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]

A bet on Ebola

Bryan Caplan, over at the EconLog blog, has issued a sort of challenge to folk in the US getting worried about Ebola:

Mainstream scientists assure us that Ebola poses very little threat to Americans; unless you’re a health worker who cares for the infected, Ebola is almost impossible to catch in a rich, modern society.  Yet many populists and borderline conspiracy theorists are convinced that the experts are seriously understating the danger.  In their contrarian opinion, we desperately need to close the border now. Fortunately, this is an easy argument to put to a bet. My tentative offer: $100 says that less than 300 people will die of Ebola within the fifty United States by January 1, 2018.  I’m willing to switch to “Unless the U.S. changes its Ebola-related policies, $100 says that less than 300 people will die of Ebola within the fifty United States by January 1, 2018,” but then we’d have to carefully define what policy changes count.

Leaving aside what you think about the specifics of the Ebola case, this idea of economists and other commentators making hard financial bets on specific claims has the merit of injecting a certain edge to proceedings. There is nothing quite so much like a bet to make people prove they are convinced of something. And as the late Julian L Simon proved when he bet against a neo-Malthusian about commodity price trends, there is nothing more satisfying than being proven right.  (Paul Ehrlich, who lost the bet to Simon, was invited to have another go and declined the offer, despite responding to Simon with singular ill grace.)

Bravo for extending the middle finger to Turkey!

The fact Turkey was an early enabler of the Islamic State has been made starkly clear from its behaviour towards the Kurdish defenders of Kobani.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had said his country would not agree to any US arms transfers to Syrian Kurdish fighters.

So the US has started air dropping supplies to them. This means that the supply situation within Kobani must have reached a truly critical state.

Moreover for extra added political significance, the supplies being dropped are in fact ones provided by the Kurdish Regional Government in Erbil, in Iraq (i.e. US supplies that were promised to the Peshmerga but which the KRG agreed to instead see sent to the Syrian Kurds). This will give the wily Masoud Barzani in Erbil a nice political boost, cementing his position as the godfather of Kurdish nationalism.

I really did not think the current leadership in Washington had it in them, but by the actions of the USAF within sight of the Turkish border, Tayyip Erdogan cannot be in the slightest doubt he has just been invited to go rotate. Clearly there as been a significant rethink in US regional political strategy.

ISIS openly practises sexual slavery. What will be the effect on Islam and the world?

There is an account in the Observer in which a Yazidi woman relates how she was sold into slavery by ISIS. The article adds:

ISIS said in an online article that it was reviving an ancient custom of enslaving enemies and forcing the women to become wives of victorious fighters.

“One should remember that enslaving the families of the [non-believers] and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the sharia, that if one were to deny or mock, he would be denying or mocking the verses of the Qur’an and the narrations of the prophet,” the article said, adding that mothers were not separated from their young children.”

In one sense the “ancient custom” of raping and enslaving women did not need to be revived. It had never died out. The aspect of ancient custom that had died out and has been revived by the Islamic State is of carrying out the rape and enslavement openly. That is a major change. Ever since World War II the tide of egalitarianism has been advancing; equality before the law in one place, equality at the verge of the mass grave in another, but everywhere the ideal of equality has been exalted.

Everywhere included the Islamic world. For the last half century whenever Muslims wrote about the inegalitarian aspects of Sharia they were usually at pains to describe the different treatment of women and men as being a deeper sort of equality, or as being an expression of special regard for women. Until recently even Al-Qaeda propaganda often had a slightly politically correct air.

No longer. Tides turn. Will this change add to the appeal of ISIS among Muslims, or decrease it? Will it add to the appeal of Islam among potential converts or decrease it? My impression is that, just as rape is sometimes more viscerally loathed than murder, the open practice of rape and slavery by Isis has repelled and embarrassed many Muslims more than the open practice of hostage-taking and murder by ISIS and its estranged parent Al Qaeda.

I know that to speak of the response “of Muslims” covers a vast spectrum of individuals ranging from very evil to very good. I believe, not without reason, that there is a majority who are repelled by both, albeit not the “overwhelming majority” that Western politicians pretend there is.

Samizdata quote of the day

When nanny staters say ‘choice’, what they really mean is ‘less choice’.

Brendan O’Neill

Samizdata quote of the day

Dear Sir – Am I alone in thinking that the quality of KitKats has deteriorated in recent months? My wife and I are finding an increasing number of instances of a wafer inadequately covered in chocolate. I put it down to quantitative easing.

– John Triffin, Reighton, North Yorkshire. Quoted on page 65 of this hilarious collection of unpublished letters sent to the Daily Telegraph, called “I could go on”. Edited by Iain Hollingshead

Being beastly to jihadis is fear-mongering!

