line to save others, they should have found a different line of work.

If you want to see what real courage looks like, watch the early part of this documentary about an airline crash in DC. It was caught on camera and it shows a standard to which all rescue personnel should aspire.

Incidentally… I was working on a job in Falls Church at the time and I believe I had been across that bridge earlier the same day.

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Why would HSBC… indeed any international bank… wish to remain in London?

Is this not rather predictable?

HSBC will look into upping sticks and moving its headquarters out of London once the regulatory environment becomes clearer, its chairman said today.

“We are beginning to see the final shape of regulation, the final shape of structural reform and as soon as that mist lifts sufficiently we will once again start to look at where the best place for HSBC is,” Douglas Flint said.

He was speaking at an informal shareholder meeting in Hong Kong. This comes as a recent hike in the special tax levied on banks in the UK makes it increasingly costly to do business, people familiar with the situation told Reuters.

And this under an supposedly ‘conservative’ Prime Minister :-D The Stupid Party indeed. If Labour wins, I imagine this will become a stampede as businesses bolt for the exit.

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California’s malaise

“California has met the future, and it really doesn’t work. As the mounting panic surrounding the drought suggests, the Golden State, once renowned for meeting human and geographic challenges, is losing its ability to cope with crises. As a result, the great American land of opportunity is devolving into something that resembles feudalism, a society dominated by rich and poor, with little opportunity for upward mobility for the state’s middle- and working classes.”

Joel Kotkin (hat-tip, Café Hayek).

The Kotkin article seems to be getting a bit of attention around parts of the blogsphere, and rightly so. I like his writings and keep an eye on them. There is no doubt that California is in danger of being past the “tipping point” where so much bad decision-making (more and more power to unions, higher taxes, regulations, etc) are pushing the state into a bad place. I occasionally hear calls for California to be broken up, but I have no idea how realistic such a move is. Thoughts?

It is of course easy to get sucked into a downward spiral of pessimism, so that every event appears to confirm the worst. Appearances can be deceptive: when I visit the West Coast it all tends to look very swish and prosperous, and it is only when you spend a bit of time there that the other, less flattering details, arise. The same arises elsewhere: I have been on a business trip to Singapore (I’m back later this year) and I could not help but wonder if there could be a similar issue over there at some point, such as when the Lee dynasty that has run that island with a market-friendly, if not particularly libertarian hand, is replaced by something else.

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Is Russia eyeing a remote piece of NATO territory now?

A Russian minister has paid an unannounced visit to Norwegian owned Svalbard, much to the Norwegian government’s annoyance.

But said Russian minister also seemed to be suggesting Norway does not really have sovereignty over Svalbard. However that is not really what the Svalbard Treaty says, not that the Kremlin is known for worrying over much about such niceties.

First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs Leonid Kalashnikov contested the full sovereignty of Norway to Svalbard. Norway previously demanded an explanation after a visit to the archipelago Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who is part of the EU sanctions list

Under the Svalbard Treaty the peninsula is not supposed to host bases but is not actually ‘demilitarised’ as such, so now might be a nice time for the Norwegian army to send a company on an extended posting up north.

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GamerGate is far more important than, well, games…

This evening I went to a well attended informal meet-up in Islington of #GamerGate supporters. This proved to be very interesting indeed, hearing what by any reasonably definition were ‘libertarian’ views about tolerance and objective truth being widely trumpeted, but being agreed on by people from a broad section of the political spectrum. I listened to a thoughtful self-described left-winger deliver an angry critique of the Guardian, not just their contra-evidence based reporting of #GamerGate, but also the deeply intolerant culture being propagated there. It appears such folks are not just shocked by what they see, they are serious pissed off by the ‘Social Justice Warriors’ doing it. The very rationally argued animus was palpable.

It seems clear to me that over the eight months #GamerGate has been going on, it is now leading diverse people to re-evaluate long standing social and political views and alliances. An articulate young lady I spoke with said she has lost friends over this, and now saw certain people very differently. Even if #GamerGate was over tomorrow (fat chance), there has clearly been a tectonic social event, and the aftershock is going to be felt for quite some time. New and very spontaneous networks are forming and it will be interesting to see where this leads.

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The farce is strong in this one!

It would be hard to overstate how wonderful this is…

“There’s a lot of social problems with [Star Wars], rooted in casual racism, homophobia,” he claimed, before asserting: “Star Wars reeks of misogyny.” Darth Vader, the primary antagonist of the original George Lucas trilogy, came in for special criticism: “The main bad guy, what’s he called, Dark Raider. He’s all black. He listens to rap music. He’s just a real bad racial stereotype.”

