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Book review: First Hook

Simon Gibbs has a review of Clive Fox’s cute quick techno-thriller ‘First Hook‘, which has launched today.

The series is modelled on shows like the A-team, but produced natively for consumption in written form as a serial short story. Much as Bleak House was originally published by Charles Dickens as a regular newspaper feature this punchy little story will be added to over time in the way that a TV show is added to with a new episode broadcast each week, except that future episodes are not yet all written. As such it borrows something of the currency of a soap opera, able to evolve and adapt constantly, but is firmly in the sci-fi category. This is an interesting and novel form of written fiction.

Anyone questioning why a lightweight techno thriller should be reviewed on Samizdata would do well to read Brian Micklethwait’s summary of The Power of Fiction, a talk given by former City AM managing editor Marc Sidwell. Anyone wondering what on Earth they might do about it, finding themselves unable to write fiction of their own should read the thoughts of Richard Gleaves, author of Ride Headless and Ride (itself reviewed on Libertarian Home).

So anyway, here is the Amazon review. You can buy it, read it and write your own review on Amazon:

Clive Fox is making an important contribution at a critical time.

When business paper The Financial Times offers advice to tech CEOs it is to warn them of their waning popularity and their “responsibilities”. Tech giants in California bring fantastic wealth to the area, and amazing technology to mankind, only to be slammed for the crime of gentrifying impoverished San Francisco – their staff hounded on company minibuses. Those companies branch out to the UK bringing us world changing products and brilliant new services, only to be pumped for more cash. Modern society fails to appreciate the source of it’s modernity.

Aftermath clearly know all about the problems of modern – and future – technology. Yet they have the balls to value it, master it, become one with it, and when necessary to beat it. The resulting tensions and dramas are evident in this first outing. I am thirsty for the next instalment.

– Simon Gibbs

An intolerance of leftists

The sight of the profoundly illiberal Jeremy Corbyn preaching to the young-and-ignorant at a music festival moved Christopher Barrow to pen some remarks

Just in case anyone missed it, Jeremy Corbyn gave a speech at Glastonbury last Saturday. Tens of thousands of British young people, high on a false sense of community and overpriced hash, lapped up his vision of a wonderful future. Why shouldn’t they? Just about everyone is apparently due to benefit, all at the expense of an unspecified ‘elite’.

Of course it was a vague speech offering goodies to young people, old people, sick people, students, European residents and ‘refugees’. The plan would actually mean higher tax for all working people (who the Labour Party are supposed to prioritize) and a vast raising of our National Debt, as Obama did.

The really concerning matter however is the lack of logic and common sense that lies beneath current leftist and ‘liberal’ (in the US sense of the word) ideologies now prevalent in our societies. There are huge dangers that cannot be overstated, though they remain hidden in Corbyn’s recent advertisement for Leftism, especially to young people.

As I see it the main problem with leftist rhetoric is that it is solely focused upon “what it is not”. Granted it is anything but the stereotypical mindset of a bigoted white male; the wolf-whistling, England for the English brigade (who would actually be virtually impossible to find these days). Let’s call this “Retro Racism”.

The left have decided that as long as they vehemently oppose anything approaching this, then anything goes: they’ve achieved ideological enlightenment. The danger of this leftist viewpoint, the source of their strength and smugness, is that opposition to Retro Racism is actually all its got. It fails to understand that there are higher and more sophisticated points of view than just a strong distaste for Retro Racism. The are important paths of logic and sense that it doesn’t allow itself to explore.

This is precisely what Political Correctness is. It makes everyone hypersensitive about going anywhere even close to the vilified Retro Racism. This becomes the total scope of the political toolkit of active ‘liberal’ leftist. Facing the many and varied problems of the world principally tied to an aversion to anything not Politically Correct is irresponsible in the extreme. Political Correctness shuts down sophisticated discussion, at a time in the world when it is needed most. There are far more levels of sophistication beyond being “not racist”! Naivety isn’t the pinnacle of intelligence, nor is it of kindness.

Perhaps the most glaring example of this is the question of immigration. Corbyn glows with smugness and vanity as he proclaims “bridges not walls for refugees”. One question of actual reality (a place where leftists don’t like to venture) is at what point would you erect a wall instead of a bridge? A 100,000,000 population for Britain? 150,000,000? Maybe a population like this is the best thing for the country, but at least lets talk about it! It isn’t racist.