Hugh Muir is clearly a nice man, and the notion people might look askance as known salafists returning from Syria after fighting on behalf of the Islamic State bothers him. Although the Royal Air Force is currently bombing said Islamic State, worrying about these people is nothing more than fear-mongering.

Welcome to the United Kingdom of Perpetual Panic, where the crackpot ideas of silly backbenchers fuel our nightmares and sustain our enemies

I am strongly of the view that Hugh Muir should fly to the Middle East and make this very reasonable point to Islamic State members who hail from Britain himself, in person, in Raqqa. After all, we have nothing to fear from these people and this will prove it. How to get a head ahead in journalism in one easy step: I look forward to seeing the video of the encounter and no doubt he will look very fetching wearing red.

What is Kurdish for ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ?

The BBC is reporting something that made the hair on the back on my neck stand up.

Islamic State ‘being driven out of Syria’s Kobane’

If this proves to be correct, then the Syrian Kurds of the YPG and their FSA allies have pulled off a breathtaking feat of arms worthy of being likened to Thermopylae, but with hopefully an altogether better ending. I am hesitant to start breaking out the champagne just yet, but I really really hope this proves to be the case.

Dismal, deluded, and debunked con brio

Bishop Hill has linked to what he calls a “magnificent” polemical book review by a man from the other camp, Martin W. Lewis, who speaks from the conviction that “anthropogenic climate change is a huge problem that demands determined action.”

Magnificent it is. Magnificently funny, as in the bit about the pussycat apocalypse; and magnificently right about what is wrong with The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway.

Lewis writes,

Oreskes and Conway’s authoritarian inclinations are seemingly linked to their contempt for the West, which they identify with a dangerous devotion to personal freedom. The most telling passage to this effect is found in the authors’ interview, where Erik Conway states:

To me, [The Collapse of Western Civilization] is hopeful. There will be a future for humanity, even if one no longer dominated by “Western Culture.”

No matter that Oreskes and Conway see every last person in Africa perishing, they still apparently find such a scenario promising as long as Western Culture perishes in the process.

As noted at the beginning of this essay, tens of millions of people have reached the conclusion that anthropogenic climate change is a giant hoax perpetuated by corrupt scientific and journalistic establishments. In their previous book, Merchants of Doubt, Oreskes and Conway attribute such benighted views to the money and machinations of oil companies and other organizations with financial interests in the status quo. While I would not deny that such factors play a role, they do not provide a full account. Of particular significance are the writings of green extremists such as Oreskes and Conway themselves. By putting forth grotesque exaggerations, by engaging in misleading reportage, and by embracing authoritarian if not totalitarian politics, they discredit their own cause. The Collapse of Western Civilization, in short, reads as if it were part of a great conspiracy, one that that seemingly rests on an insincere approach to evidence and argumentation.

Martin Lewis also highlights an area of particular interest to me. Apparently Oreskes and Conway disapprove of those “overwhelmingly male” * physical scientists who concentrate on narrow “physical constituents and processes”, “to the neglect of biological and social realms.” Lewis quotes Oreskes and Conway as going so far as to regard statistical significance as an outmoded concept. Lewis writes further,

Although many of the key scientific questions of the day do indeed demand, as Oreskes and Conway write, an “understanding of the crucial interactions between physical, biological, and social realms,” it is equally imperative to recognize that most do not. Most of the issues addressed by chemists, physicists, and geologists have nothing to do with the social realm, and must be examined through a “reductionistic” lens if they are to be approached scientifically. To insist instead that they must be framed in a socio-biological context is to reject the methods of science at a fundamental level. Such a tactic risks reviving the intellectual atmosphere that led the Soviet Union to the disaster of ideologically contaminated research known as Lysenkoism. In the final analysis, the denial of science encountered in The Collapse of Western Civilization thus runs much deeper than that found among even the most determined climate-change skeptics, as it pivots on much more basic epistemological and methodological issues.

This passage describes one type of catastrophist error about science very well. I would like to point out, however, that it is not the only type. There are also catastrophists who propagate, some knowingly, some not, the opposite error. I refer to those who, rather than dismissing the Gradgrind-like definiteness of physics and chemistry, seek to borrow their reputation for precision and certainty in order to cloak the naked fact that no such certainty is even close to being achieved in the study and modelling of of climate systems.

*And boy, or rather girl, does that irrelevant slighting reference to the scientists’ presumed gender tell you nearly everything you need to know about Oreskes and Conway’s attitude to science.