Simply magnificent :-D

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Loss of nerve: “just standing there watching”

Another one:

Hampstead Ponds constables ‘failed to help’ drowning Moshe Greenfeld because of ‘dangerous and murky’ water

The City of London has admitted that its health constabulary officers had not entered A Hampstead Heath bathing pond to try to save drowning teenager.

Moshe Yitzchok Greenfield, 19, a prominent rabbi’s son, began to struggle after going for a dip in the pond in north London on Wednesday, 15 April, the hottest day of the year so far, when temperatures in London hit 25C (77F).

[…]

James Eisen, a 43-year-old freelance journalist, told The Times: “I was walking past and I could see a lot of commotion going on over the far side of the pond. The guy’s friends were going in and out of the water and holding their breath and diving under frantically.

“There were police officers and paramedics and firefighters on the bank just standing there watching while the boys dived under. There were at least seven police officers on the side.

“It was a chaotic and surreal scene. I heard one of the boys shouting to one of the ambulance crews and asking how long someone could survive under water without breathing as they continued swimming around in a panic. I’m guessing the emergency services are told not to go into the water but if that’s the case they probably shouldn’t have let the boys carry on swimming about.”

If you want to know the sort of incentives that create such men of steel, look at the story of fireman Tam Brown, whose courage in risking his life to save a woman from drowning was rewarded with the threat of disciplinary action for “breaking procedure”, or at the three unarmed policemen similarly rebuked for daring to try and save William Pemberton’s life while their armed colleagues huddled outside waiting for orders.

Now, there are one or two caveats before we add Moshe Yitzchock Greenfield to the list that includes the Colly family who burned to death while police actively prevented attempts at rescue, Edward Paul Brown, a baby who died within minutes of birth in a hospital lavatory while nurses refused his mother’s pleas for help because they did not have the proper training, and Alison Hume, whom the Strathclyde Fire Brigade left dying for six hours at the bottom of a mineshaft because, after all, “the fire service was only obliged to save people from fires and road traffic accidents.”

The first caveat is this: Moshe Greenfield and his friends were swimming in an area marked as out of bounds to swimmers, and chose to go into the water after the lifeguard had left. That was irresponsible, though practically everyone can recall doing something equivalent at that age and coming to no harm.

The second caveat is this: as an official spokesman said, “The heath constabulary officers are here to enforce bylaws in the park — they are not trained lifeguards and the water is dangerous and very murky, so they are advised they are not to go in until proper assistance arrives.” He has a point, although it would be a stronger one if the heath constabulary officers actually had enforced the bylaw forbidding swimming. Perhaps our society would be better off if it were made completely clear that once you step outside the law, even a park by-law, you are on your own. The state washes its hands of you. I could go with that. A fine big notice board with shiny black letters saying “PAST THIS POINT WE WILL WATCH YOU DROWN” and helpful accounts of the last six people to whom this rule was applied; that would at least be fair warning. No longer would the citizen be treated as a spoilt child, emboldened to folly by the knowledge that the parental State would never let the worst happen.

That might be a better world than ours. But it is not ours. In general our government insists on rescuing people from their own folly. And what Hampstead Heath Park Constabulary actually provided was the worst of both worlds: officers who will act neither as police nor as parents.

By the way, it was not an act of courage beyond what can be asked of men to make some attempt at rescue. The “dangerous and very murky” waters” weren’t the North Atlantic. It was the pond in Hampstead Heath, for God’s sake. And some men – boys, really – did try. As the witness said, “The guy’s friends were going in and out of the water and holding their breath and diving under frantically.” It was just beyond what can be asked in these enlightened times of the men we pay, train and equip specifically to do that sort of thing.

The trouble with blogging for fourteen years is that one runs out of fresh clean ways to express foul things. I am adding very little to what I said in 2007:

Let me say (before someone says it for me) that I do not claim that I would have the courage to go into a house where a killer might lie in wait, or that I would have jumped in the bitter, fast flowing waters of the Tay to save some stupid woman who wanted to top herself. But such were the traditions that were honoured in the police and fire services. In fact, when I talk about “gutlessness” and “loss of nerve” here I am not talking about individual physical courage. Fireman Tam Brown showed great courage. At least three of the policemen in the Pemberton murders did as well and all of them showed more guts than I would. But institutional gutlessness surrounded them, was embarrassed by them, and will kill off their like eventually. Poisoned soil does not long give forth good fruit.

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Come friendly economic collapse, fall on Twickenham

A couple of nights ago I went along to a local election hustings. This was a mistake.