However aren’t leftists are a shining example of tolerance, love and unity? Well yes to everyone BUT white males who don’t cower to their ideology. If not, you’re fair game for abuse, violence and assassination if they had their way. The strong white male is anathema to the feminized West. Leftism appeals to repressed aggressive individuals and offers a safe environment to direct their anger. This is so dangerous for our future. Jungian Shadow anyone!?

It is not an exaggeration to state that we see shades of the violence of Communist Russia in the leftist pursuits of the modern Western world. Namely people believing they are correct to defend an ideology with violence when they are so convinced about it. This is a slippery slope indeed…

Of course we all want a world somewhat like the one described by Corbyn at Glastonbury. But the key point is to understand human nature. We have to be open and honest with ourselves as a starting point. Leftism is a dangerous meeting of repression with naivety. It we start out falsely misjudging ourselves, we are heading for deep trouble.

The problem is that understanding the problems of leftism is a sophisticated endeavour. You can’t communicate this to 50,000 young people in a field. There is always hope for the future. Lets just hope the youth discover truth over platitudes. Wisdom over naivety. And Love over vanity.

– Christopher Barrow

What the Russians saw

Samizdata commenter Niall Kilmartin has sent the following observations about the claim that the Russians “hacked the US election”. – Natalie Solent

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve read quite a bit in the slew of articles kicked off by the Washington Post‘s claim that the Russians ‘hacked the election’ – everything from supportive articles through ridiculing ones, from articles focussed on the mechanics of the Podesta phishing attack – was it actually spear-phishing! – through articles focussed strictly on the politics of it all, or on the comedy of hardened lefties’ new-found faith in anonymous CIA assessments.

One thought occurred immediately to me but I have never seen it raised; understandably never raised by left-wing supporters of the theory, but also never raised by vehement libertarian or right-wing opponents.

The argument is that the Russians hacked both the DNC and the RNC, then revealed their evil Trump-supporting agenda by releasing documents only from the DNC. Let us, just for the sake of argument accept everything up to the comma – that it was the Russians, and they had access to both DNC and RNC servers. (Others have argued intelligently against accepting all that with the unquestioning credence of today’s MSM, or indeed even thinking it likely, but that’s not my point; let us, for now, presume it’s accurate.)

Clinton was the DNC’s candidate. There would of course be evidence of their preference for her on their servers. And since even the BBC’s correspondent could not keep a straight face when reporting her 6 successive coin-toss wins in the Iowa primary, it should be no surprise this evidence included acts beyond what was fair, even by the low public standards of politics, so was damaging to her and to the DNC.

Trump was not the RNC’s candidate. Nor was runner-up Ted Cruz. From early in the race, it became clear it was between these two, with the RNC having a hard time deciding which of them it disliked more. When Trump won, the most insider RNC people were the most openly appalled, right up until the convention. After it, some remained nevertrumpers, and others had grave doubts he could win (the more they were RNC insiders, the more doubts they had). So what would the RNC’s servers have shown?

Hypothesis 1) The RNC ran a fair enough primary process, while publicising all the arguments against Trump (and Cruz) that they had. Occam’s razor makes this the most reasonable hypothesis, since two candidates they disliked became the front-runners early. (Variant Hypothesis: the RNC took seriously Trump’s promise not to run 3rd party if the primary process was fair. They therefore avoided any major unfairness, so they could hold him to his promise after his expected defeat.) After Trump won the nomination, they thought more about down-ballot damage-limitation than about helping him to an improbable (they thought) victory by any shameful-if-exposed tactic.

Hypothesis 2) The RNC cheated but not as much as the DNC, so failed to prevent Trump’s win (perhaps through failing to anticipate it till too late) and in doing so released all possible argument against Trump (as in 1 above) plus knowingly unfair or concocted opposition. If you have a hard time thinking a bunch of professional politicians could ever have run an honest process, you can mix what ratio you like of this with (1).

Hypothesis 3) Hardened lefties who believe that Republicans are evil and stupid may, without inconsistency, insist that the RNC cheated as much or more than the DNC but much more stupidly, so failed to achieve their end of stopping Trump win the Republican nomination, unlike the clever Democratic cheating done by the DNC.