Another bout of indignation dysentery

Everyone is very, very cross. The welfare reform minister, Lord Freud, has caused outrage for saying that some disabled people are “not worth the minimum wage”.

Spoken without tact but with truth. Some of our fellow human beings are incapable of doing work that is worth anyone’s while to pay six pounds and fifty pence per hour to have done.

Freud had been responding to a question from David Scott, a Tory councillor from Tunbridge Wells. Scott had said: “The other area I’m really concerned about is obviously the disabled. I have a number of mentally damaged individuals, who to be quite frank aren’t worth the minimum wage, but want to work. And we have been trying to support them in work, but you can’t find people who are willing to pay the minimum wage.

While it is certainly true that many people with a disability also have abilities or dispositions that allow them equal or surpass as workers their able-bodied and able-minded colleagues – it is also certainly true that many others, sadly, don’t. This is particularly often the case for the mentally disabled. Long ago, I was a teacher. I saw some sad sights, few sadder than the dawning awareness in a child’s eyes that he or she would never be able to do all that “the others” could.

Still, people are resilient. Such a child might very well grow up to be quite capable of sharing and rejoicing in the dignity of work – real work for real employers, not charity – were it not illegal. Only those whose labour is worth more than £6.50 an hour are allowed to sell it. Those less able are compelled by law to be unemployed.

We have these spasms every few years. Allow me to recycle my post from the last one, in which the speaker of inconvenient truth was Philip Davies MP who said,

“Given that some of those people with a learning disability clearly, by definition, can’t be as productive in their work as somebody who hasn’t got a disability of that nature, then it was inevitable that given that the employer was going to have to pay them both the same they were going to take on the person who was going to be more productive, less of a risk, and that was doing those people a huge disservice.”

And I said then and repeat now:

Within hours so much outraged commentary flowed out of newspaper columnists, charity representatives and politicians of all parties, including Mr Davies’ own, that you’d think there’d been an outbreak of indignation dysentery.

[...]

Not one response of all the many I read even tried to argue that Mr Davies was factually wrong. They were outraged, disgusted. They asserted what no one denies: that mentally disabled people are equal citizens and often prove to be hardworking employees, valued by their employers. But I could not find one article that argued that Davies’ description of the way things go when a person with an IQ of 60 or a history of insanity seeks a job was inaccurate, or gave reasons to believe his proposal would not increase their chances of landing one.

[...]

A quote from Charles Murray: “It seems that those who legislate and administer and write about social policy can tolerate any increase in actual suffering so long as the system does not explicitly permit it.”

Samizdata quote of the day

There is now a large industry of obfuscation designed to protect Muslims from having to grapple with these truths. Humanities and social science departments are filled with scholars and pseudo-scholars deemed to be experts in terrorism, religion, Islamic jurisprudence, anthropology, political science and other diverse fields, who claim that where Muslim intolerance and violence are concerned, nothing is ever what it seems.

Sam Harris

Terry Pratchett on the range

Perusing the blog of Eric Raymond the other day, and following on from the previous posting here about Brad Pitt,  I wanted to put up this account of Raymond instructing a certain Terry Pratchett in how to shoot a firearm:

This is actually a very revealing thing to do with anyone. You learn a great deal about how the person handles stress and adrenalin. You learn a lot about their ability to concentrate. If the student has fears about violence, or self-doubt, or masculinity/femininity issues, that stuff is going to tend to come out in the student’s reactions in ways that are not difficult to read.

Terry was rock-steady. He was a good shot from the first three minutes. He listened, he followed directions intelligently, he always played safe, and he developed impressive competence at anything he was shown very quickly. To this day he’s one of the three or four best shooting students I’ve ever had.

Eric concludes:

But it was teaching Terry pistol that brought home to me how natively tough-minded he really is. After that, the realism and courage with which he faced his Alzheimer’s diagnosis came as no surprise to me whatsoever.

Several years ago, I attended a four-day defensive handgun course in Nevada, and have fired pistols subsequently in the US when I had the chance. I am not stating anything here that wont’ be obvious to Samzidata regulars in noting how much concentration is required to shoot well, to position oneself, and also how careful, methodical and disciplined good shooters have to be. Forget all the crap you see on the movies (although there are film actors, such as Kiefer Sutherland and Daniel Craig, who clearly have been taught properly).

Brad Pitt on Guns

They are all coming out of the woodwork. First we have Bono talking sense about economics, now Brad Pitt talks sense about owning guns.

The Radio Times reports that Pitt doesn’t feel that he and his family are safe unless there is a gun in the house.

“The positive is that my father instilled in me a profound and deep respect for the weapon,” he said.