The candidates from the mainstream parties seemed to be straight out of tranzi central casting – one of them, Vince Cable, is even a Cabinet Minister. To a man, woman, being of indeterminate sex they thought the EU and the UN were a good thing, that climate change was real and that Israel was to blame for the conflict in the Middle East. That last one brought the loudest cheer of the evening. One even claimed that Israel wasn’t a democracy. Two of them still managed to find merit in the Greenham Common protests.

I had been hoping for better from the UKIP guy. But no. Other than getting the UK out of the EU he was just the same even accepting climate change which he thought was due to overpopulation. This was especially disappointing given that his predecessor once stood on a manifesto calling for Britain to leave the EU and UN, and abolish the NHS and state education.

Just in case you were wondering, this nonsensical consensus (Mark Steyn uses the wonderful term “lunatic mainstream”) was not on display in a down-trodden, poverty-stricken part of the world where you might expect idiotic ideas to reign. It was in a prosperous, peaceful London suburb with a highly-educated population. Hey, it even has a phantom framer.

The economic collapse that at some point will engulf us all scares the living daylights out of me. But at the same time it seems to be the only way these delusional ideas are ever going to get swept away.

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Sense on the BBC

After a televised pre-election debate between UK opposition party leaders, I watched a political magazine programme called This Week on BBC One. I was pleased to hear former Conservative minister Michael Portillo repeat and reinforce to BBC viewers what might have been the only sense to come from the debate:

The other thing that struck me about the debate was the unreality of it all. The first question was from a young person who said, “you’re passing this enormous burden of debt to the next generation”, and Nigel Farage, in his own way, addressed that question. The others just kind of ignored it and started promising how much more money they were going to spend.

And this idea that we’re living under austerity — it was Nigel Farage, actually, who made the point — that the national debt has doubled during this government. Each year the government spends on us £90 billion more than it raises from us and the rest is passed to the next generations to pay back.

And I think the reason Nigel Farage reacted in the way that he did to the audience, whether he was wise to do so or not, was that every time somebody talked about spending more money there were great cheers, and every time someone tried to talk about reality there was stony silence.

Yes, people seem very keen to vote themselves other people’s money.

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Beware anyone who wants the state to facilitate ‘social responsibility’

I am not familiar with Paul Lindley but an article he wrote set my alarm bells jangling:

Business is changing. The predominance of companies for which profit is everything – and everything else is nothing – is waning, and a new wave of entrepreneurs and socially-minded individuals is on the rise. If I could give one piece of advice to the next government, it would be this: don’t just do what’s best for business, also do what’s best for those people – the stakeholders – involved in business. (…) Consumers are becoming more morally aware. They have an increasing amount of data available at their fingertips – from the ingredients in the products they buy to the supply chains of companies – and they are demanding more from their favourite brands. A new type of company has arisen to meet this demand, already popular in the US and elsewhere abroad. Benefit corporations – or “B-corps” – are companies which include a positive impact on society and the environment, in addition to profit, as their legally defined goals.

Well if I could give one piece of advice to the next government, it would be this: don’t do anything for anyone, just stay the hell out of the way and let markets do what they do.

I suspect my idea of what “social responsibility” means is probably not the same as what Paul Lindley means, so I really do not want the state deciding which of those views is the official approved version. Anyone asking the state to facilitate their objectives is almost always looking to have them stick their thumb on the scale and protect someone’s business model against someone else’s business model.

As I said I am not familiar with Paul Lindley but I am parsing his remark “companies which include a positive impact on society” to mean he thinks a supermarket, garage or clothing store, simply by virtue of offering things people want to buy at prices they want to buy them at, does not constitute a “positive impact on society”… and he wants the state to have policies that ensure straightforward commercial enterprises which do not market themselves according to an approved list of other added-on “social benefits”, are made less competitive vis a vis those who do. As he is fairly vague on precisely what policies he wants I cannot be sure, but that is what I am getting from this article.

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ULA is not going down without a fight

The ULA (United Launch Alliance) press conference is worth viewing if you are interested in the space industry. Their upper-stage engine design is quite interesting, partly because they are looking at the ability to store propellants in orbit for long-ish periods of time. They have now pushed the rest of the camel of orbital refuelling depots on to the national scene.

From a business perspective, they have taken pages out of SpaceX’s play book. The new rocket will be done with IR&D funds and once built it will have a published price schedule. Both are considerable breaks with the past.

A number of the big players have tried hard to down play this idea. A few years ago NASA tried to deep-six their report that showed such depots were better for deep space than the ‘program of record’. The effort failed and the report got out anyway and I have it.

I am considerably less excited by other elements of their vehicle and their time scale. They may have to do better than partial reuse by 2023 to survive in what is rapidly becoming a ferociously competitive market for cheap launch.

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What caused the First World War: Part III – The mystery

[This is the text of a talk I gave on 20 March to the 6/20 Club in London. Part II is here.]