Thus what do the Russian hackers find on the RNC’s servers?

In Variant 1, they find evidence that the RNC is more highminded than the DNC in how it runs primaries, and also that they have put into the public domain everything they know against Trump and every argument they can think of. Revealing this would praise the RNC relative to the DNC, and do no harm to Trump.

In Variant 2, the RNC is not so highminded; some of what they urged against Trump was offered in bad faith. Revealing this leaves the RNC looking bad, but still less corrupt than the DNC, and creates some sympathy for Trump.

In variant 3, the RNC looks as bad as the DNC, and outsider-candidate Trump benefits bigtime in public opinion.

So lets revisit the final part of the sentence above: “The argument is that the Russians hacked both the DNC and the RNC, then revealed their evil Trump-supporting agenda by releasing documents only from the DNC.”

Can anyone correct my impression that even if the first clause were correct, the last would not follow? Why would the hackers find secret anti-Trump information, or evidence of corrupt manipulation for Trump (or indeed, for Cruz)?

So much misinformation! MtGox and Bitcoin – what really happened?

In an earlier post here on Samizdata, Bruce Hoult posted some very informative comments about MtGox and Bitcoin that we thought it warranted a higher profile, so…

So much misinformation!

What has happened is that people who bought Bitcoins on MtGox thought they owned them. They did not, according to the Bitcoin system. MtGox did. MtGox kept their own records of who ‘owned’ what. And MtGox were incompetent.

Which should have been apparent from the start: MtGox learns Bitcoin

The proper way to use Bitcoin is to keep your wallet of Bitcoins on your own computer. And back it up. Several times. Print it on paper if you want — it will likely fit on one side of A4 in not very small print. Keep it secret. Keep it safe. It is a bearer certificates. If you lose your wallet or forget the password then those Bitcoins are gone out of circulation forever.

That is not what happened with MtGox. They gave Bitcoins that people thought they owned (but did not) to other unauthorised people. It is theft. Just like a bank robbery. Those Bitcoins still exist, just in other hands.

This has absolutely no effect on people who keep their Bitcoins on their own computer (or phone). There are the same number in circulation as before. Bitcoins still can’t be counterfeited or inflated.

If you want/need to use a place similar to MtGox to turn normal money into Bitcoins then DO NOT LEAVE THEM IN YOUR ONLINE WALLET THERE. Make yourself an identity and wallet on your own computer and make a payment from your account on the Bitcoin exchange to your own identity. Then you are perfectly safe.

Well, you are if you do your backups diligently.

Or, if you want to turn normal cash into Bitcoins, find someone who has Bitcoins and wants cash, agree a price, have them do a transfer of Bitcoins from their wallet to yours (using the actual Bitcoin system, not an exchange), and hand them the cash.

The recent problems are not with the Bitcoin system, they are with finding trustworthy and competent ‘bank’ or ‘escrow’ services who will not lose or steal what they hold in trust for you.

To amplify on the previous.

Assume you want to use Bitcoins to buy a used TV, and both you and the seller have Bitcoin software and wallets on your own computers: You make a transfer from your Bitcoin wallet to theirs, using the Bitcoin software. You wait about 10 minutes for the next block of world-wide transactions to be created (mined). If you are paranoid, you wait for another block to be created, pointing to the one with your transaction.

At this point the transaction is recorded on thousand of computers all over the world. They all agree that Bitcoins have been transferred from you to the seller. The transaction is irrevocable.

Now you ask the seller to send you the TV. There is a risk that they will not send you the TV, even though they have the money.

This is exactly the same situation as any on-line auction site, or newspaper classifieds or whatever.

The solutions are the same. You can not get your money back, but you can damage their reputation in whatever venue you used to arrange the deal. Or you can meet them in person and do both sides of the swap in person. Or you can use a trusted third party as escrow — you give them the money, and the seller gives them the goods, and when they have both they pass them on.

The problem is to find a competent and trustworthy escrow service.

Tolerance… or else!

Jim Carver is a libertarian UKIP umbrella-maker from the West Midlands who aims to be elected to the European Parliament in 2014 and then to make himself redundant as soon as possible. ‘If you take liberties with a market trader, you can expect a fight,’ he says, ‘And these buggers aim to take all the liberties we’ve got.’

Nasty things are just nasty. You know where you are with a tetchy shark. It’s the nice ones which give me the heebie-jeebies. Dolls, wide-eyed children, psychopathic blondes and slavering kittens are far scarier than more obviously menacing monsters.

Let me introduce you to a tooth-achingly nice but totally terrifying new document entitled A European Framework National Statute for the Promotion of Tolerance.

It is intended to be enacted as law in every member state of the European Union. It will probably be enshrined in British law. Shudder at the thought. It is such a sweet document. Its purpose is to ‘Promote tolerance within society… condemn all manifestations of intolerance based on bias, bigotry and prejudice…’

So far, so missionary tract, but these are missionaries with power. They will ‘take concrete action to combat intolerance, in particular with a view to eliminating racism, colour bias, ethnic discrimination, religious intolerance, totalitarian ideologies, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-feminism and homophobia.’

There is no attempt to define these enemies.

Feminism, just to take one example, can be the radical Dworkinesque wing, which considers sex-workers and the sexually active to be traitors (and victims), and all sexual allure to be demeaning. It can also be ‘riot grrrl’ or ‘lipstick’ feminism which reclaims traditional gender symbols and sexuality and respects the rights of women to win autonomy by these means.

The former – being nutters – are the more politically active. They consider the others to be ‘anti-feminist’. They abuse and deride them in a most intolerant manner, yet I warrant that it will be they who impose tolerance by force on their dissenting sisters once this statute has force of law.

Many nominalists doubt that homosexuality as a state of being rather than as an incidental preference actually exists. Many Britons oppose the open-door immigration policy forced upon them by Brussels. They are immediately therefore branded ‘xenophobes’. Will all such heretics find themselves debarred from expressing their views in the name of tolerance?

Here, however, comes good news: All groups will be guaranteed ‘freedom of expression, including freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas… to manifest… religion or belief in worship, observance, rituals, rites, practice and teaching…’

Does this mean, then, that devout Catholics who disapprove of homosexuality (and, more consistently, of all non-procreative sex) will be permitted to express their views?

Er, no. ‘There is no need to be tolerant to the intolerant. This is especially important as far as freedom of expression is concerned: that freedom must not be abused to defame other groups.’

→ Continue reading: Tolerance… or else!

The Big Cause

Jonathan Abbott, whom we have seen mentioned on Samizdata before, has a rumination on not so much on environmentalism’s excesses but the underpinning psychology.

There is a type of person that needs to be part of a Big Cause. They cannot seem to accept the probability that they live in unexceptional times, that they themselves are thoroughly ordinary and will leave no lasting mark behind when they are gone. The number of individuals that substantially affect the course of history is vanishingly small and the mass of real progress takes place in tiny steps carried out by anonymous individuals. It is usually only in the collective total of our uncoordinated efforts that mankind as a whole advances in any way.

Some Big Causes do greatly benefit mankind (such as the programme to eradicate smallpox) but most, however well-intentioned initially, result in great harm. Many of the most damaging ones, for example fascism and communism, require another Big Cause to end them. Adherents to a particular Cause will necessarily not see it as just another campaign for progress, but as THE Big Cause, the movement that will change the historical paradigm and catapult humanity into a dazzling future.

Carrying out the personal actions prescribed by The Cause marks them out as one of the elect, and from then on no matter how commonplace other aspects of their life may be, they will have made their mark. They mattered.

This sort of belief is terribly seductive. As noted above, I do not think that all Big Causes are harmful, and I am not suggesting that only a bunch of no-hope losers would sign up for a Big Cause. However, for the most popular Big Causes of the twentieth century, this sort of optimistic, wishful thinking turned out to be a mere fairy tale. Indeed, the brutal and violent nature of the Big Causes of the previous century meant that only a sentiment-based, appeal to emotion Cause such as Climate Alarmism could arise in their wake.

And now as the end-game of Climate Alarmism as a major political force comes into view, I find myself wondering what will be the effect on the mass of its adherents. Historical Big-Causers such as Robespierre, Mao and the majority of their followers went to their graves convinced they had been doing the right thing, never renouncing the horrific by-products of their dogmas. Once signed up to a Big Cause, few ever leave. Will it be the same for the Alarmists?