I have heard that story with a few variations many times. And I find it deeply unsatisfying. The reason is because it doesn’t answer the fundamental question. Whose fault was it? Who was to blame?

Knowing more about the July Crisis doesn’t seem to help. What I have just outlined is a pretty short version. Christopher Clark’s version in his book Sleepwalkers stretches to over 600 pages with 100 pages of footnotes. University libraries groan with books on the subject. 25 years ago someone counted them all up and came up with a number of 25,000 books and pamphlets on the subject of the origins of the First World War. Seeing as this entire talk is based on books published since then one dreads to think what that number must be like now. There are even books on the history of the history. There is a lot of interesting detail. For instance, in the years leading up to the First World War something like 20 world leaders were assassinated. In most cases the perpetrator was an anarchist whom the authorities subsequently declared insane. You learn that Britain had a secret deal with France to protect the Channel in case of war; that in its declaration of war Germany made the entirely fictitious claim that France had bombed German cities; that the head of the Austrian counter-intelligence service was himself a Russian spy and that the French ambassador to London believed that French was the only language capable of “articulating rational thought”.

Perhaps more pertinently you learn that there is good evidence that the German government was planning for a war in 1914.

With most of the world colonised by Europeans who weren’t Germans, Germany hoped to be able to exercise influence over the declining Ottoman Empire. For instance a German general, Liman von Sanders had been sent out to take charge of the Turkish Army and there were plans to build a Berlin to Baghdad railway. They weren’t the only foreign advisers to Turkey. While a German was in charge of Turkey’s army, a Briton was in charge of its navy. Tellingly, the Hague Convention of 1912 called for a worldwide ban on opium. This eventually made its way into the Treaty of Versailles but in 1912 its opponents included Germany, Austria and Turkey.

Obviously, if Germany was to be able to exercise influence over Turkey it had to be able to get there. With hostility between Britain and Germany over Germany’s naval programme the only effective route lay through the Balkans. So, when Serbia massively increased its territory in the First Balkan War of 1912 Germany naturally grew disturbed.

On December 8 1912 a meeting was held with some of the major figures in the German government presided over by the Kaiser, Willhelm II. This has been dubbed a “War Council”. Whether it was or not who knows but it is interesting what followed next. First, Germany more or less accepted that the naval arms race with Britain was over and that Britain had won. Second, Germany massively increased the size of its army. Third, a succession of articles appeared in the press claiming that Russian military expansion was proceeding so quickly that by 1917 Germany could not hope to win a war. It is worth pointing out that the General Staff sincerely believed this. Fourth, the expansion of the Kiel Canal to allow battleships to sail between the North Sea and the Baltic was completed in 1914.

At about the same time General Bernhardi published his book Germany and the Next War. In it he essentially argued that might was right and that Germany should have not qualms about observing, for instance, international treaties. The book did especially well in Britain.

So, all this seems fairly clear cut until you learn that France and Russia were also pretty keen on war at the same time and made no efforts to diffuse the crisis that arose after Sarajevo. Indeed, Britain found itself in the uncomfortable position of not being able to deter Germany without simultaneously encouraging France and Russia.

The fact remains that after a hundred years there is still no consensus on who or what was to blame.

There are other mysteries. Explaining the Second World War is easy. You have a bad guy with bad ideas who started a war of conquest. But you look in vain for such a character in 1914.

Sure, the German government of the time has to bear a lot of the responsibility for the war but Kaiser Wilhelm is no Adolf Hitler. He was not a man espousing a foam-flecked, hate-filled, land-grabbing ideology. Sure, he had his moments but he quickly backed down and had a reputation for so doing. Similarly, the Tsar was no Stalin. He may have done stupid things like banning vodka and banning Jews from the boards of public companies but he wasn’t in the business of killing hundreds of thousands of people. Having said that it should be borne in mind that The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, eagerly taken up by anti-semites around the world, was a Tsarist fabrication.

The truth is that the statesmen of Europe were acting rationally in the pursuit of limited objectives. Most of them were well aware of the likely consequences of a war. We can tell this in the hemming and hawing displayed by both the Russians and the Germans. Both Asquith, the British Prime Minister, and Churchill described the prospect of war as “Armageddon”. And yet despite this the disaster still managed to unfold. I tend to refer to this as the Michael Jennings question. How could such a disaster have happened when none of the leaders appear to have been particularly bellicose?

The conundrum gets worse. By November 1914, Germany had to all intents and purposes lost the war. The Schlieffen Plan had failed and they had been held at the Marne. Austria had suffered even worse disasters in Serbia and Galicia. So, why did it take them another 4 years to make peace?

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