One of the things that I find hardest to swallow is that the political, NGO and civil service fools wasting vast quantities of public money in the name of Alarmism are told on a daily basis by their fellow travellers in the media that they are doing a Great Thing. They are resolutely building a better world for everyone, especially for the oft-invoked archetypal grandchildren. Most of these apparatchiks will go to their graves convinced they spent their lives helping their fellow humans.

Even if the science behind their beliefs becomes publicly as discredited as that which denigrated plate tectonics, they will excuse themselves as being the innocent and well-meaning victims of deception. Their ignorance is their shield.

For the hard core of true believers, the Alarmist Cause will never die and they will follow it resolutely into the sunset, becoming the Trotskyites and Eugenicists of the future. Irrelevance will swallow them. For the less resolute, who come to accept the fall of Alarmism (or at least realise it has become a waste of time), the banner of other Causes will be raised instead. The beginnings of these new Causes will even now be growing and are probably already visible, just not gathering much media attention. Yet.

My guess is that many of the Alarmists will deflect their anti-capitalist neo-ludditism into campaigns against genetic engineering and nanotechnology; nascent movements to oppose both are already growing. Inevitably they will once again claim unequivocally that the science is on their side, even as they shut down scientific debate and rail against genuine scientific progress.

Unfortunately, it will not be until long after the worst Alarmists are dead that they will finally be grouped with the Malthusians and Lysenkoists as they deserve.

Moderates, good deeds and religious fanaticism

John Stephenson argues for the need to ask religious moderates about the motivations behind their actions. Are moderates – seeing faith as virtuous – tacitly defending fundamentalists (who are the genuinely committed believers), allowing them to become the “tail that wags the dog”? Moreover are religious moderates actually engaged in religion because they are “humanists in disguise”?

One of the problems with engaging religious folk in conversation is the fact that, before falling victim to the charge of being “angry” or “strident”, we find that the rules of discourse and logic are warped and violated beyond recognition. Find me a religious fanatic who doesn’t endorse his faith through the actions supposedly committed in its name and you will have probably found me a liar.

It may not seem apparent during regular conversation – phrases such as “well as a practising Catholic” or “Judaism preaches kindness” are regularly greeted with admiration or at the worst, ambivalence – but it is when we strip away someone’s faith that such statements are shown to be contemptible. Are we really to believe that, without the promise of eternal life, the religious among us would resort to hedonistic violence and acts of self-indulgent debauchery? Suppose that next week the Abrahamic religions were shown to be apocryphal. Would we suddenly hear reports of Justin Welby snorting cocaine while out partying with Desmond Tutu and a gang of strippers? Of course not.

As is the case, kindness in the name of God or religion is done with a knife to your back. Good deeds done for fear of punishment or in receipt of reward are hardly commendable, yet believers still wish to play a numbers game – stressing the good work done in the name of Christ or Allah or some other Bronze Age almighty. Admittedly from my own experience some of the nicest people I know are devoted Christians yet, unlike the many who act as though this gives some form of credibility to the story of Adam and Eve, I pay them the honour of assuming they would behave in such a way if they did not have religion to fall back on.

Secularists such as Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins are keen to avoid a war of words with the religious over who “does more” – the understanding being that they are first and foremost passionate about the truth and not the resulting human behaviour of unproven tales. But perhaps more ground can be made by appealing to altruism before detailing the logical arguments against a given theology.

The fact that what we perceive as a sense of morality is innate within humanity as opposed to religion is evident by virtue of the cherry-picking so commonplace among moderate believers. Among casual Church of England Christians for example, the Sermon on the Mount may be advocated yet the more abhorrent elements of Deuteronomy or Leviticus will be ignored. I suspect that a large proportion of these individuals are religious in name alone and that, for the most part, their attendance comes as a result of habit or an intrinsically vague idea that to attend church constitutes as a “good thing”. These people have often given very little thought to the doctrine their religion entails, but understand church to be a place of warmth and community – things that most of us are drawn to.

→ Continue reading: Moderates, good deeds and religious fanaticism

Divide and rule – an old idea that never gets old

Alisa Presenti has a few thoughts on the Zimmerman case and the state of American politics

It had just occurred to me that the Zimmerman-Martin story highlights something interesting about where the American Left finds itself at this point in time. From the beginning it was clear to me, as well as to many others, that someone with Obama’s ideological background on the one hand, and his lack of any relevant experience on the other (not to mention absence of any real charisma), would have remained mostly obscure, and would have never made it to the national political stage – let alone the Presidency – had he not been black. Whoever picked him and groomed him for this job, played the implicit black-race/white-guilt card quite well, and it paid off big time at election (and re-election) time. But now, against the backdrop of the Z-M story, Obama’s race actually proves to be a liability. Just imagine any white person sitting in the White House right now (well, granted, any white person but Bill Clinton): would the black communities have remained as indifferent to the verdict as they are proving to be? Where are the riots their leaders and organisers had promised us? Could it be that finally having a black President for the first (well, second) time in history has rendered the whole perceived racial divide hollow?

It used to be that they pitched the poor against the rich. When that got old, they switched to pitching blacks against whites. Then it was women against men, gays against straights,…. They still seem to have the immigrants against the rest of us up their sleeve, but something tells me it is not going to deliver as promised. And it is not that they have ever abandoned any of the older, mostly artificial but useful divisions – rather, they always managed to find new ones to add to their arsenal of manufactured hatred. Thing is, I think they are now, or soon, will be running out of those. What that means is that they are going to go back to the oldest division of them all, and it looks like they are working hard on creating enough of the new poor, to be pitched against whoever it will be that manages to remain relatively rich – or, more likely, whoever will be deliberately labeled as “rich”. Interesting times are still ahead.

The Woolwich attack: criticism of Islam and the issue of free speech

John Stephenson has some views regarding the Woolwich attack and freedom of speech

The events witnessed this week in Woolwich, London, were a devastating reminder of the problem Britain faces regarding the threat of terrorist activity. However, much of the ensuing reaction has been one of confusion and has done little to aid the in the slow and painstaking process of combating such delusional ideology. On the one hand there are those who are determined to tar the events by forwarding their equally absurd beliefs. Demonstrations organised by the EDL and “Operation Fightback” were organised but quickly shut down by police, while mosques were attacked in places such as Gillingham and Braintree. On the other hand, I have to say that there appears to be an apologetic element within the public domain that is just as guilty of blemishing debate, although this has been done by shooting down anyone who is willing to speak openly about the nature of the attacks as “islamophobic”, “bigoted” or “racist”. Some of these attacks are justified – the support for Stephen Lennon’s EDL movement is undoubtedly host to anti-Asian racists and those who are prepared to beat up anyone they meet wearing a veil. However, many of their gripes come as a result of the confusion that surrounds the criticism of Islam.

The perennial problem for those who wish to speak frankly about organised religion is that in asserting their view they can sound similar to the bigot they would run a mile to get away from. However there is one fundamental difference; while the intolerant will tar a religion’s supporters with the same brush, the critic of religion will be averse to doing so. This can easily be put in a better light; suppose I am opposed to Conservative politics (which for the most part I am). This should say nothing about the way I treat Conservatives when I meet them in my day-to-day activities and should not prevent me from greeting them with the same friendliness I would give anyone else. However I should still have the fundamental right to speak my mind with regards their ideology or beliefs as long as my conduct towards them is not affected.

One objection to this may come from those who deem it “offensive” to voice anti-Islamic views. The problem is that it assumes that this gives the offended some sort of “rights” and in doing so seems to pay little regard or thought to the fact that the person of no religion may be equally offended by religious views. For all it’s worth I may be offended at the Bible’s description of a lady turning into a pillar of salt or offended at the Quran’s views on polygamy. However, I would not for one moment suggest that my offence should impede their right to voice those beliefs. As long as we do not discriminate against Muslims, we should be allowed to voice our views and people should have the right to be offended.

→ Continue reading: The Woolwich attack: criticism of Islam and the issue of free speech

North Korea is a bonkers state, ergo they can not be leftists…

Samizdata lurker Mike Ritchie has an observation to share:

John Sweeney’s undercover report on North Korea for Panorama on the BBC contains this steaming turd of a quote from a contributor – one Bryan Myers – a “Professor”, we are assured:

“…so I think it’s much more accurate to look at North Korea as a far-right state, an ultra-nationalist state”.

North Korea Undercover from 4:00 to 6:00 if you can bear it – do not feel compelled to watch the whole thing, it is superficial pap.

Another witless bozo who can not seem to grasp the logical outcome of putting the state in the driving seat, whatever the superficial branding/flag colour/exact nature of dynastic succession.

Of course, the Panorama editorial team seem more than happy to include this statement – you would almost think they worked for a state broadcaster 😉

When due process is not due

A regular Samizdata reader (who for fairly obvious reasons has asked to remain anonymous) submits this slightly horrifying story of what has recently happened to a friend resident in Spain. People familiar with the Spanish justice system – this is not a country where you wish to get in trouble with the law – will not find it surprising. Still, it is different, somehow, when it happens to you or someone close to you.

Occasionally one hears a story of a government overreach which makes one think that something like it could not happen in a Western Democracy, at least not on a regular basis. And if it does, it surely is due to some kind of a mistake, to which bureaucracies are so prone, or due to some corrupted government officials acting illegally. That was what I thought, after a friend who suddenly disappeared, severing all contacts with friends (although thankfully not family), reappeared after having spent four months in a Spanish jail. When this middle-aged suburban mother of young children told me that she got lucky, seeing as a maximum term for a pre-trial detention according to the Spanish law is four years, I thought that she must have misunderstood something “lawyery” – turns out, she did not (more info in Spanish here). What is worse, according to that document Spain is by no means different from several other European countries, and is not the worst among them, either.

As of now, my friend is still less than keen on discussing the legal aspects of the matter, and she has never been much interested in these things anyway. But, to paraphrase that dead revolutionary: you may not be interested in Law, but Law is interested in you. After having her apartment turned upside down and having been dragged to jail following a knock on the door, she was brought before a judge, whom she told that she just happened to have been once-friends with someone connected to something much bigger than herself or anyone she has ever known.

It took the Spanish authorities four months to corroborate her statement. In the meantime, she spent those four months in appalling conditions, with only a weekly through-the-glass visit from her husband, plus a monthly conjugal visit. No heating (in winter), filthy cells, two women sharing a cell with a toilet. Her kids still think she was away for some kind of professional training. It would have taken longer (as noted above, up to four years) if it was not for her lawyer. She made friends in jail with women who cannot afford a lawyer, and others who were extradited to Spain under the European Arrest Warrant and do not even know anyone in Spain. They are still in jail. Word is (I have not checked) that all the “Big Fish” with that big affair apparently are home free after about a month and a half in jail. The State is NOT your friend.

The fundamental problem of libertarianism… ?

Frequent samizdata commenter ‘Jaded Libertarian’ wants to ask a question:

After a number of years dwelling on the matter I think I have just about got what I personally believe straight. The guide I have used to get there is what I believe to be both moral and just. I am not particularly well read in this area, but have thought myself to a fairly classical liberalism – nothing that has not been said before. No man has the right to transgress another’s liberty unless he is causing physical harm to another’s person or property – that kind of thing. I now know what I believe and that is great. I never tread on another person’s autonomy if I can help it. So how do I get the rest of society to extend me the same courtesy?

Here’s where I have run up against a wall.

To effect political change that would enshrine the rights of the individual would require imposing this system on a great many people who do not want increased personal autonomy – and what is more they do not want me to have it either. It scares them. Much as I disagree with them, it is not for me to seek to impose upon them a life they do not want, even if they do not extend me the same courtesy. To do so would be most illiberal.

The only way in which some good could come of such thinking would be if someone was willing to degenerate the rights of naysayers in order to enshrine the rights of everyone else. This seems to have been what (partially) happened in the USA, and many still reap the benefits. But it would be unwise to try and repeat the process. First of all it seems morally dubious at best. Secondly, history has shown us that political revolutions almost always result in dictatorships and tyranny. America was an aberration never to be repeated.

My own thinking thus far is that knowing what I believe and how I will act is, for now, enough. Society is after all made up of individuals. If by some bizarre chance every single person resolved to respect one another’s liberty, we would find ourselves in utopia overnight. Of course that is not going to happen, but then everyone else’s motivations are none of my business and it is not for me to criticise.

I try to live by the words of Burns:

Then let your schemes alone, Adore the rising sun, And leave a man undone. To his fate

Sadly although it eases my own heart, it does not get me away from the fundamental flaw in libertarianism. I am compelled to live under collectivist tyranny, something which I would never wish upon another.

How can libertarianism ever be anything more than a nice intellectual exercise to put yourself through if it cannot be acted upon by its very nature?